The campus abortion debate, and how it should be done

February 28, 2009

It was my pleasure last evening to attend a debate, in the Arts Building at the University of Ottawa, on the morality of abortion.

I found out about this debate only a few days before, thanks to a blog post at ProWomanProLife. Then, I almost wasn’t able to go: after taking a hard fall on some ice on Thursday night, I was almost too sore to move on Friday. Meanwhile, the weather turned from nice to less nice to quite nasty in only a few hours. But by the evening, I felt limber enough to walk down to the campus – and in fact hardly noticed the soreness on the way home.

I was glad I made it out. The debaters were Stephanie Gray of The Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, which she co-founded along with Jojo Ruba, and Dr. Andrew Sneddon, professor of philosophy at the U. of O. I’ve seen Jojo debate a number of times, so I was interested in seeing his colleague for a change. As I have noted numerous times previously, a male pro-life advocate does give any campus womyn who show up an opportunity to point out, albeit fallaciously, that since men can’t get pregnant they have no business bringing their opinions to the table. When a woman takes the pro-life side, she spikes that particular gun. (I also had a chance to say hi to Stephanie briefly afterward, and she feels as well that the campus feminists are often more reluctant to beat up another woman.) And, of course, given the history of controversy over pro-life clubs in Canadian universities in recent years, there was also the possibility of some disruption, and I certainly didn’t want to miss out on any train wrecks.

But no train wrecks were in evidence. The lecture hall in the Arts Building, which nominally seats 200, was packed out to overflowing. The opening and closing comments by the organizers acknowledged that a crowd of this size, eager to hear a debate, proved that abortion in Canada is not the settled issue many of its advocates claim it is. Moreover, the university was to be commended for its commitment to academic freedom by hosting the debate, and all involved for proving that it could be held civilly and respectfully. These remarks drew long and loud applause: the SMU shouters with their “symbolic action” and “personal autonomy” three weeks ago do not represent the mainstream of student thought.

Dr. Sneddon began the debate with his 20-minute opening statement. He chose to argue the case for personal bodily autonomy: he acknowledged that the unborn are fully human beings with the same moral standing as born persons. Nonetheless, if he were to need a new kidney, his mother is not morally obliged to provide him with one; similarly, since she has autonomy over her own body, she would not be morally obliged to provide her fetus with the use of her uterus. Stephanie’s argument was from the humanity of the unborn: that from conception we have a genetically distinct, whole human being and by virtue of having brought him into existence, we have a responsibility to care for his basic needs. Just as we find it abhorrent when a mother neglects or even kills her young children, we should be equally abhorred when she neglects or kills her unborn children.

I wasn’t sure how I liked the remainder of the format of the debate. There wasn’t a rebuttal period, and instead of what I would call a proper cross-examination, one debater had eight minutes to present questions, and the other then had nine minutes to answer them. I’ll note that Dr. Sneddon posed fewer questions and had all of them answered, while Stephanie posed many questions and had some answers deferred (and at least one not answered at all). The debate then ended with 5-minute closing statements and a Q&A. I made several pages of notes during the debate, and I will go into more detail about their respective arguments in future posts.

I was impressed at the even match of the two opponents. Too often, the pro-choice debater has come to the debate armed only with political rhetoric and anecdote, and the debate seems lopsided. Dr. Sneddon, on the other hand, had a well-prepared moral argument for his position that he was ready to defend – although I did not find it convincing, for reasons that I will get into later. And as professional philosophers are wont to do, he was sometimes a little more circumspect about his arguments than the situation would have demanded. In the end, I feel Stephanie won the debate by about half a length, primarily because of her greater focus, clarity, and conciseness, as well as her better preparedness to answer questions.

As much as I enjoy seeing people like Jojo, Stephanie, or Scott Klusendorf give some Planned Parenthood spokeswoman a sound drubbing, it was nice to see a more level playing field, and hence a good fair fight, last night. Kudos to University of Ottawa Students for Life for organizing this event and making it a success, and if they have another, I’ll be sure to be there again.


F5 #4: Wings!

