Tuesday, August 31, 2004

L'ironie, c'est dommage

The irony would be amusing if there weren't lives at stake; as it is, the story that radical Islamic terrorists have kidnapped and threatened to execute two French journalists is just sad. Of course the terrorists have been targeting people from countries all over the world (America, Japan, South Korea, Turkey, Pakistan, Iraq) and haven't cared who they are (truck drivers, missionaries, journalists, volunteer workers, civilians). These cowardly, masked, brutal murderers don't care that France (actively) opposed the war in Iraq, for principle or for profit -- for them there are other offenses, like the democratic rule of law. So France is discovering that they may have avoided the war in Iraq, but their appeasing of Hussein couldn't insulate them from terrorism. As Andrew Stuttaford wrote yesterday about the terrorists' current demand that the French repeal their law against the wearing of hijabs (and other religious wear) in schools:

Now, whatever you might think of that law, it was passed with the overwhelming approval of both chambers of the French legislature, according to the rules of France’s democracy and, quite clearly, the wishes of its people. To the extreme Islamists, none of this counts. All that matters are the demands of their insistent, raging, terrible god, a god with whom no negotiation is possible. Ever.

So far, France is not going the way of Spain and the Phillippines and capitulating to terrorist demands. I'm not sure they quite get it yet, though, with French officials "mounting a diplomatic offensive."

Here's hoping it works. I'm not optimistic. (I am glad to see the shows of unity across France, though.) May God bless the hostages.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Syndicate this

Tech note: Thanks to Tony Rickey at TYoH, I think I've managed to get my site feed into RSS format instead of (in addition to?) Blogger's standard, Atom. The url to syndicate the site, via FeedBurner (link at bottom of blogroll) is http://feeds.feedburner.com/Irishlaw. Hope that works!

Why not to drink

. . . to excess, that is. A gruesome story: two lives ruined.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Exercises in humility

Today's gospel reading was Luke 14:7-14, the parable of the wedding banquet guests, in which we are told again that "every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted." It's a recurring theme in Christ's teachings that the last shall be first, and the first, last; and it all has to do with humility before God, who is above us all and before whom no human pride has any basis. For some reason, I was thinking that a cynical person might look at these readings in a sort of calculating way, as if one could do some reverse psychology bit on God and humble oneself with the true intention of being made higher. But of course, He would see straight through that. One of the points of living a Christian life is to strive to become genuinely humble, to purge ourselves of what C.S. Lewis recognized as the greatest sin: pride.

Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind. . . . Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man.

The Christians are right: it is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began. Other vices may sometimes bring people together: you may find good fellowship and jokes and friendliness among drunken people or unchaste people. But pride always means enmity -- it is enmity. And not only enmity between man and man, but enmity to God.

I think everyone has to struggle with pride, in the sense that it means taking pleasure in one's own importance or one's own self. You can take pride in someone's praising you, or pride in someone else's achievements, but it's problematic when you take too much pride about your own achievements relative to others. I try to be conscious of being proud, but it's something I struggle with, too. I have to laugh at myself, though, that sometimes when I pray for humility, I can feel that reluctance in my own desires. That is, my version of St. Augustine's "Give me chastity and continence -- only not yet," is sort of a "Lord, make me humble -- but don't embarass me too much in front of others." So I realize I also have to pray to want sincerely to be humbled. It's an ongoing struggle, but it's also a relief to let go of some instances of pride. Because ultimately, we're all unworthy before God, so it's pointless to posture. Fortunately, He loves us all anyway, so our real striving should be to show gratitude for His love, in the way we humble ourselves and treat others.

In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that -- and therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison -- you do not know God at all.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Perspectives

A few thoughts from different sides on adoption and artificial conception by SS couples (or groups) and in general, for consideration.

Ben Bateman (at Marriage Debate):

When we start with children whose genetic parents cannot or will not both raise them for whatever reason, the natural response of every moral person is to want those children to get the best upbringings possible. The people who adopt those children are generally very kind people who are doing something morally wonderful. They are to be praised and admired.

So I agree with Mr. Rosenberg on the importance and goodness of adoption. But I also see another part of the picture that he seems to miss: Who produced those children? The vast majority need adoption because some man or some woman produced them without intending to raise them. Heterosexual irresponsibility creates the problem; adoption tries to fix the damage it causes. As much as I feel for those children currently in need of adoption to enjoy a two-parent home, I feel even more for the many more children yet unborn who will also need it in the future. While we're helping today's children who can't have two-parent homes, can't we also take steps to reduce the number of children who will have the same problem tomorrow? . . .

I ask Mr. Rosenberg to consider a larger picture than the relationship between a child and adoptive parent: Let's discourage people from producing children who need to be adopted! Let's encourage sexual responsibility by urging people to marry before they have sex, and to stay married once they've produced children. . . .

Mr. Rosenberg focuses on marriage as a way to make child raising easier for whoever has volunteered to raise a child. In my view, the main point of marriage is to affect the behavior of heterosexuals before they produce children. It's to encourage them to first commit to each other sexually, financially, and emotionally, and then have children, so increase the chance that those children will grow up in stable homes, and so that the effort and expense of raising them falls on those who decided to make them. The legal benefits of marriage that make childrearing easier are primarily enticements to sexual responsibility, not rewards for taking on the job of raising a child.

Mike Pignatello and Elizabeth Marquardt (at Family Scholars):

Pignatello: But if gay parents adopting unwanted kids is so great, then there is a tremendous contradiction here in the anti-SSM position: some anti-SSMers support same sex parents who adopt, but don't support same sex parents who conceive. Opponents seem to prefer that kids be raised in homes with opposite sex parents, yet somehow, with adoption, gay parents will suffice. The contradiction in supporting one process (adopting) and not the other (conceiving) for the same outcome ("family") is usually excused by saying this: an exception to the rule can be made for gay parents, ostensibly because having "some parents" is better than having no parents at all, and because adoption itself is an exceptional circumstance.

Marquardt: My argument is that children need not just any "two parents," or any two parents of the opposite sex, but specifically their mother and their father, the two biological creators who children look to for the most basic and fundamental questions of their own identity. Adopted children have already been abandoned by those parents and need loving homes. This is why I welcome the prospect of gay and straight couples adopting children. But in a world of many fatherless or, increasingly, motherless children, we do not need to have children intentionally created fatherless or motherless by the use of radical reproductive technologies.

I don't know if SSM would actually increase the number of SS couples using these technologies. It probably would, but what is more important is that SSM would fully normalize the use of these technologies. In the public square we would be unable to debate or even question these technologies because they would be the only way legally married SS couples could have their "own" children.

Yet normalizing the use of radical reproductive technologies to facilitate the new norm of married SS couples is not even my biggest fear. My biggest fear, the one that seems likely to affect many more children, is that a new norm of SS married parenting would reinforce the idea that children in general - whether born of straights or gays - do not need their own mother and father. When SSM becomes a new norm, those of us who advocate, for instance, for children of divorced or single parents will be challenged by people who argue, "Well, children of same sex couples don't grow up with their father or mother either. Are you saying there is something wrong with them?" Those who suggest that children need their mother and father will be charged with homosexual bigotry; indeed in the current debate at times we already have been.

David Blankenhorn (Family Scholars):

If this is the case [that genetics and parenthood are different issues], why are we hounding single fathers for child support? Did they intend or choose to create a child? Why is it uniquely men who are bound by biology while everyone else's parenthood is based on choice, not biology? Are we really going to be able to hang onto the idea that biology creates obligations under the new regime? I note that when the Dept. of Health suggested changing Mass. birth certificates so they no longer read mother and fathers, it was Child Support Enforcement that objected.

I [David] would add that it's simply ridiculous to assert, as Leonard Glantz does, that the practice of adoption in human societies means "the end of the picture in terms of genetics" -- that is, adoption means that being a parent has nothing to do with biological ties to the child. What utter nonsense! Adoption as a social institution is almost as old as marriage itself, and like marriage, adoption is a nearly universal human institution, intended to provide a child with a married mother father in those cases in which one or more of the biological parents is either dead or unable to function as a parent. And in the long, largely impressive history of this human institution, no one has ever -- until Leonard Glantz, about two minutes ago -- seriously suggested that adoption negates or "means the end" of the concept that parenthood in human societies is fundamentally connected to biology.

