Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Random Thoughts on Weinsteingate

I must confess that, while reading SSC's post on Overgendering Harassment, to having a what-was-he-wearing reaction to the problem of female-on-male sexual harassment along the lines I have written about here, for instance. This isn't to say that I think specific cases are funny or sexy; on the contrary, the account of one of Scott's commenters is genuinely harrowing. But it's rather like listening to someone complain how awful the jetlag is on their annual vacation to Maui: dude, you have an annual vacation to Maui? I managed to provoke almost zero interest, even from unattractive girls, until age 27, and even today, my median social experience with women-not-my-wife is passing them in the hallway as they decline to make so much as eye contact. Now I will admit that I should be more comfortable than I tend to be with my mix of trade-offs; after all, my romantic life eventually turned out well, with a happy marriage to a loving and faithful woman. But let me turn the question around: which of these male victims would trade places with me: no sexual harassment, and also no dating, let alone sex, for ten years after high school, during which you will have no assurance that things will ever get better?

For that matter, I suppose I could ask female victims of harassment the same question. And I understand that there are good reasons why the psychic toll of sexual harassment is greater on the median woman than it is on the median man. But, what if her ratio of wanted and unwanted sexual interest were fixed, and she could only control the overall frequency. Would she really pick zero of both?

It is satisfying to see high-profile Democrats (suddenly) held to the same standards that the rest of us have been living under for 25 years. That doesn't change the fact that those standards are mostly stupid. They were stupid at Tailhook and the Clarence Thomas hearings, and they are stupid today.

The conduct at issue the last couple of months is all over the severity map. On the one extreme we have Weinstein and Conyers, who (it is alleged) backed up their appetites with an elaborate system of rewards and punishments, blackmail and payoff. In the middle we have Spacey and the Frankengroper, who, at a minimum, assumed far more than was warranted about their own attractiveness; and, at maximum, committed assault. But by the time we get to, say, Garrison Keillor, I don't actually have a problem with imposing the burden on women (or men) to say, "please don't do that". But unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), Weinsten's Caligula-level depravity anchored the issue in the public mind. So now all of them are having their statues pulled down, their parks and schools renamed.

We might have hoped for a new consensus: "zero-tolerance for sexual assault" is to apply a dumb-as-rocks policy to a weaselly category. But that doesn't look very likely at present.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Roy Moore and Brooke Shields

In light of recent news reports, I thought it apropos to re-link my 2013 essay on the ebb and flow of elite attitudes towards the sexualization of young people.

I was surprised, on rereading it, that I had neglected to mention specifically the 2009 attempt by the London Tate Gallery to exhibit nude pictures of Brooke Shields taken in 1975 when she was ten years old. That effort ended promptly following a visit from the police: you can't show those pictures in public anymore, never mind their availability on the internet.

If you do a search on "Brooke Shields Tate Gallery", Google Images will show you (most of) the controversial images. Those images are, if it needs to be said, NSFW, and personally unsettling. If you choose to run that search, I would recommend clearing your browser cache afterwards. If the FBI ever searches your computer, you'll have a hard-enough time explaining your pirated movie collection without having to deal with what an ambitious prosecutor might make of them.

For those of my readers from the Millennial generation, Brooke Shields was a big deal in late 70s and early 80s. She appeared semi-nude in Calvin Klein advertisements, and was the star of the movie The Blue Lagoon. Like the Tate gallery, these were not seedy low-rent venues. Sure, young Brooke's oeuvre was controversial, but only because Christian hicks like me were making a fuss about it. Everybody who was Anybody thought it no worse than edgy.

Brooke Shields was 14 years old when she ran around the set of TBL acting out its strong sexual content with nothing but her beautiful hair covering her breasts. This is the same age at which Roy Moore's youngest accuser is alleged to have engaged in heavy petting with the then-32 year old Senate candidate.

My point here is neither to concede the truth of her allegations, nor to defend the conduct were it actually true. It is rather to open a window into what the Cool People were thinking in the late 70s. Today we take for granted certain hard limits to the Sexual Revolution that were by no means obvious 40 years ago. If context and nuance ever come back in favor, this will be something to keep in mind.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

"White Men" Alert!

Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) writes:

This Spring, one of the chief architects of failed trickle-down economics, Martin Feldstein, let the cat out of the bag. On the Wall Street Journal Opinion page he laid out in detail how Washington Republican elites plan to pay for so-called tax reform: with massive cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

Brown's link goes to an article behind the WSJ paywall, but the headline reads:

Balancing Lost Tax Revenue the Reagan Way: Gradually increasing the Social Security eligibility age can offset revenue loss from Trump’s tax cuts.

Now, while raising the retirement age, a perennial favorite of policy wonks spending their working lives in air-conditioned office buildings, could be said to decrease lifetime social security benefits when we assume fewer remaining years of eligibility, it probably isn't what most readers assume by "massive cuts". But then, "raising the retirement age" doesn't sound as scary.

Brown continues:

Now the latest proposal they’ve floated would take away the freedom Americans have to choose the retirement savings plan that works best for them and force everyone into a Roth account – slapping taxes on the retirement savings of working, middle class families.

You’ve got to be kidding me: their two best ideas to pay for massive tax cuts for Wall Street are to slash Social Security and then steal from the retirement accounts of working, middle class Americans.

Not if I have anything to say about it.

Brown links to a WaPo editorial, which links to Politico:

In addition to the revenue raisers such as eliminating the deduction for state and local taxes — a benefit that disproportionately hits taxpayers in high-cost states like California, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts — the tax negotiators are scouring former Republican Rep. Dave Camp’s 2014 tax plan for other ideas.

One idea quietly being discussed would be taxing the money that workers place into their 401(k) savings plans up front: an idea that would raise billions of dollars in the short-term and is pulled from the Camp plan. This policy idea is widely disliked by budget hawks, who consider it a gimmick; the financial services industry that handles retirement savings; and nonprofits that try to encourage Americans to save.

In other words, Senator Brown is telling two separate lies. First, the proposal has nothing to do with IRAs; both Traditional and Roth IRAs will remain available. The proposal concerns taxing employer-sponsored 401K plans like Roth IRAs rather than Trad IRAs. And second, workers do not now "choose" their 401K taxation rules as they do for IRAs: all 401K plans are taxed at withdrawal.

Now, with the stipulation that this proposal is pretty dumb, I want to point out that (a) ideas that are only being "quietly discussed" seldom make it into final legislation, and (b) such legislation wouldn't "steal" anything. It wouldn't even "slap taxes" on anything. It would merely move the point of taxation from the distribution to the contribution. Hell, depending on the assumptions, such a move might even reduce the taxes paid; certainly that's how most financial planners model Trad vs. Roth IRAs.

Brown finishes with a flourish:

If President Trump and Congressional Republicans want to work together with us to build a tax code that puts more money in the pockets of working families and small businesses – and rewards employers that keep jobs in the U.S., Democrats are ready and willing to work with them to get it done.

But if Senator McConnell follows the model of healthcare – where a handful of white men met in back rooms to write a bill designed by special interests lobbyist – he’s going to have one hell of a fight on his hands. [Emphasis added.]

Um . . . "white men"? Putting aside Brown's déclassé racial trolling, what does this have to do with proposed changes to the taxability of 401K plans? I googled "401K participation by race", and the first non-pdf link had this paragraph:

The results of the study reveal that — even after controlling for factors such as age, salary, and job tenure — quantifiable differences are clear across race and ethnicity in how successfully 401(k) plans are used. In general, we found that African-American and Hispanic workers have lower participation rates and contribute less to their 401(k) plans than their white and Asian counterparts. They are also more likely to have a loan and/or take a hardship withdrawal. As a result, the 401(k) account balances for these workers are negatively impacted and chances for a comfortable retirement significantly compromised.

So, basically, even (or especially) if Brown's characterization of these proposals were correct, they would necessarily impact white workers more than black workers!

Apparently, the tendency among Democrat politicians to use of "white men" as an all-purpose negative intensifier is growing.

