Your Thoughts Exactly: November 2005

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


Aborting a Down's Syndrome Baby

The title links to an article - "The abortion debate no one wants to have". And actually, I've found some definite resistance to talking about this exact issue, even among liberals. Pro-lifers need not even read past the title to be horrified, but I think that the debate is worthwhile.

The fact of the matter is that it's reality- people are having tests done on their fetuses to find out whether they have (among other things) Down's syndrome, the leading cause of mental retardation in children. It's a quick screening, not too invasive, and it can be detected pretty early. The question is, what would you do if you were faced with the decision?

Deep down, we want our children to be perfect-- healthy, smart, moral, athletic, beautiful, friendly, people. The reality never lives up to that desire. Inevitably, our children turn out to be human, with their own fuck-ups and issues, some that are handed down directly from their own parents, and some that are new to the coming generation. Some are genetic, ranging from physical beauty to a congenital heart defect. And some are cultural. We can't help but screw up our children's lives, but we do try to give them the best of what's available.

And so, to be faced with a disability so early on, before the parents even get used to the idea of having a child, must be a startling choice to make. It may even be so early on that it seems a preventative measure rather than an abortion- we sometimes think of babies as blank slates, so to erase the disability and start over again probably just seems a continuation of the first pregnancy rather than a do-over. And when faced with that rationale, it seems prudent that you would choose to abort the fetus. If a doctor asked if you would like for your baby's second head to be removed, you wouldn't think twice.

But of course this is coming from a decidely pro-choice point of view. And yet, I read what I've written and it seems cold and clinical, as if having a child is simply a matter of buying a kit at Sears and returning it if it doesn't work out. It isn't the abortion itself that bothers me. I have no qualms about the pain of the fetus, the creation of a soul at conception, nor am I worried that I am ending the spark of human life before it has a chance to turn into a fire.

I am pro-choice for a variety of reason, not the least of which is the fact that I think parents should be allowed to choose the circumstances in which they raise their child, so that if they are not ready-- financially, emotionally, mentally, familially (is that a word?), the child will not be the one to suffer.

Of course, there are other significant reasons to be be pro-choice, such as the actual rights of the woman bearing the fetus, and that she should have control over her own body. But I want to ignore this side of the abortion debate for right now- not because it isn't important, but mainly because it isn't what I find distressing about this issue.

Anyway, in this case, ostensibly, the parents want to have a child, but simply don't want THIS child, because of the disability. That's what separates it from a "normal" abortion debate. Aborting the fetus is making a choice about what kind of child the parents want, not just whether they want a child or not. And that is strange, to me. If we extrapolated this scenario, do we come up with a Gattaca-like world in which parents select against all the things they don't want their children to have? Would there never be another Down's syndrome baby? Or, do we simply come up with a more evolved modern world, where genetic diseases are rarer, spotted earlier, and perhaps even cured?

Returning back to the subjective side of the debate, it comes down to the question- should we be able to choose what kind of children we want to have? That power is becoming increasingly available to parents, and it speaks to the perfection that we all want our children to have, especially at birth. At birth, we want to think anything is possible for our children, which is perhaps why a Down's syndrome baby presents a sort of wake up call to reality for that dream. Would anyone think about aborting a paraplegic baby, or a blind one? A deaf one? Probably not most people. What's at issue here is potential.

I think what separates Down's syndrome and other mental afflictions from things like blindness/deafness, is that parents realize that what they want for their children is not simply happiness, but humanity. While people with Down's syndrome can, and have led fulfilling, normal, happy lives, there's the impression, right or wrong, that mentally handicapped people are not getting the full human experience- because they lack the intelligence that they would have had without the extra 21st chromosome. And because our intelligence is what defines our humanity more than any other trait, there's a feeling of your child being cheated out of his or her potential.

I don't want to pretend that I know everything about Down's syndrome, or that I even could guess what it is like to have a Down's syndrome child, but I think I do know what I would do if I were faced with the decision and asked to choose by myself.

I think, at heart, having a child is a optimistic bet on the future. And that deep down desire for our children to be perfect is not an insignificant thing. If we were to think about all the horrible, awful things that could happen to our children, we would be paralyzed in fear. To be faced with the prospect that my child would be mentally handicapped, before it even had a chance in the world, somehow strikes me as going against that fundamental hope. So I think I know what my decision would be.

