Monday, October 20, 2014

The Problem with Yes Means Yes

Ross Douthat has a good link roundup of liberal and conservative takes on California's new "Yes Means Yes" law.
I will leave liberals to sort out their internal contradictions on the matter of California's "Yes Means Yes" sexual consent law for its college campuses. I want to address the conservative argument in its favor.

First, we have the one quoted (though not endorsed) by Ross Douthat: that the law will "maximize the contradictions" of the beer-and-circuses college sex scene. The weird thing is, I've heard this argument from conservatives at least twice before. It was put forward in the 1980s in favor of exerting maximum political energy on enacting tax cuts while leaving matching spending cuts to look after themselves; it was the "starve the beast" strategy of obtaining a smaller government. The second example: third world immigration should be welcomed on the grounds that it would make the welfare state financially untenable and at the same time undermine the case for the racial preferences that blacks justified on the grounds of discrimination; if immigrants could succeed in America, then blacks have only themselves to blame for their failure. In the 1980s, I probably subscribed to both of these arguments, but in the fullness of time, we can see they didn't exactly pan out as expected. So I'm skeptical here that YMY is a harbinger of a return to conservative college governance.

Second, Heather McDonald hopes that notwithstanding the ideology behind it, the law will lead to less promiscuous sex. This is certainly a plausible result, though by no means a certain one. The old dispensation of in loco parentis relied much less on punishment (in contrast to natural consequences) than in did to an apparatus of supervision and governance to prevent misbehavior from occuring to begin with. Ross is likewise skeptical.

I am not unaware of the irony of an atavistic conservative such as myself being put in a situation of appearing to defend the college hookup sexual scene. But what scares me about YMY is that there is no logical reason (and here I mean the logic of the law's supporters) it should be confined to the drunken hookups of college students or the unmarried in general. Remember the reigning orthodoxy: a prior sexual relationship, and even a lawful marriage, is no grounds for assuming implied consent. And there should be no statute of limitations on how far back violations of such consent can be prosecuted.

As the critics of the law have pointed out, and to which I will testify based on my own 17-year marriage, the vignette of consent-obtained-at-every-stage bears little relationship to the way couples actually go about the proccreating business. At a certain level of relationship comfort, nobody asks anything. We read the signals, recognize the routine, take the initiative, and fall to. The law's sponsors insist they're not talking about those relatioships, because those won't generate legal complaints.

Or will they? What happens when a relathipship goes bad? One partner dumps the other, or doesn't call, or cheats; the other partner wants "closure", female-speak for revenge. Or a marriage falls apart for any of the myriad reasons other than sex that marriages fail, and everyone winds up in an adversarial divorce proceeding? What then?

Then, of course, the YMY rules can be retroactively invoked. (If you think retroactively applying a different standard than the one in de facto force during the relationship is absurd, think again.) Now the young college student's mating behavior can be called to account against a standard that it never had been before. And soon, if the law's logic is allowed to stand, the standard can be used as leverage against a husband during divorce proceedings: give me what I want, property, sole custody, whatever, or I'll accuse you of "rape", the technical YMY definition you will have met . . . a dozen times monthy for X years of marriage. Time will tell how credible the law will be in front of flesh-and-blood juries. But that's a pretty big risk for a divorcée to run.

I suspect the law's supporters see this as a feature rather than a bug: giving legal leverage to women is kind of the point of the law, after all, and the further its application extends, well, so much the better. But that's hardly a reason for conservatives concerned with building stable families to support it. Much to the contrary.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

All Good Things

This essay, discussing the pain of modern life, has this to say:

I’ve only been back at work for a few days, but already I’m noticing that the more wholesome activities are quickly dropping out of my life: walking, exercising, reading, meditating, and extra writing.

The one conspicuous similarity between these activities is that they cost little or no money, but they take time.

Suddenly I have a lot more money and a lot less time, which means I have a lot more in common with the typical working North American than I did a few months ago. While I was abroad I wouldn’t have thought twice about spending the day wandering through a national park or reading my book on the beach for a few hours. Now that kind of stuff feels like it’s out of the question. Doing either one would take most of one of my precious weekend days!

