the absurd observers

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Blame Canada


TORONTO -- Canada can't continue to be a cheap "drug store for the United States" and intends to ban bulk export of prescription drugs when supplies are low at home, the health minister said Wednesday.

Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh said he must ensure Canadians continue to have access to an adequate supply of safe and affordable prescription drugs, and he would launch initiatives, including legislative and regulatory changes, to protect the supply and safety of Canadian drugs.

So basically Canada is just attempting to maintain its free-rider status with regards to Americans funding drug research and Canadians being the beneficiaries of price discrimination from the pharmaceutical companies. Perhaps we can respond by banning drug exports to Canada and prohibiting companies with US patents from producing drugs there.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Havel and Hagel


Abuses of human rights and freedoms have never been and will never be solely internal affairs of any country. As someone who years ago experienced firsthand the arbitrary rule of a dictatorial regime but then lived to see better times -- to a large extent because of the international solidarity extended to us -- I appeal to all those who have the opportunity to act against such arbitrary acts to express their solidarity with people who to this day live in a state of "unfreedom."

- Vaclav Havel in today's Washington Post.

It is important to remind ourselves that we ought not feel precluded from resisting human rights abuses merely becasue they occur in another country. Perhaps someone should remind Chuck Hagel who is properly called to task here:

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Abortion and consciousness


Slate has an article on the coming ability of science to determine when consciousness begins.

Sometime in the next decade or so, neuroscientists will likely identify the specific neural networks and activity that generate the vague but vital thing we call consciousness. Delineating the infrastructure of awareness is biology's most difficult problem, but a leading researcher like Christof Koch, Gerald Edelman, or Stanislas Dehaene could soon solve it. Science will then possess what might be called a "consciometer"—a set of tests (probably an advanced version of a brain scan or EEG) that can measure consciousness the way kidney or lung function is now measured.

The implications on the abortion debate strike me as profound. Bizarrely the debate is currently framed in absolutes. Pro-life activists oppose all abortions whereas pro-choice advocates resist any state regulation. Meanwhile a majority of Americans seem stuck in between, opposing such things as partial birth abortion, while supporting abortion rights when there is less clearly a life at stake.

With the ability to determine when consciousness begins, science will finally have the ability to determine when meaningful life begins. (Although surely fundamentalists on both sides will continue to dispute equating consciousness with life). This shifts any analysis of the abortion issue into two separate questions.

The first question will be whether women ought to have the right to terminate potential life that is itself not yet life. To me, this seems like a no-brainer. If there is no life with competing rights actually in existence, then it seems impossible to justify imposing an obligation upon a woman to maintain her pregnancy.

The second, and much harder question will be whether once there is a human life inside a woman, she has the right to terminate it. Judith Jarvis Thompson has famously argued that there is a moral right to terminate a life in such circumstance. Other proponents argue that in terms of social policy, it is better to have legal safe abortions than illegal unsafe ones. Yet ultimately it seems to me government has a compelling mission to protect life whenever it exists. The rights of an actual human to live trump a woman's right to bodily integrity. (When the life of the mother is at stake, it seems she ought to have the right to protect her life by seeking an abortion)

My hope is that the coming of this ability to measure consciousness will shift abortion policy and attitudes so that women seek abortions prior to consciousness forming. Undoubtedly since the legalization of abortion, women have terminated fetuses that were conscious after being morally torn and unable to decide while the fetus had still not attained consciousness. Perhaps with the ability to measure consciousness, women will be less timid about earlier abortions and less willing to engage in late term abortions. I can only hope this happens.

Tierney on Social Security


In todays nytimes, Tierney makes the case for the Chilean system of private accounts. I disagree that private accounts are themselves superior - the risk factor attendant to them seems to undermine the insurance function of social security, but the basic premise, that people ought to be able to receive benefits as soon as they demonstrate that they can support themselves based on the proceeds of their contributions seems accurate. My favorite bit is tierney's framing of the debate:

Men in their 70's raced on bikes for 40 kilometers in this month's National Senior Games in Pittsburgh. A 68-year-old woman threw the discus 85 feet, and a 69-year-old man hurled the javelin nearly half the length of a football field.

Is it possible that people this age are still physically capable of putting in a full day's work at the office?

