First, I want to bring my iPhone. As it happens, my contract with AT&T runs out in April, a month before I leave. Here is my first big choice. Do I renew my contract, thus nabbing a new phone with a better camera and twice the memory, or do I let the contract lapse and jailbreak the phone for European use? The former strategy will allow me to automatically take and send photos and videos to my blog without having to break out the fancy big camera (yes, there will be a fancy big camera -- more on that later). The latter strategy, however, seems more enticing. An out-of-contract phone can be jailbroken without any real consequences (who cares if a I brick it), and a jailbroken phone could prove useful when I need to text or call a fellow pilgrim to meet up somewhere. Also, I'd save money on cell phone fees. Finally, by the time I get back, the next gen iPhone will come out (that usually happens in June).
Since I will be so dependent on an iPhone for phone calls, emails, blogging, photography, etc, I want to make sure that survives the trip. With that in mind, I'll be heading to REI for this little gem:
It's the Otterbox Defender. It does all the regular things a super-armored case is supposed to do, but also adds water-resistence to the mix by putting a thin clear plastic sheet between me and the phone. It isn't designed to take a dunk in the water, but it should be fine in a rainstorm.
The second consideration is a camera. Yes, I know it makes sense to just use my iPhone camera. At least, it would make sense if I got the new iPhone, because it is an acceptable camera (the one I have is crappy). Even with a new iPhone, though, the resolution and zoom would simply not be good enough for some of the images I want to take. Also, I plan on bringing a Gigapan robotic housing unit that converts good cameras into massively high resolution panoramic cameras. So you can see what I mean, here is a pic of a Gigapan with a camera mounted in it:
That is where Eye-Fi comes in. A wireless wifi transmitter built into an SD chip:
With this baby, I can take as many photos as I want (within the 2G limit, of course) and whenever I walk through a wifi hotspot, it just automagically uploads all the photos to my Flickr account, obviating one of the reasons I would need a laptop in the first place.
Obviously this means I need a camera that is:
1. SDHC compatible, and
2. Gigapan compatible. Also, I would prefer to have
3. as large an optical zoom capacity as possible, and
4. video capabilities.
More on my gadget condsiderations later.
The first problem in any abortion-related debate is terminology. The pro-life/pro-choice pair of pigeonholes is both a false dichotomy (you can be both) and far too narrow (there are more than two possible opinions). For clarity's sake, I will outline the range of opinions that I perceive to exist in our current political climate. First, I must define pro-life and pro-choice as meaning precisely what the words indicate. In my view, there is a division between moral belief and political action. For each division, there are a range of positions that I will also divide into two.
First, we have the moral positions
- The pro-life position as simply a moral opposition to the practice of abortion, independent from political action.
- The pro-abortion position sees abortion as a moral good.
Then there are the mechanical positions
- The pro-choice position gives the decision of whether to abort to the mother.
- The anti-choice position gives the decision to the state.
Pro-life and anti-choice
This is, of course, the classical conservative position, which maintains that abortion is a moral evil and results in the death of a person. The choice of whether to abort belongs to the state.
Think: the Vatican.
Pro-abortion and anti-choice
These guys believe that abortion choice belongs to the state, and that abortion is a positive moral good (perhaps to keep the population down, or possibly to assist in ethnic cleansing).
Pro-life and pro-choice
Think...well, me (and swing voters).
Pro-abortion and pro-choice
Think: NARAL or Planned Parenthood.
I have used similar quadrant distinctions in other contexts (such as the "atheist/theist -- gnostic/agnostic" delineators) in the past, and I think it helps me point out the full range of positions that are present in any given debate. Let me also point out, at this stage, that there are more than just four positions. Think of the above illustration not as a true quadrant that has four plot points (four squares), but as a stage upon which to draw closer and further away from the four corners. For the purposes of this discussion, though, these four summarized quadrants will do.
Of the four listed positions, the commonly cited ones are the top left and bottom right quadrants. When one identifies as pro-life, one also assumes that person is anti-choice. This assumption is not, in my view, a logical one, but it is a political reality that pro-life and anti-choice are often assumed to be the same position. When one identifies as pro-choice, the political assumption is that you see abortion as at least morally neutral and possibly good. Of the remaining two quadrants, only one is common in the West. The pro-abortion/anti-choice position, then, is one that we can discount for this conversation. Leaving only the other three quadrants, you have a sliding scale of positions that looks something like this:
pro-life/anti-choice ==> pro-choice/pro-life ==> pro-choice/pro-abortion
Now that we have settled on a basic scale for identifying positions, let me go through some of the basic definitional problems surrounding the debates on abortion. Typically, at the start of an abortion debate, the status of the foetus comes into dispute. There are four questions that typically come up. The first two are as follows.
- Is the foetus alive? (we often hear this phrased as "when does life begin")
- If it is alive, is it a human life?
