Sunday, December 25, 2011

Off the grid (again)

I'll have very little access to a computer until around mid-February.

Comments are closed. I can be emailed:

elise dot fb at verizon dot net

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Rude awakening

'Occupy' memo could discourage victims from reporting assaults
(Via Contentions) (emphasis mine):

Efforts by the Occupy Baltimore protest group to evolve into a self-contained, self-governing community have erupted into controversy with the distribution of a pamphlet that victim advocates and health workers fear discourages victims of sexual assaults from contacting police.

The pamphlet says that members of the protest group who believe they are victims or who suspect sexual abuse "are encouraged to immediately report the incident to the Security Committee," which will investigate and "supply the abuser with counseling resources."

Sounds like Little Miss Attila was right when she wrote:

... someone’s going to come along and ... say that this is not American Sharia law: after all, we only enforce our notions of sexual purity when it comes to Republican women, or women and girls related to Republican women. [snip]

This is American Sharia, assholes. The practitioners of Sharia in Muslim countries are at least consistent in their contempt for women and in their practice of gender apartheid: you, on the other hand, want sexual slavery for some women in this country; others, whose opinions you prefer, can live in relative peace and freedom. You will allow it.

If you are giving women and girls the “gift” of not being badgered for being female, and threatened with misogyny and sexual assault, they are not truly free—only living in a state of grace, contingent upon performing the right tricks, spouting leftist verbiage like seals at Sea World, balancing balls on their noses in the hopes of getting fish thrown into their mouths.

And any woman who doesn’t understand this fundamental truth about the misogynists living among them could be in for a rude awakening at any point, because that attitude will infect those who harbor it.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Polygamy (6): Kits, cats, sacks, wives

[This is the sixth of a series of posts on polygamy. The first - simply an intro - is here. The series is collected under the category “Grim Polygamy”.]

When I began thinking about how the fight over legalizing gay marriage would affect the fight over legalizing polygamy, I had a persistent sense that opposing gay marriage on logical grounds had been the wrong tactic for those who did not want to see it legalized. I eventually sort of, kind of short-handed that sense as the idea that institutions like marriage evolve organically, which is, of course, the argument Megan McArdle is making in her discussion of the unknowability of the possible repercussions of gay marriage. (You know, the really, really, really long post of hers I keep citing over and over.)

However, that didn’t really capture what my uneasiness was about. What I was really wondering was why it is invalid to simply say: I do not want to live in a society where gay marriage is legal. Or for me (since I am not worried about living in a society where gay marriage is legal): I do not want to live in a society where polygamy is legal.

I understand there are problems with this formulation since people can - and have - said: I do not want to live in a society where Blacks and whites live together on equal footing. Or, not so long ago: I do not want to live in a society where women can vote. And yet, still, I think there is validity to the majority of people in a society having a say in legal changes that will - even probably will - change the form of their society. Perhaps that is simply the definition of a conservative: someone who believes the status quo is the best way unless and until it becomes overwhelmingly clear to a majority of society that something has to change.

I was never sure quite how to write about this but I have now (via NRO Web Briefing) run across an essay at Public Discourse that discusses this in terms of pornography. I’m not sure I agree with the entirety of the article but this paragraph captures much of what I wanted to express but couldn’t quite manage (emphasis mine):

Even in defending what he believes is a moral right to pornography, Ronald Dworkin has identified the public nature of the interests damaged in communities in which pornography becomes freely available and widely circulates. Legal recognition of the right to pornography would, Dworkin concedes, “sharply limit the ability of individuals consciously and reflectively to influence the conditions of their own and their children’s development. It would limit their ability to bring about the cultural structure they think best, a structure in which sexual experience generally has dignity and beauty, without which their own and their families’ sexual experience are likely to have these qualities in less degree.”

The author is, as I said, speaking of pornography and, more generally, of vice; he is also speaking of an area he believes has “profound moral significance”. However, I think the same ideas apply to any major changes to the fabric of society: women voting; equal rights for Blacks; equal rights for women; gay marriage; polygamy; massive immigration; widespread use of languages other than English; legalizing abortion; and, now, re-criminalization of abortion. All of these changes have limited or probably would limit people’s “ability to bring about the cultural structure they think best”.

