June 2, 2009

Via Yglesias, these two maps from Andrew Gelman at Columbia blew my mind.  They show election results from the Bush-Kerry race in ’04, restricted to, first, only poor votes, and then second, only the rich.

That’s crazy!  The richest states (MA, NJ, and CT are the top 3, by average income; CA, MD, and NY are top 10) are the ones where the rich still vote blue.  Likewise, among the poorest states, (TX, ID, NE, UT, etc. are all in the bottom third of state average income) are the places where even the poor still bleed red.  All very weird.  Understandable, in a ‘rich places are full of latte-sipping America-hating elites, while poor places are full of dumb redneck racist hillbillies’ kind of stereotypical way, but that’s not quite a fully satisfying explanation for me…

On The Inevitability Of Stupidity

June 2, 2009

I try really hard to take Megan McArdle seriously.  I do.  For one thing, I’m pretty sure she could take me in a fight, and that scares the crap out of me.  Also, she knows people who could buy and sell me and everything I own 27 times before getting out of bed in the morning.

But it’s really hard when she writes paragraphs like this:

Now I can move onto the observation that if you actually think late-term abortion is murder, then the murder of Dr. Tiller makes total sense.  Putting up touching anecdotes about people he’s helped find adoptions, etc, doesn’t change the fact that if you think late-term abortions are murder, the man was systematically butchering hundreds of human beings a year–indeed, not merely butchering them, but vivisecting them without anaesthetic.   I’m sure many mass murderers have done any number of kind things over the course of their lives, to which the correct response, if you’re trying to stop the murders, is “so?” 


We accept that when the law is powerless, people are entitled to kill in order to prevent other murders–had Tiller whipped out a gun at an elementary school, we would now be applauding his murderer’s actions.  In this case, the law was powerless because the law supported late-term abortions. 

Okay, look.  In no way, shape, or form do I accept the proposition that “when the law is powerless, people are entitled to kill in order to prevent other murders.”  That’s an absolutely insane legal paradigm to subscribe to.  So if I really, in my heart, believe in my “Meat is Murder” bumper sticker, I am entitled to go on a manhunting spree during hunting season here in Colorado?  Or to stalk, harrass, or murder the girlfriends of teenagers who work at McDonalds, because I find their attitude towards animal cruelty to be beyond excuse?  That is, not to put too fine a point on it, the stupidest thing I will read or hear today, and I am still scheduled to spend 5 hours in a room full of children, aged 6 to 13.

In McMegan’s example, the law is powerless to prevent the spree killing at an elementary school because there doesn’t happen to be an officer of the law present.  But it’s still illegal to kill elementary school children.  If there were a hostage situation at the school, and the cops had the place surrounded and the situation fairly under control, until some wild-eyed wacko ran through the barracades and started shooting up the place, we would not laud that person at all – instead, they would be castigated and prosecuted, if not actually shot dead by the police.

In this case, the law was absolutely empowered to stop Tiller from performing his procedures.  He did not operate in a back alley, under cover of darkness.  He performed what he saw as his duties plainly and openly, without shame, for all the world to see.  Law officers could have entered his clinic at any time, or knocked on his door and arrested him.  Only, the law did not stop him, because the law happened to say that what he did was not illegal!

Again, I’m not going to get deeply involved in the question of whether or not abortion rights should be restricted, whether it should be a federal or a state governmental question, or whether it’s morally right or wrong, and up to what point.  I will simply note that it is absolutely ridiculous to say that it can be a defensible paradigm to say anything along the lines of “I think what you’re doing constitutes murder, so even though what you are doing is open and publically known, I am going to kill you.”  Such a thought process, if adopted by everyone, would lead to a complete societal breakdown.  Thus, it cannot be defended in a country which aims for civilization.

Enough abortion stuff from me; no more, I promise.

On The Legality

June 1, 2009

There has been some renewed discussion across the blogosphere today about whether or not Dr. George Tiller’s murder should be used as a justification to renew defense of procedures like dilation & extraction.

I’m not going to get involved in a long and involved discussion of the legalities.  There are people much better suited and much more interested in making the relevant cases, and I encourage you to read up on them.

Instead, I have an entirely personal reason for my preference.

Being an Ashkenazi Jew, one of the most well-studied inbred groups known to mankind, I am subject to all manner of unusual genetic conditions, both positive and negative.  In my case, the most notable is that I am a carrier for Tay-Sachs disease, one of those lovely genetic inheritances of my background.  In my case, I was a 50-50 chance to be a carrier, because my father is as well.  My mother is not.

