Sunday, March 20, 2005

"Is the b---h dead?"

For the record, if I was left totally paralyzed or dependent on machines with no way to communicate with the outside world, I would not like to live on.

However, I'd very much hope that if there were any doubts about the cause of my condition, that those around me would have an autopsy and bury me respectfully, not toss me into an incinerator and destroy any forensic evidence.

"Mr." Schiavo's question has yet to be answered, hopefully it will be answered in the negative.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Sappy Mirthday to Me!

The city's supply of corned beef and cabbage is at risk now that this St. Pat's baby is on the loose!

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Colby Cosh Blasts Pro-Lifers

Ernie and I like Colby Cosh’s writing, but I came across this angry blast in his archives:
Any of you pro-lifers out there feeling uneasy about your "It's not as though fetal tissue grafts are really medically promising" arguments yet? Just thought I'd ask--I know that, considering your crowd relies so heavily on "moral intuition", your memory doesn't seem to stretch back as far as the time when your predecessors were denouncing heart transplants. But maybe you'll get lucky, and Elisabeth Bryant will go blind again, right?
Cosh is referring to this article. After receiving grafts from fetal tissue, several blind people now have better vision. He’s also referring to those pro-lifers who have played down the promise of biotechnology involving fetal tissue and embryonic cells.

If the point is merely that such biotechnology is starting to make good on its claims, that’s all well and good. Pro-lifers have made the same point in regards to adult stem cell research. But Cosh seems to have another point, or to be more precise, he has a taunt; and the taunt is: “you pro-lifers are mean, nasty medical Luddites, and you are of the ilk who opposed heart transplants.”

I don’t know if it’s true that pro-lifers protested heart transplants, or if Cosh is just likening pro-lifers to those who did; but it’s clear that the comparison is supposed to be unflattering. Ironically, however, the comparison backfires. Why? Because I bloody well would oppose heart transplants if we had to kill x in order to secure a heart for y, and most rational, sane people would be opposed to heart transplants on such terms. That includes most pro-choicers. Indeed, we have strict procedures in place to prevent such things. The upshot, then, is that most of us take the pro-life position in regards to organ transplants: no organ transplant should involve the killing of another being. Our objection to such is not due to some free-floating moral objection to medical progress; it’s due to our observing that killing x in order to secure a heart for y falls under the rubric of murder.

Now I may be flamingly, fabulously wrong that killing a zygote, embryo, or fetus falls under the rubric of murder, but that’s a far cry from me being an opponent of medical progress who relies on some vague moral intuition. Moreover, note that abortion necessarily involves killing x, whereas heart transplants do not (and neither does adult stem cell research). So there is at least a prima facie reason to be worried about the moral status of abortion, even if abortion ultimately does not fall under the rubric of murder.

So Cosh’s ad hominem against pro-lifers is fallacious. However, let me make a non-fallacious ad hominem against pro-choicers. Lots of pro-choicers holds their views reflexively, i.e., they’re less interested in thinking the issue through and more interested in holding whatever view is the opposite of the one held by them there religious fanatics. That’s why they play up embryonic stem cell research and hardly ever say anything about adult stem cell research--they wouldn’t want to be seen as giving any support to the Dark Side of the Force. In a word, their position is driven entirely by ideological prejudice, not by principled moral reasoning. Moreover, they are guilty of doing what they charge pro-lifers of doing: using their ideology to inhibit science. If a biotechnology can cure severe diseases without the destruction of the pre-born, isn’t that the technology we should be supporting, whatever our position on abortion is? After all, pro-choicers often aver that they’re not pro-abortion and that abortion should be rare. If that’s true, then pro-choicers should prefer technologies that don’t rely on abortion.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Dean on Abortion, Take Two

Remember when Howard Dean said that abortion was about right-wing politicians telling women what to do? Apparently, it’s ok for Democrats to be pro-life :
"I want to reach out to people who are worried about values," Dean said. "We are going to embrace pro-life Democrats because pro-life Democrats care about kids after they're born, not just before they're born."
I assume Dean wants to distinguish between pro-lifers who care about kids before and after birth and those who care about them only before birth; but even if we take this distinction at face value, why doesn’t Dean think that pro-life Democrats are telling women what to do, given that he thinks right-wing pro-lifers are telling women what to do? The pro-life position simpliciter is that abortion is morally impermissible and should be legally impermissible as well. If one thinks that this position is tantamount to telling women what to do, then it makes little difference whether that position is held by a Democrat or a Republican.

