Monday, May 30, 2005

Political counsel

Pope Benedict has decided to back the Italian bishops in calling for Catholics to refrain from voting in a June referendum to repeal a restrictive artificial reproductive technologies bill. Critics are says that this is a "disturbing intrusion by the church into politics," but on this issue as with the Spanish adoption of extremely liberal policies on homosexuality, the pope believes that "the transmission of the faith and religious practices cannot remain confined to the purely private sphere." I do have some reservations about the Church becoming too involved in politics, but I mean that more in the context of the Church becoming too associated with party politics or too concerned with worldly power instead of service to people -- reservations drawn from examples in history where the Church has hurt herself and others from a confusion of her true mission. When it comes to taking positions on legislation or attempting to persuade people to enact laws that benefit the human person and protect the social good, I agree with Pope Benedict that the Church has no obligation to "remain confined to the purely private sphere." Rather, she has an obligation to act, through legitimate means, for what she understands to be the good. If Italy has a law banning general sperm and egg donation and defining life as beginning at conception, that certainly accords with Catholic understandings of when life begins and the caution with which we should approach reproductive technologies -- so I don't think there is anything wrong with talking to people to share that point of view. Same thing went with the Iraq war -- many in the Vatican obviously believed the war did not meet the criteria to be just, and I think it's all right for them to say so. The former may be a more unambiguously Catholic position to take than the latter, but in either case I don't think the attempt to enter public debate is a priori inappropriate.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

It's a "non"

In a referendum on whether they want to adopt the bloated EU constitution, French voters have just answered with a decisive "no." George Will wrote this morning about why the Constitution might be generating unease among Europeans, since it cedes a great deal of individual nations' sovereignty to less-accountable supranational bodies in so much legalese. Submitting the Constitution to referendums, though, has been called "risky" because of the possibility that voters might actually not choose the Eurocrats' desired answer. As Will points out, democracy hasn't been a big deal to the Eurocrats all along, so they have been sweating the outcome of the French and Dutch votes -- and with good cause.

Chirac, who pushed hard for a "yes" vote, in a rather cold acknowledgement has said the vote was a "sovereign decision" and he "note[s]" it. UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw wants a "period of reflection." I think that might be helpful -- for Jack Straw, Chirac, and others who have been pushing the Constitution on citizens who often haven't been given a say in whether they want Europe to act uniformly in all matters. You can't have a rule by the consent of the governed, if the governed don't want to consent in the first place. And if you want any legitimacy, you do have to ask for that consent.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Kids' perspectives, lost in the debate

Elizabeth Marquardt has a good post replying to a Jonathan Rauch article arguing that SSM is good for kids. She points out that the real lessons learned by a child when any given coupling may be considered the same as marriage are actually not as rosy as might be suggested:

From the hetero-Smith marriage the child learns that when he or she grows up someday it’s important to try and marry, and stay married to, the person they have a child with. From the same-sex-Jones marriage the child learns, what? That babies arrive in all sorts of ways. That the adults who conceive the baby might just be paid agents, or might disappear, or might be consigned to the margins, or might stay involved and visit on weekends, or might form any other number of weak, transitory relationships to a child, or might form none at all.

So when the child grows up, if she’s a girl she learns that if she gets pregnant she shouldn’t necessarily think the guy is important to her child. Or she shouldn’t expect him to stick around. Or it’s just as good to have him as a weekend visitor in her child’s life as having him married to her, living with her and the child. Who loses out? Their baby.

And if Rauch’s hypothetical child is a boy, when he grows up, what message has he absorbed? If he gets a girl pregnant, fathers don’t necessarily matter. Law and culture say two moms, two dads, a mom and a dad, no difference . . . . Who loses out? Their baby.