Monday, September 04, 2017

The Revenge of the Street-Walker

Senator Portman writes:

COLUMBUS, OH – Today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) convened a screening of I Am Jane Doe, a film available on Netflix that chronicles the stories of several victims of online sex trafficking on

Except . . . I watched I am Jane Doe, and the stories of these young women are exactly what I did not find in the movie, at least with respect to their experience in sex trafficking. I was hoping to hear their accounts of having been walking to school when they were abducted by strangers and chained in a basement to be forcibly raped for months on end. I expected -- since I suspect this is probably the case -- to hear their accounts of how a string of bad decisions about everything from drugs and boyfriends to deceiving their parents and sneaking behind their backs ultimately led them to their sorry ends. But the documentary contains none of that. The women and their handlers repeatedly assert that they were "raped a thousand times" and that what happened to them was "not their fault". But if you listen closely, you realize the filmmakers know this doesn't mean what you might think. One activist with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (there are several organizations whose representatives are interviewed, but NCMEC figures prominently) admits that trafficking victims "believe that prostitution was the best of their bad options," or words to that effect, and a former trafficker, now working as an anti-trafficking consultant, explains that while the fear of violence is certainly part if it, seduction was his primary tool. But the argumentative thrust of the film is that because sex with underage girls is "statutory rape", it is therefore morally fungible with forcible rape.

Here are some other things I saw in the film:

A Whole Lot of Motte and Bailey

Most people who make a distinction between voluntary and involuntary prostitution believe the term "sex trafficking" applies to the latter and not the former. But as I have written before, this is not the case. And the filmmakers and the people they cover are allowed to jump back and forth between their condemnations of "child sex trafficking" and "sex trafficking" without ever having to give an account of exactly what they mean and exactly what their expectations are of companies earnestly trying to stay within the law.

For instance, Backpage does, apparently, have standards for the adds it runs. It specifically bans the use of a number of words and phrases that imply a participant might be underage. It forbids mentioning amounts of money or increments of time. And it forbids any specific descriptions of services.

The result looks something like this ad I cut and pasted from Backpage's "Dating" section this morning. In its entirety:

Hello gentlemen! It's *****. I'm a college student looking for assistance with expensive tuition and books! 😏 Are you looking for Companionsiiip after a stressful work day/week? Look no further my sensual hands will do the trick and make you explode from your worries !! 💥 I offer candlelight relaxing music and curve fitting lingerie . U won't regret calling me
Please be respectful over phone 📲 ***** ***/***/****
Limit texting please
😌 Call now for appointment 💋😘
😊Im offering in by south ****** ) or out to your place all over area for extra .. I travel between ******/*****/**** generous men only please❤️.. ..i proof I'm 100% real.. Only available today. Ask about hot girlfriend joining 👭

Poster's age: 28
[Name, location, and phone number redacted. Spelling and emoticons in the original.]

Any reader of this advertisement with even a modicum of worldliness knows what's being offered here, just as we know that scantily clad young woman loitering in a seedy downtown area is a streetwalker (or a cop), and we know that the people pulling up their cars to talk with her are Johns (or cops, or some flavor of well-meaning idiot). But prosecutors are not allowed to bring charges against such people based on what they know, only on what they can prove, which is why vice squads, as I understand it, actually have to get these people in a room and negotiate a fee for service before they can make an arrest.

The Backpage plaintiffs, and their political and activist supporters, however, want to turn all this censoring against Backpage, asserting that it proves that Backpage is instructing the advertisers how to evade law enforceemnt and that therefore Backpage is itself in the business of sex trafficking. It's hard not to notice the Catch-22 being created.

The kindest interpretation of this is that they believe that since underage prostitution hides amidst adult prostitution (much as underage alcohol consumption hides amidst adult drinking), that therefore it all has to go. But nobody actually comes out and says this. Rather, "child sex trafficking" is used to conceal a much larger agenda.

The SJW Mentality

The film shows a state legislative hearing during which an attorney for Backpage, Liz McDougal, is called to account for the adds placed on her website. As shown, the state representatives make speeches, ask snarky questions and then repeatedly interrupt her attempts to answer. It says something about our political culture that the documentary takes this as evidence of the questioners' moral righteousness rather than for the boorish behavior it actually is.