Sara Butler (Family Scholars):

Orenstein also notes "the evolving notion of 'psychological parenthood,'" which some states will award to "a second mom or dad who wiped runny noses and helped with homework - who had a clear parental role regardless of the actual legal relationships." How exactly we can decide who has played a "parental role" (or even what that role might look like) without knowing what a parent is beyond me. . . . Now, I happen to find some version of this argument (that gay marriage is good for kids because gays and lesbians have kids, too) the most compelling one out there for gay marriage, but it is by no means a total answer to this problem of defining parenthood, which is brought about by the use of reproductive technology just as much as it is by same-sex couples. . . . I certainly don't have any great solutions here, but legalizing gay marriage wouldn't totally solve this problem and changing our legal definitions of parenthood to suit adults' not-so-constant wants rather than childrens' rights and needs seems pretty unwise.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Total inversion

The Massachusetts high court decided the other day that the former lesbian partner of a mother is not required to pay child support to the mother for the child they decided together to have (via artificial insemination of the mother), because the first woman is not the child's parent according to Massachusetts law (though I'm sure the law, post-Goodridge, will be catching up soon). Naturally, I'm to blame for the whole mess -- at least according to mediocre law student, who appears to be upset with me again. How does this work? Unfortunately, mls's arguments have things completely backwards:

[I]nnocent children are screwed over without a means of being supported like a child born to heterosexual parents would be automatically be entitled to due to the "plumbing" of their parents. This, to me, is the most compelling argument for same-sex marriage: LGBT folks are going to have relationships, and they're going to have kids, but without marriage or some other form of a legitimacy statute, if the relationship of the parents breaks up, there's no one there enforcing child support obligations. In the long run, that's the real detriment to society.

The sad thing is that this is a direct result of the opponents of SSM, and of arguments similar to this one from IrishLaw back in March. People who object to the legitimization of SSM in turn block the legitimization of children of those unions, and should a relationship break up, by death, divorce, or otherwise, these people have done nothing more than screw over a whole bunch of children in the process of enshrining their religious ideology on the rest of us. What's admirable about winning your battle at the expense of helpless children? Regardless of your beliefs on this particular issue, children should be financially supported regardless of parental gender/situation.

Take this apart. First, to be technical, the child in question here was born to a man and a woman, if not necessarily to heterosexuals, because a man still had to be involved (however anonymously) in conception. A man may give up his claim to paternity by being an anonymous sperm donor, but he's still going to be the biological father of a child. And for any child conceived, unless there's been that legal disclaimer of responsibility by the biological father ex ante (and sometimes even if there is), he could be on the hook for child support. So what's keeping the mother in question here from receiving child support is the fact that the father is anonymous. The "plumbing" of the first woman here is irrelevant -- what's relevant is that she is not biologically related to the child in question, and the law generally doesn't recognize that living together with someone, or sleeping with a child's parent, or acting like a parent (or not, as the case may be) compels financial obligations to support someone else's child. Being either of the two people biologically responsible for creating a child is what compels financial obligation to the child. (For what it's worth, and consistently enough, I do have ethical issues with anonymous or other sperm or egg donation, surrogate parenthood, and other assisted/artificial reproductive technologies.)

Second, this is quite a statement: for mls, the most compelling argument for same sex "marriage" is that we need it for when there's same sex "divorce," or rather, just so we can have child support. But from who? Mls is right that LGBT people have relationships, and have children -- but children are not and cannot physically be children "of those unions." They will always, of necessity, be children of other unions, whether those unions be from earlier heterosexual unions (in which case either illegitimacy or divorce and single parenthood are already there in the child's life), unions with known sperm donors or surrogates, or unions with a turkey baster and an anonymous man's contribution to it, among other possibilities. Calling two women or two men "married" would not truly legitimize these children as to their parentage, even though it might put a second person on the hook financially. But as the quote of Elizabeth Marquardt's I linked to (in the post mls objects to) suggests, you can't get around the "fact -- fact -- that all babies are born, somehow, of a mother and a father." So maybe we should turn the argument back around to note correctly that I and others opposed to SSM are not the ones responsible for children being stuck in situations without their own mother and father being known to the child and married to each other. It's the couples (or groups) who choose to conceive children from the beginning with no possibility of the child's mother and father ever being married to each other, who are responsible for creating such situations. Mls is right to suggest that not having your parents around is a bad situation for the innocent children. But maybe the people who think having children is a "right," instead of a gift, to be had by any artificial means necessary and in spite of the fact that children do best with their own married mother and father, are the ones who should take responsibility not to create and bring children into situations where there's no mother and father to begin with.

Mls's solution to the fact that children are stuck in these bad situations is not, however, to suggest we help avoid such situations in the future -- by encouraging personal responsibility and strengthening families so children are more likely to be born, within marriage, to their mother and father, thus benefitting them and society. His solution is to rewrite marriage laws so that we can start calling more people "parents" under the law, in order to beget more financial obligors to children. But legitimizing SSM would only make it more likely that more children would be brought into such unions without their mother and father in the first place -- exacerbating the problem. Children should be financially supported. But they also should have their own mom and dad around to support them in every other way. You can't, and never can, have that with SSM. Someone who believes a main problem facing children is that they aren't financially supported when their LGBT parent-couples (or groups) break up is someone who doesn't truly understand what the children needed in the first place. It wasn't generic, gender- or number-indifferent "parents" -- it was their own mother and father. They deserve that. We should be encouraging a society that affirms that.

Mls's main objection to opposition to SSM seems to be that some of it is quite openly grounded in religious belief (a wide range of religious beliefs hold this, actually, though his specific hostility appears directed toward Christianity). But he has never, to my knowledge, acknowledged that a good deal of opposition to SSM has nothing at all to do with religion. It does have to do with preserving and strengthening an institution that is critical to the stability, health, and viability of our society -- in no small part because it is critical to children. I turn mls's question back around to agree that there is, indeed, nothing admirable about winning your battle at the expense of helpless children.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

NOT NRML

That was what the vanity license plate read on the car in front of me on the road a few minutes ago -- and placed next to the plate was a "John Kerry President" sticker. Heh.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Power of the Gospel, on film

Hearing about the targeted marketing efforts to sell The Passion DVD, to be released next week, makes the whole affair seem rather less genuine than it did in the spring. Nevertheless, the success of Mel Gibson's incredibly powerful depiction of the passion of Jesus Christ never depended upon slick movie marketers and Hollywood gimmicks. The success was owed to the message, to the way the film caused most of its viewers to be stunned into a deeper reflection -- or any reflection at all -- on their faith. And judging by preorder sales online, interest remains high months after audiences made it one of the top grossing films in history, contrary to the contemptous predictions made by critics beforehand. Here were some of my thoughts on the film at the time:

[M]any reviewers who have criticized this movie simply did not, for lack of a better phrase, get it. Mel Gibson's film is not about Liberal Hippie Jesus, or Buddy Jesus, or Wimpy Jesus. Mel Gibson's film is about the Son of Man and Son of God, and it is uncompromising in its demands upon the audience to experience Christ's suffering and death with him, and to accept our own complicity in his suffering and death. Part of the Catholic profession of faith, made in every Mass, states, "For our sake, he was crucified under Pontius Pilate. He suffered, died, and was buried." That is what this movie is about.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Summon the Nazis

I think it is reasonably uncontroversial to say that the Nazis represented the worst of humanity. Stalin may have killed more people, Dark Ages executioners may have done so more cruelly, but the Nazis in their ruthless inhumanity towards, most abominably, the Jews, set the standard. When people mention the Nazis, it is usually as a rhetorical flourish that is intended effectively to end an argument by drawing a comparison to the worst thing possible. Today, Professor Vischer at Mirror of Justice used the example of the Nazi "medical" experiments in the concentration camps to start a discussion in his legal ethics class. The intent was "to help students see the limits of role-differentiated morality (i.e., the notion that the role of a lawyer justifies conduct that would otherwise be considered immoral)." I assume that by starting with a case one would think would get an easy answer (no one would ever agree with a Nazi position, after all -- they're evil!), Professor Vischer intended to set an ethical boundary and work gradually towards the harder hypotheticals that so abound in legal ethics. But it didn't quite go as one would think.

