Monday, January 28, 2013

Fetuses aren't people, says Catholic group

In order to beat a malpractice suit, a Catholic hospital in Colorado made the astonishing (for them) contention that a fetus is not a person.

Raw Story reports: According to the Colorado Independent, in the death of a 31-year-old woman carrying twin fetuses, Catholic Health Initiatives’ attorneys argued that in cases of wrongful death, the term “person” only applies to individuals born alive, and not to those who die in utero.


Friday, January 25, 2013

The era before 'job killing regulations'

I'm currently reading the fascinating book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. I can  not recommend it highly enough.

A passage describes working conditions in the garment factories of New York City in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

It was incredibly hard and often miserable labor. The conditions were inhuman. One survey in the 1890s put the average workweek at eighty-four hours, which comes totwelve hours a day. At times, it was higher. “During the busy season,” David Von Drehle writes in Triangle: The Fire That Changed Amierca, “it was not unusual to find workers on stools or broken chairs, bent over their sewing or hot irons, from 5 a.m"

Boy, I really long for the good old days before 'big government' imposed 'job killing regulations.' Sounds like a real paradise lost.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Trying to understand the gun culture

Note: this essay is about the gun culture, not about gun control legislation or proposals.
NCPR’s In Box blog has an interesting essay on northern New York’s cowboy culture.

I grew up in upstate New York and have spent virtually my whole life here. I’ve seen enough of isolated rural New York that I understand perfectly well why someone might feel the need to own a gun to protect their family and home. But while I get most of the gun culture, even if I don’t partake in it, there are still aspects about it that I simply don’t get.

An acquaintance of mine last week brought up the issue of guns last week following the passing of a gun control measure by the New York legislature and governor, the first since the Sandy Hook massacre. This was a bit surprising since we’d never directly talked politics before. He’s an evangelical Christian and very socially conservative (at least based on his Facebook page). He was extremely upset by the law. Fair enough.

He was so agitated that he was speculating on the possibility of moving to Canada or to Vermont... not mere ranting since he lives a stone’s throw away from the latter.

To him, the key issue seemed to be the mere (to my eyes) fact of having to register his weapons. when he asked if guns had to be registered in Canada and I said I think they did, he said the heck with that.

He seems like a nice reasonable person. Not a bloodthirsty fanatic. Not a drone intoning from a script. Not a raving lunatic blaming video games for Newtown. He is religious, pleasant, even boring, family man.

But the gun issue was so important to him, it seemed to trump his other views... to the point that as an evangelical social conservative, he’d considered moving to a far more secular country than ours and to a state where gay marriage was legal (and probably the most liberal state in the nation overall).

Evangelicalism seemed to be at the core of himself and his family’s everything, yet when guns were threatened, it seemed to trump even something as strong as religious belief. *This* is what I don’t get about gun culture... and frankly what unnerves me a bit.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Dr. King's real dream: dignity for all

Below is my annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day essay. Those who turn Dr. King into some sort of saccharine saint, as being solely about government equality under law for all skin colors, trivialize his struggle. He was about that, but about much more than that. His struggle was about the dignity of human beings, in the broadest sense. This New York Times essay says it best: Martin Luther King Jr. Would Want a Revolution, Not a Memorial.


Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. won the Nobel Peace Prize for his advocacy against segregation and other forms of state-sponsored racism. On this national holiday honoring him, it's worth remembering that King viewed as more than mere legal racial equality. He viewed the struggle more broadly as one in favor of human dignity. This is why he did not retire from public life following legalistic victories such as Brown vs the Board of Education or the Civil and Voting Rights Acts. Although legal segregation was crumbling in the last years of his life, Dr. King did not diminish his activism in any way. He merely refocused it toward another aspect of human dignity.

At the time of his assassination in 1968, King was in Memphis as part of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's (SLCC) Poor People's Campaign, where the city's garbage workers were protesting against unlivable wages. The SLCC had conceived the campaign as a way to mobilize poor people of all skin colors on behalf of a federal economic plan to rebuild American cities.

King realized that the end of state-imposed segregation would not improve the lives of black people if they remained miserably poor. In much the same way the lives of blacks in the south remained virtually unchanged long after the 'transition' from slavery to sharecropping.

King viewed the campaign part as the second phase of the civil rights' struggle. He viewed endemic poverty as a civil rights' issue.

This commitment to human dignity animated another lesser known aspect of King's work: his opposition to the Vietnam War and to militarism more broadly.