Less egregiously, the film gives a grand total of two sentences to a defender of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act before immediately telling us that the Center for Democracy and Technology and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, both of whom submitted amici in favor of Backpage's interpretation in the Doe case, receive the bulk of their funding from Facebook and Google. I couldn't help get the impression that the intent was to generate popular pressure against Facebook and Google how the

Then there are the legal decisions themselves. To date, all legal action, both criminal and civil, has been dismissed, accompanied by opinions that are well-reasoned and emphatic in the context of the law. Yet not a single complete sentence from these decisions is quoted in the documentary. Instead, we are treated to fulmination after fulmination from lawyers and activists, angry at the fact that the "wrong people" enjoy the same protection of the law as the "right people", assuring the watchers that the judges are clueless and stupid for interpreting the law as it is clearly written.

The Runaway State

That plaintiff lawyers try to make the best of their client's weak legal position is unfortunate, but understandable, and in any case, Backpage doesn't seem to have any trouble affording its defense. The fact that several prosecutors have attempted to torture the law in their cases against Backpage is less forgiveable, and especially the late-2016 criminal charges filed in Texas and California. Given the judiciary's clear and consistent interpretation of the law, these strike me as nothing less than abuse of power, and it doesn't matter that the abusers think they're on the side of the angels.

My thoughts:

If it needs saying, I don't have a brief for prostitution, even of the "consenting adults" variety that many libertarians want to pass off as a victimless crime. I don't especially care about it, except insofar as it generates obvious negative externalities, among which street-walking is the paradigmatic example. If anything, it seems that to extent Backpage has moved the flesh trade off the streets and onto the internet, it has actually performed a public service. But neither do I especially care about the laws against it: ban it and its ads too, if that's what you wish to do.

And frankly, I'm losing interest in Section 230. If you had asked me last year, I would have said that continued immunity for forum operators was necessary to maintain a free and open internet, and that however little we like Backpage's inability or unwillingness to police its "adult services" and "dating" sections, we should be wary of throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

However, over the last couple of months we have watched the big technology companies themselves strangle the baby before our eyes. So their current lobbying to continue to offer us all the bathwater we want to drink doesn't seem nearly as compelling as it once did.

That said, legislation based on lies and deception is unlikely to yield the results we want or expect. There are already examples of how the hysteria surrounding sex trafficking is causing punishments wildly disproportionate to the underlying illegality. So even if we take at face value the good intentions behind, say, S. 1693, I am skeptical that the legal regime that follows will look like anything we will be happy with.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Clogging the Social

Via Trumwill, an article from the Babylon Bee (think The Onion for Evangelicals):

According to sources, Freeman, who dabbled in community college for a few semesters in his late teens before deciding it wasn’t for him, rode his longboard into the college ministry’s building as usual for Wednesday Bible study. College pastor Philip Huxley, whom Freeman affectionately calls “Preacha Hux,” was waiting at the door with several members of the security team to escort the unemployed Freeman to the church’s singles’ ministry on the other side of the property.

. . . .

A spokesman for Spring Hollow’s singles’ ministry, “Following Jesus Solo,” which consists of over three-dozen single men and five women in their twenties and thirties, says Freeman is slowly adjusting to post-college life and is expected to make a full recovery.

I didn't know that wanting to hang around the college-aged Sunday-school class past graduation (or college-age, at any rate) was A Thing. I moved after college, and it would not have occurred to me to try to attend a college class at any of the churches I attended thereafter.

I was 27 when I returned from my assignment to the Far East and began attending a large metropolitan church in a city at the base of the Rockies. The Sunday-school class I attended was marketed towards post-college singles. I enjoyed the class, but after a year or so I began noticing some emphasis put by the leadership on the class's intended age range, IIRC, 22 - 28. I don't know if this was directed at me personally -- in retrospect I don't think it was -- but I reasoned that I was now 28 and should at least start checking out the alternatives.