The question: if you were a scientist in Nazi Germany and told to conduct human experiments at the concentration camps, would you do so? The answers:

"If they are going to die anyway in the camp, their deaths might as well contribute to the greater good of medical knowledge."

"That society's morality would have been determined by military might, and could easily include the idea that the Aryan race should be advanced, so I would probably do the experiments."

"Scientists should focus on the advancement of science."

I'm tempted to go into the "Western civilization is doomed" mode, but I suppose I'll forego it. Lord, have mercy! If nothing else, the story does illustrate how law school, and the skill it teaches to be able to see every position as rationally defensible for the sake of argument, can lead to a weakening of the ability to make moral judgments (I can't find the exact First Things article on this point that I want, but this one is close). One of the biggest questions in my ethics class last spring was that of the lawyer confronted with a client who tells you where he's hidden the body of the child he kidnapped. Suppose you go to the site (a debatable course of action in itself): do you then check to see if the child is still alive? Do you call for help? I was relieved that many people in the class took a "damn the torpedoes" approach to the bar and said they would help the child regardless of the consequences because it would be the right thing to do as a human being. But the Model Rules do seem to counsel otherwise -- because if you reveal knowledge that you could only have gotten from the criminal, your client has been compromised because you have violated confidentiality. Even my professor said he'd hang his disbarment certificate on the wall with pride if he lost it for that reason - but it bothers me that the issue is considered - and is in fact - one that raises real ethical questions. Well, never mind Western civilization: what's wrong with lawyers?

Prayers

Please keep blogger Joshua Claybourn, who lost his mother to cancer last week, in your prayers. Joshua shares a moving reflection on the end of his mother's life here.

E-Z divorce?

Jeremy, who has been getting back lately to writing funny posts, has also been posting on more serious topics this summer. This one, about his experience doing pro bono work for women -- domestic abuse victims, women who do not speak English, or women who may be on welfare -- who need help procuring their uncontested divorces, got me thinking.

Intuitively, you would think this would be easy. She wants a divorce, he's cool with it, poof, you're divorced. My biggest surprise this week was that this just isn't the way it goes. There's forms. There's lots of forms. There's requirements for service of process, and forms that go along with that. There's a form for keeping the wife's address confidential, so the husband can't find her in cases of domestic violence. There's a form to detail to the court exactly why they're getting divorced. There's lots and lots of forms, each with its own peculiar and precise legal language. And filling them out takes a while, and there are many steps each case must go through. Initial filings. Subsequent filings. Final filings. Affidavits. Notices. Etc. . . .

It seemed like part of the problem was that New York doesn't allow no-fault divorce, and so there's a plaintiff and a defendant, and five possible causes of divorce -- cruel and intolerable treatment, abandonment, constructive abandonment, and 2 others I think. The cruel treatment one seemed to be most commonly used. And it requires affidavits with long and detailed descriptions of what happened.

Jeremy wonders why all the bureaucratic hurdles and paperwork. It led me to reflect on the question as well. To some extent, I think there's going to be a lot of paperwork no matter what jurisdiction you're in -- divorce is a rather involved legal process because marriage is so legally significant. Particularly if there are children involved, there is a lot to work out, as I had plenty of opportunity to observe when I interned for a family lawyer. But to the extent that New York requires more paperwork because it has fault-based divorce, I come down on the side of that being a good thing -- not for every individual involved, but in the aggregate. Marriage shouldn't be that easy to get out of -- it should be a headache, it should be difficult to divorce. It should be so distasteful to divorce that people think harder before getting married in the first place, knowing it would be hard to leave. They should take more time consider the commitment and assure they would stay together for life, as promised.

I don't like bureaucracy and paperwork, either, and it does create a greater hardship on those, like victims of abuse, who are most likely to have demonstrable cause for divorce and need to get out of bad situations quickly. To that end, what paperwork is necessary could be more streamlined. But if streamlining means switching to the legal circumstance of eliminating fault-based divorce (and thus eliminating adversarial legal proceedings), I don't think that's a good thing as it has played out in the vast majority of states with no-fault divorce. When you make divorce too easy, and don't require a reason for it, people will take advantage of it and we will see, as we have over the last 40 years, a lessening in society's understanding of the permanence of marriage. That is, we've seen more people getting married with the understanding that divorce will be a ready option if things just don't work out (i.e., one person's not happy), and so we've seen a very high divorce rate overall. But if the law reflects that exiting marriage would be a difficult and involved process, then maybe people think twice before entering into one. I'm definitely not without sympathy for the women who really need help in getting out of bad situations -- that's why divorce is there, after all -- and I'm also not without sympathy for those who, in uncontested proceedings, simply want to get things over with. But this is one of those things, I believe, where inconvenience that is undesirable for some individuals could actually be desirable as it is part of the implementation of an overall policy.

(Note, I don't think bureaucrats who create all the forms in, say, New York are necessarily doing so because they are intentionally trying to make divorce harder. And factors other than fault-based divorce may very likely be reasons for the state's lower divorce rate. But where no-fault divorce has been implemented in most states (with correspondingly, I presume, less paperwork and hassle), divorce rates have gone up, which is in most reasonable evaluations a bad thing for society. Even if there's less paperwork there, I don't think the tradeoff -- as no-fault divorce is now being pushed in New York -- is a good one for society, and we'd do better to bring back tougher divorce laws.)

(Note also, I don't think Jeremy wants less paperwork at the expense of more/easier divorces in general -- these are just my thoughts off on a tangent.)

Monday, August 23, 2004

Gentlemen and the high seas

I didn't realize until I stepped into class for the first time today that Admiralty (which hasn't been offered at our school since the 60s) might be a subject that didn't appeal to women at all, but apparently it is such a subject, as I believe I am the only woman in a class of about twenty. Haven't had that happen in some time - should be interesting :) I have no idea why the class should skew so much one way, although probably not many other girls were like me in picking up Patriot Games and Hunt for Red October at age 13 and subsequently reading all other Clancy novels available. I know military/naval topics aren't all that admiralty encompasses, but there's some overlap, and I just think it's cool. Now if I can just stay awake during that post-lunch hour of the day . . .

The real promise

Hadley Arkes's article on stem cell research - adult and embryonic - today on NRO contains a good summary of why embryonic research should be disfavored, and also provides a great list of some of the successes that have already been realized over the past few years with adult stem cells, including:

- They were responsible for the first completely successful trial of human gene therapy, helping children with severe combined immunodeficiency disease to leave their sterile environment for the first time.

- Adult cells from a young paraplegic woman's own immune system, injected into the site of her spinal-cord injury, cured her incontinence and enabled her to move her toes and legs for the first time. (Reported in congressional testimony in July 2001.)

- In July 2002, bone-marrow stem cells were incorporated and differentiated into retinal neutral cells in an injured retina. Researchers have used bone-marrow stem cells to grow new blood vessels in the eyes of mice — a procedure that they hope might lead to treatment for some forms of blindness in humans.

- Around the same time, scientists implanted adult bone-marrow stem cells into children with osteogenesis imperfecta, a severe bone and cartilage disease, and the stem cells stimulated bone growth.

- In the summer of 2002, researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital successfully turned adult stem cells into insulin-producing cells that could reverse diabetes.

Successes like these and the real promise represented by ethical, adult stem cell research should be publicized as much as possible to help counter the tide of media and other publicity (like that coming from the Kerry campaign) that fails even to acknowledge that adult stem cells exist.

UPDATE: Justin Katz notes that the New York Times has, in fact, decided to acknowledge the existence of adult stem cells. Unfortunately (though not unpredictably) that acknowledgement is not really a fair representation of what adult stem cells are and how they are being used (the article cites a researcher who is studying fetal stem cells in adults, as opposed to adult stem cells themselves). Thus, while readers of only the Times might now know adult stem cells are out there, Justin writes, "their conception of it is entirely wrong."

