Saturday, April 30, 2011

Standards of Consent

“Would you want to live as a vegetable?”

This is the question proponents of physician assisted suicide will often ask of its detractors.  The honest answer to which is, “it depends on the alternatives.”  If I get to choose between a persistent vegetative state and a quick end, then the quick end is preferable.*  But a quick end is seldom on offer.  The choices usually come down to PVS and a slow, lingering death by dehydration.  When those are the options, PVS starts to look a lot better.

Unfortunately, it probably won’t be up to me.  When Mrs. Φ and I redid our wills around six years ago, we were also presented with a living will that basically said that in the event of PVS, “extraordinary treatment” should be withheld.  But when I asked that the will stipulate that food and water IVs should not be withdrawn, I was told, essentially, that there was no such document that would be legally recognized.

And from what I have read (although I can’t link the source; maybe one of you readers can help me out here), judges have been known to grant power of attorney to whichever relative of a non-communicative patient wants to end his life.

Death by starvation has become so common for the elderly that we’ve achieved informally what the Dutch achieve directly:

Despite the fervent assertions of atheists to the contrary, again and again we see that their political objectives revolve around two things, sex and death. They can't even hide behind the defense that "assisted death" is voluntary, because in the Netherlands, at least 20 percent of the legal euthanasia is performed without the patient's consent.

Vox’s observation linking sex and death reminded me of the myriad of ways a man can be considered guilt of rape, especially #16:

She would make the sex act a presumed crime whenever a woman cries rape. The burden would be on the defendant to prove “that express and present consent was explicitly obtained at the time of the actual sexual interaction, not before or after . . . .” Only if the defendant is able to establish “express, present, and uncontroverted consent to the sexual interaction at issue” does the burden shift to the prosecution to prove withdrawal of consent, and “withdrawal of consent can happen at any time during the sexual interaction.”  (The latter point about withdrawal is not objectionable under the contract law theory of consent.)

We’ve reached the point where the legal standard of “consent” is now lower for killing someone that for having sex with her.  If a woman is non-communicative, then the law assumes that she does not consent to sex if she claims later to have not done so.  But if an old person is non-communicative, then he is assumed to consent to being starved to death, and conveniently will never contest that assumption.

Somehow, this just strikes me as an odd state of affairs.

* Although my choosing it does not imply a corresponding obligation on those around me to accede to my wishes.  My views on this are complicated.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Shy vs. Timid


SavvyD writes:

Somewhere along the line, philosophies sprouted up that made church people think you had to want to marry someone to be able to even approach. Well, that's a lot to ask someone to figure out without having spent any time with someone.

This brought to mind a young lady, E, with whom I was acquainted back when I lived in South America. 

First, some background:  as a teenager, I spent eight or so months of the year at an English-speaking boarding school in a different city than where my parents worked.  When I was at home, we went to church obviously, which was pretty much the extent of my contact with the native population, and my lack of fluency in the language had a bi-causal relationship with my introversion.

Anyway, last summer, out of the blue, I received a Facebook message from J:

Você mudou tanto na aparencia, que fico imaginando aquele adolescente tímido que passou por nossa igreja em [City-State-Country] um dia..... um grande abraço.*



My Mom had to remind me who this girl was, and in the process reminded me who E was:

Well, J of course is from [City] and a friend of E, and that's who originally found me on Facebook and then probably alerted J. Do you remember E, one of my piano students (I think) who was more obvious about her crush on you? She would come over to see you and then the two of you would sit in near silence, you from lack of interest and she from awkwardness. She would come to see me as well sometimes and I got tired of having to carry the conversation.

She also clarified the translation:

"Timido" means shy, which would have been accurate, don't you think? If you answer J, she'll tell E, who I bet will then contact you via Facebook. Girls never grow up.

As an aside, it occurred to me how the words “shy” and “timid” carry positive and negative connotations of what is essentially the same behavior or state of mind.  There is probably a philosophical point to make somewhere about how guys (and I mean me, specifically) often use the positive connotations of “shy” as a crutch for our own lack of courage in the face of attractive women.

But that’s a point for another day.  Let me share my own recollection of E.  She was a girl around my age or so, very tall (but not as tall as me) and slender.  In retrospect, she was quite attractive, and I can’t remember why this wasn’t obvious to me at the time.

No, that’s not quite right.  I do know why it wasn’t obvious.  I spent high school crushing on a girl at school, the prettiest alpha girl of the bunch and one who kept tantalizingly free of any declared romantic attachments.  And E wasn’t her.

Yeah, I know:  beta.

But there were other obstacles.  As my mom indicates, E was very reserved, more so than I was, in fact.  I strain to remember her ever saying anything, or even smiling.

But I do remember this:  one evening after church, as everyone milled around, I came to be standing by an open window looking out at the darkness.  I don’t remember if I was already standing there, or if E called me over, or if she had a friend call me over.  But anyway, I was there, and E was there, and E indicated she wanted to hold hands with me.

Um . . .

So we held hands.  It may have been the first time I held hands with a girl.  It felt really . . . weird.

I received a letter from my Mom at school that next semester.  (Kids, this was back before the internet, and nobody ever called long distance except in emergencies.  So we wrote words on actual paper called “letters” which had to be physically carried from one city to the next.  Hard to believe, isn’t it?)  Mom relayed an inquiry from E asking if we had a relationship, or words to that effect.

My reasoning at the time was as follows:  I was going to graduate high school that year or the next and then return to the U.S. for college.  Since there was no prospect of taking her with me, and I in any case wouldn’t be established financially for five or six years, what were we supposed to do in the mean time?  Have her “wait” for me that long on the slim chance that we would still be interested in each other six years later?

It was with me exactly as Savvy described:  I couldn’t resolve a path to marriage and family with E, and I was unwilling to start a romantic relationship on any other basis.

