Friday, February 10, 2012

Wait, what's an issue again?

I've been trying all morning to compose a post about this new Catholic Contraception controversy. I'm tired (mostly for other reasons) and angry*, and failing to come up with something witty. So I'll just put up some links.

NPR had a nice piece on the history and legal issues surrounding women's right to the pill.

Rachel Maddow is, as usual, brilliant. Amish bus driver?

Obama's going to be announcing a change in his proposal in less than an hour. I don't understand the details of the change fully, but it'll be interesting.

*I'd taken it for granted that access to good contraception was a right won for me by my foremothers. I never thought this would actually be an issue again in my day, in the privileged parts of the country I live in.

Me: We have a lot of work to do.
Epsilon: No. Someone else work.


  1. ARRRRRRGH. From the WaPo article I read, it sounds like it won't make a practical difference because insurance companies will be required to provide an opt-in no-cost rider that allows birth control, but I have no idea what the paperwork burden will be to get this.

    I've seen people suggest on Facebook that a fairer way to do this would be to allow religiously affiliated institutions THAT DO NOT GET FEDERAL FUNDS to not provide this, but I guess even that is too much strong-arming war against religion.


  2. Huh, I hadn't thought about the paperwork cost. The time cost to gain access is just as important a consideration as the fiscal cost to gain access.

    I worry about the precedent that "no federal funds" sets for other discrimination issues (feel free to prove me wrong with precedent).

  3. As I read from someone on facebook, the places that don't wish to provide free contraception should be forced to provide fully paid, reasonable long, maternity leave to all their birth-giving employees (and fully paid parental leave to everyone who welcomes a child into their core family, but that's another story). It's only fair...

  4. I truly hate to speak up about domestic issues of a foreign country, so I will only point out the underlying universal principle.

    People have a right to their life and property.
    Do people really have a right to the services of someone else? Along with access to good contraception, should people have a right to good transportation, good houses, tasty food? Airplanes were created by private individuals. If you want to ride them, buy the tickets. Just because you think air travel would make your life easier, is it fair to demand someone else pay for your air travels?

  5. @ mocklion. The way I see it: there are two lists. List A: reasonable transportation, safe houses, healthy food. List B: good transportation, good houses, tasty food. I put contraception on list A and planes on list B.

  6. @mathgirl

    Both the items in List A and List B are created by the services of someone else.

    1) The first question we should ask is whether one person can be entitled to the services of another.

    2) The second issue is this: in order for something to be considered a right, it must be universal. What is fair pay, reasonable transport, decent shelter or healthy food? Would you demand that Zambia require all its employers to pay $8 an hour or Zambia to ban all food that is not healthy by Canadian standards? Probably not; such a move would close all Zambian industries and ban almost all food in Zambia. Thus, what you are really saying is that a Canadian should have more rights than a Zambian; a position I find to be morally indefensible.

  7. Mocklion, we tried having this debate several months ago, and you kept changing the subject and not actually engaging. So I'll tell you once more what I was trying to say then. Yes, one would ideally like to work towards a world where _everyone_ has a right to live safely. That includes things like healthy food, safe housing, health care, and a few other things, most of which are listed on the Declaration of Human rights. Creating this situation is not as easy as solving a math problem, and the complications are almost literally boundless. When you are ready to come to the table and actually discuss the issue, you are welcome to do so with me privately, or on this blog. Until then, please stop trolling.

  8. Barefoot, you're right it sets a dangerous precedent for discrimination being okay. I had seen it discussed more as a "put your money where your mouth is" ultimatum that I don't think hospitals or churches would have been willing to take.

  9. Yes, Barefoot, Zambians are an inconvenient example, because what you really want is equality with those who are better off than you.

    I tried to show how you can distinguish made up rights like birth control from fundamental rights like life. Only the left could say that a person has a right to birth control, something that didnt exist few decades ago.

    Since science will probably discover a lot more things that make life better in coming years, I wonder what other latent rights remain undiscovered. Let your imagination run wild :)

  10. Antisocial ScientistFebruary 12, 2012 at 3:57 PM

    Mocklion, I think I am confused by the distinction you are making between the right to life and the right to health care. As far as I can tell, both of them require enforcement, and therefore someone's actions (as contracted out by the government) if they are to mean anything.

    Following your definitions should I understand that you think there is no right to not being extorted by the police because in some parts of the world they are horribly corrupt? Similarly, my conception of the right to property includes recourse to courts if someone unlawfully alienates me from my property. Would you also consider this to be an indefensible claim on other people's services?

    This has stayed quite nicely civil for an anonymous discussion on the internet, and I am not trying to argue against a straw man interpretation of your position, so if I misrepresenting you please let me know.

  11. @Antisocial scientist.