Friday, August 20, 2004

Yep

Jeremy on the Olympics on NBC. I agree, I think NBC thinks we're really stupid. Not only do they think we won't be able to follow if we don't have a designated storyline about an American, they think we won't be able to follow if we don't have a designated storyline about a particular American. So when a teammate beat Michael Phelps in a swimming heat the other day, the reporter talked to Phelps first and asked him why he thought he'd lost right then and if he thought he'd be able to win later. Hello? Guy standing next to Phelps was the one who'd just won this particular race? But viewers don't know who he is (because NBC hasn't really told us), so don't bother talking much to him. And now, for a commercial break, and we'll show you the finals in 19 minutes . . .

Legacy of unfairness

Fool observes, of President Bush's recent comments that he would oppose college legacy admissions because the system "ought to be based on merit":

Sure. Now that his daughters have graduated, let's do away with "legacies". Worse yet, where would GWB himself be if he weren't a legacy?

Now, I suspect this is just a snark at Bush, but I don't even think it's all that valid (Jenna wasn't a legacy admit at UT by either of her parents; Bush was a legacy at Yale but not, so far as I can see, at Harvard). But in any event, I think it's plausible to oppose a policy even though one may have benefitted from it, as long as there is an implied concession that one would have been happy enough not to have benefitted from it in the past. (Maybe the President isn't making that concession, but he does freely acknowledge the legacy component of his admission to Yale, it seems, so he's not opposing legacy and somehow high-mindedly maintaining he never benefitted from it.) There's nothing much inconsistent about that. I have that take on affirmative action. Justice Thomas also opposes affirmative action, even though he almost certainly has been a beneficiary of it. In fact, when people sneer at his opposition ("fine of him to say that now - where does he think he'd be without it?"), to my mind that helps highlight exactly why he is justified in opposing it. If affirmative action didn't exist, no one would ever have to question whether someone achieved a high post based on merit or on an irrelevant characteristic like race. Such questioning is unfair to those beneficiaries of affirmative action who would have succeeded just fine on their own and who have to work harder to overcome assumptions they don't belong where they are on merit. The question is also unfair to those who have to wonder whether others are there because of merit or just race.

I don't much mind legacy admissions in general the same way I oppose affirmative action (though I think there are plausible reasons for opposing both). College admissions have never pretended to be scrupulously evenhanded, and perhaps they should be more exclusively merit-based, but I don't mind colleges utilizing preferences to a certain extent so long as they aren't based on characteristics such as race - where "preference" would constitute invidious discrimination, given the ugly history race discrimination has played in our society. Not all discrimination is invidious. We don't have long, ugly histories in our society of discrimination among athletes and non-athletes, for example, so I don't think it should be overly bothersome if athletes have certain advantages at getting into some colleges because the colleges are looking for better athletes to improve their standing in college sports. Similarly, if colleges want to solidify their support among loyal alums and likely also help the size of their endowments via donations from those loyal alums, it makes some sense to admit alums' children or other family members at slightly higher rates.

I'm not rigidly in favor of legacy or athletic preferences, since they aren't really fair insofar as they don't constitute merit-based admission. But they don't bother me to the same degree as affirmative action. In any event, I think one can validly oppose preferences of all kinds in admissions, regardless of whether one was a beneficiary of those preferences.

Abortion chic

Dawn Eden continues to highlight Planned Parenthood's offerings to make abortion seem downright trendy. Items for sale in the San Francisco branch's store (in addition to the main site's recent happy listing of "I had an abortion" t-shirts) include thong underwear that has "Pro-Choice" emblazoned across the front. I'd make some sardonic comment, but there's no way I could top Dawn's:

The ad copy for the thong shouts, "Buy your pair now before they are all gone!" I assume the "they" refers to the product and not future generations.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Life at the bottom

A few weeks ago I was joking a bit with an attorney at my firm about his minor problems, in the area around the house he was moving into, with Ecuadorian gangs. We were only laughing because he teased that I, Godfather-like perhaps, could have some connections there because I know a lot of Ecuadorians in the area (namely, my boyfriend's entire extended maternal family). I know, though, that the growing criminal problem among a burgeoning Hispanic underclass - often made up of illegal immigrants or their children - actually is no laughing matter. La Shawn Barber calls attention to several recent WaPo articles and this City Journal piece documenting the crime wave and looking at its indicators. Among the most distressing, common to every Western underclass, is the high unmarried teen birthrate:

Open-borders apologists dismiss the Hispanic crime threat by observing that black crime rates are even higher. True, but irrelevant: the black population is not growing, whereas Hispanic immigration is reaching virtually every part of the country, sometimes radically changing local demographics. With a felony arrest rate up to triple that of whites, Hispanics can dramatically raise community crime levels.

Many cops and youth workers blame the increase in gang appeal on the disintegration of the Hispanic family. The trends are worsening, especially for U.S.-born Hispanics. In California, 67 percent of children of U.S.-born Hispanic parents lived in an intact family in 1990; by 1999, that number had dropped to 56 percent. The percentage of Hispanic children living with a single mother in California rose from 18 percent in 1990 to 29 percent in 1999. Nationally, single-parent households constituted 25 percent of all Hispanic households with minor children in 1980; by 2000, the proportion had jumped to 34 percent.

The trends in teen parenthood—the marker of underclass behavior—will almost certainly affect the crime and gang rate. Hispanics now outrank blacks for teen births; Mexican teens have higher birthrates than Puerto Ricans, previously the most “ghettoized” Hispanic subgroup in terms of welfare use and out-of-wedlock child-rearing. In 2002, there were 83.4 births per 1,000 Hispanic females between ages 15 and 19, compared with 66.6 among blacks, 28.5 among non-Hispanic whites, and 18.3 among Asians. Perhaps these young Hispanic mothers are giving birth as wives? Unlikely. In California, where Latina teens have the highest birthrate of teens in any state, 79 percent of teen births to U.S.-born Latinas in 1999 were to unmarried girls.

It's so disheartening to see the breakup of families and family life in Hispanic communities today, particularly given the strong traditions they often come from. As Britain's poor working class of the post-war era used to maintain strong faith and senses of responsibility, pride and family, but today have sunken into an illiterate government-dependent squalor (so well chronicled by Theodore Dalrymple); so have Hispanic immigrants, like those from many other countries, often come from societies where even in the midst of poverty, they've had strong religious and family values and senses of respectability and pride in work -- but now the second and third generations are falling apart. The most recent statistics I am aware of track the last paragraph quoted above: currently, almost 70 percent of black American children are born out of wedlock, almost 45 percent of Hispanics, and one-third of white children. But Hispanics are having many more children. Given the myriad problems that are correlated with single parenthood and divorce, it's very difficult to break the cycle including little education, incarceration, welfare, domestic and other violence, and physical and emotional health problems. Of course many people come to this country and assimilate well, while still retaining pride in elements of their own culture -- as immigrants to America have done from the beginning. But it's a more complex question why so many of the recent Spanish-speaking immigrants seem not to be assimilating well. I suppose it involves the illegal status of many, dependency on the government, fewer jobs that don't require some education, and elements of current American culture that actively discourage immigration. Create a "diversity" group and claim a grievance, and it's another reason not to just go about working hard and fitting into a new society. I don't know. As problems of violence increase, it's going to be hard to find a way up from the bottom for many.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

How far is heaven?

Just had to note, because this is possibly the first and only time I've ever been ahead of a pop culture trend of any kind, that Los Lonely Boys are now a bona fide hit on the summer airwaves, with the first song off their self-titled album, "Heaven." I've been listening to them for over a year, and not just because I am related to lots of Garza brothers :) (the name is as common as Smith in Texas, I know, but it's still cool). Well, I take it back - I have been ahead on a couple of others, like Shakira, whose Spanish music is still much better than her English. In any event, if it's regular old popular culture, I probably will have no idea what I'm talking about, so I had to note this nice Tex-Mex group. Now, if Mana becomes popular soon in English also, that would be cool.

