Sago Boulevard

Monday, May 30, 2005

Suozzi's Abortion Speech

Newsday columnist Raymond Keating wrote today about Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi’s ambiguous stance on abortion. Although I disagree with Keating’s overriding pro-life (anti-abortion) stance, the article makes a number of good points. Suozzi is quoted as saying the following:
As a Democrat, I do not often find it easy to talk with other Democrats about our need to affirm our commitment to the respect for life and how we need to emphasize our party's firm belief in the worth of every human being. As a Catholic, I do not often find it easy to talk with other Catholics about my feeling that abortion should and will remain safe and legal.

Keating criticizes the Executive for not taking a clear stance on abortion. “The bottom line on abortion is either this is a life or it is somehow something else. If it is a human life, then how can the extermination of that innocent life be advocated? It cannot.” In one sense, Keating is right. Obviously, a fetus is either a life or not a life. And whether it is or is not a life has obvious implications for the moral status of abortion. As I mention in an earlier post, it is important for our political leaders and judges to take steps in defining a fetus. But it is still more complicated. Even if a fetus is not life per se, its status as a potential life may be deserving of moral attention. On the other hand, if a fetus is a life, it does not immediately follow that abortion is unjustified in all circumstances. It seems to me that the health of the mother, both physical and psychological, should carry weight. Cases of rape, in particular, present a difficult dilemma for pro-life advocates. There’s another issue, though. It is not entirely clear what the connection is (or should be) between the moral and legal implications of abortion. If we conclude that, at least in limited circumstances, abortion may be justified, we now need to ask whether or not the State can be an adequate judge. My pro-choice feelings generally stem from my doubting of the State’s ability in this regard.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Theology and Politics

Finally, somebody is talking about theology and politics intelligently. Jerome Groopman’s column in today’s Washington Post makes a number of good points. First, the positions of various religious traditions regarding stem-cell research is far much ambiguous than most believe. Even more importantly, though, Groopman suggests a way to discuss theology and politics without resorting to black-and-white dogma.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Delaying Vote on Bolton

Democrats Extend Debate On Bolton

My thoughts on Bolton aside, I think the Democrats are doing the right thing. From what I’ve seen and read, strikes me as an awful diplomat. What’s particularly interesting is that if you look at the criticism of Bolton, most of it is not about his politics or ideology. True, he’s right-wing but there are more right-wing members of the Bush administration. It’s his approach to diplomacy that is making people nervous and for good reason. About the whole filibuster thing, the compromise earlier in the week demonstrates just how important and effective it is. The purpose of the filibuster is to encourage compromise and it did just that. I heard conservative commentator, Sean Hannity comment about “a small minority of 41 senators” that are “obstructing” a vote on presidential appointees. If it were such a small minority then Senate Republicans would be able to end any filibuster before it starts. But the fact is, as powerful as Republicans are in Congress, there’s still a significant Democratic constituency that deserves to be fought for.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Brooks Under Attack

David Brooks’ column "A Natural Alliance" is attracting some criticism for – ready for this? – not bashing Christianity (Wonkette). Admittedly, Brooks’ column has seen better days and I’m generally hesitant to defend social conservatives. But this criticism is a little ridiculous. Gawker summarizes Brooks’ thesis as arguing that “liberals should pretend that evangelicals don’t hate the gays, join forces with them to pay bipartisan lip service to poor people.”

Let’s see how accurate this characterization is. Brooks writes that evangelicals are “in the midst of a transformation – branching out beyond the traditional issues of abortion and gay marriage, and getting more involved in programs to help the needy.” Obviously I can’t attest to the accuracy of the statement but he doesn’t seem to be asking liberals or anyone else to “pretend” anything. He’s not saying abortion and gay marriage aren’t important controversial issues and he’s not suggesting that liberals and evangelicals do or should agree on them. It’s not even a pro-Christian article!

The main point of the column, as I see it, is this: Given their differences, liberals and evangelicals should unite behind one of the few issues they agree on, namely fighting poverty. Of course, you can say that evangelicals don’t really care about the poor but it’s a pretty weak argument. Every political, religious, or social group has its share of disingenuous members. Maybe the vast differences between liberals and evangelicals make any collective effort impractical or politically unwise. That’s a fair line of argument. If the two groups have such intense mutual animosity then it makes sense that they’re reluctant to work together, even to fight poverty. But the point here is that they should work together despite everything. If the goal is to increase their representation in, I understand each side not wanting anything to do with the other. But isn’t the goal fighting poverty?

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Summer Reading

Would anybody like to recommend summer reading for me? I'm in the middle of Thomas Friedman's new book, The World Is Flat but I'm up for suggestions.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Pope and Diversity Revisited

The Commencement issue of the Justice, Brandeis' student newspaper, is available online. As promised, here's a link to my article on the Pope.

Last night, as I was driving home, it started to hit me: the next time I drive back and forth from Brandeis will be as a visitor. I'll have more thoughts on this in the future, I'm sure.

