Friday, June 15, 2018

Now on Netflix: "Eye-baby Redux"

The article about Pensacola Christian College, "A College That's Strictly Different", is now behind The Chronicle of Higher Education's paywall, but we can still find excerpts:

Even couples who are not talking or touching can be reprimanded. Sabrina Poirier, a student at Pensacola who withdrew in 1997, was disciplined for what is known on the campus as "optical intercourse" — staring too intently into the eyes of a member of the opposite sex. This is also referred to as "making eye babies." While the rule does not appear in written form, most students interviewed for this article were familiar with the concept.

But that was back in the heady days of 2006! Oh, how the worm hath turned:

Netflix film crews 'banned from looking at each other for longer than five seconds' in #metoo crackdown

In reference to PCC's antagonists, I wrote back in 2011:

[They] are not motivated by a concern for due process, for which they evince no particular attachment. It is the rules themselves that they object to . . .

That now looks a trifle naive. I don't think they care for either due process or the specific content of the rules nearly as much as who is making them and by what authority. If that authority is Christianity, then the rules are ipso facto odious. But if the authority is feminism, then they must be met with approbation, and of course blind obedience.

Parenthetically, I discovered that the government's web filter has categorized Academy Watch as "hate-and-racism", which makes properly citing my own work a little difficult. Post subject to revision . . .

Sunday, February 04, 2018

A Golden Age of Serial Killers

I re-watched the excellent 2007 movie Zodiac last night, and wondered: what ever happened to serial killers? From my childhood (Wayne Williams) to my young adulthood (Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer), serial killers loomed large in my imagination. But with few exceptions (John Allen Mohammed), the serial murderers since then haven't made much of an impression on my consciousness, and some that did (Eileen Wourmos) only did so because they got movies. Was it my imagination, or did serial killing take a dive in popularity after, I dunno, the Columbine Massacre or 9/11?

Short answer: not really.

I turned to the Wikipedia page on Serial Killers and copy/pasted the table into Excel. I divided the "Proven Victims" column by years active to get a murders/year for each murderer or gang (this involved deleting duplicate entries in the table for each know member of the gang; each gang should only be counted once, though of course I could have missed some duplicates). I then summed up the murders / year for each year and produced the following graph:

With the exception of a spike in the 1930s almost exclusively the work of the Philadelphia Poison Ring, the serial killer phenomenon looks to be, basically, a product of the 1960s - 1980s crime wave, and the decline since seems to track the overall decline in violent crime since the mid-1990s. There doesn't seem to have been any noticeable impact of a single event as I had expected.

But that still leaves unexplained why even the extent serial killers don't really make much of an impression on me. Maybe I just stopped watching the news, or perhaps popular culture has moved on, or perhaps its just a numbers game: fewer serial killers make for fewer stars in the business. Thoughts?

Sunday, January 07, 2018

I Hate the Cable Company.

I'm writing to complain about Time Warner Cable, a.k.a Spectrum.

Here is a graph of my payments to Time Warner Cable over the last 10 years:

A few words of explanation:

  • The momentary dip around October 2008 was an outage in the wake of a severe storm, in compensation of which TWC didn't charge us for a week.
  • The precipitous drop in September 2011 was when, while I was between jobs, I called the cable company and told them that I could no longer afford their services. I don't remember if I had to visit the TWC office with DVR in hand, but they came through with the reduction shown.

  • The drop in November 2015 was when, in the wake of the Donald Sterling controversy, I permanently cancelled the television portion of my cable service, retaining only my internet service and digital phone line.

The rest of the fluctuations mostly represent TWC's policy of steadily ratcheting up the prices over time -- or, in their telling, the expiration of various "promotional" pricing. It's an application of the "frog in a frying pan" metaphor to price discrimination: Raise rates slowly, and most customers won't complain. But when a customer does complain, reset to the discounted price.

But sometimes the complaint has to be firm. It was not enough a year ago to merely call TWC about the $15/month increase: they stood firm over the phone, and I was that frog. But when I got around to opening this month's bill to discover another $16 increase, I drove 20 minutes in the snow, stood in line for an additional 20 minutes, dropped my modem on the TWC desk and said: "Cancel it." Why, underpaid customer service rep asked. "Because you raised my rates," I replied with admirable self-control. Can I see if there is anything I can do for you? "Make me an offer."

