Friday, October 30, 2009

Charlie Wilson's War

I remember thinking during the trailers for Charlie Wilson's War back in 2007: "who the hell is Charlie Wilson?" I fancied myself a foreign policy geek back in the '80s, and yet I can't remember having heard of the guy.

Raise your hands if you thought Ronald Reagan won the cold war. Well, you're all wrong. It was really Charlie Wilson; after all, the movie said so. And, oh yeah, Charlie Wilson was a liberal Democrat.

See how it works?

Reagan's name is mentioned exactly once in this movie. He was lucky. Not so lucky was Michael Pillsbury Reagan's Assistant Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Planning (in other words, a Republican political appointee). Pillsbury successfully advocated the real Afghan war game-changer: providing the Stinger anti-aircraft missile to the Mujahideen. Yet Pillsbury does not receive a single mention.

Faring better was Michael Vickers, a former "Green Beret" and paramilitary officer in the CIA's Special Activities Division. He was the key architect of the strategy, and the movie at least gives his character a speaking role. But . . . Vickers would go on to also serve as a Republican political appointee, so that role is reduced to that of weapons geek.

Raise your hands if you think that the U.S. operation, however necessary, created later difficulties by funneling its aid through Pakistan's Islamist-dominated ISI, who directed the bulk of the aid to their co-religionist Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Hekmatyar, in turn, used much of that military assistance against other Mujahideen, and later support the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Was that a problem? Well . . . yes, but that's only because we denied Charlie Wilson's request for more money to fund Afghan school construction. After all, the movie said so.

See how it works?

But there is a lot to like about this movie. For one thing it is refreshingly anti-Soviet, and it makes a hero of Charlie Wilson, a man sufficiently anti-communist to support Anastasio Somoza, Nicaragua's right-wing dictator deposed by the Sandinistas. (This fact goes unmentioned in the movie.) Congressman Wilson admits frankly that his political career is beholden to Jewish donors outside his district. Alert observers will notice that many of the moral paradoxes in the movie are discussed. The operation required us to work with Islamic sh!tholes like Pakistan and nasty characters like General Zia. The Stingers missiles are given their due, and the movie doesn't actually lie about how they came to the Mujahideen, it just doesn't talk about it.

And I am totally a sucker for Aaron Sorkin's screenplays. Yeah, I know he's a liberal slimeball, but no writer I know can capture alpha-male verbal jousting with quite the same flair. The dialog is outstanding, particularly between the supporting cast members.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Outrage of the Week

. . . and it's only Thursday.

A bit of background on this story: evidently, the USAF conducts periodic inspections of its installations to ensure that they are in compliance with all regulations, programs, and policies. These are called "Unit Compliance Inspections" or UCIs, and are a pretty big deal. They occur every few years and a base will typically spend several months in intense preparation for one.

I received an email from a friend stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, OH. They are undergoing a UCI this week, pursuant to which they are conducting anti-terrorism exercises for the benefit of the inspectors.

According to my contact, the first paragraph of today's exercise bulletin reads:

FBI announced yesterday they had added “liberty DEFENDERS”, an Ohio based group to the domestic terrorism watch list. This group, to date, has been a non-violent organization based on beliefs that the federal government exercises too much control over state governments and civil liberties. Historically, this group has used special interest lobbyists and underground news letters to spread their ideologies and voice their discontent with the federal government.

Right. Because we all know, now that Jesus is president, that the only people complaining about civil liberties violations are terrorists.

What a travesty.

Richmond High School Demographics

Hard on the heals of my article criticising hip-hop culture, a fifteen year old girl in California was gang raped outside a high school dance while dozens of people stood around taking pictures with their cell phones.

Check out the demographics of Richmond High School, where the crime took place.

Watch Larry King and his posse dance around the salient feature.


I watched the movie Notorious on DVD. Notorious concerns the life and violent death of the rapper Chris Wallace, a.k.a. "Biggie Smalls", a.k.a. "The Notorious B.I.G." It gives a reasonably accurate account of the East Coast / West Coast hip hop rivalry in the late 1990s, bracketed by the murders of rapper Tupac Shakur in 1996 and Wallace in 1997.

The movie should have been entitled 101 Reasons to Homeshcool Your Children. Although the Wallace and Shakur murders succeeded in penetrating my conscious at the time, I was happily unaware of the backstory; after all, if a couple of violent black men with violent backgrounds, selling albums about violence, come to violent ends, well, everything else was just detail, as far as I was concerned.

Yet these rappers generated vast sums of wealth from their record sales, and that money didn't come from blacks alone. Plenty of white middle class boys (and girls?) spent their parents money on this glamorization of the urban criminal underclass. Whatever one may think of rap and hip hop as a musical genre, the fact is that its penetration into the mainstream brought with it everything we betas mean when we talk about "bad boy alphas".

The course of Wallace's own life perfectly illustrates the female capacity for self-deception. Wallace racked up sexual conquests while persuading at least three women -- all of whom should of known better -- that, really, he would be faithful to them. Sorry girls. If he wasn't chaste before he met you, he's not likely to remain chaste after he's with you, especially when he works in an environment where younger and younger girls are throwing themselves at him.

This is both the source and the purpose of the status, the status conferred by all the adoring male fans looking to these rappers as role models of masculinity. They went on to establish their own hierarchies, which women, in their turn, bought into. And thus the hip-hop ethos penetrated deeply into "mainstream" youth culture. It would be nice to think that living in a "good school district" insulates your children from this, but I wouldn't count on it. My own cousin's children went to public schools in Montgomery County, MD, back in the late '90s, and they were heavily into this kind of music.

One of the movie's vignettes has the young Wallace telling his mother about career day at school. Evidently, Wallace was fairly bright and a good student in his youth. But Wallace thought the tradesmen and low-level professionals his school brought in to speak to the students looked "broke-assed", by which he meant they didn't have the gold chains and other status markers of ghetto drug-dealer chic.

It occurred to me that the kind of people that succeed in middle-class professions are also the kind of people likely to have middle-class values in general, and likely to eschew expensive ghetto status symbols in favor of, for instance, saving towards a down-payment on a house. But these uses of money are less visible, and in any case not easily appreciated by ghetto youth anyway. So I can imagine that they carry little credibility with their intended audience.

The movie shows the perils of religious identification. Wallace's mother imparted to her son some of her own ersatz Christianity, and despite the rampant sex, drugs and violence that characterized his life, Wallace continued to identify as Christian until his death. This very nicely illustrates the importance of SES and racial controls when conducting studies on religion and sociology. I would argue as well that, say, church attendance is an important control as well. (I will write more about this in an upcoming post.)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Frost/Nixon, keep in mind, is not based on the actual interviews that David Frost conducted with former president Richard Nixon in March of 1977. Rather, the movie is based on a broadway play of that name, a play that takes admitted liberties with the facts. Richard Nixon never actually apologized for his role in the Watergate coverup during their final interview (Although he really did say, "If the president does it, it's not illegal," nor did he call Frost the night before that interview.

But that fictitious phone conversation, in which Nixon, in a drunken rage, reveals to Frost his plans to claw his way back to power, is morally vital to the story. This play gives us a window into the rabid Nixon hatred that prevailed among the intelligencia for at least a decade after the man had retired to private life. Frost and his team of researchers don't just want information from Nixon, they want to put him on trial, with themselves as judge, jury, and executioner. Particularly in the person of Frost consultant James Reston (played by actor Sam Rockwell as a snivelling, sactimonious prick), they aren't primarily upset about Watergate except as a way of further embarrassing Nixon. They want to blame Nixon for strategic decisions made in a time of war.

It is the political corruption of journalism on full display, a corruption that the play/movie justifies by the prospect of a Nixon comeback. Such a comeback was surely fanciful in the extreme by 1977, and I find it highly unlikely that Nixon himself seriously contemplated seeking elective office ever again.

But the movie certainly works. Michael Sheen captures the Frost story arc as he matures from a playboy entertainer into a serious and disciplined interviewer. Frank Langella plays Nixon well, but it is the slightly doddering Nixon of the late '80s, not the late '70s; Nixon was only 64 at the time of the interviews, and in reality was quite energetic.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Audit the Federal Reserve

Today, nearly 13 TRILLION in taxpayer dollars in bailouts and loans has been agreed to by Congress, the Bush and Obama Treasury Departments, and the out of control Fed.

