Monday, July 30, 2007

Violent crime has been dropping in recent decades. Some attribute it to the relaxing of gun laws--law-abiding citizens becoming more able to protect themselves, and potential criminals either being stopped by them or deterred by this knowledge. Others attribute it to a corellary of the Roe Effect: more potential criminals are getting aborted, so they never grow up to cause trouble and put more stress on troubled homes to drive even more people into crimes of desperation.

I know the former is at least partly responsible. In states where personal defense is or has become more legally feasible, crime has dropped or been consistently lower than other places where the government spends a lot of time intimidating non-criminals into being docile, such as California.

The more I think about it, though, the more I think that the Roe Effect might have some a beneficial effect on crime in the short run. Bear with me for a moment.

Roe is an artifact of a sterile cultural philosophy. After abortion became legal, it started getting more difficult to make political hay out of the issue. In 1973, decades of propaganda had culminated in enough support and wooly-headedness to get SCOTUS to conjure up some quasi-Constitutional right to abortion and use flimsy reasoning to base it on an otherwise-sensible inferral of a right to privacy. Since then, though, the people who were in favor of abortion tended to have, advocate, and finance them. Pro-life people had children and taught them to value life; pro-abortion people didn't have the human resources to keep up and had only propaganda to fall back on for trying to convert pro-lifers and fence-sitters who see more and more historical evidence that abortion isn't really a solution to a problem.

God is life. God loves life. It's no accident that sterile and actively life-hating philosophies tend to be self-limiting in the long run. Why might abortion seem to yield a drop in crime?

On the one hand, well, the moral scales don't tip; we're just exchanging drugs and armed robbery for prenatal infanticide. On the other hand, yes, there are fewer potential criminals growing up in troubled homes. On an absolute scale, crime might be dropping, but the overall population is not rising when children aren't born. So, what about per capita crimes? Do pro-abortionists have an out there, at least?

Without having to look at statistics, I can say "yes, but no."

It's the 21st century. People are living longer. There are more people at greater ages than before--population rises due to a reduction in mortality, not an increase in fertility. In the short run, the former can overtake the latter, especially if most crimes are committed by people who are younger than the average career-holding, family-starting person. Take them away, and sure, crime will drop. It'll just be a few years before we see employment (and unemployment) drop, school enrollment drop, before we see population seriously drop. Unless you look at Europe, at least; they're a little ways ahead of us.

Abortion can reduce crime? Abortion reduces everything. Don't let one lesser evil amongst many distract you.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

S.B. 351: stop federal funding of Planned Parenthood

I received in the mail today a survey from Fidelis about the propriety of PP receiving public funds for promoting abortion. Despite charging an average of $300 per abortion, taking private donations, and offering annuities to their supporters, someone apparently thinks PP needs more than a quarter of a billion dollars a year in order to defray the costs of the "sex education" (such as their site that provides at least as much information on--let's not equivocate--how to have more sex and try to constrain the hazards of heightened promiscuity, as it does to provide basic anatomical and epidemiological information).

Well, the survey's short, at seven questions. I just want to raise a couple points the survey brought up, or I thought were worth discussing just a little more explicitly.

PP apparently claims that the $272 million they get from the feds doesn't go to abortion, but rather goes to the aformentioned "education," contraceptives (read: free condoms for walk-ins), and 'other family planning purposes,' whatever they might be. It strikes me as a basic economic truth that if you give someone money to do something, they will be able to spend more money they already have on other things. I'm not going to sift through the Generally Accepted Accounting Practices and see how well they fit the $272 million implementation of Title X of the Public Health Services Act vis-a-vis PP, but morally, I don't think we can pretend that helping PP a little doesn't help it overall, even if they sent a wish list to the government and let Washington buy all the materials and such itself.

Precedents in other industries aside, I don't see any sense in divorcing the commission of abortion from the advocacy of it. Oh, they don't just promote abortion? Well, their medical clinics aren't only used to perform them, either, although anecdotal evidence doesn't suggest they like doing sonograms. Oh well.

