hudebnik: (rant)
Let's take the "pro-lifers" at their word and assume they (or a significant fraction of them) honestly believe that full human life begins at the moment an egg is fertilized. What happens if we insert that axiom into the rest of an ethical and legal system?

[Note: for purposes of this thought exercise, "woman" is defined in terms not of birth certificate or appearance or self-identification, but of the physical ability to get pregnant.]

A fetus, embryo, blastula, zygote, or fertilized egg is a full human being with the same rights as one who's already been born. Any intentional termination of the pregnancy, even days or hours after conception, is therefore murder. No "exceptions for rape or incest", because we wouldn't consider a child fair game for murder just because of its parentage or the circumstances of its conception. Likewise, no exceptions for crippling or life-threatening genetic defects, unless we as a society would be willing to actively kill a born child for having those defects. Even an "exception to save the life of the mother" is dubious: it amounts to choosing which of two human beings to kill. Terminating a pregnancy to save the life of the mother would be permissible only if the alternative was both mother and child dying; in that circumstance you're choosing to kill one person rather than two. In all these cases, it seems clear that both the mother and any medical personnel involved would be criminally liable.

What about unintentional termination or harm? It could be argued that conduct (e.g. strenuous exercise) that accidentally leads to the termination of a pregnancy is manslaughter or negligent homicide -- which typically get a lighter sentence but are still felonies. Conduct that leads, or could reasonably be expected to lead, to harm to the fetus, such as drinking alcohol while pregnant, is reckless endangerment of a minor, and could again be punished under the criminal code. Even allowing a spontaneous miscarriage without taking heroic measures to prevent it could be considered criminal medical malpractice -- negligently allowing a human to die who could have been saved.

Once you're pregnant, you no longer have full jurisdiction over your own body, because you share it with another human being who has the same rights as you, but no decision-making power. Indeed, if there's a realistic chance you might be pregnant, you should probably (to stay on the safe side) assume you are. In short, if you're a sexually active female of reproductive age, you have less autonomy than a sexually active male of the same age. Unfair, yes, but that's just the way the world is -- like menstruation.

A woman who has sex is giving up part of her autonomy for at least a few months until she's sure she isn't pregnant, and possibly for years to come. A man who has sex is not giving up anything unless it turns out she is pregnant and he's the father. So having sex is a much bigger decision for a woman than for a man. A woman who has sex "lightly" is therefore irresponsible and morally suspect, while a man who has sex "lightly" is normal.

If you're female and want to retain independence and autonomy, you need to avoid sex, at least any form of sex that could lead to pregnancy. Males, of course, don't face this dilemma -- indeed, they can express independence and autonomy through sex. Again, it's unfair, but it's just the way God made us: women have to choose between (hetero) sex and autonomy, while men get both at once. If you've chosen (or been forced) to live on the "sex" side of the divide rather than the "autonomy" side, your every action henceforth has to be assessed from your perspective as a growth medium.

If a woman is going to willingly risk her autonomy in order to have sex, she'd better get something in return, like financial security, so it is appropriate to consider most (hetero-)sexually active women as prostitutes, although the "respectable" ones get to call it "an advantageous marriage".

Which implies that in the natural order of things, there are two kinds of women: autonomous but (heterosexually) celibate ones, and sexually active ones financially supported by their male sex partner(s). Men can be autonomous, sexual, and financially independent, in any combination they wish, because these are orthogonal questions for them. If they don't want to take on the long-term financial responsibility for a wife and children (or if they get bored with their long-term partner), they can get their sex a la carte from short-term prostitutes and mistresses instead. Again: unfair, but that's just the way things are.

For women on the "sex" track, their main saleable assets (to be exchanged for financial security) are sex and physical attractiveness; a man's main saleable asset (to be exchanged for reliable access to sex) is his money-making ability. So it is entirely appropriate for women to be extremely concerned with physical appearance, and to spend whatever money (or eyelash-batting) they have on clothes, makeup, cosmetic surgery, etc, while it is entirely appropriate for men to concentrate their energy on their careers. Men earn money, men give it to women in exchange for sex, and women spend it on their appearance so they can keep getting paid for sex. That's the natural order of things; objecting to this model makes as much sense as objecting to the law of gravity.

