Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Sunday, November 27, 2005
Under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, in force since 1970:
Five states are permitted by the NPT to own nuclear weapons: the United States (signed 1968), United Kingdom (1968), France (1992), Soviet Union (1968; obligations and rights assumed by Russia), and the People's Republic of China (1992). These were the only states possessing such weapons at that time, and are also the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. These 5 Nuclear Weapons States (NWS) agree not to transfer nuclear weapons technology to other states, and the non-NWS state parties agree not to seek to develop nuclear weapons.
The 5 NWS parties have made undertakings not to use their nuclear weapons against a non-NWS party except in response to a nuclear attack, or a conventional attack in alliance with a Nuclear Weapons State. However, these undertakings have not been incorporated formally into the treaty, and the exact details have varied over time. The United States, for instance, has indicated that it may use nuclear weapons in an unprovoked attack on "rogue states".
The United States has also provided nuclear weapons to five additional NATO countries, a practice argued to be illegal under the treaty by many other states.
India, Pakistan, and Israel declined to sign the treaty, arguing that:
[T]he NPT creates a club of "nuclear haves" and a larger group of "nuclear have-nots" by restricting the legal possession of nuclear weapons to those states that tested them before 1967, but the treaty never explains on what ethical grounds such a distinction is valid.
North Korea and Iran, originally signatories to the treaty, appear to have come around to the non-signatories' thinking. North Korea withdrew from the treaty in 2003 and in 2005 announced it possessed nuclear weapons. Iran is still a signatory to the treaty but wants to manage its own nuclear power program without interference from what it perceives as a hostile West. Iran's proximity to Israel -- a non-signatory nuclear power that Iran perceives as a potential threat -- contributes to Iran's desire to be able to defend itself in like kind if need be.
"The Israelis were the first who introduced nuclear weapons in the Middle East and they have huge weapon of mass destruction which is very dangerous and [the] U.S.A. does not talk about that," said one Iranian interviewed by FOX News.
But the U.S. government said the two situations can not be compared.
"There is no comparison between the policies of the government of Israel and the policies of the government of Iran," said Nicholas Burns, undersecretary for political affairs at the State Department. "Israel is a democratic, law-abiding state, a country that time and again has indicated its interest in general peace in the Middle East. Iran is an outlaw state."
Mr. Burns' description of Israel overlooks that country's pre-emptive military strikes and other excessses in the region; and his characterization of Iran sounds like propaganda for another attempt at regime change in the Middle East. Thankfully, the American people are awakening to the executive branch's tendency to label regimes as enemies, demonize them, and drag us into armed hostilities against them preemptively.
Tens of thousands of American troops still based in South Korea more than fifty years after the Korean War continue to aggravate North Korea's security concerns. It's time for our troops to come home and to bring China into negotiations, not just to deal with North Korea's nuclear capability but also to provide for lasting peace on the entire peninsula.
Further pressure on Iran not to join the nuclear weapons club, without successful pressure on Israel to give up its nukes, is unlikely to succeed and unlikely to promote peace in the Middle East.
The cat is too far out of the bag for the "haves" to deny nuclear technology for the rest of history to nations whose resources and self-defense concerns lead them to want to join the nuclear club. We must find other ways to achieve peace between all peoples, such as more disarmament -- as urged by most countries party to the treaty -- and by settling -- through concerted multinational influence -- the territorial conflicts that still linger as results of a century of war.
"India must not allow itself to be dragooned into joining the Washington-led nuclear lynch mob against Iran," The Hindu, one of India's most influential newspapers, cautioned Thursday. "Aside from the lack of any legal basis for threatening Iran with sanctions, India should consider what the U.S. pressure on Tehran will do to international oil prices as well as to the overall security scenario in West Asia."
UPDATE: It's the Regime, Stupid
We need to reorient our strategy. Our justifiable fixation on preventing Iran from getting the bomb has somehow kept us from pursuing a more fundamental and more essential goal: political change in Iran. We need to start supporting liberal and democratic change for an Iranian population that we know seeks both.