But by no means do I think that this these should be you reasoning. It strikes at too many personal issues for it to be an issue that can be resolved by reasoning. But I would like to know what you, our dear readers think.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


Got to love the binary

I have something to tell you all, a dark secret: I've downloaded music off the internet. I've downloaded movies and software off the internet. I've even downloaded TV shows off the internet. And I'll probably do it again.

I have no qualms about doing this- what the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industrya Assocation of America (RIAA) want to call 'stealing'. I don't call it that because A) I know I am everyone's moral compass and it would break all your little hearts to know I am stealing, B) because I don't think it IS stealing, and C) stealing is such a negative word. But don't worry, I'm here to assuage and rationaliez your fears away. The thing is, everyone is downloading stuff off the internet these days, and nobody is giving too much thought to it. Are we really lawless thugs who will do anything if we can get away with it?

There are, of course, the stock rationalizations that everyone turns over in their head. Let's go over a few of these arguments.

1) They make so much god damn money anyway.
This one falls a bit short upon review, because carmakers and dealerships make a lot of money, but you don't steal those. In fact every 'industry' makes a lot of money-- that's what makes them industries. Plus, not everyone involved in making music, movies, or software gets paid ungodly amounts of money. No, this one doesn't make any sense.

2) I wasn't going to buy it anyway.
This one holds up much better. For a loaf of bread, this wouldn't work, because someone else might buy it. But when you download bits, you're not taking anybody's rights to hear that song or movie. Yes, there are some other issues: What if this isn't really true? What if the fact that everyone does it makes it true?
What if by connecting to a peer-to-peer network, you enable other people who WOULD buy it to download from you instead?
Still, this one at least has the ring of truth to it.

3) It costs too much.
Now this one sounds extra whiny and probably would get blown out of the water normally- but to a small degree, I agree. The music industry has long been accused and even convicted of price gouging, cartel agreements, and anti-competitive practices. If this were a true free market, then I would say, no, the prices are exactly what people would pay. But they've thrown this process off-kilter. The movie industry is to some degree guilty of this too. The software industry, however, is less guilty, as it has an increasing number of competitors and even legally free competitors in the open source movement. So file this one under 'dubious'.

4) Everybody's doing it.
Again, this one isn't exactly the most logical argument, but it's hard to ignore. Why IS everyone doing it if it's illegal and heinous?

I believe that 2 and 4 really point out the problems with the current distribution model of digital property, of ideas, and the flaws in the current copyright laws on the books. Number 2 especially points out a few things about digital media today. Now the next blurb is courtesy of Wikipedia, about the properties of a public good:

* Non-rivalrous — its benefits fail to exhibit consumption scarcity; once it has been produced, everyone can benefit from it without diminishing other's enjoyment.
* Non-excludable — once it has been created, it is very difficult to impossible to prevent access to the good.

Obviously, in the digital age, many new things have been made non-rivalrous. And the ease at which we have been downloading music suggests that it may indeed be getting close to non-excludable.

However, it's too simplistic to call digital media a public good, and throw our hands up and wait for government intervention. (Would that even be a good thing?) No, the truth of the matter is that we are at a crossroads in the copyright movement. Digital media is close to being non-excludable, but it isn't there yet. And in fact, it is getting farther away. With the advent of new copy-protection technologies and legislation backing them up like the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA), companies can now put ever-more draconian copy protection on anything digital and control everything that consumers do with them. If they succeed, then it will be so hard to copy them that it will be excludable once again.

The problem, however, is that these laws, the DMCA especially, are blatantly anti-consumer and pro-corporation. And yes, corporations do have interests that need to be protected, but they're not the only show in town. There's opposing legislation, the Digital Media Consumers' Rights Acts (DMCRA, confusing, huh?), that attempts to give back some rights to the consumer. If not, the DMCA could give companies the power to charge you for every copy of a song you wanted to listen to. One for your iPod, one for your car, one for your home stereo, and one for your computer. They would own everything about that disc you bought, and you'd basically only be renting it from them.

