23 April, 2010

Woozle and Mike Free-For-All Debate Thread

The never-ending debate appears to have not ended, and since I'm sometimes too distracted to moderate comments and yet completely unwilling to let spammers have their way, here ye go, gentlemen.

And because I sometimes like to bring up Mortal Kombat....


Woozle said...

Whilst waiting for tonight's main event, please feel free to partake of our delicious salad bar -- now featuring Republican Minced Words, Thinly-Sliced Dogma Meat, Talking Points Onna Stick, our unique Revisionist History Sauce (best when slathered thickly!), and our Chef's Special Extradition Burgers made with eleven herbs and spices at an undisclosed location and flown in by mercenaries in a black helicopter twice daily!

(P.S. Ye gods I hate WordPress. Thank you, Dana, for not using it.)

City Kid Farm said...

It's been a long time, Dana, but I saw this and all I could think of was you:


I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

Best to you and what makes you come alive!


Woozle said...

In response to this:

Mike, we were talking about pre-birth culling of "genetic traits" -- like eye color, hair color, height, gender -- not genetic disorders. Down syndrome is a disorder; kids born with it take a lot of extra love and attention to handle.

Do you support universal healthcare for kids born with developmental disorders, Mike?

Mike at The Big Stick said...

I support guarantted healthcare for all children. I wouldn't call it 'universal' because I believe if the parents have employer-provided coverage or can afford to purchase their own coverage they should, but for kids who don't have access to those, I support government-provided healthcare like S-chip. I would also be completely okay with a tax *gasp* increase to cover this. I would also support government subsisides of adoption which would make it free for the adoptive parents. So yeah, when it comes to kids, I put my money where my mouth is.

As for genetic traits verses disorders...one man's disorder is another's trait. I might think that having asthma is a drag. If they develop a test for that, should that be grounds for adoption? Or what about having a hard-to-match blood type?

Down Syndrome makes life harder for parents. So does ADD - should we cull the herd for that as well?

Mike at The Big Stick said...


"If they develop a test for that, should that be grounds for abortion?

Woozle said...

Okay, we can actually agree on your answer to the healthcare question. Congratulations.

Why stop with kids, though? What if parents are, through no fault of their own, out of work and hence can't afford regular insurance for themselves? --or simply not making enough money to afford any of the existing plans? What's insane about universal healthcare?

[M] "If they develop a test for that, should that be grounds for abortion?"

That's a sticky wicket for sure, but I don't think that its stickiness means you should just unilaterally try to simplify the problem by saying "no abortions solely to select against undesirable traits". That strikes me as stupid. Just because there's a grey area doesn't mean you can't draw one or more lines in it -- especially since you're probably making a worse ethical mistake by drawing the line outside the grey area altogether.

Note, though, that if the healthcare needs of children were to be fully covered -- including fostering and adoption, with appropriate levels of training -- then it wouldn't be as huge an issue for a parent to deal with.

This is where conservatives are fighting the battle from the wrong end: don't fight against abortion, which is currently the only available solution in many cases. Fight for the healthcare and family supports that would make it less tempting economically. (...and fight for the sex education that would make unwanted pregnancies happen less often -- but apparently that argument holds no water with you.)

Meanwhile, I would still argue that "the gift of life" is not an unqualified good. "The gift of life" is a lot like "the gift of a puppy": a wonderful thing on the face of it, but something many people aren't really prepared to take responsibility for, causing much regret later on (and I don't mean just the parents, but often the "life" itself). It takes a lot of investment to make things come out right. If the owner/parent isn't prepared to make that investment, then probably they shouldn't have a puppy (or a child). The decision to make the investment may depend heavily on the child's characteristics -- so the parent should certainly have the right to reject characteristics they don't think they can handle.

I'll be very interested to see the "pro-life" reaction to artificial wombs, when they finally become available, which would allow an abortion protester to assume full responsibility for a fetus at any time, rather than forcing the mother to fully gestate and give birth.

Mike at The Big Stick said...

