Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Φ has a Tin Ear

Now that Mark Lloyd has joined Van Jones on the growing roster of Obamatrons who speak too candidly of the administration's intentions, I guess I should make a confession:

I don't get it.

It's not that I don't understand what's bad about an FCC honcho expressing admiration for the way Hugo Chavez dealt with its opposition press. It's that I don't understand why these statements fall into the category of things-people-resign-for. On the contrary, I expect Obama's minions to try to conduct government affairs in a manner that increases their power at the expense of conservatives. I expect that the people who would vote for Obama share his admiration for Hugo Chavez. Clearly, this expectation was incorrect, but I find myself completely unable to predict in advance what of the daily deluge of administration outrageousness will actually, you know, outrage somebody that matters.

Actually, Van Jones' shenanigans, over which he long-since resigned, seem to fall far lower on my scale of meaningful outrage than the man's job title:

Green Jobs Czar

I imagine that a lot of supporters of all things "Green" thought that "Green" policies were about doing something for the environment. How many really thought it was about "Jobs" that would be apportioned out by a government "Czar"?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Six Flags Over Nigeria?

Somehow I think this is going to end badly:

Six Flags Inc., one of the world's largest theme park operators with 21 properties in North America, is planning to open a theme park in a place where no theme park has gone before: Nigeria.

. . . .

However, Mr. Speigel [president of International Theme Park Services, a consulting firm in Cincinnati] has some doubts about the company's Nigerian venture. "I'm not sure if this announcement brings credibility to Six Flags' table," he said.

"It's a worthy cause for Six Flags to spread this type of entertainment, but [Nigeria] is a tough place to do business given the role corruption and government interference play there," he said. "Some parts of the country are having trouble clothing its people. I have to question whether Nigeria is ready for an attraction of this nature."

Nigeria derives about 95 percent of its foreign exchange earnings and 80 percent of its budget revenues from oil production, according to data collected by the CIA. That crucial revenue stream has been threatened by a spate of kidnappings of foreign oil workers by militant groups.

More than 500 people have been kidnapped in Nigeria so far this year, up nearly 70 percent from 2008. Several foreign companies, including Willbros Group Inc., a U.S. oil services contractor, have withdrawn from Nigeria.

Let me be more specific: Nigeria doesn't have a sufficient population of customers able to pay the kind of gate receipts that will allow the park to operate at North American standards. But if the park operates below North American standards . . . well, the best-case scenario is that western journalists visit the park and write articles about how the Nigerian effort is shabby, unsafe, and underpays its workers, tarnishing the Six Flags brand. Worst case is that one of these underpaid Nigerian staffers working the rollercoaster kills a carload full of customers, whose relatives sue Six Flags in American courts.

Why this obsession with growth? Surely Six Flags has all the brand recognition it can use, and I can't see much in the way of economies of scale in theme park operation. So why not concentrate on the markets with the wealth and income to support theme parks?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Link Love

Via Wapiti Ferdinand, a two part story of woman in Manhattan. And the man she nearly married:

Mr. Wright . . . has spent 32 years doing the right thing– studying hard, getting good grades, working late, refraining from excessive drug use– in order to achieve his ideal future. Believing his future wife would be displeased by a string of casual encounters, he also abstained from casual sex. At this moment, he remembers the darkest and most trying point of his life. It was in the small hours of January 21, 2000– his twenty-third birthday– when he nearly surrendered his goal of becoming a venture capitalist. He hated New York– a city with frigid winters, where he had no friends. He was less than a year out of college, and he loathed his job– he was an analyst at an investment bank; the work was boring and the hours were brutal. A virgin to this point, he questioned his decision to pursue academic excellence in lieu of college “fun”, i.e. binge drinking and the pursuit of women. This is what I worked my ass off for? THIS? Taking a 3:00 am cab ride out to Brooklyn after a 19-hour work day, he was pretty sure that in five hours, he’d be resigning from Wall Street forever. . . .

As soon as he sat down on his couch, he crashed. He hadn’t set an alarm clock, but who cares about being on time for a job that one is about to quit? Nonetheless, he arose naturally at 7:20. The winter sun had barely risen, but the sky was the clearest he had ever seen it. Outside, it was certainly very cold, but at least it was beautiful. Aaron, a freshly 23-year-old nobody, brushed his teeth, skipped the shower, suited up and went to work. He felt a bit better, and was determined not to collapse entirely, not to flunk out of his job. . . .

That night in January, when Aaron nearly lost hope, could have derailed his career. It was the point where he stared into the hibernal abyss, and nothing but a few drifting snowflakes stared back. At the same moment, Sarah was in college. At a party. Getting split open by a beer-breathed fraternity brother.

Read the whole thing.

Also, I saw the movie Observe and Report this weekend. I don't have much to say about it, other than that it's a dark, demented version of Mall Cop, which I already reviewed. Once upon a time, an unobstructed view of the male organ of generation brought a film an "X" rating. Does anybody know what "R" film succeeded in breaking this taboo?

I've also been reading A Confederacy of Dunces, about which I also have little to say. I wonder if women, when complaining about "betas" or "nerds", actually have somebody in mind like Ignatius Reilly. (And if you haven't read the book, you can get an idea from the picture on my Amazon link.) It occurred to me that, in light of the author's suicide at age 32, Ignatius Reilly was somehow a projection of the author's negative self-image, an alter-ego representing, not everything he wanted to be, but everything he was afraid he might become.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Parable of the Tawny Scrawny Lion

Recently, Mrs. Φ obtained a copy of one of our childhood favorites, Tawny Scrawny Lion. Do you remember that story?

Once there was a tawny, scrawny, hungry lion who never could get enough to eat.

He chased monkeys on Monday, kangaroos on Tuesday, zebras on Wednesday, bears on Thursday, camels on Friday, and on Saturday, elephants.