UPDATE: Cato Institute: Dubious Assumptions about Iran
UPDATE: How to Regulate Nuclear Weapons
If undertaken without formal Congressional declaration, it would be unconstitutional and merit the impeachment of the president.
Friday, November 25, 2005
Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet stages an old Italian tale of an attempt to arrange the marriage of 13-year-old Juliet, who instead falls in love with Romeo. The ensuing conflict with a family member and the disappointed suitor results in three homicides and the suicides of both the young lovers.
In the 1981 Brooke Shields vehicle Endless Love, permissive parents allow their 15-year-old daughter to have a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old boy until the girl's father insists on a cooling-off period. The boy burns the family's home, gets committed to a mental hospital, but re-enters the girl's life upon release. The father intervenes but gets run over and killed; the boy gets sent to prison.
If you want to see a real horror film, forget monster movies and watch Thirteen, the nightmarish 2003 saga of a single mother whose seventh-grader gets involved in promiscuous sex and drug use.
Families in many early civilized societies dealt with the onset of puberty in their female children by arranging marriages for them with acceptable males, to channel their daughters' newfound sexuality into safe conventional behavior; but almost all modern societies have now ceded mate selection to romance.
However, there is a disconnect in modern societies between the age of majority -- at which age parents are no longer legally responsible for their children and can no longer legally control them -- and the age of sexual maturity, for which nature sets an earlier date. In fact, the average age of menarche in the United States is about 12 years and 8 months.
What happens during the five-to-six-year gap between sexual and legal maturity?
Endless Love explored condoning teenage sex in the context of romantic love, while Thirteen portrayed the newer phenomenon of unromantic, promiscuous teen sex. In either case, the risks of venereal disease, pregnancy, and obsession are real.
What tools do parents and society have to make the current system work?
A good upbringing is surely a help, but sex education in the schools at an early enough age could help also (there is contrary opinion on the effect of sex ed -- see UPDATE below). Given that conservative Christians often oppose such programs, it is both ironic and tragic that the recently murdered parents were both highly religious and home-schooled their daughter, just as the murderer was home-schooled by his religious parents.
Statutory rape laws have long been considered a deterrent to males, but their provisions -- as to the age of consent and the age gaps for different punishments -- vary widely and are generally unknown to the people who are supposed to obey them. It's not only male (and female) ignorance of the law that causes its violation, however. Young female "victims" often welcome sex with young and older men, because of raging hormones, curiosity about their new potential, and desire for the trappings of an adult life. See "Can Statutory Rape Laws Be Effective in Preventing Adolescent Pregnancy?" from the Guttmacher Institute for a good information piece. It is interesting to note that the first English law set the age of consent at 12 but later lowered it to 10, at which level it was imported into America, where it was gradually raised by the states to levels currently varying from 14 to 18, with an average of 16. A larger age gap between perpetrator and victim is typically punished more severely, yet a small age gap is often overlooked or is simply not illegal at all. For example, under current Tennessee law (amended in 2007):
39-13-506. Statutory rape. —Under this provision, it appears a male or female teen 13 years old could have sex with a person no more than 16 years of age, one 14 with one no more than 17, one 15 with one no more than 20, one 16 with one no more than 21, and one 17 with one no more than 22, all without being a victim of statutory rape and without his or her partner being a perpetrator.
(a) Mitigated statutory rape is the unlawful sexual penetration of a victim by the defendant, or of the defendant by the victim when the victim is at least fifteen (15) but less than eighteen (18) years of age and the defendant is at least four (4) but not more than five (5) years older than the victim.
(b) Statutory rape is the unlawful sexual penetration of a victim by the defendant or of the defendant by the victim when:
(1) The victim is at least thirteen (13) but less than fifteen (15) years of age and the defendant is at least four (4) years but less than ten (10) years older than the victim; or
(2) The victim is at least fifteen (15) but less than eighteen (18) years of age and the defendant is more than five (5) but less than ten (10) years older than the victim.