I candidly explained all this in my reply to my Mom, saying finally (and I remember the exact words), “We are not in each others’ futures.”  Mom conveyed the message.  I can’t recall ever seeing E again after that.

Question:  would my present self counsel a different course of action to my past self?

Sadly, yes.  I say sadly, because I still think my reasoning then was conscientious (or at least, that variety of conscientious that mothers tend to approve of).  But I now know the alternative sucks too.

So my present self would say to my past self:  go for it!  Be honest with her about what your plans are, but if she’s still game for a date-stamped relationship, well then:  she’s cute, and she’s making it easy!  And face facts:  alpha girl isn’t available, especially to your nerdy ass. 

And believe me, you really, really don’t want to get to be 23 without having had a girlfriend, without having been kissed, on the grounds that you weren’t ready to get married the next day.  Because when you’re 23, the girls, even (or especially) the girls at church, will expect you to have already done those things, and they’ll hold your lack of experience against you.  A lot.

I hate that my experience in life has led me to give that kind of advice.  But there it is.

* Yes, I get that you figured out what country this is.  That doesn’t mean I want you commenting about it on my blog.  Respect the pseudonyms.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Movie Potpourri V

Four Lions:  I’m not sure how much this movie actually teaches us about British-born jihadists; indeed, it would give us false comfort to think that they are all quite this incompetent.  But this movie had me in stitches almost the entire time.  A must see.

Dinner for Schmucks:  Pretty typical Steve Carell movie.

Eclipse:  Considering how often the mannerisms that defined Kristen Stewart’s Bella have been parodied, I can understand why she felt she had to drop them.  I’m disappointed, though.  I liked those mannerisms.  But the problem is that Stewart didn’t really replace them with anything, leaving her performance feeling flat.  Plus her hair looked . . . weird.  Artificial, like she was wearing a wig or something.

The Switch:  Jennifer Aniston is plenty attractive for her age (mine, FWIW), and she’s a good-enough actress for the roles she takes.  But what is it about her on-screen presence that I find so . . . annoying?

He’s Just Not That Into You:  This movie was painful to watch.  I just don’t have much of a stomach for watching people be mean to each other, even when they deserve it.  And . . . come on, Ginnifer Goodwin’s Gigi is too cute in both her personality and appearance to have been left out in the cold by as many guys in real life as she was in the film.  (That said, the real-life Ginnifer Goodwin looks kinda scary when she’s not in character.)

The King’s Speech:  A born beta forced by circumstances to alpha-up, George VI learns game from a guru.

Seriously, this was the best movie I’ve seen from last year (and I’ve seen a lot).  Notwithstanding its liberties with the historical record, dramatically it nonetheless gets both the little things and the big things almost perfect.  A scene that got to me:  George comes home after his accession, and his daughters come running towards him and then freeze in front of him, and we watch as Elizabeth, her face glowing, instructs Margaret that they should curtsy, and we just know that this was exactly the kind of little girl the future QEII was.  And I liked the way the movie set up a David-and-Goliath story between George VI and Adolph Hitler, whom “Bertie”, watching him in a newsreel, recognized as being strong precisely where he himself was weak.

Megamind:  Good-nerd-turned-bad fights bad-nerd-turned-good for Tina Fey to great 80’s soundtrack.  What’s not to like?

Megamind - No You Can't

I really think this was Will Ferrell’s best movie performance.   Honestly, I spent the first half of the movie thinking it was Robin Williams (or an appropriately subdued version of Robin Williams).

Orgazmo:  Hear me out on this.  I resisted watching this movie; obviously, it is thematically, um, well, kinda gross.  We of course have what would become the Parker and Stone trademark style of profane, gross-out humor.  But on the other hand, there isn’t any nudity, and anything that looks like sex is kept carefully off camera.

Unlike the majority of South Park episodes, Orgazmo doesn’t seem to have any social commentary that I could discern.  It is more or less a straighforward account of Joe Young (Trey Parker), a young Mormon man who reluctantly signs on to appear in a porn production – provided he doesn’t have to actually have sex.  This portrayal of Mormonism is, of course, a caricature – but it is a friendly caricature, much in the way that Ned Flanders is a friendly caricature of Evangelical Christians.  The pornographers are also caricatures -- evil and stupid – and Joe Young must confront and defeat them.

It’s all totally unserious, but with the exception of bad language, it’s difficult to find much to object to.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Game Tip o’ the Day: How to Hold a Glass

Here is an iconic scene from the movie Good Will Hunting:

Watch how Ben Affleck holds his beer at, for instance, 0:48.  Notice how the bottom two fingers (pinky and ring) come off the can?

GWH is too well made a movie for this to be an accident.  Affleck’s character is a working-class schlub in a reasonable-paying but really go-nowhere job.  Something is being communicated here with the pinky lift.  I’m not exactly sure what it is, but I don’t think it’s supposed to be good.

Contrast that with how Don Draper and Roger Sterling hold their glasses in this collage of Mad Men scenes at, for instance, 0:34:

Notice how both of them keep their lower two fingers on the glass and lift their index finger.

Mad Men is also too good a show for this to be an accident.  Jon Hamm’s and John Slattery’s characters are intended to be the princes of Manhattan.  Everything they do is calculated to project wealth, power, status and sex-appeal.  The way they are holding their glasses are cool, even if I don’t understand why.

But I have a theory.  Personally, raising my index finger instead of my pinky is something I have to think about.  It doesn’t come naturally.  Perhaps that’s the point:  the cool way of glass-holding indicates a higher level of self-possession.


Monday, April 25, 2011

One at a time.

My ten-year-old struggles with writing.  It’s one of those deficits that kind of snuck up on us.  She exceled in everything else, and when Mrs. Φ would ask people about it, they would say, “Don’t worry; eventually she’ll suddenly catch on and there won’t be a problem.”

Except . . . she didn’t catch on, and at the end of last year, as we looked at her barely legible writing, we realized that she was now behind her age group.