Whether it's watching a phony "stimulus" package get rammed into law or watching Congress pass a $700 BILLION bank "bailout" under threat of martial law, the American people are agitated and increasingly angry.

As I know you're aware, the Federal Reserve is shrouded in secrecy. Their meetings are off-limits to the public. Their inner workings are off-limits to the public.

And just recently, the Federal Reserve told Congress "NO WAY" when asked to account for $2 TRILLION in taxpayer-backed loans!

Well, why do you think they refused?

They know coming clean with Congress and the American people on how they doled out that two TRILLION dollars would result in an anti-Fed firestorm.

So can you imagine the impact of a full-scale audit? You and I will finally be able to show the American people that the Federal Reserve System leads to:

  • Constant economic crises -- the housing crisis and the resulting chaos is just one example of an economic bubble created by centrally-planned interest rates and money manipulation;

  • The destruction of the middle class -- as fuel, food, housing, medical care and education costs soar, everyone who is NOT on the government dole is forced to make do with less as the value of their money slowly decreases;

  • Currency destruction -- history shows us that riots, violence and full-scale police states can result when people finally realize our money isn't worth the paper it's printed on and REFUSE to accept it.

And unless you and I do end the madness in Washington, D.C., we may be closer than we'd like to think to learning that history lesson firsthand -- right here in our own streets.

It's time you and I put a stop to a renegade Federal Reserve by exposing the Fed's out of control actions to the American people. And Congressman Ron Paul and Senator Jim DeMint have a bill before Congress to do just that, known as the "Audit the Fed" Bill (HR 1207 and S 604).

Sign the petition here.

Gene Simmons on NPR

Most of you have probably already heard this interview that KISS member Gene Simmons gave to Terry Gross on NPR back in 2002. But for those of you who haven't, it's definitely worth the 20 minutes.

Before Justin accuses me of being a reprobate, let me state for the record that I do not endorse to the "Epicurean hedonism" to which Simmons subscribes. But I was nevertheless struck by how intellectually unarmed is modern liberal feminism, as typified by Gross, in the face of such a challenge to its core premises. Simmons quite literally reduces Gross to point-and-sputter. I lost count of the number of times in which she uses the word "obnoxious".

Here is part one of the interview; the other two parts should automatically load in succession.

Since we had discussed the lifestyle of Christian rock musicians last week, I wanted to say, in the context of Simmons' assertion that all rock performers are in it to boost their sex appeal, that the members of Rush seem to be an exception to that generality. I'm not invested in that observation; on the contrary, absent any religious devotion, chastity doesn't make much sense as an individual commitment. (It makes much more sense as an enforced social norm, but that's a discussion for another day.) Yet despite being committed secularists, it appears from the Wikipedia entries that Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart all married in their early twenties and stayed married. (Technically, Neil Peart's first wife, who died of cancer in 1998, was common law.) I don't know what kind of . . . compromises were involved in this achievement, but still: pretty impressive.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Stone's W.

I watched Oliver Stone's W. on DVD. Overall, I loved it. My spirit soared at Stone's depiction of the planning phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom. What an unadulterated blast it must have been to have been part of the Bush administration inner circle back in 2002, fresh from apparent victory in Afghanistan, when the whole world lay at our feet. The war room positively oozed testosterone.

And of course, Stone shows how much suckery it would have involved by 2005-6. As any number of commentators have asked, how did so much talent and experience go so awry? How did what even the Democrats called the foreign policy "dream team" make a mash of the post-war planning? Stone gives us one answer, as near as I could tell. Bush and his advisers got too wrapped up in the pitch. By 2003, they found themselves having to sell the war: to the American people, certainly, but also to the Congress and U.N. And like any good salesmen, they had to first convince themselves 100% of their product. Bush turned out to be a master salesman. His conviction and enthusiasm were infectious, even as acted by Josh Brolin, even knowing how bad it was going to get.

I would be hard pressed to regard this as an anti-Bush film. It seemed to capture the arc of Dubya's life nicely: the party-hard young adulthood, the struggle to define himself in his father's shadow, the late-in-life political ambition.

That's not to say the film is without flaws. It transparently articulates the liberal CW circa mid-2008, e.g. that Afghanistan was the "good war" to be contrasted with Iraq. This is especially obvious now, as the Obama administration dithers around trying to figure out what our Afghanistan strategy is or should be.

Other things rang false. It's hard to imagine George W. speaking to, or even about, his father the way Brolin speaks to James Cromwell in this movie, especially after he stopped drinking at age 40. And while Brolin did an impressive job mimicking, though not parodying, Bush's mannerisms and diction, it's hard to imagine Bush erupting in the high-energy tirades to which Brolin treats us. (Alas, Thandie Newton's portrayal of Condeleeza Rice descends into parody.) Also, the movie uncritically relays Colin Powell's subsequent, rather self-serving account of being co opted into supporting the war against his better judgement.

I was also disappointed about what was left out. The movie had no depiction of the events of 9/11, and therefore provides no background to understanding the atmosphere of urgency that prevailed in 2002. The movie aims at a sympathetic portrayal of Laura Bush, but since she's married to what the movie shows as an ambivalent character, the depiction of their courtship falls flat: the audience really doesn't get an understanding of why she falls in love with Bush, or even if she really did.

But otherwise, a fine piece of work. I look forward to Stone's similarly double-edged treatment of the Obama administration.

Um, yeah . . . right.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Link Love Sunday

Here are a few pieces from the last few days worth reading:

  • Webguy of HitCoffee puts the hurt on WalMart.

    Wal-Mart’s products are either (a) the same stuff you can get elsewhere, or (b) a really, really crappy knock-off, which undermines the ability to get many products of usable quality. They break quicker, they’re almost always engineered not to be able to be repaired. A “$20″ dvd player with a cheap korean laser that wears out in a year isn’t much good. A $99 lawn mower that only lasts one summer and is then thrown out? It goes on and on and on… and so Wal-Mart, ecologically, contributes to the “just throw it away” trash phenomenon. And oddly enough, even if it’s the same “brand name” you could get elsewhere, it’s likely not the same product. For example, the blue jeans with the Levi brand sold at Wal-Mart are made in a different factory than the ones sold at Target, from lower-quality materials. The “Schwinn” bicycles at Wal-Mart are the same way, they are a “special” line only sold at Wal-Mart produced with crap components and priced to meet Wal-Mart’s target.

    His commenters take issue.

  • LeninOfLiberty of Distributed Republic brings some fresh ideas to voting systems.

  • Overcoming Bias reports on a study linking cleanliness and godliness:

    Subjects in clean-scented rooms were less likely to exploit the trust of their partners, returning a significantly higher share of the money. The average amount of cash given back by the people in the “normal” room was $2.81. But the people in the clean-scented room gave back an average of $5.33. … Participants surveyed in a Windex-ed room were significantly more interested in volunteering (4.21 on a 7-point scale) than those in a normal room (3.29). 22 percent of Windex-ed room participants said they’d like to donate money, compared to only 6 percent of those in a normal room.

    In my experience, the touchy-feely folks who talk the most about wanting to encourage more trust and charity do not get along that well with the anal folks who want everything to be very clean. So I expect the first group will be reluctant to accept that this second group has been right all along – they want more charity their way, via folks feeling guilty, not via folks feeling clean. So even if this study is confirmed by further research, I expect lots of resistance to its policy implications. After all, politics is less about policy, and charity less about outcomes, than about who should be admired.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


After receiving a second complaint about the bottom-of-post comment field not accepting paste-in text, I have reverted to the popup comment window. Let me know if there are any more problems.

DaveInHackensack reminds us that the U.S. is still the world's largest manufacturer.

Girls behaving badly.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Transparency, Baby!

There's that word again. I'm not sure it means what you think it means.

The White House has told Congress it will reject calls for many of President Obama's policy czars to testify before Congress - a decision senators said goes against the president's promises of transparency and openness and treads on Congress' constitutional mandate to investigate the administration's actions.

"I think Congress should be able to call the president's climate czar, Carol Browner, the energy and environment czar, to ask her about the negotiations she conducted with the automobile industry that led to very significant policy changes with regard to emissions standards," [Maine Senator Susan] Collins said at a hearing Thursday that examined the proliferation of czars.