Also, I have to lament the apparent absence of any Spanish radio station in Columbus. Does anyone know of one outside of satellite radio? I've found one predominantly Tejano station, but for the size of the Hispanic population we have in this city I feel that there should be something else. I liked listening to the Spanish contemporary rock station (La Mega, 92.7) this summer. Will have to keep an eye out.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Desaparecidos

Kidnapping is a crime that we don't have to worry too much about in America anymore, because generally it is the province of violent criminals (who aren't as common as popular media might suggest) or parents (who at least can often be identified). Of course the cases of missing children are terrible and we're all familiar with the "Have you seen me?" notices that come in the mail, but aside from warning your kids not to go along with strangers and taking personal safety precautions, it's not generally something we think about as a daily risk.

In Latin America, which accounts for 75 percent of the world's kidnappings (as compared to 2.2 percent for North America), the situation is far different. Kidnapping for ransom is an extremely lucrative criminal enterprise in countries throughout the region and as it increasingly affects the middle classes as well as the wealthy, whole populations live in terror that they or someone they love will become one of the desaparecidos - the disappeared.

The insurance industry estimates more than 7,500 kidnappings a year in Latin America, but analysts say those statistics and governments' counts aren't reliable because so few kidnappings are reported -- 1 in 10 by some estimates.

Oil workers in Colombia languish in remote guerrilla hideouts for years. Women in Brazil are raped after being picked from shopping malls. Businessmen in Argentina are tortured while their abductors negotiate multimillion-dollar ransoms. Children in Mexico are returned to their parents one finger at a time as kidnappers press their demands. . . .

One effect of the wealthy's retreat behind barriers is that kidnappers are increasingly targeting Latin America's middle classes -- and even the poor. Over the last few years the region has seen a blossoming of a new kind of abductions, variously called "quicknappings," "express kidnappings," "millionaire joyrides" or "opportunistic kidnappings."

These are kidnappings without the research. Criminals cruise shopping malls, nightclubs or restaurants, choosing their victims on the spot based on the car they're driving, the watch they're wearing or the company they're keeping. Such kidnappings are often quite brutal.

"Because they don't know how much money you have or where you have it, they figure they can beat that out of you," Holder said. "They have a high propensity to violence because they haven't done their homework."

It's scary stuff when you can't take the rule of law for granted, as much of the world cannot. And it may be easy to condemn the widespread corruption and failure of the laws to stop the rampant organized (and unorganized) crime that so affects Latin American societies in particular, but it's tough to change even to get to a point where the laws mean something. When there's so much poverty and you're a poorly-paid law enforcement officer struggling to get by and someone offers to give you money if you just look the other way, it takes an extremely strong person to resist. But if it's ever going to change, it will take a lot of strong people - and it will also take a massive popular effort to change the very cultures that exist in Latin America. I pray the popular stands taking place in Mexico and other countries against the kidnappings can have an effect in stopping all the random violence. But articles like this one don't give much cause for optimism in the short term.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Al Qaeda and avians

Professor Bainbridge points to a strange story out of Los Angeles, in which travellers flying in and out of LAX may be put at risk because of government attempts to protect some shrimp (creating preserves for a few shrimp eggs could draw rodents and birds to the airport, thus increasing the risk of birds getting sucked into engines). Writes the professor: "It's bad enough having to worry about al Qaeda when flying, but now it turns out that our own Fish & Game folks may pose an even greater danger." The dubious environmental priorities at work here reminded me of the commerce clause case of the Texas cave bugs, GDF Realty Investments v. Norton, 326 F.3d 622 (5th Cir. 2003), where the plaintiffs have been prevented from developing several hundred acres of land because of a few admittedly unimportant cave-dwelling species underground. Plaintiffs donated some of their land for government preservation and scientific research, but courts deemed it insufficient. In this case, no people's lives are put at risk by preventing development, but it still strikes me that something is messed up with our environmental regulations if we can't distinguish between animal species that either aren't really viable in the first place (or unlikely really to be harmed by development of land), and human beings.

Good advice

. . . from Law v. Life (no permalinks; it's her Friday the 13th post) for all the new 1L's about how to handle law school. I'd give more emphasis to staying away from the alcohol, but she's absolutely right on this point: "Don't obsess. Don't worry. Don't stress. It's just school."

On second thought, maybe that's good advice for 3L's too :)

Promises made and promises broken

The interesting situation of New Jersey Governor James McGreevey, to which I responded here, prompted critique from The Fool, and (in Anthony Rickey's words) "fits of apoplexy" from Chris Geidner. Right, then: to the response. (The comment boxes on Chris's posts also contain good discussion.) First, I do give McGreevey credit for taking responsibility for his actions and being so forthright - he wasn't being Clintonian in his statement - but I still had some cyncism about the whole situation, and concluded that while McGreevey may be more at peace now, his "honesty" is probably going to result in a lot of grief for his children, since it's probably going to lead to another divorce. Fool thinks I would put McGreevey in an untenable position:

Why is this problematic? As a fairly devout Catholic, it seems unfair that IL would chastise the Governor for being honest. Which commandment addresses this? Ah, yes, the 9th: Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. I believe that this is the commandment that typically is read to mean “Don’t lie.” . . . So, after years of living a lie, IL faults McGreevey for telling the truth. Moreover, she calls his request for forgiveness “hollow”. Is not a good Catholic supposed to accept his public act of contrition and forgive him, once requested?

Moreover, her position would seem to subject his honesty to his “duty and responsibility toward family.” IL’s analysis would put McGreevey in a wholly untenable position. If he tells the truth, he’s bad because he lacks any “understanding of duty and responsibility toward family.” If he keeps his mouth shut, he continues to live a lie. In essence, IL creates a Catch-22 in which no matter what McGreevey does he must be wrong. That is not fair.

Fool is right that McGreevey is as deserving of forgiveness as anyone else; from those he is asking for it, namely his family members, I hope that they are able to grant it, for his sake and theirs. Forgiveness is a powerful thing. My difficulty with McGreevey comes from the fact that he is not asking for forgiveness and truly seeking to rectify the situation by re-committing to his wife and children, but seeming to ask for their blessing and understanding as he now goes forth to establish his new identity as a "gay American" - or in other words, as he presumably now leaves his family in pursuit of that identity. And here's where the dilemma Fool presents fails for me: I disagree that staying with his family, after having admitted an affair of any type, constitutes "living a lie." I think that Fool thinks "the truth" McGreevey was required to tell is that he is gay, and that "the lie" that would be sustained is being married to a woman at all. But I disagree in this regard: I think the "do not lie" part is implicated by having an affair (not diminishing desires for other people, which most married people have to do at some point in time), and telling the truth is confessing to the affair - then, praying his family will forgive him and continuing to honor his freely assumed responsibility toward his family.* I don't think it constitutes living a lie for a man to have desires for people other than the woman he is married to, but rather it is part of love to suppress those desires through a will to honor the promise and to love the woman he has pledged to honor his whole life.

And that gets to some of my disagreement with Chris, as well. Chris writes:

I do not at all think his adultery can be written off, however, as the same as a heterosexual man cheating on his heterosexual wife with another heterosexual woman. This is not because gay relationships are somehow different, but rather that the reasons -- as many former spouses of gay people could discuss -- why a closeted gay man cheats on his wife are different. I could not have that discussion with IrishLaw because she feels there is no value to gay relationships and that they -- in and of themselves -- are the problem. . . .

To the extent, however, that Tony [Rickey] agrees with IL that McGreevey should have just (presumably ended the affair and) continued to live a lie in order to make things "easier" on the kids, this represents to me a fundamental difference between our understandings of family. To me, family is about honesty, love, and support. It should not be seen as better for children to be raised by a dishonest father hiding from his true sexual orientation.

