Politicians and abortion

As a rule, I avoid talking about abortion. People just get upset when they talk about abortion, even if they all agree. Only life experience (yours or a friend’s) is likely to change a person’s position on it. In conversation, people just get more and more angry. But I have some things I want to get off my chest.

To start with: Legally, abortion is a settled issue. The Supreme Court has decided. No matter what individual politicians believe, they will not change that. No leader of a major party is putting outlawing abortion into his platform. What any given member of parliament (or, in the US, congress) believes or wants to happen or says on the stump, it will not change. You are not required to like this, and I’m not going to enter into the rightness or wrongness of legalization of abortion here (see above); I recommend listening to several women who had had or have considered abortions rather than arguing about it online. But regardless of what you would like to be the case, political means will not change it now. Focusing on politicians’ positions is barking up the wrong tree.

What this also means is that making abortion a political issue can produce effects that are not consistent with your overall values. Have a look at the politicians who are vocally opposed to abortion. Some of them have positions that are in many ways the opposite of the teachings of Jesus. “For I was hungry,” Jesus might say to them at the end, “and you called me a parasite, I was thirsty and you sold my water, I was a stranger and you turned me away, I was naked and you arrested me, I was sick and you turned me over to profiteers, I was in prison and you threw away the key.” I will not say that all politicians who are opposed to abortion have these kinds of harmful views, because I know it’s not the case. But if you vote for a party that opposes abortion and against one that believes it should remain legal, in Canada and the US right now, you are voting for a party that has a track record of exactly this kind of behaviour. It may upset you that a politician or party is pro-choice, but in real terms their stance on that issue almost certainly makes no difference. Their stance on issues affecting the poor, the hungry, the displaced, and those who need care and forgiveness, on the other hand, may make very important, real differences.

I do not think it is the right thing to do to vote for those who would do harm, or against those who would do good, on the basis of their stated position on something that is a moot point. Results are what count. Many people who are pro-life recognize that those who are pro-choice are sincerely interested in women’s rights and health, but they object that those people are causing the death of children: their good intentions are, in their view, leading them to cause harm. Well, apply that line of thought here: your best intentions opposing abortion may lead you to do something that causes real harm.

Those who are pro-choice, of course, do not see an early-term, non-viable fetus as a fully developed human, and they are far more concerned for the fully developed human female whose life may, in our society, be derailed by a pregnancy. You may say they are wrong about the fetus not being human, but you are mistaken if you deny that a pregnancy carried to term can have disastrous consequences for women in some positions. And you are naive if you think that the women can just say “No” easily or just use birth control. Talk to more women with a wider variety of experiences in the world. It simply isn’t the case.

Abortion is a decision very few people take lightly. It is traumatic. It is an act of desperation. I am not aware of anyone on either side of the issue who wouldn’t want to see fewer unwanted pregnancies – fewer women who are in a position where abortion would seem like a viable way out. It’s the lines of thought on how to get there that differ. On one side, the view is that women should simply say no, or perhaps use birth control – though many people on that side are opposed to birth control. On the other side, the view is that women should be in better positions to say no if they want to, be in better positions to use birth control. Which, as it happens, is proven to be an excellent way of reducing abortion rates (here’s more on that). I have no hesitation in advocating equality for women and full availability of birth control. Also reproductive health counselling so that young women are fully aware of their contraceptive options (see above).

So. If you are opposed to abortion, and you would like to see fewer abortions, focus on what will produce that result and will not result in harm.Saying something should be the case and feeling morally right about it means little if as a result your actions, or the actions of those you support, are inevitably producing abhorrent results.

Abortion is an issue that lets people on both sides feel very righteously angry. That doesn’t really help anything. If you want to reduce the number of abortions, start by finding women who have had abortions or have considered having abortions. Don’t talk at them. Listen to them. Find out why they were in that position in the first place. Then work on doing what it takes to help other women not to be in that position. Effective things that actually work.