The last thing I want to do when I get home from work is exercise. It’s also the last thing I want to do after dinner or before bed or as soon as I wake, and that’s really all the time I have on a weekday.

I agree with the writer that, yes, exercising at the end of the day is not nearly as appealing in contemplation as going home and vegetating in one way or another. That said . . .

Three years ago, I enjoyed (if enjoy be the word) about 4 1/2 months of unemployment between the conclusion of my military career and the start in the civil service. This was not exactly "free time": I had a dissertation to complete and defend, and most of you know from experience that looking for a job can be a full-time job in itself. But these, and most of the honey-do home maintenance, was self-paced and only seldom involved actually going anywhere.

The result, I discovered, was a drop-off in the amount of exercise I was getting. My regular readers know that I generally maintain a pretty high level of physical fitness for a middle-aged guy. Some of this is exercise done at home (running and calisthenics), but most of it is done at the gym (weights and swimming). And trips to the gym almost always happen to and from work or during lunch at "work", by which I mean whatever 40-hour-per-week job I'm getting paid for.

Take away the job, and once the summer ended and the children weren't going to the pool anymore, the trips to the gym were reduced to approximately once per week from five days per week. In theory, I could have run more, but this didn't actually happen in practice. So my five-to-six day per week regimen became a two-to-three day per week regimen. That's not bad, probably about par for a man of my age and class. But it wasn't enough to keep from gaining about 10 pounds.

Good things tend to go together, and active people are . . . active. The psychological benefits of being gainfully employed, and the discipline of rising at 0600 for work every morning, have spill-over effects that make regular exercise easier rather than harder. Meanwhile, obesity (especially among women) and other symptoms of poor physical fitness generally, are concentrated among the lower classes, the people for whom self-discipline has always been a finite resource. The direction of causality may be mysterious, but my personal experience is that the relationship is bi-causal.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Lone Survivor

I saw the movie Lone Survivor on DVD.

Depending on when you want to start counting, America has been involved in active military conflict in Southwest Asia for the last 25 years. Yet it has taken Hollywood until just this year to give that conflict a war movie.

Yes, Hollywood has given us a passel of message movies with the war as a backdrop; Lions for Lambs, Three Kings, Courage Under Fire, and Green Zone come to mind. But none of them were about actual or even typical military engagements. We did get at least three TV series: Generation Kill, Over There and Occupation.  I haven’t seen Occupation, but the other two, while heavy on message, were at least plausible if not actually historical.  But with the partial exception of Zero Dark Thirty, Lone Survivor is the first movie about a historical engagement. The movie closely tracks Operation Red Wings, the 2005 effort to apprehend the Taliban-allied leader Ahmed Shah in Afghanistan. The mission goes awry when the SEAL reconnaissance team is discovered by shepherds in Shah's auxiliary service, and becomes a crisis when one of the Sikorskis sent to rescue the team is brought down by an RPG. Three of the four members of the recon team are (SPOILER ALERT) killed, as are all 16 SEALs and crew on the Sikorski.

The movie is solid, directed crisply by Peter Berg, with great supporting performances by Ben Foster and Eric Bana.  I should note that Mark Wahlberg is an effective actor only within a narrow dramatic range; he doesn’t do “panic” particularly well, and in the moments before he briefly expires on the operating table, he looks way more energetic than I would expect a man in that condition to be.

The plot turns on the debate among the recon team as to what to do with the captured shepherds. Instead of killing them or leaving them tied to the trees to freeze in the mountain cold, the team ultimately decides to release them, whereupon the shepherds promptly report their presence to Shah's militia.

I'm all for negotiating with an adversary's competent authority for the human treatment of prisoners and non-combatants, and strictly honoring such agreements as we might arrive at. But in the absence of such negotiation, and in the face of the adversary's known preference for decapitating prisoners on YouTube, I fail to think of an ethical requirement why our own Rules of Engagement should not be governed by military necessity and proportionality, both of which, in the case at hand, argue in favor of the swift dispatch of these particular prisoners.