And since he caught everything he ran after, that lion would have been as fat as butter. But he wasn't at all. the more he ate, the scrawnier and hungrier he grew.

The other animals didn't feel one bit safe. They stood at a distance and tried to talk things over with the tawny, scrawny lion.

It's all your fault for running away," he grumbled. "If I didn't have to run, run, run for every single bite I get, I'd be fat as butter and sleek as satin. Then I wouldn't have to eat so much, and you'd last longer!"

The animals prevail on the fat little rabbit to "talk" to the lion. So he hops right up.

"You look much too scrawny to talk things over," he said. "So how about supper at my house first?"

The lion, intending to eat the fat little rabbit and his numerous siblings, agrees, and after gathering food, they arrive that the rabbit home.

And when they saw the tawny, scrawny lion, they gave him a big bowl of hot stew. And then they hopped about so busily, that really, it would have been quite a job for that tired, hungry lion to catch even one of them! So he gobble his stew, but the rabbits filled his bowl again. When he had eaten all he could hold, they heaped his bowl with berries.

And when the berries were gone -- the tawny, scrawny lion wasn't scrawny any more! He felt so good and fat and comfortable that he couldn't even move.

. . .

"Mind if I stay a while?" he asked.

"We wouldn't even hear of your going!" said the rabbits, Then they plumped themselves down in the lion's lap and began to sing songs.

Once the other animals realized that the lion isn't hunting them anymore, they ask the fat little rabbit how he managed to subdue him.

The bat little rabbit jumped up in the air and said, "Oh, my goodness! We had such a good time with that nice, jolly lion that I guess we forgot to talk about anything at all!"

I love that story. I'm pretty sure there's a lesson in there somewhere, but I can't quite put my finger on it . . . .

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Race or Culture?

Prime, of Beta Revolution, comments:

I didn't mean to say that the writers of [Sons of Anarchy] were instructing us that it was morally reprehensible to be explicitly white in our associations. I think they were just presenting what is true for the majority of us. We don't feel comfortable in exclusively ethnocentric groupings, for ourselves especially, but we also want to see other groups not completely endogamous. What we find natural and praiseworthy is a grouping based on shared principles and outlook. It just so happens that these often turn out heavily majority white, whether it's in our churches, fraternities, or Motorcycle clubs. But when you create an association as an enclave for a particular ethnic group, then you lose some control over what the principles and outlook are for the association, sacrificing these to an inclusiveness which carries with it dysfunctional co-ethnics.

Hard to argue with. Thirty years ago, in the age before video cameras, I was that kid in Belleville often enough, except that I could never make any generalizations about the race of my tormenters. I was everybody's equal-opportunity target. So I'm not inclined to romaticize America's white working class, at least from the perspective of a skinny, awkward geek. More generally, would my vision of community share more in common with, say, a Berber or Assyrian Christian fleeing persecution, or Ditchkins? The answer isn't obvious.

But then I read this post (H.T.: Ferdinand) about present day Memphis (the demographics, for those of you keeping score at home), and I think, so, if race predicts culture, then what difference does it make?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

IMBs on National Geographic

I couldn't sleep last Friday night, so I found myself watching the "Email Order Bride" episode of the Inside series on the National Geographic channel.

A few thoughts:

  • My primary emotion watching the episode was sadness. It profiled two male clients of an International Marriage Broker (IWB) seeking Russian women. We saw profiles of two men: the first, 36yo James, starting his relationship with 30yo Uliana; the second, 3rd grade schoolteacher Gary (age not provided, but I would guess 50yo), who married his Russian fiance' Olga (I would guess 40yo) by the end of the hour. My general impression was that, personality-wise, James had a bit more going for him than Gary, but both of these men were sweet, awkward, and bereft of game. We see James' fawningly complimenting Uliana in a desperately beta kind of way; we see Gary, at the airport to receive Olga, waiting for two hours for her to clear customs, almost in tears at the possibility that she may not have made the flight. It was easy to see why these men faced difficulty in the domestic mating market. They were, in a word, harmless, it both the good and bad senses of the word.

  • And then there was . . . Indle King. I try to be skeptical of easy post hoc predictions in which people say, yeah, this guy was obviously dangerous. But looking at the Nat. Geo. clips of the King family's home movies (no doubt selected for affect, but still), it looks to me like Indle's issues went beyond mere lack of game. But on the other hand, what is obvious to us should have been obvious to Anastasia, who had ample opportunity to not marry a man that obviously repelled her. But instead of doing that, she waited until she was securely married in the U.S. to . . . stop having sex with him. I think I can safely say, without "blaming the victim" or justifying murder that Anastasia perpetrated a monstrous fraud on her husband, a fraud for which he had no legal recourse.

  • I didn't think either of the two women, Uliana and Olga, were drop-dead beautiful. Uliana was a seven, while Olga was at best a five. But they were each definitely a cut or two above what James and Gary would have qualified for here in the U.S. And it was clear that they were going through what I would call an adjustment in expectations as they realized that, no, Cary Grant didn't subscribe to IMB services. Uliana seemed cheerfully amused at James' goofiness. Olga seemed . . . resigned. Notwithstanding Gary's giddy devotion to her, Olga gave him nothing emotionally except reserved politeness, even as she married him. (Oddly, during their simple civil ceremony, the show only showed Gary stating his vows, which reinforced this impression. Again, film editors wield enormous power in managing impressions in this regard.) Heartbreaking in its way. I dunno, maybe Gary and Olga can both be happy with this arrangement. It appears that IMB marriages are more successful that domestic marriages overall. But I stand by my original warning about how cultural differences can bite your ass.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Kanye-Westify Your Blog

Gave me a giggle. H.T.: Ace

Dysfunctional Whites

From the AP:

Richard Alden Samuel McCroskey III, 20, is already charged in the killing of Mark Niederbrock, a pastor at a Presbyterian church in central Virginia. He's expected to face more charges in the future, after investigators sift through hundreds of pieces of forensic evidence.