As for Dean’s implied distinction, it seems to suggest that pro-life Democrats hold a higher moral ground because they support social programs aimed at child welfare. But one can care about kids after they’re born without supporting such programs. Indeed, a lot of conservative pro-lifers do put up money to help children who might otherwise be aborted. More to the point, however, the claim that abortion is an unjustified act of killing is neither true nor false based on whether or not one supports social programs for children. Whether a child lives or dies is a more basic issue.

P.S. Note that Dean refers to the unborn as “kids.”

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Peter Keating takes over the WTC project, or the print horse-whipping of the month

I usually don't read the NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS, but a headline caught my eye at the bookstore and I checked it out online here at home. Martin Filler's review of 4 new books about the design competition for the WTC Memorial is a scathing indictment of government fiddling with the process.

Here's what he has to say about the current architect on the project:

"There was no such card to play in New York, where the Libeskinds encountered a nemesis whose political instincts and tenacity far outstripped even theirs—David Childs, design principal of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM). Childs, a cool strategist who has a history of changing styles when useful to his advancement, brings to mind the successful conformist architect Peter Keating in The Fountainhead.

Is this just a passing reference? Hardly:



"The sixty-three-year-old Childs is an opaque, paradoxical figure, and a clear portrait of him fails to emerge from any of the recent books, although he was interviewed at length by both Goldberger and Nobel, and he is extensively quoted, disparagingly, by Libeskind. Childs's contradictory craving for establishment recognition and artistic credibility most closely resembles the career path pursued by the late Philip Johnson, though the taciturn Childs lacks Johnson's mercurial charm and social acumen. As Johnson did, he wants to have things both ways, as their mutual friend Peter Eisenman told Andy Geller of the New York Post:

[Childs] is tormented about being his own signature self and being in a big corporate firm. He has aspirations to be a great architect, but they are limited by a lack of capacity to say what he wants to do. He's a Hamlet-like figure. On the one hand he says, 'I've got to get out.' On the other hand he says, 'What about all the years I've put in?' [SOM] is very powerful and very strong. He'd lose that backing.

A more obvious impediment to Childs's "aspirations to be a great architect" is the fact that he is a dreadful designer. As with Johnson, his ambivalent position has nonetheless provided him ample opportunity to build on a grand scale. Two of Childs's previous Manhattan skyscrapers—the postmodern Worldwide Plaza of 1986– 1989 on Eighth Avenue in midtown and the neo-moderne Time Warner Building of 2000–2004 on Columbus Circle—are among the worst blights on the city's skyline in recent decades. Some of us who subscribe to an auteur theory of architecture—believing there are some architects whose every building is worthy of serious consideration regardless of their occasional failures, whereas others seem incapable of creating anything of lasting distinction—are inclined to place Childs in the second category."

{end quote}


That's what I call a kick in the fundament, in black and white yet. If any of you have doubts about the "reality" of Ayn Rand's characters in the above-mentioned novel, follow the link.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Howard Dean on Abortion and Tolerance

Howard Dean explains what the abortion debate is all about:
"The issue is not abortion," Dean told the closed-door fund-raiser. "The issue is whether women can make up their own mind instead of some right-wing pastor, some right-wing politician telling them what to do."
In a nutshell, that’s what’s wrong with the mainstream pro-choice position: it turns the issue of abortion into another issue altogether, e.g., women’s rights. But these issues have nothing whatsoever to do with the moral permissibility of abortion. They’re merely red herrings that play to the prejudices of those who think that making abortion illegal is tantamount to suppressing the rights of women.

