Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Jason Collins: "I'm A Basketball Player"

Seven-footer Jason Collins announced today what many have suspected for decades: he's a basketball player.

Younger players were shocked, seeing Collins as "just some guy who liked to hang around NBA guys and wear uniforms," as one anonymous fourth-year player thought.  But older players were less surprised, remembering a time ten years ago when the debate over whether Collins was an actual NBA player or not was more common.

"I had some friends who were on the Nets in the early 2000's who were 75-80% sure he was a basketball player then," nodded a now-retired member of the Atlanta Hawks.  "I didn't notice anything myself when he was here, but those were guys who were in a position to know.  They used to tell me that despite appearances, Jason would do stuff from time-to-time that only someone who was a basketball player would do."  Video footage from the era is inconclusive.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Teaching The Opposite Lesson

Sometimes an event will just sit in the back of my mind forever, irritating me whenever I recall it. Such things can't be good for the disposition.  That I can do nothing to fix it must be some of the hold it has on me, but that can't be all of it.  There are a thousand other regrets I also can't do over.

A woman came to speak about values at Grand Rounds about ten years ago.  Her general point was that the poor have different values because they have to, and we upper-middle-class people are being unfair and insensitive to them when we expect them to conform to our norms.  One example she gave was the frequency of physical fighting to solve problems among the poor.  "Nicer" neighborhoods weren't really nicer, they just had people who could manipulate systems better and didn't have to resort to shoving and smacking.  That bothered me a fair bit, but I can at least find some truth buried in it. 

I lived in both kinds of neighborhood as a child, so I believe I have some grounds for an opinion.  If her point had simply been that norms vary, and people might conform temporarily to the values of their environment because they hadn't really thought about it much, and we shouldn't be quick to judge permanent character on that basis, I think I would generally agree.  But that wasn't where she was going.

Her other example was from her own life.  When she was a single mother with little money, she would bring her children to the shoe store, have them try on sneakers, and walk out wearing them.  She was completely unapologetic about this.  She insisted it was not only a necessity, it was a positive good, because it showed how people were more important than possessions.

I wasn't there, but was sorry I missed it, because the idea deserved pushback.  She actually taught that possessions, such as nice new sneakers, were really important - more important than character. It wasn't food or medicine, it was style.

First, I should give what credit I can.  She was willing to risk embarrassment, and even legal trouble for her children's sake, and that does have a sort of generosity to it. Actually, it doesn't, for three or four reasons, but I'm trying to see as far down that road as I can.  I get it that when people are poor they might break rules in desperation, and those of us who don't have those temptations should be grateful to be spared the trial, and humble about our own probable actions.  When I was six, my mother tried to rehearse me to say I was five so I could ride the Mount Washington for free.  Same thing.  The difference, I suspect, is that my mother did not, after years of reflection, get paid to give talks to professional audiences applauding herself for that.

One person reportedly pressed the speaker on the approval of theft - pretty mildly, from what I was told, but it was at least something.  The woman giving the lecture was put out by that, but rather than argue was airily dismissive of the criticism with the line "Well, I think the whole system should be changed."  Yes, I imagine you do. I think we can predict on what lines you would change the system, too. Invisible owners of shoe stores are unlikely to come out well in the new order.

She was still in business as of three years ago, as I heard a department member mention having heard the talk at another facility.  Why I should be unable to shake this eludes me.  But she taught the opposite of her stated value.

World's Largest

The drive to have the World's Largest Something-or-Other seems strongest in the Midwest, especially upper midwest. The world's largest Muskellunge is in Wisconsin.

Ohio has the World's Largest Basket at Longaberger headquarters.

You don't see New England represented much, though we don't seem entirely averse to roadside architecture in general, such as this one in Raynham, MA.

We did have one here in Manchester, the Moxie Bottle House.  I still remember it, though it was in terrible disrepair by the 1970's.

Likely for cultural reasons, though I can't put my finger on it, quite, the other major areas represented on the list are the Canadian provinces across the border from those American states, New South Wales in Australia, and New Zealand.