At issue are the 18 positions Miss Collins says Mr. Obama has created since he took office. Of those, she says 10 - the White House says eight - are in the executive office and not subject to Freedom of Information Act requests or requests for testimony.

Maybe Congress should give up on "transparency", and look up the word "subpoena".

I Love You, Man

I saw the movie I Love You, Man on DVD. I enjoyed the movie, but I don't really have much to say about it. I particularly identified with Paul Rudd's character. While never a "relationship guy" (because, duh, I would have had to have relationships), I empathized with his struggle to put on that kind of roughhousing jocularity that he sees among his male friends. (If you've seen the movie, you know what I'm talking about.) I've always played the "straight man", mainly because my attempts to do otherwise come out so badly.

One of the aspects of the male-female dichotomy that the movie exploits is about sex-talk. According to the movie, women talk among themselves about the intimate details of their sex lives, whereas guys don't much. Is this true? I mean, I believe the guy part, though it may be a generational thing: by the time I had anything to talk about (29) most other men that age had outgrown those kind of conversations. But do girls really talk about that kind of stuff with each other?

One more thing. The movie asks us to believe that Rashida Jones' character, who I assume is approximately the age of Rashida Jones (33) never heard of Rush. Really?

Nope. Not plausible.

Gimme some more.


YouTube rocks.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Weak Dollar

Go see Megan McArdle and Steve Sailer give Thomas Friedman's latest column the full Reginald Denny.

But that's not what this post is about. This post is about another Megan post:

Dan Drezner points out that resurgent worries about the dollar's decline are mostly ridiculous, which they are. As long as our trade deficit remains large, the dollar is going to tend to slide in order to match inflows to outgoes. Moreover, the dollar has been propped up over the last year by a global "flight to quality", aka US treasury debt. We should be glad that the dollar is declining, not merely because it makes our exports more competitive, but because it represents a restoration of confidence in the global economy.

Far be it from me to be so foolish as to debate Megan on economics, but I wonder if the causal power she attributes to treasury debt also applies to exports, and that the declining dollar reflects the relative demand for products rather than being the key to improving our competitiveness.

Megan appears to be sanguine about the dollar's decline because it's only a symptom, but isn't this akin to saying, "Oh, don't worry about all that blood on your clothing. It's just 'cuz of that bullet lodged in your spine."? Seriously, the "declining dollar" may be just a symptom, but it's a symptom of something really bad: the vote of "no confidence" by the world's central bankers in our collective decision to address the structural problems in our economy by doubling tripling quadrupling our federal deficit.

What if what Megan calls "the restoration of confidence in the global economy" is not an improvement in the prospects of our trading partners, but only the collapse of American prospects? That's all that exchange rates measure: relative economic value. Kind of like wages reflect relative productivity. But if my wages fall, I'm not going to start jumping up and down saying, "Yea! Now I'm more competitive!" This would be to get the cause and effect exactly backwards.


I watched the movie-length pilot for the BSG prequel Caprica on DVD. It shows the original air date as 21 April; I surprised I missed it. The DVD version has full-frontal, so I assume that whatever ran on SciFi was different.

I liked the movie. I thought it did a good job of imagining what a civilization informed by Greco-Roman paganism would have looked like had it survived into the future; it's direct and implied commentary on that civilization was also compelling. It did a plausible job of giving us the Cylon backstory, e.g. how the Cylons came to be monotheists. But . . .

On to the nitpicking:

  • As Dr. Graystone builds the first Cylon, the final piece of the puzzle is supposed to be a piece of hardware called a "meta-cognitive processor". The inconsistency is that Graystone's daughter, before her death, had already fully implemented her software-based personality in Caprica's pre-existing version of a MMOG, accessed using the "holo-band" super VR system. (This apparently interfaces directly with the brain, bypassing the actual sensory organs.) So . . . it's not clear why any additional hardware is needed.

  • We learn near the end that a young boy named "William Adams" is actually William Adama, whose father Anglicized (Capricanized?) the family name when he immigrated from the rural backwater of Tauron. Now, in Caprica, as in BSG, Taurons are among the lower caste ethnicities of the Twelve Colonies. While Taurons are permitted economic success, they are despised openly by native Capricans in terms reminescent of the old Progressive's attitude toward non-whites. And yet, the audience is asked to believe that even after reverting to the name Adama, young William was able to ascend the ranks of the Colonial (and predominately Caprican) officer corp. The exceptional rarity of this was a plot point in BSG, but by then the Adamas were held out as native Capricans. This would be a little like Gen. Benjamin Davis passing himself off as white.

  • Oh, yeah, one more thing. If I were creating a virtual reality avatar to participate in a fully interactive sensory online world, I wouldn't pick my ugly mug. Yet the possibilities don't seem to occur to the teenagers in the movie.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Time to Fight Socialized Medicine (again)

Please visit the FreedomWorks website:

As a member of FreedomWorks, I oppose government-run health care and the trillions of dollars in new taxes that would have to be taken from the people to pay for the legislation. I also oppose employer and individual mandates, which force citizens and businesses into making decisions based on what the state wants, and not what makes the most sense for the individual or the small businessman.

Instead of crowding out the private insurers through a subsidized government option, Congress should vote for market-based reforms like allowing citizens of all states to purchase health insurance across state lines.

I hope that you will vote against any government-run health care legislation, and the trillions of dollars in taxes that go with it.

I am counting on you to represent me and my family.

The email should have said something about how Congress stripped out provisions that would have prevented using government funds to pay for abortion or to cover illegal aliens, but the user can edit the letter.

I'm also leery of the wording in the first paragraph: if you're going to have guaranteed issue, then you're pretty much obligated to have an individual mandate to keep the whole thing from becoming a massive moral hazard. If anything, the mandate as written isn't nearly onerous enough to pay for the program.

Still, though, it's time to petition Congress for a redress of grievences.

The Apotheosis of Nerdiness

Readers, I present you with the apotheosis of nerdiness. Behold, the new Comedy Central show Secret Girlfriend:

Secret GirlfriendWeds 10:30pm / 9:30c
Red Band Trailer
Joke of the DayStand-Up ComedyFree Online Games

The premise of the show is that the nameless protagonist was dumped by an emotionally unstable girlfriend, girlfriend then wheedles her way back into his life, but in the interval he acquires a replacement. Nameless protagonist is flanked by his two loserish buddies who, like nameless, spend their nights (and days too, for that matter) chasing random females. But the conceit of the show is that nameless protagonist is . . . you, the viewer. That's right: the entire show is shot through the eyes of the viewer himself as he vicariously plays kickball / drinks beer / has sex in the shower.

Everything that TrumwillSheila mocks about The Invention of Lying is present here: There are no ugly women. Only young beautiful women. And little is seen of any other guys except NP and this buds. So, despite having no obvious social skill or prospects, they all seem to get plenty of female attention. All told through the eyes of you, the viewer.

If any of this sounds . . . voyeuristic, then I think you've achieved an important insight into not only Secret Girlfriend's appeal but The Invention of Lying's appeal as well, and an element of the appeal of the kind of movies we discussed in the last post. In Trumwill's comments, Sheila complains that these movies give their male viewers a highly distorted picture of their real-life prospects in the dating market should look like. I think this isn't the point. Viewers aren't looking for a guide to reality; they're looking for a replacement for reality. A lot of viewers, I imagine, watch Secret Girlfriend ironically, kind of like everybody knew that The Man Show was a farce. But a lot of others watch the show because their romantic reality is so bad, that they would rather abandon it altogether in favor of pre-holodeck virtual version. And hey, if you're making your own reality, why not create one in which beautiful girls are falling all over you?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Little Something to Brighten Your Day

HT: Tanstaafl.

Tuesday Roundup

The Washington Times this morning was an exceptionally fruitful source of material:

Justice concludes black voters need Democratic Party

KINSTON, N.C. | Voters in this small city decided overwhelmingly last year to do away with the party affiliation of candidates in local elections, but the Obama administration recently overruled the electorate and decided that equal rights for black voters cannot be achieved without the Democratic Party.