February 28, 2009

This has to be a first: I managed to finish something on this blog that I started – and on time, too.)

I love chicken wings. They are, bar none, my favourite finger food. They are my one weakness; my Achilles’ heel, as it were. This year’s F5 seems to be a bit of a palindrome: food followed by popular entertainment followed by popular entertainment – so it seems only appropriate to close out the month with another food post.

A few years back, when I was dropping a not inconsiderable portion of my salary at Local Heroes, a local sports bar that specializes in wings, I began to wonder, could I not do just as well myself, and for half the cost?

Thus, last summer, I regularly cooked up a batch of chicken wings and began the quest for the perfect Buffalo wing sauce. Starting with a basic mixture consisting of half a cup of Louisiana hot sauce and a couple tablespoons of melted butter, I mixed, baked, fried, ate, enjoyed, and evaluated, tweaking the recipe here and there. Finally, all that horrible, thankless kitchen slavery culminated in the following:

  • 1/2 cup Louisiana hot sauce (i.e. Frank’s Red Hot or equivalent)
  • 1 teaspoon habanero sauce
  • 1 teaspoon red chile flakes
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a small mixing bowl and whisk it with a fork until it is well mixed.

I use the regular variety of Frank’s Louisiana hot sauce, or a generic equivalent from President’s Choice that’s just as good – plus it comes in really big bottles that are cheap as tap water. This is a Good Thing, since I go through a lot of it in my kitchen. If you want more heat, you can substitute Frank’s Xtra Hot, but I find that makes the wings too spicy. I don’t mind hot dishes by any means, but I prefer flavour to heat! (If you don’t like Louisiana hot sauce at all, of course you may substitute a base of your choice. But that would be a completely different recipe, so you’re on your own.) Since Louisiana sauce is based on cayenne pepper, an extra dash of cayenne adds a little more kick without altering the flavour. At one point, I had added some Tabasco sauce; later, I substituted a habanero sauce and decided I liked the nice finish it put on the mixture. I buy Grace red sauce, an inexpensive and fiery Caribbean brand that is available at regular supermarkets as well as ethnic ones.

For an interesting varation that gives your wings a nice smoky flavour, substitute a minced chipotle for the chile flakes, or a chipotle sauce for the habanero l;- or both, if you like.

I find this recipe makes just enough sauce to coat about two pounds of wings nicely. Your mileage may vary, so adjust the amounts accordingly.

Meanwhile, cook your chicken. I prefer to bread my wings, partly for the crispy coating, but mainly because the breading absorbs more sauce. Proper breading is a bit of a black art that I can’t claim to have mastered. It involves dredging the meat in seasoned flour, then dipping it in an egg wash, and finally rolling it in breadcrumbs. While this seems needlessly overkill, there’s a rationale behind it: breadcrumbs don’t stick to meat, but flour does, and egg sticks to flour, and breadcrumbs to egg. I have a tendency to bread my fingers as much as my food, so I won’t pontificate on the proper technique; whatever one you prefer. And not having a deep fryer handy, I also bake my wings. It takes longer, but is probably better for me anyway. Spread two pounds of wings out on a baking sheet covered with parchment, and bake them in the oven at 300-350 degrees for about one hour, turning them over at the half-hour point.

Finally, take the finished wings out of the oven and toss them in a mixing bowl with the sauce to coat them completely. Serve with raw veggies, ranch or blue cheese dressing, and of course your favourite beverage that rhymes with “beer.”

I often close blog posts with this word, but this time I can almost promise it it: Enjoy.

Saturday in the wild: February 21, 2009

February 21, 2009

Howdy! It’s time for the weekly roundup of link love: all the stuff I found fun, interesting, and generally hard to stop reading before I was finished.

I have loved the Narnia books since I first read them in the 1970s. The First Things blog On the Square posted a great piece by Matthew Alderman about The Last Battle:

Surely you remember her. She is the second-eldest of the Pevensie children, the pretty one in the family, dark-haired, tender-hearted, and occasionally cautious to the point of being a bit of a wet blanket. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, she is given the representative gifts of a bow, arrows, and a magic horn that summons help wherever you might be. These gifts signify her strength, femininity, and prudence.