Tacky Tourist Photos.
Strange and Unusual Buildings.
and the Wikipedia article on Novelty Architecture.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Classical Gas/Somewhere Over The Rainbow

The Paperless Future

I am probably on the other side of this argument.  But, y'know, this is important.

Worth Listening To, But...

There are people worth listening to, but not worth arguing with.  You know the type: the least disagreement provokes a response that the other person cannot admit a 1% chance they are 1% wrong; they cannot accept that you have any reasonable point or decent motivation; they resort quickly to childish insult.  If challenged on this last, they usually double down and become even more sophomoric.  I suspect they think this is actually a virtue - that they don't suffer fools gladly, that they can dispatch others quickly, that they have biting wit.  (Well, biting, anyway.) Evidence of their great intelligence.

I have some tendency to this myself, I suppose, being more worth listening to than arguing with.  I hope not to the extreme I am thinking of in another, though.

Our preferred narrative is that it is those who can listen, be civil, and fight fair are the smarter ones.  They are the ones who are really knowledgeable, we tell ourselves.  But is that actually so?  In theory we say it should be, but is there actually a correlation?  Of the five psychiatrists I have learned the most from, three were very able to listen and charming in their replies, one was intermittently good at it, but had a fairly narrow range of people he respected, and the last was frankly horrible to deal with.  He was forever condescending and snide and cutting others off when he believed he understood their point (though he hadn't always). Yet he was worth listening to for all that.

Of those I read or hear, those I meet in a dozen live venues where brilliance might be shown, or those I knew in Prometheus, I can find examples of both types in all groups.

I would be interested what your personal experiences are with this.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Diversity Is Our Strength

Outside The Box

I would be regarded as a general challenger of received wisdom, well up (or down) the bell curve for such things.  Bible discussion or other adult study often has a Mythbusters flavor: Is that really Christian doctrine, or is that just something American Baptists have been saying for the last 200 years? Is that what Jesus meant?  Are those God’s directions for reading scripture, or is that C I Scofield/Thomas Aquinas/Oswald Chambers talking?

It sounds more elevated and intellectual in theory than it is in practice.  Those of you who know such folks are aware that hurt feelings are as likely an outcome as increased knowledge.  I have taken to saying these last two decades that thinking outside-the-box, which I do quite well, is an overrated skill.  Yet it is also remarkable how seldom even I question what comes down the pike.  There is a received wisdom, and I just parrot it back for years until someone puts up a question mark. From this I conclude that we all mostly just believe stuff, like the Electric Monk;  even the doubters and great skeptics are mostly just reflexive believers in some opposite to the prevailing view.  (And even then, they accept 90%+ of common belief anyway.)

This comes up because of the McWhorter book I got for my birthday, nailing down an idea that had only come up as a challenge a few years ago.  The prevailing idea has long been that the Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and a few other related tribes invaded Celtic Britain in waves in the south, while the Vikings came in the north, pushing most of the inhabitants westward, so that roughly, the English people are a Germanic folk and everyone else – Scots, Welsh, Irish, Cornish, Manx – largely Celtic.  In even recent eras where small racial differences loomed larger, large swaths of personality and culture were attributed to this supposed racial divide.

As a person who has only reluctantly over a period of decades abandoned the ideology that it is training and environment, not genes that determine character and culture, I rejected the stereotype of the sentimental, pugnacious, drunken, mystical Gael for entirely different reasons.  I believed those things were exaggerations, and any truth in them derived from circumstances, not innate qualities. (Though even at the height of my blank slatism I think I allowed for some minor ethnic differences.)  I never thought to reject the idea because most of England was still Celtic anyway.

The recent DNA evidence is that not much of the ancestry of Great Britain is Germanic.  Even in the Danelaw and areas of especial concentration of Saxon influence, it’s less than 20%.  Given generations of Saxons and Danes getting the best land, food, and wives (before the Normans came in, anyway), one has to conclude it was even less back in Alfred’s day.  And that’s just the men.  For mtDNA, the daughter-to-mother-to-mother line, it’s virtually all Britons. I was intrigued at this lack-of-Jutishness when I read Bryan Sykes’s Saxons, Vikings, and Celts. I filed away the knowledge that the early invasions were much like the Norman one – a ruling class over a large subject population, not an exterminated one.

