Monday, October 11, 2004

Thursday's post, about Tuesday's debate, finished on the Sunday after Friday's debate, posted early Monday morning

The bulk of this post was written on Thursday evening (its conclusion was postponed due to a political debate I got into with my German colleague, in which I was cast in the role of George Bush's defender — just call me mister D.A.), although this bit and probably a couple of other bits were written on Sunday night.

I should probably point out that I only saw the last 10 minutes of the Cheney/Edwards debate, but have no fear I won't let a lack of first-hand information stop me from commenting on it. The 10 minutes I saw were terribly dull, John Edwards waffled on about his father learning to read and Dick Cheney tried to convince us all that we could die any second from a terrorist attack. (Incidentally the fear-mongering that's going on really does work. A few weeks back my Republican artist neighbour told me that we are currently engaged in the Third World War. Which I thought was a little bit excessive... but what do I know?) Apparently I missed all the fun stuff about Cheney's gay daughter.

One of the things that caused all manner of media fuss in the aftermath of the debate was Cheney's assertion that he'd never met Edwards before that night. Unsurprisingly this turned out to be not entirely true, surely every politician in Washington has run into everyone other one at some point in time, and they'd met a few times before, including at a prayer breakfast (footage of which was liberally splashed across front pages and television screens). Personally I don't care if Cheney lied, or whether it was deliberate. He's a politician. Politicians lie. But I do have a couple of questions. Firstly, what the hell is a prayer breakfast? And secondly, and more importantly, why is nobody but me scared that both of the vice presidential candidates were at a bloody prayer breakfast? I realize they both weren't V.P. candidates at the time, but still a prayer breakfast. Sometimes I feel like the only non-religious crazy (as in the only person who is not a religious crazy, and not the only crazy who is not religious) left in America.

On the subject of religious crazies, I had a chat with Big Greg the other night. It was, um... interesting. (I should point out that he's a lovely guy, maybe not the sharpest tack in the box, but seems like the wouldn't hurt a fly kind of bloke.) A few (paraphrased) highlights of the conversation were:
"the only good thing a Democrat could do, would be shoot himself"; "Democrats are the baby murderers"; "a woman should be at home pleasing her man (in reference to Hillary Clinton)"; "9/11 was all Bill Clinton's fault"; "... (with regards to Muslims) if they were all Christian we wouldn't have these problems with them"; It was all very interesting/scary (delete as applicable).

Since I started writing this on Thursday, we have also had the second presidential debate, which I watched in a packed Victorian's Midnight Cafe on Friday night. Truth be told, I don't remember much about the debate, this might have something (which I saw today can be spelled summat, in certain English dialects — including my own, possibly) to do with the fact I consumed a not insignificant quantity of alcoholic beverages. The only thing I truly remember about the debate was that somebody asked a question about abortion. Now I don't remember what the question was, but I just never cease to be amazed that abortion is an issue in America. Such an important an issue that it is considered one of the twenty, or so, questions that the two men vying to be president are asked to answer.

The most memorable thing about Friday night was chatting to a vehement Bush supporter. She was a friend of a friend, and was, shall we say, a lady whose years were somewhat more advanced than my own. One of the reasons that she preferred Bush was, of course, abortion. She mentioned something about there being an extra 60 million people who could have been contributing to my social security (I didn't want to mention that I would almost certainly never be claiming social, due to my non-American, probably going to fuck off home to Blighty, nature) if it wasn't for abortion. Then she said asked how many of those people could have been geniuses, naturally I countered by enquiring how many of them would have been serial killers (a pointless discussion on both sides, I think you'll agree).