Because you know what they say about good intentions and the road to you-know-where. Good results matter a lot more.

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Hobby Lobby, hypocrisy, and employers’ rights

I reposted on Facebook an image that declares, “Change ‘Christian’ to ‘Islam’ in the Hobby Lobby case, and the same people arguing for it would be frothing at the mouth against it. It’s called hypocrisy.” This got a response from one connection (a friend of a Facebook friend): “I’ve never asked a Muslim co-worker to buy me bacon, and I wouldn’t demand that a Muslim employer buy bags of pork rinds to put in his vending machine or to fead me with at a lunch and learn session. So in the name of eschewing hypocrisy I take it everyone re-posting or liking this meme also supports having their tax money go to ‘faith based’ charities that provide essential services, err I mean human rights.” Here is the response I wrote to that:

Best solution to the Hobby Lobby issue: not have private companies involved in essential health care. In the civilized world (not including the US) health care coverage is mediated directly by the government. Supplementary coverage for some things the government plan may not cover (e.g., massage, dental, eyecare, prescription drugs) may be handled through plans that are contracted through employers (but paid for at least in part by employees), but the bulk of health care coverage is handled in a far more efficient and effective way as a single-payer public service rather than an inefficient marketplace of multiple levels of profit-taking. Costs are much lower and outcomes much better, and we don’t have the risk of direct employer interference.

Everyone pays for things they don’t like through their taxes. Tax breaks and grants to charities go to organizations that sometimes have directly competing interests. The same government that pays for the army gives breaks to pacifist groups; Zionist and Palestinian relief groups may both get benefits; governments run lotteries and at the same time support through tax relief and, sometimes, direct grants religious organizations that are strictly opposed to gambling. The owners of Hobby Lobby can’t avoid indirectly supporting things they don’t like any more than the rest of us can; government is there as an organism for all of the country, and all of the country is a very diverse set of people with multifarious needs and desires. But of course they don’t want to seem to be supporting it directly. Also, like so many other companies, they are trying to find a way out of the government mandate. Many companies have been looking at cutting their staff hours so that their workers are exempted. Another example of why leaving employers out of the crucial nexus would be better.

But I think it is a very fair statement that many people who see religious rights as being trampled on here are concerned about their religious rights but less so about the religious rights of others. It doesn’t take a lot of looking to find people who are very strongly in favour of the rights of Christians of their particular stripe to exercise the dictates of their interpretations of their consciences who at the same time are directing streams of invective and bigotry against Islam.

This is not so much an analog of asking Muslim co-workers to buy you bacon, anyway. It is a closer analog of a company whose boss is a Muslim setting a strict policy that meal expense accounts can only be used for halal food, and absolutely in no case ever for pork. But it’s not a perfect analog of that, either. Hormone therapy – “birth control pills” – is used not just for birth control but for various other medical conditions as well. And in some cases where it is used for birth control, it is because the woman is taking another necessary prescription drug that is a known teratogen. Some people have chronic conditions that are life-threatening or strongly deleterious to quality of life that can currently be treated effectively only with medications that have a high risk of producing birth defects. Preventing women who are taking those medications from using birth control is telling them that they have a choice of 1) no sex life, even if they are married, 2) a risk of children with severe congenital impairments, or 3) going without treatment for their condition.

But I’m not arguing for employers making exceptions for people with special needs. The would accept the assumption that the employer has a right to dictate how employees receive their health care and live their private lives. The very idea that your employer should have any say in how you live your private life – except inasmuch as it directly affects your employer (e.g., through Tweeting compromising statements about them) – is unacceptable, a throwback to feudalism, and only the United States among all developed countries seems to have a problem seeing that.