I just don't think that the reasons you cheat on your spouse matter in the end: you still cheated on your spouse. Chris says he's not trying to aver gay relationships are somehow different in this context, but I think this is exactly what he's saying: a man who cheats on his wife with another woman should probably not get a pass, but a man who cheats with a man should (as long as he atones for the sin of adultery). In other words, it's somehow more honest for McGreevey to admit to homosexual inclinations than it is to (say) admit to being in love with another woman, because he "made a promise, yes, but he made a promise that was at odds with his very being -- not just his 'sexual inclinations.'" So if a promise runs up against something you consider to implicate your very being, I guess the promise goes out the window, albeit with appropriate mea culpas. Chris may say this isn't what he meant precisely, but I wonder if Chris would have made the same impassioned defense if the governor had admitted that he had an affair with a woman, and he apologized but he just couldn't "live a lie" anymore of staying with his wife because he truly believed this other woman was his soulmate, and he struggled with it but it just wouldn't be honest if he didn't admit to this new love, and isn't it better for his family and his children that he be honest with them so his marital vows aren't sustained on a lie? I doubt it. It seems to me this could be the rationale for any divorce caused by infidelity where the cheating spouse really, truly feels that he or she honestly loves someone else more - but maybe I'm wrong, and Chris would defend that cheating husband's "honesty" as well. In this case at least, though, if McGreevey had been in that position of having an ordinary heterosexual affair, he probably wouldn't have gotten the same support for being "honest"; as it was, he was able to consult with a "national gay rights organization" to strategically devise the announcement of his newly discovered truth that he was gay, and he was able to count on loud and vocal support of his newly adopted identity. (As Tom Sylvester wonders at Family Scholars blog, "Would the Times have credited the gov with 'uncommon grace and dignity' if this were a plain ol' sex, fundraising and dirty politics scandal?")

The reason I do not extend the "gay infidelity is different because the reasons for cheating are different" argument much credence is not that I think gay relationships have zero value (it's true that I don't think that gay sexual relationships are deserving of any particular esteem, but that's distinct from saying same-sex relationships of all kinds have no value - I don't agree with that statement) - it's that I think the reasons for cheating don't matter - it's the same effect on your marriage vows and your family. In this particular case, I'm not even sure that McGreevey's "sexual inclinations" are so clear-cut as he says - he married his first wife, at least, he said, out of love and respect. He didn't find being married to a woman so repulsive and inconceivable that he couldn't do it twice, and have children; and there's a question of whether he would even have come to this momentous realization that he was actually gay (not just possessing of some homosexual desires) if he hadn't been threatened with a lawsuit.

Chris is right: we have fundamental differences on our understanding of marriage and family. For Chris, it's about "honesty, love, and support." For me, it's about commitment, fidelity, and love - but love as a decision, not a transient emotion. Love as an emotion can't be sustained - it naturally ebbs and flows over time. Moreover, temptation always exists. But when you commit to love someone for life, you say that you will love and honor that person through your actions and your will even in those times when the emotion isn't there. That's part of the true essence of love, and makes it stronger over time. When we celebrate someone's "honesty" for admitting that their true emotions, no matter how strongly and genuinely felt, are leading them to break their freely assumed vows,** we are, whether we like it or not, encouraging a more fluid understanding of love and commitment. We are rejecting the sound notion, reasoned out by the ancient philosophers through to the present, that the will can ever rightly direct the emotions. That's a recipe for chaos. Chris's anecdotal evidence may show families are better off if the parents follow their "true" inclinations and get divorced as long as they still support and love their kids; my anecdotal evidence shows families are often wrecked and almost irreparably damaged when parents elevate their own desires over their commitments to their marriages. More than that: all the empirical evidence we've been able to gather from the last forty years of liberal understandings of commitment and easy access to divorce show that to children, it doesn't matter whether their parents left in pursuit of their true selves - it just matters that their parents left. Divorce is often devastating to children, even when parents tell themselves they're doing it because the children would be better off (because the parents wouldn't be unhappy, the parents wouldn't be fighting, the parents wouldn't be "living a lie," etc.). Unfortunately, that's the real lie. Which is why I feel bad for McGreevey's children. But my thoughts will be with the whole family now, and I hope that I'm wrong that the governor's statements will lead to the breaking up of his family.

* Maybe his wife would find it too difficult to forgive him, and choose to end the marriage herself. I can't even pretend to know how difficult a decision like that would be. But in this case, McGreevey foreclosed the option to her of deciding how to respond by not even offering to continue in his vows, but by announcing his new identity that seems pretty clearly at odds with staying married to her.

** I reject absolutely the suggestion, by Chris and Fool, that I "and homophobic persons" (ha - I don't accept the label) are somehow responsible for pressuring or forcing James McGreevey into marrying two women and fathering two children in spite of having some homosexual leanings, which implies McGreevey had no capacity to make his own decisions about how to order his life.

Friday, August 13, 2004

The hard cases

Alan Keyes is unabashedly pro-life. And believing as he does that abortion is wrong because it is the taking of an innocent human life, Keyes takes the consistent position that voluntary abortion is wrong even in the difficult one or two percent of cases where pregnancy is a result of rape or incest. Why should an innocent child be punished, after all, for the offenses of his parents? "It's quite clear that there's a deep injustice involved in that. . . . We know that that's not fair," he said recently. I agree (unsurprisingly) with Keyes, and don't think that makes me an extremist, but rather, consistent. But Will Baude at Crescat thinks this is a terrible argument:

Abortion is not designed to punish the aborted fetus ("killed baby," if that terminology is more to your liking)-- it's designed, in the case of rape and non-consensual incest, to restore a wronged person to her "whole" state. Now if Mr. Keyes means that innocent people (if indeed a fetus is one) should never ever have costs, especially very large costs, imposed upon them by anybody else in the interests of justice, that is an interesting position (though it probably has to be asserted rather than argued).

Start with the first contention. Abortion may not be designed to punish the unborn child in these cases, but I don't see how it can be understood as doing anything but. The child is alive before the abortion, and the child is dead after the abortion. The only reason why this innocent child is different from any other innocent aborted child is the very unhappy circumstance of his conception, which difference lies not with the child; and so from that perspective the innocence, lack of culpability, and lack of necessity for death are the same. But if a child is a human being regardless of how he was conceived, why should abortion be permissible dependent on the circumstance of conception? Of course we want to do everything we can to help a wronged woman become whole again. But actions cannot be undone, and they certainly cannot be undone by killing an innocent third party.

Which leads to the second point. I agree that it is an interesting question whether and to what extent costs may be imposed on the innocent in the interests of justice. Is it just, for example, not to hire (or admit to university) more qualified nonminorities (or non-preferred minorities) so that the asserted just end of making up for past discrimination is served by admitting less qualified, preferred minority applicants? (The Supreme Court says no, though they apparently have accepted that achievement of "diversity" is an acceptable just end.) In that case, justice imposes a cost on innocent third parties who were never personally responsible for discriminatory hiring or admissions processes in the past. There must be many hypothetical situations to discuss in this regard. But in what other case would Will assert that the death of an innocent person was an acceptable cost to bear in the interests of justice for a separate party? That is not only a "very large cost," it is the ultimate cost. I don't see how asking an unborn child to pay with its life (or, rather, not asking but just doing) is justified in the interests of helping heal the mother, no matter how tragic the injury she has suffered.

I don't think Will is an advocate of abortion at all costs - he's said he tentatively supports it on the grounds not of why the abortion occurs but of his uncertainty about when life begins. But if he were convinced of the truth that a human embryo and a fetus are in fact human beings, I don't think he could be okay with the proposition that abortion would be okay in some circumstances and not in others, depending on the circumstances of conception. Rape and incest are terrible, terrible things. But we do not help a woman to heal by committing a second egregious wrong of abortion.

UPDATE: Will Baude responds here, and Feddie at Southern Appeal has more here.

UPDATE II: Anthony Rickey writes here about whether self-defense is properly invoked as a justification in abortion in hard cases.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

"Sweet mystery of life"

New Jersey governor James McGreevey announced today he will be resigning in November, citing a homosexual affair and the realization that he is gay. (News reports also allude to related and other corruption and public scandals.) Gov. McGreevey's speech was quite odd as a coming out statement, though I suppose it fits in well as a postmodernist exercise consistent with someone of his elite education credentials. In keeping with the true Lawrence spirit, Gov. McGreevey has exercised his constitutional right to determine his own concept of existence:

At a point in every person's life, one has to look deeply into the mirror of one's soul and decide one's unique truth in the world, not as we may want to see it or hope to see it, but as it is. And so my truth is that I am a gay American.