At an earlier stage in the evening, the lady recounted a couple of stories which, she felt, went to the heart of Bush's character and why he was a good man to be President. The first was about some blokey, exactly who the man in question was has been lost in the mists of my mind, who visited our beloved Mr. Bush in the Oval Office. This visit occurred shortly after the man in question's wife had died. Apparently Mr Bush asked what was wrong and then prayed with the man, and let the man cry on his shoulder, dishevelling his suit (this in particular she was terribly impressed with). The second story involved a woman from Columbus (I wanted to write a Columbus woman, but didn't for some reason... well, obviously, after that I did) who's dying of cancer, or some other nasty terminal disease. Apparently, this woman was too sickly to go and see President Bush, when he visited Columbus, so her husband went in her stead. After Bush had given his speech to the collected assembly, wherever and whoever they may have been, the husband approached Mr Bush and asked for his signature, such that he could take it home to his dying wife. Later that evening when the husband returned home, he told his wife that he had the signature of the President of the United States of America for her, and she promptly burst in to tears. When she had recovered her composure she told her husband that the President of the United States of America had just phoned her. During her conversation with Bush, he offered her his condolences, regarding her illness, and said she would be in his prayers.

Even I, something of Kerry supporter, have to admit these are nice stories (although a little heavy on the prayer side), particularly the second one. But taking the time to speak to a dying lady is, to my mind at least, neither a prerequisite nor a particularly useful quality for a president. Sure, I'd like a world leader to be compassionate to individuals, but I'd prefer a leader who looked at the global picture and made the best decisions... for everyone. The former we have presently, I'd like to think, if John Kerry is elected, we'll have the latter. I may be wrong. (Before any crazy Kerry supporters complain that Mr Kerry is also the former, I'm not claiming the Bush is more compassionate than Kerry, I'm just relaying stories that have been told to me. Bush supporters tend to look for a more personal sort of justification, in their dealings with me at least.)


Anonymous said...

Abortion as a political issue? Well, a foetus born after about the 24th week of pregnancy has a pretty good chance of survival. I think everybody agrees that adults deserve legal protection against being killed. I htink everyone also agrees that babies and children deserve the same protection.

The next question, then, is whether is makes sense to differentiate between a 30-week old foetus that was born 2 weeks ago and a 30-week old foetus that hasn't been born yet. It's certainly arguable that you shouldn't differentiate between two identical (babies/foetuses(foeti?)/whatever) purely on whether they're currently located inside a mother or not.

If (and this is an if) you decide that you can't differentiate between the two, you have to give the 30-week foetus legal protection against geing killed. You're then faced with the question of where to draw the line. The following seem to be defendable choices:

1. Never. Babies are babies from the moment of conception. All abortion is murder, as is the contraceptive pill (as is can act to prevent the implantation of an embryo). Freezing embryos for eg. IVF is also wrong. This would appear to be the position held by the Vatican.

2. Implantation. The Pill is probably OK now, as is IVF and embryo stem cell research. Some forms of the morning after pill are OK; the ones that you can take a couple of weeks after the event are not. Note that a significant number of embryos with fail to implant, or will be lost shortly afterwards.

3. Somewhere between then and birth. This is where is gets awfully fuzzy. There's a continuum between a blob of cells and a small person, and no obvious place you can point at where rights should begin. You could probably defend "the age where x% of premature babies will survive" where x is 20 or 50 or something, but that has the disadvantage that as doctors get better, the date moves earlier. This is the legal position in most countries that allow abortion (although babies tend not to acquire all the protections of law until they're born - someone that beats up a pregnant woman can't be charged with the murder of her foetus, however advanced the pregnancy).

4. Birth. This is the choice if you didn't accept the "if" earlier. It has the advantage that it's a clearly defined point, but the disadvantage that you have to decide that a 2 week premature baby is a person, but a foetus of the same age, which would be totally viable if born, is just a few pounds of biological tissue that has no rights if it's still inside its mother. I find that a hard argument to make.

Ryan said...

It's true. I mis-spoke (or mis-wrote) when I said that abortion shouldn't be a political issue.

I suppose what I'm really saying is that I'm amazed at the fraction of Americans who subscribe to view point number one of your defensible choices. (Although I would say that the Vatican viewpoint is an even more extreme one than this, in so much as they say, whilst talking about married couples, something along the lines of: "Every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible is intrinsically evil". Which would appear to rule out all forms of contraception, and, if you read it a certain way, would appear to suggest that not having sex is also not an option.)