I realize I'm being impolitic. In the Social Security debate, the notion of raising the retirement age is the elephant in the room, as Robin Toner and David Rosenbaum reported in The Times on Sunday. Both liberal and conservative economists favor the change, but politicians are terrified to even mention it to voters.

Americans now feel entitled to spend nearly a third of their adult lives in retirement. Their jobs are less physically demanding than their parents' were, but they're retiring younger and typically start collecting Social Security by age 62. Most could keep working - fewer than 10 percent of people 65 to 75 are in poor health - but, like Bartleby the Scrivener, they prefer not to.

The problem isn't that Americans have gotten intrinsically lazier. They're just responding to a wonderfully intentioned system that in practice promotes greed and sloth. Social Security is widely thought of as a kumbaya program that unites Americans in caring for the elderly, but it actually creates ugly political battles among generations.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

worthwhile reading on Michael Moore and the state of the left


Finally someone expresses a vision for an intellectually honest liberalism...

My favorite quote:

A short digression is in order here, because it is important for everything that follows. There is no real Left at this time in the United States. There are some thoughtful, "small-d" democratic leftists, and there is an entirely separate (and marginal) class of radical leftists who think that Fidel is a great hero and who are nostalgic for the Soviet Union. But there are no left-wing politics in the sense of having an agenda and a party. There is no party in American contemporary life, for example, that seeks a national, single-payer health care system. Or that advocates a steeply graduated income tax. Or that proposes full civil rights for gay people. There is no movement or party doing these things, certainly not the national Democratic Party. So I don't think that left politics exists in this country, and it's important to understand that.

Monday, June 06, 2005

The French crap out

This excerpt came from the Wall Street Journal Online evening edition from last friday. Normally, I would make a joke before the block quotation, and then a series of jokes after the quotation. This time, however, the news is so entertaining, that I will resist the urge to add anything to this gem:
Low on fuel and struggling in bad weather, nine French fighter jets and a radar
plane couldn't return to their aircraft carrier during maneuvers with the
Canadian military and landed at the Atlantic City International Airport in New
Jersey instead. The Federal Aviation Administration helped the jets land, and
French marines and translators were sent to the airport to help the pilots,
Philadelphia TV station WPVI reported. The U.S. State Department also got
involved when one of the French pilots had his credit card rejected when he
tried to buy fuel, the TV station reported. The FAA couldn't confirm the failed
credit-card transaction.

Ok. I couldn't resist. Here are some questions raised by this news item.
  1. Why were French planes conducting maneuvers with the Canadian military?
  2. Why was a French radar plane part of the program?
  3. Why were the planes so far over the United States that they had to land at the AC airport?
  4. Why is the AC airport "international"?
  5. If the AC airport had not been international, would the planes had to land at Newark International?
  6. I understand why French translators were sent to AC, but why were French marines sent to AC to help?
  7. Is it possible that this whole thing was no accident? Is it possible that a bunch of French pilots, marines, translators, and radar nerds all wanted to go to AC? Could Donald Trump be that magnetic?
  8. Or, were the french conducting a massive spy operation on our nation's old people, trying to figure out whether or not this social security crisis really is a crisis?
  9. Were the French spying on the Jersey shore? And if so, did their operation have anything to do with Bon Jovi? And if so, what pray tell?
  10. Dramatic pause
  11. Why - in the name of shell necklaces and seaside heights - is one of the French pilots using his credit card to buy gas? Couldn't we just take his word for it, that he works for the French government? That he's not just with a bunch of French Canadian guys that used Maple Syrup money to buy jet fighters, all in the hope of getting some free jet fighter fuel from some unwitting airport guys in AC? That his government will cover the cost because they'd rather not leave a jet fighter sitting at the AC international airport? Couldn't we make that leap of faith?
  12. How much does a French fighter worth of airplane fuel cost? Could anyone's credit card handle that?
  13. Was it pay at the pump, like most gas stations in the country, or, because this is Jersey, was it full service, by law?
  14. Why didn't the other Frenchmen lend the lone fuelless Frenchman their credit card?
  15. Was this all just to film a scene for a Jean Claude Van Damme film?
  16. Was this all just to film a scene for a Depardieu film?
  17. Why didn't they just take one of the free gambler busses back up north?
  18. After the cancelled credit card, and before the State Department saved the day - where the loan sharks? AC, say it ain't so? The AC loan sharks couldn't step in, give them 20 points on the loan, just to keep up Jersey's good name in the loan sharking business?