The Only Question

The Only Question

…and that is when he came to me, 
the great sucking darkness, the formless
one, not a place where anyone or anything
is, but the place where everything is not
(at least as far as he can help it). And that 
is when he said to me, “Do it.” He said only
that at first: “Do it.” But then he said, “You
know you want to.” And I hesitated to answer,
because there is no point talking back to him: 
there is no reasoning with him. He is a void
that does not give, a depth with no surface. 
But I could not help but wonder out loud,
“So what?”

…and that is when the light appeared. 
When he appeared, the other vanished as if
he had never existed, because he didn’t. 
The light filled the room, the house, the universe,
and it flowed through me as I bathed in it, 
and I knew that it was love. And the light
said, “I want you to do it too.” I could not process 
that moment in which God and the devil agreed, 
where they both wanted me to do the same thing. 
I realized at that time that there was no
question about what was to be done. 
The only question to be asked was,
“Why was I doing it?” 

c 2016 James Rovira
09-10-16 MS | Image Credit

Thinking Clearly about the Abortion Debate

Media and public discourse define the abortion debate in terms of the following opposed positions:

  1. You favor complete legal restrictions on all abortions (but perhaps with some exceptions). The last version of this position to be seriously considered at the national level was under President Reagan, who wanted to forbid all abortions except in the cases of rape, incest, and when the life of the mother was in danger, but others do not want any exceptions to be allowed.
  2. You favor abortion on demand. This position varies by term: some favor bans after some specified number of weeks (maybe 21), others favor bans after viability (when the baby could live on its own outside the mother’s womb), while others favor no restrictions at all.

I won’t review arguments for both positions because I believe that framing the argument this way is frankly stupid. It is designed to create an illusion of difference between Republican and Democratic positions to drive groups of voters to either party — either out of an urgency to stop a holocaust of unborn babies or to protect women’s rights and their freedoms over their own bodies, or, at the least, to allow women safe access to a procedure that they will be undergoing anyhow, legal or not.

The problem with framing the abortion debate this way is that it completely ignores social and political realities surrounding abortion and prevents us from working together to find solutions better than merely legal ones to our abortion problem.

I will be defining abortion as a problem: I don’t believe any woman ever wants an abortion. I have never known any woman who became pregnant so that she could get an abortion. What she wanted was to avoid getting pregnant to begin with, so when she gets an abortion, it’s always a lesser of two evils. She will be grateful that they’re safe and legal, don’t get me wrong, but she would rather not have become pregnant to begin with. Both sides of that sentence are equally important. No, I’m not defining women’s thinking or choices for them. If you are a woman who got pregnant solely for the purpose of having an abortion, please do comment. I’d like to hear from you. I don’t think they exist, though.

Now here are the political realities about abortion:

  1. US Supreme Court decision Roe vs. Wade (1973) eliminated the ability of states to ban abortions completely, but it did allow states to exercise regulatory authority over abortions, especially in the third trimester.
  2. Since Roe vs. Wade, there have been a number of SCOTUS decisions that have given states increasing regulatory power. The abortion debate has really been carried out on a state level since then, with pro-life states pushing regulatory boundaries to see how far they can restrict abortions. However, at no time has Roe vs. Wade been overturned.
  3. It has just been reported today, June 27th, 2016, that the US Supreme Court just declared unconstitutional some highly restrictive abortion laws in Texas; even though the Court is split 4-4 between Republican and Democratic appointees, it voted 5-3 against highly restrictive laws in Texas that would in effect close the majority of abortion clinics in that state. Even if we had a full nine justices, the decision would still have gone the same way, at 5-4 or 6-3.
  4. Since 1969, there have been 13 justices appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Five of these have been Democrat and eight have been Republican. Republican appointees have dominated the Supreme Court since the late 1990s (remember that the Bush vs. Gore election case in 2000 fell along party lines, 5-4) — about 15-20 years — but Roe vs. Wade has not yet been overturned.

So here’s the political reality: there won’t be a Constitutional amendment banning abortion (when was the last time one was considered in Congress? How many times did Congress vote to repeal Obamacare instead?), and Republican dominated Supreme Courts have upheld Roe vs. Wade for the last twenty years or so.

Now how would you think about abortion if you had to accept that it was a long-term legal reality? Wouldn’t it be smarter to address causes, and to reduce the number of abortions by addressing the causes of abortions, rather than conduct a ridiculous debate that sets a political impossibility (outlawing abortion) against our current political reality (legal abortions with limited restrictions imposed by states)?