Yet she is conspicuously absent from the roll call of Narnian heroes we encounter in Aslan’s heavenly country. She is, Aslan says, “no longer a friend of Narnia.” Susan, we remember, is excluded from heaven for growing up, for liking lipstick, nylons, and parties.

[Read Whatever Happened to Susan Pevensie?]

DJP tears the Palin family a few new orifices at Biblical Christianity over that interview their teenage daughter Bristol did after the birth of her son:

When the news came out that Palin’s daughter had sinned sexually, I was glad that the Palins were not taking Obama’s our-grandchild-is-a-punishment-so-kill-it approach. When Pastor Doug Wilson immediately laid responsibility for Bristol Palin’s sin at her father’s feet, I took issue with him at length …and I still agree with myself! . . .

Now Governor Palin does something I can’t defend, and haven’t the slightest inclination to defend. Palin gives her shallow, foolish, clueless, unrepentant daughter a global microphone, and lets her strike at the heart of what Palin herself professes to believe.

Be clear: Bristol Palin has accomplished nothing of global significance in her life. Nothing has earned her the spotlight. Her mother, by contrast, is a focused, excellent, disciplined woman. What’s more, her mother professes to be a Christian, and has lived a life that adorns that testimony.

The only reason Bristol Palin is in the spotlight is because she sneered at God’s law regarding sexuality, was found out, and is herself the child of a famous mother.

[Read Sarah Palin’s stupid mistake]

Finally, Tim Challies dug up an interesting and informative list of 10 Facebook privacy settings most people probably don’t know about. I’m personally of the opinion that the best Facebook security is to not put anything up there that you wouldn’t want known. Nonetheless, I’ve made some adjustments to my account after reading this.

And speaking of social networking, I’m a late adopter of Twitter, and if you’re someone I know, I’d love to find out what’s going on in your life. My username is RansomOttawa. I don’t tweet too often – as one online acquaintance just asked me, do we really need to know what’s going on every minute of someone’s life? – but feel free to follow me anyway. If you’re someone I recognize, whether as an online or Real Life friend, I’ll reciprocate.

Until next time, enjoy.

F5 #3: The Bard

February 20, 2009

Usually it goes in the other order, but after extolling the virtues of Arnold Schwarzenegger action movies last week, I’m going to go from the ridiculous to the sublime, and sing the praises of William Shakespeare this week.

I didn’t start by liking Shakespeare. What self-respecting student does? For at least the first few years of high school, studying Shakespeare is almost an exercise in missing the point. It’s all about character and plot and iambic pentameter and dénouement – and while I certainly understand the need to teach how the literature is put together, the fact that Shakespeare was a playwright, writing plays that had actual stories to tell, got left out. Talk about missing the forest for the trees.

That changed in Grade 12 English. After 3 years of studying the Bard’s fair-to-middling plays, like Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night or The Taming of the Shrew, we finally got to read the Mother of All Plays: Hamlet. And I mean read: for about a week of class, all we did was read the entire play out loud and talk about the story. Then, in my last year, we studied not merely one, but three whole plays: Macbeth, King Lear, and Othello. So in my last semester of high school, I got exposed to more of Shakespeare’s great plays than in the first three years put together. Did it not occur to the powers-that-be in their infinite wisdom that it ought to be the other way around? Get the kids hooked with the greats, I say, and then let them sink their teeth into the less worthy stuff.

So despite getting consistently high marks in English, dating a literature major, and generally being a sponge for all sorts of good books, I really didn’t leave high school with a positive impression of William Shakespeare and his works. Three years in engineering school wasn’t exactly conducive to drama appreciation, either.

But that changed when I turned the page in my academic calendar and transferred from the Faculty of Engineering to the Faculty of English, mainly due to two factors.

