Thursday, December 29, 2011

The End of Egalitarianism

Ross Douthat faces off with Dan Savage in a Bloggingheads debate on the role of monogamy in marriage and, parenthetically, the effect of widespread gay marriage on sexual exclusivity.

Before I comment on the specifics, let me recommend the entire debate as well worth the watch.  I would add the caveat that even if we take Dan’s protestations of concern for marital stability as being made in good faith, I should note that not all advocates of gay marriage share that concern.  Dan’s may be the public face that the gay community likes to show to mainstream audiences, but other homosexuals are more forthcoming about the hope that extending marriage to gays will undermine the social “privilege” of marriage in general.

That said, I was particularly struck with this exchange:

Dan is a fag, but he makes a point not unfamiliar to this corner of the blogosphere:  the history of marital dissolution is mostly the story of female emancipation.  Ross, as a mainstream so-con, really doesn’t want to go there for regrettable if understandable reasons.  But he makes the forceful rebuttal that Dan’s proposed alternative – that standards of monogamy be subject to ongoing negotiation – inevitably benefits the stronger half of the relationship at the expense of the weaker half.  Prior to 40 years ago, the stronger half was almost always the husband;  thus, our culture yet carries around in its collective memory the image of the philandering Don Draper.  Our society’s ongoing effort to elevate the status of women at the expense of men makes this image increasingly anachronistic.

Given the differences between the preferences of men for polygamy and women for hypergamy, Dan is naïve in believing that greater egalitarianism strengthens marriage, and it is cold comfort to a man getting screwed over in family court to know that somewhere, a woman is also getting screwed over.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

Isaiah 9:6:

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Religion and its Malcontents

Bret Stephens (via Mangan) writes:

As with religion, [global warming enthusiasm] is presided over by a caste of spectacularly unattractive people pretending to an obscure form of knowledge that promises to make the seas retreat and the winds abate. As with religion, it comes with an elaborate list of virtues, vices and indulgences. As with religion, its claims are often non-falsifiable, hence the convenience of the term "climate change" when thermometers don't oblige the expected trend lines. As with religion, it is harsh toward skeptics, heretics and other "deniers."

And more in like vein.  This is, of course, a riff on Michael Crighton’s famous “Environmentalism as Religion” speech in which he blames the AGW hoax (among others) on the religious impulse.

As I have written before, I believe this to be misleading.  It is precisely at the point where people stop believing in the God of the Bible that they became susceptible to all manner of nonsense in an effort to fill the religion-shaped hole in their psyches.  Stephens, et. al are correct to criticize religious approaches to what should be empirical questions, but it never seems to occur to them that the continued effort at undermining true devotional religion is actually exacerbating the problem.

This reminds me how, post-1991, atheists, when confronted with Soviet brutality, claimed that Russian communism was actually a religious movement, official statements to the contrary.  (They never seemed to realize this before 1991.)

Similarly, Calvinism has become the go-to whipping boy at Ferdinand’s site on any number of issues as the writers blame if for all that is wrong with the world.  Never mind that no observant Calvinist, then or now, actually believes or advocates anything Ferd is attacking; it’s Calvin’s fault anyway because . . . well, I’m not sure, but something about how anything that Ferd doesn’t like is logically consistent with Calvinism by Ferd’s reckoning, and that’s enough.

Yet another example:  I’m pretty sure that any reasonable observer would agree that Christianity, especially the fundamental variety, stands foursquare against drunken orgies.  Yet, when those orgies turn out badly, sure enough we can find people who blame them on Christianity anyway.

Φ’s First Law:  Anything bad is going to be blamed on Christianity and Christians, notwithstanding any amount of actual Christian opposition to the bad thing.

Monday, December 19, 2011

How to Undermine Border Security in a Dozen Convoluted Steps

From TechDirt, a tale of criminal copyright enforcement against the hip-hop blog

There are so many things about this story that are crazy, it's difficult to know where to start, so let's give the most important point first: The US government has effectively admitted that it totally screwed up and falsely seized & censored a non-infringing domain of a popular blog, having falsely claimed that it was taking part in criminal copyright infringement. Then, after trying to hide behind a totally secretive court process with absolutely no due process whatsoever (in fact, not even serving papers on the lawyer for the site or providing timely notifications -- or providing any documents at all), for over a year, the government has finally realized it couldn't hide any more and has given up, and returned the domain name to its original owner. If you ever wanted to understand why ICE's domain seizures violate the law -- and why SOPA and PROTECT IP are almost certainly unconstitutional -- look no further than what happened in this case.

