Hawaii Supreme Court takes the logical next step

A woman, days away from giving birth, smokes crystal meth. It gets into her bloodstream and, naturally, into the bloodtream of her baby, who’s still in her womb. The baby is born alive, but with a lethal concentration of methamphetamine in his body; he dies two days later. The mother is prosecuted for manslaughter in the death of her baby, and is convicted. Her appeal goes to the Hawaii Supreme Court, which overturns the conviction on the grounds that — are you ready for this? — her baby “was not a person” at the time of the offense.

So even days before birth, a baby is not yet a person and therefore has no rights.

Pardon me while I throw up.

Just one question: what does this do to the question of prescription drugs taken during pregnancy? If you read the warning labels of the drugs you get from the pharmacy, you’ll see that many of them have warnings like “If you are pregnant, or think you might become pregnant, do not take this medication.” But if an unborn baby is not yet considered a person in the eyes of the law, and has no rights, then why would those warning labels be necessary?

If you take this out to its logical conclusion, as the court seems to have done, it goes in some really terrifying directions.

Update: After careful reading of the article, I have to say that the blame lies not with the Hawaii Supreme Court, but with the authors of the Hawaii Penal Code. The manslaughter law defines a person as “a human being who has been born and is alive,” according to the article’s summary of the court’s decision. So the court was properly interpreting a bad law, rather than pulling a judgment out of their hat.

Pork futures look strong in the Senate

Well, the Coburn amendment (to kill a $220 million pork project in Alaska and redirect the money towards hurricane relief in Louisiana) failed by an 82-15 vote (3 not voting). The good guys:

Allard (R-CO), Yea
Allen (R-VA), Yea
Bayh (D-IN), Yea
Burr (R-NC), Yea
Coburn (R-OK), Yea
Conrad (D-ND), Yea
DeMint (R-SC), Yea
DeWine (R-OH), Yea
Feingold (D-WI), Yea
Kyl (R-AZ), Yea
Landrieu (D-LA), Yea
Sessions (R-AL), Yea
Sununu (R-NH), Yea
Vitter (R-LA), Yea

11 R’s, 4 D’s.

Landrieu and Vitter are from Louisiana, so it’s no surprise they voted for it. Their vote can’t be taken one way or the other as to whether they’d be in favor of getting rid of pork or not. So there are only 13 Senators, ten Republicans and 3 Democrats, who can be really counted on to fight against pork-barrel projects in Congress.

Discouraging, but it just means that if you care about pork, you’d better contact your Senators and let them know your disapproval. Tell them, “Unless something drastically changes in the next year or so, you just lost my vote.” Especially if your Senator is one of those running for re-election in 2006 — they’ll be especially attentive to what you say.

Do your part to restore some measure of spending sanity to Congress: contact your Senators today!

Being poor sucks.

The difference between living frugally and being poor is that when you live frugally, you’re choosing to spend little money. When you’re poor, you have no choice.

I suspect that John Scalzi and I differ widely in our political opinions on certain subjects. But I believe we agree on the goals, we just disagree on the best means to get there.

On that subject, I’m rapidly getting sick and tired of people accusing their political opponents of being evil. Both Democrats and Republicans tend to do it, although it seems to be more highly concentrated in whatever party is currently out of power. I just wish people would wake up and realize that those on the “other side” are also people of good will. More on that in another post.

Green! Purple! Green! Purple!

After the 2004 elections, we’ve all seen the state-by-state results maps:

red/blue election results map

But the other day, it occurred to me that I’d seen this kind of political process before on a certain T.V. show. Everyone sniping at the other side, unwilling to listen to reasoned arguments, insults flying everywhere… That map had the wrong colors. Here’s a more accurate map of the 2004 U.S. presidential elections, state-by-state:

green/purple election results map

Fans of the T.V. show Babylon 5, who are currently busting a gut with laughter, will need no explanation. For the others, you can read an episode description here.

What you may not know about Hiroshima and Nagasaki

I’ve gotten into a few arguments over the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and whether there was any possible justification for them, so I was fascinated to read this article in the Weekly Standard. The author discusses transcripts of radio intercepts from 1945, some of which were only released fifty years later in 1995, and most of which I had never read before. It’s fascinating reading if you’re interested in the last days of World War II: it knocks down — or at least radically modifies — just about every major theory that I’ve heard advanced regarding the end of the war:

  • The bombings saved hundreds of thousands of lives, because the Japanese would have fought to the end in a land invasion? But it’s far from clear that a land invasion would have happened at all, even if the bomb had not been dropped. MacArthur still favored an invasion, but it looks like he was the only one. According to this new information, President Truman saw dropping the bomb not as a means to prevent a land invasion, but as the only way to end the war at all.
  • Japan was looking for ways to surrender, and the atomic bombings were completely pointless? Intercepted radio messages from diplomats (of various neutral countries whose codes the U.S. had cracked) suggest otherwise. These diplomats, who were stationed in Japan, wrote home assessing the probability of a Japanese surrender. It’s true that some did suggest the Japanese were interested in negotiating peace, but a lot more wrote home to say that in their opinion, the Japanese would never surrender no matter what. (Their definition of “no matter what” did not, of course, include the then-unknown devastation of a nuclear bomb). And in fact, even after the second bomb, the Japanese were still looking for ways to end the war without a real surrender. On August 10, the day after the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, they gave an offer to surrender “with the understanding that the said declaration does not comprise any demand which prejudices the prerogatives of His Majesty as a Sovereign Ruler” — in other words, the emperor would still rule in Japan, and could still commit his country to any action he chose, such as unilaterally starting another war once his military had been rebuilt. Only once this was rejected did the Japanese accept surrender terms that stripped the emperor of real power. It’s clear that without the atomic bombs, Japan would never have given up on those terms — or, most likely, on any terms at all, short of invading Japan itself. (And see above for why the invasion was unlikely).
  • Japan would have surrendered after the first bomb, and so the second bomb was simply a pointless massacre? Possible; the article mentions nothing about intercepts from Japan between August 6th and August 9th, so there’s not really any new evidence for or against this one. I guess I shouldn’t have said that the article knocks down every theory about the end of the war. For myself, I’m still inclined to think the second bomb had a larger psychological impact than the first one, and therefore that Japan would not have surrendered after just one bomb, or at least not before a land invasion and the concomitant high casualties on both sides. For proof of my theory, I offer the fact that it was on August 10th, not on August 7th, that the emperor ordered his cabinet “Find terms for surrender NOW“.

