Wednesday, February 23, 2011


I think I’ll continue the tradition of posting something not-jerky on my blog every year on my birthday. It’ll be like a New Year’s resolution of being nice (which, like any resolution, won’t last more than a month), or a State of the Union speech (so someone is in charge of posting “YOU LIE” in the comments section).

It’s tempting to write this post as if it were a Christmas letter; I could easily put on the warm tone of reflection, recounting the many wonderful changes that have happened to me since my 28th birthday. I could also—as I am wont to do—rave about all of the things about this year have been the absolute best in their respective categories. I have a penchant for superlatives, and I imagine that my birthday posts would be as boring for you to read as they would be for me to write. Every year of my life—with 2 notable exceptions—has been better than the last. I won’t bother making it official by reminding you of that every February 24th. If you want the update on what I’ve done over the past year, I can copy and paste the paragraph from my family’s Christmas letter (which I also wrote). I’ll even attach some adorable pictures of my dogs in their Halloween costumes, if it would float your boat.

I once had an interview with Charles Stoddard, my old stake president. Rather than ask me any questions about school, work, or the weather, he started out by asking me what I did for fun; since everybody has to fulfill their duties, he reasoned, what defines us best is what we do when we don’t have to be doing anything. With that rationale in mind, here is a list of things that I’ve been doing for fun in the last year, and things I would recommend to you as well.

Five movies came out in theaters in the last year that I think are worth recommending:
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Easy A (so I like cheesy high-school flicks. Sue me)
Toy Story 3
How to Train Your Dragon

I watched 4 TV shows this year that I’d recommend to everybody, namely Pushing Daisies, Modern Family, Battlestar Gallactica, and The Tick. True Blood is trashy and crass, but is also great fun.

I also watched 3 non-documentary movies on Netflix that I think were worth recommending. I’d been hearing that they were good, but didn’t get around to them until just recently.

Mary and Max
Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog

As always, documentaries make up the bulk of the movies that I watch and would recommend. From best to least best, they are:

Collapse (you have to watch this one, not just listen to it. The subtext is told with the film work. )
Our Daily Bread (is the quietly spectacular German answer to the crappy American food documentaries like Food Inc. that I always complain about.)
Restrepo (up for an Oscar this year. I haven’t seen the others, but this one deserved a nomination)
The Great Happiness Space (as is almost always the case, my friend Lina deserves credit for finding this and passing it on to me.)
The Most Dangerous Man in America (not a brilliant art, but worth watching to frame the Wikileaks phenomenon)
Dogs Decoded: Nova (full of cool factoids and experiments.)
Capturing the Friedmans (depressing, but really well-made)
How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair (they really did a lot with very little on this one)
Blood in the Face (A movie with Michael Moore that doesn’t suck)
The Garden (warning: this will make you hate humanity)
The Union (worth watching, especially if you don’t yet believe that drug war needs to end)
Born Rich (Solidly made, but not life-changing)
Waiting for Armageddon (watch Jesus Camp instead, if you haven’t seen it. If you liked Jesus Camp, this one is worth watching.)
Atheism Tapes (these are good fodder for discussion, but aren’t intrinsically all that great. They’re a good starting point, but will leave you cold if you’re hoping for a complete argument or a refutation of specific points. Still, they’re short and worth listening to.)

I’d also recommend watching The Daily Show for kicks and giggles and reading The Economist for news, finding an Indian restaurant that sells Papdi Chaat, and watching Mitch Daniel’s speech from CPAC.

On food: my mother-in-law improved on the german pancakes recipes I’ve always used (she cooks hers with 1½ C. milk, 6 eggs, 1 C flour, salt, and vanilla and cooks it at 425, instead of 350. I’ve been experimenting with putting the brown sugar, apples, and pecans below the batter or above it and at various stages of cooking, but still haven’t found something worth passing on yet), I’ve started making Nutella gelato, and have started cooking my own dog food as well. If you have a picky dog, shoot me an e-mail and I’ll forward along the recipes my friend Megan sent me that I’ve been using.

Oh, and documentary recommendations make excellent birthday gifts.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


One of the most common questions people ask me is whether I think abortion should be legal. Although I’ve recently read some great argumentation on both sides of the debate, it has either been too simplistic or too long to pass off as my own opinion. I will try and be concise with my opinion, but will answer any more nuanced arguments or questions any of you may have. Some of my positions have recently changed, so I’d be curious to know what those of you think who I’ve debated with previously.