In the movie, after the first of the rescue helicopters is shot down, and the second helicopter is retreating, there is a brief scene, perhaps only a second long, shot inside the second helicopter, of one of the SEALs waving a pistol at the cockpit as other SEALs try to restrain him. The scene is over before the brain can process the question, why is the SEAL waving a pistol at his own aircrew? And realize the answer: notwithstanding he has just watched half his team die in a fireball, this guy wants to jump into a hot LZ so badly that he's trying to FORCE the pilots to try to land anyway.

Where do we find such men?

Thursday, October 09, 2014

The History of "Rape" Repeats Itself

I've been reading about the Scottsboro Boys, the nine black teenagers accused of gang-raping two white women on a train in 1931 Alabama. The case was then and is now widely perceived as an indictment of racist Southern justice, generating two Supreme Court due process decisions and an eventual legislative pardon.

I will not pretend to have an opinion about the factual guilt or innocence of the accused, as my impression is that most such opinions spring directly from attitudes towards their and the accusers' membership in competing victim classes. My interest, rather, is in the parallels between the standards of evidence and due process in use both then and now, and those recommended both then and now. And I can't help noticing that many of the protections erected in the course of that case and the black Civil Rights movement generally are now being undermined now that "sexual assault" is having its day in the sun.

For instance:

[Defense attorney for the appeal of the first of the three guilty verdicts, George W] Chamlee moved for new trials for all defendants. Private investigations took place, revealing that Price and Bates had been prostitutes in Tennessee who regularly serviced black and white clientele.[43] Chamlee offered Hawkins affidavits to that effect, which the Judge forbade him to read out loud.

So, both Price and Bates had checkered sexual histories. Does that mean that they were incapable of being raped? No, it doesn't. But if it was relevant then, it should be relevant now.

From this account of the closing witness of the second trial:

The appearance of the defense's final and most dramatic witness, Ruby Bates, might have been taken from the script of a hokey Hollywood movie. In the months before the trial, Bates' whereabouts were a mystery. [Defense attorney Samuel] Leibowitz announced that he was resting his case, then approached the bench and asked for a short recess. Minutes later National Guardsmen open the back doors of the courtroom, and-- to the astonished gasps of spectators and the dismay of Knight-- in walked Ruby Bates. Under direct examination, Bates said a troubled conscience and the advice of famous New York minister Harry Emerson Fosdick prompted her to return to Alabama to tell the truth about what happened on March 25, 1931. Bates said that there was no rape, that none of the defendants touched her or even spoke to her, and that the accusations of rape were made after Price told her "to frame up a story" to avoid morals charges. On cross-examination, [prosecuting attorney Wade] Knight ripped into Bates, confronting her both with her conflicting testimony in the first trials and accusations that her new versions of events had been bought with new clothes and other Communist Party gifts. He demanded to know whether he hadn't told her months before in his office that he would "punish anyone who made her swear falsely" and that he "did not want to burn any person that wasn't guilty." "I think you did," Bates answered. (LINK TO BATES TESTIMONY)

Victoria Price had some knowledge of "morals charges": in the course of her three marriages, racked up by age 20, she had been jailed at least once for adultery. I expect that if you were ever able to corner a feminist with evidence that, yes, sometimes women do lie about rape to protect their reputations, the feminist would assert that the fault therefore lies with the morals, aka the cultural demands of proper feminine behavior.

Even if you believe that to be true, and even if you believe that sacrificing sexual morality is the acceptable price to pay for women's liberation and/or to increase the credibility of rape charges brought by sexually loose women, the problem of lying doesn't end there. For instance, as we have seen, alcohol consumption is involved in the vast majority of sexual assault cases. But alcohol is forbidden to young people and specifically prohibited at the service Academies. A decade ago, in the midst of another spasm of anti-sexual assault righteousness, the Air Force Academy established the policy of "amnesty" (this word was changed to "indemnity" or something in response to objections from USAFA's legal office) to female cadets for any alcohol abuse that they might have indulged in the course of their sexual assault -- this policy intending to encourage assault victims to come forward without fear of being expelled for their own offenses. However, this policy also created ample incentive for cadets charged with alcohol abuse to make a rape charge against somebody -- anybody -- conveniently at hand. Oddly, though, there is little appetite among USAFA officials for climbing down off this dilemma by repealing laws against alcohol consumption, say, which might have the added benefit of increasing both sexual assaults and sexual assault reporting at the same time, a two-fer from the perspective of those wanting to stir up the "War on Women" meme for political benefit.