Sci-fi dorks still the same

I've been on the Internet since about middle school (maybe 12 or 13 years ago) and started posting on bulletin boards and Usenet groups in early high school, moving on through generic CompuServe chat rooms to AIM to message boards and then to blogging, et cetera. (Dorky sci-fi interests were almost always involved here.) Before middle school I can remember the early TI and DOS-based computers, and as a kid I could probably do about ten-line Basic programs (my computer programming knowledge essentially stopped there, too, except for really rudimentary HTML :). Anyway, I suppose I recount all of that to say that I used to think I was on the relatively early edge of popular computing and the widespread use of the Internet, but now I understand that's not true at all. Witness this vintage bulletin board for Star Wars fans -- in 1983. And my generation thought it invented Internet griping and nitpicking of cult films. Our boards now are much easier to navigate and look cooler, but plus ca change . . . . I just had to laugh out loud at the thought of no doubt longish-haired, thick-glasses-wearing professors and grad students sitting in their brown-and-orange furnitured offices typing away to gripe about Return of the Jedi. At any rate, I'm glad there's more of a home now for women among SW fans and Internet users alike, and our post-grad student furniture is probably nicer, but the dorkiness endures.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Pesky moral principles and ESCR

There are other bills the president should have used his veto on (like McCain-Feingold) but if he is ever going to use it, it would be good to use it with today's proposed bill (Castle-DeGette) on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. The House is debating today and apparently is expected the pass the bill today. I understand the emotional argument of wanting to expand embryonic research, since many people sincerely believe there is nothing wrong with using embryos if it would lead to cures for diseases, but some of the bill's supporters are using ludicrous lanuguage like this:

"For America to stand back because of a moral principle and not allow sound scientific research to proceed under the umbrella of the National Institute of Health, I think, is unconscionable," said Rep. Charlie Bass, R-New Hampshire.

Standing back because of moral principle? Shock, horror. One might think that, far from being unconscionable, to act with reference to well-formed moral principle is actually to be conscientious. At least the president understands that, for which I am grateful. Today he appeared at the White House to reiterate his opposition to embryo-destructive research. With him were twenty families who had either given up their "spare" embryos for adoption or who had adopted those embryos, and the children who had been born as a result. If the embryos weren't human beings, how could any of them have been born? And if every embryo is equally human, how can scientists presume to dictate with impunity that some are deserving of death, even in the name of possibly helping others? The families with adopted embryos, now children, are powerful reminders that it is human life that embryonic stem cell research employs. I think it's great that the president has called attention to this fact:

Nightlight's embryo adoption program has now matched over 200 biological parents with about 140 adoptive families, resulting in the birth of 81 children so far, with more on the way.

The children here today remind us that there is no such thing as a spare embryo. Every embryo is unique and genetically complete, like every other human being. And each of us started out our life this way. These lives are not raw material to be exploited, but gifts.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Riverdance in heaven

Late link, but did anyone catch the Simpsons episode with Homer and Bart converting to Catholicism? Commenters at Amy Welborn's had the reaction. I thought it was pretty funny overall. Best gag was a sight one -- the outside of Bart's new Catholic school, St. Jerome's: "He suffered for his faith. Now it's your turn." Heh.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Sith sense

Okay, I've seen Sith a couple of times now (as must have a lot of people, given the staggering $85 million take in the movie's first two days) and, in this fan's opinion, it rocks. (The fully outfitted stormtrooper and Imperial officer I walked by on the street on Friday night agreed.) My opinion may not be worth much to SW skeptics, since I'm someone who really enjoyed AOTC also (but mainly just the podrace and lightsaber scenes from TPM), but I think this movie is very cool. Even the dialogue had many fewer cringe-worthy lines than Clones -- based on reviews, I had expected it to be worse than it was, but the only serious clunkers to me were Padme's "Hold me" and "I'm so in love" lines. Otherwise, I bought Anakin and Padme's relationship much more this time around, partly because I could accept Anakin as an adult and they were both more natural in their interactions.

