Keeping abortion rare

On one of the mailing lists to which I subscribe, the (semi-annual) abortion debate reared its head, and one participant asked, rather aggressively, why people wanted abortion to be “safe, legal, and rare”. Why “rare”, he wondered. If it’s not immoral…. This pushed a button for me, and I replied as follows:
Because not all issues are simple dichotomies: yes/no, black/white, good/bad. One of the main causes of conflict around social issues, issues of conscience, moral issues in general is that there are some people (often the loudest) who refuse to recognize this.

Everybody except for the sociopath or the simpleton has personal opinions that conflict with one another. Aggregate people into a community, into a society, and the same will be true. People make trade-offs, choose the lesser of two evils, try to split the difference, whatever. Sometimes it’s obvious, a zero-sum game, or a mutually-exclusive choice. Sometimes it’s a question of log-rolling: I need your help on X, so I’ll give up some of my Y. In all of these cases, reasonable people (i.e. not sociopaths, not simpletons) will recognize and feel regret for the fact that their choices are less than ideal.

All of these considerations play out in the case of abortion. The first person I ever knew who’d had an abortion was a fellow student at Essex, back in 1970. Abusive father, impoverished background, she’d performed miracles to get to university, to get away from home. Condom broke. (No, it wasn’t me. I was just a neighbour and friend in need.) Her choice was simple: get a first trimester abortion, or (almost certainly) drop out of school. (Even carrying the kid to term and getting it adopted would have been too much – she was on the edge.) She chose to have the abortion, toughed it out. A few months later, a group of us dropped acid for the first time. I had a great trip, but she spent the whole 8 hours sobbing, mourning her lost baby. She got through school, got a good degree, married, raised a family, everything worked out. But OF COURSE I wish she hadn’t had to go through the abortion. Contraception should be so ubiquitous and reliable that nobody has to face the problem of an unwanted pregnancy.
Anyway, I wanted to share that.

Table-top fusion? Hmmmm

Shades of Pons-Fleischmann, 1989, perhaps? Or possibly not…? Newsday is reporting UCLA Researchers Produce Nuclear Fusion: “In the latest attempt to create nuclear fusion under laboratory conditions, scientists reported they achieved it in a tabletop experiment that uses a strong electric field generated by a small crystal.”

Coincidentally, last night I was finishing up the wonderful new book A Different Universe by Robert Lauglin. His comments on the cold fusion scandal:

The cold fusion example is dear to my heart because I was in an office with a nuclear expert when a journalist phoned him and asked him for comments on the [Pons-Fleischmann] paper. It was probably the closest I have ever come to dying of a heart attack, for we were both suffocating with laughter reading the pages, each funnier than the last, as they slowly crept out of the FAX machine…. [Their] claim made no sense at all quantum-mechanically. The energy scales of ordinary chemistry are not right for catalyzing nuclear reactions. But it turned out that enough people did not believe in quantum mechanics, were willing to distort its complexities to their own ends, or simply viewed its practitioners as con artists that the voices of reason went unheard…. [This led to work that] wound up squandering between $50 million and $100 million of taxpayer money.

In the present case the claims are more modest, but a healthy skepticism is definitely warranted.

PZ Myers on Intelligent Design

The biologist PZ Myers (who blogs as Pharyngula) has a beautifully written op-ed piece in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. After contrasting how real science is done, compared with the unproductive sniping of “the hodge-podge of lawyers, philosophers, theologians, rhetoricians, and rare scientists willing to abandon scientific principles found in the ID movement”, and giving a quick tour of the state of evolutionary biology today, he concludes:

“ID is a sterile philosophy whose proponents spend their time lobbying school boards, producing nothing new, and with no promise of new ideas for the future. Asking our schools to teach ID is like suggesting that they offer instruction in buggy whip manufacture – it’s a futile exercise that is going to leave the students unprepared for both college and the real world. As a university instructor, I want my incoming students to be well versed in the fundamentals of biology, which includes evolution but not the empty pseudoscience of ID, so that we can move quickly to the real excitement of modern biology…which is almost entirely informed by the concepts of evolution.”

(Via Evolutionblog.)

Thread convergence: Formula 1 and Jini

Regular readers will have noted that two of my greatest enthusiasms are for Formula 1 motor racing and Sun’s Jini™ distributed computing technology. So one item in today’s quarterly “customer wins” press release from Sun is particularly sweet:

“Magneti Marelli Holding (Italy) — Sun designed, for Magneti Marelli Racing Department, a new system to manage telemetry data for Formula 1 teams in real time, using Java and Jini(TM)/Rio technology with the aim of achieving the required performance, to support multiple platforms, such as Linux and Windows, and to provide high availability and location transparency of components.”