PP isn't just the Pueblo, Colorado of sex; they're its Wal*Mart, and so their "education" isn't so much a public service as it is advertising...hmm; maybe a better comparison would be the Dairy Board or American Cattlemen's Association, or those informercials on late-night TV that provide only enough information about their subject matter to get people to buy the wares they really want to peddle. As such, I see no reason why it would be appropriate for the federal government to step in. Who else gets the government to pay their advertising? The military--not really a parallel situation. Everyone else is expected to be more or less self-sufficient and autonomous, except PP, which apparently provides some sort of medical service that is so important nobody else wants to do it.

Is it even appropriate for PP to target minors with this information? On the one hand, while parents have the right to instruct their children as they see fit, sometimes they don't teach the bare minimum, don't even teach them the truth, let alone the whole truth; the same is true for general education, which is why we have public schools and require all students to attend them or have their parents provide evidence of other, equivalent arrangements. On the other hand, like I said before, PP doesn't just educate; they like to run way across the line into advocacy and roll around there a while. Now, do legal minors with strange feelings need support and information they can't get at home? Sometimes, yes; however, there's a big difference between helping someone who's homosexual or observes a discrepancy between their anatomical and mental genders to understand what's going on and to come to terms with it, and to say "Hey, whatever you want to do is fine, go for it!" to legal minors in the first place.

"Do what you want" isn't parenting, or a substitute for it; indulgence is contrary to what parenthood needs to teach; PP should hardly be claiming to fill a parenting (let alone information) gap if they're confounding the function of forming healthy adults this way.

According to their 2002-2003 annual report, then-president Gloria Feldt was reimbursed to the tune of $379,788, all things factored in; further, seven other big cheeses pulled down more than $180,000. One of the questions in the survey was "Do you believe that, for an organization that receives taxpayer funding, this level of compensation is __too high __about right __undecided (?)"

I couldn't resist; I wrote in the margin "Not to mention, an organization that solicits private donations!" I understand that large organizations, even nominally volunteer ones, sometimes need full-time people managing things at the highest levels, and that it's not always expedient to have those positions filled by people who can afford to give away 40 hours a week, so they may need to put someone on a payroll.

Now, civilians get paid by the government all the time, not just as employees but through federal grants. I do think, though, that it's a serious misdirection of priorities for an outfit claiming to be desperately trying to help people have educated sex and no children. Maybe more of that $1.5+ million going to the top brass should be directed to, I don't know, hiring more doctors, or giving away better condoms, or hiring better animators for their cartoons or IT people for their web site; if their cause is so great, how hard could it be to find a crackerjack CEO-type who needs a job but is willing to make a contribution in the form of a modest salary?

I know if I found out that a group I gave money to, whether or not they got grants from elsewhere (private or public), I'd sure be feeling like my money was wasted if I found out the head honchoes were making six figures. No wonder you're in such need for a perpetual bailout; if money's getting blown on executives at a place that sells itself as a nonprofit service organization, how many other cuts has their financial philosophy made that they're bleeding from? Getting a quarter billion from the government and then throwing so much at just a handful of administrators says to me "Our cause is really important! We need federal assistance in addition to our revenue! Oh, but $272 million is enough to get the job done, so we'll give a lot to the pencil pushers at the top; oh, we'll still take donations too." Do they need help, or not, and if so, how much do they really think they need?

So they want to know if I'm willing, if I think it's even proper, to support an organization that not only does something immoral, but wants me to believe that it offers other services I shouldn't object to, and does so very badly? No thanks.

I don't know if an agency that performs evil efficiently is worse or better than one that does so inefficiently but also manages to retard good in the process, but I'd really want to have nothing to do with either.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Our disposable economy

I was at the municipal airport some time ago and heard one of the employees--maybe the terminal manager, for all I know--talking with the local flight instructor. He just happened to be complimenting the instructor on the decent new chairs he got for his office. The last thing I heard him say on the subject was about how they were only $15 so if they broke, replacing them would be no great task.