- Is the foetus a person?
- Is that person a citizen with full rights and protections under the constitution?
On the larger question of rights, I give a more qualified benefit of the doubt. The fourteenth amendment states that "all persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof shall be citizens of the United States and of the State in which they reside." Because a foetus is neither born nor naturalized, it cannot qualify for constitutional protections. However, the right to life is, in my view, inalienable for all persons, citizen or not.
So, for the purposes of this white paper, I am granting all four points. I hold it as obvious that a foetus is a living human, and I assume that it is a person with the right to live. Round one goes to the little guy.
By the way, as an added bonus: I am Catholic, and I believe I am in full accord with Humanae Vitae as regards the abortion issue. I view it as the killing of a person, as a mortal sin, and would always advise anyone with child to take the child to term unless the prudential exceptions (life of the mother) applied. Oh, yes, I can't defeat this pro-choice argument. Here is why:
The foetus is not alone. In fact, the foetus is incapable of surviving beyond the womb, and some cases, the mother is unwilling. We now have a conflict. The first amendment guarantees life *and* liberty. Here, then we must choose between the life of the child and liberty of the mother. More properly speaking, however, the kind of liberty the mother is claiming (or should claim, at any rate) is the ownership of her body.
This is a sticky wicket. The foetus needs to stay in the womb to survive, but the mother hasn't given permission. We are faced with a terrible choice. We must either:
- allow the woman to abort (i.e. evict the child from the womb), or
- force the woman to term against her will
There are, of course, even more implications than just kidnapping pregnant women and forcing them to term. If we, as a society, decided that the right to property is secondary to life, many other scenarios become equally justifiable. Here is an example:
Sean and Bill are both involved in an auto accident that turns out to be Bill's fault. As a result, Sean is dying of liver failure, and only a slice of Bill's liver could save him (as he needs the transplant right away). Livers grow back, and the doctors assure Bill that, were he to donate, his own liver would grow back to normal size in, say, 9 months. Now, imagine that Bill doesn't want to give half his liver to Sean, despite being responsible (both legally and morally) for Sean's condition. What recourse does Sean have? Should Bill have the right to deny Sean his kidney, even though it means Sean's death? Which is more important, 9 months of relative discomfort to Bill, or Sean's life?
In this case, Western jurisprudence is clear. Bill's right to bodily integrity trumps Sean's right to live. That is to say, Bill cannot be forced to use his body to keep another person alive, no matter how innocent and worthy Sean may be.
This leads adherents of this position to conclude that in a great many cases, property rights (including but not limited to bodily property rights) trump the right to live. Just as Bill cannot be compelled to donate his organ to save Sean, a mother cannot be compelled to donate hers to save her child.
I have been unable to defeat this position 8 years. I invite you to do what I could not.
- Current Mood: uncomfortable
Eventually, I just decided to plug the latest numbers (from iCasualties.org) into OpenOffice (Look here for info on this excellent and free package -- it is ready for prime time), and smoothed out the numbers by averaging each month with the prior and subsequent two months. I came up with the following, rather dramatic and undeniable result:
(For full size click on the image, and then click on the next image. )
The faded yellow line represents the official casualty estimates, and the purple line represents the averaged trend. That massive dip in fatalities begins right around the time of the new troop deployments. One might argue that it was a coincidence and that other factors on the ground contributed to the massive improvement, but there is no denying that this has become a different war since the beginning of the surge.
Of course, none of this justifies the ill-conceived rationale for the original invasion. The apparent success of the surge also highlights, in my mind, how unnecessary the prior 4 years of bloodshed really was. These numbers may be a vindication of Powell and the "McCain doctrine", but they are just as certainly a condemnation of Rumsfeld and the early rationale that led many to believe this war would be easily won.
Yes, that's right. There will be a minimum of 3 supreme court appointees this term, and it looks like they will all replace justices from the liberal wing of the court. With the threat of a filibuster, Obama (ever the pragmatist) could have been counted on to appoint moderates to those seats. With 60 dems in the senate, however, he just may find it too difficult to resist the mounting pressure from MoveOn.org, and decide to please them with far more radical legal minds.
Moderates like Specter are good for whatever party they are in, because they balance out the more extreme voices and brings undecided voters into the tent. To that extent, Specter's presence will be as good for the democratic party as it was for republicans. When it comes to supreme court nominations, however, Specter will be more inclined to approve (or at least not filibuster) a liberal nominee than he was as a republican.
Have no illusions on this. Mr. Specter will be the one deciding whether these nominees are filibustered.
Ultracons seem thrilled to be purging the party of these moderates. Be careful what you wish for.
BTW, Abrams has come up with a unique way to reboot this universe while still respecting everything that has come before. All discrepancies should be explained for us old schoolers. The rest of you may not even notice.