Blackadder’s Lair

The home of many a cunning plan

Thirty-Six Years On

Today is the thirty-sixth anniversary of Roe v. Wade. I feel like I should write something about it, but I don’t really have the words. Every time I try all that comes to my mind is the line from that old Neil Young song: That’s one more kid that’ll never go to school, never get to fall in love, never get to be cool.

Keep on rockin’ in the free world.

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January 22, 2009 Posted by | Abortion, America | Leave a comment

Rules for Radicals

During last year’s election, much was made, both positively and negatively, of Barack Obama’s past work as a community organizer. Obama himself highlighted his community organizing, drawing parallels between his time organizing in Chicago and his hopes as a potential President. Others were more critical.

To learn more about the history of community organizing, I decided to read Saul Alinsky’s book Rules for Radicals. Continue reading

January 20, 2009 Posted by | America, Democracy, Politics | 46 Comments

Happy Repeal Day!

Seventy five years ago today, a great injustice was ended when Utah became the 36th state to ratify the Twenty-First Amendment, thus ending Prohibition. In honor of this glorious event, here is an excerpt from the book The Bad Catholic’s Guide to Wine, Whiskey, and Song on how some Napa Valley wineries managed to weather the storm of Prohibition: Continue reading

December 5, 2008 Posted by | America, History | Leave a comment

The Economic Lesson of Thanksgiving

In 1620 Plymouth Plantation was founded with a system of communal property rights. Food and supplies were held in common and then distributed based on equality and need as determined by Plantation officials. People received the same rations whether or not they contributed to producing the food, and residents were forbidden from producing their own food. Governor William Bradford, in his 1647 history, Of Plymouth Plantation, wrote that this system was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort. The problem was that young men, that were most able and fit for labour, did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children without any recompense. Because of the poor incentives, little food was produced.

Faced with potential starvation in the spring of 1623, the colony decided to implement a new economic system. Every family was assigned a private parcel of land. They could then keep all they grew for themselves, but now they alone were responsible for feeding themselves. While not a complete private property system, the move away from communal ownership had dramatic results. Continue reading

November 27, 2008 Posted by | America, Economics, History | 1 Comment

I am the State, the State is Me

A few days back, as is often the case, folks were arguing in the Vox Nova comboxes about abortion, and the question arose of whether legal protection for the unborn or a minimization of the number of abortions ought to be the primary goal of the pro-life movement. Zippy spoke in favor of the former and stated his case thusly:

The illegality of murder is more paramount. If there were a law sanctioning the murder black people, it would be more important to eliminate that legal sanction than to decrease the number of murders. One is a question of basic justice, while the other is merely a matter of what it is possible to achieve as a practical matter.

As so often happens when reading Zippy, when I read the above I had, simultaniously, two seemingly mutually incompatible thoughts:

1) what this guy is saying is absolutely nuts; and

2) he kind of has a point. Continue reading

November 16, 2008 Posted by | Abortion, America, Democracy, Government, Law | Leave a comment

The Politics of Alfred E. Smith

On Thursday, the presidential candidates for both of the two major parties appeared at the Al Smith Dinner, an annual fundraiser for Catholic Charities which has been a frequent election campaign stop for presidential hopefuls since Kennedy and Nixon appeared there in 1960. The speeches given by the candidates at the Al Smith Dinner are, by tradition, supposed to be funny, and this year the candidates did not disappoint (video of both speeches can be found here). Both Senator Obama and Senator McCain showed themselves to be quite capable of poking fun at their opponents and at themselves which was, I think, all to the good.

One line in particular, though, struck me as odd. During his remarks, Senator Obama stated that he “shared the politics of Alfred E. Smith and the ears of Alfred E. Newman.” Now, obviously, the worst thing you can do with a joke is overanalyze it, but I had to wonder: exactly what were the politics that Barack Obama thought he had in common with Al Smith? Continue reading

October 18, 2008 Posted by | America, Catholicism, Election, History, Politics | 1 Comment

Fair Weather Voting

Voter turn out tends to be lower in the United States than in many other developed countries, and tends to be lower in the United States today than it was in previous generations. For some, this is cause for concern, a sign that American democracy isn’t working as it should. Me, not so much. If you consider that one big motivator for voting is fear about what will happen if the wrong guy gets elected, the fact that voter turnout is lower in places like the United States and Switzerland than in other places may be a sign of the strength of our system of government, rather than a signal of its decay. It’s probably also the case that the idiosyncrasies of America’s system of government – we hold elections every two years, but only elect our President every four years – might tend to skew the result (As for why turnout might be lower now than it was prior to 1972, see here).