Well, Justice Kennedy may be happy. And on the one hand, it's good that Gov. McGreevey is owning up to what he's done, publically and personally taking responsibility for it. That is, at least he's being honest. But on the other hand, his acknowledgement that his infidelity "violates my bonds of matrimony" and his asking for forgiveness kind of ring hollow when one reflects that he's about to violate his bonds of matrimony for the third time -- first divorce, then affair in second marriage, and now presumably second divorce -- since although his wife amazingly and honorably stood by him today, I don't suppose the marriage will last long now. He didn't admit to an affair and say it was all a mistake and a misunderstanding, after all; he admitted to an affair and declared an identity inconsistent with being a married father. Gov. McGreevey's own personal truth may settle his own confusion (and head off the sexual harassment suit, etc.), but it is really going to stink for his wife and two daughters, a teenager and a two-year-old, and doesn't say much for his understanding of duty and responsibility toward family.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

On the altar of science

From the Post yesterday, a report on the contrasting positions between the Bush and Kerry camps on the morality and federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, as distinct from adult stem cell research. On the whole it's not an unfair article, but it contains many of the by-now-standard misdirection tactics and misstatements on what ESCR actually is and what it requires -- namely, the destruction of human embryos. At the beginning of the article, we are told that the Kerry administration would support the "promising young field" of ESCR, while the Bush administration favors a "more restrictive research policy." True statement of the Bush position, but note the set-up: Bush wants to restrict something positive. Except while ESCR research may be young, it's not really as promising as it's been hyped to be, especially as compared to ASCR. Nevertheless: moving on, we are told that ESCR "relies on human embryos as a source of cells," though it takes until paragraph 8 before reporters Rick Weiss and Mary Fitzgerald allude to the fact that in order for the embryos to serve as a source of cells, they have to be "destroyed" -- killed.

There's also misleading by omission: while we're told that embryonic stem cells have the "biological potential to turn into every kind of replacement tissue a body could need," we're not told that it's also the case that these pluripotent cells are less malleable and more prone to uncontrollable growth and tumor formation than adult stem cells. Adult stem cells, in contrast, taken from umbilical cords or other tissue from adults, can actually be coaxed into all kinds of cells -- they don't have the same problems with tumor formation or rejection, they're already being used successfully in human cases, and there is no moral problem with using them since no person has to be killed to obtain them. My problem with the Post's coverage here is that it does not even mention that adult stem cells exist, much less explain the already partly-realized potential of these truly promising and unproblematic cells.

I note several inconsistencies in the Kerry position: they support "strict ethical regulations" (naturally) of embryonic stem cell research, promising that they would use discarded embryos from fertility clinics with parental consent, and research would have to be approved by an ethics committee. But the ethics come in at the moment when embryos are destroyed for the purposes of research -- once that decision's made, where in the world is an ethical line supposed to be drawn? Also, though promising all these regulations for ESCR to keep it ethical -- implying strongly that no embryos will be created for the express purpose of destroying them, and thus trying to sidestep the moral objections -- Edwards at the same time says he supports "therapeutic" cloning, or: "creation of cloned human embryos as a source of stem cells." It seems to me that "therapeutic" doesn't need to be there, since it's cloning no matter how you slice it. But of course, human embryo cloning isn't the same thing as human cloning, in the Kerry/Edwards world, though the distinction escapes me (maybe it's different since they put the emphasis on different words?). So where are the limits, Senators? They say "science should not be sacrificed for ideology" -- right, I suppose it's preferable to sacrifice basic moral principles on the altar on science. (Then again, for these NARAL cheerleaders, the basic moral principles around not killing embryos went out the window a long time ago.)

One other thing that troubles me about the ESCR debate is the way in which in vitro fertilization and other assisted reproductive technologies (ART) come into play. There are many, many ethical concerns implicated in the largely unregulated, $2 billion a year ART industry. That industry has exploded in recent times without most of us noticing how it came to be and how it works, and it's now so widely accepted that we are generally unconcerned about (for one thing) the fact that embryos are being artificially created every day without possibility of being born. So we can appeal to the fact that they're just sitting there frozen and might as well be used for research. But I don't think we should be okay with the fact that they were created in the first place. In sum, there are lots of ethical problems here - and allowing ESCR at all, much less funded by federal money, is no way to answer the problems.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Lo que pasa

Moving is challenging and tiring. Also, returning to long-distance-relationship mode after having been in the same town is always hard. I'm pretty exhausted and still trying to settle in to the new place while adjusting to being back in Columbus. So that's where I've been. Will be back to posting shortly :)

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

The accidental juror

A discussion has bubbled up again about the notorious coffee-spill-at-McDonald's lawsuit of ten years ago, thanks to PG at De Novo, Ted Frank at Point of Law, and others. While others are contesting whether and to what extent McDonald's really should have been liable, and who was responsible for bringing suit or allowing it to go to a jury, I note another point of PG's:

What always amazes me in any discussion of the plaintiffs' bar is the complete, yet covert, contempt that the typical tort reformer has for juries, which contempt he shifts onto an easier target (trial lawyers). Why question the good sense of the 12 average men and women who served on the coffee jury -- or even the integrity of the elderly woman who brought the case -- when you can vilify the lawyer instead? After all, the line doesn't go "let's kill all the jurors/ plaintiffs." Yet it is the jurors who chose to find McDonald's guilty and to impose the $2.9 million penalty; it is the plaintiff who chose to sue.

Trial lawyers are the easier target because they are not only responsible for bringing the lawsuits but also for selecting the juries. As one commenter noted at De Novo, the contempt thus lies not with the juries themselves (although there is probably an element of this - what kind of juror does think one self-inflicted accidental injury is worth millions of dollars?) but with the system, or rather the individuals, that select them. I'd like to believe it, but the notion that juries actually are representative cross-sections of society, comprised of average people with plain common sense, seems to be pretty well unfounded. Overlawyered's Walter Olson has written extensively about this:

A busy industry of consultants, how-to seminars, and jury selection handbooks offers advice to lawyers on whether or not to boot jurors based on such characteristics as hair style, hobbies, brand of car, and favored kind of reading. The "impartial juror" is just a fiction, declares an ad for a primer that promises to show "how to assemble your winning jury, step-by-step." By the mid-1990s, the jury consulting business was estimated to have passed $200 million in annual revenues, mostly catering to lawyers handling civil cases (that being where the money is). . . .

Demography aside [engaging in discriminatory stereotyping of potential jurors according to race, sex, religion, etc., notwithstanding Supreme Court proscriptions], a major goal of the selection process is the removal of any jurors with too strong a base of experience, knowledge, or opinion about the case’s subject matter. If a case presents important medical or accounting issues, for example, lawyers on one or both sides probably will want to get rid of jurors with expertise in those areas. Manuals emphasize the importance of excluding potential "opinion leaders" for the other side. "You don’t want smart people," says a Philadelphia prosecutor in an old training tape. "[They’ll] analyze the hell out of your case." Even before selection begins, busy people often have dodged service, leaving a pool comprised disproportionately of retirees, the unemployed, and workers who can be spared from their jobs. To make matters worse, a judge in a high-profile case may bounce juror prospects for cause simply because they have followed press reports about the events at issue.

It may not be just the civil plaintiff's bar at fault, then, for carefully pruning juries of members who might actually be smart, informed, or engaged. Concededly, prosecutors and judges (and defendants' counsel) employ the same tactics. But it seems to me that where jury manipulation selection matters most is where the most money is at stake - namely, civil actions brought by trial lawyers "on behalf of" negligibly injured plaintiffs, against Deep Pockets, Inc. If you can get a halfway decent plaintiff and play on pre-selected juror sympathies, or paint a sufficiently sinister picture of the defendant calculated to appeal to aforementioned juror sympathies, then you can get big bucks. (Of course, the plaintiffs may get $0.58 each, but why should it matter to the lawyers? They got millions.) So, to answer PG's point, it was the jurors who chose to award the millions to the McDonald's plaintiff, yes - but it was probably no accident that the jurors were who they were, because they were probably selected by the plaintiffs' attorneys for maximum probability of high verdict award. Blame the trial lawyers? I think I will.