So, we enrolled her in a writing class.  Here she has made hard-fought progress, although it still takes her a disproportionate amount of time to produce a handful of complete sentences.

Recently, however, I discovered among the “notes” on my iPod, which Γ borrows from time to time, a series of narratives that, it turns out, she had written just for fun!  They weren’t entirely original; she would borrow the backdrop from the books she enjoys – Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, etc. – and create, if not entirely new plot lines, at least new conversations and events.  And she was using compound sentences too, with dependent clauses and the like.  It wasn’t perfect of course, but it was still amazing what she was getting right.

Perhaps it’s just a hand-eye coordination problem associated with handwriting, not an actual inability to form a coherent sentence.  Odd, though, this doesn’t show up anywhere else; Γ taught herself origami from library books, and draws better than I ever could.  Hoping to encourage independent writing, I resolved then to get her a netbook for her next birthday present, something she call her own and use to practice both typing and composition.

Today, I received my very first email from her:

DEAR daddy, I am doing a persuasive paper.  I chose the "persuading someone to believe what I believe what I believe"  kind.   Can you give me some ideas about what to argue and which side to take.   Please respond as quickly as possible.  Γ

On one level, I know that all dads think that the sun rises and sets by everything their little girls do, no matter how modest.  But . . . yeah, I just busted out with pride at the fact my daughter could write an email like this, that she valued my input enough to ask for it, and that she was writing a persuasion paper.  When I was 10, I’m pretty sure the most complicated thing I ever wrote was a book report.

I replied:

Here's what comes to mind:

1.  Reepicheep:  valiant hero or annoying rodent?  Explain.

2.  Taylor Swift sings:  "Marry me, Juliet, you never have to be alone . . . I talked to your Dad; go pick out a white dress . . . ."  Should boys always talk to fathers before asking girls to marry them?  Why or why not?

3.  Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius said that man has the capacity to choose to follow God of his own free will.  John Calvin said that God must first regenerate a man’s will to give him that capacity.  Who is right, and why?

4.  Which is the better present to get, the Legos Hogwarts Castle or the Hello Kitty AR-15?  State your reasons.

5.  Which is better to have in our backyard:  a trampoline or a hot tub?

“I’m so ready to get rid of that trampoline,” Mrs. Φ told me over Skype later.


“I’m tired of having to lean out the back door every few minutes and yell, one at a time!  ONE AT A TIME!”

“On the other hand, it is a status booster among the neighborhood kids that don’t have one.  They’re always excited at the opportunity to come over and use it.”

“In a few years, the girls would probably rather have the hot tub.  Γ has already lost interest in the trampoline, and her little sister probably will eventually.”

“I guess a hot tub could be status booster.”

“Of course, at that age, you’ll probably still be wanting to lean out the back door yelling, one at a time!  ONE AT A TIME!”

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter Spring Spheres

From the Seattle News:

A sophomore at a local private high school thinks an effort to make Easter politically correct is ridiculous.

Jessica, 16, told KIRO Radio's Dori Monson Show that a week before spring break, the students commit to a week-long community service project. She decided to volunteer in a third grade class at a public school, which she would like to remain nameless.

"At the end of the week I had an idea to fill little plastic eggs with treats and jelly beans and other candy, but I was kind of unsure how the teacher would feel about that," Jessica said.

"I went to the teacher to get her approval and she wanted to ask the administration to see if it was okay," Jessica explained. "She said that I could do it as long as I called this treat 'spring spheres.' I couldn't call them Easter eggs."

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Hijacking American Policy

Thanks to Justin, I’ve been reading up on the Morgenthau Plan.  This was America’s 1944 – 1947 policy of German deindustrialization, created and enforced by Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, his assistant (and Soviet agent) Harry Dexter White, and OMGUS officer Bernard Bernstein.  The ethnic loyalties of these gentlemen is a matter of record.

A bit of context is in order.  Germany had always been a food importer, exchanging its manufactured goods with its European neighbors to feed itself.  The early postwar limitations on manufactures meant that it would need humanitarian relief supplies to survive.  Yet under the concurrent food policy, these relief supplies were prohibited to ethnic Germans, even going so far as to instruct American occupation forces and their families to destroy excess food supplies rather than letting them fall into the hands of German civilians.  The result was as in Nazi concentration camps or Soviet Ukraine:  millions of people, mostly children and the elderly, died from malnutrition and disease, and economic recovery of the whole of Europe was retarded.

Reading about these events sickens me – but then, in 2011 I’m pretty much over WWII.  I can’t say with any honesty how I would have felt in 1945.  The Morgenthau plan was leaked to the media at the time, and I’m heartened to read that it had to be executed in the teeth of popular and Congressional opposition.  On the other hand, the humanitarian consequences, such as they are, of American policy toward our present enemies doesn’t rank very highly on my give-a-sh!t list.  I’m struck by Roosevelt’s statement on the Morgenthau Plan:

Too many people here and in England hold the view that the German people as a whole are not responsible for what has taken place – that only a few Nazis are responsible. That unfortunately is not based on fact. The German people must have it driven home to them that the whole nation has been engaged in a lawless conspiracy against the decencies of modern civilization.

In recent decades, American presidents have asserted in the face of the available evidence that that hostile foreign governments could only conduct their actions by oppressing the will of their own people.  Clearly, an earlier generation of leaders had no such romantic notions.  (And neither do our present enemies.  The head terrorist in the movie Traitor justified his attacks on American civilians by quoting the Gettysburg address:  our government is “of the people, by the people, and for the people”, therefore we should be collectively liable for it.)