At a news conference Tuesday, the other victims were identified as Longwood University professor Debra Kelley, 53; Emma Niederbrock, 16, the daughter of Kelley and Mark Niederbrock; and Melanie Wells, 18, of Inwood, W.Va.

The bodies were discovered over the weekend at Kelley's home in Farmville, about 50 miles west of Richmond. Debra Kelley and Mark Niederbrock had been separated for about a year.

Prince Edward County Commonwealth's Attorney Jim Ennis would not reveal what kind of weapon was used, if the victims suffered other injuries or a possible motive. He confirmed that McCroskey was staying in Kelley's home during a visit to Virginia and called the investigation "unparalleled."


The girls had last logged in to their MySpace pages [here, perhaps] on Sept. 14. Mark Niederbrock was last heard from on Thursday, when he told the church treasurer he was going to Richmond for a meeting.


Sarah McCroskey has said her brother -- who rapped about killing, maiming and mutilating people under the moniker "Syko Sam" -- was a meek and kind person who never fought back when picked on and wouldn't do anything unless provoked.


Niederbrock and Kelley had taken their daughter and Wells to a concert in Michigan on Sept. 12, and the girls hung out with Richard McCroskey before and after the show, according to a friend.

Here is a picture of "Syko Sam". Here is a picture of Pastor Niederbrock.

News reports locate the pastor's church in either Hixburg (really!) or Pamplin, neither of which rates a mention at The cities towns wide spots are pretty close to each other. Here are the stats on Pastor Niederbrock's church. (Parenthetically, the main page of the PCUSA website makes no mention of Niederbrock's death, but does tell its parishoners that next month is "Domestic Violence Awareness Month". I don't know if this is what they had in mind, but note that the PCUSA is the oldline liberal Presbyterian denomination.) Walker's Presbyterian is down to 35 members after having lost 42 members in 2008. Appomattox is a conservative county, and Niederbrock's "separation" probably wasn't very popular.

The murders took place in the college town of Farmville at the home of Niederbrock's estranged wife.

IMB Regulation and the Age of the Fine Print

For reasons I will explain in a subsequent post, I had occasion to read this description of the "International Marriage Broker Regulation Act of 2005". Broadly speaking, this legislation requires matchmaking and correspondence services connecting Americans and foreigners to research the criminal history of the American client and provide that history to the foreign client.

I'm pretty sure that I've read criticisms of this legislation on MRA sites, but I can't see any objection to this requirement in itself. The obvious question that pops into my head is, if full disclosure of criminal records is such a good idea, why only require it of Americans? Why not require of the foreign client as well?

Oh, that's right: protecting the interests of your own citizens is so . . . pre-1965. Congress doesn't do that anymore.

But here is what I didn't expect:

Definition of an International Marriage Broker. “International marriage broker” is defined as an entity (whether or not U.S.-based) that charges fees for providing matchmaking services or social referrals between U.S. citizens/permanent residents and foreign nationals. The definition also sets forth exceptions so as to exclude nonprofit religious or cultural matchmaking services, and dating services that do not match U.S. citizens/residents with aliens as their principal business and that charge comparable rates and offer comparable services to all clients, regardless of gender or country of citizenship.

Mmmm . . . cui bono?

Here is my speculation: the ethnic lobbies who wrote this legislation realized that background checks on American clients would turn up a lot of people in the country illegally. I also expect that there are substantial numbers of Muslims, Sihks, and Hindus who use these services who would just as soon not be bothered with making these disclosures, and that our ever-obsequious Congress granted them these exemptions. After all, they only wanted to protect immigrant women from white men. If you adhere to some alien culture or pagan religion, well then, it's buyer beware for the women in those relationships.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Orphaned Issues

While reading Steve's article on Barney Frank's bill to double-down on all of the errors that brought our financial system to its knees, I began thinking:

When the gun-grabbers get legislatively frisky, the NRA gives me an opportunity to send a pre-written email to my congresscritters.

When illegal immigrant amnesty is on the docket, NumbersUSA does the same.

When its time to boycott the sponsors of cultural decline, the American Family Association lets me know.

When a high-profile tax-and-spend initiative is on the horizon, FreedomWorks steps into the breech.

But . . . the mischief wrought by the Community Reinvestment Act has demonstrably exceeded all of these. And yet, its massive expansion is, as near as I can tell, an orphan issue. No organization with the resources to compose a hard-hitting letter and post it on Capwiz has done anything to mobilize opposition. This says something about the nature of our political system. Steve Sailer calls it "the age of small print". Congress to does a lot to create winners and losers, and at a sufficient level of craftiness, the winners are concentrated and organized, while the losers are diffuse and uninformed.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Divorce, USAF edition

Somebody on the blogroll, or maybe it was a commenter, asked about divorce statistics for people serving on active duty in the armed forces. It just so happened that in its 21 September edition, the Air Force Times (subscription required) published the results of its own study of divorce among Air Force servicemen and women.

Now keep in mind that the Air Force is the best educated and most religious of all the military services, and its statistics are likely not representative of the divorce rate among, say, combat infantrymen. But with that caveat, here is the article, interspersed with my own commentary.

As of August, 70.9 percent of officers and 56.3 percent of enlisted were married, and 4.4 percent of active-duty officers and 7.3 percent of enlisted airmen were divorced.

I can only assume, as I assume the honesty of the Air Force Times, that the 4.4 percent figure includes those who have remarried. These numbers seem encouraging, but they are only a snapshot. They don’t really tell the lifetime likelihood of divorce that an individual serviceman faces.