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How to protect yourself against a police state

A Facebook acquaintance has presented the argument that gun ownership is necessary to protect ourselves against a police state, and that gun control advocates, who inevitably want to take away all guns, are leading us down the path to something like Communist Russia. We would be better, he says, committing resources to mental health and looking for ways to alleviate the gap between rich and poor. This is my response:

You’re presenting a scaremongering extreme example. Regulating guns carefully, which we do in Canada, obviously does not lead to confiscation of all guns; if it did, it would have done so already. You might as well say that regulating prescription medications — which we do more tightly in Canada than in the US — will lead to unavailability of prescription medications. Or or or.

It’s true that our freedoms are being eroded by the Harper Conservatives, subtly and gradually, in a kind of frog-boiling exercise and entirely through abuse of the system, for example overpadded omnibus bills, but they know well enough, like the cynical and powerful in the US, that guns make pleasant little pacifiers for scared people to hang onto. I would like you to consider the equipment available to the Canadian army, and imagine whether a bunch — or even thousands — of Canadians with heavy weapons could really oppose that — really as in “not in a Hollywood movie.” Now consider the odds of opposing the American army, which so many supposed “patriots” in the US think they could do. It’s frankly laughable.

No, really, it is. In Syria there are freedom fighters with international supply sources going up against a much smaller country and they’re still getting badly hurt. And what we’ve seen with the Arab Spring is that the only way citizens are going to prevail against a hostile government is either (a) to persuade it to resign for fear of looking bad in the international eye or out of some lingering hesitation to murder thousands of citizens and destroy much of the country or (b) with international help.

If groups of “patriots” in the US or Canada decided to oppose a hostile government with armed force, first of all, most citizens would not go along with it; think about Germany, where they won not by taking people’s guns (the Nazis had looser gun control than the previous government) but with the complicity of enough of the populace, though the kind of propaganda assault that is popular with political parties everywhere (only of course more sinister than most), and taking advantage of a populace who were scared and resentful in the aftermath of the first World War and its sequelae. But among those groups that decided to go with armed insurrection, they would not all agree with each other — again, look at Syria, and look at the kind of infighting you can see, for instance, in the US Libertarian Party. Even if there were two million people with assault weapons, they would cause a lot of damage but they would be wiped out by the breathtaking superiority of the US army. Simply scale down the numbers for the Canadian equivalent.

The way to protect ourselves from a police state is NOT TO ELECT ONE. Good grief. Pay attention to who you’re voting for. When a politician puts energy into making you fearful of threats, recognize that you’re being played. It’s the same approach that made the Nazis so successful — and many other less vile but still obnoxious groups.

Don’t tell me what advocates will and won’t do. I am one. You are not one. I know quite a few. You seem to know only your fantasies and straw men.

And don’t waste time with false oppositions either. Committing resources to mental illness is not something that takes away from gun control. Indeed, with less gun violence there is more money freed for other things, since gun violence has its undeniable costs. Likewise looking at the gap between rich and poor — something that certainly does need to be addressed, and is best addressed by good social services in a well-funded (by taxation) state wherein everyone recognizes the rights and obligations of citizenship and sees their government as of, by, and for them, and works to keep it that way, rather than indulging in paranoid us-versus-them fantasies that foster opposition to and disengagement from the government, thereby undercutting the best means of improving social services.

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“The good thing about Rob Ford is…”

I’ve seen and heard it said that the good thing about Rob Ford is that he’s provoked a level of citizen involvement in civic politics that hasn’t been seen in decades, if ever.

Well, yes, it is gratifying to see people really getting actively involved. But I think calling that a beneficial effect of Rob Ford’s administration is like saying “Well, this flu was really good – it got my immune system working.” Or “That hurricane had the positive effect of giving the disaster relief system a good workout.”

A well-run city should not require huge amounts of grassroots involvement. Citizens are having to take on, and think about, things that they elected other people to take on and think about so they could go on doing their own parts in making the economy and cultural life of the city run smoothly.

So it’s nice to know that we have this civic immune system and it works. Now it would be great if it didn’t have to work so hard.