What are the causes of abortion? The top three are (and all stats come from the preceding link, but they are available from a wide variety of sources)

  1. Having a child would interfere with school, work, or other responsibilities (75%).
  2. The woman cannot afford to raise the child (66%).
  3. Relationship problems with the father (50%).

A few more relevant abortion stats include…

  1. More than 50% of women receiving abortions are in their 20s.
  2. Almost 50% of all women receiving abortions are at or below the federal poverty level and unmarried.
  3. 51% of women who had an unwanted pregnancy were using contraception of some kind.
  4. Some good news: as of 2014, the abortion rate was at its lowest since 1973.

So the two best ways to reduce the number of abortions by reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies are:

  1. Replacing the minimum wage with a living wage, so that women feel that they can support themselves and their children.
  2. Making contraception widely and easily available, especially to women right out of high school. Part of this includes providing instruction in their use for both men and women. Even if contraception was completely free, the cost of contraception is far less than the cost of abortions or unwanted children, or government support for poor women who are having children.

You don’t have to agree with these solutions, but of course the question is this: do you really want to reduce the number of abortions, or do you just want to punish women for having sex? Are you really trying to stop premarital sex with abortion laws? That won’t work either. It didn’t before Roe vs. Wade, and it’s not working that way now. Whatever solutions you propose, making abortions completely illegal doesn’t appear to be an option. The Republican Party delivered a majority of conservative justices to the Supreme Court by the 1990s, but Roe vs. Wade has not been overturned, and Congress hasn’t been aggressive about pursuing pro-life legislation (a Constitutional amendment) even when it was dominated by Republicans. The first two years of the Bush administration saw both houses of Congress and the White House occupied by a Republican. Abortion wasn’t high on their list of agenda items. The Republican Party isn’t really pro-life. It just says that it is to get votes from the religious right.

If you take the idea of outlawing abortion off the table, as it appears to be given our current political realities, how would you think about the problem instead?

 

 

Rape Culture and Sports Teams

I’m not going to do a lot of extensive research for this post. I just want to suggest a couple of ideas about the topic of rape culture and sports teams.

I think that male sports teams are particularly focused pockets of rape culture.

[Insert research here: list all of the most horrifying national news stories over the last three or four years and point out how many of them were associated with sports teams or participants of sports teams, and then research general statistics on rape.]

BUT, I’m not saying this to single out male sports teams as a scapegoat.

INSTEAD, I’m asking us to consider using them as leverage to change this culture.

Male sports teams, starting at the junior high school level at least, are where boys need most to learn respect for women, at least outside of the home.

I think coaches need to be held responsible for student misconduct: three strikes (instances of player misconduct) and you’re (the coach) out.

This policy would carry with it the danger of increased suppression of reporting, but it could be effective.

And I think this issue needs to be tied to Title IX funding at the college and university levels: funding eligibility should be linked to training and the requirement of the development of an ethos of respect for women among all male sports teams.

Are more details needed? Of course.

I’m not here to develop a full fledged policy, just to state an idea.

Thinking Through Degree Choices

I’ve blogged a few times about the topic of choosing a college and degree over the past three years (on April 13 twice and Nov. 3 of 2013; Sept. 9, 2014), but I’m going to try to reframe the topic here in terms of three central questions:

  1. What are the emotional facets of your decision to choose a specific college or major?
  2. What are the professional facets of that decision?
  3. What are the economic facets of that decision?

Let’s explore these one at a time.