The Justice Department's ruling, which affects races for City Council and mayor, went so far as to say partisan elections are needed so that black voters can elect their "candidates of choice" - identified by the department as those who are Democrats and almost exclusively black.

The department ruled that white voters in Kinston will vote for blacks only if they are Democrats and that therefore the city cannot get rid of party affiliations for local elections because that would violate black voters' right to elect the candidates they want.

So can we count this as official legal recognition of black voting tribalism? I'm sympathetic to the complaint: party identification often saves even me the hard work of learning about candidates in advance. But the voters of Kinston ought to have the power to make this decision for themselves, and the DOJ is stretching its mandate under the Voting Rights Act to the breaking point.

Climate bill aids authors' states

A little noticed Environmental Protection Agency analysis shows that the pending climate-change bill in Congress would particularly benefit the states represented by its primary authors.

The analysis, obtained by The Washington Times, shows that the states that would benefit most from the climate legislation that passed the House in June include California and Massachusetts. The bill was co-authored by Rep. Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat, and Rep. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat.

As I predicted, "global warming" is just another frontier in government rent-seeking.

U.S. scientist Charged with Spying; Accused of dealing with Israel

An acclaimed former NASA scientist was arrested Monday on charges that he attempted to sell sensitive defense secrets to a person he thought was an Israeli intelligence officer.

Stewart David Nozette, 52, worked in top government jobs from 1989 to 2000 and had access to military satellite programs and nuclear weapons programs, according to court papers that were unsealed Monday after the scientist was arrested at his Chevy Chase home.

I remember having some sympathy for Jonathan Pollard when he received a life sentence for spying for an "allied" country. But then I found out that the Israelis traded some of Pollard's product to the Soviets, which may have cost the lives of several CIA east-bloc operatives. So I'm inclined to throw the book at any foreign spy.

Movie Dweebs, Then and Now

For all the complaining about the unreality of the typical Seth Rogan or Kevin James movie scenario, wherein a dumpy no-hoper wins the heart of the princess, we should admit that these story lines have emerged only in the last few years.

Oh, yeah, there's Ducky.

Thing is, though, that Jon Cryer's character in Pretty in Pink, like Anthony Michael Hall's character in Sixteen Candles, were comic relief. The audience was never supposed to identify with them as romantic protagonists, and the females whose attentions they won, while certainly beautiful, were frankly ridiculous. So while it's certainly kind of Judd Apatow to pay tribute to John Hughes' work, Apatow and his contemporaries are doing something truly unprecedented.

In contrast, The Ugly Duckly/Cinderella scenario, wherein nerd girl undergoes a metamorphosis, has a long pedigree, from Molly Ringwald all the way to the present:

Obviously, Hollywood cheats the sh!t out of this storyline, too. The only actress that was ever remotely plausible in the ugly duckling role was Rosanna Arquette, and then only just. Few other actresses came close: it was obvious from the beginning that they were beautiful, and their efforts to appear otherwise, pre-metamorphosis, were as convincing as . . . well, as Taylor Swift's.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that I'm not especially interested in complaints about how it's encouraging unrealistic expectations in men (although I will deal with this in the next post). I'm much more interested in explanations as to why this cultural phenomenom is emerging now. Whiskey addressed this question obliquely in two posts last year.

Monday, October 19, 2009


Don't call the SPCA:

Prime reviews Christian Rock

While the discussing the emotional power of the lyrics, Prime writes:

[T]here is no doubt that the men involved in the creation of Christian Rock are of a different caliber. They are generally married—in a traditional way, that is, they aren’t likely to be beta-ized. They live their message, and they do not hold back from reaching out to their fans, whether personally or spiritually.

Making money, getting high, and pulling poon are often the priorities of your typical rock musician. And I’m not saying that these things are quintessentially evil, but you have to tip your hat to the guys who could be doing all these things on a regular basis, but instead forgo these ‘sins’ for a life of confident, creative expression in traditional morals and religiosity, or sometimes, not so traditional religiosity.

It's validating to know there are guys like this. I can't really claim it for myself -- marriage was a really good deal for me in the sense that the trade-offs Prime mentions were highly speculative in my case. So I don't really know if I would have had the conviction to resist the temptation of a different life had it actually been offered to me.

But while I pray for the success of their marriages, and hope their personal lives do not become the embarassment that those of my generation's Christian rockers' (Amy Grant, Sandi Patti) did in their day, I also hope nobody invests their own personal faith in them. Given the number of acts that Prime lists, and given the scale of temptation involved, its a statistical certainty that some of these relationships will go sideways.

Game we can believe in.

Ferdinand enumerates the principles of game:

  • assertiveness – The ability to project your will on the world. The capability to direct situations to your benefit, insert yourself into the center of social interactions, and act on your own volition.

  • calmness – The ability to remain unaffected by the emotional storms of those around you. The will to be a pillar of stability in a world of chaos.

  • confidence – Complete faith in your ability to navigate the world. An unshakable belief in the righteousness of your actions.

  • independence – The willingness to carve your own path through the world, while remaining mindful of those connected to you.

  • indifference – The ability to avoid being overly invested in individual outcomes. The foresight to keep your eye on the bigger picture.

  • presentability – The ability to groom yourself and look good. The possession of style.

  • sociability – The skills to interact with other human beings. The capability to understand, relate to, and engage those around you. The ability to smile when appropriate and not take things too seriously.

With the possible exception of "indifference", I would be surprised if Roissy's critics -- Justin, Trumwill, Sheila, etc. -- would find much to argue with here.

We have learned . . . nothing.

From the Washington Times:

Loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) have become "the new subprime," and these loans are exposing taxpayers to the same kinds of soaring default rates and losses that brought down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as well as destroyed many banks and the private market for mortgage loans.

While private lenders learned a lesson from the mortgage crisis and are shying away from easy-money loans, the FHA has stepped into the breach. The agency has provided backing for 37 percent of all mortgages used to buy homes this year.

After the collapse of much of the private mortgage market last year, Congress and the George W. Bush administration greatly expanded the FHA's original Depression-era program aimed at assisting sales of modestly priced homes by more than doubling the ceiling on loans that the agency can insure to $625,500 while maintaining its loose lending terms - ensuring that nearly any home sale could be covered by the agency.

The FHA's predominance was enhanced further this year when Congress lifted the ceiling to more than $729,000 for major urban areas and passed an $8,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers that can be accelerated for borrowers to use as a down payment on FHA loans and avoid any cash commitment to their home purchases.

While these changes were intended to be temporary and expire by the end of the year, given the fragility of the housing and mortgage markets, Congress is considered likely to extend them this fall.

Was this what Karl Marx meant when he said that when said about history: "the second time [is] farce"?

The FHA's backers in Congress, led by House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, Massachusetts Democrat, maintain that high default rates are the price of Congress' decision to use the FHA to prevent a complete collapse of the housing and mortgage markets in a time of extreme distress.

The "distress" to which Mr. Frank refers is merely the fall of housing prices to a level that can be sustained by the wage level. By trying to prevent that, Frank and his allies are merely shoveling taxpayer money (mixed metaphor alert) into the maw of the bubble.

Via Mangan, a vignette about what this abortion looks like:

Denise Tejada bought a house last month at the age of 20, thanks in large part to a loan guaranteed by the Federal Housing Authority.

Her house cost $155,000. Tejada's loan was apparently made on a micro-down payment of just 3.5%, the minimum down payment to qualify for an FHA loan. On top of this, however, she got an additional government backed loan to make improvements. Her total loans amount to $183,0000. In short, she was immediately underwater on her new house.

The monthly payments on her debt amount to $1328. Her income is $2470, leaving her with just $285 a week to live on. She's paying 54% of her income to make the mortgage payments. She earns that income by holding down one full time and two part time jobs.

Write your Congresscritters: shut down the FHA and padlock the doors.

Marijuana Decriminalization

From the AP:

Federal drug agents won't pursue pot-smoking patients or their sanctioned suppliers in states that allow medical marijuana, under new legal guidelines to be issued Monday by the Obama administration.

On the one hand, this is a just and humane policy. Smokable marijuana is, by all accounts, unique in its ability to quell the nausea of cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.

