Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What the?

I am shocked that such a thing as this exists:
We'll let you in on the secret of how top blogs and top professionals keep their blogs up-to date - ghost blogging.

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The only comment that comes to mind: no ghost bloggers here, as should be amply demonstrated by the relatively low quality writing.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Holy Crap!

A child of a friend of mine unloaded this one at a family gathering.

Of course, I saw this and laughed. Because it's hilarious. But the timing of this post is oddly coincidental, because I was just last night thinking about why I have different standards of acceptable language for myself than for my children.

I am one of those people who just doesn't get offended by language. Say any word you like. It's just a sound - even the F-bomb. Why it's a more vulgar sound than say, "fork" is beyond me. It's just a sound. At the same time, very few people are offended by "pit" or "skit", and they sound remarkably similar to a word that people are hugely offended by. And, of course, the reason is that those words have a meaning in addition to the sound. And the meaning of those words bothers some people.

But, of course, when a friend of mine looks at when I'm sick and says, "Dude, you look like s*it." He doesn't mean what he's literally saying. What he's really doing is trying to use words to express empathy for how he thinks I'm feeling. I *know* that. I know that he's not literally trying to compare me to fecal matter. The literal interpretation of the sentence simply does *not* come to my mind. Instead, I appreciate the attempt at empathy. The specific sounds he chooses to utter are less important to me than the meaning behind those sounds.

This is *not* the case for my wife. When she hears the f-bomb, or the "s" word, I think the meaning of those words go through her head. And in most contexts, she's really just not that interested in thinking about those things. They distract her from the point, and get her thinking about something she doesn't like thinking about. Similarly, she has banned the word "stupid" from our children. Why? Not because she dislikes the sound of it, but she remembers being a kid and how hurtful that word felt. Even if they weren't using it at her. It, too, is a distraction to her.

So in front of my wife, I simply don't use curse words. Because I *know* that they bother her. I know that those words act as a distraction to her. If I want her to pay attention to what I'm saying, I'm better off using language that isn't a distraction to her. If I use distracting words, she focuses on them instead of the point that I'm trying to make. Talking like that, results in me spending too much time trying to get her to focus on the point and not the language.

And I do stuff like this all the time - I bet you do, too. At work, I never refer to a colleage as "dude". I do that *all* the time with my friends. I don't greet my colleagues with a hug, yet have no problem doing that with my friends. What I say and do has different impact in the context of where I am when I say and do those things.

As an adult, I have a much better tuned sense of what sort of contexts I can use certain language in without bothering anyone. As adults, we *know* certain words can be a distraction. We know this because we spent time in our teenage and college years experimenting and learning the impact of that type of language. Some of us took longer to learn than others. But the end result is that most adults rarely use curse words. But in the right context, we do. Because we *know* how that other person will understand it. And in those very limited contexts, it's ok. (Except, the times when it's not. We are still learning from our mistakes. Hopefully, we make fewer mistakes now than before.)

But my children don't yet understand this. They are simply too young to appreciate the subtleties of human interaction. They trample over someone else's feelings without blinking an eye. My 3 year old hasn't learned
  1. what it means to him to hurt someone else's feelings,
  2. much less how to be aware of when someone else's feelings are hurt,
  3. much less to be aware of what *he* did to hurt those feelings.
The 11 year-old has a basic grasp of #1 and an occasional grasp of #2 & #3. But it's very coarse, and needs refinement.

The result: we have banned certain words from them. They don't know how to distinguish the subtleties of using them. They don't know enough about when they will offend someone and when they won't.

I fully expect that their teenage & college years will be years of experimentation. And during those years, they'll learn, like most adults do, that it's just easier to communicate with people when you aren't worried about offending them. And what will probably happen (eventually) is that they'll fall into the same existence as most adults. We swear occasionally, but since we don't know who is and isn't bothered by it, we avoid it most of the time. Because that's the lazy way out. It's an easier existence to not have to be constantly patching things up with people who were distracted by the words we've chosen.

Or... I could be really f-ing wrong.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Strange Family

Imagine a family that made $50,000 this year, but borrowed like crazy and spent $77,000, overshooting their income by $27,000. What would you think of if this happened?

: Ok. So it's bad that we over spent by $27,000. I'm concerned about that, so I did something good. I found $386 of spending we can cut.
Husband: What? We can't do that. I refuse to stop that spending!

My reaction is to applaud the wife for realizing that there was a problem, but that even her paltry figure is ridiculous in the face of overspending their income by $27,000. And the husband is worse, to be certain, but only by about 1%. Simply put, both of them are unrepentant spendthrifts.

Well, it turns out that if you look at what the US federal government is doing with it's budget, and shrink the gargantuan numbers down to numbers that most people can relate to, that's what you get: a cut of $386 on a $27,273 deficit. The actual numbers:

President Obama: Ok. So it's bad that we over spent by $1.2 trillion. I'm concerned about that, so I did something good. I found $0.017 trillion of spending we can cut.
Congress: What? We can't do that. I refuse to stop that spending!

When, during the campaign, the democrats criticized President Bush's profligate spending, I agreed with them. And I had a flicker of hope that perhaps the democrats would take on the mantle of deficit hawks that the republicans had entirely dropped over the previous 8 years.

That hope was fleeting. Does anyone seriously think that it makes any difference at all, who is in power? Does anyone seriously doubt that a campaign promise is a lie told in order to get into power?

Friday, May 01, 2009


I saw an interesting post from Lauren over at ImaginaryBuffy, that asks some questions about abortion. She doesn’t understand the “conservative/republican” position on this, despite feeling that abortion is wrong unfortunate. (UPDATE: the previous wording was a misinterpretation on my part. Please see Lauren's clarification in the comments) This question is interesting to me in light of this post of mine. This is one of the areas in which, both sides are simply not able to negotiate. For both sides, it’s all or none. Some value choice, and they see any limits on choice as morally wrong. Others value life, and anything that ends any life is equally wrong. There’s simply no negotiable middle ground. Hence, the two sides find themselves in a battle.

