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Friday, May 27, 2005

Religious Justifications for Violence

The ongoing flap (here)/outrage and violence (in Muslim countries) about alleged mistreatment of the Koran raises the issues of cultural and moral relativism.

The U.S. military apparently -- though perhaps a bit belatedly -- decreed what non-Muslims might call extraordinary precautions against treating copies of the Koran in any of many ways that Muslims deem sacrilegious. Contrariwise, some interrogators may have tried to use Muslim sensitivity to treatment of the Koran as a way to demoralize prisoners -- though I don't believe this has been reliably established.

Underlying the factual dispute about what occurred is the question of how huge an issue this should be. The issue of whether interrogators should be allowed to play intense mind games with prisoners is important, but it is not the issue I am now addressing. I believe it is appropriate to cast a critical eye at a religious outlook that considers prohibited treatment of a book as justification for not only violence against individuals, but actual war. (I wish I could precisely recall and link to a post by a blogger who recently contrasted the potential penalties for U.S. flag "desecration" with the Muslim reaction to desecration of the Koran.)

Islam, or at least some branches of Islam, also considers death the proper penalty for heresy or apostasy by those calling themselves Muslims, and -- at least according to some extremists -- for any questioning of Muslim precepts by nonbelievers. While Muslims' reverence for the Koran may be extreme compared to how other religions treat physical symbols, the willingness to slaughter either religious dissenters or those outside the fold is not unique. Christianity's history is rife with such.

I do not believe that respect for cultural diversity or any other valid principle requires respect for those aspects of any religion that dictate violence, let alone lethal violence, against people based on any grounds other than mistreatment of other human beings. A religion that purports to authorize, let alone encourage or demand, such violence is harmless only to the extent that it is powerless.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Virus Wars, the Old-Fashioned Kind

My younger daughter is in the final two weeks of a three-year class that has been marvelous for her. She has now entered into her inheritance: in these final two weeks, the third graders get to help run the class, go out for golf-pizza-etc with the teachers, and graduate in a highly individualized ceremony. And I have a cold, which she must not get.

We tend to be fatalistic about viruses in our family, assuming that we'll pass 'em around. This time, we are trying to fight what may be fated. I am washing my hands constantly, and warning Younger Daughter to do the same. I am allowed only brief hugs with no kisses and breath held. I am picking things up with tissues. I am feeling like Typhoid Mary.

And yet I know I'm still not managing to keep the home environment virus-free. I touch the keyboard where my virus-ridden fingers have been, and then move a stool that someone may touch or answer the phone without protective gear.... I'm not sure whether I wish I could see some glowing leering triumphant virus wherever I accidentally leave it.

I've decided to give up on the keyboard and mouse, and caution everyone to wash their hands immediately after using either. And not to touch their faces while on the computer. Yeah, right.

Do we get credit, somehow, for drastically reducing the number of ways she can get this cold?...

Where are antiviral nanobots when we need them?!?

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Know Thyself

I got an unusual call last Thursday. A bride-to-be wanted to talk about inexpensive wedding packages. I explained why I don't try to be the bargain-basement option: my style is somewhat untraditional, and if people were to choose me because I'm cheapest rather than because they like my style, the result would be unhappiness all around. She then said something about how I probably wouldn't be available anyway. I said, thinking I was joking: "Well, is your wedding next week?" No, it was Saturday. As in the day after (Thursday's) tomorrow.

I had the day available, and I wanted to be helpful, and I was intrigued by someone who would call up a photographer two days before the wedding without sounding panicky. She said the wedding would be small and very short, and she just wanted a handful of poses, and I didn't need to show up an hour ahead of time (as I usually do). So I gave her an unprecedented low price.

Come Saturday, I found myself getting more and more nervous as I waited around. Showing up just beforehand doesn't suit me, it seems. I decided I may as well just go, and showed up almost an hour before the ceremony was due to start. And since I was there, I started shooting (photographically speaking).

After the ceremony, we did the poses we'd agreed upon. But the bride kept thinking of others, and it didn't feel right to wave the contract and refuse.

If I'd been quoting the photography I actually did that Saturday, it would've cost three times what I charged. So now I know -- I am incapable of sticking to that pared-down a package, and won't quote one again. No harm done -- I like the pictures.