I don’t think I’m supposed to identify individual teams, but every time you see a car with this logo, think Jini. MM logo

How to be an elementary school teacher in America

I always thought that teacher training included basic skills in coping with wayward children. I wasn’t aware that it was acceptable practice to call the police to handcuff a 5-year old who’s throwing a tantrum. (Note that two staff were present, including an assistant principal, and a camera was rolling.)
[And yes, I know that a teacher can easily get into trouble for simply trying to enforce discipline. But this cure is worse than the disease. Mad. All mad.]

NP: Hang on Little Tomato

Discovered in Provincetown last weekend:tomato.jpg Hang on Little Tomato by Pink Martini. As an Amazon reviewer put it, “Somewhere between a 1930s Cuban dance orchestra, a classical chamber music ensemble, a Brazilian marching street band and Japanese film noir is the 12-piece Pink Martini.” The title track from Pink Martini’s last album, Sympathique, also shows up on another CD that I bought at the same time: Hotel Costes: Best of Costes, selected and mixed by Stéphane Pompougnac.

[However those who think I may be getting too deep into this “lounge” stuff can relax: the new albums by Porcupine Tree and Al Stewart are on the way….]

Go Alonso!

Time for the 4th round in the 2005 Formula One season: the San Marino Grand Prix. (San Marino? Relax: it’s just an excuse for the Italians to get two races in the season.) Here in the US, most GPs are televised live on Speed TV, with pretty knowledgeable commentators who treat the audience as fellow enthusiasts. However four of the races are shown on network TV (CBS) instead. This was one of those, which meant (1) it was tape-delayed until 1PM EST, and (2) we had to put up with inane, hyperactive commentators who assume that the viewers know nothing about the sport. So turn the sound DOWN, and make sure you have a good book to read during the interminable commercial breaks.
Fortunately I managed to avoid hearing the results in advance, so I was able to enjoy the thrilling battle between Alonso and Michael Schumacher over the last few laps. The Ferrari was clearly quicker, but Alonso never put a wheel wrong, and he was able to make it four out of four for Renault. (Of course if Schumacher hadn’t screwed up during qualifying, he’d have run away with the race.)
(As for my man David Coulthard, let’s just say that it wasn’t one of his best days….)

Ratzinger and sexual abuse by Catholic priests

From today’s London Observer: Pope ‘obstructed’ sex abuse inquiry: “Pope Benedict XVI faced claims last night he had ‘obstructed justice’ after it emerged he issued an order ensuring the church’s investigations into child sex abuse claims be carried out in secret…. It asserted the church’s right to hold its inquiries behind closed doors and keep the evidence confidential for up to 10 years after the victims reached adulthood. The letter was signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger… [and] was co-signed by Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone who [said] ‘In my opinion, the demand that a bishop be obligated to contact the police in order to denounce a priest who has admitted the offence of paedophilia is unfounded.’

One might have reasonably expected that such a letter would emphasize that the bishops should cooperate fully with the police and prosecutors in accordance with local laws. Apparently some Vatican officials still have the medieval attitude that the church is above the law.

Got the car

Subaru Legacy GTI finally picked up my new Legacy GT this afternoon after a couple of scheduling hiccups. The Subaru dealership kindly sent a young salesman over to pick me up; unfortunately he managed to get lost in West Roxbury. I still need to get an inspection sticker on it; I’ll do that first thing tomorrow.
The car is a dream. (N.b.: this is a stock photo, but it’s the right colour.) Handling and acceleration are just awesome: it corners as though it’s on rails. It’s a 2.5L turbo powerplant giving 250 HP; I didn’t notice much turbo lag under acceleration, but it did catch me out a couple of times when the turbo came on strong before I expected it. This should be easy to adjust to, though. The transmission is a 5 speed automatic, with Tiptronic-style manual override using switches on the steering wheel (or the regular shifter, if you prefer). The sound system is pretty neat, too, with an in-dash 6 CD changer. I “baptised” it with a mix CD that started with Faithless doing God is a DJ and included Sunscreem, Groove Armada, and a couple of tracks from Free by Libera.
We celebrated by driving over to Lucy’s for dinner, taking a longer, twistier route than usual….

Posted in 1K