Would it be better if the consumers had all the rights, though? What would be the incentive for artists and companies to produce movies, music and software without strong copyright laws?

Well, that gets down to the real purpose of copyright laws- they are not there to make sure artists become rich off their creations- merely to ensure that artists continue to create. And as long as there is a void to fill, people will probably create things to fill it. And who's to say that a little less commercialization in music and movies wouldn't be a bad thing?

I'm going to make a few predictions here. I think that the spectrum of digital media, from music to software, spans a range of technological and logical issues. Music, as we know it today, is probably the simplest of the forms of digital media. It is the smallest (in terms of information) of the big 3 I've discussed here, and it's the hardest to exclude. Because our sense of hearing is less acute than our sense of sight, music of average quality is more useful than movies of average quality. And software of poor quality probably doesn't work at all. Plus, music sharing is even more entrenched in the American culture than movies- radio traditionally plays the unadulterated song right there for everyone to see, Napster is a household term, and everyone has MP3s and iPods. Sharing movies is much less common- they're usually poor quality, have commercials in them, and are edited for both time and content.

Therfore, I think music will eventually be free. Too many people are now thinking of it as a free media, and that is a powerful force. Artists will probably not be massively opposed to it (they make most of their money off live music anyway), and music will probably live on as an ad-supported medium, much like TV is today. The way things are going now, the record companies have the most to lose, and that's why they've been fighting the hardest. Movies are on the fringe- I think the crush of DVD sales over theater sales and the general increase in ticket prices will force them to change something (I have no idea what though- more product placement in movies? oh boy!). Lastly, software, which I think is the most easily excludable of the three, will probably continue on in its current form for a while. There's plenty of free software, and while companies like Microsoft make plenty of money, much of it is off corporations, who can't afford to 'just download' it.

OK, this blog is way too long for a topic that only I care about. But you should! Support the DMCRA!

P.S. Everything I wrote above is false.

Monday, November 07, 2005


I am ready for some football

Today, I’m going to write an analysis of why the Patriots will beat the Colts. All rational analyses of the game have the Colts winning. All Pats fans, such as Bill Simmons, are forced to rationalize their forecasts of a Patriots victory by using irrational clichés such as “you should never bet against these guys,” or “the Patriots are in Peyton Manning’s head,” or “Tom Brady is super-special…he can never lose!” Much as I love hearing those arguments and agreeing with such proclamations, I admit that as analytical tools, these platitudes are worthless People have been saying the same things about the Yankees, and Captain Intangibles Derek Jeter, for the last decade; much to my chagrin, and I’ve always hated it. So I can’t have it both ways, hoping such intangibility applies in football and not baseball.

Instead I’m going to let you in on a secret as to why the Pats always beat the Colts: because we always have the better team. Circumstances leading up to the games have caused analysts to question that fact, even expect the Colts to win, (one example being the 2003 AFC Championship game, where the everyone was so excited because the Colts offense hadn’t had to punt in the first two playoff games, with a complete disregard for the difference between the 03 Chiefs and 03 Pats defense, for example.) So the question I must answer: are the analysts falling into the same trap? Should we expect another “upset?”

Wins and losses are what matters in the NFL: the Colts are 7-0 and the Pats are 4-3. But the difference in quality of opponents between the two teams provides fodder for conspiracy theorists such as myself. Is this a joke? I mean I know the NFL is for parity and all, but this is ridiculous.

The Colts have played: four teams who are 2-6 or worse (Tennessee, San Francisco, Baltimore, and Houston,) including the two worst teams in the league talent wise, a team destined for ten-plus losses who also managed to lose to the Texans (Cleveland), a .500 team that was thrashing the Colts in Indy before it lost its starting QB (St. Louis,) and a mediocre team that may make the playoffs, (Jacksonville) but probably isn’t one of the six best teams in its conference. The Pats have played two non-playoff teams that are better than at least five of the Colts’ opponents (Buffalo and Oakland,) four teams who are currently 6-2 and playoff-bound (Denver, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, and Carolina,) and another team competing in the AFC for the last spot in the playoffs, (San Diego) whom is widely regarded as better than their 5-4 record shows.

