Driving Forward In The Kingdom

It’s June of 2018.  And as of Sunday, June 24, women in Saudi Arabia are finally legally able to drive.

p06byymkIt’s astonishing when you think about it, but until yesterday the kingdom of Saudi Arabia had maintained a ban on women driving — the only one in the world.  It was one of the most visible elements of differential treatment of men and women in that country.  The decision to finally allow women to drive is part of an effort by the Saudis to liberalize and modernize their benighted internal policies, which have received a lot of international criticism over the years.  And, as is so frequently the case, the move also has an economic component.  The Saudi economy has taken a hit because of oil prices, and allowing women to drive is expected to increase the employment of women and allow them to make more of a contribution to the gross national product.

Not surprisingly, many Saudi women took to the streets in cars to celebrate their ability to do something that women the world over have taken for granted for more than a century.  “I feel free like a bird,” one woman said.  “The jubilance, confidence and pride expressed by Saudi women driving for the first time in their country, without fear of arrest, brought tears to my eyes,” another one wrote.  And Saudi women posted videos of themselves driving on social media.

But let’s not get too excited about the loosening of repressive policies in Saudi Arabia, because a number of activists who strongly advocated for great women’s rights have been jailed and remain behind bars, even as the ban against women driving has been lifted.  Some believe that the jailing is intended to placate the ultra-conservative religious leaders who remain a significant force in the country, and also to send the message that only Saudi leaders — and not activists advocating for changes in Saudi policies — can produce reforms in the kingdom.

It’s a sign that, while lifting the ban on women driving is welcome, Saudi Arabia has a long way to go.  And it’s also a reminder that, in 2018, there are still a lot of repressive policies out there against women that still need to be addressed.

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Detroit, Water, And Human Rights

As it struggles to right itself after years of collapse, Detroit continues to push the boundaries of municipal law and social order.  The latest chapter of this sad tale has to do with something that most Americans take for granted — water.

Detroit has residents who haven’t paid their water bills.  So do many other cities.  But as with so many things, Detroit’s water problem is outsized to the point of absurdity.  About 150,000 Detroit residents are behind on their water bills.  That’s a huge portion — more than 20 percent — of Detroit’s population, which is down to about 700,000 people.  The non-payment problem is so severe that Detroit has begun to shut off water to those who don’t pay their bills.  The shut-offs started, then the Mayor imposed a moratorium to give people a chance to enter into payment plans, and now the shut-offs are on again.

IMG_2970It’s hard to imagine what living in a city would be like if you didn’t have running water — but it’s not hard to forecast that it would quickly become disgusting and unhealthy.  Water is needed for hydration, cooking, clothes-washing, personal hygiene, and waste disposal; no water means clogged toilets, dirty people, and filthy, dangerous living conditions.  It’s why a United Nations group criticized the shutoff, opining that “[d]isconnection of water services because of failure to pay due to lack of means constitutes a violation of the human right to water and other international human rights.”

It’s hard to feel sympathy for either party to this dispute.  It’s a sign of the ridiculous extent of Detroit’s mismanagement that more than 100,000 people were allowed to fall into arrears and that the city was reduced to taking the draconian step of shutting off water to thousands at one time.  Where were the administrators and bill collectors while the roster of deadbeats grew?  Some residents also say their bills are just wrong and that the water is too expensive, and given Detroit’s awful record I’m guessing the city wasn’t exactly providing the most efficient, cost-effective water service in the nation.

And yet, storing, treating, and delivering water costs money, and bankrupt Detroit doesn’t have any.  It’s easy for UN groups to pronounce that free water is a basic human right, but who is going to pay for what is necessary to deliver it?  Other Detroit residents?  The State of Michigan?  The federal government?  Or perhaps the UN would like to foot the bill?

I’m guessing that a good chunk of those 150,000 Detroit residents who owe on their water bills didn’t treat it like a basic necessity when bill-paying time came.  I’m guessing that many of them realized that the city wasn’t trying to collect on water bills, and therefore those bills weren’t prioritized and weren’t paid.  The money that was available got spent on other things, and the amounts owed accumulated to the point it became unmanageable — and when Detroit finally came knocking for payment, there wasn’t the money available, and the only option was to react with outrage.  If that is the true story for many of those 150,000 Detroit residents, who is at fault for their predicament?

We’re going to be learning lessons from the sad story of Detroit for many years to come.

Dogs, And Human Rights

Recently I stumbled across an interesting article, now several months old, about dogs and efforts to determine how their brains work. The article summarized the research and reached a provocative conclusion.

Determining how dogs think is not an easy task. (Insert joke here.) The problem, of course, is that they cannot communicate in the conventional sense.

IMG_0909The research involved training dogs to sit quietly so that their brain activity could be evaluated through operation of an MRI. The results focused an area of the brain called the caudate nucleus, which is found in both dogs and humans. In humans, the caudate nucleus shows activity https://webnerhouse.wordpress.com/?p=31933&preview=truewhen people are exposed to things they enjoy, like food, music, and love. The MRI testing showed caudate activity in dogs when dogs smelled their human companions or saw signals indicating that food was on the way.

The researchers think this indicates that dogs have emotions. It’s hard to imagine that research is needed to confirm that fact, which is pretty obvious to any dog lover. We know that our dogs can experience emotions — we see it in their eyes, in their wagging tails, and in their happy behavior when a loved one returns home. Come over to our house to see the reception Kish gets from Penny and Kasey if you don’t believe me.

The provocative conclusion of the author of the article is that, from a legal standpoint, dogs or any other creature that shows “neurobiological evidence of positive emotions” should be treated like people rather than property. Laws against abuse of animals isn’t enough; “limited personhood,” the author reasons, would better protect dogs from exploitation in puppy mills, dog racing, and other activities that interfere with the right of self-determination.

I’m as troubled by anyone by the mistreatment of dogs, and I think people who are cruel and abusive to dogs should be punished. But conferring “limited personhood” rights on dogs — and other animals that display emotions — starts us down a slippery slope where line-drawing becomes extremely difficult. How do you deal with the difficult decisions when a dog reaches the end of life? Would society be obligated to provide shelter and food for dogs that have none? Would dogs need to give consent before they could be neutered?

Penny and Kasey are part of our family and are treated as such — but they aren’t people.