Naturally a year or two later--not so long that I couldn't remember overhearing that conversation well enough to think it would be funny if my life were a movie--I broke one of them, and it made me think of all the other things I own, or even just see around, that aren't meant to be repaired but simply discarded or maybe recycled. I've been told in the past that it's tantamount to a conspiracy among manufacturers to produce things that are prone to breaking and designed to be unrepairable by the average (or even the average mechanically inclined) person, so that they may be sure of selling more of the same things in the years to come.

There's probably some subscription to that philosphy, but I don't think we have to worry about the Shoe Event Horizon anytime soon.

First of all, it's not entirely true. Some of the more durable goods do tend to be pricier and harder to find than the cheaper ones, and they all may even be harder to repair when something does go wrong, but there are still things that work more reliably than their predecessors. Some of the Total Quality Management initiatives even rise above their own bureaucracies and enable an improvement in product quality by demanding better documentation of manufacturing processes and by documentation and standardization of methodologies, which make systemic problems easier to recognize--and recognized problems are vastly easier to solve than invisible ones.

Automobiles may be the quintessential example. I was going to say personal computers, but I think that fully integrated, non-user-serviceable configurations will become more popular, especially since the available computing power in more conventional tower designs, which are more suited to low-level tinkering, is really starting to get beyond what most users will need. Automobiles have become much more sophisticated, in some ways being more difficult to work on, but as long as there are gasoline engines and gearboxes and other powered moving parts in a motor vehicle, some home maintenance may always be possible. Since so much of the car is electronically managed, there are many things that just aren't up to a professional or amateur mechanic, but diagnostic computers can make the job easier when there is something for a human to do. Further, cars are lasting much longer; it's now expected for a car to operate beyond a hundred thousand miles, to the point where some manufacturers even have six-figure milage warranties, and some have been recorded as running several hundred thousand. Fifty years ago, when people could easily find TV repairmen and cobblers in their home towns, they could also find mechanics, but few or none who could work the magic it would take for a typical car of that time to last until the odometer rolled over.

Cars aren't simply better built, they're more complex, with much more going on under the hood and behind the dash than there was even when I was a child. It's barely adequate for a modern mechanic to rely on the wrench in his hand and the knowledge in his head.  It's just more sophisticated work than it used to be, even with computer assistance. I think what's true with mechanics is also true, or at least thematically consistent, with my main point.

Most manufacturing today is automated to some degree. You'll need a few engineers and technicians to baby-sit a plant, and some trained but possibly unskilled people to operate the equipment, but compared with fifty years ago, you need more gearheads and fewer laborers. There's a net cost saving in manufacturing because the payroll got short enough to offset the education of the engineers, but what about repair and maintenance?

Well, that kind of work is still labor intensive, and whether or not a toaster or a radio is made to last, if you can get it open, it takes a lot more than a screwdriver and persistence to get it working again. Computer repair might be more of a cottage industry than traditional repair services, but even then, what usually happens is a component is replaced and then thrown out or recycled for materials. Circuit boards and such are so touchy that trying to manually replace diodes or capacitors, if the malfunctioning ones can even be identified by your average soldering gun wielding citizen, is most likely to multiply the problems.

The result is that labor, on average, is more expensive than it used to be, in fact is by and large too expensive to spend on small appliances, even if they were designed to be accessible to curious gearheads. Even if they still used the older and more durable designs, it'd really be less expensive to replace something than to hire someone (not just buy a replacement part, unless you are willing and able to do it all yourself from home) to take it apart, diagnosis it and install the parts.