I will note in passing that Wikipedia isn't exactly covering itself with glory here. It reports, correctly, that Ruby Bates recanted her original testimony and testified for the defendants in the second trial. What it doesn't mention is that representatives (perhaps) of the American Communist Party offered bribes to both Bates and her co-victim, Victoria Price (see here and here.)

Price, who stood by her story until her death, had declined the bribe.

From this source:

Defense lawyer Samuel Leibowitz suggested that Price had invented the rape by the black defendants when the train they'd hopped was stopped in Paint Rock. He proposed that Price made up the charge to protect herself and Bates. Leibowitz speculated that the young women feared they would be arrested for vagrancy or for being hobos in the company of the black youths. And he amassed a host of details in his witnesses' testimony to prove Price wasn't telling the truth. But Leibowitz was unable to depict Price as the lying, loose woman he believed her to be. An atmosphere of extreme hostility toward the Jewish New York lawyer and his witnesses had taken hold, so much so that a reporter in the courtroom heard more than one person say, "It'll be a wonder if Leibowitz gets out alive." Despite the many inconsistencies in her testimony, Price captured the all-white jury's sympathy. Denying any acquaintance with Carter, rejecting his story of spending the night in the hobo jungle, and insisting she had been raped by the black youths on the train, Price offered her own explanation of events.

She was an avid talker and told the story of the rape with many colorful details. The rape story she told to grand and petit juries at Scottsboro involved knives and guns with one boy claiming they were going to take the girls north and "make us their women." At the trials in Decatur, she said that "one of them pulled out his private parts and says, 'when I put this in you and pull it out you will have a Negro baby.'"

Price was the star witness for the prosecution, but perfectly uncooperative with the defense. In response to Leibowitz's questions, she would reply, "I can't say" or "I can't remember." When asked if the model train he set up in court was similar to the one they had been riding on she said it was not, the train she rode on was much bigger. Along with his questions, Leibowitz introduced evidence that Price had been arrested for adultery and fornication in January of 1931.

Note that the defense used (or attempted to use, since the defendants were convicted in this second trial), and historians today highlight, Price's inconsistencies and faulty memory as evidence of her deceit. Yet as we can see from Air Force propaganda today, we the public are expected to treat these as evidence, not of deceit, but of the victim's trauma. Was that somehow less true then than it is now?

In summary, while I personally can find little evidence of “racist Southern justice” in the administration of the legal system back then, my point is not to weigh in decisively one side or the other of these questions. My point is to highlight the inconsistency of those who argue that the Scottsboro Boys were railroaded and then turn around and attempt to railroad alleged assailants today using essentially the same arguments as used then or create the same background attitudes towards victims and perpetrators as were in place then.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Fighting Back

So the latest education kerfuffle comes to us via the College Board's new AP History curriculum . . . or the backlash, depending on your point of view. The LA Times provides a relatively balanced account: 

The idea was to replace traditional memorization with more emphasis on critical thinking and some key periods in American history, such as the 1980s.

It all seemed innocuous enough. Maybe even a tad dry.

Then it exploded.

Just weeks before the school year began, the change sparked a political feud over how children should be taught about American history — and whose version.

From the tea party to talk radio, conservatives have taken aim at the new curriculum, describing it as liberally biased and anti-American.

In August, the Republican National Committee passed a resolution condemning the course, decrying it as a "radically revisionist view of American history that emphasizes negative aspects of our nation's history while omitting or minimizing positive aspects."

Here is my account from a while back of my experience with the social science / humanities curriculum in lily-white Phi-ville. Not much has changed.

The board has released a sample test, which is given at the end of the class to determine whether a student receives college credit. The test includes a section on interpreting documents and charts, multiple-choice questions and essays.

Here are a few sample questions. "Briefly explain ONE example of how contact between Native American and Europeans brought changes to Native American societies in the period 1492 to 1700."

An essay question: "Analyze major changes and continuities in the social and economic experiences of African Americans who migrated from the rural South to urban areas in the North in the period 1910-1920."