Which raises another question. In our brief acquaintance, the bride has already told me three times (I think) that she doesn't like pictures of herself. Will she like any of mine? I think that in some -- admittedly not all -- she looks beautiful. But then, she comes to pictures of herself with a lifetime of appearance issues. She's looking for familiar imperfections she both dreads and expects to see. I don't have that baggage, and can appreciate the positives -- her beautiful complexion, for example -- perhaps more than she can.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Linking to the Great

I have added Instapundit to my Links list (right side of the page). This may be viewed as presumptuous -- am I claiming some particular relationship to the Blogging Exemplar? Well, no -- but I can almost say I "knew Glenn when". My husband (Hoosier Gadfly) used to talk to Professor Reynolds occasionally about Second Amendment issues. This may or may not have been before Instapundit existed, but it was before everyone knew about it. He generally addressed Prof. Reynolds by a nickname that originated with Professor Don Kates. Prof. Kates may be as short as I, which is short, and he named Glenn Reynolds "Too-Tall". Neither Prof. Kates (as far as I know) nor my husband has yet been struck by lightning.

Besides, I read Instapundit several times a day, pretty compulsively, and it has links to most of my other favorite blogs.

Hubris or Not

As part of our house's campaign to make us regret buying in a hurry, its foundation wall has been buckling, and a contractor will soon begin major work including excavation of much of our front yard. For several years, we have had two saplings -- one sickly evergreen and one alarmingly healthy maple -- growing out of the gravel near the house. My two daughters have each designated one of these little trees as their own. When the excavation happens, the trees would be ploughed up in minutes. So, despite a consistent orange thumb (isn't orange the opposite of green?) and no relevant experience, I'm transplanting trees.

I bought me a nice little shovel, the right size for short folks. I already had a spade and a spade-sized raking thing. I read an online article or two about transplanting trees, which suggested that the sickly evergreen is probably doomed anyhow. I spent much of a warm afternoon digging, trying to cut unidentified roots to make holes big enough, tugging at roots until they came loose and sent me sprawling, etc. So far, I've transplanted the evergreen, which I hope can survive being planted at a slant reminiscent of a certain famous leaning tower. The far taller maple sapling is today's project. (Today's going to be even warmer.)

If I had to bet, I'd probably bet against either tree making it. I know I'm not putting in enough learning time to maximize their chances. So am I just begging the universe to swat me down by giving this such a casual (if exhausting) try? On the other hand, if I begged off on the grounds that I don't have time to do it right, would that be prudence, or laziness and/or cowardice?

Digging has been kind of fun, anyway.

Wish the little trees luck.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Toilets and Public Expectations

My family and another just went out together for a pleasant Mother's Day dinner. In the restroom was an unflushed toilet. The flushing mechanism worked very nicely -- but someone hadn't used it. This was not an automatic toilet, and I wondered whether the previous user was just a slob, or had become accustomed to toilets that (at least much of the time) flush themselves. We're in an awkward period where automatic toilets are common but not yet ubiquitous -- people may assume that they no longer need to perform what had been a routine and expected function. Sooner or later, then, business owners who have resisted installing automatic toilets are likely to consider them a necessity.

It's similar to what happens when government takes on an ever larger role in protecting people from risks. (Yes, I'm on that again.) People start to assume that they don't need to assess risk or investigate for themselves -- that if something is for sale, or some activity is legal, then it must be safe or it Wouldn't Be Allowed. Then that public expectation becomes the justification for regulating any previously unregulated aspect of life.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Graffiti and Copyright

I ran into a friend today who was selling photos of graffiti. By her photos, she honors and perpetuates an art form that is often painted over within hours of its creation. She is also creating copyrighted works, as she chooses the framing, lighting, etc. for her photographs. Query: is she violating a copyright owned by the original graffitists? Basically, copyright exists from the moment of creation of any work of art, and I believe displaying a work without a copyright notice no longer voids the copyright. Is the fact that the medium involves illegal use of another's property at all relevant to copyright issues?

Note that I'm not sufficiently motivated in my pursuit of knowledge to actually research this question, or not yet anyway....