But here’s the thing:  my attitude towards this story is similar to my attitude towards our de-facto alliance with Israel.  It’s not so much that I object to the policy, it’s that I dislike the idea that the policy is a function of narrow minority ethnic grievances rather than of the interests of the American people.  In the case of the Morgenthau Plan, the answer is obvious:  the destitution of Germany and impoverishment of Europe allowed Soviet subversion to spread.  It was to counter this influence that the policy was ultimately abandoned in favor of the Marshall Plan.  I’d like to think that American policy is as self-correcting today as it was then, yet I can’t honestly see much evidence for it.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Clueless Evangelicals

. . . because sometimes you have to throw a flag on your own team.

RBC Ministries publishes a daily devotion guide called Our Daily Bread that is popular among evangelicals.  I was introduced to it in high school myself and have used it off and on for some 27 years, more consistently so since I’ve had children with whom we have daily scripture reading.

In its commentary on Romans 5, the January 7, 2011 devotion began:

I read these words on a young woman’s personal Web site: “I just want to be loved—and he has to be amazing!”

Isn’t that what we all want—to be loved, to feel cared for by someone? And so much the better if he or she is amazing!

The one who fits that description most fully is Jesus Christ. In a display of unprecedented love, He left His Father in heaven and came to earth as the baby we celebrate at Christmas . . . .

and on in like vein.

Where to start?

Truth be told, I don’t have daily devotions to have every tick of my social critique reinforced.  And it may be that I have eaten too much of the tree of knowledge for my own good.


Really?  Are you seriously telling me that you read this expression of the culture’s license to unbridled female hypergamy and the only reaction you could muster is, “oh, look, what a cool metaphor for Jesus!”  Because if that’s the extent of your cultural engagement, if “don’t fornicate” is truly the limit of your moral imagination, then frankly, you will have deserved your own irrelevancy.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Diversity at Work: Cleveland Edition


School officials in Ohio have launched an investigation after a beating of a student was videotaped and posted online, Fox 8 reports.

The fight was recorded outside the Martin Luther King Jr. Career Campus in Cleveland just before the school let out for spring break, according to the station.

Do we even have to watch the video?


Here are the stats on Martin Luther King, Jr. High School.  The “career campus” gets a 2/10 from

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Children of War


A friend in Iraq writes of a rocket attack:

Last night I slept at another FOB. Word on the street is that it is all quiet over there, and I was looking forward to finally a night of sound sleep that comes with that sense security that one will not be bombed that night. After I had been out cold for a few hours and was happily dreaming away, I dreamt what I thought I wouldn't dream - the awful sound which warns us of an "incoming! incoming! incoming!" missile. I tried arguing with myself in my dream. It's just a dream, right? It's all quiet here, right? I'll just lay here in bed and act like nothing is happening and it'll go away...

Boom! The "Containerized Housing Unit" aka "CHU" shook. So did the bed. Then came the adrenaline and I was instantly wide awake. Turns out, the incoming alarm wasn't a dream, it was prelude to an earthquake. I quickly rolled over and thudded full-body-length onto the CHU floor, laced my fingers with hands behind my head to protect myself from the bomb blast, and wondered at how wonderfully clear and thoughtful and focused my adrenaline-fueled mind had become. I heard my boss, who had just won a prestigious award that night and will be leaving soon, the reason for our overnight to this place, hit the floor as well. Our lone civilian, a kindly older gentleman, continued the labored breathing of sound sleep. At this moment, I said something ungodly to my boss, "Holy Crap! I thought they weren't bombing over here anymore...!" plus some other stuff stating the obvious, his reply was cut short...

Boom! The CHU walls shuddered, and I felt the energy wave from the bomb blast in the cold floor of the CHU travel up and down and through my body. The soundwave was louder, indicating this one hit substantially closer. My mind raced - were they walking the ordinance in a line? This would be a change of tactics indicating more effective targeting on the part of those motortrike mini-rocket rocket launcher terrorist guys (and gals). Don't they know they should have used a Harley? If you are going to launch missiles off the back of a motortrike, it should be a modified Harley. Harley's show a bit of class and style. Maybe Monster Garage needs to get involved over here.

Here’s the atypical thing:  my friend grew up on the Dhahran Compound in Saudi Arabia (fictionally portrayed as the scene of a terrorist attack in the movie The Kingdom):

My mind raced back to when I was 15 years old, laying in my bed, listening to the incoming missiles from Iraq during the Gulf War, feeling the house shake and shudder, and listening to the window glass rattling in the frame. Being bombed is much the same experience at 35 years old as at 15. One day after church I talked briefly with a woman who had experienced being attacked by mortars as an MK in Vietnam, and my mother experienced this as well during two wars - II and Gulf. I find it's an experience us bombees can connect on. If the gentlemen (gentleterrorists?) launching the missiles are indeed walking the ordinance, the next one would be either very close or right on top of us, and I pray "Yea though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me" ...

Some of us have been in what is essentially the same war for our entire lives.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Republican Budgeting: “Our voters are morons!”

Professor Hale has the numbers:

The 2010 budget was $3.456 TRILLION. In 2011, that amount is expected to be $3.818 TRILLION. A 38 Billion reduction makes that only $3.79 $TRILLION which is still more than 300 Billion more than the record setting budget from last year. Thanks for that, Congress. That also still gives us more than $1.6 trillion in deficit this year, another record for an administration that recognizes no boundaries.

So basically, Congress cut nothing.  Obama asked for a $362B increase in spending and the Republicans’ great accomplishment was to give him 90% of it.  Megan says that the nation’s total AGI was $7,583B last year, which if I remember my macro is roughly the size of the economy.  That makes the federal share of the economy now around 50%.

Back to Prof Hale:

I heard the news Saturday morning that "we had a deal". This was followed up by President Obama making a personal appearance at the Lincoln Memorial and telling tourists, "we are open for business". I also heard that both side would work out the details and vote on this later in the week. Forgive me for being pedantic, but this is our national government. There is no "deal" in national government. There are spending authorization bills, that get voted on and approved in both houses and then get forwarded to the President for signature. As far as I can tell, THAT DID NOT HAPPEN! It seems that our previously out-of-control government is still out of control and is continuing to spend money that it has not been authorized to spends according to law and the Constitution. "Deals" are not good enough.