While I think I agreed at some point in our earlier conversation that conservatives were wrong to not support sex ed, i do not accept the premise that it would reduce abortions significantly. over 60% of abortions are with women who have already had one abortion, meaning they didn't really figure it out the first time around when they had the best 'education' nature could provide. Another big chunk are to people who had used contraception previously. Again, they knew and chose to be less careful at a later date. I just don't agree that sex ed can approve upon that.

As for more healthcare, etc I don't think that would reduce things much either. At the end of the day most abortions are about running, not walking away from one's mistakes as fast as possible. The presence of healthcare and even safety nets isn't going to mitigate that.

I'm fine with whatever ideas you can come up with and government funding for them to allow unwanted children to live. That includes adoption and artificial wombs when they are available. The things is though, I REALLY believe these are red herrings liberals like to throw up. You keep raising the bar but at the end of the day you still want that quicky and easy out of abortion and you have no real interest in reducing access. You imply that if we do A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J and K then abortions will decrease but I just don't believe those can reduce the human tendency to do dumb things with regards to sex.

Woozle said...

Mike, you can believe whatever you want about the true motives of liberals, but unless you listen to what they say, you're never going to reach any kind of compromises.

And you can be as cynical as you want about people's motives, but until you actually do some experiments to see what actually happens, you're never going to make any progress towards solving social problems (such as abortion).

And you can believe all you want that sex ed doesn't reduce pregnancy rates, but I'm afraid you're arguing with reality: that's what the numbers show. When kids are taught sex ed, they get pregnant less. End of story.

But then, conservatism was never big on reality-based thinking; I guess you and reality will just have to agree to disagree with each other.

Mike at The Big Stick said...

So let's say you're right and sex ed works. Then how do you explain the 60% of abortion seekers that are repeats? I'd just like to hear your theories on that. no need to provide stats or data, just what comes to mind when you hear that.

Woozle said...

(Didn't we already have this conversation? No problem, we can get into more detail...)

First: What does the repeat abortion rate have to do with validating or invalidating any particular technique for reducing unwanted pregnancies (be that comprehensive sex ed, abstinence-based education, social shaming, or wishful thinking) unless there are some accompanying stats about which methods the abortion-seekers were exposed to?

Second: Wouldn't you think that if someone is having a second abortion, that means she didn't use contraception effectively -- and hence might need better education on how to do so?

(A little research reveals some rather more conclusive evidence -- but that's what came to mind before I did any.)

Mike at The Big Stick said...

First: If getting pregnant and being forced to have an abortion doesn't change behavior or educate the individual, I doubt a classroom will have more success. And when you dig into the details, Gutmachaer reports that many women getting abortions had used contraception correctly in the past.

What I am trying to get at here is this is a behavioral issue, not one of ignorance. You're implying that there are all of these potential abortion seekers sitting around scratching their heads and saying, "I thought the condom was supposed to go on my arm?" or something similar.

Woozle said...

You're conjecturing without evidence. Has anyone checked to see whether the repeat-abortion-seekers had even had sex ed in the first place? It would be just as reasonable to conclude that repeat abortion-seekers had been so "shamed" by abstinence-based "education" that they were trying to be "good", after committing the horrible sin of killing a small lump of protoplasm, and vowed henceforth to avoid any further contamination by sex ed or those sinful contraceptives.

The main thing I get from Guttmacher's paper on the subject is that repeat abortions haven't been studied enough, so it's hard to draw any firm conclusions about the causes.

It does, however, contradict your implication that first-time aborters don't change their behavior: "A study analyzing patterns of contraceptive use and prior abortions among patients seeking abortion in Minnesota suggested that contraceptive use improved after a first termination for many women: Contraceptive nonusers become users and users of less effective contraceptive methods adopt more effective ones."

They also say that anti-abortion activism is contributing to the problem: "The contentious politics of abortion and the culture wars associated with it have led to the isolation of abortion as a medical service and to the stigmatization of both abortion clients and providers. Indeed, particularly for young and low-income women among whom unintended pregnancy and recourse to abortion are especially common, state and federal government policies over the last 25 years have only exacerbated the situation, by consciously driving wedges between providers of publicly subsidized contraceptive services and facilities providing abortions."