On the other hand . . . the law is what it is. I would feel much better if this restraint was the product of an act of Congress. But instead, the Obama administration has unilaterally declared that it will not enforce the law as written. This strikes me as almost as much as a power grab by the executive branch as would be the decision to enforce a law in way that Congress never intended.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Charlotte Allen on Cougars

Charlotte Allen reports on Cougarism for the Washington Times:

What Jezebel and the other feminists want is a positive spin on cougars as "in control" and "very sexy," in the words of Valerie Gibson, author of "The Cougar Handbook." Nearly all of them trot out the marriage of 46-year-old Demi Moore to 31-year-old Ashton Kutcher as a cougar success story that could be replicated endlessly.

There's only one problem with this rosy outlook on older woman/younger guy relationships, and it's, um, men.

The Boston Globe recently reported on a speed-dating organizer's efforts to set up events aimed specifically at women of a certain age and the 20-ish men who supposedly can't get enough of them. Plenty of older women signed up for the mixers, but so few younger men did that the organizer had to cancel the events.

Another speed-date organizer explained to the Globe that the only events that ensure a good male turnout are those that feature the traditional dating-age gap: women who are at least three years younger than the men they hope to meet. "We have actually tried to capitalize on the cougar trend, and it didn't really work for us," one organizer told the Globe.

Read the whole thing.

Marginality, Reconsidered

Back in my undergraduate economics class, I was introduced to the idea of "marginal cost". The idea was that economic decisions occur at the margin: I will consume any good until the marginal utility of one more unit of the good falls below the marginal cost of that unit, and at that point consumption ceases. This was one of those blindingly obvious insights that made me wonder why I didn't think of it myself, and get my name in the textbook. But recently, as I reflected on my recent experience, I began to wonder if the psychology really works that way.

My employer puts great store in the physical fitness of its employees. (I think it's a deal they worked out with our health insurance company.) To this end, they have provided free gym memberships to all employees and our families as part of our compensation. But up until this year, the membership has not included swimming. Because I like to swim as part of a well-balanced exercise program, I had to shell out about $100 for a nine-month pass to our community indoor pool, and about $200 for a summer family pass.

Spending this money had an interesting psychological effect. As I blogged before, my forties have not been kind to my motivation to exercise. I used to work out six days a week without fail. Now? Well, some weeks are good, others are not so good. It's just frickin' hard getting old, and its hard summoning my former enthusiasm to get going (though once I get going, I usually do okay). However, as I contemplated the pass, I reasoned thusly: if I swim twice a week, then the average cost of a visit comes to about $1.50. Which is a reasonable cost. But if I don't swim twice a week, I drive up that average cost, potentially a lot. And since I didn't want to pay a high average cost, I darn well made it to the pool two times a week, and sometimes three!

But this year, the company added free pool access to the fitness plan. Some details here may be important. The pool they got us access to was on the other side of my morning commute instead of being on the way. And it's only open three days a week. Neither of these factors present much of a burden, but I should mention them anyway to help you evaluate what happened.

Now, keep in mind that the marginal cost of a pool visit in both cases is essentially zero. According to economic theory, the $100 pool pass constitutes a "sunk cost" that should have no effect on my decision to go swimming on any given day. But yet, it did have an effect. It made me think that I was "wasting money" if I didn't go. Yes, the waste was only retroactive, but it still impacted my behavior. And now that a pool visit is "free", I don't have any discretionary income invested in whether or not I swim. And the frequency of my swimming took a substantial dive; I may have only averaged one swim day a week this fall.

I'm actually contemplating buying another pass just to keep me motivated. Mrs. Φ likes a high thrust-to-weight ratio, so the exercise has got to get done.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Sometimes, after all the crap you blog about, it's good to sit back and reflect on how good you've really got it.

Even if you're, um, sporting a massive wedgie.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Things That Make Φ Happy

This picture. Yeah, I know the family and People magazine are collaborating in some manipulation here, but I don't care. The fact that this young woman is doing well enough to even put on a smile for a camera is a blessing. I know her private pain will never fully go away, but I pray that in time it will recede.

Tech Bleg: Cell Phone Spyware

I have questions regarding this article on software that can supposedly turn a cell phone into a listening or tracking device.

My impression is that a cell spy must have the phone in his possession to install the malware, that it can't be done remotely to a non-cooperative phone. Is this correct?

The article states that doing this to a cell phone is against the law. But is it legal to do to your own cell phone? Or rather, one that is in your own name? If I give then give my cell phone to another person to use, have I violated the law? It seems to me that the capability could be used for purposes I would regard as legitimate, e.g. keep track of teenagers.

Are all phones and/or providers equally vulnerable? I have a Razr V3c with Verizon, and I have intermittently tried hacking it myself to download the pictures on it. I have been unsuccessful.

Don't Try This at Home, Boys and Girls

As I prepared for the last couple of posts on Braver's Divorced Dads, Mrs. Φ caught me reading it. This obviously required some explanation. I explained, truthfully, that it was research on some topics we had discussed in Sunday School the week before last. After we had discussed some of the themes of the book for a while, we had the following exchange:

Mrs. Φ: "Well! I'm so happy we have a solid relationship."

Φ: "I agree. And speaking of which, can I bill this coversation against our discussing-the-relationship time?"

Mrs. Φ: [...]

Mrs. Φ: "You are so lucky have gotten married!"

Φ: "I know! I had to really clean up nice that year."

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Braver on Who Leaves the Marriage . . . and Why It Matters

In Chapter 7 of Divorced Dads: Shattering the Myths, Sanford Braver discusses the question of who initiates divorce and why. The answer to the "who" question is straightforward: all studies consistently show that divorce is initiated by the mother in two-thirds of all cases. In fact, while men initiate divorces at about the same rate as in 1950, the rate among women has risen six-fold, accounting for the entirety of the increase in the divorce rate over the last 50 years. This fact is evident from both studies of court filings and survey data, although it supposedly still surprises many people when they learn of it. Braver reports on his own research showing that three years after the divorce, women view the divorce far more positively than men. When women are granted custody of the children, fully two-thirds of them are happy with the divorce even when the husband had initiated it. Among non-custodial fathers, only 50% of the initiators were happy that they had done so, and only 38% were happy with the divorces that their wives had initiated.

Braver also quotes a 1989 study from the National Center of Health Statistics that shows women with children as significantly more likely to be the initiator of their divorces than women without children.*

The following table shows the reasons that both men and women give for their divorces. This data was taken from surveys of divorcing couples; thus, the differing accounts that men and women give can be directly compared. Note that the percentages shown reflect the number of respondents affirming the listed factor as "Very Important" to the breakdown of the marriage and the decision to divorce.

Table 7.1: Listing of Factors Contributing to the Breakdown of Marriage and Decision to Divorce
Mom %
Dad %
Mom Rank
Dad Rank

Gradual growing apart, losing a sense of closeness


Serious differences in lifestyle and/or values


Not feeling loved or appreciated by spouse


Spouse not able or willing to meet major needs


Emotional problems of spouse


Husband's extramarital affair


Severe and intense fighting, frequent conflict


Frequently felt put down or belittled by spouse


Spouse not reliable


Problems and conflicts with rotes, i.e., division of responsibility for household jobs or other chores outside of house


Husband's alcohol abuse


Violence between you and spouse


Husband's drug abuse


Wife's extramarital affair


Wife's alcohol abuse


Wife's drug abuse


The respondents are characterized, here and in the book, as mothers and fathers; the implication is that only divorcees with children participated in the survey. As we can see, respondents could and did list multiple factors as "very important". Significantly, the reasons -- infidelity and abuse -- that, in the public imagination, drive most divorces turn out to be infrequently listed. Infidelity is cited by women in only 37% of divorces and by men in only 30%. And domestic violence didn't even make the top ten reasons. In contrast, the reasons most often cited are the least forensic: "growing apart", "lifestyle differences", "not appreciated", "needs not met".

We the readers do not have access to Braver's survey data, but considering that multiple causes for a divorce could be listed, it would be interesting to see where the overlaps occur. It is possible that, for instance, the "touch-feely" reasons are often accompanied by at least one more-substantive reason like chemical dependency or frequent conflict. However, Braver appears to have the integrity to have let us known if this were obviously the case.