Has anyone figured this out yet?

Freaks & Geeks

Freaks & Geeks, by episode:

Episode 1:  Dad is a doofus.  A well-meaning doofus perhaps, but a doofus nonetheless.  If the series made clear that this was only the way his children perceived him (a sleight the series pulls off remarkably well with the guidance counselor), that would be one thing, but the Mom gets a full three dimensions, while Dad only gets one.

Episode 3:  The series doesn’t seem to have much in the way of character development.  No, that’s not it.  It’s got character development, but the characters seem to “reboot” after each episode.  You think that they arrive at some sort of self-awareness from the trauma (by  high-school standards) they experience, but then the next episode starts, and they don’t seem to have learned anything.

Episode 4:  Busy Phillips’ Kim Kelly is the most consistently authentic rendition of a teen slut I can recall seeing on television.  Kinda dumb, kinda dumpy.  A bit of a bitch.  I swear I’ve known (or rather, known about) at least one girl exactly like her.

Episode 11:  I’m so disappointed in Lindsay.  It’s not just that she was bullied into borrowing the family car without permission.  It’s not just that she wrecked it.  It’s that after her parents unground her for a slumber party, she then abuses their  trust so unabashedly by bailing on the slumber party to go hang out with the very people who keep getting her into trouble.

Okay, be honest:  how many of you actually worked the problems from the mathlete competition.  I did . . . eventually . . . with a calculator.  Do mathletes really work trig problems in their heads?

Episode 12:  Lindsay lies again, says she’s headed to the library, heads to hang out with the freaks.

The gang takes the garage door opener that Neal found in his Dad’s car and biked around the neighborhood to see what house it matched.  The funny thing is the opener to my garage also activated the door to the house across the street from where the future Mrs. Phi was living.  I had all kinds of fun freaking out the owners making them wonder why their garage door kept opening and closing.

Episode 13:  Public school lunches where they actually ask you what you want to eat?  In 1980?  Gimme a break!

Episode 14:  Cindy breaks up with Todd, decides that she wants to start dating “nice guys”, i.e., Sam.  Sam actually shows  some trepidation here.

Episode 15:  Good gawd, what is it with this, “I’m going to trust you with my (or somebody else’s) most intimate secrets and you have to promise not to tell anyone ever.”  They always tell.  Maybe not in real life, but on teevee they always betray you.  You’d think teevee characters would have figured out that in their fictional universe, if you don’t want everyone to know something, keep your mouth shut.

Nick’s dad gives away Nick’s drums on the grounds that they distract him from school.  It has occurred to throughout the series how painful school must be for people on the bottom half of the bell curve.  Parents tell them to do well in school, but they’re never going to be anything but below average.

And Lindsay’s back to her army jacket.  And gets bullied into trying marijuana for the first time after holding out the entire series.

Episode 18:  Question:  what do you say to your child when he/she tells you that your spouse is cheating on you?

In this case, Mrs. Schweiber says almost exactly what I would have said:  that’s grownup, husband-and-wife stuff.  What matters is that we both love you.  That’s not to say that hell’s not breaking loose two minutes from now, but to the extent possible, it won’t involve you.

Conclusion:  Outstanding series.  I think, though, that the show wisely quit while it was ahead.  It would have been difficult to come up with another season’s worth of interesting things to say about high school, given the limitations of the format.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Race That Must Not Be Named, Part II


America's Third War: American Teens Recruited by Mexican Drug Cartels

“American Teens”?

No names, no pictures.  But after that “Texas Men” business, does anybody want to take a guess what the real nationality – citizenship notwithstanding – of these drug mules actual is?

The true value of citizenship is that it provides a bright, defining line between “us” and “not us”.  But once citizenship has been polluted, as ours surely has, we’re forced to rely on relatively crude distinctions like “Mestizo”, etc.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Diversity at Work: Borders & Customs Corruption


In the Mexican drug war, U.S. authorities are finding a disturbing trend: an increase in American law enforcement officials corrupted by wealthy Mexican criminals who pay them to look the other way as illegal drugs and immigrants flow north into the United States.

In the last five years, nearly 80 U.S. Border Patrol agents and Customs and Border Protection officers have been arrested along the Mexican border, and according to federal authorities, hundreds more officials are under investigation.

At a U.S. Senate hearing, it was revealed that Mexican cartel members are infiltrating American law enforcement. There was also testimony that during a hiring push that began five years ago to add thousands of Border Patrol and CBP officers, only 10 percent of the initial applicants were given polygraph tests.

So it’s not even that Mexican drug money is corrupting American law enforcement.  It is that federal affirmative action hiring policies are putting Mexican cartel agents in American law-enforcement uniforms.

Smart move, guys.  Real slick.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Tired of Life

On somebody’s recommendation, I overcame my aversion to network fare and started working my way through the NBC series Life.  I quit, however, after watching back-to-back episodes involving violence against (1) a homosexual, and then (2) an Iranian couple.  Both of these were set up initially as “hate crimes”.

Let’s ignore for the moment that actual hate crimes are so vanishingly rare that the Left has to invent them out of whole cloth.  What bothers me about entertainment that tries to be “topical” about crime is the complete absence of context.  The mere possibility of a “hate crime” sends us into national convulsions:  wall-to-wall media coverage about how evil conservatives are, protests and riots, Jesse Jackson, etc.  Yet in Teeveeland, all of this is missing.  It’s as if nobody cares that a hate crime has taken place – nobody, that is, except our intrepid detectives who must overcome society’s indifference.

This was the same hogwash that constituted part of the reason I couldn’t stomach Justified after the first episode.

While I'm at it, here is another series that disappointed me: Dexter. I recently found it listed among the greats and thought I'd give it a try.