I believe that a pregnant woman should have sole discretion and absolute authority in determining whether to abort a fetus or to carry it to term. This right is derivative of the fact that no other person beside the mother and no current technology can provide life to a growing fetus. The right to control one’s own bodily resources holds, even if we consider a zygote a full human, as I will attempt to show. Although this caveat will make more sense later, this paradigm does not justify partial-birth abortions, and I do support laws banning that practice.

Although I do not believe that a zygote should be considered a full-blown human, my position on abortion is not contingent upon this definition. For purposes of my explanation, I will consider zygotes as humans, possessing all rights and privileges that any other human has.

Living in Chicago, I am frequently asked for money by beggars. I often don’t carry much cash (after having been mugged), but I usually give any spare coins I have in my pockets. I take it for granted, however, that I am not legally required to give, no matter how desperately the person asking me needs the money. Even if, for example, I alone had the power to save the life of a fellow human being, I would submit that only a terrible law would mandate that I actually do so. If my freedom to withhold spare change is guaranteed, it should go without saying that my right to keep both of my kidneys—and let’s face it, almost any of us could save a life right now by donating our extra kidney—goes without saying. We can argue all day about whether it’s moral or ethical to refrain from giving, but no brightline of ethicalness exists which should suddenly trump legal rights. What if, for example, you could save 100 lives by killing an innocent person and sharing out their organs to those who need them? Should it be legal to do so? What number of lives would justify such a killing?

I would submit that the freedom to deny an unborn child the right to life is equally absolute as the right to keep both kidneys.

I have heard many compelling arguments which attempt to define the rights of a child based on the intentions and responsibility the mother showed in beginning the pregnancy. A woman who is raped, for example, would have more rights to abort than a woman who willingly practiced unprotected sex. A full gamut of responsibilities and regulations may exist based on the intentions of the mother, the actions she took, and her level of knowledge about the risks she was taking. Although these arguments make logical and legal sense to me, I personally think they are too fraught and complex to be useful or practicable.

In keeping with my philosophy of radical choice, I think that the woman should also have the unabridged right to determine whether the life within her should legally be protected as a human or not. If a woman is planning on carrying a fetus to term, someone who purposely causes her to lose her pregnancy could be responsible for manslaughter. That, ultimately, should be her choice, however, and not merely a function of statute.

If I woman decides that she no longer wants to carry a child at a point when it could survive without her, she should only have the right to induce parturition or have a C-section. If the child can and does survive after separation, she would have no more right to kill it than she would to kill you or me. If giving birth or even having a C-section would prove an unreasonable danger to the mother, more radical abortive procedures would be justified under the same laws that allow for killing another person in the name of self-defense. Again, even considering the fetus fully human does not change this.

I don’t mean to imply in any way that discussing rights is somehow simplistic or clean. Should fathers have a legal right to veto an abortion, since the baby is genetically half his? What about the state’s vested interest in having more children? Although I firmly believe that a woman’s right to control what she does with her own body is a more fundamental right than either of these, I can understand how others—especially those who believe that a fetus has an immortal soul—might weigh another set of rights above a woman’s right to bodily autonomy. I ask only 2 points of consideration from those who want to discuss abortion:

First, allow each person to define their own advocacy. It’s rhetorically effective to demonize your opponent and define for them what they believe—“you are pro-life because you hate women” or “you enjoy killing babies so you’re pro-choice”—but it’s not accurate or helpful in any way. Just because it’s harder to actually engage your opponent than it is to make things up about what you assume they believe, it doesn’t make it honest or responsible to do so.

Second, try to define exactly what you think should be done on a policy level, and be ready to discuss the implications from the extreme cases. If you believe that every fetus deserves the right to be born, do you believe that we should mandate that all fetuses in IVF clinic freezers be implanted in women so they have the chance to be born? How, if at all, do the circumstances surrounding conception define the rights of women or fetuses? What are the disadvantages of allowing unfettered and absolute access to abortions? Should pro-life medical professionals be exempt from performing abortions? What about when the life of the mother is in serious danger?

As with almost any topic, 1000 words doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of what could be said. I’ve promised myself that I’d only spend 2 train rides on this topic, however, so I’m going to leave it at this. Cheers.