Sunday, February 26, 2006

Murder for hire in South Dakota

South Dakota just passed a law banning all abortions, except if the mother will die unless she gets one. Now, the purpose of the law isn't actually to ban all abortions. The purpose of the law is to be challenged in court. It seems to be a given that, when the law is challenged in court it will lose. Then it can be taken to the Supreme Court, and right-wingers will be able to see if Judge Alito will be worth all the effort they went to to put him on the bench. So, the purpose of this law isn't to ban abortions in South Dakota, it's to over turn Roe v. Wade.

The bill contains no rape or incest provisions. That is, at least, logically consistent. If a blastocyst is an "innocent" human being, it can't be held responsible for how it was conceived.

However, I think that it's interesting that the bill only punishes abortion doctors. It makes providing an abortion a Class 5 felony, the second lowest class of felony, punishable of up to five years in prison and/or a $5,000 fine. It does not, however, criminalize getting an abortion. And that's not logically consistent. Any woman that paid someone to beat her two-year-old to death would be tried for murder, and rightly so. Why, then, does a mother that pays a doctor to kill her "unborn baby" get off scot-free? Undoubtedly, it's because the South Dakota legislature was queasy at the idea of a raped 12-year-old getting tried for murder.

I don't think this was really the intended purpose, but this bill also outlaws in vitro fertilization, where some fertilized embryos are usually discarded. In fact, it looks to me that abortion is a (fairly) minor felony, but IVF is first degree murder. South Dakota law defines first degree murder as:

Homicide is murder in the first degree if perpetrated ... with a premeditated design to effect the death of the person killed or of any other human being, including an unborn child

The new anti-abortion law defines an "unborn child" as "an individual living member of the species, homo sapiens, throughout the entire embryonic and fetal ages of the unborn child from fertilization to full gestation and childbirth."

This law makes no distinction between an "unborn child" and an unborn child inside a pregnant woman. So it seems to me that a fertilized zygote in a petrie dish can be murdered. Oddly enough, that would be first degree murder, but an abortion is only a Class 5 felony.

If I were a fertility doctor in South Dakota, I would be very concerned right about now.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Protecting marriage

For various reasons, I'm reading The Family Secret: Domestic Violence In America by William Stacey and Anson Shupe. It's about their experiences with women in a shelter in Dallas in the early 1980s. Nothing in it really comes as any particular surprise, but I think I have a better understanding and deeper empathy for these women and children caught in truly desperate circumstances.

One section, however, I found very interesting. It's talking about the available options to battered women, and what steps the women went through to get help before finally winding up at the shelter. Police are often of no help (this was written in 1983, when domestic violence was probably taken less seriously than it is today). They note this about the clergy:

...women in Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and conservative Protestant churches (such as the Church of Christ, the Southern Baptist Church, and various fundamentalist denominations) are most likely to find their priests and ministers of little help. The kinds of family conflict that might lead to divorce or separation threaten these groups. Their clergy are likely to recall the admonitions of Saint Paul on controlling women and use them to justify telling the woman she must stay in the abusive home. Here women will probably be counseled by a minister to "try to be a better wife" or to "be more considerate of him" and "obey him." Leaving the abusive man, or divorcing him, will be branded desertion or a sin, shifting the blame to her.

In short, if she is a church-going battered woman her chances of getting meaningful ministerial help are better in churches of a more moderate-to-liberal persuasion such as Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, or Unitarian.

I don't think it's a coincidence that the churches that are likely to deride a woman for leaving an abusive husband are the same ones that are so vociferous about arguing against gay marriage. What I think is so telling about the passage above is that it shows these same conservative churches are willing to put the benefit of the institution above the welfare of the individuals inside that institution.

I don't think any rational person doubts that marriage provides benefits to individuals that aren't available to single people or unmarried couples. I have yet to see a rationally-based argument against equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians. They all just use vague terms like "protection marriage" and "traditional marriage." But couching the fight in terms about equality and fairness isn't going to turn them to our side, because they are more interested in maintaining the illusion of what they think the institution should be rather than what it really is.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Some perspective on this President's Day

Thanks to our 24-hour cable news networks, we are better informed than ever.

