Friday, March 31, 2006

The Reasonable Libertarian approach to polygamy

There's been a lot of blogosphere hand-wringing over polygamy lately, occasioned by some polygamy-themed TV show I don't feel a need to see called "Big Love." Much of the hand-wringing comes from people who embrace the libertarian arguments for gay marriage, and then have problems applying the same principles to polygamy.

The non-libertarian perspective is oppressive, while the hard-core libertarian is unrealistic. The Reasonable Libertarian approach is better - we agree that adults should control their destinies, but accept a transitional period where young adults assume their autonomy over time, and don't acquire full rights until the end.


1. No one under the age of 25 can be in a polygamous marriage.

2. Everyone in a marriage must consent (or be divorced) before an additional person is added.

3. Economic benefits from society (like survivor benefits from Social Security) are given to only one person or are divided proportionally among a person's spouses.

The age limit and consent provisions would prevent much of the exploitation we see with polygamy, and dividing economic benefits would stop it from being unfair to the rest of society. Yes, there will be some 25 year olds who will enter exploitative relationships, but at that age one can say it was much more of a choice than for an 18-year old.

I expect in modern societies with modern education, modern life spans, and modern divorce rates, the specter of countless "unmarriageable males" who can't find a wife and degenerate into warlike behavior is also unlikely.

Is this really so hard?

P.S. Krakauer's book on Mormon fundamentalists and polygamy, Under the Banner of Heaven, is excellent.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Mom, the criminal

Email from my mother:

We have a plot. From Sister Ann, who spoke to us last week, we get an undocumented worker to attend a church dinner or one at our home, everyone who comes brings a dish, we feed the worker, then all go to the police and confess. That is, if the Sensenbrenner law passes. Many of us in the church have been writing, faxing, phoning our lawmakers and Bush. A legislative aide told us 2 weeks ago that representatives pay more attention to volume of mail than to polls. So we need to get the volume up.


I guess the "persecuted Christian" meme on the right might finally have some validity to it.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Located at last! The elusive, conservative science blogger!

Several months ago, I was given a quest to find a science blogger who also expressed conservative politics. I found nothing, and while I vaguely remembered some dinosaur-themed blog, I couldn't nail that one down either. No more.

Meet the conservative science blog,

Deinonychus antirrhopus

Well, that's done. Happy, Kevin?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

I better kick him before he's gone's new hard core right-wing blogger, Ben Domenech of the group blog, appears to have a plagiarism problem. I assume he's not going to last for very long. No response to the plagiarism accusation on his blog yet, just some partial retractions of other mistakes.

So before he's gone, can I just mention that Redstate bloggers denied global warming, and then never replied to my challenge to bet over it? I suppose I should also say it was his fellow bloggers putting out the nonsense, but I don't notice him refuting them either.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Terrible lawprof commentary on NPR, and a blogging note

National Public Radio this morning had a terrible commentary by law professor Douglas Kmiec on the wiretapping issue, and I thought it was terrible even before I realized he was a conservative prof.

The first thing that struck me was his saying it was inappropriate for Congress to bring up extreme hypothetical examples. A basic tool of legal analysis is to use hypothetical examples, and "fighting the hypothetical" is a classic mistake for law students in their first-ever classes. If your legal principle can't handle hypothetical examples at all levels you intend to apply it, that means there's something wrong with your principle. If your legal principle is butting up against other legal principles, that's fine - acknowledge the potential conflict and draw boundaries as best you can. In Bush's case, he isn't acknowledging any countervailing principle to stand up to the "unitary executive power," so he has even less excuse - if you take an extreme position, let's see you defend it.

Second was his saying that he purposefully gave a vague answer to a vague question, leaving it to his congressional audience to think about nuances. You're the expert, man, you provide the nuance and use it to demonstrate what legal principles are in play.

Third was telling Congress to ignore the majority opinion in a Supreme Court case examining executive power and listen to the concurring opinion instead. Majority opinion = the law, while concurring opinion = not the law.

Fourth was his emphasis on the concurring opinion statement that they shouldn't examine hypotheticals. That MIGHT be reasonable advice to a court that's supposed to limit itself to a particular case or controversy, but it's ridiculous to apply it to a Congress that's supposed to set broad policy covering a range of issues.

Fifth, and the only overtly political issue, was his saying Congress and the President need to show mutual resolve. It was Bush that refused to seek Congressional authorization for his wiretapping, and given what over-broad latitude he's being allowed now, his inaction must be because he wanted no real oversight at all. In other words, Kmiec is lecturing to the wrong side on the issue of working together.