So I attended the class for the next age bracket up, and the experience was . . . depressing. I don't remember skewed demographics as implied by the satire, but I couldn't lower my expectations fast enough. I was leaving a class where there were (it seemed) a reservoir of attractive potential dating partners and where I enjoyed such status as could be had from being one of its senior members, to a class where the women were not just all older than me but visibly older. I saw almost none that I would date in anything other than a nadir of desperation, nor any whom I would expect to date me, given what must have appeared as my relative youth. I did briefly engage in conversation with what was perhaps the only exception, a woman who whatever her age was holding up pretty well . . . and learned that she was (a) PCSing to Korea, and (b) had a kid. Now, in my late 20s (and, hypothetically, even now, given what I know) the prospect of being a step-father was something that I would have to work through, but I knew even then that I couldn't expect much patience from a woman while I "worked through" such an indelible feature of her life.

Then there were the men. I'm not really qualified to pass judgment on another man's attractiveness to women. In the aggregate, there was a sense that I was looking at the second string, but looking back on it my primary impression was . . . hopelessness. In our twenties, we young professional men can tell ourselves that our lives -- professional, social, physical -- are only getting better. By our thirties, those of us for whom that is actually true are no longer attending the singles Sunday-school class. We've successfully graduated. For those of us left behind, we've come to realize that our lives plateaued well below where we thought they would, and that knowledge leaves a mark. In this particular case (according to Mrs. Φ, who had occasion to attend the same class separately), there were apparently a significant number of men who were recovering from divorce. Recovering, as in divorce wasn't something they did so much as was done to them.

"Is this my life now?" I wondered. It wasn't. Around this time I began courting Mrs. Φ, and we saved each other.

Trumwill writes that the Babylon Bee article reminded him of his erstwhile co-blogger, who wrote most recently under the pseudonym Sheila Tone. Sheila was not a church-goer -- rather militantly so, though that never kept her from making negative generalizations about church-goers. But I think what Trumwill is referencing is Sheila's writing about any social circle that clogs up with men whose social status hasn't kept pace with their advancing age.

Women hate, hate sharing social space with men of perceived inferior status. Those of you reading this blog know that the median 20-something woman's assessment of her own status against the median 20-something man's is not what an ordinal ranking would support. On the other hand, the penchant for female self-deception is also not something that's going to change anytime soon, so we might as well treat it as a parameter we have to work with. Even in my twenty-something Sunday-school class, the one I liked, I heard on two occasions complaints by women about the men along the lines of we weren't good enough for them. (One of these instances was directed at me personally, but, whatever.) Keeping ahead of this kind of criticism probably motivated the church to try to encourage adherence to the designated age range. The class benefitted from a particularly charismatic -- and tantilizingly unattached* -- worship leader, who I suspect was the reason we maintained the mix of women we did. But he eventually left, and the church may have lost that battle in the long run. I see from its website that my old class no longer exists, and there are now no classes marketed exclusively at either "singles" or "twenty-somethings".

* Twenty years later, he's still unattached. I hate thinking what that probably means.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Waking Up

I watched the movie Passengers last night on Blu-Ray. The movie concerns a mechanic, played by Chris Pratt, one of 5000 space colonists on a 120 year voyage to the (literally) New World, who wakes up from hypersleep 90 years prematurely.

The movie makes a big show of Chris Pratt agonizing over his dilemma, so as to build audience sympathy for his ultimate decision. He waits a year before waking Jennifer Laurence from hypersleep, and he does it out of some particularized deep connection to her video profile and the kind of person he imagines her to be.

I wouldn't have waited a year. I don't mean to make light of the dilemma when I say this; it would be a crappy thing to do to someone, and I would totally do it as soon as I despaired of either putting myself back in hypersleep or waking a crew member who could do it for me. And, because I'm a rat-bastard apparently, I wouldn't pick Jennifer Laurence just because I randomly noticed her hyper-sleeping figure as I was wandering the spaceship. Rather, I would go through every one of the 2500 female profiles to pick the most suitable companion for spending the rest of my natural life aboard a luxury spaceliner.

However, though I might be unconstrained by ethics, I would probably be constrained a more practical consideration: as Mrs. Φ helpfully reminded me, how many girls would throw themselves out the airlock before I found one that would want to be with me. More generally, after I had roused a candidate and fully explained the situation, what would be the probability that I would receive one of the following responses:

  • I have a boyfriend.
  • I play for the other team.
  • I think of you as a brother.
  • I can do better. [Wakes up Chris Pratt.]
  • Where's the airlock?