That said, Guttmacher does say that the evidence seems pretty clear that a large proportion of abortions are accounted for by failure of properly-used contraceptives.

Your solutions to this, as I understand it, would be:

(1) abstinence-based education -- teach that abstinence is the best form of contraception, and that sex before marriage is shameful and should be stigmatized.

(2) encourage adoption (though I'm not sure what specfic methods you advocate for doing this)

(3) increase restrictions on abortion

The problems are that #1 and #3 don't work; if anything, unwanted pregnancy rates go up in regions where ABE is the primary form of sex ed, and countries which ban abortion do not seem to experience any reduction in abortions -- only an increase in mortality and birth defects.

I agree that we should be putting more resources into #2. I would also add that putting more resources into child welfare in general (health, food/clothing/shelter, education) would further tilt the balance when a pregnant woman is trying to decide whether or not to abort.

In summary: sex ed isn't a panacea, but it has proven to be clearly better than the alternatives. Why are we still debating this?

Woozle said...

Edit: I probably should have said "legalized abortion plus comprehensive sex education isn't a panacea...

The way to reduce abortions still further would be to more fully implement the "education" part of that pair; sex ed in public schools is still pathetic in much of the country. It's not a required subject in this state, for example, and it bloody well should be.

One of the main problems with the US is that we can barely get schools to teach accurate science even on subjects where the facts are crystal-clear and not in any serious dispute, like biology and geology -- so creationist BS gets equal time, and it's no wonder half the population doesn't know what it's talking about when biology is involved.

The truth has been kept from them so they can be manipulated into rebelling against the very things they need, while aiding and abetting the very "elites" they claim to be rebelling against.

Woozle said...

I found this article very interesting, in light of what we've just been discussing.

The part that I found interesting is where he argues that conservative views on marriage and sex are based on the assumption that one uneducated man can find work sufficient to support a family, if he applies himself and works hard.

This is, of course, less and less true, as we move beyond the Age of Automation and into the Information Economy -- but maybe what would help stabilize Red America, more than anything else, would be government policies to counter this trend and encourage the regrowth of those sorts of jobs.

One could argue that this was unnecessary make-work, but I don't think so; it seems to me that we're far too economically dependent on heavy automation -- said automation being (1) centrally-owned by soulless corporations who mostly don't give a damn about the welfare of the country, thus giving them way too much power over goods essential to everyone's well-being, (2) heavily dependent on imported energy, (3) destructive of many skills basic to a mechanized civilization, and to the culture which helps propagate them.

So... instead of subsidies for corn or milk, how about (say) subsidies which scale up (per acre) as farm acreage -- or factory size -- decreases? And maybe those "subsidies" can take the form of tax breaks or exemptions, which ought to help satisfy Red America's anti-tax sentiment into the bargain.

"More small, low-skill businesses -- for a more robust America."

Just a thought.

Mike at The Big Stick said...

I haven't had a chance to respond to your other two comments but I will tackle this last one. That red family, blue family thing has been a hot topic for the last couple of weeks. Several blogs I read have discussed it. To be honest, I don't know that any new info was presented and instead it seems like the author is just trying to take known observations and link them to political philosphies.

It's been understood for a long time that the marriage rate for middle and upper class folks stabilized in the 90s and has remained that way for close to 20 years (I thought I had writen something about it on my blog but I can't find it). Douthat and Salam covered this trend in great detail in their book Grand New Party. The fact is, educated people, of both political persuasions are smarter about marrying than their parents were and pick better mates. They also wait until later to marry and have kids and this means higher earning power which translates to less stress on their marriage.

If you want o make an observation about divorce rates and certain states it's much wiser to link it to poverty levels. Of course poverty levels can also be linked to political preferences to a certain degree but this is a much harder case to prove. The voting habits of minorities skew those results considerably.

Mike at The Big Stick said...


In reply to this comment of yours,

"The way to reduce abortions still further would be to more fully implement the "education" part of that pair; sex ed in public schools is still pathetic in much of the country. It's not a required subject in this state, for example, and it bloody well should be."