McWhorter brings this in to make a case that Celtic languages influenced the grammar of English far more than has been previously believed.  He makes the case well, BTW.  There are numerous elements, a few significant, of English grammar that are different from all other Germanic languages.  In fact, those elements are different from almost all the world’s 6000 languages – except for Welsh and Cornish. It has been largely believed by historical linguists that those elements just sorta grew there in the odd, unexplainable way languages have.  That these elements could have come from Celtic speakers having English imposed on them while still greatly outnumbering the conquerors was impossible because – well, because they weren’t there.  They were all killed or pushed over the mountains into Wales or Scotland or wherever.

But once you hold more loosely the idea that the Celts were largely exterminated by the Angles and such, the idea of Welsh influence seems quite reasonable.  Actually, once one holds the extermination idea loosely, it gets ripped from the grasp immediately.  How the hell did we ever believe such an idea?  The invaders mostly came as raiders who stayed, not wedded couples.  So there’s 50% of your Brythonic population right there. They were also less numerous than the original Brits, even taking all the waves together.  Therefore, they didn’t get all the wives.

It’s one of those things that is obvious once you look at it, but just goes on forever until someone kicks the door in.

Note: The lack of Celtic vocabulary other than toponyms (especially hydronyms, which usually hang toughest when a new population comes in) is not a counterargument.  It is vocab, more than any other feature, that conquerors insist on from their subjects, and subjects attempt to imitate anyway.  Odd habits of expression and structure are harder to suppress – especially when you are outnumbered 10-1.

Sunday, April 21, 2013


NPR's one focus seems to be that we do not blame immigrants in general, or Muslims in general, for Boston.

I don't mind that they have that opinion.  I mind that it is their only opinion, as if every other possible examination of the subject must be subordinated to making sure their audience Gets This Right.

Check that.  There is still a running stream of offhand mentions of our gun laws, and how part of the background for all this is that you can get ahold of any weaponry you want here. The connecting thought, that guns were not the issue, is missing.  It's just all this violence-y thing, y'know? It all ties together.

What, pressure cookers, nails, and sugar are illegal in Chechnya or something?


Charles Murray notes that women from elite universities are more likely to be stay-at-home-moms than those from other universities.  Steve Sailer comments about a school his children went to:
...if they had been merely senior vice presidents and their husbands were doing well, they often would pack it in career-wise. So, the school would have ultracompetent volunteer moms with Dartmouth MBAs and investment banking experience running refreshment stands at school events. Nothing ever went wrong at that school.


Liberal, (very) mixed-race HBD-er JayMan reminds liberals to have children.With fun graphs and pointed video.
What difference does it make to you what happens to the planet if your children aren’t on it?
A simple question, really.  Enviros tend to have few children.  Is vague "preservation of humanity" really a motivator?  Or just a substitute?

Of course, as he is an atheist - an intellectual state he thinks obvious for scientists - I might ask the next question down: why bother at all, children or not?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Living At Hogwarts

Via Bird Dog's Old Urbanist site is this fun article from New World Economics, We can all be wizards. He favors a certain type of village environment with narrow streets and varieties of buildings, and sees the beauty of that nicely displayed in the Harry Potter movies.  We saw The Shambles in York, and there are a few of those narrow street, non-gridded neighborhoods in Budapest as well.  Anything that grew up before autos has some flavor of it, such as sections of Boston near downtown.

I think there are enormous problems being overlooked or dismissed in the essay, but it's fun anyway.  I don't know that we actually would like to live in that environment, but it's enjoyable to imagine, anyway.

The Old Urbanist links to a couple of dozen sites focused on improving city life or human environment in general.  If you poke around, you will notice a strong trend not only to places where one can walk, but a lot of pro-bicycle evangelism as well. The usual line is that American society reflexively privileges automobiles and whatever is good for those, not giving enough thought to the non-polluting, less-parking, no-fossil-fuel, good-for-your-health bicycles.