Among adults in the general population, 50.5 percent were married and 10.5 percent were divorced as of 2007, the latest year for which data is available from the U.S. Census Bureau.

I should point out here that the relevant comparison for measuring the stress of military service on family life is not to compare service members to the population at large, but compare them to that subset with good health and stable employment.

An analysis by Air Force Times of the service’s marriage and divorce statistics turned up surprising conclusions. Many defy easy explanation.

  • Female airmen are two to three times more likely than male airmen to be divorced and are less likely to be married. Among active-duty officers, 3.1 percent of men and 10 percent of women are divorced. For enlisted, the numbers are 5.8 percent of men and 13.1 percent of women.

  • Officer career fields with both the highest and lowest percentages of divorce are tied to health care. Physicians generally are the least likely to be divorced, and nurses, physician assistants and health care administrators the most likely. Operating room nurses have the highest percentage of divorce, 15.6 percent.

I’m not sure what “defies explanation” about this. I would have predicted that two keys to not getting divorced would be (1) have a high-status job and (2) don’t work with classes of people who are substantially higher status than your husband.

  • Some enlisted career fields with the lowest divorce percentages are those most heavily deployed – pararescue; survival, evasion, resistance and escape; tactical air control party; and security forces. Those with the highest percentages include the fields of education and training, paralegal, personnel, family support center and military training instructor.

Measuring divorce by deployability of career field is only a rough proxy of the deployment history of those servicemen who actually get divorced.

The reasons for divorce among airmen are myriad, said Chaplain (Maj.) David Carr, the marriage and family coordinator in the resource division of the Chaplain Corps College, co-located with the Army Chaplain School at Fort Jackson, S.C. But a major factor, he said, is a misunderstanding of what marriage should be and how much work it involves.

Honestly, I’ve never understood what this means. I understand how parenthood is a lot of work. I understand how having a wife (or husband, for that matter) means having someone to make you do stuff you wouldn’t otherwise do. But how is marriage itself work?

Furthermore, Chaplain Carr isn’t necessarily the best judge of this. Since nobody has to give an explanation in court anymore about why they are seeking divorce, all we have are the anecdotes of divorced or struggling couples. And as the article makes clear, those claim that deployment has been a tremendous strain, for a variety of reasons.

The deployments, the TACP operator [being interviewed] said, placed a strain on an essential part of marriage: trust. He sometimes heard about his wife being at a party and became jealous simply because she was around other men. [Note to Mrs. Φ: if I’m ever a “deployed service member,” and you aren’t home or shopping, you’d better be in church, dammit!]

A lack of trust has been a problem that Master Sgt. Mark Wilson has seen in other marriages during his seven deployments. Wilson, the plans and programs superintendent for the 96th Security Forces Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, FL, described himself as happily married for 22 years.

“I’ve seen several marriage fail [because of it],” he said. “In fact, I’ve seen attempted suicides over jealousy or somebody thinking that their husband or their wife is cheating on them while they’re away. It’s mainly because of the unknown.”

Rather, it’s mainly because of the unproven, which is not the same thing.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

How to Socially Reject a Man with Style

I have read a complaint on the distaff end of the blogosphere that runs something like this: betas will insinuate themselves into the social orbit of a female that is out of his league. He doesn't actually take the step of declaring his intentions, so she has no opportunity to tell him "no" to a question he hasn't asked. This, it is said, is unpleasant for the female, who only wants to surround herself with alphas.

I have elsewhere commented that I don't have a lot of sympathy with this particular problem, but a male friend sent me an example of how alpha females handle the situation. It involves Facebook, but it can probably be adapted to real-life interactions.

Background: as I understand it, friend was himself approached by T, and they hung out for a week before she realized that, appearances to the contrary, friend was too hopelessly beta even for the quick fling she had in mind. Flash forward a dozen or so years. He's married; she's married. He looks her up on Facebook, and sends her the following message:

Dear T:

If you are the T I knew in [town where they both lived briefly]: hi! I see you are married now, so congratulations.

I've been rumaging around facebook trying to figure out which of the gaziillion [mutual friend's name] is the one from [town where they knew mutual friend]. I lost track of him back in '99.

I hope all is well.


I would appreciate reader feedback as to the plausibility of the have-you-heard-from-so-and-so pretext. But for the time being, let's assume that he's insinuating himself into her social orbit.

Here's the response he got:


How wonderful to hear from you! As soon as I saw your name I remembered exactly who you are! I pray that you're happy (by your photo, you look it) and doing well. Many good wishes and blessings to you and your beautiful wife. Take care and God bless,



Let's see if we can break down what makes this reply so effective in ensuring that he doesn't contact her again:

  • She doesn't answer the question. This implies, without saying so, that she isn't taken in by what she believes to be a pretext. It also shows she is unwilling to participate in the conversation she was offered.

  • She's polite. She's not out to make an enemy, but a friend-kept-at-a-safe-distance. Being polite shows she's not afraid, or threatened, or cornered, or intimidated: all marks of a true alpha female.

  • Her reply is conclusive. Read it carefully. There is no conceivable way back into the conversation for him. At least not without looking like a complete fool.

There are probably other elements that make this response so effective. Thoughts?

UPDATE: In the comments, Sabina identifies a fourth element:

  • She mentions his marital status. Twice. I missed the significance before, but not only does she make no acknowledgment of his question, she makes no acknowledgment of his offer of congratulations on her own marriage. It's now perfectly clear that she regards, or pretends to regard, his facebook message as an effort to start . . . something. She declines to be disarmed by his willingness to acknowledge up front that she is off the market, and instead subtly attempts to shame him by calling attention to his own marriage.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Why I hate Conor Friedersdorf, Part LXVIII

In the course of their attacks, Conor Friedersdorf and Andrew Sullivan (and Megan McArdle and Jeffrey Goldberg, for that matter) can't be bothered to link to Dudge's and Limbaugh's reporting on the beating of a white student on a Belleville West High School bus in Belleville, IL. So I guess pettiness is the order of the day.