Whatever your previous theory about the end of World War II and America’s bombing of two Japanese cities, I think you’ll find it modified after you read the article. In the traditional blogger’s phrase, go read the whole thing.

The basic unit of politics: groups, or individuals?

I was listening to an interview segment on NPR today, and one of the interviewees said something that caught my attention. He was making an argument for why one shouldn’t tie the concept of sacrifice to citizenship because, he said, “Different groups, including some privileged or relatively-privileged groups, are going to feel that “we’ve made so many sacrifices”, and that fuels the politics of resentment.” The only specific example of a group that he named was tobacco farmers — an interestingly-loaded choice of an example. But that wasn’t what caught my attention. What I noticed was that all three of the people on the show — this interviewee, the other interviewee, and the show’s host — were all discussing politics as it would relate to various groups. Economic, social, ethnic, whatever category, they were thinking about politics as if the basic unit of politics were the group.

But what is a group? A collection of people, of individuals. Without the individuals that comprise it, there is no group. And any concept that applies to groups can also be applied to each individual. Thus, the reason that racial segregation was wrong was not because it relegated blacks as a group to second-class status, but because it relegated each and every black individual to second-class status. The reason why prejudice is harmful is not because it harms groups, but because it harms individuals, judging them not fairly on their own merits but unfairly on the (perceived) merits of their group.

Groups are easier to talk about, certainly. It’s much easier to say, “Blacks voted overwhelmingly for Kerry, whites went for Bush by a strong majority, and the Hispanic vote leaned slightly towards Kerry”, than it would be to interview all the individual voters and find out why they voted the way they did. (Although exit polls help). And there is quite a bit of utility in talking about groups that way — blacks do, as a group, vote consistently for Democrats rather than Republicans. But do all the members of the group behave that way? Absolutely not — even among groups that are close to uniform (for instance, the black vote in the 2004 elections) there is still a significant number who buck the trend. Pick ten black people at random, and chances are you’ll find one who voted for Bush.

There’s a point there: groups are not the be-all and end-all of political thought, because there are always exceptions to any group classification. And there larger the group, the more exceptions you’ll find. If you only think about politics in terms of groups, you’ll be in danger of forgetting those exceptions, which can lead to policies that make sense for groups but make no sense for individuals.

Let’s illustrate this with a current, very controversial, example: monetary reparations for slavery. The idea is that non-black Americans, as a group, are seen as carrying some responsibility for slavery that they, as individuals, never participated in — and (reparations advocates suggest) should therefore give monetary compensation to black Americans as a group, whether or not any of those black Americans as individuals were enslaved or were the descendants of slaves. (A strong case can be made for reparations to the descendants of slavery, even on an individual basis: if their ancestors had had a chance to earn money for their work, the family inheritance would have been much larger and the descendants would have been better off financially).

As you can see from the way I wrote the above paragraph, reparations makes sense when you look at it from a group perspective — black Americans were oppressed, therefore black Americans should be compensated. But when you start to look at it from an individual perspective, suddenly it gets a lot more complicated, because of all the exceptions. Indeed, most of the arguments against reparations that I’ve read are written from an individual perspective, asking the question, “OK, so who gets paid, who has to pay, and please explain to me why they, as individuals, should be in those categories?”

Thinking in terms of groups is a useful tool, but it should never be forgotten that the basic unit of politics is not the group, it’s the individual. Anyone who forgets that is in danger of advocating policies that appear to do justice on a group level, but end up doing great injustice to individuals.

That’s it… Time for a tea party.

Remember the Fifth Amendment? It wasn’t just about the right to remain silent. It also said, “… nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

Are you wondering why I’m writing about it in the past tense? Because the Supreme Court just threw it out the window, that’s why.

That’s it. There’s nothing stopping the government from taking away your home on any flimsy excuse they can come up with. The Supreme Court is ignoring the plain text of the Constitution, and siding with The Government against The People. Remember “The People”? “… of the people, by the people, for the people” — that “The People”? Yeah. I bet you thought that’s what this country was supposed to be about.

I don’t know how, but we’re going to have to have some kind of public protest similar to the Boston Tea Party here. This must not stand.

Throwing pies at those you disagree with. Yeah. That’s REAL grown-up.

The pie-throwing student who hit William Kristol with a pie on March 29 said he did it to protest “superficial dialogue with no real chance for debate.”

Throwing a pie… superficial… check.
Throwing a pie… dialogue… well, no. It’s less than dialogue.
Throwing a pie… no real chance for debate… check.

If he believes that “superficial dialogue with no real chance for debate” deserves a pie in the face, the next person he should hit with a pie should be… himself.