This does not mean there is never a reason to make such changes. It does mean, at least to me, that “I do not want to live in a society where” should be given weight in arguments over such matters and, so long as a substantial majority is making that statement, it should not be overridden lightly.

Now that I’ve written that down, it appears so obvious as to be trivial. Surely that’s what democracy is about: a majority deciding what their society should look like. And yet it seems to me that we have largely lost that conception of democracy when it comes to cultural issues. We have so totally accepted the idea that all such issues are analogous to what the article’s author describes as:

pitting the “rights of individuals,” on the one side, against some amorphous “majority’s dislike of smut,”on the other

that we ignore the underpinnings of that dislike: “[t]he public interest in a cultural structure”. Rather than accept that such an interest exists and is both “concrete” and valid, we now require that such an interest be justified - and we always begin with the idea that it is virtually impossible to do so against any invocation of the rights of individuals.

I believe I understand why that is the case: there were cases - like racial equality and women voting - where the public interest was on the wrong side morally. I imagine there are and will be other such cases. But our reaction to those cases has been to throw out the very idea that there is a “public interest in a cultural structure”. That has helped individuals who want legal sanction to do things most of us would rather they didn’t but it’s not clear it’s helped society as a whole. And without a healthy society, individuals - whatever their private predilections - don’t stand much of a chance.

Polygamy (5): Each cat had seven kits

[This is the fifth of a series of posts on polygamy. The first - simply an intro - is here. The series is collected under the category “Grim Polygamy”.]

There are a couple of posts up at Grim’s Hall on polygamy:

Politics and Principles - Posted October 8, 2011

Aquinas on Polygamy - Posted October 13, 2011

These have been up for a while - I’m late getting links up.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Mirror image

I have to say that in general I think the Occupy Wall Street group is as dumb as a whole yard of grass (although I do think they’re right about bringing back Glass-Steagall). However, the juxtaposition of two posts at Contentions brought into focus the fact that it’s dangerous for the Right to simply dismiss the whole shebang.

In the first post, entitled “The Stupid Party”, Peter Wehner considers it stupid for the Democrats to associate themselves with people who think like this:

Another 37 percent [of Wall Street protesters interviewed] say capitalism can’t be saved; it’s inherently immoral. And when asked to explain how they would fix Wall Street, New York magazine received the following responses: “A maximum-wage law.” “President Elizabeth Warren.” And “Burn it down.

A few posts later on, John Steele Gordon is writing about Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan and says:

... as I suspect the people know and the chattering classes don’t want to know, the tax code cannot be reformed. Any changes just add to its monstrous and deeply corrupt complexity. It will be a dead weight on the American economy until it is replaced with a brand new tax system.

I agree with Steele and disagree with the OWS view of capitalism. But the same sense of helplessness in the face of an existing structure can be seen in both views: this can’t be fixed; we need to wipe it out and start over. Imagine the OWS position being stated as:

... as I suspect the people know and the chattering classes don’t want to know, the current economic system cannot be reformed. Any changes just add to its monstrous and deeply corrupt complexity. It will be a dead weight on the American economy until it is replaced with a brand new economic system.

Sounds a lot more reasonable, doesn’t it? In fact, it sounds kind of like what the Tea Party is saying. Now, the Tea Party means “get rid of crony capitalism, hack back the socialist elements, get government out of the way of business”; OWS means “get rid of crony capitalism, hack back the capitalist elements, get business out of the way of government”. But they’re both responding to the same sense that something has gone very, very wrong and, specifically, gone very, very wrong in the nexus of Big Business and Big Government.

I don’t think OWS speaks for - or represents - 99% of the people in the United States. But I strongly suspect that much of their anger resonates with much of the country. Instead of deciding OWS is stupid, those on the Right should be pointing out that what the protesters are angry about is what all Americans should be angry about - and then go on to lay out why the Tea Party’s solution of less government is a better way to fix things than is the OWS solution of more of the same.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Life is good ...

... and human beings are pretty amazing:

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

YouTube link, has sound, starts right up.

(For those of you who’d like to try this at home: sheet music.)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Polygamy (4): Each sack had seven cats

[This is the fourth of a series of posts on polygamy. The first - simply an intro - is here. The series is collected under the category “Grim Polygamy”.]