While a serial killer (in the clinical sense of having a psycho-sexual urge to kill) who only acts out his impulses as a vigilante could be a compelling story, so far this isn't it. A artistically daring show would keep in audience in a perpetual state of moral conflict, at once rooting for its protagonist and horrified by him at the same time, much as we were conflicted about, say, Tony Soprano, who commanded both our admiration and disgust. But Dexter, his running internal monologue to the contrary, is too normal, too virtuous in his behavior, only killing murderers whom the audience has been rigorously convinced deserve what they are getting. The series came close to moral ambiguity with episode 5, where Dexter kills a married couple as they profess their love for each other, but here the show cheats by cutting away from the scene at the last moment.

Also, what weird casting decision decided that Dexter's sister should have a Minnesota accent, never mind that she grew up in Florida and none of her other family members has one?

Really, though, there is very little in the series that couldn't be shown on basic cable. Occasional f-bombs, maybe some blood-spattered crime scenes. Not normally what people expect from Showtime.

Seeing as how Dexter is in its 6th season, I want to ask: does it get better? I'm interested in hearing not just from fans of the show but from people who also thought season 1 was weak and that it improved in subsequent seasons.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Boo W.

From Fox News:

[Former President] BUSH:  [The U.S.-Afghan Women's Council] is big because it will have an impact over the years. The idea of liberating women, empowering women, encouraging women, educating women in Afghanistan is all part of laying a foundation for lasting peace.

My concern of course is that the United States gets weary of being in Afghanistan, it is not worth it, let's leave. And Laura and I believe that if that were to happen, women would suffer again. We don't believe that's in the interests of the United States or the world to create a safe haven for terrorists and stand by and watch women's rights be abused.

The Republican party, or at least the conservative faction of it, needs to state plainly what you my readers already know:  George W. Bush is a liberal.  He’s a liberal now, he was a liberal as President, and his policies reflected that liberalism.

This is no mere matter of score-keeping.  Loyalty to Bush has kept important segments of the Republican Party from openly identifying the cause of the housing crisis:  the dismantling of lending standards that allowed poor minorities to borrow money beyond their means and inflate the housing bubble in the process.  And the party’s failure to criticize those policies allow the policies to continue even today.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

International Women’s Day (Afghanistan Style)

From the Guardian:

Musa Khan, the governor of Ghazni province, once associated with the fundamentalist warlord Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, marked international women's day on 8 March. Unfortunately, he appeared to have missed the point of the event.

According to Alex Dietrich, the head of a US military female engagement team operating in Ghazni, in a morning of speeches, only two women were invited onstage to participate. Instead ranks of burqa-clad women watched a group of men dominate proceedings with speeches on the importance of practising marital obedience.

Khan told them they should not leave their homes without permission from their husbands. "At the end the men sat down for a feast, while the women waited outside in the cold for some of their leftovers," Dietrich said.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Banking Alternatives


From the March 2011 Civil-Military Fusion Centre paper, “The Increasing Role & Potential of Islamic Finance in Afghanistan” (behind the firewall at

Islamic finance is also guided by Sharia‟s banning of “usury”, which is the charging interest or high fees for the use of money. More broadly, Islamic principles suggest that money should not be self-generating (i.e., that it has no time-value and should not grow without work and/or risk-taking).

While Islam forbids interest-bearing loans, this restriction does not mean that the finance industry is forced to operate with limited profits. Rather, Islamic law forbids financial products which are based on debt rather than on real assets and actual economic activity. In other words, an investor should not profit without producing something or accepting a degree of risk (as in an investment). As such, an Islamic “loan” may be provided insofar that it is not seen as creating debt for the recipient (or an expectation of interest on the part of the loan provider), according to the Islamic Finance Council of the United Kingdom.

The loan-provider, under Islam, is understood more appropriately as an investor or financier who gives funds, for instance, to an entrepreneur and who will benefit to the extent that the entrepreneur is successful. Therefore, the financier will profit if the recipient profits and will lose money if the recipient‟s enterprise is unsuccessful. Hence, loans may only be taken to finance profitable undertakings, and, as stated in an article from the INSEAD business school, Islamic finance would disallow the provision of loans to purchase luxury items for the wealthy – as occurred in the case of the recent Kabul Bank crisis – or basic needs for the poor (which, under Islam, should be addressed through charity (or zakat) rather than loans).

So basically:  no consumer credit, no demand deposits.

I’ve heard elements of this system advocated by American commentators.  Steve Sailer has advocated limiting consumer credit through interest rate caps, and I think Ron Paul has criticized the mismatch between borrowing long and lending short.

Since the financial crisis, I’ve been much more open to alternatives in the banking system.  But the alternatives are not without a downside:

Recent research by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) suggests that Islamic banks fared better than conventional banks during the global economic crisis which began in 2008. Islamic banks’ aversion to securities which are not based on real economic activity shielded them from the sorts of debt-based investments and instruments which led to the initial phase of the economic crisis in many Western countries. Islamic banks, hence, have also been increasingly trusted by depositors, and their asset levels have continued climbing throughout the economic crisis. In many respects, Islamic banks out-performed their conventional peers.

Yet, once the “banking crisis” began to affect the broader economy – slowing consumption, construction and production on a global level – Islamic banks were more vulnerable than conventional banks as a result of their investments in a narrow range of sectors (e.g., energy and construction) and their relatively permissive approaches to risk management. By 2009, however, conventional banks‟ profitability was down only 15% relative to 2007; for Islamic banks, which were then facing the full effect of the crisis for the first time, profitability was down nearly 50%.

The IMF ultimately does not take any position on the relative appropriateness of either Islamic or conventional banking but does highlight the relative benefits of each and the importance of reforms which can mitigate their respective risks.

And this is in addition to the dangers Megan has warned about:  drying up consumer credit in the banking sector will drive many poor people to loan sharks, payday loans, and the like, plus substantially lower aggregate consumption and thus production.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Indentured Servitude in Afghanistan

It seems the perpetual indebtedness created by America’s student loan program was such a great idea, we exported it to Afghanistan.

