Friday, March 27, 2009

More than the sum of her parts

I should have known better, but I was expecting Will Saletan to actually address his critics in his article about "why [he] write[s] about 'lady parts'." Instead, it was a lovely lecture about how when pro-choice advocates are worrying about women's autonomy, they really need to be worrying about fetal life, which they never bother to think about.

And I write about the value of unborn life because that's the problem my fellow pro-choicers don't like to talk about. I want to challenge you. Keeping the government out of these sticky moral questions doesn't make them go away. It just puts the burden on you to face them responsibly.
I'd like to challenge Saletan to responsibly face the value of women's work and autonomy when it comes to child-bearing. That's the 190-pound pregnant lady in the room that Saletan is ignoring.

Way to completely avoid the criticisms about being unable to see the women for the fetuses, Saletan.

I thought the image used to illustrate the article was especially telling - a faceless woman with her hand on her belly, which is the only bit Saletan seems to think is relevant.

When he discussed the case of surrogate mothers being stiffed for their pay, he says

It's a familiar tale of vanishing funds and defaulted obligations. But this time, the potential loss is bigger than property. It's pregnancy.
Yes, it's pregnancy, not property (i.e. the physical property being carried around and nurtured by the surrogate). Pregnancy is the work that's being paid for in surrogacy. Surrogate mothers are compensated for their time, physical sacrifice, and labor - not the baby. The starting materials for the baby were provided to the surrogate to begin with, so along with the physical resources she contributes toward growing the embryo into a whole baby, the product is the growing and not the baby. If compensation dries up, it's logical that the product would as well. There are endless perfect metaphors for the situation, but when a metaphor is absolutely perfect, it's incredibly boring, so I'll spare you illustrative repetition of the point I'm making.

The parents whose genetic material was used to create the embryo have entered into a contract with the surrogate, but the embryo/fetus itself is not party to the agreement. After the fetus reaches viability, the state has a compelling and enforceable interest in the surrogate's continued support of the fetus. This is in addition to the state's interest in upholding the surrogate's right to compensation for her work. Also, it would be pretty strange - and vanishingly rare - for a surrogate to quit 8 months in.

This is where Saletan's argument comes within view of relevance - yes, the fetus itself does have value as a proto-human being, but at a stage significantly before viability, the surrogate's right not to be pulled into indentured servitude outweighs the fetus' right to development and physical support. Beyond the blastocyst stage, I definitely think that the product of conception is a special thing deserving of a significant measure of its own consideration (and so do the stiffed surrogates, who have all elected to continue the pregnancies). Saletan is doing precisely what he's accusing abortion-rights advocates of doing - ignoring the conflict between a woman's right to choose what to do with her body and the value of fetal life.

Me, I think the woman's rights win. Saletan won't take a position on which is more valuable, and tries to deflect by insisting that killing a fetus is always a bad thing in itself that a woman deserves the right to do - but only if she feels guilty about it. If unwanted pregnancies germinated in random incubators, my sense is that it would be preferrable to support them instead of denying them a chance to get to personhood. I don't think guilt or shame mitigate anything (though Saletan is clearly hoping for a deterrent effect), so on balance, I'd rather a woman who has an abortion be happy that she'd done it.

I like people in general, and am happy to welcome any newcomers to the ranks of humanity.

For further reading, Amanda Marcotte at Pandagan has much more patience with this guy than I do, and bothers to hassle him about his disingenuousness.

I don't know how much I've added to her work, but I was annoyed enough at Saletan's evasiveness that I had to express myself.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

How embarassing

I saw chief Justice John Roberts speak yesterday at the Bellwood lecture right here in my very own hometown! I was a little starstruck, obviously. The speech he gave bored even me. I kept waiting for the introduction to be over, and then he finished up. It was all about Abraham Lincoln. I could pick up a book about Abe without standing in line for 30 minutes in shoes I've not worn enough to break in.