Another: "Some historians have argued that the American Revolution was not revolutionary in nature. Support, modify or refute this interpretation."

So, of the three questions quoted in the article, two directly support the protestor's point. Those questions address two native-settler conflicts: the European colonization of the New World, and the southern Black colonization of northern cities during the Great Migration. However, notice how that first question only asks about the impact on the American Indian "natives" when discussing the colonial period, but only about the Black "settlers" when discussing their movement to northern cities during the 20th Century? Why aren't both settler and native perspectives important in both cases?  (Φ asks rhetorically.)

Stephanie Rossi, a 35-year teacher who has taught AP U.S. history at Wheat Ridge High School in Jefferson County for more than a decade, is stunned by "the assumption that teachers of U.S. history are leading kids astray, teaching them to be un-American and we're not honoring the history of this country."

She said critics did not understand the new curriculum. Most students come to the accelerated class already understanding well-known historical characters and events.

Her job, she said, is to challenge them to dig deeper into the role of religion, geography and ideology surrounding history and adding other voices or perspectives that might not be as familiar.

But the problem is that every history teacher the students have ever had approaches them the same way, as if the students had a full primary and secondary history curriculum as it was taught in, let's say, 1950, and it was her job to teach those "other voices or perspectives". The result is students unaware of any narrative except the minority one.

"This notion that we would leave these pivotal figures in American history out is just ludicrous," said Rossi, who serves as vice president of the Jefferson County teachers union.

"I don't think of history as positive or negative. I think of it as a story. And within that story there are successes and failures, tragedies and moments of great brilliance," she said. "I feel very strongly that I have to let my students come to their own understanding, their own conclusions."

Yeah, let me give an example of how "coming to their own understanding" works in practice. Early this semester, Aquila was asked to choose among three narratives describing the War Between the States, discussing it from a "slavery", "states' rights" or a third one I can't remember. Aquila, in a fit of contrariness (God bless her!) chose "states' rights". After submitting the assignment, Aquila received it back with instructions to do it again from a "slavery" perspective. So much for "their own conclusions"; this was apparently the only acceptable perspective.

In Colorado, the effort to oppose the new curriculum lost control of the narrative, which went from being about “propaganda” to being about “censorship”:

Since Sept. 22, thousands of Jefferson County high school students have walked out of classes in a protest against a conservative school board member's plan to scrutinize the AP history curriculum after she also found it too negative in its depiction of America.

Julie Williams, elected last year to the Jeffco Public Schools board as part of a conservative slate now in the majority, asked that teachers instead use a curriculum that promotes a respect for authority, patriotism and "essentials and benefits of the free-enterprise system."

She said teachers should avoid materials that "encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard the law."

Notice that these protests were triggered, not by conservative changes to the new curriculum, nor to a plan to change the curriculum, but merely by one school board member’s “plan to scrutinize” it.  Really?  Students are paying that kind of attention to school board meetings?

On the other hand, Julie’s particular phrasing (if indeed it is hers; my suspicion is that this is taken out of context if not wholly fabricated) was exceedingly poor optics.  Whatever the virtue of “respect for authority” as a character trait, it’s a tall order for a history curriculum even without considering how . . . bad it would go over with teenagers.  And “avoiding materials that ‘encourage or condone civil disorder,’” etc. means . . . what exactly?  That we can’t be in favor of the America’s War for Independence?

Here is a picture that the Daily Mail ran to accompany its article on the Jefferson County protests:

Unrest: Students line a busy intersection protesting against a Jefferson County School Board proposal to emphasize patriotism and downplay civil unrest in the teaching of U.S. history, in the Denver suburb of Littleton, Thursday. Several hundred students walked out of class Thursday in the fourth straight day of protests in Jefferson County

The other pictures were in the same vein. There are three schools mentioned in the articles as being part of the protest:

Jefferson County High School

Pomona High School

Bear Creek High School

Only two of these schools are majority white, and those just barely. They are rated 5/10 by Great Schools; Jefferson, the 71% black school, is rated 3/10.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

On Rational and sub-Rational Thought

I was thinking, in the context of my last post, on the rise of nude selfies.