Until recently, I had thought that there might be another factor serving to drive voter turnout lower than what it otherwise would be: the electoral college. As Al Gore supporters know all too well, the winner in a presidential election is determined not by who wins the popular vote, but by who gets the most votes in the electoral college. In every Presidential races, there are only a small number of “swing states” that actually could be won by one candidate or the other. Most states, particularly in recent times, are “safe,” which is to say that the winner of the popular vote in that state is fairly certain. We might expect, therefore, that turnout would be higher in swing states (where people think that there votes might matter) than in safe states (where the outcome of the election is known in advance) and that this might serve to make total voter turnout lower than it otherwise would be. Continue reading

August 23, 2008 Posted by | America, Global Warming, Statistics, Voting | Leave a comment

Can A Higher Infant Mortality Rate Be A Good Thing?

You wouldn’t think so. The death of a newborn child is a tragedy, and the fact that the United States has a higher infant mortality rate than other developed countries is often cited as a serious failing of America’s health care system. But according to Dr. Linda Halderman, the higher U.S. rate is due in part to the fact that we try to save the lives of more infants than do other countries:

Low birth weight infants are not counted against the “live birth” statistics for many countries reporting low infant mortality rates.

According to the way statistics are calculated in Canada, Germany, and Austria, a premature baby weighing <500g is not considered a living child.

But in the U.S., such very low birth weight babies are considered live births. The mortality rate of such babies — considered “unsalvageable” outside of the U.S. and therefore never alive — is extraordinarily high; up to 869 per 1,000 in the first month of life alone. This skews U.S. infant mortality statistics.

Norway boasts one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world. But when the main determinant of mortality — weight at birth — is factored in, Norway has no better survival rates than the United States.

Continue reading

August 22, 2008 Posted by | America, Children, Health Care, Statistics | 3 Comments

On the Atomic Bombings of Japan II

Today is the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. On the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, I posted the first part of what was going to be a debate last year between myself and Shawn of the blog Rerum Novarum on the morality of the bombings. Prior to the debate, Shawn and I agreed that the atomic bombings would be justified only if two conditions were met:

1) the bombings did not involve the intentional targeting of noncombatants; and

2) the bombings saved lives, that is, any alternative course of action would have resulted in even greater loss of life.

In my previous post, I argued that the first condition was not met. In this post, I argue that the second condition also was not met. Prior to the debate, Shawn had argued that the second condition, proportionality, had been met by the bombings, and had cited in support some figures on the high number of casualties (both American and Japanese) that could have resulted from a land invasion of Japan. I responded as follows: Continue reading

August 9, 2008 Posted by | America, History, Just Wage, Morality, Nuclear Weapons, War and Peace | 17 Comments

On the Atomic Bombings of Japan I

A little over a year ago, Shawn of the blog Rerum Novarum issued a challenge to Catholics to debate him on the morality of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the close of WWII (he was pro). I accepted the challenge, and we emailed back and forth about logistics, and I prepared an initial post setting out the against side of the question. Unfortunately the proposed debate never ended up happening, for reasons that I won’t go into now.

Since today is the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, I thought I would post what would have been my initial contribution to the debate. As it is rather long, I have broken it up into two parts. During our email exchange, Shawn and I had agreed that, in order for the bombings to be justified from a Catholic perspective, it had to be the case both that:

1) the bombings did not involve the intentional targeting of civilians; and

2) the bombings saved lives, that is, any alternative course of action would have resulted in even greater loss of life.

This post addresses the first condition, and argues that the bombings did, in fact, involve the intentional targeting of civilians. In the second part, I will argue that the second condition, proportionality, was also not met. Continue reading

August 6, 2008 Posted by | America, History, Just War, Morality, Nuclear Weapons, War and Peace | 6 Comments