This morning I turned on C-SPAN while I was eating breakfast. It's President's Day, so they were having a Presidential-themed morning. Several scholars that had written books about the history of the Presidency were on. There was some debate about what the worst Presidential decisions were in our history, and who the best and worst Presidents were. It was a lively discussion that stretched from Lincoln to Harding, to Carter.

Then, just briefly, I flipped over to CNN. They had 30 seconds of video of a 60-something-year-old woman that had just given birth. Then they cut to a story about a 30-pound housecat in China.

Thanks, CNN. What would we do without you?

Friday, February 17, 2006

A big story for our little town

It's one thing for the DI's cartoon story to get picked up my Malkin and other bloggers. It's another for it to get picked up by the NY Times.

TheSquire has another blog entry on the cartoons, and links to an interview where Acton claims the reason he was suspended was that the other editors are afraid for their lives:

[Interviewer]: No, but I mean, has anyone told you that's the reason they're upset, fear of reprisal?

[Gorton]: Well, not that specifically, but that has been voiced to me by quite a few people, yeah. I had a staff meeting on Monday, and pretty much my entire newsroom was there, and that was one of the major things that was brought up.

I'm really hoping that he's blowing this out of proportion. The editors actually, seriously, afraid for their lives because of this publication? This isn't the Middle East. Heck, it isn't even Demark, and the offices of the Danish paper that ran the cartoons hasn't even been bombed.

I still want to know why this major news story was run on the Op-Ed page.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Priorities, people

In looking for her posting on the DI's suspension of the Cartoon Two, I made the mistake of going over to Michelle Malkin's blog. The first thing I see is a blog entry comparing the publishing of the now-infamous Muhammed cartoons with the publishing of newly-released photos of the abuse that occured at Abu Ghraib. She's making accusations of hypocrisy in that there is controversy around the cartoons' publication, but not the Abu Ghraib photos. Seriously.

Let's see. One was, at best, terribly disrepectful of a major part of the world's population, and the other was concrete evidence of widespread and horrific abuse of prisoners, possibly condoned by senior officials in the American Army.

If you can't see the difference in the importance of these two things, go have your sense of proportion checked.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Happy VD

First of all, Happy Birthday to Jon. It must be nice when the whole world celebrates your birthday by giving chocolate to people.

And for the rest of you, planning to eat those chocolates, send flowers, and snuggle up tight for the evening, well, I hope you get the crabs.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Something is rotten in the, um, state of C-U

A quick summary for those of you that read this blog but aren't in C-U (i.e. Manya) or that don't have any significant ties to the University (i.e. David, Billy, and Jon): The Daily Illini published some of the infamous Danish Muhammad cartoons that are causing such a stir all over the world. This has caused some interesting discussion on the op-ed page, but also some friction in the op-ed staff itself. TheSquire has some interesting speculation here, and a followup here. Unfortunately, the DI's "Hey, ours isn't quite as crappy as the News-Gazette's" website has the editorial that introduced the cartoons, but not the images themselves in its archive. You can find a copy of them here.

Something about the op-ed explanations doesn't wash. It appears that two of the editors, the editor in chief and the opinions editor made the unilateral decision to run the cartoons, without informing the rest of the editorial staff. I don't know if that's true or not. I do want to say that I think the cartoons -- only because of the reaction they have spawned -- are themselves newsworthy. Some of them are quite innocent (I especially like the green one with the star and the one with the crescent halo), and I can't see how anyone would object to them. Some of them are flat-out racist. Some I can't figure out because they're in Danish.