From the NYT:

The Muhammads are indentured servants, bought and paid for by Gul Bacha, who purchased their contracts from a kiln owner in Pakistan, where they had been living as refugees. Like tens of thousands of Afghans, the Muhammads are trapped in a seemingly endless cycle of poverty that keeps them indebted to their employers — a situation common at many of the dusty brick kilns that dot the countryside, as well as in some other industries, particularly in rural areas.

After decades of violence, Afghanistan has few banks, and the people who labor at the kilns would almost surely be too poor to qualify for loans. Instead, they borrow from their employers, who generally pay them pennies an hour for their grueling labor — barely enough to survive and too little to pay off debts that only grow with each passing year.

For a vast majority of workers, there is no escape — for them or for their children, who are bound by their parents’ contracts. Their best hope is that the boss will sell their contract to another kiln, where they might be paid more. No matter what, the loan will follow them. In some cases, children are held as their parents’ collateral.

It is illegal for children younger than 15 to work long hours or do heavy labor, and the government says it is trying to provide education and help to families so they do not have to send their children to work at the kilns.

The use of child labor is also a concern of NATO forces in Afghanistan, particularly those involved in reconstruction programs. Yet kiln owners and contractors say bricks made by children are routinely used in NATO projects.

A spokesman for the international security force in Afghanistan, Lt. Bashon W. Mann, said that the force conducted frequent inspections at construction sites and that the coalition had no knowledge of having used building materials made by children.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Banana Prøn

We get fresh bananas once per month here at ISAF.  Here is my April ration:


I’ve been here way, way too long.

Friday, April 08, 2011

White Ethnic Cleansing

Via Steve, a WaPo article on white flight from diversity:

More than half of the United States’ 100 largest cities relied on Hispanics and Asians to grow and would have seen their populations decline without them over the past decade, a Washington Post analysis shows.

What seems lost on the WaPo is that these Hispanics and Asians have driven out the extant White population or deterred them from moving there.  Had there not been immigration, the opportunities these cities afforded would have been snapped up by Americans.

The article continues:

“The real energy in cities is going to be from Hispanics coming in,” said William H. Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution. “Cities in the industrial Midwest could use an infusion of new immigrant minorities coming in. Cleveland and Detroit haven’t done well; they’re not attracting enough Hispanics.”

This has cause and effect exactly backwards.  The job growth drives the influx, not the other way around.  But if the WaPo is so sure of itself, then let’s make a law forcing immigrants to move to Detroit and Cleveland, just to see what happens.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Chain mail: Afghanistan Edition

From the Pajhwok News Agency (article text requires subscription):

Mobile phone users in Kabul have started receiving text messages warning them that if they do not send on the names of Allah to several other people, they will endure a lifetime of misfortune.  While most people in Kabul do not want to insult their religion, they say they cannot afford to send out to so many people.  The messages are being sent out by all mobile phone companies, but the companies deny they have a role in the texts.  The head of telecommunications services at the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) said that they had not received any complaints so far.  (2011032o)

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Democrat Budgeting: The Thelma & Louise Plan

On Paul Ryan’s proposed plan to reduce the deficit, Megan writes:

The wildly disproportionate fury and outrage which greeted both Bowles-Simpson and the Ryan plan from the left indicate that progressives have so far failed to come to grips with the fact that they are going to have to compromise . . . .  [T]hey're going to have to ultimately accede to some spending cuts, because this is one policy area where doing nothing is literally not an option.

Well, the left has to compromise to save the country.  But they don’t have to compromise in an absolute sense, any more than Thelma & Louise have to stop their car at the edge of the cliff.  Bankruptcy and suicide is always an option.  Just ask the Greeks.

Megan continues:

[W]hile some of the gap is going to be closed by tax increases, some of it is going to be closed by spending cuts.  And not just defense cuts, or seemingly trivial changes to physician reimbursement rates that we hope will snowball over time, but actual cuts in services that people currently want and expect to get from government--but do not want or expect to pay for.

I fear Megan understates the problem.  My own assessment is that these very people – the ones who want government services without government revenue – presently hold the balance of power in our country.  In theory, the left and right could reach a compromise on taxes and spending (although even here I may be assuming too much).  In practice, however, the center is determined to prevent exactly that compromise.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Bleg: CGI Sex

The news that Natalie Portman’s ballet performance in Black Swan was a product of computerized special effects got me thinking about the STARZ series Spartacus:  Blood and Sand.

Now on the one hand, Spartacus is performed by mainstream (if largely B-listed) actors and actresses.  So for that reason I’m pretty sure that I’m not watching, you know, actual pornography. 

But that only raises the question:  during the scenes (and there is usually one per episode) in which one of the male characters is shown with one of the female characters grinding their pelvises, no stitch of clothing to be seen anywhere . . . then I can’t help but wonder how the line between acting and reality doesn’t get, you know, blurry in that situation.  (Warning:  Link NSFW)

So here’s my question to whichever of my readers has insider knowledge on this subject:  how are these scenes actually done so as to protect the, I dunno, professionalism of the participants?  Are we looking at high-quality animation?  Are the actors and actresses actually wearing Teflon clothing that is then digitally replaced by skin tones?  Or maybe they’re all just inhumanly, um, disciplined mentally?

But I’m beginning to wonder about how much of even plain ol’ TV nudity is real.  Take for instance the HBO series Rome.  The show almost had me convinced that this was actually what actress Polly Walker looks like.  But Lindsay Duncan?  The actress was 55 at the time of filming, ye t she is shown with an impossibly gravity-defying figure.  That’s got to be CGI again, right?

