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Wednesday, April 30, 2008


1/7,000th, ~ 0.000142857143.

According to Alun Anderson of New Scientist" (as seen in a post entitled "The Sunlight-Powered Future" in response to the question "what makes you optimistic, and why?" at,

"I'm optimistic about…a pair of very big numbers. The first is 4.5 x 10ˆ20. That is the current world annual energy use, measured in joules. It is a truly huge number and not usually a cause for optimism as 70 per cent of that energy comes from burning fossil fuels.

Thankfully, the second number is even bigger: 3,000,000 x 10ˆ20 joules. That is the amount of clean, green energy that pours down on the Earth totally free of charge every year. The Sun is providing 7,000 times as much energy as we are using, which leaves plenty for developing China, India and everyone else. How can we not be optimistic? We don't have a long-term energy problem. Our only worries are whether we can find smart ways to use that sunlight efficiently and whether we can move quickly enough from the energy systems we are entrenched in now to the ones we should be using. Given the perils of climate change and dependence on foreign energy, the motivation is there..."
I've checked a few other sources (e.g., here and here, among others), and his "7,000x" assertion seems well within the ballpark, certainly precise enough for the point I wish to proffer here.

Which is simply this: anyone arguing that we cannot relatively rapidly achieve a net aggregate large-scale solar energy capture-conversion-production-distribution efficiency rate of less than two one-hundreths of one percent (worldwide energy consumption per unit period divided by total solar energy accrual per the same period) is either ignorant or lying.

Yes, this 24/7 7,000x planetary solar energy input is unevenly distributed (both geographically and temporally), with much of it falling on the 3/4ths of the earth's surface covered by water. Of course. But, even that is subsequently transformed relentlessly planet-wide into the copious energy we see ongoing in weather, wind, and waves. Consider wave energy alone for a moment.

"Ocean waves have the highest energy density of any renewable energy source..."

Finavera is but one of the many companies moving ahead with such technology.

How about direct large-scale solar photoelectric conversion?

The above photo is of a 15 megawatt solar facility now coming online on 140 acres of desert proximate to Nellis AFB near Las Vegas where I live. Nellis expects to save a million dollars a year in electricity cost (not to mention the externality greenhouse gases that will not be emitted). Do a little arithmentic: 140 acres = 0.21875 sq. mi., so 15 megawatts/0.21875 = roughly 68.6 megawatts solar energy generating potential per square mile of desert.

Arizona Public Service Co. has even bigger plans than Nellis's:

PHOENIX (AP, 2/21/08) - Arizona Public Service Co. said Thursday it will build a solar-power plant with enough capacity to serve 70,000 customers.

The 280 megawatt Solana Generating Station would be the largest solar-power facility in the world if operational today, the company said.

Arizona Public Service commissioned Abengoa Solar Inc. to build the plant near Gila Bend, Ariz., 70 miles southwest of Phoenix. Arizona Public Service, a renewable energy provider, expects the plant to be operational by 2011.

Arizona Public Service estimates the value of produced energy to be about $4 billion over 30 years and said it will bring more than $1 billion worth of economic benefits to the state of Arizona. Solana will create about 1,500 construction jobs and employ about 85 skilled technicians when operational, the company said...
Consider also some of the work of BrightSource Energy.

Examples are numerous, and increasing. Those living in Vegas may have driven past the two of these (below) now installed and operating along Flamingo on the north side of the UNLV campus: 25kW each, Stirling engine solar collector/concentrator generators.

So, Alun Anderson is optimistic. What of the pessimists, the naysayers? I find too much of the anti- green conversion crowd fixated on Perfectionism Fallacy straw men (i.e, 'that your proposed solution entails any arguable residual downsides whatsoever fully negates it'). Some of it, again, is ignorance. Some of it is vested interest intransigence. Many of those with significant financial stakes in status quo hydrocarbon/greenhouse gas emitting industries are frantically circling their rhetorical wagons (I'm sorry, "clean coal" is an oxymoron).


 Nothwithstanding my enthusiasm for the "green" imperative, I have to recognize that a large scale transition will indeed not be "perfect," that, beyond the self-interest crowd's amply-funded foot-dragging, it will be rife with missteps, failed promise, and outright chicanery. Consider a recent article in Harper's, "The next bubble: Priming the markets for tomorrow's big crash":
...We have learned that the industry in any given bubble must support hundreds or thousands of separate firms financed by not billions but trillions of dollars in new securities that Wall Street will create and sell. Like housing in the late 1990s, this sector of the economy must already be formed and growing even as the previous bubble deflates. For those investing in that sector, legislation guaranteeing favorable tax treatment, along with other protections and advantages for investors, should already be in place or under review. Finally, the industry must be popular, its name on the lips of government policymakers and journalists. It should be familiar to those who watch television news or read newspapers.