There was a Q & A session at the end of the speech, and to the audience's palpable horror, a "birther" got ahold of the mic and accosted Justice Roberts about "Barack Hussein Obama['s]" citizenship. She got a laugh from the audience when she actually stated what her deal was, and Roberts deflected politely. Her "question" included an account of how she'd flown thousands of miles to come to Moscow to see his speech. Once her game was apparent, I was a little angry that she probably figured that we amateurs in Idaho are sympathetic to her wingnuttery, and couldn't manage to keep her quiet. I mean, if you're going to get on a plane and hound this guy, why not just fly to DC?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Yes, it really is just a different color

This is a picture from the display window of our downtown computer store, Cactus Computer. I don't know if it's still laid out this way, but I thought it was really interesting.
That's a little netbook, and the sign says "Yes, I really am a working computer and I really am pink!"

Hear that, ladies? We really can have it all: style, function, comfort, and pricepoint.

I thought that was interesting in light of clunky efforts to market consumer electronics to women, and prevalent attitudes about technology abhorring traditionally-feminine culture.

The double bind doesn't just apply to actual women, but to the items they use as well. Glue a rhinestone to that iPhone, and it's a piece of junk. Pretty and Smart aren't the same girl, or even friends, and Pretty has a different laptop than Smart does.

Monday, March 09, 2009

White bean, kale and pancetta soup

It's snowing out, but I think it's actually Spring. It's pretty cold, so a hearty soup was sounding really good, so I put this together. I just kind of made it up this afternoon, and it turned out a lot better than I could have imagined. This could be due to the fact that I usually am too cheap to buy pancetta and tend to just use bacon instead.

And when is a soup pretty enough to photograph?

4 oz pancetta, diced
1 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cans canellini beans
~4 cups chicken broth
3 carrots, peeled and julienned
1 can diced tomatoes
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
2 cups shredded kale
1 cup white wine
salt and pepper

First, dice the pancetta and brown it at the bottom of a pot. Once pancetta is crispy, remove from the pot and set aside. Add diced onions and minced garlic to the fat rendered from the pancetta, and cook until softened (add olive oil if the pancetta did not produce enough fat). Pour in the wine and use a spoon to scrape the burned bits of pancetta off the bottom of the pot. Add 1 can beans to the softened onion and cook about 5 minutes. Add about half of the broth to the pot and use an immersion blender to blend the onions and beans together. Pour in the remaining broth and bring to a low boil. Add the carrots and tomatoes to the boiling mixture and lower the heat so that the pot is at a steady simmer. Allow to simmer for 5-7 minutes until carrots are cooked to the consistency you like. Add the second can of beans, including the liquid in the can, and bring back to a simmer. Add the set-aside pancetta too, and simmer together for 5-10 minutes. Stir in the shredded kale and let simmer about 5 minutes, then taste the kale to ensure that you're satisfied with its consistency and level of bitterness. Remove the pot from heat and taste and adjust salt and pepper (the pancetta is very salty, so you won't need much salt at all). Garnish with shredded/grated parmesan and serve hot.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Glad to see that in the rearview mirror

Yesterday, it had been a year since my surgery. I'm going to do some neuropsychological testing today, to find out exactly what that means, but the rough picture is this: no job currently, no real idea of what comes next, and I am not sick at all. I was, however, disheartened to see that the FDA has just approved Copaxone for use immediately after clinically isolated syndrome suggestive of MS. I don't trust Copaxone, though, since it doesn't really slow progression of disability. It decreases frequency of relapses, but there's really no telling whether or not that's important to me. I have not yet had any classic physical MS symptoms (except maybe fatigue, which may or may not be related to MS). My neuro wants to keep monitoring me with an MRI twice a year, and keeping an eye out for symptoms.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The future of atheism is religion

I read this post at BoingBoing and was totally annoyed and confused. Especially this:

I think closeted atheists who participate in other religious activities are the future of atheism. They know that prayer feels good without a needing brain scientist to tell them, and they know you don't need God to want to feed the hungry, heal the sick, and provide homes for the orphaned. What if they simply stopped reciting the words that they didn't agree with during religious services, without calling attention to it? In many places I don't think they would be kicked out or turned upon and beaten just for that.