Is it your contention that the primary reason conservative states have a higher teen birth rate than liberal states is the lack of sex ed? Along the red/blue state divide, are there are other political/policy differences that might account for this difference in teen births?

Woozle said...

Re Mike comment #1:

I can't really disagree with what you said (although I'm not sure what you mean about another possible correlation being "wiser" than the one I was riffing from), but I think you were missing the point of my suggestion. I'll give a more succinct and explicit version here:

- Red American mores are based on the expectation of plentiful low-skill jobs
- Low-skill jobs are scarce now, and shrinking
- Red America is, consequently, falling apart
- This dissolution is one of the main sources of Red American rage (against liberalism, Obama, etc.)
- Many of those so-called "low-skill" jobs actually do require considerable knowledge which has been transmitted culturally rather than academically
- This dissolution is therefore bad for America as a whole (regardless of whether I happen to disagree with much of Red American morality) for two reasons: (1) because of the loss of that undervalued skill-subculture -- and (2) because of the resulting rage which is easily manipulated by powerful people and turned in harmful directions

- Solution: a serious revision of the US tax/subsidy structure to heavily favor businesses that are both small and actually produce or provide something of genuine value/utility (e.g. food, machinery, clothing, cell phones, houses, telecomm services, clothing repair...) at the expense of larger businesses and production of non-useful items (e.g. throw-away plastic toys, jewelry, cosmetics, tanning salons, cigarettes, luxuries, advertising/marketing, real estate agents...).

My thinking is that small, cottage industries are likely to employ more manual/"unskilled" labor per unit of value produced. This legislation would therefore produce more of those sorts of jobs (helping to restore stability to Red America) while also making all of America less dependent on the increasingly fragile "energy economy".

It could be argued that this is just "make work" -- paying people more to do things by hand which could be made more cheaply by machine -- but it specifically wouldn't even apply to useless products or services, and
we would gain the benefits of (1) economic resiliency and (2) energy independence. (If you're concerned about national security, #2 should be a very big priority.)

And it wouldn't cost the taxpayers a dime.

Re Mike comment #2:

[M] Is it your contention that the primary reason conservative states have a higher teen birth rate than liberal states is the lack of sex ed?

Close. I'm saying that's the primary change we could make which would help reduce the unwanted pregnancy rate in conservative states: better sex ed, preferably mandatory (so moralistic parents don't forbid their kids from attending).

There may be other causes that we can't easily/quickly/directly change, e.g. cultural mores against contraception.

[M] Along the red/blue state divide, are there are other political/policy differences that might account for this difference in teen births?

Yes, there certainly could be... availability of free contraception (e.g. for poor people, students), for example. I could be vague and say something like "policies which give kids things to do that are more interesting than making babies" or "policies which encourage women to think of themselves as being valuable in ways other than childbearing/rearing".

Off the top of my head, though, I can't point to any specific laws which might be having this effect.

Mike at The Big Stick said...

Re: Your response to Comment #2

I think you may want to reconsider your assesment. I recently did some digging on the numbers and they were...interesting.


If you look at the teen pregnancy rates for the US there is actually a clean 50/50 divide of red and blue states among the 20 states with the highest rate. In fact the top two are New Mexico and Nevada which were both blue states in 2008. So this immediately seems to contradict your assertion that that unwanted teen pregnancies are a specifically red state problem.

Also, you mention access to contraception. Here is the top 20 states with a need for more public funding of Family Planning Centers. This is the way it breaks down and the way they voted in 2008.

State % 2008 Election Results
Arizona 22 R
Nebraska 23 R
Ohio 25 D
Louisiana 25 R
Utah 25 R
Virginia 26 D
Michigan 27 D
Missouri 29 R
Hawaii 30 D
Illinois 30 D
Georgia 30 R
Kansas 30 R
Indiana 31 D
North Carolina 31 D
Florida 32 D
Nevada 32 D
Texas 32 R
Idaho 35 R
Maryland 37 D
Minnesota 37 D

Again, nearly a 50/50 split. So it's not that liberal programs are reducing teen pregnancies and liberals aren't doing a better job of funding Family Planning Centers...so why the liberal claims to more success on the Left? It must be the actual teen birth rate. As you'll see at the link i provided, this is mitigated by the liberal fondness for abortion with the top 20 states for abortion all being blue states. You guys aren't doing any better at preventing teen pregnancies, you're just doing a more thorough job of aborting them.