So everyone knows what happens in this movie, and the intrigue and fun comes in seeing it played out. There's a fair amount of cheese and cute moments -- most involving R2-D2 and Yoda -- but also a lot of compelling drama and emotion, as in Empire. Ian McDiarmid really goes over the top with his evil, manipulative, and maniacal Emperor. The way he laughs throughout the duels with Mace Windu and Yoda is creepy and great. Yoda continues to be the most convincingly rendered CGI character I've ever seen. I haven't been a huge fan of Hayden Christensen's before, but I thought he did a strong job showing Anakin's anguish, anger, confusion and descent. From his "What have I done?" line at the moment he turns, to his rage at Padme and Obi-Wan on the landing platform on the final planet Mustafar, Christensen was totally believable. I especially liked the contrast in the end (there's your "crispy Anakin" scene, neurosis) when Anakin screams, "I hate you!" and Obi-Wan answers sadly, "You were my brother -- I loved you." Anakin always seemed fixated on Obi-Wan (see how often he mentions him in the original trilogy, too), on proving himself better than his master, even though Obi-Wan was happy to acknowledge Anakin's talent and skills. The jealousy just overshadowed Anakin's ability to appreciate the genuine friendship they had had.

Other points. This movie did nothing to "cure me of my ridiculous obsession with" (or at least, minor crush on) Ewan McGregor. What a great Obi-Wan. There were several moments I could see Alec Guinness in his performance, with his mannerisms and voice (one reviewer even compared the performance to De Niro's young Brando in Godfather II), and he really seemed to be enjoying the role. The final duel was great. The digital landscapes (especially on Coruscant and in the opening space battle) were often stunning. I could have done with a little less CGI (Tarkin looked plastic at the end, the lava floats were a little too smooth, and a few scenes with Artoo weren't quite right) and fewer edits to some scenes (Padme's death happened too quickly and with too little explanation). The politics didn't bother me at all. If some people want to read anti-Bush sentiments into the politics of Sith, well, it's valid to a certain extent, but the movie is much more a commentary on the popular rise, repeated throughout history, of totalitarians like Napoleon or Hitler. Also, some thought Anakin's turn happened too quickly, but I didn't think so. There was quite a bit of foreshadowing in the previous movie -- and given that three years passed between Clones and Sith, and also that there was more time in the middle of the movie than was readily apparent (between Anakin getting appointed to the Council and him discovering Palpatine), there was plenty of time for Palpatine to be working on his manipulation of Anakin. There was also time for Anakin's fears of loss and anger toward the Jedi to simmer and reinforce themselves in his mind. I thought his ultimate choice to become Vader was credible.

So: one for the ages? Nah. But a thoroughly satisfying movie for Star Wars fans who already buy into Lucas's creative world (and an entertaining movie even for casual viewers)? I would have to say yes :)

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Human markets

NBC's planned new drama "Inconceivable" (link via Amy Welborn) deals with a fertility clinic and its patients, though the series blurb lets us know that the staff members will have "their own occasional adventures involving sex, deception and secrets" too. Well, it's certainly the stuff of drama, but the odds it will seriously tackle the major ethical questions surrounding artificial reproductive techniques in general are probably low.

And major questions are there. The other day I ran across a magazine ad for the Genetics & IVF Institute advertising their donor eggs. Only of high quality, though, of course. As the ad and the website's text put it: "We have recruited approximately 80 currently available egg donors meeting the highest medical, genetic, and educational screening standards." I know sperm donors are "screened" the same ways, and it is equally disconcerting: it doesn't seem right to be flipping through books and resumes to select the genetic profiles for your children. Of course people have always done various forms of natural selection, as it were, to find mates with attractive looks and pedigrees -- but at least if you marry the person you select, any children resulting will know their parents. The anonymous selection methods are discomfiting because they embrace the market economy for human beings, touting attractive qualities of human beings who are effectively for sale. But especially in the case of women, what is really going on? Here's another line from the website:

Another major advantage is that it is a very easy treatment to undergo, since it is far simpler to do a recipient embryo transfer cycle that to experience a typical full IVF or ICSI cycle with the complexities and discomfort of ovarian stimulation and ultrasound-guided egg retrieval.

Wow -- usually the "complexities and discomfort" (not to mention possibly serious health risks) of egg harvesting are glossed over in discussions of fertility treatments, but it looks like if someone else will be experiencing it (for an often not-so-handsome sum) then it's all well and good. But is that really right? The donors meeting the "highest standards" are people like this college student, who sold 22 of her eggs for a paltry $5000 to pay for her tuition. The details:

Clark had her egg retrieval procedure on April 14, which was preceded by several weeks filled with medical and psychological screenings, ultrasounds, self-injected hormonal drugs . . . . "You feel like you're going through menopause," Clark said of the mood swings she experienced due to the drugs, which included Lupron and Human Menopausal Gonadotropins.