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Pro-life, pro-compassion

I posted a link on Facebook to Why I Am Pro-Life by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times, worth reading. In a following discussion, I added some of my own thoughts:

I don’t like abortion. I don’t think very many people think it’s a nice thing. Even the strongest advocates for abortion choice are unlikely to see it as a wonderful thing per se; it’s a very unpleasant way to resolve a very unpleasant situation, but for those who get abortions, the alternatives are, as far as they can see, even worse. It would be much better for a woman never to be in the position of feeling she had to get an abortion. Better birth control, better respect for women’s rights: these are things that help women to keep from getting pregnant when it would be a catastrophic life event. At least now a woman can be pregnant and unmarried and not have her whole life destroyed by societally ingrained prudery and censoriousness.

And that’s the really big point here that Friedman’s making: There’s so much concern for that one part of life, that one stage of life, and so little compassion from many of the same people for other parts of life. A female, for some people, has more rights before she’s born than she ever will again. Let’s see… they expect women to be submissive and compliant, but not, of course, to have sex before marriage. A culture that teaches girls to get their validation and direction from men, but somehow they’re supposed to resist the very people they want validation from when that person suggests something that they have come to believe is a sign of an ultimate emotional bond. Hmm. They insist that birth control, preventing conception, is bad, even though it’s the proven best approach for reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies. And if a woman gets pregnant before she’s married they treat her with scorn and condemnation. So the easy answer is just not to have sex before marriage, right? If it’s so easy, why are teen pregnancy rates higher in the Bible belt? Why is the rate of abortion as high among Christians as among non-Christians — and higher among Catholics?

And meanwhile social supports are being cut, care for the already-born is being cut, people who think they’re voting for “family values” are electing people who want to “get government out” — which means keeping the main instrument of the people for caring for the people from doing that work effectively. Even though rates of unwanted pregnancy are lower among people with more education, it becomes harder and harder to get a good education, thanks to cutbacks. The rich get richer (and generally behave as though the usual rules don’t apply to them), the poor get poorer and less well educated. And in the midst of all these conditions that conduce to higher rates of unexpected pregnancy, including unrealistic “abstinence-only” and “no-contraception” teaching that is like saying “wearing seatbelts is wrong; as long as you drive safely you will never have an accident” (I know many safe drivers who have been in accidents), the big big big issue for some people is just to make sure that, after the conditions that lead to more pregnancies in women for whom it could be a catastrophic life event, when there is a pregnancy, the still-forming baby’s rights absolutely trump the rights of anyone else. Wouldn’t it be far better for it not to come to such a pass?

And why is it not obvious to everyone that when a woman has been violated, has had the sanctity of her body destroyed and her sense of personal security and control torn to shreds, the one thing she needs more than anything is some sense of control, some sense of a chance to regain control of her security as a person, some sense that she still has some say in the course her life takes? If a woman has been raped, and you tell her that she can have no control over whether she has a child as a result of that, you are perpetuating the damage. If she feels she has control over her life, if she can have a sense of a secure place where she can make decisions about what happens in her future, if she does not have people screaming at her to do this or not do that, then she may find — as some women certainly have — that if she is pregnant she does want to carry the baby to term, on her terms. Or she may find that she simply cannot, that it would be a lasting evidence of the destruction of what she had been. The one thing we should hope is that at least her life will be saved, that she will be able to recover and regain herself. That is the one thing we have in our control that we can do. If we just tell her that she has to do one thing and can’t do another, if we tell her that this thing that has destroyed her life is actually a blessing, we may or may not help the life of the baby, but we surely will be furthering the destruction of the woman’s life.

Compassion. It really shouldn’t be so much to ask for.

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My feedback to Avis

I know this isn’t actually about politics, but it is about people treating other people well – or treating them poorly quite gratuitously. And I just wanted to get this off my chest. So here’s what I just sent to Avis via their feedback. I imagine it will be basically ignored by them. But perhaps you may find yourself nodding in agreement:

I just filled out your customer survey, which did not allow me to give any details as to exactly why I do not intend to rent from Avis again, in spite of having been a regular customer for years and renting several times a year, usually for 2 or 3 days at a time, sometimes longer. Here is why:

Only once in recent memory can I recall not having been dicked around or lied to by Avis staff or frustrated by their lack of knowledge and basic competence. You always have some great people, but you also have some barely competent ones, and you have a culture opposed to customer satisfaction.

