Friday, April 12, 2013

Confronting the Story -- but First, Reporting It

Let me start with what I consider, at this point, beyond debate where Dr. Kermit Gosnell's abortion clinic is concerned:

(1) What apparently went on in that clinic was appalling, abhorrent, and utterly reprehensible;
(2) This is in every conceivable sense a newsworthy story.

Guilt, for criminal law purposes, has not been established, but the available evidence is quite enough to trigger -- to compel -- discussion.

The unsanitary conditions, racially discriminatory treatment, and general disregard of medical standards form a secondary backdrop to the criminally negligent treatment of expectant mothers, which again is less shocking than the repeated killing (by scissors severing spinal cords) of viable fetuses inconveniently born alive.

There is no nonpolitical explanation for the failure of major news outlets (other than Fox) to cover this story that comes close to passing the laugh test. The only plausible explanation is the pro-choice stance of those who decide what stories to feature. But avoiding this story on such a basis is terribly short-sighted. The void is filled by those who oppose all abortion, and seize this opportunity to suggest moral equivalency between an alleged serial murderer of viable infants and any doctor who performs abortions at any stage and under any circumstances.

It is probably time to show my own hand. I believe the slogan "My body, my choice" applies much more neatly to the issues of drug use and lifestyle choice (e.g. Big Gulp sodas and riding a motorcycle without a helmet) than it does to the presence of what is from its inception a separate, though dependent, biological entity. While I am, at present, somewhat reluctantly in favor of a woman's right to choose abortion in the early stages of a pregnancy, I cannot condone abortion -- as opposed to delivery -- of a possibly viable fetus. Moreover, as medical technology advances, I believe the time will come when any fetus and perhaps any embryo can be sustained and nurtured in an artificial environment -- and when that time does come, we as a society may have to find alternatives to abortion. In any case where there are parents waiting to adopt the infant-to-be, and can afford to pay for its interim care, they should perhaps have the right to do so. Where no adoptive parent exists, this may become a collective societal responsibility. While this option would be emotionally painful to many of the biological mothers, I do not believe we can ethically protect them from that pain at the cost of discarding new life that no longer depends on them for survival.

Enough of my own views. It behooves any of us who are not ready to ban all abortion to consider how we may continue to allow it, with what safeguards and limitations, without cheapening human life to the point where we slide down the proverbial slippery slope into the bloody shambles of Dr. Gosnell's workshop.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

How the Postal Service Can Reinvent Itself

Last night, I figured out how to save the Postal Service. Or rather, how it can save itself, by a fairly major transformation.

People send far fewer items by post. The only answers we've seen from the Postal Service so far are (a) raising prices and (b) reducing service. Saying that these responses violate basic economic principles rather understates the case. This isn't Econ 101 -- it's far more basic and (one would think) obvious.

So what do I suggest?

The Postal Service should identify the products that people still mail, and sell those products, with postage included. (Greeting cards may be one such product; I suspect there are others.) What's more, it should sell desirable enough versions of those products that people will buy them even if they don't intend to send them by mail. The postage-included feature would be important to some consumers, a pleasant extra to others, and irrelevant to many.

Of course, they can still offer postage stamps, for the dwindling number of customers who make use of them -- so they can put my picture on a stamp, in gratitude.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Review of Ken Follett's Fall of Giants

Ken Follett likes to write about strong, independent-minded women, and about intelligent men attempting to outmaneuver their hidebound peers. We find these types again in this novel of World War I. In the largely fictional setting of Pillars of the Earth and World Without End, these characters had room to maneuver, and their resourcefulness was often rewarded with success. Given the historical constraints of a World War I setting, Follett could not do quite as well by the characters in Fall of Giants -- which made the book somewhat more depressing. Reading it, I was momentarily distracted by fancies of where the story could have gone if Follett had pursued an alternate history a la Inglorious Basterds, and allowed one or another of his characters to save the away and avert disaster.

But that fantasy faded quickly -- because Follett shows, step by step, why disaster was not, in fact, averted. We see, from multiple points of view, the logic, the rational calculations, that led each of the nations inexorably toward war. It is a sobering experience. One cannot easily assure oneself, afterward, that one would have found a different path. At the same time, various characters are trying desperately to do just that, and Follett manages to make the reader hope they will succeed, even while knowing that any such hope is in vain.

But then, around mid-book, Follett starts spending much more time dwelling on who is having ill-advised sex, or not having desired sex, with whom -- and the book started to lose me. (One could argue that historical fiction covering this period should enlighten younger readers about how seriously people in the early 20th Century took premarital chastity (for women) and marital fidelity (for both sexes, to some extent) -- but I doubt many of Follett's readers are entirely ignorant of the mores of the time.) I have nothing against romantic entanglements in fiction, but something about the transition didn't work well for me.

Follett's focus does eventually return to the war, and related events such as the women's suffrage movement in Britain and run-up to the Russian Revolution. I learned quite a lot. And I did care what happened to the characters -- but less than I might have, if the original seamless blend of individual stories and worldwide events had continued throughout.