The retrieval is invasive and the eggs are collected under I.V. sedation, as a large needle must be inserted and passed through the vaginal wall into the follicle . . . .

"I feel heavy," she said a few days after the retrieval. "I was running and I was like 'Oh, my God, I have to walk.' They tell you you're going to have heavy ovaries, I just didn't think I would notice. I'm also retaining water. I look three-months pregnant, I can't sleep on my back," she added.

As Elizabeth Marquardt asks, "Her fiance is all for it – wonder how he’ll feel ten years from now when he considers that their children could have up to 22 unknown half-siblings?" We're "transcending" sex in the creation of children, but I don't think many people have thought about the consequences.

Last names

Interesting comments over at Volokh about women who would otherwise describe themselves as feminists nevertheless changing their names when they marry in keeping with the general Western tradition. Isn't it patriarchal, after all? Well, while I think there are decent reasons not to change your name, opposing patriarchy isn't really one of them. Most of the women commenting on Professor Volokh's post seem to agree. Either way, though, one (unscientific) remark caught my attention: "All of my 30 something friends who changed their names are still married. Those who didn't are all divorced." Any truth to that comment seems to find echoes in quotes like this:

But bluntly, and looking back at it, I (and I suspect most women who change their names) was not being honest. The real, core reason was that it was very, very important to my husband that we have the same last name. And if I had refused, it would have been an enormous battle. It was easier to give up a name I wasn't terribly attached to, anyway, and my husband liked it. I didn't want to admit that if I stood my ground rather than saying "no, your sense of male privilege is not a trump card," that it would have caused an irreparable rift and perhaps ended our marriage. (Eventually it ended anyway.)

Ouch. I suppose if you see changing your name as surrending to "male privilege" then you might resent not just the new name but the whole marriage arrangement. But I do think most women who change their name are doing it to increase the sense of family unity as well as for practical reasons (it's easier to travel, pick up your kids from school, and so forth). And while enlightened men aren't supposed to care what their wives want to do, I think it's probably all right for them to want their wives to share their names. Mark this down as one of those symbols where the meaning still matters.

Uptown guys

This morning on the way to PMBR class (that's multistate review, for those fortunate enough not to know) I stopped to chat with a couple of the guys camped out in front of the Uptown for tonight's premiere of Revenge of the Sith. This group is funny, as reporters have been discovering (the satellite vans have been there all day today, too):

"All the questions will be answered -- why Anakin becomes Darth Vader, what happens with the Empire," said Dan McDonald, 41, a Target store employee from Springfield who saved "every possible vacation day" to wait in line.

Mr. McDonald officially began camping out Thursday night, but has been going home and to work. Last night was the first night that he spent in front of the Uptown.

Mr. Rego has been sharing his tarp with a man named Nick, whom he met in line at the Uptown during the previous two sequels. Nick came to the District from California just so he could watch the movie at the Uptown, Mr. Rego said.

Apparently the lines were just as long in 1977. I would say it's a little crazy to camp out days ahead of time for a movie, but they do it partly for charity, and besides, who am I to talk? I'll be at the midnight showing at a different theater tonight, just as hyped up as everyone else. (Also, like Tony, I'm not overly concerned about any unsubtle political jabs from Hollywood liberal Lucas -- though unlike Tony, I figure I already know the extent of said jabs, and they're not supposed to be too bad.)

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Gateway to the west

That whole hooding ceremony thing is pretty cool, I have to say :) After a week of first finals, then serious packing, it was nice to get to Friday. The whole day was very enjoyable, particularly the addresses by Professor Oesterle (always one of my favorites -- he's always especially entertaining on the subject of how little most judges know about business) and Brandon Lester. If I may, I'd like to say congratulations and best wishes to all my classmates :) (Also to my college friends graduating from law school in Tennessee, New York, and Indiana -- yay!)