(c) Aggravated statutory rape is the unlawful sexual penetration of a victim by the defendant, or of the defendant by the victim when the victim is at least thirteen (13) but less than eighteen (18) years of age and the defendant is at least ten (10) years older than the victim.
(d) (1) Mitigated statutory rape is a Class E felony.
(2) Statutory rape is a Class E felony.
(3) Aggravated statutory rape is a Class D felony.
[Acts 1989, ch. 591, § 1; 1990, ch. 980, § 4; 1994, ch. 719, § 1; 2005, ch. 487, § 4; 2006, ch. 890, § 5; 2007, ch. 594, § 7.]
The new offense of mitigated statutory rape was added to prevent college-age persons from being required to register as sex offenders, when one partner is 15 and the other is 19 or 20, or one partner is 16 and the other is 20 or 21, or one partner is 17 and the other is 21 or 22.
The new offense of aggravated statutory rape was added to punish a 10-year or more age gap more severely.
An age gap law like this one may offer protection against seduction by (or of) an older "predator," but prosecutors know statutory rape cases can be hard to prove because of unwillingness of the "victim" to testify, lack of other witnesses to the act, and lack of physical evidence unless pregnancy results. Moreover, such a law gives no parental or social control over willing teen "victims" when their lovers are within the safe age range.
An alternative means to stop a legal teenage affair could be a delinquency petition filed against one or both of the juveniles, which could result in anything from a warning to a treatment program to reform school. Again for example, Tennessee statutes currently provide:
The petition may be made by any person, including a law enforcement officer, who has knowledge of the facts alleged or is informed and believes that they are true. (link)A milder form of this sanction could be to require an overly sexual child -- upon request of a parent -- to attend a program discouraging teen sex, warning of sterner sanctions possible, and encouraging harmony with and obedience to the parents obliged to support them.
The petition shall be verified and may be on information and belief. It shall set forth plainly:
(1) The facts that bring the child within the jurisdiction of the court with a statement that it is in the best interest of the child and the public that the proceeding be brought and, if delinquency or unruly conduct is alleged, that the child is in need of treatment or rehabilitation;
(2) The name, age and residence address, if any, of the child on whose behalf the petition is brought;
(3) The names and residence addresses, if known to petitioner, of the parents, guardian or custodian of the child and of the child's spouse, if any; and
(4) If the child is in custody and, if so, the place of detention and the time the child was taken into custody. (link)
Lest you think I'm an alarmist about this subject, I could introduce you to several parents who wish very much they had had more control over this perennial but worsening problem. We live in an era when both parents are often at work while their latch-key kids watch exploitative television programs filled with all varieties of sex scenes -- and sometimes act out on them.
We could rethink our latter-day, compulsory education-driven age of maturity, centered around graduation from high school and the age of 18, and create more options for emancipation of minors, like earlier marriage, alternative schools, and apprenticeship programs.
The problem of teenage sex coming into conflict with parental aspirations and obligations has been thrust to the forefront in the news lately. That creates an opportunity for some fresh thinking about solutions.
UPDATE: Cal Thomas has a new column on teen sex, with strong advice for parents.
UPDATE: See what the kids are up to in "The Cuddle Puddle of Stuyvesant High School."
UPDATE: "Explicit ranking of high school girls sparks outrage."
UPDATE: "Oral and anal sex increasing among teens" and "Study Finds Link Between Media, Sexually Active Teens."
UPDATE: UK Daily Mail: Teenage girls are 'out of control'; ABC News Poll: Sex Lives of American Teens; the complete poll in .pdf format.
UPDATE: See a clip from a "smut-filled episode" of the teen drama Without a Trace that the FCC fined CBS $3.3 million for.
UPDATE: Explaining the huge rise in teen oral sex.
Monday, November 21, 2005
What Is the Meaning of Life?
The answer is:
Life is not a symbol for anything else.
A similar question, often asked as a variant of the preceding one, is:
What is the purpose of life?