There are a number of plausible candidates for the next bubble, but only a few meet all the criteria. Health care must expand to meet the needs of the aging baby boomers, but there is as yet no enabling government legislation to make way for a health-care bubble; the same holds true of the pharmaceutical industry, which could hyperinflate only if the Food and Drug Administration was gutted of its power. A second technology boom—under the rubric “Web 2.0”—is based on improvements to existing technology rather than any new discovery. The capital-intensive biotechnology industry will not inflate, as it requires too much specialized intelligence.

There is one industry that fits the bill: alternative energy, the development of more energy-efficient products, along with viable alternatives to oil, including wind, solar, and geothermal power, along with the use of nuclear energy to produce sustainable oil substitutes, such as liquefied hydrogen from water. Indeed, the next bubble is already being branded. Wired magazine, returning to its roots in boosterism, put ethanol on the cover of its October 2007 issue, advising its readers to forget oil; NBC had a “Green Week” in November 2007, with themed shows beating away at an ecological message and Al Gore making a guest appearance on the sitcom 30 Rock. Improbably, Gore threatens to become the poster boy for the new new new economy: he has joined the legendary venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, which assisted at the births of and Google, to oversee the “climate change solutions group,” thus providing a massive dose of Nobel Prize–winning credibility that will be most useful when its first alternative-energy investments are taken public before a credulous mob. Other ventures—Lazard Capital Markets, Generation Investment Management, Nth Power, EnerTech Capital, and Battery Ventures—are funding an array of startups working on improvements to solar cells, to biofuels production, to batteries, to “energy management” software, and so on...
Yeah (read that entire article, very interesting). Still, we must, and we can move on and out of the fossil fuels epoch (and I would include in that its net destructive baby cousin "biofuels," e.g., corn-based ethanol). With all deliberate speed, I think. Change or die.


[ AP photo/Goldsboro/News-Argus/Brent Hood]

In addition to the exigent imperative of a broad worldwide conversion to non-greenhouse gas energy sources, much more can readily be done in the area of industrial energy waste reduction. See Lisa Margonelli's article "Waste Not: A steamy solution to global warming" in the May 2008 Atlantic Monthly.
"Forty years ago, the steel mills and factories south of Chicago were known for their sooty smokestacks, plumes of steam, and throngs of workers. Clean-air laws have since gotten rid of the smoke, and labor-productivity initiatives have eliminated most of the workers. What remains is the steam, billowing up into the sky day after day, just as it did a generation ago.

The U.S. economy wastes 55 percent of the energy it consumes, and while American companies have ruthlessly wrung out other forms of inefficiency, that figure hasn’t changed much in recent decades. The amount lost by electric utilities alone could power all of Japan.

A 2005 report by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that U.S. industry could profitably recycle enough waste energy—including steam, furnace gases, heat, and pressure—to reduce the country’s fossil-fuel use (and greenhouse-gas emissions) by nearly a fifth. A 2007 study by the Mc Kinsey Global Institute sounded largely the same note; it concluded that domestic industry could use 19 percent less energy than it does today—and make more money as a result.

Economists like to say that rational markets don’t “leave $100 bills on the ground,” but according to McKinsey’s figures, more than $50 billion floats into the air each year, unclaimed by American businesses. What’s more, the technologies required to save that money are, for the most part, not new or unproven or even particularly expensive. By and large, they’ve been around since the 19th century. The question is: Why aren’t we using them?..."

"...Ultimately, making better use of energy will require revamping our operation of the electrical grid itself, an undertaking considerably more complicated than, say, creating a carbon tax. For the better part of a century, we’ve gotten electricity from large, central generators, which waste nearly 70 percent of the energy they burn. They face little competition and are allowed to simply pass energy costs on to their customers..."

"...Technocratic changes to the grid and to industrial plants don’t easily capture the imagination. Recycling industrial energy is a solution that looks, well, gray, not green. Steel plants, coated with rust, grime, and a century’s worth of effluvia, do not make for inspiring photos. Yet Casten, pointing to the 16 heat-recycling contraptions that sit on top of the coke ovens at the East Chicago steel plant, notes that in 2004 they produced as much clean energy as all the grid-connected solar panels in the world. Green power may pay great dividends years from now. Gray power, if we would embrace it, is a realistic goal for today."
The United States, representing ~5% of world population, consumes in the aggregate roughly 25% of total energy production, an egregious excess that cannot long continue. But, the closer we look (if only we take the trouble), the more low hanging fruit we see right in front of our eyes.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Diploid Dave, Zoe Zygote

Roe and Casey are officially overturned.

