Saturday, July 09, 2011


I need to post something just to keep signed in, so here's something. I keep getting inspired during times of the day when I can't write anything, but I'll try to take notes.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Royal Wedding

30 years ago in late July I got up at truly horrid hour to watch William's parents get married. Diana was lovely, Charles was actually rather appealing, and I got to hear Jeremiah Clarke's "Trumpet Voluntary." Of course, their relationship didn't quite work out, but at least the beginning was lovely. I watched Andrew and Fergie, Edward and Sophie, too. I have to work tomorrow so getting up at 3 a.m. isn't really an option, but I will watch the recap.

Many people wonder why a committed Democrat likes to watch royal weddings. I don't secretly believe that monarchy is a great form of government. What I do think, however, is that modern life could do with more formality. We need pomp. The problem with hierarchies of birth is that it eliminated huge numbers of people from participating in the beauty of ceremonies in any manner other than observers. Instead of my lefty friends' habit of eliminating ceremonial and formality, we need to find ways of getting more people to dress up. After all, the best way to eliminate the class structure is to make it impossible to tell the peasants from the nobles, and not because everyone looks like a slob.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Bodily autonomy vs. the rights of property

"What's Wrong With The World" is the most ironically perfect name for a blog in the entire electronic world. This post, by Lydia McGrew, is an excellent example of their poorly-analyzed, pretentiously written, and thoroughly mean-spirited output. For those without the stomach to read it, Ms. M takes the position that liberals only advocate for laws requiring accommodations for the disabled because we like to mess with businessmen. (Oh, and she means businessMEN, too. WWWTW's vicious misogyny is, however, the subject for another post.)

Ms. M and her commenters spend many pixels wondering why liberals favor both wheelchair-access laws and support a woman's right to abort a disabled fetus. They believe that compassion for disabled people requires putting the rights of a disabled fetus over and above the woman pregnant with it. She describes the current legal status of abortion as a "search and destroy mission for which the most important thing is that we not miss one, that we decrease the number of babies born with birth defects, which has about the same relation to "eliminating birth defects" that a can of Raid has to eliminating mosquito bites." In her interpretation, the fact that the state does not prevent women from aborting a pregnancy when the fetus has serious abnormalities constitutes an organized campaign. Francis Beckwith, another writer for the site, comments "the fetus is sequestered from personhood because it has diminished capacities as a consequence of immaturity, whereas the postnatal handicapped person has diminished capacities as a consequence of illness." Based on this comment, I conclude that liberals base the existence of rights on, well, something.

Neither the writer nor the commenters ever discuss the real reason liberals support both abortion rights and laws requiring accommodations for disabilities: everyone has a right to bodily autonomy. No one may use another person's body without the second person's consent. (There are a very few exceptions to this, all contained within the criminal law.) Each person's mind is part of the body for purposes of this principle. Fetuses, before about the 26th week of pregnancy, can't exist outside the body of the pregnant woman. The pregnant woman, who already exists, has a right to evict the unwelcome tenant fetus. Once born, however, the child has the same rights to bodily autonomy which much be recognized. Thus, she has the right to be able to use public buildings without requiring assistance from random strangers, which is the preferred solution of Kevin J. Jones in the first comment.

The principle of bodily autonomy for people trumps in all circumstances rights related to property. Owning property automatically makes the owner privileged, and with privileges come responsibilities. Society, using the means of the state's legal authority, is obligated to use its power to ensure that as many people as possible have the ability to exercise their bodily autonomy. (Any commenter who can think of a shorter way to express the idea "exercise their bodily autonomy" wins a prize of my choosing.) Therefore, the state can require developers to build shopping centers with wheelchair parking and accessible bathrooms. The public schools should have to provide classes for students with learning disabilities or neurological defects, so that those students can live as independent lives as possible. The families of the disabled deserve payments from the public purse to support caring for their disabled members with as little inconvenience as possible.

Conservatives of the WWWTW stripe, however, put the rights that come with property ownership and traditional hierarchy over those of individual people. The misery of an abused wife counts little so long as the privileges of husbands are preserved. The fact that being carried up stairs is thoroughly humiliating matters little, so long as the able-bodied carrier gets to feel noble. The fact that the disabled person may be never chance on the random person willing or able to haul him upstairs is never acknowledged.

It is important to note that the principle of bodily autonomy only restricts the government. The state can restrict a person's activities only when those activities constitute an obvious threat of harm to others. Being a drunk adult at home may be stupid, but in and of itself doesn't hurt anyone else. Therefore, the state should not restrict the sale of alcohol to adults in most circumstances. Most intoxicants fall into this category. Non-coercive sex poses no threat to anyone but the participants, so of course the state should stay out of it. In contrast, mountaintop removal mining causes immediate and observable damage to neighboring landowners and people using the area's water. The state, therefore, has a right to prohibit it to protect those neighbors.