Grim started off by proposing that if a woman wanted to marry a man who was already married, why shouldn’t she? His argument seems to be that it’s better for a woman to be one of many wives of an alpha male rather than the only wife of a beta or gamma or, I suppose, omicron or - Heaven forfend - omega male. Maybe all women won’t think so but why prevent those who do from following their bliss?

In comments to a responding post by Cassandra, Grim talks about his unease with the feminist’s invocation of “false consciousness” and the implication that a woman who chooses polygamy does so because she doesn’t know what she really wants:

The argument is that someone who is being oppressed cannot see that they are being oppressed because they are trapped in their circumstances. The only way to prove you are not oppressed is to demonstrate your liberation by adopting the correct opinions. Thus, the Marxist would say, the opinion of the worker in a factory who wants to overthrow the government is legitimate and should be heeded; but the worker who was proud of his job, his role in society, and so forth is simply to be ignored because he is too oppressed to know better.

You can see why this approach bothers me: it is a violation of several principles I hold dear. Thus, in the present instance, [a Saudi Arabian woman] who did choose polygamy would be in a trap. Simply by virtue of having made the choice, she would be said to have given evidence that she wasn't truly free and equal; the only way she could prove her free equality would be to reject polygamy.

Cassandra replies that one’s culture and upbringing always shape one’s view of the world and oneself: a woman who has been taught her whole life to want to be one of multiple wives will almost certainly want to be one of multiple wives. That doesn’t mean it’s a good decision for her and it certainly doesn’t mean it’s a good decision for society.

These two views of false consciousness - that it’s patronizing, that’s it’s simply a recognition of the power of nurture - bring into focus something I’ve been thinking about for a while: what does it mean for something to be wrong? Or, more accurately, do I have the right to simply say, “This is wrong” - or even, “I think this is wrong” - without being required to offer reams of justification for it? To me that is the interesting thing about false consciousness: it assumes there is a right way and a wrong way to think about things. In a lot of areas, I reject that idea. But in this area, it’s impossible for me to believe that any woman who had not been socialized into it would choose polygyny - and perfectly possible for me to believe that women who had been socialized into polygyny would choose monogamy if they could. I believe that polygyny is always a misinformed choice for an individual woman. So sue me.

What about for society? Cassandra offered a list of reasons for society to prefer monogamy to polygamy; I believe they are all answerable but in my gut I think polygamy is a really bad idea. In my last post, I came up with a reason to think polygamy would never be legalized. It was essentially a technical reason, however, and offered no particular support for the idea that polygamy is wrong, just for the idea that polygamy would be too big an upheaval for society.

The idea that some things are simply wrong (by which I mean “a really bad idea” rather than a moral judgment) ties in turn back to the idea of how societies develop their institutions. Nobody wakes up (or sits down) and says, “Let’s figure out how marriage, child-raising, education, medicine, etc. is going to work in our society.” Instead, people try things, some work, some don’t; the ones that work are kept, the ones that don’t are discarded or if they aren’t discarded, the communities, cities, societies that hang onto them go out of business. So messing with basic institutions seems like a very dangerous idea. The Abbess in Rumer Godden's In This House of Brede talks about changing who holds what offices in the monastery and says:

It’s like pulling stone out of a carefully balanced stone wall. Much of the wall comes tumbling down.

And yet. Surely one of the big stones recently pulled out of the wall of society was feminism, which I support whole-heartedly. My hope, expectation was that feminism would leave the basic structure of society intact and simply give women a chance to participate in all arenas of it - while giving men the opportunity to participate in arenas where they did not do so traditionally. That doesn’t seem to be what has happened. And yet to me the way things were was simply wrong. (And here I mean wrong in a moral sense which gives you some idea how confusing I find this whole topic.) After all, the aforementioned Abbess made her comments in the context of reshuffling almost all the officeholders in her monastery because it was the right thing to do, for the individuals and for the community.