Taken at face value, the survey shows that either the common belief that women only initiate divorce for really good reasons is far from the reality, or the standard of what constitutes a "really good reason" has changed dramatically over the last 50 years. Conservative commentators have almost certainly fallen victim to the first delusion; however, the latter explanation appears to account for the behavior among women in the broader society. As Braver writes:

There is no question that the women's movement has made fundamental positive changes in the opportunities and equality available to both women and men. I agree with most informed observers that the loosening of sex roles has increased opportunity and flexibility and widened the options offered to men as well as women, and improved the quality of lives of all members of the family. This is why I have always been a supporter of the women's movement. Despite these unmistakable benefits, according to influential author Shere Hite in her book, The Hite Report on the Family: Growing Up Under Patriarchy, the women's movement also contended that the traditional nuclear family was "an essentially repressive one" . . . .

As David Popenoe writes: "If men in families can't be reformed, the argument goes, let's throw them out. This perspective typically envisions the nuclear family . . . as a 'patriarchal invention'" . . . .

As these views took hold of the thinking of mainstream society, they undoubtedly also contributed to women's current level of dissatisfaction in marriage. Men have had their consciousness raised as well: men today are performing their roles as fathers and husbands somewhat, but not dramatically, better than in the sixties. But wives' standard of acceptance of husbands' behavior has changed far faster than most husbands' behavior. As women have raised their consciousness, their degree of tolerance for unrewarding marriages or for their husbands' behavior and shortcomings has correspondingly decreased.

* This study, cited in an endnote, is slightly problematic because the numbers given -- 56% of divorces among childless couples are initiated by women while 65% among couples with children are initiated by women -- doesn't combine to get anywhere close to the two-thirds number, unless almost no divorces occur among childless couples. Which would be a pretty depressing commentary on parenthood.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The NAE does NOT speak for me!

Dear Congressman []:

I am a registered voter in [] and a member in good standing of a local congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), an affiliate of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE).

Recently, it was brought to my attention that the governing board of the NAE had approved a resolution calling for the amnesty of aliens illegally present in the United States, and that Leith Anderson, NAE President, had appeared before a congressional committee on behalf of "immigration reform". In so doing, the leadership of the NAE and of its affiliates have betrayed the nearly 17% of their fellow Americans who are presently unemployed in the current recession.

I am writing to state unequivocally that, irrespective of my membership in an affiliated church, the NAE does NOT represent my views on the subject of immigration. On the contrary, as I have written you many times before, I believe in effective border security by all necessary means and the dramatic reduction of ALL immigration, both legal and illegal. This is the considered opinion of not only myself, but of the vast majority of rank-and-file church members with whom I have spoken on this issue.

It is unfortunate that the leadership of so many fine religious denominations have been captured by a cabal willing to put the interests of law breakers ahead of their own countrymen. But until the rank-and-file are able to undo their work, do not be deceived by the words of the NAE. They do not reflect the beliefs of the voters in your district.

Thank you for your time and attention.



Sanford Braver on the Economics of Divorce

On Wapiti's recommendation, I checked out Divorced Dads: Shattering the Myths, by Sanford Braver, a psychology professor at Arizona State University. The book examines a number of ways in which family law is heavily biased against fathers, and I hope to review the book in more detail in coming posts; however, the particular data that interested me were those dealing with the economics of divorce.

Chapter four of Divorced Dads deals with the way post-divorce standards of living are calculated. Braver explains that standards of living are calculated as ratios to the poverty level income for a family of a particular composition, and provides the following vignette:

[L]et's make up a hypothetical but typical family and see how divorce might affect their standard of living (the calculations are summarized in Table 4.1 [shown]). Since our sample became divorced in 1987, we will be using 1987 figures throughout the chapter. Later, we'll report the computations on our real families.

Let's assume that Rachel and Jeff have two children. Before divorce, he earned $31,000, while she earned $16,733. Their combined family income was therefore $47,733, 4.14 times the poverty level, giving them an income-to-needs ratio of $4.14 ($47,733 divided by $11.519). they divorce, and Rachel gets custody of the two children. Suppose that after the divorce, Jeff pays $500 per month, or $6000 annually in child support, and Rachel increases her work hours (as most mothers in our sample in fact do) and now earns $20,000. Her combined income including child support she receives is $26,000. Hers is now a one-parent/two-child household; the poverty level for this sort of family is $9,151.

For Rachel's standard of living to remain the same, exactly 4.14 times the poverty level, she would have needed to take in $37,885 ($9,151 x 4.14) in total, in salary and child support. Instead, her income-to-needs ratio is now only 2.84 $26,000 divided by $9,151). So her standard of living is now only 69 percent of what it was (2.84, the post-divorce income-to-needs ratio divided by 4.14, the pre-divorce income to needs ratio); it has declined 31 percent. (If the ratio of post-divorce divided by pre-divorce standard of living is less than 100 percent. (If the ratio of post-divorce divided by pre-divorce standard of living is less that 100 percent, subtract the number from 100 percent to get the percent drop or decline.* If the ratio of post-divorce divided by pre-divorce standard of living is more than 100 percent, subtract 100 percent from the number to get the percent gain.)

Jeff's is now considered a single adult/no children household; the poverty level for him is $5,909. For Jeff's standard of living to stay the same, again exactly at 4.14 times the poverty level, he would need to have $24,463 ($5909 x 4.14) left in income after paying child support. Instead, he actually has a little more, $25,000, left. His income-to-needs ratio is now 4.23 $25,000 divided by $5,909). His standard of living is now 102 percent (4.23 divided by 4.14) of what it was before the divorce, a gain of 2 percent.

Table 4.1: Figuring Rachel & Jeff's Post-Divorce Changes in Standard of Living
Pre-Divorce Salary$31,000$61,733$47,733
Pre-Divorce Needs$11,519
Pre-Divorce Income-to-Needs Ratio4.14
Post-Divorce Salary$31000$20,000
Total Income after Child Support Paid$25,000$26,000
Post-Divorce Needs$5,909$9,151
Post-Divorce Income-to-Needs Ratio4.232.84

Although this method seems fairly straightforward in figuring outhow divorce might affect standards of living, I came to recognize that the method used by Weitzman, and sometimes others (including us) in calculating the "needs adjusted income" was highly misleading and seriously inaccurate for several reasons, which I'll describe in detail next.

Braver goes on to enumerate the difficulties with these calculations:

  • Taxes: Custodial parents enjoy multiple tax advantages that non-custodial parents do not.

    • Dad pays taxes on the child support; Mom does not.

    • Mom gets a tax credit for any child care expenses; Dad does not, even when he must make childcare expenditure during visitation periods.

    • Mom's taxes are calculated from the tables for a "head of household"; Dad's taxes are calculated from the much-higher "single" tables.

    • Mom takes the exemptions and credits for household members; Dad does not. (I should add here that this can be, or used to be, negotiated.)

    • Mom's income-to-family-size ratio might make her eligible for the EITC.

  • Expense Allocation: The needs ratios shown assume that the custodial parent alone spends money on the children, but in fact non-custodial parents almost always make contributions beyond child-support awards.

    • Two-thirds of Dads report buying clothes for their children.

    • Dad bears the visitation expenses. Not just travel expenses, but all the food, recreation, and child-care during visitation periods, during which he is paying twice for the children's upkeep. (This particular injustice was so egregious that child-support tables were recalculated in 1996 to reflect visitation. But the studies of the 1980s that purported to show female post-divorce immiseration did not.)

Braver recalculates the post-divorce standards of living for his typical family after correcting for these factors, and finds that Jeff now suffers a 15 percent drop in his standard of living, while Rachel suffers only a 5 percent drop. But Braver doesn't end here. He enumerates several other expenses that non-custodial parents must endure:

  • Notwithstanding his titular "single" status, Dad must still maintain a residence of sufficient size to accommodate his children during visitation.

  • Dad has no say about where Mom chooses to take the children. If she moves out-of-state, or even out of the country, Dad still bears the transportation expenses for visitation.

  • Dad's are often ordered to pay medical and dental expenses and insurance as part of the divorce decree, independent of child-support awards.

  • Dad usually moves out. Thus Dad must pay for all expenses of setting up a new household. On top of which, he must typically acquire new housing at a much higher price than that which Mom continues to enjoy at the old residence.