Woozle said...

First thing: nobody's talking about the rate of unwanted teen births. I don't know where Douthat's getting that from, but he's knocking down a straw man. This seems to be a common rhetorical technique on the right: find an irrelevant question which leads to answers you like, then ask the question as if it were significant -- and then proudly show the answers you had carefully framed your question to point towards.

What's currently under discussion is my assertion that sex education reduces unwanted pregnancies.

Your data is only relevant to this question if one assumes that there must be good sex education in any state which Obama won in 2008. Somehow, I don't think that's a fair assumption; let's dig up some numbers.

There are two factors I can think of which I would expect to help reduce the teen pregnancy rate (we'll look at "teen" instead of "unwanted" because the former seems to have more figures readily available and is more likely to be directly affected by grade-school education policy).

Those factors are:
* whether sex ed is mandatory (rather than something parents can opt their kids out of)
* whether the sex ed curriculum emphasizes proper contraceptive use (instead of abstinence, stigmatizing premarital sex, "pledging", etc.)

So I go to Guttmacher, and the very first thing I see on the home page is that "A new Guttmacher analysis examines the concerted action in several key policy areas that was at the core of California’s success, including the strong emphasis on providing teens with comprehensive sex education and the health care services and counseling they need to prevent pregnancy..."

Unfortunately, no numbers there -- so maybe Guttmacher is just falling for that liberal "smoke and mirrors" trick, for all their vaunted "analysis".

No matter -- it looks like this PDF provides a breakdown by state for both of my factors and then some, and this page (different site) has the teen pregnancy rate for each state.

Here's my spreadsheet, and here are the results I got:

In pregnancies per thousand:
* US mean: 66.6
* States w/ mandatory sex ed: 31.6
* If contraception is covered: 23.6
* If abstinence is covered: 45.4
* If abstinence is stressed: 29.5

Each of those is independent of the others, e.g. "abstinence is covered" may include some states where contraception is covered as well, and may include some states where sex ed is mandatory -- so what you're seeing is the effect of each possible policy.

Looks like stressing abstinence actually does almost as much good as contraceptive education; I need to take a closer look and see what happens when you combine those two...

...but it seems clear, at least, that mandatory sex ed and contraception-based sex ed are both highly effective. I may have been wrong about the negative effect of ABE, as long as it doesn't replace proper sex ed.

Woozle said...

Frack. Wait. Stop the presses. This is what I get for trying to do statistics in a hurry...

I should have noticed that some of the "averages" were lower than the lowest state figure... turns out I was counting non-qualifying states in each category as having a zero teen pregnancy rate.

<insert egg on face here>

Here are the new numbers I got after fixing that little problem:

mandatory: 70.1
contraceptives: 70.8
ABE-covered: 68.1
ABE-stressed: 68.3

...which tentatively supports your claim, i.e. educational policy makes no significant difference. All of those figures are slightly above the
national average.

Now I need to go read Guttmacher's analysis and figure out why they (and a lot of others) support my earlier claim...

Woozle said...

Okay, I've asked Guttmacher to state and defend their position on both of the points in question; we'll see what they come back with this time.

Mike at The Big Stick said...

Assuming my claim was correct and sex ed makes little or no difference in the teen pregnancy rate, this is the conversation I think we as a country need to be having. It's my assertion that the teen pregnancy rate is a cultural thing. Simply, teens today are a lot more active sexually than they were 50 years ago. That's going to result in more pregnancies. We can continue to debate ways to slow this down but you're fighting hormones and culture and that's a tough battle. If we look at how these pregnancies are dalt with it seems pretty clear that red and blue states have each chosen their preferred methods. So maybe we just need to dump lots of money for unwed mothers on red states and call it a day.

Dana Hunter said...

Let's move this somewhere unmoderated, shall we?