Well, why privilege bicycles?  It's a recent, sort of odd technology in the human experience, with not much record as being the main transport for large segments of populations. The number of people who can use them for trips of any length is small, and they are only useful in certain weather, when you aren't carrying much. If you don't think that CO2 or peak oil are quite the problem they are made out to be, and you notice that cyclists tend to be a leggy crew, without a lot of disability, multiple children, or unwieldy packages, you might start to question what all the hype is about.

And then there's rain, and winter, when all those super-useful-and-necessary bike lines are now just wasted space.  I do see some advantages.  Not so many as advertised. It's a nice hobby.

A Story

Well, I started the 2022 text dialogue with Mary on her 50th birthday, which ended up being the first entry for the blog*, so starting stories buried in blog history on my 60th birthday makes some sense. I've got some stories I would like to put online even in their very incomplete form. So no one will notice unless they are looking for it, and likely to be sympathetic. Emily? Sarah? Sort of doubtful. Who knows? As Bombadil said, "free to all finders, birds, beasts, Elves of Men, and all kindly creatures." Take what you find here and use it for your own good.  

And for this one I will have to learn superscripting for Blogger, which may not be fun. Eh. Small problem


There will be an emergency(1), and you will have to rescue(2) several (3) people in the mountains (4) in winter. (5)  Because of their trauma they will not be fully rational, and they will not all be grateful(6). You should be good to them, for they are sheep in need of a shepherd.(7)

You will have to get them out of a traumatic situation to safety, 50-70 miles away. The hardest part of that will be on foot; there will be some miles on skis, and if all goes well, some on snow machine. In between, you will be in a shelter for a few days. There will be cold, then snow and brief blizzard, then cold again.

It will be five or so years out. You will be told enough.   

(1) Christians are supposed to be excited about such opportunities.  I am not.

(2) FML. God being funny again.

(3) This varies by what is being counted.  I will start with the assumption of seven.

(4) So up and down mountains. I will have to lose weight and start training more.  Will fifty pounds be enough? 

(5) Training for cold?  FML.

(6) Okay, this is even worse but I begin to see why this is important. 

(7) So am I.  Who is going to...never mind.


*She was a math person, so 51st birthday might be just as amusing.  Yet would I remember it myself? 7 squared; 17x3;13x4 deck of cards; cool prime number...it was an interesting number in that region, but what was it?

Runs Scored, Runs Against

Back to my favorite category.  Last year I kept telling you to ignore all sports commentary about the Sox needing "timely hitting." They let in too many runs for a championship team, and would have needed record-breaking Runs Scored to overcome that.  This year looks like none we have seen for the Red Sox, because it is the opposite.

They don't have to maintain this pace of letting in such a ridiculously low number of runs per game - about 3.  In fact, they can't.  No one ever has, anyway. They will have injuries, people will hit bad streaks where they lose their touch.  But even over this few games, about 10% of the season, we can see that this is not an illusion.  Allowing fewer runs than 90% of the other teams is plausible.

Runs Scored, however, are average.Looking at the individual statistics, it's hard to see how they are managing even that.  The stalwarts have OPS in the .700's, maybe .800's?  Does anyone think this is the new normal for Nava or Victorino?  I am likely just used to seeing better numbers at the top, so it seems worse than it is.  The numbers at the bottom are truly frightening.  Too many people batting below .200, even below .100. (Can we send Jackie back to Pawtucket now?)

There is hope in that, however.  When you have players hitting that poorly it is usually easier to find improvements.  If you need another .125 in batting average to insert into the lineup, it's going to be hard - and expensive - to get a guy who hits .375 to replace your guy hitting .250.  But replacing you guy who's hitting .125 with a .250 hitter?  That's doable.

I'm not changing my prediction of 81 games.  But I'm encouraged.

BTW, about that "timely hitting" that knuckleheads are always talking about.  Well sure, if your team can bat .600 with power with men on base, you'll probably do pretty well. Oh.  Gee.  I never thought of it that way.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Colored Assumptions

Reading the home-ownership data in the 20th C over at Old Urbanist (via Maggie's), there is a leveling, an interruption of a clear trend, during the 1930’s.  People automatically think “Oh, the Great Depression.  Of course.”  All graphs of anything running from the 1920’s through about 1950, people familiar with modern history just overwrite the general interpretations on top of everything: Oh, the Roaring Twenties before the crash.  Oh, the Great Depression.   Oh, WWII.  Oh, the Postwar Uncertainty and Boom.  Usually, those are framings that do help us to understand what we are seeing. Each was huge, and moved a lot of earth in front of it in economics, culture, education, and internal migration.