So staring yesterday I'll be paying what I paid in 2016. I have a brand new modem and substantially faster upload speeds.

But this is an ethically dubious business model. I suppose there are people paying exorbitant cable rates because they are rich enough that the bill falls below the noise level of their expenditures. I might even be close to that level of wealth myself, had I not come from a background where there is no such thing as a "noise level" with respect to spending money. But mainly, I believe TWC is basically taking advantage of people who are too old, working too long hours, too confrontation-averse, and/or too trusting in large institutions to give them a fair deal at a fair price.

In my case, it wasn't the money that chafed; AT&T wasn't going to charge me substantially less than TWC, and there would be some service trade-offs. What made me angry enough to stand in that line was the perceived disrespect: We'll charge you more because we can, and because we're betting you're an idiot. I guess I'm still enough of a Southerner for my personal honor to find itself at stake in those situations.

I'm just not sure that's a personality trait that should be rewarded at the expense of social trust and confrontation aversion.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Guest Post: "The Seeds of Social Justice"

The following is a guest post by Γ1, based on her observations of public high school status hierarchies.

Over the years of my educational career, I’ve seen a lot of stuff. Cloistered, as I am, in the lovely town of [Lilly-white Φ-ville], my experience is admittedly limited in certain regards but I’ve been treated to the general picture, albeit gentrified. Seeing as I myself am somewhat of an observer of trends, these years have allowed me to analyze how upper middle class children grow up. I’ve watched as the minds of my peers were carefully cultivated into political correctness and I’ve watched as the dissidents attempted (poorly I might add) to break free of it. Looking back on what I’ve been through so far, it’s amusing to see how things have panned out.

Of course the most obvious and perhaps the most depressing thing to watch is how true the things my father told me turned out to be. As a homeschooler, I couldn’t believe that people could spend so much time on diversity, an entity held up as an idol for many of these people. Yet, as I sat through one English class after another on how evil white people were, I began to accept my fate. Every single one of my classmates ate it up without issue and any and all attempts at questioning this narrative were largely silenced. Whether that was through my own inability to articulate my points or my teacher’s loyalty to the agenda, I’ll never know.

Throughout the next four years, I continued to be treated a wonderful selection of anti-white propaganda wherever it could be squeezed in. Whether it was English where almost every book was another attempt to browbeat us into submission, or it was History, where we must have learned about slavery a dozen times as well as a smattering of other instances of white’s oppressing one group or another, there was plenty of progressive narrative to go around. I spoke out where I could, against mass immigration, against diversity, and against whatever new thing we were expected to swallow. For the most part however, I kept my head down.

I was quite interested in not ending up as an unmentionable, after all.

Instead of railing against the status quo, I observed. Due to the type of school I attend, politics is a very real thing that people care about. We are, after all, the one percent. Thanks to the accomplishments of our parents, we can spend less time avoiding being murdered in gang warfare and more time talking about the failures of the latest political figure. Seeing as my ideas weren’t truly formed yet as well as not exactly being PC, I didn’t try to engage with many of my peers. I did however listen to them. The split within my grade was almost comical in its clarity.

The jocks were the stupid republicans who had no idea what they were on about. This was okay, naturally, because they were the jocks and people tolerated them, much like one tolerates a stupid, yet adorable pet. The kind that runs into walls and is slightly cross-eyed.

The popular, yet more artistically minded people were without fail the cool liberals who were obviously more reasonable than those jocks. They weren’t too annoying, until election time rolled around and they felt like everyone needed to hear their opinion of the world. Generally though, they were able to expel much of their teenage angst through expressive paintings and the drama club.

As you strayed from the sphere of popularity, you found the more normal, middling sort of children. As the majority, these were the people who knew enough to not talk politics because why would anyone listen? You could never be quite sure about those people and they’d often abstain from discussions to maintain that image. It was a survival tactic in and of itself and if one got too far out of line, they tended to be excommunicated swiftly and silently. Cruel, but I respect the skill. Of course, there were tells, but in the end they were a pretty even split, with friend groups being mixed crowds of moderates that weren’t into politics enough to care yet or were at least determined to appear that way.