The bottom line for me is that polygamy - in any form - is a really bad idea for individuals and societies. I can’t justify that bottom line rationally; I can see holes in arguments against it; but there it is. I feel oddly uncomfortable being so convinced of this, as if I’m not allowed to think something anyone wants to do is a bad idea unless I can provide chapter and verse on exactly what specific harm will be done to some other person by the desired action. I have to resist the notion that my not wanting to live in a society that permits certain behaviors is not enough. This is odd because it seems to me that for a very long time wanting a particular kind of society was more than sufficient as a basis for opposing changes. I'm not sure when or why that changed, how a society that has become less and less Libertarian in most senses has become more and more Libertarian in the "do whatever you want" sense.

Anyhow, in response to Grim’s question:

Is there some fundamental reason to prefer monogamy, or is it just what we're used to seeing?

my answer is, “Yes”.



Reconsidering sexual repression - from Armed and Dangerous. Language warning.

This is probably worth a post of its own - and I wish Cassandra would write it. I mention it here because it touches on the organic growth of societal institutions:

... sexual repression and the double standard weren’t arbitrary forms of cruelty that societies ended up with by accident. They were functional adaptations. By raising the clearing price that women charged for sex, they actually increased female bargaining power and raised the marriage rate.

and it formalizes Grim’s point about women wanting to marry alpha males:

Women are hypergamous. They want to marry men who are bigger, stronger, higher-status, a bit older, and a bit brighter than they are. This is massively confirmed by statistics on actual marriages; only the “a bit brighter” part is even controversial, and most of that controversy is ideological posturing.

I’m not convinced by the author’s conclusions as a whole for a variety of reasons - like I said, warrants its own post. In particular, though, I’m not convinced that his claims of hypergamy are valid; at least, I’m not convinced that women want all of those things. I base my lack of conviction partly on what I see in friends - an increasing number of women who make more money than their husbands and are fine with it - and partly (don’t laugh) on romance novels. Nora Roberts, for example, has had a little run of novels where women marry “down” in terms of wealth and status - while marrying either laterally or “up” in terms of size, strength, age, and that perennial favorite, hunkiness. (Intelligence is not much discussed.) This may reflect the changing reality that women must no longer rely on their husbands for money or status.

(I will grant that even women who make more money than their husbands seem to want those husbands to work - and the husbands themselves seem to want to work. The idea of a house-husband or stay-at-home Dad does not seem to have gained much traction.)

The comments to the post are worth reading as well which I don’t usually find is the case, outside of Grim’s and, occasionally, TigerHawk.

A really, really, really long post about gay marriage that does not, in the end, support one side or the other - I’ve linked, recommended, and referenced this post by Megan McArdle a zillion times but it’s worth doing so again in any discussion of the organic nature of societal institutions and the dangers of changing them.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Polygamy (3): Each wife had seven sacks

[This is the third of a series of posts on polygamy. The first - simply an intro - is here. The series is collected under the category “Grim Polygamy”.]

A post in which I start out convinced legalizing polygamy is inevitable and end up convinced it’s impossible.

Cassandra has advanced ten reasons to prefer monogamy to polygamy. Her post lays them out in detail, with supporting links. Cassandra is citing problems with how polygamy (more accurately polygyny) really works in the communities and countries where it is currently practiced and is arguing that there is a compelling societal interest in avoiding those problems. I agree there is a compelling societal interest in avoiding those problems but I don’t agree polygyny must include those problems. Rather, as I argue below,* many of these horrible aspects of polygyny exist not because of polygyny but because of the lack of any recourse for the women caught in those cultures. Others are a consequence of the need to hide the practice of polygyny. Still others are a part of the cultures of which polygyny is also a part: correlation not cause - or effect.

So would we have the same horrible outcomes if we legalized polygamy - which would mean it didn’t need to be hidden - in a country where women had extensive legal rights - which would mean women could opt in or out and it wasn’t restricted to polygyny? This is a tricky question to answer. I would say, no, we wouldn’t, insofar as polygamy then occurred among people whose culture does not promote these outcomes otherwise. That is, if people who do not condone child marriage, cousin marriage, and the treatment of women as chattel engage in polygamy, these outcomes would not occur simply as a result of the polygamy.

On the other hand, legalizing polygamy in Western nations would almost certainly increase its incidence among recent immigrants and long-term residents whose cultures do condone these practices. There would be one less bar to the practice of child marriage, cousin marriage, and the treatment of women as chattels. I agree with Cassandra that this reality is worth considering when we come to talk about legalizing polygamy.