Wait . . . what?

In fact, as the details came out, it became clear that ICE and the Justice Department were in way over their heads. ICE's "investigation" was done by a technically inept recent college grad, who didn't even seem to understand the basics of the technology. But it didn't stop him from going to a judge and asking for a site to be completely censored with no due process.

ICE? The Immigration and Custom's Enforcement ICE? The gang with the job of protecting our borders -- and failing at it -- is using its scarce resources to . . . investigate domestic copyright infringement? And evidently botching that job, too?

Words fail.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Keeping House in Hollywood

One of the many reasons that I ultimately grew tired of the TV series Chuck in the second season was the casual way in which it attempted to pass off "shacking up" as a natural, matter-of-course stage in the evolution of romantic relationships. Yes, I get that many people do it; no, I do not accept that this is now the dominant cultural mode.

So I have some appreciation for the way the new television series Whitney is handling the issue of premarital cohabitation, as for instance in this clip:

The remarkable thing about this series is that the two principal characters begin the story already in this arrangement.  While shack-ups are no stranger to television (a recurring sitcom theme from Cheers to The Big Bang Theory), they usually begin and end in the course of the series.  This is the first series I can recall in which the shack-up is baked in at the get-go.

It will be interesting to see how the series progresses.  It will be much more difficult for the writers to have the characters break up a-la Chandler and Rachel without a significantly altering the dynamic they’ve created.  But will Whitney and Alex ever get married?  I guess we’ll have to see.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Boo Celebration

Phone:  [Rrrrrrrrrrrring!]

Φ:  “Hello?”

CCL [recorded voice]:  “Hello!  We want to invite you to take part in a brief survey.  In consideration for your participation, you will be offered a chance to receive a free vacation package to the Bahamas!  Press 1 to continue to the survey.”

Φ:  [presses one]

[Pointless 4 question survey about Obama and taxes follows.]

CCL [recorded voice]:  “To thank you for participating in our survey, Celebration Cruise Line would like to offer you a 2-night cruise to the Bahamas.”

Doug:  Hello!  “This is Doug Brevich.  Are you excited about your free trip to the Bahamas?”

Φ:  “That depends on how free it is.”

Doug:  “Okay, the package is an overnight cruise from Palm Beach to the Bahamas.  You’ll spend the day in the Bahamas and then take an overnight trip back.  You and your partner will be billeted in an ‘interior state room’.  All food, entertainment, facilities, coffee and tea are included.  You’ll only be responsible for the port taxes of $59 per person and any other drink you might consume while aboard.”

Φ:  “When is the cruise?”

Doug:  “You can book the cruise anytime during the next 18 months, excluding major holidays, although we do as for two weeks notice.

Φ:  “When do I have to pay?”

Doug:  “If you accept this offer today, we will charge your credit card $118 for the two of you.”

Φ:  “$118.  That’s it.  That covers everything.”

Doug:  “Yes it does!”

Φ:  “Let me consult with my wife.”*

[Brief consultation]

Φ:  “Okay, we’ll take it.”

Doug:  “Great!  Let me get your information.”

[Information passed.]

Doug:  “Great!  Now let me review your options for travel to Palm Beach . . . .”

Φ:  “Thanks, but we’ll arrange our own travel.”

Doug:  “How will you get here?”

Φ:  “Probably fly into Florida, and drive in from another city.  Maybe we’ll drive.  I don’t know yet.”

Doug:  “I see you live in Flyover Country.  That’s a long way to drive!”

Φ:  [?]

Φ:  “Yes, but we have friends and family that live along the way.  It usually works out.”

Doug:  “Will you rent a car?”

Φ:  “Probably not.  We have family in Florida and will probably borrow a car from them.  But either way, we’ll figure it out on our own.”

Doug:  “Now we’d like to offer you our Extended Stay package for only an addition $599!”

Φ:  “No, thanks.  The cruise will be fine for today.”

Doug:  “Really?  You don’t want to have [lengthy description of the Extended Stay package].