Braver brings these revised criteria to his own study with more recent data. He finds that the medium-term economic impact of divorce appears to be evenly distributed between men and women. But he adds an important caveat about the longer term impact:

There are at least two reasons to believe that the earlier we study the economic impact, the more disproportionately disadvantageous to mothers it will appear. Put another way, the longer we wait before assessing teh impact of the divorce, the less it will appear that mothers are disadvantaged. The first reason is that as time goes on, women will progressively upgrade or rehabilitate their education or job skills, earn promotions, and work more hours (as the children age), all of which will help them earn more.

The second factor is remarriage. Statistics show that 75 percent of women and 80 percent of men will remarry, the vast majority within seven years after the divorce. When a woman remarries, she tends to marry someonen who brings substantial income, but relatively few expenses. When a man remarries, however, he tends to marry someone who brings expenses proportinately greater than income. Duncan and Hoffman found that five years after divorce, even the minorithy of women who had not remarried had risen from a 30 percent declind to within six percent of their pre-divorce standard of living, due to their enhanced salary, while those who had remarried now had a living stnadard 25 percent higher than in the year before their divorce.** And Randal Day and Stephen Bahr found that males who remarried suffered a 3 percent decline in per capita family income (compared to their predivorce levels) whiole females experienced a 14 percent increase.

* Braver belabors what appears to be pretty elementary math because this was exactly how Weitzman screwed up her study. As she later admitted (and blamed a grad student for), her "74 percent decline" in a woman's living standards was actually a 26 percent decline.

** My impression is that these values were calculated using the methods of Table 4.1. Using Braver's revised criteria, I would assume that the disparity would be even more dramatic.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Happy Sunday

I watched Wall-E on DVD last night. Who would have thought that a robot would have breathed new life into this:

Friday, October 09, 2009

Not the Onion. Really.

I have no response to this story except paroxysms of laughter. I'd like to have a killer quote for you, but some things are beyond satire.

My guess is that the transparent absurdity hurts Obama politically in the short run. If he were actually to do something wildly unprecedented, like get the Arabs and Israelis to love each other, then this will either be forgotten or viewed as prescient. But since this won't happen, the Nobel will only solidify in the public mind his image as the affirmative action president.

The Debt of Civility (Again)

Every so often, Trumwill and I go a few rounds on a well-worn topic: what is the debt of social civility that women owe to men. While I hesitate to speak for him, I would describe Trumwill's position on this question as minimalist: that women have an inalienable right to deter unwanted interaction by any lawful means they choose, and that men have a corresponding obligation to suffer these means without limit, rancor, or retaliation.

In contrast, I would describe my own position as maximalist: that if a woman is approached politely, she is obligated to respond politely, and that social sanctions can and ought to attend violations. I will admit that my generality is not without limits, as perhaps Trumwill would allow exceptions to his rule, but that is my overall sense of where the discussion is.

As the XKCD comic above illustrates, one of the problems (though not the only one) that my "rule of politeness" seeks to address is in determining when an interaction has proceeded to an actual romantic overture. It is true that men rarely make such overtures cold; they are usually preceded by what my father calls "circling". But it is also true that not all interactions are actually circling behavior. I wouldn't go so far as to say that the interactions are platonic, but sometimes the guy on the train that strikes up a conversation about your netbook just wants to enjoy a conversation with a pretty girl. That's not the same thing as a romantic overture.

I was thinking about this in the context of a scene from the episode of Mad Men that aired 27 September. The setting was daughter Sally's class, which was outside observing a solar eclipse. Don was in attendance, and he got into conversation with Sally's teacher. But suddenly, in the course of Don's perfectly innocuous statement that his family would be staying in town for the summer, the teacher essentially accuses him of hitting on her!

Now, it is true that the teacher is quite pretty and that we, the semi-omniscient audience, know that Don has noticed this about her. But it is also true that Don doesn't pursue women. Women pursue Don. And this teacher is no exception, what with her late-night phone call to Don's house seeking consolation over something-or-other that didn't really make much sense. (Parenthetically, you never know when writers are being subtle and profound, or just yanking your chain.)

Be that as it may, I couldn't help thinking how gawd-awful rude that was. Accusing a married man of adulterous behavior, short of actual adultery, is unspeakably libelous. And furthermore, I can't imagine how a reasonable observer would strain from their prior conversation anything that sounded like something headed in that direction.

Don's response to this was, if anything, far more restrained than mine would have been: "If you don't like the subject of our conversation, then change it. We were just talking." (Or words to that effect; unfortunately, I have been unable to locate a script of the episode online.) He succeeds, I think, in halfway persuading the teacher of his innocence, or at least lack of aggression.

Of course, the series is fiction. The point was exaggerated, and I have no idea where the subplot is headed. But it perfectly captured the kind of unpleasantness that women inflict on the men around them by treating "hey, nice netbook" as a request for sex.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Seduction Goes Mainstream?

I've grown rather accustomed to finding useful advice about interacting with the women only among the dark corners of the blogosphere, and mostly junk in the MSM. So I was surprised to find this David Wygant article headlined on Yahoo. It's surprisingly good.

Ten Tips for Approaching Single Women:

1. Observe something.

As a first approximation. But if I can channel Roissy for a moment, this can be done well, as in an are-those-nails-real DHV kind of way, or badly, as in a nice-day-today anodyne kind of way.

2. Smile.

A little of this goes a long way. Yes, show you are relaxed and confident. Don't grin like an overeager idiot.

3. Do not hesitate.

Needs no elaboration.

4. Positive body language.

5. Not too fast.

6. Keep eye contact.

7. Listen up.

8. Do not fidget.

All good.

9. Lighten your tone of voice. The tone of your voice is a very powerful tool. Approaching her in a light and playful tone is one of the best ways to start. You could also begin in a serious tone, accusing her of something like "I hope you saved some turkey for me," followed by a quick smile to let her know you are joking. Practice playing with your vocal tone with your friends -- notice the different reactions you get when you say the exact same thing using varied tones and fluctuations.

Certainly, a monotone is bad, and playful is good. But remember, lose the sh!t-eating grin. And I have my doubts about the example, in that I'm not sure what "save me some turkey" is supposed to accomplish psychologically.

10. Lean away from her. A man who leans in too far when he talks often makes a woman feel crowded. A better approach is to lean away from her slightly. This lets her know that you respect her space, boundaries, and are comfortable with yourself.

Good advice, obviously. I would add that it also demonstrates value and avoids the curse of overeagerness.

Bottom line: Much better that the usual advice from mainstream outlets.

The Difference between Theory and Practice

On the face of it, this is a good message:


Well, okay, maybe the standard issue country music video T&A isn't the highlight of Western Culture, but the words are worthwhile. But that said . . . perhaps I've grown overly cynical from the blogs I read, but my fear is that the message -- watch out for players and PUAs -- isn't worth much by the time it gets through female mental filters.

Looks like a cool drink of water but
he's candy coated misery
He's the devil in disguise
A snake with blue eyes
And he only comes out at night
He gives you feelings that you dont want to fight . . . .

But PUAs are good at what they do precisely because of their ability to fly under just this type of radar. The guys that get shot down are the same no-game beta providers that have an uphill climb anyway.

So what happens is that when you tell girls, "There are some bad, bad players out there, so be careful," they impute the "bad, bad player" quality to the guys they already weren't enthusiastic about. It becomes a justification for being cold and bitchy to people who really didn't deserve it. Meanwhile, PUAs do their thing unimpeded.

Anyway, that's my theory.

* Yes, I know that the video didn't embed. Does anybody know how to hack YouTube's embed restriction? I found lots of material on how to break their download restriction, how to break ISP host country restrictions, and also how to get higher resolution out of their videos, but nothing on how to embed a video in a website that YouTube doesn't want embedded.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Latest on the Deficit

Via Backyard Conservative, the new deficit estimates.

Anne says this is worse, but it doesn't look worse than what came out early last spring.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Social Intelligence Hypothesis

For the few of you that don't already read Roissy, check this out:

[T]he absurdity of mid-20th to early 21st century feminism and all its adjuncts are better understood as progressively sophisticated emergent sexual selection strategies which act as social obstacles to filter out men who aren’t able to successfully navigate them. In essence, feminism is an advanced biocomputational Turing test; a giant social subcommunication roadblock devised and embraced by women and, at least in principle if not in practice, by alpha males intended to ensure the continuation of the hypergamous weeding out of lesser men who don’t possess the savvy to play by ever-shifting sexual market rules. Feminism is only superficially about female equality; at its core it is a ginanomicon of secrets to which only socially adroit men are privy.