If numbers one or two were true, I could screen for it in the video profiles. If number three turned out to be true, it would be pretty frustrating, but perhaps not intolerable, especially at my age (late 40s). Number five would depress the heck out of me, but I would eventually get over it and try again.

The possibility of number four is where the game theory gets interesting. Whatever its probability, it would be constrained by the newly awakened male passenger having the same set of options, likewise constrained by the options available to whomever he wakes up. And so it goes . . .

It is an interesting thought experiment to consider how the story plays out if the roles were reversed: what if Jennifer Lawrence woke up first? I ask this not to accuse Hollywood of sexism, but to highlight the dynamics at play. For instance, it is easy to imagine a man getting lonely to the point of despondency; would a woman? Similarly, men nurse infatuation with women based on mere appearance all the time; this is far less common for women. Consider as well the position of the person awakened. We the audience knew it was bad for Pratt to basically chose the course of the balance of Lawrence's life for her without her consent, and her palpable anger when she discovers this has some resonance (even though we're pretty confident they will be back together before the credits roll). But would we have the same sympathy for a man's anger? Or would we expect a man to reason that spending your life aboard a cruise ship with a cute(ish) woman who wants to be with you is hardly the worst outcome imaginable.

All of which is to say that empathy isn't much use in calculating the probabilities of the responses above. Sure, at some threshold of obesity, the woman who woke me up wouldn't be acceptable even as the only sex partner available, but even if that threshold were to be crossed by someone who qualified for the space program, her companionship would still keep me from Opening Hypersleep Pod Number Two.

I sought the consult of the distaff members of my household, but they weren't especially helpful. Mrs. Φ was just as inclined to wake up a dozen people as she would Chris Pratt alone. My elder daughter (disturbingly) thought the airlock would be a rational choice under the circumstances, and was (reassuringly) trepidatious at the prospect of "doing that forever". (My younger daughter ventured no opinion at all.)

Somewhere I once read: "Women are like WiFi and men are like Bluetooth, because women connect to the strongest signal, whereas men connect to the closest." It would seem difficult to be out-signaled by a catatonic stranger, but I'd hate to be the guy that manages it. For instance, what if the person I picked just so happened to have an engaging conversation with someone just before going under; it wouldn't be in her profile, but it might get her imagining waking up with him on the other side. What kind of temptation would that present?

If I had any female readers, I'd ask them.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

AMOGing the not-a-date

In Chapter 7, "The Direction of Purity" of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, Josh Harris writes:

God calls us to the same zeal for righteousness in premarital relationships. What exactly does that look like? For me and many other people I know, it has meant rejecting typical dating. I go out with groups of friends; I avoid one-on-one dating because it encourages physical intimacy and places me in an isolated setting with a girl.

Commenter LDiracDelta explains how this works in practice:

Sure, a borderline stand-up comedian with charisma oozing out of him can use a "group dating" strategy, but not a future engineer. I knew I had to peel the ladies away into one-on-one dating as I was/am never going to be the life of the party.

This would be a specific example of how Harris's lack of empathy for men further down the status pyramid manifests itself. Because of his physical attractiveness and social dominance, Harris found it easy to AMOG the "groups of friends" after-church get-together's he attended in lieu of dating, and here, without really thinking about it, he experienced abundant adoration from hypergamous females. That's not to say that every woman he met regarded him as a suitable romantic partner; after all, a woman's head doesn't always follow her loins. But it is to say that a woman's head doesn't go where her loins haven't gone first, and Harris personally never had to concern himself with a woman's loin-iness as a primary obstacle.

Dirac's insight is that this is pretty fundamental to the psychology of one-on-one dating: it creates space for men who will never AMOG the "groups of friends" to build attraction with a specific woman.

Parenthetically, as I was thinking about how my experience with female friends differed from Harris's, it occurred to me that those experiences were the same in one respect: we both were only friends with girls who were attracted to us, irrespective of our attraction to them. That's a shame, but it's not necessarily a complaint: a number of writers have pointed out that a woman's social aversion to lower-status men can save us a lot of time in the long run. We men, while limited in our choice of potential friends, are free to select among them for amiability rather than attractiveness.