Φ:  “I’m really not interested.  But if I change my mind later, can I sign up.”

Doug:  “Good question.  I’m not sure.  Let me transfer you to someone who might be able to help.”

[On hold for a while.]

Samantha:  “Hello!  I’m Samantha!  Are you excited about your cruise to the Bahamas.”

Φ:  “I’m working on it.”

Samantha:  “Great!  So, I understand you want to decline our Extended Stay package?”

Φ:  “Well, where I left off with Doug was, I wanted to know if I could add the extended stay package later.”

Samantha:  [Silence.]

Φ:  “Hello?”

Phone:  [Dial tone].

[Twenty minutes later.]

Phone:  [Rrrrrrrrrrrrring!]

Φ:  “Hello?”

Doug:  “Hello!  Did you get an answer to your question?”

Φ:  “No, we were disconnected.”

Doug:  “Yeah, that happens on our system sometimes.  I’m going to transfer you to our telephone receipt specialist who might be able to help you.  Stand by.”

[On hold for a while.]

Dominique:  “Hi, I’m Dominique!”

Φ:  [Oh, sh!t.]

Dominique:  “Are you excited about your cruise to the Bahamas?”

Φ:  “I’ll be excited when I actually book it.”

Dominique:  “So, I understand you want to decline our Extended Stay package?”

Φ:  “Well, where I left off was, can I add the package later on?

Dominique:  “You can, but then you would have to pay the full retail price of $2200.”

Φ:  “In that case, no.”

Dominique:  “Why?

Φ:  “Because I came prepared to buy a $118 2-night cruise, not a $599 extended stay anywhere.”

Dominique:  “But why would you want to come all this way and not stay longer?”

Φ:  “We will stay longer, but not in a hotel.  We have family in Florida.”

Dominique:  “Where do they live?”

Φ:  “Across the peninsula.”

Dominique:  “That’s not close!”

Φ:  “No, it’s not.  But it’s close enough to drive in the evening of our departure and drive out the morning of our return.  But, we will work these details on our own.”

Dominique:  “But I don’t understand why you would come all this way and not stay in Palm Beach!?!”

Φ:  [? ?]

Φ:  “I don’t have any ambition to stay in Palm Beach.  I have the ambition to take $118 2-night cruise.”

Dominique:  “But why would you do that!”

Φ:  “Because . . . look, Dominique, it’s for the reasons I’ve already given.  But none of that is relevant to our transaction today.”

Dominique:  “Well, why don’t we just forget the whole thing.”

Φ:  “So . . . basically, what you’re telling me after an hour or so of telephone conversations is that the whole thing was always a bait and switch.  The $118 offer was only a teaser to talk me into buying a $717 package.”

Dominique:  “No, it’s that you want to talk down to me or act like I’m not equal to you.”

Φ:  [! ? !]

Φ:  “Dominique, I’m not making any statements about you personally one way or the other.  What I am saying is that nothing about you selling me a $118 2-night cruise requires you to understand my motivations.”

Dominique:  “Well, maybe you don’t really want the cruise.”

Φ:  “Look, you people called me.  Are we going to do this or not?”

Dominique:  “Okay, fine!  I’m going to put you on hold for a moment.”

[On hold for a moment.**]

Dominique:  “Hello, this is Dominique.  This conversation is being recorded for quality control purposes.  We will proceed to completing your purchase of [description of cruise].  In addition to the $118 port taxes, you may be charged fuel and gratuity surcharges . . . .

Φ:  Hang on a second.  When I spoke to Doug Brevich, he assured me that the $118 covered everything.  He didn’t say anything about fuel and gratuity surcharges.

Dominique:  “Well, if you’ll let me finish, I’ll explain!”

Φ:  [sigh]  “Go ahead.”

Dominique:  “Celebration Cruise Lines will apply a $12 surcharge per person per day only if oil is selling for over $40 / barrel on the day of the cruise.”

Φ:  “Okay, what about the gratuity?”

Dominique:  “What about it?”

Φ:  “Well, when does it apply?  When I order something like room service?”

Dominique:  “It’s whenever you tip someone.”

Φ:  [Thinking for a moment]  You know, Dominique.  I’m getting a bad feeling about this.  And considering that oil is presently trading well above $100 per barrel, this isn’t shaping up to be the deal I thought it was.