Squire points out that the moral dimension to running these cartoons comes not from their newsworthiness, but from the motivations of those putting them in the paper. That's why I find the dissenting editorial by the Cartoon Two in today's DI so interesting. From that editorial:

The members of the editorial board are scared. They are scared of the unknown, scared of violence and scared to accept a principled action on our behalf, all while hiding under the guise of the journalistic "process," a process we believe has been upheld...

All editors present in the newsroom the night before publication learned of our decision to publish the cartoons. There were no objections. Not until they witnessed a backlash from the Muslim community, one that we were prepared for, did the board cower to their demands.

Are Gorton and Prochaska seriously suggesting that the other editors are afraid of a Middle-East-like violent reaction to the publication of these cartoons? It's interesting that their entire editorial is couched in language that calls their colleagues cowards. They are "scared of the unknown," they are "hiding under the guise" of the "process," and that they are "cowering" to the Muslim community's demands. This sort of "attack your opponent" arguing makes me very suspicious of their movies, but I won't speculate on them here, since I really don't know any of the individuals involved. (That I later found that Squire accuses Prochaska of being a "drinker of the neo-con kool aid" increases my suspicions.)

I just want to finish this by quoting from another article from today's DI:

Iran, a predominantly Shiite Muslim country, has seized on the caricatures as a means of rallying its people behind a government that is increasingly under fire from the West over its nuclear program.

Shiite Muslims do not ban representations of the prophet and some in Iran's provincial towns and villages even carry drawings said to be of Muhammad.

The protesting, rioting, and violence has never been about the cartoons. They were just an excuse. It's about the meme in the Middle East that the West is anti-Islam.

UPDATE: TheSquire points out that there's some good stuff about the DI controversy over at The Next Frontier. The Cartoon Two have been suspended from the paper during an investigation. My prediction: this will cease being about how the DI came to the decision to run the cartoons and the unilateral decision by the Two, and will become a "good conservative Christian vs. evil liberal Muslim university elite" soundbite.

UPDATE II: This just occured to me. If these cartoons were considered by the editors to be so newsworthy, why were they published on the Opinion page and not as a regular news article? Could it possibly have something to do with the EIC and the opinions editor having an easier time of getting them published without having to consult other members of staff? Just speculating...

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Happy birthday, Charles Darwin

It's Darwin's 197th birthday today. I just thought I'd celebrate that by linking to a Catholic group that is offering a reward for people that can prove the Earth goes around the Sun. Why? Because they think the Sun revolves around the Earth.

Seriously. It's not a joke.

The basis for this group's geocentrism is that it must be true because the Bible says so. Which is basically the same evidence Intelligent Design creationists spout for their movement. In the mind of ridiculous Christians, scripture trumps reality, every time. That's what the whole evolution vs. ID debate boils down to: does science take observable reality as its touchstone, or one group's religious myths?

The whole idea of the Earth going around the Sun or vice versa is a mathematical convenience, of course. There is no stationary reference frame to measure movement against, a concept which the author of this challenge obviously doesn't understand. You just try telling him that.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Paging Dr. Frist...

I saw this clip, or one so strikingly similar I can't remember the difference, about a year ago. It's a back-to-back comparison of Bush speaking ten years ago during the TX gubernatorial debate and some more recent clips of him speaking, including during the Bush-Gore Presidential debate.

The difference is absolutely night and day. Frighteningly so. The clip and the linked blog entry suggest it's pre-senile dementia. I think it's a bit of a stretch to diagnose him from this sort of thing, probably put together with an agenda, but what sort of other explanations are there? No, really, I'm asking. Better preparation? He hasn't spoken well in any speech I've heard him give. Is he being coached to speak slower? That doesn't explain him stumbling over his words so much. Stress? Lack of sleep?

I don't think we really have any protection against a President that goes senile or suffers from Alzheimer's while in office. There is a clear line of succession if a President dies, but not if his mental acumen degrades or becomes impaired.

Could this explain why Dubya seems to only speak in front of pre-selected, Republican audiences? Any flaws would likely be forgiven and considered unimportant by those already of the faith, rather than those looking at him with a skeptical eye.