Abortion to Be Debated Again

Supreme Court to Tackle Abortion Again After 5 Years It will be interesting to see what angle the Court will take on this. Even more interesting, I think, will be the reactions of various editorialists and interest groups. I'm always amazed at the extremism that dominates the abortion debate. The Christian Right links abortion with murder, which pretty much eliminates any chance at compromise. Women's rights advocates, like Planned Parenthood, continue to push for increased availability and funding for abortions and fight against any restrictions, such as parental consent laws.

While I understand the need to sometimes be overzealous in political discourse, the question of abortion is almost certainly more complicated than either side is willing to admit. I think a woman's right to choose should be regarded seriously and should be protected by law. That said, the ethical issues involved shouldn't be dismissed out of hand. It's not clear to me what status a fetus should have in the eyes of the law. On this issue, jurists need to be philosophers (or at least pretend to be). It isn't enough for the Court to decide on "reproductive rights". It needs to take steps towards defining what a fetus is. Once we start thinking along those lines, what we thought was clear-cut becomes very hazy.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Ethics of Self-Regarding Actions and Prostitution in Nevada

I thought I'd share with you this exchange that's been transpiring on Kevin's Grinberg's blog. Responding to a comment on Kevin's post about Nevada brothels, I wrote the following:
I can’t believe you actually compared prostitution to nose picking, firstly. Secondly, don’t blame “fucking theocrats” for wanting to ban prostitution. Yes, generally when you believe something is wrong you try to ban it. Of course there are other concerns, like whether or not such a ban is practical. But it’s quite practical to ban prostitution. Don’t we ban race discrimination because we think it’s wrong? Your get-morality-out-of-politics position sounds a lot like the right wing anti-civil rights rhetoric of the 60s and 70s.

Kevin responded:
Former Batcaver David Fryman writes in a comment to my post about Nevada brothels: “Yes, generally when you believe something is wrong you try to ban it.” Since the post is over a week old, and David’s comment opens a whole new can of worms, let me address it here: no, David, just because I believe something is wrong does not mean that I immediately want to ban it. There are really two questions here: 1) Is prostitution “wrong”? 2) If so, shouldn’t we ban it?

To answer #1: I simply don’t see a non-theological argument for why a purely self-regarding action is “wrong” (if you want to go the public health route, as Chuck seemed to be going, that’s fine - but it’s a whole other argument altogether, and not really the point here). In short, “I don’t like it” (or “God told me it’s wrong”) isn’t a particularly compelling reason to regulate everyone else’s behavior.

To answer #2: There are plenty of things that I consider morally indefensible that I have no interest in banning. For instance:

- Infidelity

- Unreturned phone calls

- Fox News

So - to address the obvious retort - if I don’t believe in banning things simply because they are “wrong”, how do I justify laws against murder and such? Or, to answer the question David asks later in his comment, “Don’t we ban race discrimination because we think it’s wrong?” Well, no. At least, not entirely. We ban racial discrimination (and murder, and a whole host of other actions) because it’s significantly and unjustly harmful to others. Notice that, as objectionable as racism is, we don’t ban self-contained racist thoughts, or even non-threatening racist speech - the law steps in when you harm (or threaten to harm) another person. So, while I think that racism is unequivocally wrong, and I’m all for social ostracism of racists (and homophobes, sexists, etc), I don’t think the law should punish people for thinking bad thoughts, no matter how objectionable I might find them. I’m always amazed that so many religious folks (and others too, actually) take the wrong=>ban connection at face value - why? Of course, if memory serves me right, David doesn’t believe in morality without God, so it’s possible that he doesn’t consider my morals, well, “moral” (or non-God-related rights to be real rights) - but that’s a topic for another post (or, actually, finding an old one).

Here's my response:

I’m impressed that you remember are conversations about God and morality. For the record, I abandoned that view a while ago. (I actually devoted a chapter of my thesis to arguing for what I dubbed “morality independent of God”). With that said, let’s get theology out of this discussion because it doesn’t belong.

We disagree about the ethics of self-regarding actions. Following Aristotle, I believe that one has an ethical obligation to himself to be virtuous. I DO NOT mean this with any particular religious connotation. I simply think that you ought to take actions to better yourself and your surroundings.

Regarding “the wrong => ban connection” you misrepresented me. As I wrote in my comment, “Of course there are other concerns, like whether or not such a ban is practical.” Banning Fox News, to use your example, would have the positive effect of eliminating bad journalism. But that would be greatly outweighed by the negative effects censorship. Punishing people for unreturned phone calls is similarly impractical. I think the same is true of “self-contained racist thoughts”. There’s simply no good way to regulate it and a “thought police” is far worse that racist thoughts. But prostitution seems relatively easy to ban. In fact, most of the country has.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Pope, Birth Control, and Abortion

I'm a little late on this issue but it's relevant because it's only one example of the ever popular anti-religious rhetoric popping up everywhere. My column for the commencement issue of The Justice is about the various controversial issues surrounding the election of Pope Benedict XVI. (I'll link the article when it comes out this weekend.)

Thursday, May 05, 2005

The End is Near

My College career is entering its final stage. One more paper to write (which I'm in the middle of) and then edit my thesis (final draft due Tuesday). I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

I'm a Blogger

Welcome to David's Blog. Enjoy your stay.