It is important to understand that an essential element of bodily autonomy is the capacity to give consent. Children and people with serious cognitive impairments do not have this capacity. Thus, the state should intercede on their behalf to protect them. Age of consent laws are one obvious example. In most cases, however, the best people to make decisions for those without the capacity to make their own are family members. Supporting the family members and eliminating as much hassle as possible is the best way to ensure that those family members make decisions in the best interests of their dependents.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

What Women Should Be Allowed To Do

I have spent years trying to get conservatives to provide a checklist stating what activities and traits women are supposed to have and which ones we're supposed to avoid. I want a concrete definition of "feminine," straight from the self-described experts on the subject. Mostly what I get are Potter Stewart blathers about, well, stuff. So, I'm going to ask the Internet for help on this subject. I've learned from one John C. Wright that that being taller than a man isn't feminine. All women really long for someone taller, which would surprise a number of Hollywood starlets who married short and ugly producers, but maybe starlets aren't good study subjects.

The Wright article is one giant pile of fail, which deserves a longer take-down, but I'm slowing returning to blogging so this is just the beginning.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Eating the seed corn

The Austin school district administration has in its very finite wisdom decided to balance its budge by firing teachers, especially foreign language, music, and art teachers. Bowie High School is eliminating German, meaning 135 students will be stranded for their REQUIRED foreign language credit. 135 is too many kids for the existing teachers to absorb, so the school will probably have to hire another teacher anyway. The feeder middle schools will probably eliminate German as well and won't replace it with another language, so I suppose that will save some money.

Now, this might be defensible in other places, but Austin pays its superintendent nearly $250,000 per year, plus another godawful amount in allowances, perks, and benefits. Maria Castarphen, the current bench-warmer in the office, is therefore among the top 5% earners in the country, in the same leagues as big-deal CEO, and the same sort of vampire on society. Cutting her salary in half still puts her in the top 10% earners in the country and would save the salaries of at least three experienced teachers. That, of course, is not an option, apparently because paying boatloads of money ensures us of, well, something.

Then there's the whole bit where Governor Hairball rejected $32 BILLION dollars in school assistance because Congress pegged it to classroom instruction. Our schools are going broke but we're not going to take the extra cash because Perry can't use it for things other than classroom instruction. Danke schoen, Governor. You'll have to ask my son to translate that though. He did get that far in the class he can't take anymore thanks to you.

I honestly cannot understand why some groups in this country have such a loathing of public education. Religious conservatives especially hate it, mostly based on their own idiot myths about what gets taught in schools. Do schools waste money? Sure, but so does every other entity that ever spends money, including the people who complain about schools.

Schools do something that a certain type of conservative really hates: they produce upward mobility. Not only do they provide knowledge and skills for making a living, but schools also provide information that allows students to improve their tastes and habits, mimicking the upper class. (Actually, given the behavior of today's moron socialites, the students have better taste and behavior.) Kids from the projects can learn Shakespeare; kids from the trailer park learn about Beethoven. Even if very few of these kids keep up the study for a lifetime, that's a few more than would have without the public schools. Those kids lives are immeasurably better for attending school.

That, in the minds of the current crop of Republicans is exactly the problem. They've been fighting a war against upward mobility for decades, by undermining unions, public benefits, college grants and funds, and especially public education. If the Unwashed Masses can get a good education and then go on to college, we UM's will displace their spoiled brats who then will have to distasteful things like study instead of get drunk or stoned on the weekends. Further, an educated populace isn't going to continue to consume the smelly dreck the Overlords spew as popular culture. No one who's ever read Shakespeare will buy Dan Brown or "Left Behind" novels. Listening to a good performance of the Brandenburg Concertos precludes listening to whatever crud Clear Channel's selling this week. If the populace develops good taste, then the Overlords will have to pay actual competent people to produce things, meaning less insane profit margins.

There aren't enough members of the Overlord class, however, to explain the hostility to public schools these days. There is something much more sinister afoot here: envy. Actually, the Latin word "invidia," which literally means "evil looks," is a better word for this attitude. "Invidia" was used by the early Christians who defined the 7 Deadly Sins to refer to the attitude of resenting another's good fortune or rejoicing in another's misery. This means more than being less-than-pleased when a friend gets a big promotion or buys a house or car. Invidia constantly tells us that its objects don't deserve those nice things and shouldn't have them, even when the envious person doesn't want or can't use what she envies.

How does invidia connect to a rejection of public schools? Easy. Some people are smarter than others, and some are more energetic than others. Stupid, lazy people find it uncomfortable to know that smart and energetic people exist, because the contrast between the smart and energetic and the lazy and stupid themselves makes the lazy and stupid look bad. The only place where the stupid and lazy can't escape the smart and energetic is the classroom. The stupid and lazy resent anything that shows that improvement is possible. If schools don't exist, then nothing would ever confront the stupid and lazy with their own deficiencies and failures. They're perfectly happy to make better people miserable if it makes themselves happy.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

It's been a really long time

Since I've posted anything.