When there's five kids in your family, sometimes minor conflicts will arise on weekends like this. Such was the case yesterday, when my little brother's graduation from SLU was supposed to occur four hours after my own. So along with one parent, one brother, and one sister who'd stayed for my hooding, I hopped on a plane at 3:30 yesterday and headed to St. Louis for various ceremonies here. I'm very proud of my brother :) Now the whole family is now engaged in cleaning and packing things up from the brother's apartment (who said people didn't have big families to have a labor force anymore?). Tomorrow it's back to Columbus and on to the next phase, as bar prep classes start in D.C. on Monday. Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

And there was much rejoicing

Woohoo! That's my un-lawyerly reaction to being finished with law school :D Hard to believe it's been three years already, but all the exams are done, my mother's trying to get me to come over to their house to go through childhood boxes in anticipation of moving, and as of Sunday night this blog will be coming from to y'all from "a Domer in D.C. (via Ohio State)." Professor Berman asked the other day if LvL and I would continue to blog after law school. I think she may not continue (though I hope she does!) but my plan is to keep writing. This is a fun outlet and keeps me in touch with a lot of interesting people, so I can't imagine leaving my communities now. Hopefully I can graduate now (pending passage of the bar exam) to the ranks of Catholic blawgers like Feddie, while also moving on with my law school fellow-travelers (online, at least) like Tony, Chris, and Jeremy, whose blogs have all been influential for me.

Last night I had fun relaxing and watching "The Empire Strikes Back" with my little brother, who was home from college. It continues to be an entertaining film (but of course), and definitely sets things up for next week's premiere of Episode III. For those keeping track, LaShawn Barber recently confessed to being an SW geek as well (although, sadly, she doesn't like the prequels). Hopefully she'll give this one a try, though. So far, it looks very cool.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Report: Chickens stress-free, IL not

It was nice to get out briefly this week, as I managed to find an apartment, get some studying accomplished, and make a late stop at Cactus Cantina for Cinco de Mayo (which I think Americans have managed to turn into a Mexican St. Patrick's Day, that is, an excuse for drinking and feeling ethnic -- it's not even the most important independence day in Mexico, but then again "Dieciseis de Septiembre" doesn't roll off the tongue quite so easily :).

But now I'm sitting in Panera typing an outline, having green tea and generally being unhappy with Commercial Paper. (This is the last gripe, I promise, since it's the last test.) I note that the table cards in the restaurant emphasize that their all-natural chickens have been raised with "plenty of room to move, clean water, fresh air and wholesome feed" and generally stress-free living. It occurs to me that the kinds of people who really care about the water purity and stress-free living environments for chickens are probably not eating the chickens in any event. But maybe it makes the rest of us feel better in the meantime, although my own personal levels of stress and fresh air are not currently optimal. Ah well.

I should not forget to wish a Happy Mother's Day to any moms stopping by. Have a great day! :)

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Knowing the x's and o's

Michael at Blue-Gray Sky looks at some of the formations the Irish might try out this fall. As he starts off, "I apologize for dredging up ugly memories of the Davie era...and I'm here to tell you that it's safe to climb back off the ledge..." and then he explains why. Nice.

Thoughts from the road, or: Learning to love Whaley

I don't know what Chris thought about our Nonprofits final, but I thought it was hard. Then again, I thought Business Associations and Tax were both hard, and this class consisted of a combination of the two, so I don't know why I thought it might be any less complicated :) Oh well -- two tests and a seminar paper down, one test to go.

But, since I had spent about nine days straight studying and writing, I needed a break, so I drove out to D.C. today. I think I will get some outlining done and try to find an apartment while I'm here. I did make the most of my drive time, as I was listening to Professor Whaley's Sum and Substance tapes on Commercial Paper. I discovered the tapes as a 1L when I was planning to drive up to visit friends at Cornell, and since then I've always found them pretty useful overall. Especially for Civ Pro -- no offense to my professor, whom I liked and ending up taking for two more classes, but the tapes were much better organized than the class. I also liked Whaley's tapes on Contracts first year. But this year I have been mad at Whaley all semester because Commercial Paper (he wrote the book) is well nigh incomprehensible, even though one might hope otherwise because it's an extremely short casebook. The main conclusion I've come to is, banking statutes stink. But I decided to give the tapes a try, and they actually are a lot more straightforward than the book. So we'll see how that all works out for Monday's exam.