As for me, I have an opinion on this. I’m on one side. However, I would immediately change my opinion, and change sides, if one fact could be determined. That fact? The point at which a group of cells stops being just a group of cells and becomes a life.

Before that point, I’m pro-choice. Beyond that point, I’m pro-life.

Now, despite the fact that this is a very contentious issue there are some areas of universal agreement. For example, no one thinks that aborting a baby after it’s born is a choice that the mother is allowed to make. We all agree that after it’s born, it is life that can NOT be ended at the discretion of the mother. Additionally, no one thinks that a hysterectomy is killing unborn children. We all agree that before conception, it is entirely appropriate to give the owner of those cells the complete choice on what to do with her body.

The debate lies entirely in the grey area between conception and birth. If we could determine the point at which cells become a life, then that would be the ball game. The debate would be over. Unfortunately, we don’t know when between conception and birth it happens. If you believe it happens at conception, your pro-life. If you believe it happens at the beginning of the 3rd trimester, then you are pro-choice, but you support making 3rd trimester abortions illegal. If you think it only happens at birth, then you’re pro-choice throughout the entire pregnancy.

For me, since we can’t (yet) determine when life starts, the only thing left is to look elsewhere for guidance. On this question, I tend to look two places. Since we’re dealing with uncertainty, I have a tendency to look to risk analysis to help guide me. And the questions that I ask when thinking like this are:
  1. What are the risks associated with making abortion illegal?
  2. What are the risks associated with leaving abortion legal?
  3. Are there any hints that suggest whether it's just a bunch of cells or a life?
Here are my answers:
  1. In the worst case scenario, you’ve forced someone who’s pregnant to take on the responsibility of caring for a child that they’re not ready or capable of doing. This poor care will result in harm to that child and to the mother, possibly even death to the child and the mother.
  2. In the worst case scenario, you’ve killed someone.
  3. Yes. If you do nothing, you end up giving birth to a child, which everyone accepts is a life with rights.
IMHO, the worst case scenario when you allow abortion is worse than the worst case scenario if you make abortion illegal. Because killing someone is worse than harming two people. And definitely killing someone is worse than potentially killing two people. Additionally, since doing nothing results in a child, it seems to me that the default stance is that it’s a child.

Also, the worst case in #1 is more strongly stated than it should be. Pregnancy is a consequence of an action that was freely chosen (*). It’s really hard to describe living with a consequence of freedom as being anything other than freedom. So it’s somewhat overstated to say that we’re “forcing” anyone to care for children against their will, when they can freely choose to avoid pregnancy. Certainly we don’t consider it an imposition on the freedom of parents of born children, that we punish them when they fail to adequately care for their children. Why do we then consider it an imposition on women’s freedom to avoid childcare responsibilities if they’re pregnant?

(*) Yes, there are cases wherein the mother was raped. Clearly, in that case the mother did not freely choose. In those cases, maybe the mother should be free of the responsibility of caring for that child. Note, however, that there are more options than just abortion to alleviate such responsibilities.

Which brings me to another place I look. I am a Christian. And as such, I believe that the Bible contains a wealth of wisdom. And on this topic, there are a number of verses that are often cited to indicate what God thinks about this. I’m going to pick just one of them:
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations."
Jeremiah 1:5
Many Christians use this passage to settle the issue. But I don’t think it’s that clear. First, God was talking to Jeremiah. Second, “before I formed you in the womb” could also mean before conception. There are many other verses that Christians use to demonstrate that the Bible thinks that a fetus is a life. But all of them have similar problems to the one above. Specifically that they rely on a certain interpretation of what the words imply. Now, because of my risk analysis, I tend to agree with this interpretation. But, I’ve been wrong in the past about interpreting God’s meaning, and I am pretty sure that I’ll be wrong again. It’s not that I think the Bible is wrong, but rather that what I think it means might be wrong.

My conclusion from all this is to take a somewhat unconfident stance: I *think* that life begins at conception, and as a result, I’m pro-life. But, because my opinion is not confident, I fully admit that I might be wrong. If we, at some point in the future, conclusively determine when a life starts, then as I mentioned above, before that point I will be pro-choice and beyond that point, I will be pro-life.

A clarification of my worst case scenarios:
  1. In the worst case scenario, you’ve created legal protection for something that is not a life. In other words, you’ve taken ownership rights over a woman’s body parts and given them to the body parts. There are many potential long term consequences to the one who has suffered misappropriation of rights:
    1. The mother could try to exercise an abortion on her own (e.g. coat hanger abortions), likely harming herself, possibly killing herself.
    2. The mother could be a bad mother and cause a lot of harm to the baby, up to and including killing it.
    3. The difficulty of raising a child might cause harm to the mother, up to and including killing herself.
  2. In the worst case scenario, you’ve taken away legal protection from something that is a life. In other words, you’ve taken the ownership rights of a life away from that life and given them to the mother. In this case, there is only one long term consequence to the one who has suffered misappropriation of rights: it is killed.
My conclusion is still the same. The misappropriation of rights in #2 is worse than the misappropriation of rights in #1. In #1 a person has wrongly lost rights to a body part (assuming that it’s a body part and not a life). In #2 a person has wrongly lost rights to all his/her body parts (assuming that it’s a life and not a body part). I don’t see any reason why one person’s rights to a body part should trump another person’s rights to all of his/her body parts. Additionally, the potential consequences of the misappropriation of rights are only visible in #1 because the misappropriation of rights is so complete in #2.