Pragmatically speaking, it would have to be a fairly bold graffiti artists who would approach the courts with a claim to be the creator, unless they had permission from the building/railroad car owner to create their art in that location. Not to mention the difficulty of proving copyright ownership.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

More on Safety: Risks and Benefits

I'm in a blue-tinged fog and can't give this subject adequate treatment, but I still wanted to expand on the previous topic a bit.

Part of our societal safety hang-up is the tendency to consider risks far more than benefits. For example, the FDA's drug approval process, with its mountains of paperwork and years of multi-stage testing, adds enormously to the time and expense involved in getting new drugs approved -- and some are now pushing to make it even more onerous. It is extremely likely that some drugs that would save lives and relieve suffering are never developed at all due to the deterrent effect of this regulatory scheme. Others that are eventually approved could, with less intensive screening, be available years earlier. Yet as a society we undervalue the lives these drugs could be saving or improving during those years.

I'm not sure whether the consequences of essentially banning DDT use against mosquitos belong in this category. They do at least in part -- the clamor about the alleged environmental risks drowned out whatever voices may have been raised pointing out the benefits. Other factors, from uncritical acceptance of environmental claims to the eternal problem of unintended consequences, also came into play. We were on the way to wiping out malaria before governments worldwide were pressured into abandoning DDT use. How many millions of people, so many of them children, have died from malaria since then?

As someone who looks to future technological advances with hope and excitement, I fear the obstacles that a risk-averse society may put in the way of such advances. Thank G-d for very rich people with ideas or the willingness to back ideas.

I've been reading science fiction for maybe 40 years, and I am well aware of how a technological advance can go wrong. But I guess I prefer that risk to technological stagnation. This is NOT as good as it can get. I want my descendants to see better.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Safety and Freedom

Elder daughter, age 13, is off to see a movie with her friends. Usually this has involved schlepping (Yiddish for hauling) her and/or friends in at least one direction. However, one friend has older siblings, and either one of them or a very helpful parent is driving everyone to and fro. Before she left, I asked that if there weren't enough seatbelts, or if the driver seemed careless or worse, not to be cool -- she stay out/get out of the car and call me. I couldn't really tell whether her response -- "Sure", with a shrug and a slightly disgusted look -- meant "Of course" or "Yeah, right".

Every parent (at least, every custodial parent) is confronted almost every day, and often more than once a day, with some question about how closely to hover, what to allow, what to nix in the name of safety. I imagine many of us think back to our own childhoods when pondering such questions. I walked to school during much of elementary school: the distance I remember is 1/4 mile, but the trip I remember seems longer. It was a matter of course to walk through the neighborhood, join up with other kids, cross the footbridge... (that's all I remember). No one shepherded or monitored or chaperoned. In the first neighborhood I remember clearly, where I lived from ages 4 to 8, the kids ran around on their own through yards and streets in the classic suburban-or-small-town manner. There were plenty of stay-at-home moms then, but we didn't check in with anyone very frequently. And of course, there were no back seat belts in cars then -- when my family made long car trips to visit relatives in Canada, my folks packed the back seat full of luggage until it was flat across and threw some blankets down, and my brother and I lay on top. A "sleeper car", of a sort.... My husband, who grew up largely in Houston, took buses all over town by himself by the time he was 10.

I don't believe, based on what reading I've done, that the country was a significantly safer place for kids then than it is now, or that either Houston or my various suburbs were safer than my family's Bloomington, IN. I do believe that our society nowadays is unhealthily (there's an irony) obsessed with safety. I'm not sure how much this has to do with changes in the distribution of consumption of news: did stories of rare and awful crimes and accidents really stay in their home communities without national distribution, 40 or 50 years ago? I don't know whether longer lifespans have led to a subconscious belief that if we just eliminate every risk one by one, we'll live forever.

I do believe that obsession with risk avoidance is a type of national decadence. And I do not see how a society terrified of risks can remain a free society, or do much in the way of technological advancement. (Nor will it necessarily be a safer one -- I also believe that government (whether legislative or bureaucratic) rarely gives enough time or enough informed attention to do a good job of evaluating either the risks of an activity or the proposed method of reducing those risks.)