My basic problem with point 1 is how do you differentiate between a fertilized egg and an un-fertilized one? Both are, with slightly differing degrees of assistance, capable of growing into a full grown human. But, everyone accepts that is not reasonable to expect every egg in every woman to become a fully fledged member of the human race. So if you don't expect it of every unfertilized egg, how can one demand it of a fertilized egg?

Point 2 is, to my mind at least, slightly more reasonable. But I still feel that if you take this viewpoint then the rights of the foetus ride roughshod over those of the mother (incidentally I've always thought the saying was 'ride roughshot over' and never knew where it came from... Google knows all). In so much as once this little conglomerate of cells is implanted, then she has strict limitations placed on what she can and can't do for the next X months. Now you could argue she shouldn't have gone and done XXXXX, but I think that's a different argument.

Point 3 is the most fuzzy and it's also the most reasonable, to my mind at least. Once you get to the stage where the foetus has a significant chance (a number not determined by me) of surviving then you shouldn't be allowed to arbitrarily kill it. That doesn't seem like an unreasonable rule. The only problem with this rule is that if you make that stance then it seems eminently reasonable for a woman to say, okay take the foetus out of me and then it's your problem. (I personally don't believe that foetus should acquire full rights before they are born, but some rights could certainly be argued for. Particularly to cover the sort of thing you mentioned.)

Point 4 is just as extreme as point 1, and just as unreasonable.

Really though when it comes to abortion I don't think that I deserve an opinion. After all, I don't possess the necessary equipment for this ever to be an issue which directly affects me (yes I could be in the one step removed role of father, but that is still one step removed). So I'm not particularly interested in what the two middle aged men running for President have to say on the issue... particularly when everybody already knows what each of them is going to say. I think that it should be none of the President's business and that there are other, more pressing, issues, which they should be thinking about.

Anonymous said...

"You need a uterus to have a vote" is a common opinion, but I think it's a bit of a cop-out. After all, we're happy to have an opinion on the war in Iraq, despite not being soldiers, or on prison conditions despite not being prisoners. You could, I suppose, argue that given that we have the possibility to become prisoners, we have a stake in that, but I rather think that I'm more likely to get pregnant than to join the army.

Yes, if you take one of the anti-abprtion positions, you're constraining a pregnant woman's rights over her body. That's completely consistent with assigning some rights to the foetus, though, as I'm quite happy to deny you the right to, say, punch me in the nose with your body.

Now, of course pregnancy is a hugely more invasive thing than any constraints that the uterally challenged half of the population is likely to have imposed on its collective body, but I don't think you can automatically demote the question of whether a foetus should have any rights to a womens issue just because women are the most directly affected. A better analogy might be, say, refugees. The only people directly affected by refugees are those who live in the areas where large numbers of refugees are housed. The rest of us float around without being affected in a day to day basis by the demands that a large number of refugees place on a local community. Should that mean that we're not allowed any kind of voice as to whether we should take in refugees or not?

For what it's worth, I'm something of a fuzzy 3 myself, althogh I tend to think that people who haven't figured out how pregnancies occur should be forced to hand over some organs until they can pass a test...

Ryan said...

It is a complete and total cop-out. Which is essentially what I was trying to do, after backing myself in to a corner with abortion I was trying to leg it out of there, somewhat, gracefully. I tried to do this, with zero success, whilst I was talking to the friend of a friend last Tuesday.

Everyone should have a say on every issue. However, taking your refugee analogy, the opinions of those directly affected should maybe have more weight than those of us floating around in middle of nowhere, Ohio. Then you've got to weigh in human rights, etc.and a quickly becomes a whole nother kettle.

There are certainly enough people who would fail the are you smart/responsible/whatever enough to retain the use of your sexual organs test. But I think that is some way off in our utopian/dystopian/topiarian future. (I've always wanted a shrub a bush in the shape of a bunny rabbit... well actually I haven't.)