Why feminism? Why now? In a word: Beta males acquired too much power. The ascendance of the beta male (and, not coincidentally, the rise of American power) through the late 19th century to the mid-20th century, exemplified by the common man seeing his income and standard of living rise and his opportunities for marriage with quality women rise in response, resulted, as is necessary in the zero sum sexual market, in a lessening of female market leverage to satisfactorily satiate their hypergamous impulse. As I wrote back in this post:

Roissy Maxim #15: Female cultural equality = male dating inequality. Female cultural inequality = male dating equality. You cannot have both. So sayeth human nature.

. . . .

Given the endless appetite of women to date up (even though there is evidence that engorgement of this appetite makes them unhappier), this wide and deep Beta Ascendance was an evolutionarily unstable environment. New complex memes would naturally arise in reaction to assist in pushing the evolutionary envelope of what qualifies as an alpha male, and here feminism and its discontents, its counterintuitive criteria and amorphous edicts, entered the vacuum left by the absence of widely practiced hypergamy to serve as the newest iteration of female sexual selection strategy. And the winners were the alpha males who could mouth the right platitudes while practicing the dominant behavior that put the lie to those same platitudes.


I would push back on that last bit, though. Roissy himself has nothing but contempt for those men who "mouth the right platitudes," identifying this behavior as the mark of the "mangina". But certainly the primary effect of feminism has been to increase inequality among males and thereby make hypergamy easier to indulge.

Updated and Bumped: the facts on the economics of divorce.

A long standing factoid about the economics of divorce is that it improves a man's standard of living while diminishing a woman's. I first heard this 20+ years ago and took it at face value, but it is hard to square with the anecdotes of men immiserated by child support and alimony orders.

Can anyone point me to any studies that address this question either way?

In the comments, Wapiti points to Christopher Rapp's article that recounts the history behind the factoid. The original claim was made in 1985 by Lenore Weitzman in her book The Divorce Revolution. She subsequently conceded that she had made mathematical errors that exaggerated the disparity, but a more fundamental problem was that her data was drawn from a small sample of divorced couples in Los Angeles. A more representative sample by Atlee Stroup, published in 1994 (exerpted here, sort of), showed that both male and female standard of living declined after divorce, although the standard of living of women declined more, especially in poor households. However, Rapp's article goes on to quote Warren Farrell, author of The Myth of Male Power, to the effect that none of the studies adequately account for the expenses that men have to bear in the wake of a divorce.

Obama by Paul Shanklin

Probably premature, but game me a giggle. (H.T.: Ace)

17 Again

Γ: "I've got my video!"

Φ: "Good, we can leave."

Γ: "What movie did you get?"

Φ: "17 Again. [Mimics tweener groupie] It's got Zac Efron!"

Γ [the HSM fangirl]: "Whatever!"

So Mrs. Φ and I watched the movie by ourselves. We were delighted. The movie was masterfully executed. Notwithstanding that I will soon use the its implausible as an occasion for scathing social commentary, I can't remember having seen a movie that we both enjoyed so thoroughly. It is probably more suitable for children older than nine, but I will align myself with Whiskey's opinion that the movie has a positive message for young women.

That said . . . onto the scathing:

A couple of minor points:

  • Mrs. Φ insisted that the daughter (Michele Tractenberg as Maggie) would not really have idly allowed anyone, including her obnoxious basketball-captain boyfriend (Hunter Parrish as Stan) to torment her little brother (Sterling Knight as Alex). And no doubt, Mrs. Φ would not have. But Maggie, who by the standards of Hollywood's version of high school is not especially attractive, relies for her status on Stan's romantic attention. Sticking up for her brother would be costly. But in any case, the movie deals with this problem by not dealing with it. Maggie and Alex have no interaction in the movie, which is kind of weird now that I think about it.

  • It's hard to believe that the dad (who has morphed from Matthew Perry playing Mike O'Donnell into Zac Efron playing Mark Gold, the alleged son of his nerdy cousin Ned) is unaware of his son's exceptional promise in basketball. Since Alex is not on the team, he could only have learned from his father. But it's also hard to believe that after only a few weeks of coaching from Mark, Alex could rise to the top of the second string.

But these are minor points. Now for the true scathing:

  • Wouldn't it be nice if high school bullies were all athletic team captains? But in reality, the skinny, self-effacing Alex would be picked on by the fat kid only a rung or two away on the ladder. People do that stuff only to their closest competitors; they don't reach from one end of the status hierarchy to the other. That's not to say that team captains are nice (or "nice") people, but they don't have the time to undertake a project like duct-taping a nobody to a toilet seat. But then, we the audience wouldn't have had the same thrill of seeing Mark socially eviscerate his son's tormentor if Stan was already a pathetic social loser. (But it was honest of the movie to give Stan the consolation prize of giving Mark a beating.)

  • While the moral message to young women of not letting their boyfriends pressure them into sex was a good one, by the time that the young woman is seriously making plans to shack up with her boyfriend, you can be pretty sure that that ship has already sailed. It was implausible in the extreme that Maggie would have escaped (or rather, been tossed from) her relationship with Stan with her virginity intact.

  • While it was fun watching cousin Ned ignite romantic sparks with the high school principal (Melora Hardin (of The Office) playing Jane) based on their mutual fluency in Elvish, in reality, nerd girls are still girls, and want the same qualities in a man as cheerleaders, i.e. not nerdiness. Anyway, that was my experience.

  • Mark lectures the promiscuous cheerleaders on their need to "respect themselves". The ineffectiveness of this line of argument is portrayed for comic effect, much in the way that Tucker Max happily posts videos of the feminists who show up to protest his movie. Mark achieves somewhat more resonance with this audience when he describes the joy he felt holding his infant daughter. I don't know if that would work in real life, but the irony is hard to miss.

Cousin Ned, the former high school geek, has, sans romance, amassed tremendous wealth as a software developer, which wealth he uses to decorate his house with a vast collection of Star Wars and LOTR memorabilia. This is obviously exaggerated for dramatic purposes, but in the popular (grown-up) imagination, high school geeks outperform jocks once the artificially created status hierarchy of high school passes away. I'm partial to this narrative myself, for obvious reasons, but is it, you know, actually true in the aggregate? Obviously, professional athletes do alright, but even at the level at which high school athletes compete for college scholarships, participation in sports would seem to require significant discipline, teamwork, and leadership ability. Are those character traits fungible? Do they serve jocks in post-high-school life as well as, say, the ability to take AP calculus serves the geeks?

But perhaps high school athletic participation is governed less by these traits than by the genetic luck of developing early. Some children get strong earlier than others. In my case, I didn't "fill out" my upper body until my early twenties. Perhaps high school athletes are simply kids that got that kind of strength in their early teens, and that such physical discipline as they exhibit is simply the ordinary capitalization on their comparative advantage? A corollary to this, hardly original with me, is that these "early developers" learn the habits of social dominanance for this reason, and maintain this skill even after their peers catch up physically. Is social dominance fungible?

Somebody should try to study this question. To the extent that my 20-plus-year bitch against high school status hierarchies is more than just sour grapes, it is based on my belief in its artificiality. Excelling at sports wins you the attention of females in high school, but doesn't translate into anything except the management track at Home Depot. (Come to think of it, a whole list of outright maladaptive behavior seems to win the attention of females.) Meanwhile, excelling at academics wins you the indifference of females in high school but translates into an engineering degree and a shot at an upper-middle-class life. Doesn't this incongruity qualify as some kind of market failure?

UPDATED: here we are:

students who participate in sports during high school do spend more time doing homework and less time watching TV, are less likely to drop out of high school, are more likely to attend college, and earn 3 to 11 percent more as an adult.

So the athletic virtues are fungible to some extent. But my question is slightly different: I want to compare the top X% of students on measures of athleticism to the top X% of students to measures of academicism. (Is that really a word?) Evidently, we can expect some overlap between these groups.