    Thank you for this question. Extortion by corrupt policemen involves FORCE. If someone takes your property or breaches a voluntarily made contract, of course your rights have been violated. You own your rights and you are absolutely entitled to your rights.

    Here's the difference. The government does not have to TAKE from someone in order to GIVE you free speech or your life or your property. This is different from when you want the government to TAKE money from your employer and GIVE you birth control.

    And remember, there are many things science will yet discover that will make life easier. 100 years later, people like you might feel "entitled" to some of them. Isnt it paradoxical that we are having our rights violated by our employers simply because we live in 2012 and not 2112? Think of 3012!! Can you imagine the billions of so called rights that are being violated??

  12. Antisocial ScientistFebruary 13, 2012 at 10:10 AM

    I think my confusion here comes from the question of whether a right without a possible means of enforcement means anything.

    My understanding of a right to property includes an implicit claim on the labour of police and judges. Plus the physical building of such buildings as courts and prisons which can be expensive to build and operate. The state raises taxes and contracts with individuals to provide these services.

    How is this different than a right to health, which is implemented by the state by raising taxes and using it to pay doctors and build hospitals? In both cases there is a right whose implementation requires capital and labour expenses which must be paid for somehow.

    Or does the right to property as you envision it not include a right to recourse? If I have a right to not be extorted, but there is nowhere to turn to, what does that right mean?

  13. Antisocial scientist, the public employs the police to protect rights. It IS different from healthcare, because healthcare is NOT a right. Sure, you may WANT the state to contract out people for healthcare, but its not a state function.

    If healthcare were a right, the definition of what is reasonable healthcare would not vary so massively between America and Burkina Faso, nor vary every 5 years.

    Rights must be taken very seriously and written in stone. Your underlying principle for defining rihts seems to be: whatever I feel I deserve. No wonder the list varies all the time.

    And precisely because rights have to enforced by public money, it is all the more important to keep rights to the mere basics: life, expression, property, etc. Because, remember that a democracy simply means the majority is allowed to decide how to spend money collected from the minority. As such, the list of causes on which the state is allowed to spend money, i.e., the protection of rights, must be as restrictive as possible. To include healthcare, the definition of which varies widely by year and country is crazy.

  14. Antisocial ScientistFebruary 14, 2012 at 9:00 AM


    In your first two comments on this thread, it looked like you identified a call on someone else's services as being inconsistent with something being a right. It looks like you are now shifting to an immutability argument. I think this is also problematic.

    250 years ago, not a single government in the world recognized a right to freedom of expression. Now we think there is a general right to freedom of expression

    150 years ago we recognized property rights over human beings. Now we think that slavery violates a fundamental right to self-determination.

    50 years ago in most places in the world women never achieved legal majority. Now we consider right to contract to implicitly include women as well as men.

    Rights and their interpretations vary across countries too. The interpretation of freedom of the press is much wider in some countries (e.g. Cape Verde or Switzerland) than in others (Italy or the Central African Republic). Would you argue that either the former pair is giving their journalists more freedom than they have a right to or the latter pair is restricting them unfairly?

    If we accept that the rights above changed over time and are interpreted differently over space then why isn't it equally plausible for the right to life expand as we increase in medical knowledge and and capacity? (And tighten, too. At some point in the past the right to life probably included a right not to be hexed by a witch. I would not interpret that as part of the right to life today.)

  15. Antisocial scientist, the public does have a right to the services of the employees it pays for. LOL! I thought that was implied. You have chosen to conflate the following:
    1. The right to services of the police to protect my rights.
    2. The right to pick up people and forcibly employ them in the police and make them
    protect my rights.

    One of them is morally justified and the other is not. Can you guess which?

    As I mentioned, you must take rights seriously. This doesn't mean they can never ever change, but your list of rights is way too fluid to be taken seriously. Each time you call something a right, notice that you must use a government to enforce it and that will involve spending other people's money. Thats why you cant just make up rights.

    People in Libya didnt have free speech because they had a tyrannical dictator. No, Libya didnt have a "different interpretation" of free speech, it had a tyranny.

    Take something like minimum wage of $8/hour. Is it because of tyranny that people in Libya cannot often earn $8/hour? No, its because they lack the machines/skills to produce at least $8/hr. Would you say people of Libya do not have the intellectual capacity to exercise free speech?

    Try this thought experiment: If you were President of Libya, which of these (or both or neither) bill would you sign into law:
    A. Free speech for all Libyans
    B. At least $8/hour for all Libyan workers.

    See how a fake right can be distinguished from a real one?

  16. Antisocial ScientistFebruary 15, 2012 at 9:17 AM

    So, I don't know whether anyone is still reading this comment thread, or whether I hope they are or aren't.