To make this clear, the argument--

Women have the right to make up their own mind about abortion.
Therefore, abortion is morally and legally permissible.

--is invalid. The truth of the premise neither guarantees the truth of its conclusion, nor lends probable support to it. In a word, it’s a non sequitur. A woman in fact does have the right to decide whether abortion is or is not morally permissible, but this has nothing to do with whether or not abortion actually is morally permissible. I have the right to decide whether or not yelling “fire” in a crowded theater is morally permissible, but I do not necessarily have the right to actually yell “fire” in a crowded theater. One doesn’t get me the other. Hence much of the pro-choice position is logically invalid.

Note well: one can be firmly pro-choice and accept the point I’ve made here. I am merely arguing that the typical pro-choice arguments are invalid; not all pro-choice arguments are invalid. For example:

If the fetus isn’t a person, then it is morally permissible to kill it.
The fetus isn’t a person.
Therefore, it is morally permissible to kill it.

This is a logically valid argument, and it addresses the main issue regarding abortion. It has two false premises, but that’s another story …

Dean had some other things to say:

And Dean told the Hiebert fund-raiser that gay marriage was a Republican diversion from discussions of ballooning deficits and lost American jobs.
It’s a diversion unless Democrats want to talk about it. Then it’s the Vitally Important Civil Rights Issue of Our Time.™
"Moderate Republicans can't stand these people (conservatives), because they're intolerant. They don't think tolerance is a virtue," Dean said, adding: "I'm not going to have these right-wingers throw away our right to be tolerant."
So moderate Republicans are intolerant of the intolerance of conservatives, and Dean is intolerant of those who threaten his right to be tolerant. Herein lies the paradox of tolerance: one either tolerates everything, in which case, one is tolerant of intolerance; or one is intolerant of at least one thing, say, intolerance, in which case, one is intolerant of one’s self. I suppose one could be opposed just to certain kinds of intolerance, but this means, as rational people know, that tolerance is a limited virtue, subordinate to other virtues, such as justice. We shouldn’t tolerate unjust acts; so it follows that tolerance is not a prime virtue. The problem is that liberals often treat virtue as the prime virtue when impugning those who putatively don’t demonstrate this virtue; yet they retreat to the rational view of tolerance as a limited virtue when their own intolerance is manifest.

The upshot of this is that liberals should drop the pretense of universal tolerance. Everyone is intolerant of something. I’m not tolerant of white supremacists, and I suspect that Dean isn’t either. Why? Because white supremacy violates our basic notions of justice and equality, and we should rightly condemn any ideology that flouts these basic virtues. Hence there isn’t anything inherently wrong about intolerance. The conventional, sophomoric view that white supremacy violates the virtue of tolerance and is to be condemned for that reason is woefully misguided; it unwittingly leads to the absurd conclusion that our intolerance of white supremacy is not virtuous because it, too, violates the virtue of tolerance.

The charge of intolerance, then, is usually pointless. I may very well be intolerant of x, and you may be tolerant of x; but my intolerance of x may also be a justified form of intolerance. Just plug in “white supremacy” in place of x. To be sure, my intolerance of abortion and gay marriage is a more controversial matter, but the same point applies: merely pointing to my intolerance says nothing about the correctness of my position. To say that a man is intolerant is neither to say that he is doing something wrong or holds a false belief.

And concluding his backyard speech with a litany of Democratic values, he added: "This is a struggle of good and evil. And we're the good."
Many conservatives will find the above remark offensive, but I’m offended only by the double standard that runs: conservatives are bad because they’re intolerant and divisive; but it’s alright for liberals to intolerant and divisive, as Dean is here. Again, it’s not Dean’s intolerance that offends me—it’s refreshingly honest—it’s his pretense that he somehow nonetheless exemplifies the virtue of tolerance. He doesn’t, and he should stop trying to score ideological brownie points by pretending to be.