And it's understandable that employers would be reluctant to hire women, or to promote women, or to pay them as much as a man: this particular woman might be on the "autonomy" track now, but both she and her employer know that she has another option, and could switch to the "sex" track at any time. Since she doesn't really depend on her job, you can expect her to take it less seriously than a man would, and her employer will accordingly take her less seriously.

In short, we can live in a society in which women have roughly the same rights and freedoms as men, or we can live in a society in which zygotes have roughly the same rights and freedoms as born children. We cannot have both.

Our new President and Vice President, in their different ways, have both made clear that they prefer the latter. The President has had three wives, whom he married at the fertile ages of 28, 30, and 35 respectively, and (I think) cheated publicly and repeatedly on all three of them, because he is just that oversexed. Their role was to be beautiful and fashionable and sexy and spend the money he made, as a sort of scoreboard to show off his supreme manliness (including, but not limited to, earning capacity). He's made abundantly clear that he values women primarily for physical attractiveness; the worst cut-down he can think of for a woman is to insult her appearance. Grown women are unimportant except as sex objects. Meanwhile, the Vice President has taken every opportunity in his career to assert the importance of unborn children from the moment of conception on, and to keep women in their rightful places as sex partners, housekeepers, and child-rearers. In short, zygotes are more important and have more rights than grown women.

Most of the conclusions I've drawn above aren't really about abortion: they're really about the equation of sex with pregnancy. Anything that breaks the "God-given" connection between sex and pregnancy -- whether abortion, contraception, or even homosexuality -- is a threat to an equally "God-given" social model built on the assumption that women can't have sex without risking their autonomy for months or years to come, and men can.
hudebnik: (rant)
Unlike some people bothered by the trans-gendered, I wasn't raised in a "Mad Men" world, and I don't pine for it. I was raised in the feminist backlash against a "Mad Men" world: we watched "All In the Family" after dinner, and I nearly memorized the album "Free To Be You And Me". I was brought up to believe that your physical sex should have no bearing on your choice of toys, occupations, social and economic roles, clothing, etc.

Which leaves me puzzled when I hear of people who decide they "should have been born male" or "should have been born female". Why should it matter, for any purpose other than excretion and sex? (Two activities in which, combined, I expect to spend perhaps 1% of my life, leaving 99% for activities that have nothing to do with the shape of my sex organs.)

I took Home Economics in junior high school, because I liked cooking and wanted to do it better, and because I didn't know much about sewing but thought a competent person should. I knew I would be teased for it -- I already got a lot of abuse, and accusations of being "gay", for the twin crimes of being small and smart -- but I thought it was the right and brave thing to do. If I were in junior high school today and made the same choice for the same reasons, would I be diagnosed with gender dysphoria and advised to consider hormone treatment or even surgery? If, furthermore, I were exploring my teen-aged sexuality and found some attraction to other boys, would that seal the diagnosis? I certainly hope not!

When trans people win the battle to change their sex and be accepted in society as their new sex, it tells me we lost the war: your physical sex does determine your role in society after all. The trans movement seem to me to be working very hard to escape from prison... so they can check themselves into a different prison, when I would have preferred to raze both prisons to the ground.

To use a different metaphor, gender reassignment strikes me as a hardware solution to a software problem. I have a spreadsheet program and need a Web browser, so instead of installing a Web browser, I change the CPU to one which interprets the instructions of a spreadsheet program as those of a web browser. It just seems terribly inelegant and inefficient.

Mind you, I'll fight vociferously for your right to declare yourself male or female, and be treated as such; see here and here. But I'm deeply disappointed at your need to do so.

Comments, particularly from transgendered people and their loved ones, are welcome: I don't understand the motivations, and I really want to.
hudebnik: (rant)
So "bathroom laws" are in the news again, with the Obama administration's announcement that what it's been telling North Carolina to do also applies to public schools everywhere in the country.