I do not, however, think that this reality actually will be considered in discussions of legalizing polygamy. Those discussions will not focus on how polygamy is currently practiced; rather they will focus - as did the discussions on gay marriages - on identification, compassion, and civil rights.

First, identification. As TigerHawk says:

I tend to think that one's position on gay marriage has a lot to do with one's circle of friends. As somebody who has a fair number of gay friends in committed relationships that strongly resemble marriage, I have a hard time seeing how the institution of marriage is weakened by including them.

Most of us who are not gay know gay people who are just like us in occupation, interest, lifestyle, and so on. If they’re just like us and we want to get married, why is it unreasonable for them to want to get married?

I think presenting polygamy this way will be more difficult: how many of us who are not polygamous know people in committed polygamous relationships? On the other hand, at one time how many of us who are not gay knew gay people in committed relationships, at least openly gay people in openly committed relationships? Perhaps polygamy will follow the same arc of being largely de-stigmatized, followed by being widely practiced outside the law, followed by legalization.

Second, legalizing gay marriage was presented as a matter of compassion. Supporters of gay marriage told of gay couples, together for many years. The couple pools their financial resources. Although they are unable to adopt any children jointly, each of them adopts a child or children individually. If one of the partners dies, the other partner has no rights: he or she cannot collect Social Security, cannot inherit, has no say in funeral arrangements. He or she has no right to maintain a relationship with any children adopted by the deceased partner, much less retain custody of those children. He or she may well be treated badly by the deceased partner’s family who will probably take the children away to raise themselves. It does seem the compassionate thing to do is to allow such couples to marry.

However, what of, say, a family unit composed of a man and two women? They all love each other; they have lived together as a family for many years; each of the women has children by the man. Yet the man has only been able to to legally marry one of the women. If the husband and his legal wife die in a car crash, the remaining partner has no right to collect Social Security based on her relationship to either deceased partner. She has no legal right to continue raising the legal wife’s children; no legal right to the family home; and she may very well be treated extremely badly by the husband’s family and the legal wife’s family (who may well swoop in and take the legal wife’s children). Why should we not have the same compassion for this situation that we do for gay couples?

Finally, civil rights. This is the real killer when it comes to polygamy. As far as I can tell, the civil right enshrined in those cases where gay marriage was legalized by judicial fiat was simple: people should be able to marry whomever they want. What, proponents of gay marriage ask, is so special about male-female unions that they deserve special treatment while those who want to marry someone of the same sex are treated as second class citizens?

But surely the same right to marry whomever they want exists for those who prefer polygamy. Why shouldn’t people be allowed to create unions in whatever form they prefer? What is so special about two-person unions that they deserve special treatment and protection while those in multi-person unions are treated as second-class citizens?

An interesting question that will arise about polygamy is whether proponents will attempt to strengthen the civil rights aspect of it by invoking religion. Since polygamy (really polygyny) is - or is considered to be or is claimed to be - an integral aspect of Islam and of some Latter Day Saint sects, there would be room to make a civil rights argument based on religious considerations. I don’t think this tactic will be tried, for the simple reason that the societies and communities which practice polygyny on these grounds don’t look good - as Cassandra’s post makes abundantly clear.

At most, we may get some thoroughly Americanized Muslim women, well into their twenties, explaining why they think polygamy is a good idea - although what they will mean, of course, is polygyny. Similarly we may get some blue-eyed blondes, again female, again well into their twenties, explaining why their particular sect’s practice of polygamy - by which they, of course, mean polygyny - is a wonderful thing. We may also get some elderly women from either community talking about how great their lives have been as one of multiple wives (“just like sisters”) - although, of course, never one of a lot of multiple wives; just two or three or, okay, max four. It’s possible there will be some elderly men talking about how much they love all (again, two or three or, okay, max four) their wives.

More likely, though, we’ll see thoroughly secular people talking about polygamy: two women (well into their twenties, of course) talking about how they’ve been friends forever and when they both fell for the same guy, well, what could make more sense than that they become one big happy family? A woman like the one I discuss above, bereft over the loss of her “husband” and sister wife and their children. It would be good PR to dig up a family composed of two men and one woman if possible - all well over 21, of course, and preferably over 25 - to make the argument that this isn’t about polygyny after all.