Tay-Sachs is a straight 2-allele recessive genetic condition right out of high school biology.  One genetic locus per chromosome, two possible alleles.  If you have no copies of the flawed gene, you’re fine.  If you have one copy of the flawed gene, you’re fine, but you have a 50% chance of passing that copy on to any children.  If you have two copies…well, let’s head to Wikipedia:

Infantile TSD. Infants with Tay-Sachs disease appear to develop normally for the first six months of life. Then, as nerve cells become distended with gangliosides, a relentless deterioration of mental and physical abilities occurs. The child becomes blind, deaf, and unable to swallow. Muscles begin to atrophy and paralysis sets in. Death usually occurs before the age of 4.

Pretty gruesome stuff.  Most commonly, in order to prevent the sort of short, nasty, misery-causing life that any child who has Tay-Sachs is guaranteed, if both parents are carriers of the disease, amniocentesis is performed as soon as it is safe, and any child who has two copies of the Tay-Sachs gene is aborted.

Imagine if I were to find out, seven months after a some illicit tryst, that evening had had further consequences than a headache and vague feeling of shame the next morning.  And imagine, further, that after finding out that I was the father, and knowing of my possible genetic inheritance, we decide to test for Tay-Sachs, and we discover, to our dismay, that the mother was also a carrier, and the fetus is doomed to a short, unhappy life such as the one discussed above.  

You are stuck between the rock of aborting a fetus that, if it were delivered today, would almost certainly be able to survive the birth process and begin its life, and the hard place of dooming that same child to the ‘relentless deterioration of mental and physical abilities’ which will, without a doubt, end in a horrible death.  Isn’t that tragic decision difficult enough without some self-righteous Christian extremist shouting horrible things at me and the mother of my child while we try and seek consultation in our time of difficulty?

That reason alone is enough, to me, to justify keeping this procedure safe, legal, and without significant restrictions apart from those placed on the doctor and mother by themselves and their consciences.  I’m sure there are other, probably better reasons to be in support, but that’s enough for me.

Fundamentalist Christian Terrorists

June 1, 2009

Surely by now you have heard of the story of the murder of George Tiller, the Kansas physician who was one of the few remaining doctors left in America who performed intact dilation and extraction, a legal medical procedure which the religious right would like you to call ‘partial birth abortion’, because in a very few cases of this extremely rare procedure, the baby is partially extracted from the womb before its life is terminated.

A grisly procedure, to be certain.  But, as I said – a legal one, and one whose usefulness in preventing harm or trauma to pregnant women or prolonged suffering in fetuses destined to short, unpleasant lives, is medically and morally undeniable.  If you have any doubts, go check out Hilzoy’s excellent summary of the subject.  One short, but graphic, example:

“I also know a woman who had two “partial-birth abortions,” or D&Xs (dilation and extraction) as they are more accurately called. My friend Tiffany is a carrier of a terrible genetic abnormality. In addition to other defects, her babies developed with no faces, with no way to eat or breathe. They were doomed. The only way to extract them without hurting her chances of ever having another baby was through a D&X.”

I am not a doctor.  I don’t understand why a dilation and extraction is necessary in this situation.  But if a well-trained doctor, who has probably helped more women in his life than I have eaten meals in mine, says it is, I am loath to disagree.

Make no mistake.  This cold-hearted murder, of a man who committed no crime, is the final step in a consistent campaign of terrorism wrought on Dr. Tiller and his employees by fundamentalist Christians in our country.  Again, for the full story, check out Hilzoy, but here’s another blurb, about the attempted intimidation of Sarah Phares, an administrative assistant at Dr. Tiller’s office:

Before long, protesters from Operation Rescue showed up at her house. They parked a tractor-trailer across the street, plastered with twenty-foot-long images of dismembered fetuses. From its speakers came the kind of sweet, tinkling music that lures children from their back yards in pursuit of Dreamsicles. One protester, a somber man in a tan windbreaker with a three-foot crucifix thrust before him, performed an exorcism on Phares’ front lawn, sprinkling holy water on the grass to cast demons from the property.

This is terrorism, pure and simple.  An attempt to use actions, whether legal or not, to intimidate someone from participating in an activity which is legal, to inspire fear for their relationships, their position in the community, or their lives.  Fundamentalist Christian Terrorism.