I would venture to say, objectively, that the Pats have played five teams that are better than anyone the Colts have played, and that the Colts have played five teams that are worse than anyone the Pats has played. Our record against those five playoff-caliber teams is 2-3, despite four of these five games being on the road. Is this something to be proud of? No, especially when you’ve gone 28-4 the last two regular seasons. Is it evidence that the Patriots can be competitive with the elite teams in this league? Yes. Do we know that the Colts can be competitive with the elite teams in this league? No we don’t, because they haven’t played any. Maybe Jacksonville. Do I think the Colts can be competitive? Sure. But all we really know is that the Colts can beat up on shitty teams. And they haven’t even been beating up on them. Let’s say the Pats and Colts switched schedules. Would we be 4-3? I think not. 6-1 minimum. Would the Colts be 7-0 having had to go into Carolina, Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Denver? Who knows? Probably not.

This same argument applies to the Colts defense, the new darlings of the league. What offense have they played that can put up points? St. Louis: and they got gutted by Bulger until he got hurt and backup Jamie Martin blew the game for the Rams. Other than that, they have played no one, which works in the Pats favor. Our offense, even missing our best o-lineman and a banged up Dillon, is such a step up from anyone the Colts have played.

The other key factor in the relative success of the Patriots and Colts has been the health of the two squads. The Colts have not suffered any injuries to key players, while the Pats, especially their defense, have been decimated. We have been without the key fulcrum of Bruschi, Harrison, and Seymour for much of the year, including all three in the Atlanta, Denver, and San Diego games. These are three of the best defensive players in football, and their injuries have had the cascading effect of putting players into positions and roles in which they are uncomfortable. The absence of Bruschi, for example, not only makes us suffer a downgrade at middle linebacker, but puts our outside linebackers, Vrabel and Colvin, into roles that don’t maximize their utility as they cover for Bruschi’s absence. In addition to these major losses, the Pats have lost three other secondary players, their starting left tackle, their starting running back (Dillon,) their third-down back (Faulk,) and their backup running back (Pass.) They need new trainers.

The team this week will be healthier then its lowest point in the season. Dillon is healthier. Seymour may play. Gay may play. Bruschi is back. But health is more of the long-term solution for the Patriots, and I am more interested to see how close we can come to 100 percent in January and December, because to assume all of your health problems to go away in one week is foolish. Health will be our saving grace: that, an easier schedule, and a soft division are the reasons confidence in a repeat Super Bowl is still high. But for this game, I have to assume I will see the same flawed, injured team playing the Colts that has taken the field the last four weeks.

The thing is, that team may be good enough to beat the Colts. We do have home-field advantage. We have shown we can compete with the elite in the league. We still have some great players on the field. And in the end, I think the Colts will be victims of their own glory, and be exposed as the worst 7-0 team of all time.

Patriots 31 Colts 21

Friday, November 04, 2005


Marmar's Book CLub: The Autobiography of Malcolm X

In order to keep the blog’s momentum rolling, I am tempted to write an entire entry about what an asshole David Harris is. He keeps trying to trade me Travis Henry, even though I have Chris Brown on my team and thus know that Henry is going to be spending the year as a backup. Just stop Dave; peddle your wares to some other rube. I suggest Lee Roth.

Realizing I couldn’t get an entire blog entry out of bashing Dave, I have decided to share my thoughts (and consequently, your thoughts,) on the last book I read: The Autobiography of Malcolm X. The story of Malcolm X’s life is a fascinating one, as he rose from a street hustler, through time in prison, to be the leading spokesman for the Nation of Islam in the 1960s. Following a break from the Nation, due to personal conflict with the Nation’s founder Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm traveled to Mecca, where he spiritually redefined himself as a Muslim in the “traditional” sense. The spiritual redefinition subsequently changed his outlook on the racial situation in the United States. Whereas before, Malcolm had trumpeted the Nation’s view of the white race immorally suppressing the black race due to the white race’s collectively devilish nature, he began to change his views towards blaming American society as causing the system of oppression. On the whole, he had never fully developed a new political philosophy for how to fight racism within the United States when he was killed by members of the Nation of Islam. (Or the FBI, or CIA, or whomever you believe.)