But here is what's particularly galling. Friedersdorf and Sullivan quote Rod Dreher approvingly:

Look, I think it's important to talk about black male violence, or at least as important as it is to talk about any other important social trend. I don't think we should be squeamish about discussing it in a responsible and fair-minded way, despite what the politically correct say.

I'm pretty sure I've seen Dreher willing to discuss black violence, although I doubt it was particularly illuminating. But when have Friedersdorf and Sullivan discussed black violence?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Remember when . . .

. . . you could see this kind of speech on television? Not in my lifetime, sadly.

Paul Blart: Mall Cop

We had just finished watching the delightful romantic farce Paul Blart: Mall Cop when Mrs. Φ asked me: “Why don’t they ever make movies about an overweight, homely woman capturing the heart of a hot guy?”

Why indeed? The only movie I can think of that made a nod in this direction was The Truth about Cats and Dogs – and really, Janeane Garofalo is reasonably slender and adequately cute standing next to anyone other than Uma Thurmond. (Another example might be Shallow Hal, but that movie cheated by having Rosemary re-imagined as Gwyneth Paltrow almost until the very end.)

Further, while it might be difficult to imagine the Paul Blart character attracting a girl that looks like Jayma Mays in real life, the real-life Kevin James is married to this girl:

So personality (and wealth and fame, no doubt) really can compensate for a lack of abs, at least in men. Janeane Garofalo, meanwhile, is “married” to producer Robert Cohen, a man so ordinary that he has evidently never been photographed.

But lack of realism has never been an obstacle for Hollywood before. So why doesn’t it release more movies following a homely-girl-outscores-her-station storyline?

My first assumption is that there is no market for such movies, among either men or women. Men don’t want to imagine themselves with a homely woman, and women don’t want to imagine themselves as overweight. In contrast, men don’t care that Kevin James is heavy; all they care about is that he gets to be with Jayma Mays! (I’m not sure if these movies have much appeal for women.)

Alternatively, the homely-girl storyline has no appeal to the kind of people who write screenplays, which I suspect explains a lot of what Hollywood produces.


Monday, September 14, 2009

Quote of the Day

From Megan:

[M]any employers in America willing to take the highly illegal step of paying undocumented workers off the books. Adding a requirement that they pay imaginary health insurance on top of the imaginary taxes and imaginary minimum wage they are paying now will probably not much faze them.

Pro-life Protestor Murdered;

Updated with Obama's Statement

Via Ace, a story from Michigan Live:

OWOSSO, Michigan -- State police at the Corunna post have confirmed a well-known anti-abortion activist was shot multiple times and killed this morning in front of Owosso High School.

The victim's identity has not yet been released but the shooting occurred around 7:30 a.m., after most students were off the buses and safely inside the building, said Owosso schools transportation supervisor Jayne Campbell.

State police also confirmed that a suspect was taken into custody about 8:15 a.m. at the suspect's home.

Here's waiting for Obama to express the same "shock and outrage" he felt after the murder of George Tiller.

UPDATE: Finally:

"The shooting last week in Michigan was deplorable. Whichever side of a public debate you're on, violence is never the right answer."

For the record, here is what Obama said about George Tiller:

"I am shocked and outraged by the murder of Dr. George Tiller as he attended church services this morning. However profound our differences as Americans over difficult issues such as abortion, they cannot be resolved by heinous acts of violence."

H.T.: Is Anybody There?

As an aside, I want to point out that, not only will James Pouillon's murder not receive the wall-to-wall media coverage that George Tiller's murder received, but he has a name that will be difficult to remember because it is difficult to pronounce. In contrast, "George Tiller" is easy to pronounce.

We've been unlucyky like this before: nobody will mispronounce Matthew Sheppard, but I can only guess how to pronounce Mary Stachowicz.

Friday, September 11, 2009

"A New Take on Cash for Clunkers"

Please check the math of this chain mail:

A vehicle at 15 mpg and 12,000 miles per year uses 800 gallons a year of gasoline. A vehicle at 25 mpg and 12,000 miles per year uses 480 gallons a year. So, the average clunker transaction will reduce US gasoline consumption by 320 gallons per year. They claim 700,000 vehicles - so that's 224 million gallons / year. That equates to a bit over 5 million barrels of oil. 5 million barrels of oil is about ¼ of one day's US consumption. And, 5 million barrels of oil costs about $350 million dollars at $75/bbl. So, we all contributed to spending $3 billion to save $350 million. How good a deal was that ??? They'll probably do a great job with health care though!!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Fun Facts about Domestic Violence

Welmer points to a 2007 study on domestic violence by CDC researcher Daniel Whitaker, published in the Journal of Public Health. Here are the results:

Weighted Estimates of Violence Occurrence for Reciprocally and Nonreciprocally Violent Relationships
VariableOverall %Men %Women %
All relationships
- Nonviolent76.180.771.6
- Violent23.919.328.4
Among violent relationships
- Reciprocal49.746.951.5
- Nonreciprocal50.353.148.5
Among cases with nonreciprocal IPV
- Perpetrated by men29.325.132.3
- Perpetrated by women70.774.967.7

A couple of thoughts on this. First, I will happily betray my middle-class innocence by saying that 23.9% sounds like an awfully high number of heterosexual relationships in which violence occurs. But note that the survey questions (“How often in the past year have you threatened your partner with violence, pushed or shoved him/her, or thrown something at him/her that could hurt,” and “How often in the past year have you slapped, hit, or kicked your partner”) include both threats of violence and attempts at violence in the same category as, you know, actual violence. (Though one could argue that the willingness of respondents to characterize mere threats and attempts as "violence" is a measure of their psychological impact.)