Link from my KHIT blog.  And, another.  And, another.

"During sometimes tense and heated questioning in almost two hours of oral arguments, the court’s six conservative justices signaled they are comfortable with the Mississippi law, even though upholding it would be flatly at odds with Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established a constitutional right to abortion and prohibited states from banning the procedure before fetal viability, currently around 23 weeks..."
Well, the SCOTUS-enabled Texas SB8 is a doozy.
It declares that constitutional ”personhood begins at conception," and that any in-utero Texas zygote, embryo, or fetus from that point forward is an "unborn child" (but incoherently still permits termination prior to 6 weeks). It authorizes any private citizen (irrespective of state of residency) to civilly sue anyone “involved” with TX pregnancy termination, and, should the defendants prevail they cannot recover “compensatory damages”—i.e., attorneys’ fees and court costs. Vigilante “plaintiffs,” however can be awarded up to $10,000 in state funds (plus legal expenses) in the wake of winning a suit.
Jonathan Mitchell wants to re-outlaw gay/lesbian marriage, and homosexual acts in general.

They'll be coming after contraceptives, “morning after” meds, and IVF soon. Count on it.



(CNN) - President Donald Trump on Saturday said that Republicans have an "obligation" to fill Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's vacant seat on the Supreme Court "without delay," as Democrats argue the Senate should refrain from confirming a replacement until after the next president is sworn in..
Bad news for American women. Read on.


From my New Yorker:
How Fetal Personhood Emerged as the Next Stage of the Abortion Wars
By Jeannie Suk Gersen

…The abortion fight we are gearing up for departs from the realm of uneasy compromise and reëngages the clash of absolutes. For decades, conservatives have sought to overturn Roe. Yet simply getting rid of Roe would leave each state legislature free to choose its own approach to abortion, from liberal abortion access in Northeast states to outright or near-total bans like the “fetal heartbeat” bills recently passed in several states, which ban abortion as early as the sixth week of pregnancy. But, for anti-abortion activists, that goal may no longer be enough. Last month, when the Alabama legislature passed its fetal-heartbeat bill, Republican lawmakers explicitly rejected exceptions for victims of rape or incest. If you truly believe that a fetus is a person, then it shouldn’t matter how the fetus was conceived. Its rights as a human being are the same.

When Republican lawmakers consider the fact of rape or incest irrelevant to a decision to terminate a pregnancy, and when Thomas invokes the spectre of discrimination against a fetus, they are making the same point—that every “unborn child” is entitled to the same dignity as you or me. And, if fetuses are thought to have basic rights as persons do, then a future ruling might reach beyond overturning Roe. It might hold that it is unconstitutional for any state to allow abortions at all. This position—the constitutionalization of abortion abolition—would go far beyond what either liberals and conservatives have imagined possible, but it is where the ambitions of fetal personhood now entering the legal mainstream are headed.
I have argued below in this post that there is no way for an unwillingly pregnant woman and the embryo or fetus in her womb to be accorded "equal" 14th Amendment rights (even the late Legend-in-His-Own-Mind Justice Scalia agreed). One or the other must prevail. Read the entire New Yorker article (and this entire post if you've not already). I can see the anti-choice Constitutional end-run argument coming: A woman's 14th Amendment "equal protection" right ends at "assault, manslaughter, homicide, or, more mundanely, in utero "child abuse" (e.g., "poor gestational lifestyle"). The latter implication conjures up an orders-of-magnitude expansion of "Child Protective Services" surveillance obligations (as well as the necessity of criminal investigations into miscarriages). The opportunities for bizarre, draconian legislative and judicial overreach cannot be overestimated.

These people don't give a shit about women.

Sisters, is that what you want? There is absolutely no shortage of self-appointed Morally Wonderful Intervenors (almost exclusively male) chomping at the bit to make it happen.

More: Jessica Valenti asks "What about IVF?" If a human fertilized egg is a "person," must we outlaw IVF?


See also "Men cause 100% of unwanted pregnancies." And, let's "Criminalize Miscarriages."
JUNE 2018 UPDATE: a decade after I first posted the following rumination, Donald Trump is President and Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy, long known as the "swing vote" protecting women's reproductive rights, has announced his retirement. Roe v. Wade and a breadth of lesser "pro-choice" policies and laws (e.g., contraception) are now squarely in the crosshairs of "pro-life" partisans.

JULY UPDATE. It gets worse

SEPT UPDATE. I don't think it can get much worse. I need not read all 307 of Brett Kavanaugh's appellate opinions to know he's judicially unsympathetic to women's reproductive rights (among other things). He's been (and remains) pretty clear about it. In his "Priests for Life et al" dissent, he conflated contraceptives with "abortion-inducing drugs," and asserted that 14th Amendment Equal Protection rights of women comprise "gratuitous coercion" where they diverge from "religious" beliefs. The latter must prevail.