I am simply tired of being taken for granted. I am tired of being promised that something will be no problem and then discovering it is a problem and having to spend more than an hour on the phone to sort it out. I am tired of no one at Avis knowing anything about anything anyone else has promised me. I am tired of simple petty meanness over things that do not cost Avis a cent and that I have actually paid for.

Here are some tips:

1. I am paying for 24-hour periods. I am always told that I get that car for the whole 24 hours, it’s on the contract, and I pay for the whole 24 hours. Do not treat me as being late if I get the car back later than I first thought I would but within the 24-hour period.

2. When I’m paying for 24-hour periods and I’m picking up the car when I arranged to or when they told me to come back and pick it up, and I ask your counter staff whether it will be necessary to change the return time in order to avoid late fees, if they say it won’t be a problem, it had better not be a problem, and if they say they can’t change it, that is just because they – and you – are incompetent and intransigent. It had better not involve my having to call one person who says she can fix it, and then, finding it not fixed, getting another person on the line who sees no record of any effort.

3. If I pick up a car at 8 pm one day and the rental location will close at 6 pm on the day I return the car but I can drop it off after hours, I have paid until 8 pm. Not until 6 pm. And you will not do anything with that car until you open the next morning. Therefore, stealing 2 hours from me when you will not need the car for another 11 hours after that is petty and stupid. You could win my loyalty; instead, you have lost it.

4. It is irrelevant whether other car companies will dick me around the same way. That’s their problem, not yours. Your business is providing the service your customers pay for, and not abusing them or taking them for granted. You could be better than this. But you’re not. And I’m just sick and tired of it.

If you can convince me that you’ve really changed your approach to your customers and are being less petty and stupid, I will rent from you again. Not until then. I have spent many thousands of dollars on Avis rental cars, and you still treat me like shit. So I’ll be going to Hertz, National, whoever… not Avis, and not Budget.

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Current government cuts to the civil service (including things like, you know, food inspectors – why would anyone care about their food being safe?) are being done in the name of efficiency.

What a hilarious load of rubbish that is. If you have to move five tons of dirt, what’s more efficient: five guys with big buckets, or fifty with moderate-sized buckets? (Spoiler: in terms of man-hours, the fifty guys, as long as they’re coordinated. People get tired, you know, and have limits to their strength. Plus you can do a proper bucket brigade with fifty. And obviously it gets the work done sooner too.)

People who think you can make government run just as well with fewer people are like people who think you can make an engine run better by taking parts out.

Here’s another “seems obvious but is wrong” thing: Which uses more energy, running up stairs or walking up them? The “duh, obvious” people will tell you that they involve the same amount of work, because the vertical displacement is the same. But actually when you run you propel yourself above the step and then land back down on it, so your total vertical displacement is greater than your net vertical displacement; you burn energy less efficiently above a certain speed (sort of like how a car burns more gas over the same distance at 120 km/h than at 60 km/h); and if you exert yourself a lot, your heart is beating rapidly for some time after, and your system requires extra energy to repair the muscles.

That’s not a tangent or out of left field. The same thing goes for ideas of efficiency in organizations. Yes, they can get so big they get inefficient. But that’s mainly just a lack of proper coordination; you can make a big inefficient organization more efficient by adding more people if they’re doing the right coordination work. But an organization that’s under its optimal efficient size is not going to be made more efficient by being made even smaller.

And don’t forget the blowback. The government equivalent of pulled muscles is lawsuits – and, occasionally, dead citizens. Walkteron, anyone?

I suspect the current government are, for one thing, just eager to have fewer people talking back at them and suggesting that their ideas won’t work.

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