Um, what? I've spent some time with missionaries and got really hung up on the "pray to find out if you believe in God" thing. What is prayer if it's not directed anywhere? If you already have an inclination to believe in God, it's not going to seem so weird, but if the Universe feels pretty much empty where God would be, there's just no point to pretending like there's something there.

It's not a comfort to carry out the motions of empty spirituality. I get the impression that Paul Spinrad has no idea what it's like to just not believe in God. If you don't believe God is real, you don't have religious beliefs and you don't waste time in your private life pretending you do.

And he's damn right that you don't need God to tell you that human suffering is a bad thing. If you don't have any kind of afterlife to bank on, and the Universe is indifferent to the mortal lives we're all experiencing, if they go poorly, that's all we get. It is therefore paramount to care for other human beings.

It's a lot like Will Saletan's disingenuous attempts to accomodate pro-choice and pro-life views, where abortion is legal, but morally icky and to be avoided at all costs (not necessarily something believed by the pro-choice). With Spinard's vision of atheism, the atheists need to compromise and pretend they believe in God, and Saletan's vision of acceptable pro-choice thinking is that advocates for choice don't really think that women deserve the agency to make their own decisions about their health and feel however they want about it, but still have to feel guilty about it as a matter of policy.

Sure, you can tell your friends that you believe in God and go to church, and they'll probably believe you even if you don't really have the faith. What I'm stuck on is the prayer feels good even if there is no God thing. Huh?

I'm all for experimentation, and I think you can go into a religious life with the assumption that the beliefs you're adopting are true until you actually feel they're true (this is how I imagine it works for people who grow up with a faith they might not choose on their own), but if you can't muster any enthusiasm for the assumption, you're just standing in a building with a t on it with your eyes closed and hands folded. So you can see how my adventures with missionaries didn't end up with me a believer.

Atheists are a small minority of people, but that doesn't mean they kind of believe in God. In general, human beings do believe in some kind of God, but the long average view of what human beings is not useful for describing how any individual sees the world. Holding minority view is actually holding a view that others do not, and thinking that others are wrong. Not crazy or stupid - just wrong. We've all been wrong at one time or another, so it's not that big a deal.

Monday, March 02, 2009

...and look good doing it

Via Jezebel, Stiletto Spy School (a short workshop in the sexy arts and various other ways to make yourself seem like a Bond Girl) seems like the most objectifying thing on the planet. "As long as my attacker has a broken ankle and doesn't wear eyeglasses, I can disarm him with my stiletto heel. Leave the years of martial arts training to ugly girls who can afford to spend time on creating a robust, functional skill that doesn't necessarily arouse men."

It makes me think of the Neal Stephenson bit:
“until a man is twenty-five, he still thinks, every so often, that under the right circumstances he could be the baddest motherfucker in the world.”

Unfortunately, I think the female equivalent of this is, "under the right circumstances, I could exercise a bunch and go to a great salon and be a stone-cold hottie."
But then, you sit down and watch an episode of Made and you realize that a lifetime of training really does take a lifetime. A training montage doesn't really capture the whole experience.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

zomg, your dog is such a faggot

I'm not usually exposed to TV ads, but they run some on hulu, so I've been amused/horrified by the Alpo campaign that uses anxious masculinity to get you to buy Alpo's supposedly manlier dog food for your dog. The site for the campaign is a mess of Flash, and therefore unlinkable, but the images for the ads - for example, a dog soaking in a bath full of bubbles with cucumber slices atop his eyelids - exhibit dogs being made to endure expensive beauty treatments, and supposedly humiliated by them. The tagline, "Real dogs eat meat." very clearly plays off of ideas pushed by makers of heavy fast food items that manliness is reflected in one's willingness to eat cholesterol- and sodium-laden meaty foods. Now you need to get your dog to eat the equivalent of a Baconator in dog food, or you'll be robbing him of a dogliness that you emasculated, groomed, artery-plaque-free metrosexuals will never understand.