If Pat Robertson, or anyone of his equally despicable ilk, is not front-and-center at the pulpit this Sunday, decrying this horrible act of murder purportedly delivered in the name of his God, then he is every bit as much of a  hypocrite as he has claimed Muslim imams who don’t immediately, loudly, unmistakably distance themselves from any Muslim who commits an act of terror are.

But he won’t.  And he won’t be called on it.  Because we aren’t allowed, in polite society, to point out how much violence and intimidation in our country comes straight from the pulpit, both on the radical right and the radical left.  Ugh.

Ah Well

May 29, 2009

I wish I could be extremely disappointed about the result of the Nuggets/Lakers spin tonight.  I wish I could muster a mighty wind about the criminal acts forced on my beloved Nugz by the horrible, horrible, horrible NBA referees in the pivotal Game 5 Wednesday night.  As Bill Simmons put it:

…an edited reel of questionable calls from Wednesday night’s Game 5 would be eye-opening, especially Nene’s last two fouls and the 73 times that ‘Melo got hacked without a whistle.

But, whatever.  That’s the way the NBA goes.  The refs are terrible, and getting worse by the year, since they continue to be the same guys, year after year, only a little older, slower, etc.  

Tonight, they just didn’t show up.  Maybe it was frustration about the fact that they were the better team in Game 5, and probably Game 1 as well, yet lost them both.  More likely, it was just a not-quite-ready-for-prime-time team getting taught a lesson by a team that has been there before.  I dunno.

But, it was a good year.  Lord knows, the Nuggets forced the Lakers to play a better brand of basketball than they had shown in the playoffs before now – maybe that lesson will serve them well?  I know that, if we do get the Lakers/Cavs series that David Stern wants, both teams will have earned it!

Oh Sonia

May 27, 2009

I have very little to add to the commentary on the fact that Sonia Sotomayor is going to be the next Supreme Court Justice, barring a massive revelation that the Obama vetting team was unable to dig up.  I will say that, as is always the case whenever a Democrat nominates a minority for anything, I am sick and tired of the thoughtless, automatic response the Republicans give, which is that this person is clearly the beneficiary of affirmative action all throughout his/her life, that he/she clearly is not the best person for the job, and that a white male with his/her qualifications would never get considered for the job.

To wit: this great table from Yglesias this morning:

Yep, clearly, a white guy with those qualifications would *never* get considered for the Supreme Court…

Okay, I do have something else to add to this.  My view on court nominations is pretty well established.  I believe that, barring some sort of radically inappropriate act (the Miers nomination could potentially have fallen under this definition), all nominees should be the beneficiary of an up-or-down vote.  I wrote a lot more about it at my old blog.  Contra Rachel Maddow, I do not believe in a constitutional right to a balanced Supreme Court.  The Republicans got two young, consistently conservative votes on the court, because they held all the levers of power when the time came to replace them.  I think that’s appropriate, even though I don’t like it.  Similarly, the Dems now are in charge of every institution in DC that matters, and that gives them the right to put anyone who meets the basic qualifications on the Court.  And if we can find some dirt on Clarence Thomas and can get him to step down?  Awesome.

If you, Republican Senator, do not like the justice’s views, too damn bad.  Go cry yourself to sleep on your huge pillow while wearing your adult-sized Ronald Reagan Underoos.  Vote against her, admit that you lost, and get on with life.


May 26, 2009

Now that’s the fourth-quarter domination I was expecting!

I’m guessing George Karl was right – the Nugs were a little too emotional in game 3, and couldn’t quite get their whole team-first thing going, especially in the fourth, as everyone was trying to be the hero for the hometown crowd.  Last night’s performance was amazing.  If JR Smith continues to play like that, well, let’s just say I’m glad they have him on contract for 3 more years still.  The offensive skills he brings off the bench, especially when he is looking to get into the paint and create opportunities for his teammates, are unparalleled, even by top sixth men like Jason Terry and Manu Ginobili.  And if he got beat a few times too easily by Kobe…well, who hasn’t?

Anyhow – I was impressed.  That was as solid a win as I’ve seen from them this postseason, including that utterly absurd 58-point win over the Hornets in round 1.  Now the question remains whether or not they can keep that momentum on the road against LA’s less-than-spectacular crowd.

Over in the other series, do-or-die time tonight for the Cavs – they’ve been in every game, but absent the “greatest shot ever” for the best young player in the league, they’d be down 0-3 right now.  They are just having fits trying to guard all those quirky, nontraditional players on Orlando.  I’m very interested to watch tonight’s throwdown.