But I imagine we resort to those explanations too easily.  There were other, secular changes in transportation and communications, for example, that pretty much ran their own course, merely getting bumped around by the supposed big events. I think we find over time that those were the real Big Events.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


I'm not much interested in the Boston Marathon explosion events.  To my sons in Norway and Alaska, for whom Boston is right next door to home, and Copley is a recognisable place from afar, it may seem nearer, because it is literally 99% of the way home.

But we have had a death in our circle this week which will affect us more, and really, most people in New England have something in their immediate lives which looms larger. Public events are like the weather, or the sports teams: something that everyone shares with 5% of their consciousness.  Therefore, the people who make their living by dwelling in that 5% common store are all deeply involved.

I wonder why the sports teams care all that much, and wonder if they are just exploiting the tragedy for PR.  Yet I don't think so.  They live in that world.  They equate it with real life.  They are not out in Sudbury or Scituate, they are right there in BOSTON, going past all the places mentioned quite frequently.  The news people likewise - their offices are in the city. The city, the city, the city is the center.  Norwood and Natick are peripheral.  They cannot take their eyes off this, even if neighbors have death or destruction.  To the politicians the picture is clear -  what happens to them, or among them, is much more important than what happens in Boxford or Bolton.

So that's what they all talk about, as if that is obviously the most important thing happening.  I admit, a few dead and almost 200 injured is a big deal.  But the shared mentality is of the news, the politicians, and the teams combining to make it look more universal than it actually is.  OMG, the kid was from Dorchester!  Why, I go past Dorchester a lot!  A BU grad student! Oh no!  I knew some BU grad students once!

The President weighs in, and he should.  He is also a public person, and when tragedy reaches a certain threshold, it is his job to effectively say "This is very sad.  We will help pursue justice."  This president does a reasonable job at that.  But the threshold is deeply related to the local team/local news tribal bulletin board.  A hundred thousand other families have had tragedies this week that have gone unmentioned.  They just don't rate.

I don't much care about it all, except as a phenomenon I can observe in the abstract.

Waco, Oklahoma City, Columbine, and now Boston

Well, I heard someone try and call in to the sports station the first day, and start railing about how the Boston Marathon explosions were a result of liberal immigration policies, but he was cut off – entirely appropriately – and I didn’t get to hear more of his thought. One of the announcers wondered briefly if Tax Day had anything to do with it, then shrugged off his own comment, noting that there really wasn’t enough data.  So he tipped his hand what his prejudice might be, but then consciously backed off.  That’s reasonable.

Steve Sailer asked for comments and got lots of irony, about how various unfavored groups were going to be blamed.  There were a few attempts to make serious guesses from the very limited information, none of which were too convincing. There are also some conspiratorial stories circulating about it being an inside job, or the police at least covering up some important info, but none of it has reached me.  There are just dismissive references to it on the news occasionally.  No one at work has speculated about it in my presence, or even mentioned it.

The great contrast to this is the initial commentary at MSNBC:  Patriots Day: Waco, Oklahoma City, Columbine,and now Boston.  Cara Maresca had that up within hours of the blasts, and it’s still one of the footnote sources over at Wiki.

This is not a guy calling in to a radio show.  This is a news outlet.  How is this not evil? Patriots Day is a holiday in Massachusetts and Maine only.  The Waco timing was chosen by the government, and I don’t see where Koresh was right-wing. Unless it is a pretty rank prejudice that they were religious…and they had guns…and well, you know….Oklahoma City was two days after Patriots Day she notes, and I have never heard anyone connect it to that holiday.  But gee, it’s in the same week.  Columbine was specifically chosen because it was Adolf Hitler’s birthday, 4/20, and I don’t know where the right-wing comes in there, either. Wasn’t there some belief among evangelicals that Christian kids were especially targeted, as they were at other shootings?