    You started with a claim that a right can't include a claim on the services of another, but you have agreed that it can include the right to have the government tax, purchase services, and then provide them without fees. As long as doctors aren't being picked up off the street and forced to work, I think we can agree that along this axis the following two statements are equivalent:

    1) There is a right to life which the government implements by hiring police to keep jerks from sneaking into my hearth and killing me

    2) There is a right to life which the government implements by hiring doctors to keep germs from sneaking into my heart and killing me.

    Moving on the your second point, that of rights (and their interpretations, which is really what most of the discussion is over) being set in stone. This involves a temporal and a geographical component.

    You have agreed that some change temporally is okay. In the UK, for instance, the representation of the people act has been amended on average more than once a decade. Does this frequency of change mean that the right of people to choose their own government is not really a right? Or if this is an acceptable frequency, what is the cutoff for frequency of change? Was there a 5 year period in the past 175 years when the British had it right and neither created fake rights nor failed to provide the right of representation?

    Similarly, I gave examples of 4 countries which interpret freedom of the press differently. You discussed Libya for reasons I do not fully understand. If the argument is that there can be no different but valid interpretations, which of Switzerland, Cape Verde, Italy, and the Central African Republic are too lenient (and thus have created what you term false rights) and which are too strict (and therefore don't guarantee rights)? If the reason for bringing up Libya is to argue that while different places can interpret the same right very differently, there are some limits on how wide of a range is acceptable then I agree with you.

    Right now it looks like you started with a conclusion, "health care is not a right," and created a moving set of justifications rather than starting with a set of axioms and discovering what they implied. If this is not the case, can you be more explicit about what _exactly_ you assume makes something a right (or covered in the penumbra of a right) and what does not?

  17. First, why dont you answer my question, Antisocial scientist? If you were president of Libya, which of these (or both or neither) bill would you sign into law:
    A. Free speech for all Libyans
    B. At least $8/hour for all Libyan workers.

    I have answered quite a few questions of yours, you owe me one answer, perhaps?

    You mentioned abolition of slavery, free speech etc. With each of these rights came the realization that all people should have it everywhere and at all times. Previous generations that didn't enjoy those rights are considered victims. The key is that we agree that the rights themselves always existed and one could point to a king, tyrant, slavemaster, etc and claim he took the rights away. Moreover, it doesnt matter who is enslaved in which country today, we consider all slaves to be victims of oppression.

    Does the same apply to birth control, minimum wage, etc? Would you say that women in the 12th century were deprived of the right to birth control pills? Who was the tyrant that took away their right? Would you call employers in Zambia who pay less than $8/hr a tyrants?

    I believe in a limited state that enforces a
    small, precisely defined universally agreed set of rights. Because that mere enforcement requires public money, you jump and claim that I must accept a nanny state that provides birth control and healthcare, etc, etc.

    This form of argument sounds familiar.

    Did you know there are some steps in the Big Bang theory that are not completely understood? Clearly, this means we have no alternative but to accept the account of creation in the Bible.

  18. Antisocial scientist: Let us consider the two statements you consider equivalent

    1) There is a right to life which the government implements by hiring police to keep jerks from sneaking into my hearth and killing me

    2) There is a right to life which the government implements by hiring doctors to keep germs from sneaking into my heart and killing me.

    Would you agree that violation of rights is a crime? In order to have a crime, surely we must have a criminal. I would love to know who the criminal is in Case 2, i.e. when germs sneak into my body to kill me.

  19. Antisocial ScientistFebruary 16, 2012 at 10:39 AM

    I think I see a clear point of disagreement here.

    I do not think every violation of rights is a crime. Equivalently, here are plenty of non-criminal acts that I think are violations of rights.

    Trespassing, which is not a crime, can contribute to the erosion of a right to property.

    A law against speaking French would be a violation of rights, even though there would be no crime committed.

    The right to contract implies enforcement of contracts. Breach of contract is not a crime.

    However, if there can be no rights in the civil sphere I think we have found an axiom we disagree on and can see part of how we could reach different conclusions.

  20. Antisocial scientist, you have already made progress by admitting that healthcare is not a right in itself, but you see it merely as an act of the state enforcing your right to life.

    The role of the state is to prevent/punish the violation of the rights of one legal person by another. The existence of an offender and a victim is paramount if we are to say that a right has been violated.

    A mere incapacity to exercise a right does not mean the
    right has been violated. If a person is born mute, it does not mean his right to free speech has been violated. Similarly, if I fall sick, it does not mean my right to life is being violated.

    I also have a right to give my friend a $100 birthday present. But what if I dont have $100 to spare? Does my mere incapacity to buy a $100 present violate my right and therefore require the govt to step in and buy my friend a $100 present?

    Also, you say that you see healthcare as a way of enforcing the right to life. As such, I would be very interested to know how you feel about healthcare for a clearly non-lethal condition, such as a broken leg.