September 18th, 2005

Brad @ Burning Man

Gems from the Sunday NY Times: Abortion, Poverty, Space

What's an Abortion for Convenience? Somebody Else's Abortion. OK, that cynical remark doesn't appear in John Leland's excellent analysis piece in today's New York Times, "Under Din of Abortion Debate, an Experience Shared Quietly." But it probably should, because it's very similar to the attitude of so many people in that story. It's a detailed "day in the life" piece in the only abortion clinic in Little Rock, Arkansas. Leland makes the interesting point that, "Arkansas, which before Roe v. Wade had one of the nation's most liberal abortion laws, now has one of the most restrictive...." But aside from that fascinating observation, the really fascinating part is that nearly all of the women who got abortions that day were women who believed that abortion is sinful, but are doing it anyway. Some think it's sinful, but that their case is so special that it doesn't count (even though those cases, mostly involving poor planning or contraceptive behavior, mostly aren't that special). The rest aren't willing to wreck their lives in one way or another by carrying to term, so they went ahead and committed the sin, planning on asking their God for forgiveness.

If You Prop Up a Poor Place, Are You Being an Enabler? Daniel Altman provides an analysis piece unhelpfully headlined, "The Disaster Behind the Disaster: Poverty." The article has only the barest relationship to the hurricane, treating it only as a hook to raise the question: why are one in eight Americans legally poor, even after all this time and all these efforts to do anything about it? Then he makes an interesting distinction between people who are poor, many of whom slip into and then back out of poverty or who rise out of it within a generation or two, and places that are poor, and have been poor for generations. "Were these places always poor? Did they become collecting bowls for poor people? Or do they make people poor?" And he makes the interesting observation about intractable rural poverty, like in the Mississippi delta above New Orleans, or the "Four Corners" area in the desert southwest, or the part of the Appalachians that's in eastern Kentucky, that pretty much without exception rural poverty is intractable because it happens in places that just aren't particularly well suited to agriculture, but are too far out in the middle of nowhere now to attract offices or factories. You can train those people all you want, you can funnel all the money into their you want, but what jobs are going to be in a place like that? And in rust belt cities whose factories have gone overseas, you've got the same situation without even subsistence agriculture. His suggestion? Stop trying to get jobs into the poorest places in America; concentrate on training those people for jobs in places that still have jobs and then getting them out. It's an interesting idea, even if it's the kind of thinking that leads to the people who refuse to leave ending up living like the decayed denizens of Lovecraft's fictional village of Dunwich.

Gee, Why Didn't We Think of That Before? Oh, Yeah, We Did. William J. Broad, "White House Backs NASA Plan for Vehicles." Thank Prime. It looks like we've finally killed enough astronauts that the government is willing to go back to von Braun's original plan for the shuttle program, the one that I wrote about a couple of months ago. The new plan, assuming they can make the funding work, is to re-engineer the existing shuttle or something very like it to fly above, not beside, its boosters, and have that ready by 2012. In the meantime, give up on using the shuttle as a cargo hauler; use commercial rockets for now until NASA can start flying the next generation of big dumb boosters, disposable heavy cargo hauler rockets, around 2016. The plan is pure vintage 1950, and I mean that in a good way. If we're finally getting to the point where NASA, the White House, and Congress are willing to admit that the Carter-era shuttle just plain wasn't a good idea, that von Braun was right and the 1970s Congress was wrong, and that we shouldn't be flying any more than we absolutely have to, then thank Prime.