So actually, none of them had any connection to Patriots Day.  How is this not evil, for a news source to incite hatred on the basis of no evidence whatsoever?  One more reason to suspect the suspicions of the SPLC as well. Maybe Patriots Day is important to some groups, but the news never came to me. (I buried Paul.)


People do remember.  My office-mate mentioned last week how that guy (Jared Loughner) who shot that congresswoman (Gabrielle Giffords) had a poster in his room put out by Sarah Palin, of the congresswoman in the crosshairs of a rifle scope, which showed incitement to violence by conservatives.  Except it’s not true.  Multiple sources insinuated that Palin’s map of the US on her website, with 20 congressional districts won by McCain but represented by Democrats shown in the crosshairs, was equivalent to same. But it seems different to me*, and Loughner never saw it anyway. People remember the feeling, and don’t always read carefully.

*If you want to think it is the same, fine, I suppose.  How would you then interpret Obama’s statement “If they bring a knife to this fight, we bring a gun?”

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Jonathan Winters

I had a Winters comedy album when I was young, "Another Day, Another World."  I had liked it, but not as well as my Bob Newhart and Bill Cosby comedy albums.  Not until I was an adult, watching Jonathan on the Muppets do some routine where he pulled hats out of a costume box and just went off on whatever routine came to him did I realise that the live performance album was largely improv.  The submarine routine, I know could tell, was entirely impromptu from an audience suggestion.  My admiration soared, and has not come back down.

I heard this story in the early 80's, but came to wonder if it were apocryphal.  Reading Winters' biographical material over the last few days, there are strong hints it might be true after all.

Dr. Frank Fields, a psychologist at my hospital had done part of his training at a sanitarium in NoCal in the mid 1960's.  His story was that Jonathan Winters had been a patient there and was still legendary at the place. Winters was once brought in after being arrested for cavorting in a fountain drunk and naked. (A biography suggests that he was climbing the mast of an historic ship in San Francisco while drunk and naked.  Pretty close.) In one of the group sessions shortly after, a psychologist asked "Well Jonathan, have we learned anything from this experience?"

"Yes," said Winters with a confidential grin. "I learned we should never land on this planet one at a time."

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


Firefighters have many rituals, especially at funerals, and the impact and importance to the rest of us is somewhat opaque.  We are left standing outside, faces against the glass, wondering.

But it is how they get through doing what they do.  They face danger, we generally don't and don't need to understand.  Policemen and the military do much the same.  Many of the specific rituals may have come in arbitrarily, but no matter.  These people go into emotional territory that we largely miss, and they seem to know best how this is to be managed.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Mr. Businessman

I was going to youTube it here, as an example of the vacuous stuff we used to think was significant in the 1960's. Fun.

I couldn't stand to listen to a whole verse.  Beyond stereotype.

Ray Stevens has made a pile of money over the years, BTW.

Tribal Politics

James sent along a link about tribes and politics, from a Catholic perspective. Faction against faction.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

1950's Creed

My optometrist downtown got his NH license in 1962. I like him. In one of the exam rooms is a framed statement entitled "My Creed."
I do not choose to be a common person.
It is my right to be uncommon—if I can.
I seek opportunity—not security.
I do not wish to be a kept citizen,
humbled and dulled by having the state look after me.
I want to take the calculated risk,
to dream and to build,   
to fail and to succeed.
I refuse to barter incentive for a dole;
I prefer the challenges of life to the guaranteed existence;
the thrill of fulfillment to the stale calm of Utopia.
I will not trade my freedom for beneficence
nor my dignity for a handout.
I will never cower before any master
nor bend to any threat.
It is my heritage to stand erect, proud, and unafraid;
to think and act for myself;
to enjoy the benefit of my creations;
and to face the world boldly
and say:
"This, with God's help, I have done."
It was not merely the font and the presentation, but the sentiment and phrasing that told me it was circa 1950. (That it had been printed up by the Gordon Burns Insurance Agency, just about across the street and a Goffstown fixture for decades, also hinted at that.)  It was the type of declaration that was common in my childhood, showing up in Readers Digest or high school classrooms.  It would not have been considered liberal or conservative, but simply American.  The author, Dean Alfange, was in fact appointed to moderately high political office by both Democratic and Republican politicians, and was a liberal by the standards of our day and his own.  I doubt that any Democrat, and few Republicans, would say this aloud today, though a few might endorse it silently.  Even libertarians might wonder if this "excellent sentiment" might be too controversial to be worth the candle.