We all grew up with a simple rule for bathrooms: in public places, you use the bathroom corresponding to the sex you look like when fully clothed. And even if North Carolina's HB2 went fully into effect, that would still be the rule in practice: nobody's going to hassle you for going into a women's room if you "look" female when fully clothed.

For most people, most of the time, the sex you "look like" (not only physiognomy but clothing and hairstyle) corresponded to your chromosomes which corresponded to your physical sex organs which corresponded to the sex written on your birth certificate which corresponded to what kinds of toys you liked to play with which corresponded with your occupation, so the choice of criterion didn't matter for most people. But if you looked male and walked into a women's bathroom, you would get funny looks, at the very least.

North Carolina's HB2 changes this century-or-two-old practice: they no longer care what sex you "look like", but rather what sex is written on your birth certificate. It wouldn't be a significant change if we lived in a world in which those two criteria always matched, but we don't and it is. The law is a toddler's tantrum of protest against the world's unfairness by closing our eyes and resolutely pretending we do live in such a world.

Whenever you pass a law, you have to think about how you'll enforce it, and whether in fact you can enforce it at all. If not, passing the law is a political exercise, not a good use of taxpayer money.

NC-HB2 is unenforceable. Most people view me as male, so if I walked into a women's bathroom in North Carolina, a police officer could reasonably stop me for violating HB2. At that point, however, they know only that I look male when fully dressed; if in fact my birth certificate says I'm female, I am doing not only what the law allows but what the law requires. The burden of proof is on the police officer to show probable cause, and on the state to show guilt, not on me to show the reverse. The officer could ask to see my birth certificate, but I don't routinely carry it with me, and surely the North Carolina legislature didn't intend to require me to do so. The officer could, with sufficient probable cause, conduct a strip search, but that shows only whether I have a penis, not whether my birth certificate says I'm male. The state could subpoena my birth certificate, but if I honestly don't know where it is, I cannot comply with that subpoena; surely the state didn't intend that people without birth certificates can't use public bathrooms.

In practice, the law will inevitably (as it was intended to) be applied discriminatorily -- not only by law enforcement but by vigilante justice. If you look male but your birth certificate says you're female, you have a choice between breaking the law every time you use a public bathroom, and being accused of breaking the law every time you use a public bathroom. If your fully-dressed appearance matches your birth certificate, on the other hand, you can cheerfully obey the law without being hassled. If your fully-dressed appearance is sexually ambiguous (by local community standards -- it could include a man in a kilt or a woman with a shaven head), you don't even have a choice: you're likely to be accused of breaking the law no matter what you do. The real effect of the law (aside from whipping up "the base" in an election year) is to officially authorize harassment of sexually-ambiguous-looking people: they need to be punished for causing us cognitive dissonance, because their existence demonstrates that we don't live in a neat and tidy world.
hudebnik: (devil duck)
First, let's make clear that the commonly stated reasons for anti-trans bathroom laws are nonsense. "Lawmakers [in North Carolina] had said that they were trying to prevent men from dressing as women to enter bathrooms and commit assaults." (NY Times) Never mind the lack of evidence that this has ever been a significant problem; does anyone seriously expect that somebody who's willing to cross-dress in order to sneak into an opposite-sex bathroom in order to commit a serious felony will be stopped by a local ordinance or a misdemeanor law against entering that bathroom?

That said, there is a taboo in our society against men (by whatever criterion) in women's bathrooms, and women (ditto) in men's bathrooms; why? It's not an Ancient And Honorable Tradition: I haven't done a lot of research on it, but I suspect there was no such thing as a multi-user, single-sex bathroom until a few hundred years ago, and most of those were single-sex by virtue of being in single-sex religious or educational institutions; the opposite sex weren't supposed to be in the building, so there was no need to exclude them from the bathroom. The notion of multi-user, single-sex bathrooms in public places, I'm guessing, dates back maybe 150 years. The taboo doesn't apply at home, where most people have single-seaters that serve whoever gets there first. Some people are bothered by excreting in the same bathroom where an opposite-sex stranger has been recently or might be soon; others aren't. Some people are bothered by excreting in the presence of someone they know, even a sexual partner; others aren't. What really bothers people is being in the same room with a stranger of the opposite sex at the same time while one or both of you is excreting.

