Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Sedition 101

Thanks for the Memory to Lars Larson.

What the hell is this doing on the wall of a public high school in Newport, Oregon?

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Is there an equally large display of recruiting material and accounts of the heroism of those who wear or have worn this country's uniforms? That's what I thought.

And no, don't tell me this is a Freedom of Speech issue. This is a public high school, funded by taxpayer money, and as a taxpayer, I don't particularly appreciate having my pocket picked to display such blatant hatred for our military. To steal a phrase from Billy Joel, you can speak your mind, but not on my time (or dime)!

And if the entire project was done extracirricularly, then again, I ask, has the same access to the school's walls been offered to those who support the military? If there's anyone reading this from Newport, especially a student, I'd like to know that -- is there a similar display of an opposing point of view?

The Return of Fake But Accurate

Thanks for the Memory to Wizbang via The LlamaButchers.

Paging Mary Mapes, paging Mary Mapes. Your legacy's on line 2....

Wizbang comments on an email that was sent to James Taranto at Best of the Web.

Apparently (Can't they just) is pushing a new anti-war ad that shows US Soldiers eating from a dusty mess tent in Iraq, while their loved ones cry at home.

The problem is, the troops in the picture aren't Americans, they're British. Wizbang's article has the before-and-after shots.

Now, that's not to say that plenty of US troops weren't eating Thanksgiving dinner in dusty mess tents in Iraq, and God Bless Them for the sacrifice that was. But here's the point:

The Left (not liberals, the LEFT) claims they support ther troops, but oppose the war. But how am I to believe they give a tinker's damn about U.S. Servicemen (and women) if it's obvious that they haven't even taken the trouble to learn how to recognize them??????

So Much Owed

Thanks for the Memory to The Maximum Leader.

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Sir Winston Spencer Churchill was born on this day in 1874. A Very happy posthumous birthday wish to the Bulldog who saved Britain, and who recognized the threat posed by Communism long before most of the rest of the world did.

It's Life, Jim, But How Do We Know It?

Thanks for the Memory to Ken at Upper Left Coast. I'm not sure how he found my blog, but I'm glad this fellow Oregonian did, because his comment led me to his blog, and I'm enjoying it daily.

Those of you who read both my blog and Naked Villainy may have followed a discussion I had with Smallholder in the comments of a post of his regarding (among other things) abortion. The gist of our conversation was on the merits of arguing abortion on the ideas of "Soul", Humanity, and Life. In it, Smallholder holds to the position that abortion opponents are basing their convicitons on the belief that the fetus has a soul. I argue that the abortion issue comes down to one important question: When does human life begin? Smallholder's response was, "I rarely hear people making the "when life begins" argument, and when I do, the speaker's opinion is almost always reflective of their idea of the soul."

And to a certain extent, I suppose he's right. But I also believe that to a certain extent, it's beside the point. And here's why:

ANY set of ethics that supports the position that murder is a crime is predicated upon the intrinsic value of Human Life. "We hold these truths self evident" etc. Call it a soul, a spirit, a spark of the Divine, consciousness, conscience, reason, self-awareness, sentience. Say it's God-endowed, a result of higher evolution, both, or part of the Cosmic Consciousness. Whatever religious, spiritiual, or philosophical reason you have for believing it, the fact is, that most people believe that life, ESPECIALLY Human life, is precious, and should not be ended without just, reasonable, and compelling cause.

Which brings us to the question of just what defines life, or more specifically Human life, and when does it begin? Does Human Life begin when it gains a soul, or does it gain a soul as a result of beginning? That's the question at the heart of the abortion debate, no matter what else either side tries to tell you. If the fetus is a human being, then it's right to live takes precendence. If it isn't a human life, then it is of no consequence what a pregnant woman chooses to do with it.

And this question is the reason I make reference to Ken's blog. In the comments to a post he made day before yesterday, I addressed a question to another commenter, which echoed Ken's own thoughts. Ken then went on to post two posts yesterday on the same topic. They ask two very important questions:

When does life begin?

Who sets the standards?

So, back to the question of when human life begins, when it gains a "soul". There are four concepts that tend to be discussed when this topic comes up, with certain individuals taking different of these positions. They are: Conception, Awareness, Viability, and Birth. Let's take them one at a time, starting with the argument that life, or specifically, the right of the individual to life, begins at birth, then moving back through viability, to awareness, to conception.