I came across it once before in Colorado Springs in the early 90's at the Flying W Ranch, a family-style restaurant where grace was said before the meal.  It was right on the menu there.  I hadn't realised the two were the same until I looked it up tonight, but had remembered that they were similar.

The ground shifts beneath us, and we do not notice.  Alfange was a childhood immigrant, and no one of the era would have found it surprising that an immigrant expressed this American attitude more forcefully than those who were born here.

Flash Mob

 I did not get the reference, but figured it out quickly. (Via Grim's Hall)

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

The Same Thoughts On Gay Marriage

Part of the gay marriage argument is the declaration that it is unfair to give a benefit to one group of people but not another. The usual counterargument is that such things are justified if there is some benefit to the society as a whole.  How much benefit is required to privilege one group over another is variable, but the principle is usually accepted.

Leave aside for the moment the separate discussion that gays and lesbians have the same rights to get married as straights, in that they also can marry the opposite sex – in the same way that the alcohol preferer and the heroin preferer have the same rights and penalties, to legally buy alcohol but not heroin, they just value those differently.  That’s an interesting take, but a bit orthogonal to my thought here.  For this discussion, we will take the common framing, that straights can marry from the the category of what they want, while homosexuals can’t.

The trend in American culture has been away from confering benefits to some and not others. There were colonial jurisdictions in which only property owners, or town-born, or church members could vote.  For a long time only males could, often only the white ones. We still require voters to be of a minimum age, to be citizens, and have no felony convictions.  These are rules of convenience.  If we had some type of accurate measurement of who amongst us is the most qualified voter, the most objective, most informed, the most thoughtful, it might theoretically turn out to be a 17-year old immigrant in a federal pen. Not all persons in those forbidden categories would be worse voters than all those in the allowed categories. But we have decided, with good reason, that 17 year-olds generally don’t have sufficient wisdom to privilege their opinions with the franchise; that citizens have more skin in the game; that felons have too little regard for the rights of others.

The state grants licensure to people who have jumped through certain hoops: schooling, testing, fees.  Drivers, realtors, doctors, campers, hunters.  Private concerns grant privileges how they wish.  Usually a ski pass is acquired simply for money, but you can lose it for breaking the rules. In some circumstances, the rules will be different person to person depending on the group they are in.  Age is often a factor here, encouraging young skiers or rewarding lifelong fishermen.  Insurance companies know that not all smokers will die young nor marathoners live long, but they confer discounts and surcharges on the basis of the group.
Employers will note the group characteristics of HS grads or those who stayed in one job or were in the armed services.  The government will let you deduct some charitable giving even though it varies widely in usefulness to society, or loan you money to go to school even though that is highly variable in benefit. For those libertarians who wish we would discontinue much licensure, I will merely argue that the principle is an accepted one in American society, and so might be accepted in this matter as well.  Whether that is wise is a separate discussion.

I hope you have noticed that this creates problems for both sides of the debate.  The principle is indeed allowed in many areas.  We confer benefit to one group and not another all the time. Yet the key point is that we must be able to show some benefit to the society for the privilege.  If insisting on one-man-one-woman marriage is indeed better for the society in some way, whether because it protects children or protects women or protects national forests, America has every right to limit marriage in that way.  But it has to be demonstrable.

That many straight marriages are bad already is not a solid argument.  What we need to know is whether gay marriage will make things better or worse. OTOH, a lot of traditional marriage defense is equally weak, simple declarations that we know it would be better because that fits the theory.

I give weight to the argument that we have arrived at a particular place by trial-and-error and that shouldn’t be thrown away for theory.  I don’t consider it a controlling argument, else we would allow slavery and polygamy, which have also lasted a long time.  But it should at least privilege the status quo while new experiments are run.  Preserving the status quo is a phrase of criticism these days – usually by those who want the benefits for their group instead, for reasons no better (and sometimes worse) than the current standard.