So why does "of the opposite sex" matter? One answer is "I don't want someone who might want to have sex with me to see/hear me more intimately than I have offered." Related but distinct: "I don't want someone I might want to have sex with to see/hear me more intimately than I have (yet) offered." In both cases, the "opposite sex" part follows only under the assumption that everybody is heterosexual. If you accept the fact that a substantial percentage of the population is sexually attracted to people with the same-shaped sex organs as themselves, no sex-organ-based or chromosome-based bathroom law will ever protect you from these concerns; the only safe solution is single-seaters. (Multiple well-insulated stalls sharing a sink is a possibility, and my employer has some of those, but many people seem to object to it on the slippery-slope theory.) So in a way, bathroom laws are just another way of desperately clinging to the fantasy that homosexuality doesn't exist and that "gender" is a nice clean concept in which chromosomes, physical sex organs, other physical and emotional attributes, clothing, social and economic roles, and interest in other people's sex organs all correlate perfectly.

I guess another answer would be "to prevent children seeing a kind of genitalia they haven't already seen on themselves." I'm not sure what end that is supposed to serve, unless you subscribe to the theory that the sight of a female body turns adolescent boys into volitionless rape machines, but realistically, anybody over the age of eight today who hasn't seen at least pictures of opposite-sex genitalia isn't trying.

An argument could be made specifically against men (physically larger and stronger, on average) in women's bathrooms, on grounds that they're low-visibility places where one might commit rape without witnesses. Of course, such a law won't prevent male-on-male rape (less common) or female-on-female rape (even less common), so at best this is only a crime reduction argument; to really prevent public bathrooms being used as safe spaces for rape, you need either single-seaters or high traffic. And, as mentioned before, the laws try to prevent a felony by wrapping it in a misdemeanor, which seems unlikely to have much effect.
hudebnik: (devil duck)
You've received a great deal of attention, both positive and negative, for applying your faith-based conscience to your job. There's nothing wrong with applying your conscience, and all the experiences that have made you who you are, to every part of your life, including your job. Indeed, that's an admirable quality, and probably part of what got you elected to your office in the first place.

But you've been confused by a homonym -- two different concepts that happen to share the same spelling and pronunciation, like the noun "dog"[1] meaning a four-legged animal and the verb "dog"[2] meaning pester or bother. As County Clerk, you're probably called upon to issue dog licenses; when you do so, are you authorizing the licensee to pester and bother people, or to own and keep a four-legged animal?

In this case, the confusion is between "marriage"[1] in the eyes of God and "marriage"[2] in the eyes of the State. These two concepts have seldom been identical, but they overlap enough to be confusing. A couple married by a priest/minister/rabbi/imam/whatever who hasn't been empowered by the State to conduct marriages are married[1] but not married[2]. A couple married by a justice of the peace are married[2] but perhaps not married[1].

Members of minority religions have had to accept this fact for centuries. The Catholic Church says (said?) that a person who has been married and divorced cannot be married again; the U.S. Government and most or all of its States disagree. Islam and the Church of Latter-Day Saints, from their founding, allowed and even encouraged polygamy; the U.S. Government and most or all of its States disagree. You've been fortunate, most of your life, that as a member of the local-majority religion, your religious notion of marriage matched the legal one pretty closely, but now that's no longer true.

Fortunately, nobody is asking you to state that a couple can be married[1] in the eyes of God, which is a matter of faith-based conscience; you're being asked, as part of your job, to certify that they can be married[2] in the eyes of the State, which is a simple, objective, legal question.