OCT 6TH UPDATE: Brett Kavanaugh has now been confirmed to the Supreme Court, 50-48.

DEC 28TH UPDATE: "Opinion: A Woman's Rights." NY Times Editorial Board

Does the second drawing above rightfully ("morally") portray a "person," within the proper Constitutional construction of such a "human being" -- given the depiction therein of a spermatozoum having penetrated the cell wall of the ovum and thereby establishing a complete complement of chromosomes? (We assume for the sake of this rumination that it's an illustration of a new human zygote.)

Why posit the question? Well, consider recent remarks proffered by former presidential candidate and religous conservative former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee in support of a Colorado "Human Life Amendment" initiative, as recently reported:

..."This proposed constitutional amendment will define a person as a human being from the moment life begins at conception," Huckabee said in a statement, according to a Denver Post report.

"With this amendment, Colorado has an opportunity to send a clear message that every human life has value. Passing this amendment will mean the people of Colorado will protect the sanctity of life from conception until natural death occurs," he said.

Huckabee also has expressed support for a similar amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Pro-life activists in Colorado now are in the process of collecting the 76,000 petition signatures they will need to put their proposal on the 2008 election ballot. The state Supreme Court previously approved the format of the proposal for the ballot.

The plan would grant personhood to the unborn from the moment of fertilization, meaning state and local laws protecting any individual life would be applied to the unborn. It targets a loophole the U.S. Supreme Court created when it issued the original Roe v. Wade abortion opinion.

The opinion said: "(If the) suggestion of personhood [of the preborn] is established, the [abortion rights] case, of course, collapses, for the fetus' right to life is then guaranteed specifically by the [14th] Amendment."...
Yes, "Equal Protection," guaranteed by the 14th Amendment in the U.S. Constitution. Governor Huckabee, we must allow, at least has the courage of his stated convictions, i.e., whereas the bulk of abortion and contraception opponents tend to dance euphemistically and deflectively around the core issue by asserting more imprecisely that "life begins at conception," the Governor wishes to specifically -- via constitutional amendment -- "define a person as a human being from the moment life begins at conception." Recall that the current language of the Constitution extends full protection only to "persons born or naturalized" here, stating additionally that "nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.""Born," not "unborn." (hence the end-game need for the Amendment, ultimately -- notwithstanding the ongoing legislative and inferior courts' patchwork incremental nibbling at the margins in the wake of Roe).

One case still considered a seminal post- Roe reproductive rights decision is that of the Tennessee Davis vs. Davis frozen embryos dispute:

"...Over the past several years, some important cases have shed light on the legal parameters and core ethical issues facing couples who disagree over the disposition of frozen embryos. The seminal case, Davis v. Davis,[3] involved a Tennessee couple who attempted for several years to have children through IVF. The last attempt produced 7 extra embryos, which were placed in cryopreservation for possible use at a later time. When the couple signed up for IVF, they did not execute a written agreement specifying what disposition should be made of any unused embryos that might result from the cryopreservation process. Thus, when the couple filed for divorce and the wife wanted to retain the embryos, the husband filed suit seeking to enjoin the clinic from releasing them. She sought "custody" of the embryos; he wanted them destroyed.

The Supreme Court of Tennessee upheld the lower court's ruling that the pre-embryos in this case should not be considered "persons" or "property" in the contemplation of the law, nor where they afforded protection as "persons" under the federal law as laid forth in Roe v. Wade. However, the Supreme Court refused to let stand the lower court's ruling that the couple held joint custody of the pre-embryos, noting that the only outcome allowable was to keep the pre-embryos in cryopreservation pending the couple's possible future meeting of the minds. Instead, the higher Court shifted its analysis to the issue of whether the couple intended to have children in the future -- not whether they agreed on the disposition of the pre-embryos -- and ruled that the answer turned on the parties' exercise of their constitutional right to privacy...(
As my wife and I were residing in Knoxville at the time, we had more than just a passing familiarity with this highly visible, acrimonious case. In fact, we knew the activist "pro-life" attorney who intervened to sue separately for "foster parent custody" of these frozen embryos (he was denied; the frozen embryos were ultimately destroyed).

Interestingly, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia recently weighed in on the issue. As reported this past March:

Warrensburg, MO (, 3/5/08) -- Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia spoke to students at the University of Central Missouri on Tuesday night and told them that abortion isn't found in the Constitution. He also indicated he would be lucky to get 60 votes in today's political climate where abortion rules how senators vote on judicial confirmations.