The answer is:
The purpose of life is to survive and reproduce.
People overlay the basic truth about the DNA molecule with meanings and purposes of their own. I like Buddha's the best, which I will paraphrase as:
Reduce the suffering of all sentient beings.
Friday, November 11, 2005
Sociobiology is provoking all sorts of insights and research meaningful to the non-technical reader, as shown by the recent BBC News report "Becoming a father 'civilises' men" and this one from Reuters, "Molecule gives passionate lovers just one year." Also see an earlier post of mine about altruism and religion.
Before encountering Wilson's work, I had the privilege of taking anthropologist Irven DeVore's course Primate Behavior, the most valuable course I ever took and an example of the great work sociobiology built on. DeVore is well worth Googling. His monkey movies in class were, to me, the precursor to Desmond Morris' later TV series, The Human Animal and The Human Sexes.
This stuff needs to be taught as a required course in high school. Given the earlier onset on menarche and recent survey data on teen sexuality, better make that junior high school.
UPDATE: Professor David Buss has posted a wealth of social science papers online on sexual psychology. This is a great resource. Take advantage of it. Save the link in your favorites and enjoy when time permits.
UPDATE: Slate has posted online a fine comprehensive 66-minute video interview with E.O. Wilson. You can see the whole thing or just parts of it at this link.
Saturday, November 05, 2005
"One cognitive symptom of depression might be the loss of optimistic, self-enhancing biases that normally protect healthy people against assaults to their self-esteem. In many instances, depressives may simply be judging themselves and the world much more accurately than non-depressed people, and finding it not a pretty place."
A few other quotations on point:
"The power of accurate observation is frequently called cynicism by those who don't have it." -- George Bernard Shaw
Cynicism is an unpleasant way of saying the truth. -- Lillian Hellman
Egotism is the anesthetic given by a kindly nature to relieve the pain of being a damned fool. -- Bellamy Brooks
Every age is fed on illusions, lest men should renounce life early and the human race come to an end. -- Joseph Conrad
The cynics are right nine times out of ten. -- Henry Louis Mencken
Thanks to Aphorisms Galore!
Thursday, November 03, 2005
A Vatican cardinal said Thursday the faithful should listen to what secular modern science has to offer, warning that religion risks turning into "fundamentalism" if it ignores scientific reason.
But he said science, too, should listen to religion.
"We know where scientific reason can end up by itself: the atomic bomb and the possibility of cloning human beings are fruit of a reason that wants to free itself from every ethical or religious link," he said.
OK, but I fear the Devil is in the details of these "links." Check out this report: Controversial Study Allows Parents to Pick Baby's Sex.
Now, doctors at Houston's Baylor College of Medicine are conducting a "sex selection" study that will allow couples to make that wish come true — letting them actually pick their baby's gender.
. . . .
The practice, known as "social sex selection," is banned in many countries, including Britain and Canada. It is opposed by major medical organizations in the United States.
Now what in Hell is wrong with this? I have one friend, a computer programmer, whose wife bore him three daughters before he decided he was "shooting blanks" for a son, after which the wife by agreement got fixed. I have another friend who also had three daughters in a row but, although famously claiming to be an environmentalist, went on to sire a son, his fourth and final child.
Yes, I am one of those who is still concerned about world population growth, and I think and hope it will become commonplace for couples to sex-select, so that each parent can have a child of his or her choice and invest the most they can in those two. I also hope that religionists and so-called ethicists don't get in the way on this.
UPDATE: The Dalai Lama weighed in on this controversy in the New York Times November 12. In a piece titled "Our Faith in Science," he said: "If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change." Striking! Despite granting such latitude for continuing scientific discovery, however, he warned that "the ramifications of this progress are such that it is no longer adequate to say that the choice of what to do with this knowledge should be left in the hands of individuals," calling for "secular ethics," especially in the creation of new life forms.
UPDATE: Wealthy couples travel to U.S. to choose baby's sex.