If you insist that legal marriage[2] in your county must conform to your religious/conscientious notion of marriage[1], you are also fighting for the right of a Catholic clerk to refuse marriage licenses to people either of whom has been married before, and the right of a Mormon clerk to issue marriage licenses to people who are still married to someone else, and the right of a racist judge to refuse to marry people of different races, and the right of a Dexterian judge to refuse to marry left-handed people (remember, the courts have long held themselves incompetent to second-guess whether someone's claimed religious views really are religious views, so anything goes here). You are saying that the State and Federal governments have no place defining marriage at all, and everything depends on whoever happens to hold a local office this month. Are you sure you want to go there?


Jun. 20th, 2011 12:32 pm
hudebnik: (rant)
I think this was the fifth robo-call I've gotten from "Americans for Marriage", ostensibly to survey my opinion on "one of the most important issues of our time: the stability of our families."
"Are you registered to vote in New York State?"
"Do you agree that only marriage between one man and one woman should be allowed in New York State?"
"Thank you for your time...."

Unlike the previous four calls, this one ended with an identification of the organization that had commissioned the survey, including its address and phone number.

I could see why they would want to repeat-call a number that gave them the answer they wanted, but repeat-calling me can only be chalked up to incompetence.
hudebnik: (rant)
My State Senator, along with two other Democrats and one Republican, has switched sides and has promised to vote for same-sex marriage. I don't know whether the two letters I wrote him on the subject made a difference....
hudebnik: (Default)
So I was standing at the checkout counter waiting for the customer in front of me, and idly watching the display as her items were scanned in. The display, naturally, abbreviates everything to a cryptic shorthand, and I'm used to that, but still, I was a little startled to see


In fact, four different flavors of it.
hudebnik: (rant)
... just failed to pass a same-sex marriage bill. The Governor had promised to sign it, and the vote-counters figured they had most of the Democrats and at least four Republicans. It was going to be close... but several of the Democrats chickened out at the last minute, and without them for cover, all the Republicans chickened out too. It wasn't close.

Of course, last year when the Democrats took over the State Senate, one or two of them threatened to switch parties and give it back to the Republicans unless they got a promise that same-sex marriage wouldn't come to the floor this term. In fact, one or two of them did switch parties, then switch back again a few days later, causing a months-long court battle over which party should get to choose the committee chairs. Molly Ivins, where are you?

(ETA: The State Assembly has passed same-sex marriage several times, most recently two days ago, but I think this is the first time it has even reached the floor of the State Senate, which dropped the ball.]

[ETA: I looked up the vote tally. My newly-elected State Senator voted against. He's getting an angry letter.]
hudebnik: (teacher-mode)
See this news release and this NY Times article

For those not familiar with the name, Alan Turing was one of the founders of the field of computer science. Years before there were any actual computers, he developed a theoretical model of what a computer might be (the "Turing machine") and proved, among other things, that it was possible to write a single program for it (the "Universal Turing machine") that would interpret and execute other Turing-machine programs. His theoretical model turned out, surprisingly, to be equivalent to several other, completely different models of computation: Post production rules, Church's lambda-calculus, Chomsky unrestricted grammars, etc. but Turing's is the one that most closely resembles the real computers that were eventually built.

ETA: Turing also originated the "Turing test", a broadly-recognized criterion for what "artificial intelligence" should mean.

Most famously outside the field, he became a national hero for leading the effort to break the German government's Enigma code system, thus saving countless lives from U-boat attacks.

After World War II, this war hero was convicted of "gross indecency" (i.e. homosexuality), stripped of his security clearances, and offered the choice of prison or "chemical castration" -- taking female hormones for the rest of his life. Which may not be so bad if you're a menopausal woman, but if you're a 39-year-old man, it kinda sucks. The side effects are widely believed to have led him to commit suicide in 1954.

It is left as an exercise for the reader to decide what an "apology" means when made to someone who is dead, on behalf of people who are dead, who were enforcing laws that are no longer in effect.
hudebnik: (Default)
A few minutes ago I was listening to an NPR story on the Democratic Presidential candidates at an LGBT issues forum. Apparently Richardson answered wrong to the question "Do you believe homosexuality is a choice or biologically determined?", and his campaign promptly issued a "clarification" which flatly contradicted what he had actually said.

rant and political/logical analysis )


hudebnik: (Default)

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