So I never worry when one of my daughters walks a block to the school bus in the dark, or rides with a friend's older sister, or signs up for gymnastics, or jumps on a friend's trampoline. Suuure -- as in YEAH, RIGHT. I worry when they do the things I did and the things I didn't do. And I'm never sure whether the worry is a manifestation of societal neurosis, or Mom instinct.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Typos

The last post said Muses when it should have said Musings. If I had muses, I wonder what they'd be like. I wonder if they'd type more consistently than I. I'm rapidly getting less judgmental about typos in blogs.

Blog names

I'm not satisfied with this blog's current name (Then Again). I wanted Now What, but that turns out to be the name of a major pro-choice blog, and I decided to skip that confusion. (I am essentially pro-choice, with some qualms, so this wasn't an ideological decision.) The beginning of the current subheading, Muses of a Multitasking Mom, was my first idea, but it felt too long and too cute. My kids still like it, but they can make the decisions on their own blogs. (Which they have. Even the 9-year-old.) (Blogs on which they tell the world about all my sins and shortcomings.)

What-if's about Roe

My husband (Hoosier Gadfly) and I have been discussing what would happen if the Supreme Court, with one or more new members, overturns Roe v. Wade. He spins a scenario where the Court has somehow come to have a majority of originalists, who locate privacy/procreative rights in the 14th Amendment’s “privileges and immunities” clause. In this scenario, Roe’s legal framework would fall, rather than its ultimate result, and state abortion law would remain constrained by federal principles. I find it hard to get excited about anything as unlikely (short-term) as a definitely originalist majority. I’m also not holding my breath for a revival of the Privileges and Immunities clause, unreasonable as its early demise may have been. I come up with a few key questions:

--If Roe fell, would the whole of substantive due process fall with it?

--Roe hung the right of privacy indecisively on either of two pegs, Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process or the Ninth Amendment (though Justice Blackmun’s concluding summary mentions only the Fourteenth). Might the Court abandon the former while preserving or strengthening the latter? I find it hard to come up with a majority for a more vital Ninth, but who knows what new blood could accomplish.

--Is it at all likely that the Court will swing all the way to finding fetuses to be “persons” protected by the Fourteenth?

Personally, I’m afraid of what Roe may drag down with it. A parent’s right to raise his/her child without undue government interference is currently protected under substantive due process, that paradoxical ol’ phrase. If substantive due process is condemned, that’s a right that’ll be wandering the streets looking for a home. Justice Scalia, in his Troxel v. Granville dissent, agreed that such a fundamental right existed and was included in Ninth Amendment unenumerated rights, but declared that the courts had no authority to enforce such rights. (I’m bound to blog about Troxel v. Granville at some point….)

I’ll turn into a pumpkin in approximately 18 minutes, so that’s all for tonight. One more note: I am not at all sure that the Court will overturn Roe even if a Justice joins it who thinks Roe was a bad idea. It would require a certain revolutionary love of upheaval to open that box.

Kids and Information

Our school district, perturbed by anecdotal evidence that middle schoolers are casual about oral sex, wants to give them (and, before public reaction squelched it, sixth graders as well) a fairly detailed survey about their sexual experience and practices. I've seen a draft. I would guess that its main effect would be to make the less experienced kids feel like dorks. "Am I the only one who's not doing this stuff? I must be a real loser...."

My husband raised the question of how school administrators would react if some middle schoolers wore T-shirts to school that said "What is oral sex?" To be consistent, they should raise no objection. Somehow I would not bet on consistency.

I have squeezed out all the seconds my family will currently allow for anything but fetching and carrying -- so that's all.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Update:

One Canon EOS 20D user tells me that the firmware upgrade fixed the problem -- she and her 20D-using husband had the lockup frequently before the firmware upgrade and not at all afterwards, despite extensive use. Phew. Or darn. Now I go back to coveting the darn thing.

Is it stage fright or writer's block?

Naturally, as soon as I set up a blog, my mind empties. This could be a useful meditation technique, though cumbersome to repeat often....

The most recent time that I was advised to start my own blog, it was after I described a recent rental car as turning like an arthritic hippopotamus. However, I will probably spend more time on politics, law, and mildly philosophical issues than on daily frustrations. Unless they're REALLY frustrating.

I may also cover photography from time to time, since my other head is a photographer. If anyone wants to let me know, in Comments, whether the Canon EOS 20D's problem with freezing/locking up has been fixed by firmware upgrades, and/or definitely identified as only a lens-changing problem, I'd much appreciate it!