Diversity at Babylon

Letters from Babylon has just made the switch over to Movable Type, and the new design looks very neat. From the latest post - a good reflection on campus non-diversity - I make only the admission that I am a bit envious that Emily Zimmer is getting to stay at the Ritz for the end of her Blackstone Fellowship internship. I've stayed at that hotel twice in my life, and it sets the standard :)

Chastity and biblical sex

Last night's topic for Theology on Tap (in Cleveland Park's pub Four P's) was called "Keep Your Hands to Yourself: Chastity in the Dating World," and it was presented by Cassi Lauterbach, Abstinence Director at the Rockville Pregnancy Center.

Even if you were sympathetic to the general sentiment, you couldn't help but smile a little bit at this - an abstinence director from a pregnancy center? And how very stereotypically Catholic to be talking about not having sex. Haven't we heard it all before?

Well: no. Just about every one of the Theology on Tap speakers for the past month has been great, and though with relation to the topic at hand my boyfriend and I are already committed to waiting until marriage (to each other or to other people) we still have to live that decision every day - and I hope we're never so proud to think we don't need reminders and education and prayer and deeper thinking all the time about how to live out a truly Christian relationship in all ways, including physically. So, like every week for the past month, we headed over to the pub for the talk - and it was one of the most powerful witnesses I've ever had the privilege to hear. Cassi talked about her upbringing in a family where the only advice on sex was "Use a condom!" - which advice she followed religiously (so to speak; the family was atheist) from the age of 14 when she became sexually active. Condoms didn't stop her from contracting two diseases (asymptomatic until they landed her in the hospital with massive septic infections and caused permanent sterility) and three pregnancies (all aborted before she was 21), not to mention emotional exhaustion and heartache. She recounted the story of how, the first time she met her fiance, he said he couldn't wait to be married someday and have children, since he was the last of his family; she had to tell him, later, that the bitter irony of her past was that while she had once been so fertile (according to her doctor) she could have had three children she didn't want, she now could not have children. Cassi spoke honestly, forcefully, and bluntly. She has turned her heartache around through faith and commitment and love, sharing her story with others to help keep them from making the same mistakes she did. Her message was for people who are committed to abstinence already and for those who are skeptical or incredulous that such a path is even possible, much less desirable. And her message was unequivocal: no matter what kind of past you have, it will always be with you - but any time you want to you can lay it down at the foot of the Cross, and walk on in Christ. People like Cassi, or La Shawn Barber, or others, give particularly powerful witness to understanding and following the right path in Christ.

Why does chastity matter so much? Sex in the Christian understanding is not bad; sexual desires are not (generally) unhealthy. But as with other things in life, something that is good may not be good at all times in all contexts. Cassi used an example of fire: it's great when it's in a fireplace - keeps you warm, can be beautiful and fascinating - but it's a disaster if it's in the rest of your house burning things down. In the same way, sex is a wonderful thing - but the context in which it belongs is marriage, where a true commitment for life exists between the man and the woman, who share themselves only with each other. Yanking it outside that context causes all sorts of damage, even when the actors are, as we can assume many are, well-meaning. One million abortions a year in America - 30,000 new cases of STDs every day and 65 million people living with incurable STDs - help show that fact, to take account only of the physical toll of nonmarital sex. Spiritually, it can cause even more damage. The marriage relationship is like that between Christ and the Church. It is a bond ordained and celebrated by God. Sharing a semblance of that bond with people to whom we are not committed does damage to the bond and to our own capacity to later truly bond. Practicing chastity - exercising restraint, actively developing relationships in capacities other than sexual - is a way to strengthen our bonds with other people and with God. It's hard because we do have such strong desires, but we must channel them into healthy expression in the right contexts. Though it seems hard, perhaps paradoxically it is quite freeing to let go of the sexual temptation - if sex is simply not an option outside of marriage, we are free to concentrate on developing our relationships in other ways. Writer David Morrison makes this point about chastity for those who have not practiced it before:
Look, I would be the last person to say that living chastely is easy, because it isn't - particularly when you first start. If someone has been using sex as a means of filling needs in their lives (often not related to sex) stopping sex will not make those needs go away. They will still have to be confronted, addressed and dealt with, and that can be a pain in the a**.

But getting off the sexual merry-go-round can give someone back themself, not as a commodity or as means to an end but as a human being. And if it is done with a reconnecting to faith, chastity can put them in touch with a deeper and more profound Love than they will find anywhere else.

C.S. Lewis made the same point many years ago:

Chastity is the most unpopular of the Christian virtues. There is no getting away from it; the Christian rule is, 'Either marriage, with complete faithfulness to your partner, or else total abstinence.' Now this is so difficult and so contrary to our instincts, that obviously either Christianity is wrong or our sexual instinct, as it now is, has gone wrong. Of course, being a Christian, I think it is the instinct which has gone wrong . . .

[M]any people are deterred from seriously attempting Christian chastity because they think (before trying) that it is impossible. We may, indeed, be sure that perfect chastity - like perfect charity - will not be attained by any merely human efforts. You must ask for God's help. Even when you have done so, it may seem to you for a long time that no help, or less help than you need, is being given. Never mind. After each failure, ask forgiveness, pick yourself up, and try again. Very often what God first helps us towards is not the virtue itself but just this power of always trying again. . . . Virtue - even attempted virtue - brings light; indulgence brings fog.

Finally, and I'm overusing the blockquotes but I think these are important, St. Paul of course told us all this from the beginning (Gal 5:13-25):
For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. . . . I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. . . . But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Summer in the (capital) city

It has been exceptionally humid and pretty hot here in Washington for the last week at least. I don't mind the weather really at all, except for that majority of time when I have to be in a suit. (Doh!) What contributes to problems is that the D.C. government seems to me uniquely incompetent, so that (for instance) after a control room flooded a week ago, the red line on the Metro is still going in fits and starts because they have to drive the trains manually (the horror). Of course, because the signs are often broken inside the stations, you can't know exactly how long your delay will be so as to decide if there's a better way to travel, and you can't know exactly where you'll be dumped off your train and stranded. Accordingly, when I tried to go two stops to Brookland/CUA last Friday, I waited for a train awhile, got on the next one that came, and was dumped after one stop at Rhode Island Avenue with no indication from the signs of when the next train would be coming that could take me that extra one stop. It was at least twenty minutes later, with one not-in-service train going by in the meantime. It was also at least 90 percent humidity and maybe 85 degrees. Brilliant. I've been delayed yesterday and today as well (25 minutes for a train last night). Meanwhile, at least we know Metro officials are busy protecting us from the criminals who would chew a candy bar inside the stations, even as they raise fares to provide fewer services. But I will save more of my complaints about D.C. government for another time.

In other summer news, last night I got to see CNN's "Crossfire" program at GWU with other summer associates. It was a fun trip and I enjoyed it, though it also reminded me why I don't watch political shows like this in general anymore. First, the audience skewed at least three-quarters (maybe more) Democrat. I think me and a few Young America Foundation guys behind me made up the biggest cheering section on the other side :) Accordingly, whenever James Carville would put up even a picture of George W., the audience would start to snicker. The hosts definitely seemed like they were having fun - they know they're just throwing out one applause line after another, and little substance comes through. Carville in particular laughed a lot, making it easy to laugh with him. Still, I think it must be frustrating for both sides not to be able to say anything more than the talking points, hoping to score more audience applause. Oh well. For my first studio audience experience, it was entertaining.

I've got a few posts to respond to (like Anthony Rickey's attempt to get me over my mask-phobia :) but this week is extremely hectic since it's the last one of the summer program, so there are events to be attended, tasks to be accomplished and packing to be done. But I will be around, so stay tuned.