The sexual revolution has long been with us, as has photography. Porn as a commercial enterprise has been with us for, to a first approximation, ever, yet the phenomenon of otherwise well-brought-up young women taking semi-pornographic photos of themselves is relatively recent, even in the context of enabling technologies such as digital cameras and high-speed internet. Opinions will differ, but I'm inclined to regard the violations of chastity inherent therein as relatively benign compared with what are now treated socially as routine violations, such as fornication and divorce. Yet the newness of nude selfies, along with the apparent "foreverness" of the internet, make these especially controversial.

Has morality changed? I think not, or rather, not morality per se; what we are observing is the erosion of inhibition -- "hang ups", if you will -- against having oneself appear nude in images. But morality is not the same as inhibition. An inhibition may point to a moral insight, or perhaps a social convention that we trespass at our peril. But inhibition, that state of being uncomfortable with certain actions, is not the same as the proper consideration of the laws of God and our fellow citizens, and may be a sorry substitute for it for a couple of reasons I can think of.

But maybe not. Let me again draw a comparison to racism (or, if you prefer, "racism"). Believe it or not, I do not personally consider myself a racist, since I regard both racism and anti-racism as "faulty philosophical priors". I do consider myself a realist, and I strive mightily to pass this realism to my children; that realism is stood in opposition to anti-racism with far more strength and frequency than it is against racism is driven by the obverse priorities of public education, not by my personal scale of values.

Yet what if empirical engagement with reality is a non-transmissible eccentricity? What if all my effort is only setting loose two beautiful blonde racists upon the world?

Too damn bad. If realism isn't an option, then there is probably some level of racism that optimizes my daughters' individual flourishing. Obviously, too much racism would, for instance, impair their social functioning in professional environments characterized by some level of ethnic diversity; but too little racism would leave them defenseless before, for another instance, sexually predatory gangs of Pakistanis.

To bring this analogy full circle, if we can't get sexual morality, then sexual inhibition would have to do. And likewise, too much inhibition could be expected to cripple marital intimacy, while too little of it leaves them with a "thousand cock stare" and selfies on 4Chan.

Hitting those sweet spots are challenges in their own right. Better, I think, to strive for realism, and morality.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Nude Selfies and Victim Blaming

I would like to generally endorse this Volokh piece, written in the context of the recent celebrity nude photo hack, on the appropriate role of advice on self-preservation, a.k.a. "victim blaming", in these and other circumstances.

I also thought the end of this comment at WP was particularly instructive:

The more I think about this recent leak, the more sickened I am. To begin with, it wasn’t just an obvious invasion of privacy, it was an ILLEGAL invasion of privacy. Whatever moral judgments I might have about what people use their phones for, the only purpose served by invading their privacy and blasting it to the entire world is shaming someone. I think we forget so easily that celebrities have all the same emotions and hang ups we do, and then laugh at their expense when they get knocked of the pedestal WE put them on.

That said, I think making him sell the L.A. Clippers was probably for the best.

Of course, virtually nobody outside the Steve-o-sphere raised the issue of the invasion of Sterling's privacy in violation of the law, whereas there are no shortage of celebrity defenders, as this response indicates:

No, the third issue of the bad conduct revealing a serious moral flaw in its victim distinguishes it. There we're not focusing on the blame the man deserved in the situation for not watching his tongue amid the possibility he might be surreptitiously recorded, we're focused on the degree to which his off-the-cuff remarks reflected a very faulty set of philosophical priors on his part.

Actually, I wouldn’t rank Sterling's "faulty philosophical priors" (as the commenter styles it) even as grave a moral violation as those of the nude-selfie-takers. To the extent that these photos were taken for the benefit of men-not-their-husbands -- Upton and Lawrence, for instance, are unmarried -- the takers were guilty of unchastity, mild though it may be. (Upton, who apparently identifies as Christian, especially ought to have behaved better.) In contrast, among Sterling's many, many crimes against reason, ethics, art and wisdom, his "racism" as indicated in the surreptitious recordings was pretty mild; contra the commenter, that it was this that generated such hysterical treatment in official discourse says more about the perversity of our times than it does about Sterling.

But yes, these are, and ought to be, separate issues from the violations of their privacy, to which they are lawfully entitled.