  1. The emotional content of your decision to pursue a major or college matters. While not every major will set you on a predetermined career path, your study still defines you and the doors that are either opened or closed for you in the future. Your choice of a college or major does not mean everything, but it still means a lot, so you want to spend some time thinking about who you are and what you really love before choosing a college or major. Engineers tend to be the highest paid graduates right out of college: are you that good at math? Do you love it? Are you really able to pursue a vocation that you don’t love just for the money it might make you?  Some people make this decision, find their happiness outside of work, and live fairly fulfilling lives. Other people make expensive and time consuming mid-career shifts from jobs that they hate to courses of study that will lead them to jobs that they love. What do you think you can live with? If it’s at all possible, pursue a course of study that you love. You will do better in it, and your skill sets and enthusiasm can open doors in skills-appropriate fields. If that course of study doesn’t lead to a clear career path, minor in something that does, like business or web development. It will make you easier to place in entry-level positions.
  2. The professional content of your decision to pursue a certain course of study should be considered as well. Some degree programs are essentially vocational schools: programs such as law, education, and engineering focus your education on one specific industry. You may be able to switch career paths down the road, but your skill sets will be fairly narrow and limiting. Liberal arts majors such as English, history, art, and philosophy, on the other hand, tend to be trainable across a wide range of fields and find success in many different industries, but they sometimes have a harder time getting initially placed because their degrees aren’t clearly associated with a job function. They have much better soft skills than the hordes of B.B.A. and M.B.A. graduates produced every year, though, so they can distinguish themselves once employed. It’s usually smart to pair liberal arts degrees with something like programming or business minors to help employability right out of college. Remember that a degree does not get you a job. It only makes you eligible to apply for certain jobs, and different degrees make you eligible to apply for different kinds of jobs.
  3. The economic content of your decision to pursue a degree is related to the following factors:
    1. Cost of the degree.
    2. Income potential for the degree.
    3. Age to retirement (related to no. 2) — your income earning potential is limited to your age at graduation.

    So, obviously, the best financial decision in the degree seeking process, or the best return on your investment for the cost of your degree, is to pick a degree that is pursued cheaply and yields high pay as soon as possible. In the current market, that would be a degree in petroleum or chemical engineering with no debt at graduation. But probably 1% of all high school graduates have the math skills to be engineers of any kind, so what do the rest of us do? We try to avoid going into high debt for low paying careers, especially late in life when our income potential is limited. You can save a lot of money by starting in community college and then transferring to a state university, or at least starting at a state university.

    Keep in mind that the economic value of a course of study is not a measure of its inherent value: that is only a reflection of market conditions at the time, and they can vary. The highest paying fields right now would hit bottom if saturated with more graduates than available jobs. People aren’t paid what they are worth. They’re paid on a supply and demand basis. Pay is only driven up when employers have to compete with each other for employees. Pay bottoms out when graduates are a dime a dozen, and especially when there’s not a lot of money in the industry.

What I’ve just described are the three factors that you should consider when selecting a degree program at any level. However, I can’t tell you which of these are more important to you personally. If you’re independently wealthy and don’t have to worry about lost income or student loan debt in your pursuit of a degree, pursue what you love and forget about everything else. If you have to worry about debt, think about the other two. But no one can tell you how much each of these factors will weigh in your own decision making process. Be careful about using an emotional logic for financial decisions. That doesn’t usually turn out well. Be careful about being purely financially motivated as well, unless that’s who you are.

In other words, if you’re like most people, seek a balance between the three. Your ideal degree program at any level would be where your passions intersect with your best professional identity and your most viable financial position. Most of us have to make compromises, so be careful about compromising any one of these too much.

Reporting this Week on Electric Cars

Here’s the problem with reporting on electric cars: According to the infographic below, there are about 6 million car accidents in the US every year, while 3 million people die in car accidents every year, but if one thing goes wrong with one electric car, it’s national news.

Tesla started collecting data on its users’ driving habits in October of 2014 and in November of 2015 activated its first Autopilot feature on these cars. Tesla has now released its first truly self-driving car. These cars have logged millions of miles of driving time since their release, and the first accident caused by autopilot just occurred April 29th when a Model S started itself up and drove under a trailer. One recent headline introduced the story this way: “Tesla’s first self-driving accident just happened: it’s time to start a serious discussion.”

So, 3 million people die in about 6 million regular car accidents every year, and no one questions that, but when Tesla’s product has one crash, we need to have a serious discussion. Similarly, there are about 152,000 car fires every year resulting in about 200 deaths and tens of millions of dollars of property damage (and never mind that these occur in cars carrying around its own thermal bomb in the form of a gas tank), but the handful of car fires caused by the lithium-ion batteries in electric cars — including about three Tesla cars (three total) — cause some people to question the use of electric cars and lead to demands for a federal investigation.

Tesla and other EV car makers do of course have an obligation to make their products as safe and as mistake-free as possible, even dummy-proof, but reporting on isolated or minimal safety incidents related to electric cars seems to lack a reasonable sense of proportion. Just look at the infographic below. That is what we’re willing to live with every year. We should be questioning that first.

car-accidents-infographic.jpg