The study gives us an idea of the prevalence of actual violence by asking about injury. Again the results:

Weighted Estimates of Injury Occurrence by Reciprocity Status and Perpetrator Gender
VariableInjury occurrency (%)
- Nonreciprocal11.6
- Reciprocal28.4
Perpetrator gender
- Men against women28.8
- Women against men18.1
Gender by reciprocity
- Men against women: nonreciprocal20.0
- Men against women: reciprocal31.4
- Women against men: nonreciprocal8.1
- Women against men: reciprocal25.3

Note that "injury" as used herein refers to a "sprain, bruise, or cut" and, presumably, anything worse. This, I submit, is a minimum threshold for what constitutes actual "domestic violence" as opposed to simple boorishness.

My second thought is: wow, women inflict 70% of the non-reciprocal domestic violence on men! But let's limit our consideration to violence causing injury. Looking at the non-reciprocal violence numbers, my back of the envelope calculation is that (.293)(.2)/[(.293)(.2) + (.707)(.081)] = 51% of non-reciprocal, injury-producing domestic violence is perpetrated by men, leaving the other 49% to be perpetrated by women.

But what about reciprocal violence, i.e. men and women deciding to have at it together? Waving aside, for the moment, whether this constitutes as morally deserving a category as non-reciprocal violence, we see that 31.4% of women in reciprocally violent relationships suffered injury, while only 25.3% of men in reciprocally violent relatonships suffered injury. (Keep in mind that, as the violence was reciprocal, these categories are not mutually exclusive -- no doubt some relationships included injuries to both the man and the woman.)

Looking at the raw numbers, we can combine the categories and see that of the injuries sustained in domestic violence, 55% were suffered by women while only 45% were suffered by men. This isn't as dramatic as the 70% mentioned above, but does illustrate that the popular notion that domestic violence is suffered exclusively by women appears to be a misconception.

A few caveats. First, the study only considers heterosexual couples ages 18 - 28. Second, while the study did include a racially representative sample, racial correlations were evidently not part of the study. (The original data can be downloaded here, I think.)

Finally, the study has only one injury category. It doesn't break out separately those DV victims receiving "the full Rhianna", i.e. victims suffering injuries of sufficient severity to merit either professional medical and/or law enforcement attention.

Still. This study provides a lot of nuance on the question of who perpetrates domestic violence.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009


If Obama's approval numbers weren't cratering, this would be a lot scarier than it actually is:

I predict that the ubiquitous mockery of the Obama seal will be its undoing. But do we have any historical examples one way or the other? For instance, were the Swastika and Hammer & Sickle every exposed (unsucessfully, I take it) to mockery by the opponents of totalitarianism?

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Scott on War

I've been reading Sir Walter Scott's The Lady of the Lake to my nine-year-old daughter over the last couple of weeks. I didn't know the first thing about Scott, but I recently read somewhere that Mark Twain hated him. Since I hate Mark Twain, that was all the recommendation I needed.

Wikipedia has a pretty good synopsis of the story. Last night, we reached the point where Roderick Dhu calls the highland Scots to war. The message reaches a young man in the middle of his own wedding procession:

Yet slow he laid his plaid aside,
And, lingering, eyed his lovely bride,
Until he saw the starting tear
Speak woe he might not stop to cheer;
Then, trusting not a second look,
In haste he sped him up the brook,
Nor backward glanced, till on the heath
Where Lubnaig's lake supplies the Teith
-- What in the racer's bosom stirr'd?
The sickening pang of hope deferr'd,
And memory, with a torturing train,
Of all his morning visions vain,
Mingled with love's impatience, came
The manly thirst for martial fame;
The stormy joy of mountaineers,
Ere yet they rush upon the spears;
And zeal for Clan and Chieftain bring,
And hope, from well-fought field returning,
With war's red honors on his crest,
To clasp his Mary to his breast.
Stung by such thoughts, o'er bank and brae,
Like fire from flint he glanced away,
While high resolve, and feeling strong,
Burst into voluntary song.

"The heath this night must be my bed,
The bracken curtain for my head,
My lullaby the warder's tread,
Far, far from love and thee, Mary:

"To-morrow eve, more stilly laid,
My couch may be my bloody plaid,
My vesper song, thy wail, sweet maid!
It will not waken me, Mary!

"I may not, dare not, fancy now
The grief that clouds thy lovely brow,
I dare not think upon thy vow,
And all it promised me, Mary.

"No fond regret must Norman know;
When bursts Clan-Alpine on the foe,
His heart must be like bended bow,
His foot like arrow free, Mary.

"A time will come with feeling fraught,
For, if I fall in battle fought,
Thy hapless lover's dying thought
Shall be a thought on the, Mary.

"And if return'd from conquer'd foes,
How blithely will the evening close,
How sweet the linnet sing repose,
To my young bride and me, Mary!

Φ: "So, what does this passage say?"

Γ: "Mmmm . . . ."

Φ: "What does the young man think about being called away to war?"

Γ: "He's sad."

Φ: "What else does he think?"

Γ: "He wants fame. He wants to get famous by fighting."

Φ: "Wow, good! You're all over it."

Γ: "But why does he want to fight?"

Φ: "Mmmm . . . . It's something boys do, I guess. If you ever marry a soldier, and he's called away to war, this will probably be his attitude. He'll miss you terribly, but he will hunger for the thrill of combat."

Γ: "But, why would he be called away?"

Φ: "Because his clan calls him! His country calls him."

Γ: "So . . . why are we fighting in Afghanistan?"

Φ: [WTF?!?]

Φ: "Mmmm . . . . That's a good question. I suppose if the president were here, he'd say that we have to civilize the Pashtuns. He'd say we have to teach them democracy and human rights."

Γ: "Well . . . that sounds like a really dumb reason!"