In my first year as an artsie, I took the usual Survey of English Literature course, and studied something new: Henry IV parts I and II. Throughout high school, we’d looked at tragedy and comedy, but never Shakespeare’ historical plays. But in my next semester, I took the introductory course in literary criticism, and the textbook, Criticism: Major Statements edited by Charles Kaplan, focused on the study of Hamlet from multiple perspectives. Coincidentally, Hamlet was running just up the highway at the Stratford Festival, although I didn’t get the opportunity to go, unfortunately. I just hadn’t realized until that point that there was so much depth to a single play.

Then, in the summer of 1995, I just happened to catch a showing of Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing on PBS. Branagh has probably done more than anyone else to revive the performance of Shakespeare on film – starting, of course, with his excellent Henry V and culminating in the “eternal” Hamlet. Much Ado is the ultimate in Shakespearean weirdness: a heroine named Hero, a villain without a motive, and thanks to the casting of Denzel Washington and Keanu Reeves, two brothers, one black and one white. If anything, it looks like Branagh just called up a bunch of his buddies and said, “Hey, let’s film some Shakespeare for fun” – and as a result, it’s just as much fun to watch as it must have been to perform. Besides, it was my first introduction to (besides Branagh) Washington, Emma Thompson, and Kate Beckinsale.

That, I think, was the moment of my conversion from Shakespeare-hater to Shakespeare-lover. Certainly I was ready to enjoy the course in early Shakespeare that I took in my next term at school. Good thing, too, because the laconic pace of study in high school could hardly have prepared me for a Shakespeare a week for ten freakin’ weeks! But at least most of it was new to me: A Comedy of Errors, Titus Andronicus, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merchant of Venice, and that magnificent bastard Richard III, to name a few.

But Shakespeare was a playwright, and the best way to appreciate his work is in performance. I’ve seen Shakespeare performed on stage a few times, but my medium of choice is film. My favourite movie of one of Shakespeare’s plays is Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 magnum opus, Hamlet. I’m watching it as I write this. The Bard’s longest work is rarely performed in its entirety; this film, clocking in at over four hours, is a rare exception. It features a cast of stars: Branagh in the starring role, Derek Jacobi as Claudius and Julie Christie as Gertrude. Kate Winslet also keeps her clothes on long enough to play Ophelia. Set in the 19th century and filmed on 70mm film like an old epic, Hamlet is absolutely gorgeous to watch: almost a perfect film. It’s a crime that it took over a decade for a DVD to be available. A close runner-up is Ian McKellen’s 1995 Fascist-inspired interpretation of Richard III, set in the 1930s (rather anachronistically, but who cares?) and climaxing in the Battle of Bosworth Field, relocated to the ruins of the Battersea Power Station.

In 1997, I tried to read the entire Shakespeare canon at the rate of one a week: alternating comedy, tragedy, and history. I think I did fairly well: about a dozen before I moved on to something else. It’s been 12 years, and it is high time to try that trick again.

In the meantime, though, I’ve still got another three hours of Branagh to get through before the library wants their DVD back.

About 1 hour to the Messiah’s Second Coming

February 19, 2009

Ottawa has been singularly honoured by hosting Barack Obama’s first state visit. Air Force One is flying; Messiah 2.0 is coming on the clouds at this very moment.

I can feel the hopenchange already. Maybe I’ll even catch a rainbow.

And now . . . this – Feb. 17/09

February 17, 2009

She blinded me with science

Researchers scanned the brains of certain men as they looked at a photograph of a woman in a bikini and discovered that sections of the brain that usually reacted to objects lit up.

Could that be because a photograph is, in fact, an object?

[Princeton professor Susan Fiske:] “I am not saying that they literally see them as an object, of course they know she is human,” she said.

“But what the brain scans show is that they are reacting to this photograph as people react to objects. It is as if they are not fully human.

“They are not treating them as fully three dimensional humans.”

[Full Story]

And could that be because a photograph is, in fact, a two-dimensional representation of a human?

And on that note, I’m off to objectify some dinner.

Happy “Family Day,” everyone

February 16, 2009

No need to write anything new. I haven’t changed my mind since last year.

And I’m still bored.