"The reality is the Constitution doesn't address the subject at all," Scalia said of abortion. "It is one of the many subjects not in the Constitution which is therefore left to democracy."

"If you want the right to an abortion, persuade your fellow citizens it’s a good idea and pass a law. If you feel the other way, repeal the law," he said, according to a Columbia Tribune report...
Justice Scalia echoed the sentiments during CBS "60 Minutes" interview on April 27th:
WASHINGTON [AP] — The Constitution doesn't prohibit abortion any more than it allows it, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia says in a television news interview to be broadcast Sunday.

Scalia told CBS News' "60 Minutes" that he may be conservative, but he is not biased on issues that come before the court. "I mean, I confess to being a social conservative, but it does not affect my views on cases," Scalia said in excerpts released Thursday.

"On the abortion thing, for example, if indeed I were ... trying to impose my own views, I would not only be opposed to Roe versus Wade, I would be in favor of the opposite view, which the anti-abortion people would like to see adopted, which is to interpret the Constitution to mean that a state must prohibit abortion," Scalia told correspondent Lesley Stahl.

"And you're against that?" Stahl asked.Scalia replied, "Of course." He said "there's nothing" (in the Constitution to support that view.)...
From the subsequent "60 Minutes" Scalia interview transcript:
"My job is to interpret the Constitution accurately. And indeed, there are anti-abortion people who think that the constitution requires a state to prohibit abortion. They say that the Equal Protection Clause requires that you treat a helpless human being that's still in the womb the way you treat other human beings. I think that's wrong. I think when the Constitution says that persons are entitled to equal protection of the laws, I think it clearly means walking-around persons [emphasis mine -BG]. You don't count pregnant women twice."
Yes. That is what the Constitution in fact plainly says, even to us Great Unwashed non-lawyers.
Amendment XIV

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
So, in Mr. Scalia's view, the Constitution neither protects nor prohibits clinical abortion, consequently "democratic" legislation is the remedy for proponents of either position. But, legislation has to ultimately pass Constitutional muster (even by the default circumstance of appellate challenges declined). Clearly, he would personally favor legislation outlawing the practice, however, if he is to be taken at his word, legislation legalizing abortion would also have to be adjudged permissible a priori were his view to prevail within The Court (absent some new and compelling rationale with clear Constitutional implications within an appellate case seeking Supreme Court review).

This takes us back to the 14th Amendment. State level or federal legislation prohibiting clinical abortion (of either the surgical or pharmaceutical variety) inescapably denies the "equal protection of the laws" accorded by the 14th Amendment to an entire class of "persons born" solely on the basis of their female gender. It seems to directly follow that such laws would necessarily and clearly contravene the 14th Amendment. Many critics of the principal Roe rationale -- a woman's inviolable (1st trimester only) "right of privacy" -- fault the finding for not ruling primarily on a 14th Amendment "equal protection" basis. "Privacy," as we have seen increasingly post- 9/11, can be the shakiest of terrain (across a number of fronts) upon which to ground constitutional arguments. "Equal protection," on the other hand, seems intuitively more fundamental and politically defensible in the aggregate.

There is plainly no way for both an unwillingly pregnant woman and the not-currently-a-"person" zygote/blastocyst/embryo/fetus growing within her gestational organ to be accorded "equal" legal rights (established Roe trimester/"increasing-state-interest" parsing notwithstanding). One or the other must prevail in the event a woman opts to terminate her pregnancy. Any law denying a woman this autonomy of personhood looks to be nothing other than unconstitutional on its face.

That leaves the tactic of the ultimate "democratic" legislation, the one publicly favored by Mr. Huckabee et al (and, we might safely assume, Justice Scalia), a "Human Life Amendment" conferring Constitutional "personhood" on the unborn from the (clinically unknowable) "moment of conception."

What, then, would be a direct, necessary logical jurisprudential consequence of such a national "Human Life Amendment" update to our Constitution?

Well, first, unless a ratified Human Life Amendment contained explicit language eliminating 14th Amendment "equal protection" minimally with respect to pregnant women, we would have the problematic, paradoxical spectacle of two Amendments at war with one another.

But wait, there's more...

Quoting John C Petrozza, MD, Instructor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Harvard Medical School; Consulting Staff and Chief, Division of Reproductive Medicine and IVF, Vincent Obstetrics and Gynecology, Massachusetts General Hospital:
...Early pregnancy loss is unfortunately the most common complication of human gestation, occurring in at least 75% of all women trying to conceive. Most of these losses are unrecognized and occur before or with the next expected menses. Of those that are recognized, 15-20% are spontaneous abortions (SABs) or ectopic pregnancies diagnosed after the pregnancy is clinically recognized. Approximately 5% of couples trying to conceive have 2 consecutive miscarriages, and approximately 1% of couples have 3 or more consecutive losses...