Very unimpressive, but probably the best that the pro-wiretappers could come up with.

And now my completely different note - I haven't been blogging much lately. My interest ebbs and flows between blogging myself and commenting on other peoples' blogs, and I've also been busy. I'm very glad and grateful that some folks want to hear what I've got to say. I do expect to blog from time to time, but at a reduced rate, so you might want to use an RSS feed as a more efficient way to see if I've posted instead of checking the website itself. Regardless, thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Am I just another Fred Hutchison? What would Richard Lindzen say?

Fred Hutchison is an idiot (no, that's not enough to answer the first question posed above) who thinks he's smarter than Darwin AND Einstein, and also thinks he's disproven the scientific consensus on global warming. But when I read his incredibly smarmy replay of how he supposedly out-debated scientists defending Einstein and global warming, I thought I saw a little of myself in his style. (I didn't bother reading the Einstein stuff; the global warming stuff was beyond ridiculous, and Belette refutes him here.)

The overlap between me and my man Fred comes in the form of Richard Lindzen, one of a very small number of respected climatologists that disagree with the consensus position on global warming. I have to concede from the outset that Lindzen knows more than I do about climate, and can even understand better than I can whatever comes out in the form of new research. Who am I to say that Lindzen is wrong? This is a relevant question to more people than just me - how is a high school graduate supposed to judge a Creationist lecturer who has a Master's degree in Biology?

This might not be too relevant to the science bloggers on my blogroll - they ARE the experts in their field. The rest of us need to consider it though.

I think there are several ways to judge someone with superior knowledge without being another Fred:

  • Judge the debate, not the analysis. While I can't refute Lindzen, Real Climate can. Even with just amateur knowledge of the issues, I think RC has nailed Lindzen to a post. While a little knowledge may be dangerous, a little more on top of that could be helpful. With that much, you can figure out who won the argument. For what it's worth, this is how the adversarial legal model works - judges aren't expected to become experts in the trial issues, but rather to know enough to judge which of the two expert lawyers at trial is correct.

  • A strong consensus means something - if 4 out 5 dentists recommend sugarless gum, do you go and stuff sugar into your mouth or not? Maybe that one single dentist or one climatologist is right, but the odds aren't looking good, and meanwhile we have to make a decision. This may not be a purely scientific response, but the real question is about what policy recommendations to make - do we teach Creationism in schools this year? Do we increase the gas tax? An expert consensus suggests which way to lean on these questions, and Lindzen is far outside of the mainstream.

  • Examine the experts for sincerity. Some years ago I attended a lecture by Steve Schneider where he showed a graph depicting top climatogists' "uncertainty range" for projected temperature changes. All of them had large uncertainty ranges, except for Lindzen. That unwarranted confidence completely undermined him in my eyes. The RC post linked above also showed arguments that Lindzen must have known and ignored in his presentations. If someone is hiding something, it's because his argument is weak.

All the above requires some knowledge of the field, but I think it's enough to allow an amateur to judge between experts. And, Dr. Lindzen, if you think I'm still just another Fred, please feel free to bet me over it.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Abortion different from ending pregnancy

William Saletan has an interesting Op-Ed in today's Washington Post, arguing that technology is making first-trimester abortions increasingly easy, while making people more ethically-troubled about second-trimester abortions. He suggests the great abortion debate could be mostly resolved by easy access to contraception and early-abortion methods, while later abortions become discouraged and rare.

I agree that the physical similarity of an older fetus to a baby will increasingly make a distinction in people's minds about the ethics of abortion in those cases, although what I think should really matter is brain function and development, not body shape. Technology could take this issue one step further though.

Saletan writes about how medical advances have pushed fetal viability to ever-earlier stages. A point he doesn't touch on is how this could ultimately solve the infringement of bodily autonomy, where women are forced to remain pregnant for the sake of the fetus. I think the day won't be that far away when women can end (abort) their pregnancies any time after the first twelve weeks without killing the fetus. Women then would retain bodily autonomy, but lose the right to kill the fetus after the fetus reaches a level of development where it's considered to have some innate moral value.

So the end result would have legalized abortion in the first trimester, and women would also have the right thereafter to end their pregnancy at any time, but not to kill the fetus. I expect this solution would have plenty of problems, not least of which is the expense and failure rate of the new technology, but it might be a significant improvement over the present.