Then there were the very bottom crowd. The dregs if you will. Those who were either not cool enough to make it into a better spot on the social ladder or those that, in an attempt to be hipster, abstained from a spot on the ladder altogether. This, unfortunately, was where I was.

Of course I can’t complain, I chose to be there intentionally. I was almost recruited by several groups when I first got to school, including both sides of the popular crowd. At the time however, I didn’t understand the opportunities being offered to me so I stayed away. I didn’t want the social responsibilities that came with popularity and ended up compromising on political hegemony. But these are, as they say, the breaks.

For the most part, the people who I called my friends didn’t care about politics. They were too busy trying to kill themselves to care who was the current party in power. Uncharitable, yes, but accurate nonetheless. Up until eighth grade, I never heard word one about politics from any of them. The massive coalition of people that formed what I considered a decent group to be around. The nerds who would eventually split off, the losers, who somehow managed to stick around, and the hipsters, who made up the central tenant of people, all of these people were what I called friends.

And then eighth grade rolled around and boy, did I not see it coming.

Suddenly people started caring about politics. The gamers and the nerds mostly spilt off at this point, probably uninterested in anything but their video games and honors math classes. Those who were left over, the hipsters and the losers, who eventually became one and the same (there’s probably a lesson to be had there…), were almost entirely liberal. But they weren’t just liberal, no, they were Socialist or Communist or even, and there were only a few of these, Anarchists. They never bothered to argue topics of the day, no, all these bourgeois children cared to discuss was the plight of the working class, a section of society they had only ever seen through the tinted windows of their mother’s newest Volvo.

This was something I endured, mostly because it was amusing. I never imagined that all these ridiculous ideologies that never worked anyway, would actually continue to hold sway over people that I had up until then believed to be logical and cynical. Naturally, I had underestimated the power of wealthy idiocy.

Because as everyone knows, it’s always the rich people who are the craziest. They can afford to be.

But I didn’t have to deal with much of it because I left and thus was removed from the heart of this insanity. As I continue to keep in contact with these people however, while at the same time becoming increasingly more aware of the state of our society, particularly the Social Justice movement, I notice a terrifying trend.

Those kids that I had left had now become, without exception, Social Justice Warriors. The indoctrination started young and it started slow but it started under my nose nonetheless. Like the creep of parasitic vines along a healthy tree, the roots of regressive leftism slowly worked their way into those kids I once called my friends.

At the bottom, they had, or at least believed they had, nothing to make them different or special. It was in the fabled eighth grade that it started. One of my friends came out as gay. No one saw it coming, but it heralded a greater movement. Little by little the rot started creeping in. That’s when the socialists and the commies showed up but at the same time, many of the girls started identifying as feminists. Then a large figure of the coalition of losers came out as polyamorous and pansexual before starting to date a girl. Others suddenly realized they were Trans and by the time I was leaving to be homeschooled again, they had just welcomed in the only fat black girl of our school into their fold.

It took me a year to realize what they had become, but then I was seeing it. A group of people who used to be the losers, were suddenly known as the people who, given the opportunity, would rant on about the oppression inherent in the system till your ears fell off. It was horrifying and a miracle that I survived at all.

As I look over it, it occurs to me that I bore witness to something that is often overlooked. While fingers can be pointed at the school system for brainwashing the children, that isn’t exactly the whole story. It starts with the kids who don’t know how to stand out in a socially acceptable way. As they attempt to fit that weirdness into something a little more acceptable, they find things like the LGBTQ+ spectrum and Feminism, things that allow them to be different. Suddenly, celebrated by the popular liberals who want to say the right things so they can continue to be the in crowd, these former losers discover how far you can get just by believing in a certain thing. This leads them to turn these identities into personalities. The fact that the stupid dumb I can’t believe they even manage to be popular jocks make fun of them only strengthens their belief that they’re doing the right thing. By the end, they’ve learned to turn oppression into currency and acceptance into a weapon.

Now I don’t pretend to know how to stop this. Heck, I probably don’t even fully understand how it happens. In Lilywhitevill where nothing bad ever happens, I can only see my school. But for what I can see, I can guarantee that this is how it happens. How the losers find somewhere to belong in the Cult of Social Justice.

I’m honestly just glad I survived.

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.