This is an incredible story, where Malcolm goes into the depths of his hustling days, his days in prison, and makes you understand where he came from, why he ended up taking the views that he did, and exactly the extent to which an oppressive, discriminatory society can psychologically destroy a capable person’s mind. The full embracement of the Nation of Islam, of a philosophy that explained the despair Malcolm and his African-American peers found themselves in is a sharp lesson to the power of loyalty that forms in a human if he or she believes themselves to have been saved by a higher being. For embracing Nation of Islam and its philosophy did save Malcolm from death, drug abuse and prison. It gave him hope when he had none. You cannot put a price on that, and the political philosophy of the Nation of Islam has a lot of truth in it, and to a person with Malcolm’s personal history, the resonance was overpowering. More than saving his life, the philosophies of the nation put into context the oppression of blacks by whites and, more importantly, were a philosophy that celebrated the black race, in a society that fundamentally degraded the black race.

But that is not to say that he did not develop a complex take on racial relations. Malcolm is a man who viewed every interaction he had with a white person through the lens of racial relations, as well as someone who understood how his own personal behavior throughout his early life, (with straightening his hair being one example,) was shaped by what he determined to be shame in his own racial heritage, derived from what he was taught by American society. Because he believed racism to be so ingrained in America, Malcolm always spoke of the false hope of integration, in terms of providing true equality between whites and blacks. He derided the actions of the NAACP, for going after the wrong goals, using the wrong methods, and especially for utilizing white people as allies. He could not believe that white Americans could determine black interests truthfully. He was especially wary of what he referred to as “the white fox…” the liberal white who claimed to want integration, yet still wanted the black man “in his place.” Was he right to not trust this strand of the racial movement? I do think that, if we have achieved integration today, (which I think we have in the standard "liberal" definition of the term,) we certainly have not achieved equality, from a standpoint of economic welfare, or political power between races. More importantly, Malcolm realized late in life that the true goal was to achieve a color-blindness in society, of putting one’s humanness before one’s racial complexion. This was something that Malcolm experienced for himself in Mecca, and later, in Africa, and what he realized his true goal should be in terms of reshaping the American racial landscape.

People often discredit Malcolm X through discrediting the Nation of Islam's admittedly kooky beliefs. But you know what? The Mormons are just as kooky, yet seem to be accepted as leaders of the US Senate. To some exten all religions are kooky. One of the key tenets of religion is a belief in the divine, or the unexplainable. To deride someone’s personal beliefs as foolish or untrue while holding firmly to yours, even if your personal beliefs are shared by more people, is hypocrisy. If you choose to believe that Jesus died for our sins and was the embodiment of God on Earth, two thousand years ago, you can’t deride the Nation of Islam for arguing that God returned in the 1930s on the streets of Detroit, under the personage of Mr. Wallace D. Fard. Now atheists, such as Mr. Lim, can feel free to deride all they want!

So while Malcolm did embrace certain beliefs at some times that I would personally have a hard time accepting, he was remarkably prescient on issues of society, and to discredit his philosophy or insight would be a mistake. Later in life, he embraced Islam as a religion, because he believed it to be a spiritual method towards spreading equality in the United States. He believed in exhausting all solutions, be it the right to defend oneself, or challenging the U.S. with human rights violations in the UN, but he believed above all else that a spiritual transformation was key to the U.S. He believed that segments of the U.S. society were responsible for divisiveness, oppression, and racism. Moreover, he believed that Christianity, and specifically American Christianity, was spiritually bankrupt and responsible for propagating such societal ills. Malcolm understood how the spread of Christianity, and the spread of Westernism through colonialism and oppression, (a truly violent spread) were responsible for the plight of African Americans, and non-whites throughout the world.

Today, we need Malcolm just as badly as they did in the 60s. For it is a continued strand of exploitation and divisiveness, backed by the false front of Christian morality, that today controls the American government and continues to destroy the fabric of American ideals to profit its own, with no regard for other people, the environment, the rest of the world, or the minorities and disadvantaged that exist in the U.S. today. From reading this book, I have understood one man’s take on this America. Malcolm, due to his past and upbringing, focused on fighting the way this strand of society had oppressed him, through the color of his skin. We must all focus on our own areas of struggle, to fight this fight, to spread peace and understanding, and create a society he would have been proud of.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X: Highly Recommended

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