...The incidence of spontaneous miscarriage is 10-15%, whereas the rate of recurrent miscarriage is 3-5%.

Most studies demonstrate a spontaneous miscarriage rate of 10-15%. However, the true rate of early pregnancy loss is close to 50% because of the high number of chemical pregnancies that are not recognized in the 2-4 weeks after conception. Most of these pregnancy failures are due to gamete failure (eg, sperm or oocyte dysfunction). In a classic study by Wilcox et al in 1988, 221 women were followed up during 707 total menstrual cycles. A total of 198 pregnancies were achieved. Of these, 43 (22%) were lost before the onset of menses, and another 20 (10%) were clinically recognized losses...
OK, for the sake of simple illustration, let's take the E-Z round number "50%", i.e., from the foregoing: "the true rate of early pregnancy loss is close to 50% because of the high number of chemical pregnancies that are not recognized in the 2-4 weeks after conception. Most of these pregnancy failures are due to gamete failure (eg, sperm or oocyte dysfunction)."

Do a little basic arithmetic using another recent national round number of approximately 4,000,000 live births in the U.S. each year. Exclusive of intentional clinical abortion, 4,000,000/50% = 8,000,000 Human Life Amendment "persons" conceived each year, four million of them "dead" in utero.

High-minded, vigilant "equal protection," consequently, would mandate that all of these "weakest among us" be accorded [1] the monitoring by (and warranted intervention by) expanded "Child Protective Services" agencies, and [2] in the event of in utero zygotic/embryonic/fetal demise, full investigations to determine whether any evidence of criminal or otherwise actionably negligent "foul play" might have occurred (e.g., beyond willful acts such as abortifacient ingestion, or simply dysfunctional maternal "lifestyle" behaviors that would now necessarily be regarded as tantamount to "child abuse").

Anyone who thinks there would not arise platoons of Morally Wonderful, Altruistic "pro-life" lawyers ready and eager to litigate such mindless "constitutional" inanities has got another thought coming. Abstruse clean-hands moralism apparently knows no bounds.

None of the immediately foregoing is intended to take broad-brush pejorative potshots at everyone who opposes abortion. Count me among those who have misgivings with therapeutic abortion being reflexively viewed as "just another birth control method." But I also have misgivings about my right to even opine on the topic, in light of my male gender. What's the joke? "If men could get pregnant, abortions would be everywhere legal and free."


The eminent philosopher Simon Blackburn, in his book "Being Good: a short introduction to ethics," addresses some of the salient, problematic core concepts that bedevil the reproductive rights issue (pp 61 -- 63).

A foetus is a potential person, certainly. But, 'potential' is a dangerous word. A yellow flower is a sort of flower. But an acorn is a potential oak tree without itself being an oak tree. Mr car is potential scrap, but it is not scrap, and its being potential scrap does not justify anybody treating it as scrap.

Is the foetus not only a potential person but an actual person? What kind of question is that? A possibility is that in describing the foetus as a person, the word 'person' is itself functioning to imply a moral category, so by insisting that the foetus is a person the opponent of legal abortion is just repeating himself. Moral conclusions are frequently presupposed in this way by the very terms in which the question is raised. A person, on this account, is just anything that ought to be treated as a person and afforded protection as a person. But then, whether a foetus is a person is exactly the question that is in doubt...
In other words, petitio principii: the fallacy of circularly begging the question; i.e., artfully restating the unresolved conclusion itself as the evidentiary premise purporting to prove the conclusion.
...we should note that, equally, the T-shirt slogan of a woman's right to control her own body begs the question the other way: the ways in which we control our bodies may well depend on what other persons are dependent upon them. So, if the foetus is a person, that right will be circumscribed. If a murderer is prowling around, my general right to talk is defeated by the fact that your life depends upon my silence.

Rights themselves are tricky things... In one of the most famous papers in this debate, Judith Jarvis Thompson compares the situation of a pregnant mother to that of someone suddenly waking to find another person plugged into them and dependent on them for life-support. She argues that the dependent person's 'right to life' does not include a right to unlimited demands on other people, including here the demand that the supporter continues her support...

Suppose, then, we look for marks of increasing approximation to a person. We will find them at different stages We might look out for the development of a functioning brain, or a capacity for 'distress' or for movement that at least resembles the behaviour in which persons expresses [sic] pain. The foetus is not, however, a subject with plans, intentions, fears, memories, or self-consciousness, each of which form part of our own adult personhood. These come later. And then it seems that there is no principled place to draw a line. The foetus, and the baby, just go on becoming more and more of a person. Nature is gradual, through and through.