Dominique:  “Goodbye then.”  [Click]

* This is an abbreviated version of the conversation to this point.  In reality, it took 20 minutes to cover all my questions.

** In fact, I was put on hold at least twice, once without any warning.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Bullying, 1970s Style

Trumwill’s post on bullying inspired me to make an observation about the 1993 movie Dazed and Confused, which I just now got around to watching.  If you’ve seen the movie, you know that it shows the artists vision of what high school was like in 1976:  a binge of sex, drugs, and low-level violence in the context of “freshman initiation” at a public high school.  If you haven’t seen the movie, the YouTube clip below contains the first 14 minutes of the movie, although I’ve indexed ahead to the scene that I want to write about.

I haven’t been able to stomach the entire movie yet, so if anyone happens to know if the filmmaker looks back on high school with anything other than sentimentality, you’ll have to tell me.

When I was a preschooler, I would sometimes be playing in my front yard when the school bus disgorged its occupants at the stop near my house.  One of the things the school-aged children (“the big kids,” my brother and I called them) did to amuse themselves was to throw rocks at me as they walked by.  (For those of you keeping score at home, these were white children in a middle- to upper-middle-class neighborhood, much as in the movie).  I was five years old.

Life got a lot worse before it got better.

Fortunately, I missed out on any savage initiation rituals as appear to be institutionalized (as in involving the tacit complicity of adults) in Dazed and Confused, and I exercised sufficient self-preservation to avoid any physical injury.  But I lived in a constant climate of fear.

Trumwill writes:

Last spring I mentioned a story at Pitts Elementary where two kids got into a fight, of sorts, and when the detention slips were sent out one of the kids was crying and the other was showing it off to all of his friends. How, precisely, do you punish a kid who shows off his punishment slips to all of his friends?

Which is what brings me to the moment in the film.  Here you have a larger, stronger student, a football player, who violently raises his fist to a weaker, possibly younger student.  No, he didn’t hit him.  But he made it perfectly clear that he could have hit him if he wanted to.  No one was there to witness it.  There would have been no way for the weaker student to defend, deter, or retaliate.  So the message gets sent.  And the administration would have to be exceedingly vigilant and discerning to take action against it, even were it to recognize the dynamic at play.

It is common in our corner of the blogosphere to criticize “helicopter parenting”.  The excellent blog Dusk in Autumn makes a point of this, and glorifies the 1970s for its relative absence.  But it occurs to me that the much closer supervision that my generation provides its children (and as a homeschool family, we are helicopter parents squared) over what we ourselves received narrows the window in which bullies can operate.  I don’t know if this is really true – even in Φ’s lily-white little burg, I’ve heard stories about bullying – but it is, then helicopter parenting gets three cheers from me.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Lies, Damned Lies, and I-Just-Want-A-Nice-Guy

At my family's urging, I just watched the What Not to Wear episode featuring Denise, the flight attendant. It's pretty clear from the get-go that underneath the nigh clown-face makeup and hair extensions, Denise is an exceptionally beautiful and well-built young woman (and unfortunately, the TLC clips at the link don't include any profile shots highlighting just how well-built). The makeover succeeds in upping the class of her appearance considerably.

But I got mad when she told Stacy and Clinton that all she wanted was to "meet a nice, cute, dork". At some point, these kind of lies become cruel in a way that dangling a piece of candy in front of a child is when you have no intention whatsoever of giving the candy to him.

Then again, for a young woman like Denise, there isn't really a winning answer to that question. I suppose I should feel guilty about creating no-win situations for, um, the particular types of woman she represents. I don't though, probably because my "situations" couldn't be more irrelevant to the way she will actually experience her life. But I am willing to admit that had Denise answered that she "wanted to meet a nice, cute, dork who happens to own his own Cessna Citation," which, I think, is a lot closer to the truth of it, I would dismiss her as a gold-digger.

Christian women should be encouraged to (1) be self-aware, and (2) elevate certain priorities over others (and I should say that neither of these is worthwhile without the other). But otherwise, I don't see much point in asking a woman what she wants. Within fairly narrow parameters, we all know perfectly well what she wants: the same things every other woman wants. These things, to the extent they vary, vary with the wider culture. Inviting women to go on about "nice guys" only serves to mislead us nerdy aspies into misdirecting our energies.