In the meantime, between tapes, I tend to scan for radio stations while on the road. Observations: Talk radio is a bit weird. There's not much other reception the mountains, though. And there are lots of country stations in West Virginia and Maryland. I guess I don't mind that last, because while I like a lot of different types of music (from hip-hop to classic rock to pop, depending on the mood) I do like country music. Brad Paisley's last CD was a Christmas present from my brother last year, and I have to say, it's fun stuff :)

The bling's not the thing

In the end, only about three kinds of commercials remain on the radio (in Columbus, at least): for cars, new homes, and jewelry, and the absolute worst of these is jewelry. There're at least eight different main vendors of each, it seems, and they all have their own little annoying jingles, but the jewelry ones take the cake because they're so brazen in their false syllogisms: "Buy her this, and she'll love you forever." Arrggghhh. I would say "don't believe this!" to all men, because it's certainly not true for many women, but then again, to consider this trend story (informing us that "For some, a one-carat diamond just won't do") maybe it is.

These days, bling isn't reserved for hip-hop artists and Donald Trump. Young brides from Boulder to Boston are flashing rings twice the size of what their moms once wore. The Gemological Institute of America has seen a 41 percent jump since 2000 in the number of two-carat-plus diamonds that it processes. "For a long time, the one-carat stone was basically the standard," says Carley Roney, founder of TheKnot.com. "But for a growing set of people, it's just not good enough anymore."

Bigger, brighter, flashier, and more expensive would be "good enough," apparently. But to what end? I think focusing too much on the rock obscures focus on who's giving it: you know, the guy you think you want to marry. Personally, if I knew the man I loved wanted to marry me, I'd be happy with something from Wal-Mart (as the article talks about). Symbols do matter, but oftentimes the reason they hold the meaning they do is unique to the circumstances. Symbols like an engagement ring shouldn't matter just to the extent you can show them off to people -- and isn't that a little tacky anyway? I guess not, in a hip-hop culture. Showing off a normal ring because you're excited is, of course, completely nice and understandable; showing off a ring to one-up your mother or compete with J-Lo (as this article suggests is happening), not so much.

All right, so I want to yell at the radio everytime it chips happily "That's Jared, the Galleria of Jewelry!" But, I do realize there's something else here as well. Several years back I read "The Five Love Languages" (this is what happens when you have parents involved in marriage ministry) and it actually gives a great insight into the different ways people feel loved or show affection. They generally settle into five types: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. If you're a woman whose language is acts of service, you can do the laundry and keep the house clean as a way to show love and support to your husband -- but if his language is quality time, he may not realize that's what you're doing and so seem unappreciative, in addition to being frustrated because he just wants to spend time with you. If you know someone else's love language, trying to speak it can be a great way to build communication and affection. So for a lot of women, receiving gifts really is the way they feel most loved, and if men buy something expensive for them they really will feel loved. I do understand that -- but even so, I think if a woman gets huffy because her engagement ring is only one carat, she's got priorities mixed up. It is possible to both really appreciate a thoughtful gift, and also avoid being caught up by the advertisers' hype.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Ce n'est pas posible

I've never done one of these little quizzes before, but found this one on one of my friend's pages (while I was taking a break -- but only a small break, of course :) -- from writing my seminar paper). And, zut alors, it turns out my inner European is . . . French.




Your Inner European is French!





Smart and sophisticated. You have the best of everything - at least, *you* think so.


That's amusing. I did my semesters abroad in London and Spain, and loved both of them. On the other hand, though I've taken about four years of French I only ever spent four days in the country, plus I think it's always fun to make fun of the French (see Monty Python for good examples of this). So what's up with this? Oh well. I'll still take the "smart and sophisticated" bit as a compliment from a random Internet quiz :)