Personally, I find the argument that life begins at birth the least defensible given what modern science has accomplished and shown us, and I'm glad that Smallholder agrees with me. He likes to use the phrase "Magic Thinking", and that's exactly what this position is. Let me use my own experience as an example of why:

As most of you know, my son, The Lad, was born 5 weeks premature. While it was necessary for him to spend a week in the NICU, and another month on a heart and respiratory monitor. Yet from the moment the doctor caught him and then placed him in my arms, to this day, there has never been any doubt in my mind that he was anything but a baby. Yet, had he gone full term, there are those that would argue that TFR should have been free to end his life right up to the moment he was born. This despite the fact that during those intervening 5 weeks, he would have been just as fully developed as he was in the NICU and at home (or more so -- babies' development accelerates during the last few weeks of pregnancy), would have had the same heartrate, the same brain activity, the same physiology. Somehow, I'm to believe that the passage through the birth canal, or the exposure of the uterus to the air in a C-Section, imparts to the infant some quality it lacked only moments before? Who's being superstitious now? I find this particular view not only intellectually untenable, but personally offensive as well.

That brings us to the issue of Viability. This position argues that any fetus that is not capable of surviving outside the womb is not yet truly alive. I have two main objections to this:

The first is well addressed by Smallholder when he comments, "viability is achieved much prior to birth and the window of viability keeps shifting backwards." The simple fact is that modern medicine allows us to sustain life ex utero at an earlier and earlier stage in gestation all the time. There was a time when significantly premature birth was tatamount to a death sentence. Now, that's not the case - while The Lad was in the NICU, he had a neighbor baby who was barely third trimester, yet was expected to survive. If we are to accept the Viability argument, we must also accept a set of shifting goalposts as to when abortion is allowed. To be certain, anyone who advocates abortion on the grounds of viability cannot agree with the widesweeping standards for abortion advocated by groups like NARAL.

The second objection I raise to the viability argument has to do not with the period of gestation at which viability begins, but with the time before that. Specifically, I also object to the viability argument because non-viability is, in the vast majority of cases, a temporary condition. What I mean by that is this: while a fetus before a cetain stage is not viable, barring abnormal circumstances, it eventually will be. This is decidedly different from the issue of, say, removing life support from a brain dead individual, who was viable, and aware, but never will be again. This is also a point at which I depart from many of my fellow abortion opponents -- in that in cases where it is a medical certainty, or even a likelihood approaching certainty, that a fetus is so malformed that it will not survive outside the womb, I believe that abortion is and should remain a painful but legitimate option (I hold to the same belief in cases where there is a serious threat to the life of a mother if the pregnancy is carried full term, since the choice to abort or not to is almost equally likely to end in the termination of a life -- but that is beside this point).

This brings me to the last two arguments, and again, I must disappoint my fellow pro-lifers by confessing that while I lean towards conception, I am not 100% decided between these two, and my leaning is swayed in part by a tendency to "err on the side of caution".

The third criterion that is proposed by some as the standard for when life begins is Awareness. This position argues that until the fetus reaches a certain level of development, and has a certain level of brain activity, it is not aware and is not truly human. On the face of it, this would seem to be the argument that most closely adheres to Smallholder's argument about the soul. And to some extent, I can see the point.

But I have problems with this position as well. By what standard do we judge awareness? Awareness of external surroundings? response to stimuli? Self-awareness? Brain wave activity? Is there any objective way we can determine what level of awareness is required? And are we willing to reconsider such a position as our understanding of the brain increases? My other objection is similar to my second objection to the viability argument -- awareness is something that an unborn child develops into, and so any prior lack of awareness is a temporary state or condition. I have a hard time allowing something as permanent as the termination of what is or could be a human life, simply because of a temporary condition.

But that brings us back to the crux of the issue -- Is it a human life, or just a potential human life? And, not coincidentally, it brings us to the last criterion -- conception. And while that position is the most favored among people who oppose abortion for religious reasons, I would also submit that from a non-religious, purely biological standpoint, it's also the position that makes the most sense. If we've already established that Humans are, for whatever reason, in general deserving of life, regsrdless of our belief in religion, God, a spirit, the supernatural, and we wish to leave those issues out of the equation (for First Amendment reasons if for no other), then we must look to empirical science for a standard by which to judge whether we're dealing with a human or not. And modern genetics tells us that at the moment of conception, the baby can be recognized from its DNA not only as a human, but as a genetically distinct individual, with a DNA signature different from its parents (which to me is a less important point that the fact that it is a human, but interesting nonetheless). Ken makes the same point.

In fact, I'd like to conclude by quoting one of Ken's comments in which he restates the argument at the heart of the issue:

The question of what a woman should do with her pregnancy is irrelevant until — look out, here it comes again — we answer the question of what "it" is: "If the unborn is not a human person, no justification for abortion is necessary. However, if the unborn is a human person, no justification for abortion is adequate."
I couldn't say it better myself.

Happy St. Andrews Day

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