During his Beyond Vietnam speech given exactly one year before his murder, he explained why opposition to the aggression against Vietnam had entered into his activism:

As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men [in the ghettos of the north], I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked -- and rightly so -- what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.

Americans were being shipped off to Vietnam to kill, to destroy and to die. Nothing good was happening because of this. And King knew that the war machine specifically sought those with few other economic options to serve as its cannon fodder, a situation that's little different today.

Like many social justice advocates before and since, he deplored how much of our national resources (both financial and human) was wasted on fabricating foreign enemies to obliterate. "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom," he warned.

King probably realized that the fact that many young people had few other economic options was no accident, but the result of conscious policy choices made to ensure an insatiable monster created, funded and propped up by your tax dollars always had food.

(It's not the only insatiable monster but the other main one merits an entry of its own)

To restrict Dr. King's legacy to the fight for legal equality for black people is to sell him short. And it's misleads people into believing that his dream has been realized. His true struggle was the quest for human dignity for all people.

He could be no clearer about this when he concluded his Beyond Vietnam speech:

We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy, for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.

If you truly want to honor him, then follow this injunction.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Walkable cities, sustainable cities, thriving cities

Planetizen has an interesting piece entitled Marching Toward More Walkable Cities. In it, author Jeff Speck explains his General Theory of Walkability and how livable cities, cities with ample non-car transportation options, thrive economically because of it.

Speck points out that "[t]he typical American 'working' family now pays more for transportation than for housing" because "so many families found themselves not only underwater on their mortgages but also unable to afford the thirteen car trips per day generated by the average exurban homestead."

In his book Walkable City, Speck reconsiders the agenda he and his co-authors advanced in Suburban Nation. Why invest money and energy in building better suburbs, he says in response to a question from Florida, "when we have hundreds of historic downtown cores with underused infrastructure...

Friday, January 11, 2013

Newtown did not change us

After the massacre of several dozen school children and others in Newtown, CT, there was plenty of talk Newtown “changed us,” it didn’t. Within a few days, Americans were back to their usual pantomime political tribalism..

It’s like I said the day after Newtown. If we’re not willing to change something about our society, then nothing will change. Not exactly high philosophy but it means if we’re not willing to change something significant, we simply have to accept that there will be lots of needless deaths in our country, whether by children or by mall denizens, whether via guns or via other means. If we’re not willing to change something about our too frequent use of violence as a means of first resort, then all the sorrow and hand-wringing will be continue to be as hollow as it’s been. America has been a violent society from the beginning. Far greater massacres have done little to curb these impulses, so I have no expectation that Newtown will make any significant dent in how we act.

There was a (presumably) pro-gun control graphic that made the rounds after Newtown. It pointed out the rate of gun deaths in various western countries, the US of course being the highest. I was struck by it but in a different way the the authors likely intended. I was struck the fact that the two countries with the lowest per capita death by gun rates on the list were the UK and Switzerland. 

Britain has virtually banned private handgun ownership and has very strict gun control laws. Switzerland has one of the highest rates of gun ownership in the world and, if I understand correctly, has very little in the way of gun control laws. These two extremes of these supposedly “causational” factors have both resulted in far lower gun-related deaths than our own country.

Focusing solely on gun control is taking the easy way out, because even if the gun control makes a positive impact, that impact will be too small to make any significant difference by itself. We need to look deeper.
The problem is greater than what guns or ammunition is available or whether every school janitor has an AK47.  So changing gun laws or creating national registries of gun owners or the mentally ill or arming every special ed aid and bus driver in schools may or may not help a small amount but will not fundamentally change the situation because it doesn’t address its broader problem. We have to look deeper and that’s not something we’re not nearly as good at as we are invoking the Nazis in every argument and then going back to American Idol.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Will Chuck Hagel be Borked by the Israel mafia?

The New York Review of Books has a good piece on the attempt by the Israel mafia to “Bork” Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s likely nominee to be the new secretary of defense.

This wrath has been struck on the former Nebraska senator because in the past, Hagel has taken the highly politically incorrect position of refusing to mindlessly agree with every single policy, no matter how belligerent or immoral, of the Israeli government.

Israel is America's ally. The US is correct to stand up for Israel's right to exist and to be safe. But the mafia goes well beyond this reasonable objective.
The McCarthyistic tactics of this mafia - reflexively equating any disagreement with the Israeli government of the day to anti-Semitism - is despicable and downright un-American.

Israel may be America’s ally but it’s not the 51st state. It is not American territory. To demand that an American cabinet official should give greater loyalty to a foreign government than the United States is not only absurd, but arguably treasonous.