Monday, April 04, 2011

Our Cosmopolitan Overlords

Robin writes:

If there must be rich folks, what would you want them to be like? You might want:

  • They mostly work, instead of living lives of leisure.
  • They or their parents are mostly self made, vs. coming from long rich families. You probably sympathize more with parents wanting to help their kids than their great-great-grandkids.
  • They compete fiercely for positions in orgs that themselves compete strongly globally, assuring you their wealth isn’t from local insider clubs.
  • They don’t promote national conflicts or wars, but instead look to what’s good for the world.
  • They give most of their wealth away, to especially innovative and socially valuable charities.

Every one of these is wrong.

  • Working rich take jobs from people who actually need to earn a living.
  • The prevalence of multi-generational wealth is only an indicator of a lack of social mobility.  It is not a substitute for it. 
  • The jobs the rich take are likely to be high prestige, high value transference jobs.
  • I don’t want the rich to consider what’s good for the world.  I want them to consider what’s good for their fellow citizens.
  • Such charities to which the rich contribute are likely to be (1) universities, museums, and other institutions that benefit mainly other rich people or (2) organizations that further dispossess white middle-class Americans.

Robin then drops the other shoe:  his list of qualities describes the elite we actually have; with the exception of the third one, I agree.  But Robin, despite his valuable contributions to understanding human nature, remains an effete cosmopolitan, a man with no loyalty to nation or soil.  Of course he doesn’t mind that our elites undermine these things.  But many of us do.

But let me prescribe the one area in which the rich could make a positive contribution:  venture capitalism.  I would much rather the rich put their wealth at risk to create jobs and fund the next breakthrough technology that will improve our lives.  We don’t need or want any more charity or i-bankers.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Pleasantly Surprised

UPDATE: Expectations Met

In all honesty, after yesterday’s events in Mazar-e-Sharif, I had this post already written in my head.  It was going to be titled “Profiles in Cowardice” or “Be-TRAY-us Redux”, which tells you most of what you need to know about where my baseline expectations have fallen.

So you can imagine my gratification when I heard this during the COMISAF standup:

Well, obviously what took place in Mazar is tragic, horrific, reprehensible and beyond any comprehension by any religion and it was good to see President Karzai put out a condemnation statement last night, along with of course the NATO secretary general and many others.  The fact is that this event in the United States, which drew all of about twelve people, never would have drawn interest out here had it not been for the way it was echoed and highlighted, and that is a tragedy in and of itself frankly.  We’re going to have to watch very very carefully to see if this escalates elsewhere in the country now, keep our finger on the pulse of various events . . . .

Again, this is a very worrisome development.  I’m not sure what repercussions it will have for the international community.  I think we need to ensure that it is the first topic on the senior security shura today, so for DCOS STRAT  Engagement, please make sure that we would like an explanation from the Minister of Interior what is being done, what has been done, what will be done.  We need to contact the religious leadership we have established relationships with.  Tell them that they need to do some serious soul searching because it is my impression that elements of the religious establishment are the ones that fanned the flames on this and poured gasoline on it, and frankly, they probably have to do, again, a bit of internal examination to ask themselves if this was something they want to be associated [with], is this something their religion stands for in Afghanistan and so forth.  There is a fine line between a peaceful demonstration and violence in this country.  And they obviously – their actions at the end of the day – got out of control.  It’s interesting, because President Karzai has cautioned once or twice, he’s noted that peaceful demonstrations don’t always stay that way in Afghanistan, and yet this is how this came about . . . .

But indeed, there’s got to be some serious soul searching here by people who are supposed to be giving moral guidance to citizens of this country.

Now, while the boss of course put some thought into this – he’s nothing if not careful – keep in mind he was speaking extemporaneously without a prepared text.  Obviously, this was not the speech I would have given; I was over my illusions about the true essence of Islam by September 12, 2001.  But note what he did not do:  he did not attack Terry Jones for exercising his constitutional rights, he did not try to play both sides by calling for “mutual tolerance” or any of the multi-cult phrases of national suicide.  He instead put the blame squarely where it belonged, no equivocation.

Well done, sir.

UPDATE: I noticed P4 giving a press conference Sunday. Here he is "protecting and defending the Constitution of the United States." Pathetic. (H.T.: månesteiner in the comments.)

Friday, April 01, 2011

Manchild vs. Womanchild


Cases Of Shaken Manchild Syndrome On The Rise

On a serious note, does anybody have any data on the relative prevalence over time of post-college-age men and women still living at home?  ONN is obviously poking fun at what has become a cultural stereotype:  slacker twenties guy living in his parents’ basement.  But has the number of such guys really grown over the last thirty years compared to the number of girls?

That said, this is one double standard I kind of get.  I don’t have any sons, but if I did, I’m pretty sure my baseline expectation of them would be that, post-college, they should be making their way in the world.  But my daughters?  In theory, they can stay until they get married.

In theory.  In practice, I can see all sorts of obstacles that would need to be overcome.  First, domestic responsibilities.  Mom and Dad really don’t want to be cleaning up after you when you’re 23.  In fact, we don’t really want to be nagging you to clean up after yourself either.  So be prepared to do your share of cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc., and still keep your room looking presentable.

Second . . . what are your long-term plans, exactly?  Waiting to get married isn’t a bad plan, but are you making good use of your time?  I recall spending a week at a friend’s house while I was house-hunting in a new city.  He had two daughters, the younger of which was still living at home.  She might have still been college aged, but she wasn’t attending.  She had a part-time job doing something or other that left her with lots of free time.  But what bothered me was that she would stay up watching television most of the night.  The picture she presented was:  slacker.  I thought to myself then that I would have a hard time watching my daughter spend her time like this.

On the other hand, I knew (of) another young lady that forewent college and career in favor of staying home until she got married.  (Full disclosure:  it was the younger sister of the woman I blogged about here, although the video I referenced has since been taken down.)  But she had the reputation of being unusually productive doing volunteer work in her church and community.  And she did, in fact, get married fairly young.