I do occasionally see a durable good designed for recycling--choice of easily reused or compostable materials, ease of dismantling and sorting into material types--but that still seems to be the exception.  Or maybe the recycling outfits hired by cities haven't caught up yet with green cradle-to-grave product engineering yet.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The logical conclusion of the Fairness Doctrine

So, some people want the "Fairness Doctrine" made law (or at least part of FCC regs) because...well, mainly because Air America isn't really dominating the ratings like they assumed. For people new to the scene, the idea is that talk radio stations would have to have equal programming time for conservative and liberal shows.

I don't think it's what they really want. To really be fair, we'd have to have equal time for all broadcast programming, not just AM talk radio.

We'd have to do the regular news too. We wouldn't have just one Fox News channel, almost half of them would be Fox News or nearly identical in coverage. For every story about "yet more" fatalities in Iraq, there would have to be a story about Iraqi lives saved or attacks thwarted. For every story about phantom WMDs, there has to be a story about inspectors prevented from entering suspect facilities and people asking why Bush just didn't have them planted to vindicate himself. For every article about Bush being ineffective, evil, dishonest, and stupid, there would have to be one properly and thoroughly explaining his rationale for vetoing the ESCR bills. For every reference to alleged perpetual abortion clinic bombings, there would be footage of people pitching a fit at pro-lifers unobtrusively praying the rosary across the street and interviews with former mothers who regret what they did and what the complications of the procedure were. For every "Christ's Tomb" caliber expose, whether it's about Christ or about the military-industrial complex, there's one about the historical evidence supporting Christianity or about some hippie politico who abdicates basic human rights to gain some creature comforts. For every story on Abu Ghraib the New York Times has to give everyone a dollar.

Okay, I'm being a little facetious on that last one.

We'd also have to do entertainment television. For every sitcom about charistmatic homosexuals, there would have to be a drama about straight people who turned to homosexuality after growing up in an abusive household and showing how difficult it really is to find happiness in serial monogamy or a totally libertine lifestyle (gay or straight). For every show warning about overpopulation, there's one about destitute senior citizens. For every show about two friends or strangers who sleep together, there's one about a child they have (or maybe an STD that really cuts into their lifestyle, and not just because they're always getting those inconvenient treatments) who is both more inconvenient and more important to the main characters than an occasional plot element. For every show decrying the folly of guns or war, there's a show about the cops not making it to stop a home invasion in time or about large, defenseless populations being under seige by brutal neighbors. For every movie about a sympathetic terrorist, a normal guy who got caught up in unfortunate circumstances with persuasive European psychopaths, there's one about a guy who has a chip on his shoulder for no good reason and leaves his child in a car wired with explosives so no one will think to inspect it.

Sure; sometimes you hear about these things in passing, but they're never the "hot" stories, are they?

Thursday, July 05, 2007

When someone says to me...

...that an unborn baby may be human but isn't a person, and I insist that the embryo is, I like to offer a compromise. "Would you be willing to concede that a fetus is 3/5 of a person?"

..."It's a fetus, not a baby," I point out that fetus is Latin for baby, and it means the same thing in English. Saying "a fetus isn't a baby" is logically equivalent to saying "a thirty year old isn't an adult;" just the same, saying "a fetus isn't a person" isn't prima facie logically different from "a teenager isn't a person."

I've seen many pro-abortionists make the "not a person [yet]" argument, and when pressed to provide some rationale beyond the sophistry I mentioned in the previous paragraph, all the evidence has always been arbitrary. Some of it's been understandable, like basing personhood on the presence of a mind, but it still all boils down to something materialist or utilitarianist, which not every pro-abortionist is prepared to commit to: the mind (sometimes they invent something like "social intelligence" that magically develops at birth even though intereactiveness is observed in multiple births, just like the concious mind they try to get around), viability, maybe the heartbeat, advice from an OB/GYN, or the whim of the mother.

It's not hard to show the conventional artificiality of their distinctions between personhood and non-personhood. Particularly these days, though, it's hard to show the pro-abortionist why such anemic philosophies aren't adequate to defend erring on the side of "The risk of murdering a human is small in comparison," however many caveats they thought to bring to the fight.