A bad argument to watch out for now has the form: 'If there is no principled place to draw a line, then we must draw it here -- at the very moment of conception'; or, if you stand on a woman's right to control her body, we should draw it only there -- at the moment of birth. The idea is that anywhere else involves a 'slippery slope'.
A.K.A. the "false dichotomy" and/or the "line-drawing fallacy" (both of which implicitly subsume the slippery slope).

Now, in addition to the "privacy" problem the critics point out in order to assail the Roe vs Wade decision, equally knotty is the Court's ungainly (and equally unloved on all sides) split-the-baby-in-thirds "trimester" parsing:

[Section X] With respect to the State's important and legitimate interest in the health of the mother, the "compelling" point, in the light of present medical knowledge, is at approximately the end of the first trimester. [emphasis mine- BG] This is so because of the now-established medical fact, referred to above at 149, that until the end of the first trimester mortality in abortion may be less than mortality in normal childbirth. It follows that, from and after this point, a State may regulate the abortion procedure to the extent that the regulation reasonably relates to the preservation and protection of maternal health. Examples of permissible state regulation in this area are requirements as to the qualifications of the person who is to perform the abortion; as to the licensure of that person; as to the facility in which the procedure is to be performed, that is, whether it must be a hospital or may be a clinic or some other place of less-than-hospital status; as to the licensing of the facility; and the like.

This means, on the other hand, that, for the period of pregnancy prior to this "compelling" point, the attending physician, in consultation with his patient, is free to determine, without regulation by the State, that, in his medical judgment, the patient's pregnancy should be terminated. If that decision is reached, the judgment may be effectuated by an abortion free of interference by the State.

With respect to the State's important and legitimate interest in potential life, the "compelling" point is at viability. This is so because the fetus then presumably has the capability of meaningful life outside the mother's womb. State regulation protective of fetal life after viability thus has both logical and biological justifications. If the State is interested in protecting fetal life after viability, it may go so far as to proscribe abortion during that period, except when it is necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.

Measured against these standards, Art. 1196 of the Texas Penal Code, in restricting legal abortions to those "procured or attempted by medical advice for the purpose of saving the life of the mother," sweeps too broadly. The statute makes no distinction between abortions performed early in pregnancy and those performed later, and it limits to a single reason, "saving" the mother's life, the legal justification for the procedure. The statute, therefore, cannot survive the constitutional attack made upon it here...
"in the light of present medical knowledge..." That turned out to be an irrestistable low-hanging curve ball that hordes of abortion opponents would subsequently imagine that they could swat right out of the judicial park by offering up "ever-changing medical technology" as a useful rationale with which to increasingly move the point of 3rd-party actionable gestational "viability" ever-closer to "the moment of conception."

But, we again run forthwith smack into that pesky 14th Amendment problem of "equal protection." Accord heroic (and crushingly expensive) clinical preemie intervention and life-support technology to one otherwise physiologically non-viable fetus, you are Constitutionally required to provide it to all.

The simple obstetrical truth is that the "moment of viability" is about as difficult to determine as "the moment of conception." Impossible, in the aggregate, actually. Blackburn: "Nature is gradual, through and through."


A Facebook comment I posted,

It is an indisputable scientific biological/obstetrical fact that the male contribution to an offspring begins and ends with the deposition in the ovum of the polymer DNA molecules comprising one copy of the 23 chromosomes of the male. Everything thereafter is comprised of the biological effort and risk borne by the woman. Men have no moral standing to intervene. Moreover, women have no moral standing to intervene and abrogate reproductive decisions made by other women.

In sum, for me, our time and resources are much better and more righteously spent getting our hands dirty abating the miseries comprising the daily lot of millions of the world's actual "persons."


There's a maxim among trial lawyers: "He with the best story wins." So, perhaps a closing anecdote is in order to bring the grand abstract reproductive "rights" moral issue down to eye level, so indulge me a short story.

The year is 1969, the place, suburban Seattle. A young couple chafes within the throes of an ill-advised (and ultimately doomed) marriage. They have an infant girl, on whom the young father joyfully dotes. The one unequivocally bright spot. Parenthood, at least, suits him, so it seems.

The young wife announces one day that she is again pregnant. But, while the husband is thrilled at the news, she exudes an inexplicable anxious and distant air. In the subsequent weeks, her smoldering anxiety morphs into a controlled state of cornered panic, and the devastating truth must finally be aired one night; she had had a recent transient sexual dalliance, and this unwanted pregnancy is almost certainly the upshot. To make matters even more complex, the cuckolding paramour is a black man (this couple is white).

Thermonuclear agonies ensue, regarding which, words utterly fail.