Φ: "Okay, well, let's not ask anymore questions and just listen to the poem."

Monday, September 07, 2009

Obama Youth

Sipsey Street (via Common Reader) comments on the Obama Speech Lesson Plan:

You get the idea.

In 1976, the fall of my 3rd grade year, the school distributed the presidential election issue of the Weekly Reader to all the students. I don't remember what it said, but I remember the pictures: Jimmy Carter at the top with a gleaming smile; below him Gerald Ford, scowling. It wasn't hard to figure out whom we were supposed to support, and indeed I was shocked to discover, upon arriving home, that my mom supported Ford, notwithstanding that he was so obviously mean and crabby.

Returning to the matter at hand: Obama's Speech strikes me as pretty anodyne. It's the usual concoction of pep-talk, half-truths, and useful lies that grownups have been giving students since the dawn of mass education. Without knowing specifically, I would guess that those grownups probably include presidents, although usually they are content making the speech at a local school rather than trying to broadcast it to schools nationwide.

The lesson plan, however, is more problematical. (Note that the links above are to the cleaned-up version put out after the story broke.) It's one thing that the speeches of, say, Lincoln and Roosevelt are fodder for educational hagiography: the controversies surrounding them are long dead, and we discern in retrospect which of them were important and which not. But can anyone point me toward any other instance where a presidential speech was integrated into a school lesson plan at the time it was delivered? Let's look at a few selections from the grade 7-12 version:

  • Teachers may post in large print around the classroom notable quotes excerpted from President Obama’s speeches on education.

  • Teachers may ask students to think of the following:

    • Why does President Obama want to speak with us today?

    • How will he inspire us?

    • How will he challenge us?

    • What resonated with you from President Obama’s speech? What lines or phrases do you remember?

    • Is President Obama inspiring you to do anything? Is he challenging you to do anything?

    • What do you believe are the challenges of your generation?

    • How can you be a part of addressing these challenges?

And from the K - 6 version:

  • Why is it important that we listen to the president and other elected officials, like the mayor, senators, members of congress, or the governor? Why is what they say important?

  • As students listen to the speech, they could think about the following:

    • What is the president trying to tell me?

    • What is the president asking me to do?

    • What new ideas and actions is the president challenging me to think about?

  • After the Speech: Students could discuss their responses to the following questions:

    • What do you think the president wants us to do?

    • Does the speech make you want to do anything?

    • Are we able to do what President Obama is asking of us?

I have a news tidbit for the U. S. Department of Education: Obama's speech isn't actually in the Bible. The man isn't even dead. So maybe we should hold off on the canonization.

UPDATE: Megan links to this story about a speech that Bush '41 gave to the students of Alice Deal JHS in 1991. Back then, the Washington Post and the Democrats (but I repeat myself) characterized the speech as a "media event", a "production", and "carefully staged for the president's political benefit." They even called Congressional hearings to investigate "the expenditure of $26,750 of the Department of Education funds to produce and televise an appearance by President Bush."

Megan criticises "hypocracy on both sides", but I don't see it. The right has not questioned Obama's speech itself; still less have we called for Congressional hearings. Rather, we are objecting to the speech's integration into a lesson plan in a frankly sychophantic way.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Fun Facts about Jericho, Arkansas

Somehow, when I read Megan's post about Jericho, Arkansas, I just knew what the town's demographics would turn out to be.

UPDATE: Megan commenter Michael Tinkler pointed to an AP story that addressed a question lingering in the back of my mind: why does a town of 184 residents and a median family income of $26K have a 7-man police force? How can they afford it?

Answer: "Sheriff's deputies patrolled Jericho until the 1990s, when the city received [Clinton-era federal] grant money to start its own police force, Martin said."

Is there no end to the mischief?

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

CDO's Explained

Maybe this was already obvious to everyone, but Economics of Contempt (via Megan) provides an outstanding description of what a collateralized debt obligation is, how it worked, and how they contributed to the housing bubble.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Mad Men

I’m only recently a fan of AMC’s television show Mad Men, which is to say that I picked it up in the middle of the second season. I had watched moments of it in season one but found the story lines too difficult to parachute into. Finally, after reading sufficient fawning commentary, I undertook to devote the effort to learning those story lines anyway. Now I’m hooked.

The catalyst for this post was an argument between Will Wilkinson and Micha Ghertner (Distributed Republic) about the show’s meaning. Wilkinson commented on a Kay Hymowitz post that I myself excoriated when it originally came out. But in the course of disagreeing with it, Wilkinson makes Hymowitz’s argument much more compelling that she herself does:

I think I first saw this kind of argument clearly laid out in Tocqueville. If I remember correctly, he noted that there is a kind of soothing clarity in stratified societies with brightly marked class lines. When classes are stable over generations, and there is little mobility up or down, conventions that govern class relations become settled, making it easy to know how to behave toward those above and below one’s station. Moreover, when classes are fixed and mobility is limited, there is little anxiety about improving one’s position, since there’s so little prospect for doing so. American-style democratic equality creates a pattern of unceasingly stressful striving for relative rank, and all this mobility up and down produces a confusion in manners that can lead to dangerous social frictions and resentments. It becomes too hard to know what to expect of others, or what others expect from us.

This is, as far as I can tell, Hymowitz’s argument about gender relations in the post-feminist era. Women attaining something like social equality with men has created not so much liberation as a kind of toxic confusion. When women are free to be individuals, free to want different things than other women, men can’t be sure what any particular women might want from him. To open the door for her or not!? To pick up the check or not!? To be a nice guy like she says she wants or a bad boy like she really wants?! These unresolved and unresolvable questions have led inevitably to the contemporary condition in which men are either unlovable whining sad sacks or misogynist assholes who cite a cartoon version of Darwinism to justify treating a woman as little more than an upgrade from Jergens and a sock. If we don’t like it, we only have feminism to blame. Or something like that.