The young woman is beyond frantic to obtain an abortion (circumstances being exacerbated by the fact that her own father is an overt racist), but, this being an era prior to Rove vs Wade, abortions are proscribed by law in Washington state. Her subsequent attempts to procure one illegally fail, and she realizes she will have to carry this fetus to term.

She is then advised by state social services agencies that she may indeed relinquish the newborn sight-unseen for adoption, and wishes to opt for that alternative to end this nightmare, however imperfectly. This, though, requires the husband's written assent, which, for reasons not entirely clear to him, he declines to provide. In part, one can safely assume, hoping against hope that this is all a cruel, horrific dream, and the child will in fact prove to be biologically his.

An uneventful delivery obtains in the hospital in Renton in July of 1970, a 7 lb. 6 oz. healthy baby girl. The young man hesitantly approaches the glass partition of the nursery unit. The moment of truth in a glance: 'Nope, well, this is definitely not your child.' A fleeting, wracked feeling of being summarily dropped down an open elevator shaft gives way within seconds to a subsequent flustered internal flurry:'Now what? Whatever will become of this child? None of this shit is her fault...'

He turns and heads down the hall to the office, whereupon he signs the requisite parental paperwork. He will be her "father." Not even legally her "adoptive father," simply her father, DNA be damned. His bigoted father-in-law be damned. Subsequent hushed gossip and furtive glances within his social cohort be damned.

Fast forward four years to a Clark County, Washington courtroom. The young man is granted an uncontested divorce, along with sole custody of his two girls. The henceforth ex-wife does not attend the hearing.

Fast forward yet again. Knoxville, Tennessee a decade later, a dining room discussion ensues during which the younger daughter learns for the first time the full story."Thanks, Dad, you saved my life."

They laugh. It is good.

The foregoing is no mere illustrative fictional anecdote conjured up for emotional impact. I am that father.

Father to a young woman, now approaching age 38 at this writing, who has gone on to obtain a Master's degree and a position as the highly successful local Executive Director of a major non-profit youth golf organization, following lengthy prior stints as a hospital chaplain, and a wildly successful grantwriter for a national social services foundation (Sadly, we lost her older sister to cancer in 1998).

Proud grandfather to her amazing son, now 14, who had become ranked 43rd in the nation in his U.S. Tennis Association age division by the time he was 12, and who has just been awarded a full-ride private high school scholarship in recognition of his ongoing honor student academic track record.

While such achievements and accolades are really just the icing on the cakes (my love for my kids is unconditional), I am today the proud papa of offspring who bring so much good, and so much joy, to my life and to our world.

We laugh. All the time. It is good.

DNA is simply irrelevant.

I shudder to think what I would have missed. I am blessed to be the father that I am.

Having said that, it is not properly for me (nor any politician or self-appointed private moral overseer) to decide at a distance what a woman must do in the event of pregnancy.

Difficult, most difficult. Moreover, a difficulty that will not be attenuated one whit by a problematic "Human Life Amendment" or any lesser judicial or legislative intrusions into a woman's moral and physiological autonomy.

Perhaps, for many politicians, voicing support for a Human Life Amendment is a cheap, expeditious way to provide themselves "pro-life" cover where needed, given that our federal amendment passage bar is so onerous (for good reason) -- i.e., approval by a 2/3 vote in each house of Congress and subsequently ratified by 3/4 of the states (typically within 7 years), or, alternatively, as offered up during a Constitution Convention, and again then passed along for 3/4 of states' legislative approval (the latter has never happened during the span of U.S. history). Consequently, one can loudly bandy the Amendment proposal about to posture as "pro-life" without ever likely having to walk the accountability talk (one could indeed say the same of that hardy, even more frivolous, perennial -- the Flag Burning Amendment).

Failing that, -- despite what should be the fatally dispositive equal protection problems heretofore discussed -- much damage could still be wreaked by the continuing passage of logically unconstitutional 14th Amendment restrictions via new state or federal legislation and muddled inferior court rulings. And, one more Scalia/Roberts/Alito/Thomas vote on the Court will give them the opportunity to overturn Roe and create perhaps decades more courtroom wrangling, with women suffering in the balance.


SEPT 2nd 2012 UPDATE

My Grandson is now a freshman at St. Olaf College, on a sports scholarship.


Keenan starts his senior year at St. Olaf this fall. He's working as a tennis coach this summer in Duluth, MN. His Momma is now Executive Director of the Bay Area Stepping Stones Project.


Keebo is now a college graduate. Gonna be living with his Uncle Nick (our son) in West Baltimore for a while. Jobs interview are lined up. A whole new chapter begins...


We have again been struck by tragedy. See "A tale of two sisters."

Words fail.