Exactly that, actually. Male angst is not the only issue at stake, certainly, nor even the most important one, in and of itself. (More on this later.) But to the extent that I address the issue, this is how I would describe it if I were a better writer than I actually am.

Wilkinson, of course, disputes the point:

But annoyances and disappointments suffered in the process of realizing fundamental conditions of a decent society don’t call into question the desirability of those conditions. All this vexation is a very, very small price to pay for equality. For men, it is a very, very small price to pay for the opportunity to share a life with a peer, a full partner, rather than with a woman limited by convention and straitened opportunity to a more circumscribed and subordinate role in life. Sexual equality has created the possibility of greater exactness and complementarity in matching women to men. That is, in my book, a huge gain to men. But equality does raise expectations for love and marriage. The prospect of finding a true partner, rather than someone to satisfactorily perform the generic role of husband or wife, leaves many of us single and searching for a good long time. But this isn’t about delaying adulthood, it’s about meeting higher standards for what marriage and family should be.

Just about every word in this paragraph is wrong. The equation of “equality” and “decency” is asserted rather than argued, and in our own experience they work at cross purposes. Had Will Wilkinson simply said that the world we have created – easy divorce, confiscatory child-support, affirmative action, sexual harassment laws, etc. – make it easier for a (small) number of ambitious careerists to shape a work environment they find congenial, and left it at that, he would have been on firm ground. That he asserts that anything like a majority of men should like this world is beyond comprehension. There is, quite simply, nothing in it for us. Further, Wilkinson’s assertion that making men and women “equal” allows for greater complementarity is so idiotic that I can’t help but wonder if he even knows what the word means. Oh, but at least we’re “meeting higher standards for what marriage and family should be,” which is why the divorce rate went down over the last forty years, right? Oops, wait, it didn’t.

So what does this have to do with Mad Men?

I think Hymowitz’s story gives too small a part to resentment at the loss of male privilege. Many men aren’t angry and confused because they don’t know what women want. They’re angry because they want what their fathers or grandfathers had, and they can’t get it. They’re confused because they can’t quite grasp why not. I think part of the fascination for many white guys with the show Mad Men is that it is a window into an attractive (to them) world of white male dominance and privilege that has largely disappeared.

It is this paragraph of Wilkinson's on which Micha Ghertner pushes back:

Mad Men displays exactly the opposite of what [Wilkinson] is trying to express.

What I see when I watch Mad Men is a bunch of privileged dominant white males - and their trophy wives - who are absolutely miserable, partly ( largely?) because they can see their privilege and dominance cracking under the weight of inexorable social change.

That's why Peggy seems to creep everyone out except Don, who is too busy trying to juggle all of the various lies he has made to his wife, kids, coworkers, mistresses, and clients to care that Peggy is breaking the glass ceiling, getting impregnated out of wedlock, and doing all of the things a woman of her station in life shouldn't be doing. Don sees himself reflected in Peggy, as a rule breaker and successful social status climber who has to navigate a new, false identity.

No one is truly happy in the show, and we the audience, with the advantage of 50 years of hindsight, know that things are only going to get worse for those characters desperately trying to clutch onto some romanticized, illusory past.

In some sense, Mad Men serves as a Rorschach test: all viewers, both liberal and conservative, can find and in fact have found in the show messages with which they can agree. Wilkinson, I think, nails the source of its appeal for many male viewers. Micha, in turn, correctly discerns the social vectors the show portrays. But Micha makes two errors. First, he asserts that the past the characters are “trying to clutch onto”, as “romanticized and illusory,” which doesn’t make any sense if the characters are actually living it. But the greater error is that the show intends the audience to regard the prefigured social changes as good things.

The pivotal moment, to my mind, of season two occurs during Don Draper’s entanglement with the “jet set”, a group of apparently wealthy practitioners of nearly complete sexual licentiousness. These people, who apparently idle away their days traveling from one vacation spot to another, live a life that we might expect would appeal to Don, a lothario whose adulterous affairs are the show’s most salient feature. But even though Don begins sleeping with a twenty-something girl named Joy, he is horrified by this world. He is horrified that Joy’s father finds them in bed together and doesn’t mind that his daughter is fornicating with a man she just met. He is horrified that Joy thinks nothing of appearing topless (in the pool, admittedly, but still) before the adolescent son of a recently arrived guest. And he is horrified that Joy assures him that, should he join the jet set on their journey to the Bahamas, “he can be with anyone he wants, [Joy] won’t be jealous”. As Joy makes this offer, Don stares into the bottom of the cocktail glass he has just emptied, and makes a discovery: the glass is cracked.

Remember how I wrote about how the show is a Rorschach test? Well, that cracked cocktail glass is the inkblot that crystallizes the show’s message: this world of sexual decadence is not sustainable. Finding that crack symbolizes Don’s realization that the life Joy and her fellow hedonists live, a life into which Don finds himself being drawn, will ultimately collapse, destroying everyone and everything on its way down. And Don doesn’t want that. He doesn’t want a world where the innocence of children is unprotected. He doesn’t want a world in which fathers are indifferent to the chastity of their daughters. And for all the enthusiasm with which he pushes the boundaries of social convention (as he continues to do in season three, evidently), Don doesn’t want a world in which he might someday push on those boundaries only to discover that they aren’t there anymore.

The future that Don sees – the future in which so much of our society is in fact having to navigate – is not one that will last. And it won’t matter that the Wilkinsons and Michas of the world are happy that it is “equal” or “decent” or whatever. They may think that they’ve outsmarted their ancestors. They may believe that the wisdom of the past can be discarded in a generation, that they have truly ushered in the brave new world of free love and unlimited pleasure. But they are wrong. God will not be mocked, and history is littered with the remains of every civilization that has tried.