So I believe that proponents of legalizing polygamy will avoid the religious rights approach and focus on the lifestyle choice approach. Concerns like those Cassandra raises will be dismissed as artifacts of practicing polygamy in non-Western societies and non-mainstream communities, probably accompanied by a swipe at the corrosive effect of patriarchal religions and communities. This will parallel the discussions about gay marriage that dismissed some of the less generally acceptable manifestations of homosexual behavior as artifacts of a sub-culture that no longer exists and/or as the inevitable outcome of having to conceal ones sexual preferences.


* This is the “argue below” part where I walk through Cassandra’s points one by one and where this post made a sharp turn.

As I said, I want to walk through Cassandra’s points, explaining why I think they are more about women’s rights, hiding polygamy, and culture than they are about inevitable consequences of polygamy itself; and explaining how I think society can avoid these undesirable circumstances even if it chooses to legalize polygamy. Again, Cassandra has discussions about each of these points, including supporting links in her post at Grim’s.

1) Polygamy leads to inbreeding. Inbreeding makes it more likely that recessive genetic conditions will be expressed and spreads those conditions throughout the population.

Inbreeding is not an inherent result of polygamy. In the two examples Cassandra gives, inbreeding occurs in the first because of the religious leaders refusal to allow in outsiders (although (a) I suspect it originated in the need to conceal the practice and (b) I’m not sure any outsider would want in); in the second because polygamy is illegal and the areas that practice it are isolated. In fact, one can argue that legalizing polygamy may decrease the expression and spread of serious genetic conditions by making exogamy possible.

Polygamy can be legalized without causing inbreeding so long as we write clear incest laws and enforce them strictly. This will have the rather amusing effect of putting the State in the position I believe the Catholic Church once held when it came to royal marriages: examining genealogies of prospective spouses to see if there exists the impediment of consanguinity. Or, more prosaically, making a DNA test part of the marriage license process. (Probably an excellent idea anyhow, given the over-enthusiastic use of sperm donors.)

2) Polygamy leads to forced marriages and child brides.

This is correlation rather than causation: cultures which practice polygamy (really polygyny) are also those which practice forced marriage and female child marriage. Polygyny is possible without forced marriages and child brides; whether any adult woman would freely choose polygyny is another question. (Grim’s question, in fact, and one I’ll address in a later post.)

If we legalize polygamy, we will need robust age of consent laws (I’d like to see 25 as the age of consent to a polygamous marriage but would settle for 21). The age of consent could not be waived by parental consent for a polygamous marriage. And we’d have to start aggressively enforcing statutory rape laws - which I think would be a good thing anyhow.

3) Polygamy leads to aging fathers. Aging fathers mean aging sperm which means more birth defects.

This is not so much a necessary consequence of polygamy as it is a necessary consequence of forced marriage. If women have a choice about whom to marry, there’s no reason they would be more likely to marry an excessively old man under polygamy than they are under monogamy.

4) Polygamy leads to more “wives” living below the poverty level and more immigration issues when polygamous men in Western countries return to their home countries to acquire child brides.

I think the poverty level ship has sailed. The idea that mothers and their children are the responsibility of the State rather than of the children’s father is so well-established that the question of polygamy versus monogamy is irrelevant to it. I could also argue that it’s possible more women will be married to someone if polygamy is possible. In communities where few men are interested in marriage and/or there are few men women consider worth marrying, more marriages might occur if the interested, acceptable men could take on more than one wife.

As for immigration issues, that can be solved in a variety of ways: do not allow child brides - or women who were underage when they were married - into the country; do not allow wives taken after a man immigrates to enter the country - or do not allow more than one such wife to do so; do not allow men who have married child brides into the country - or back into the country after they do so.

5) Polygamy puts more wives and children at financial risk. If a man with many wives and many children becomes poor, more people suffer as a result.

I think this is partially covered by my first paragraph under 4, above. Also, I’m not convinced the risk is any greater than that posed by serial monogamy.

6) Polygamy is fertile ground for jealousy.

If women live in a country where they have a choice about whom to marry and whether to marry at all, women can decide for themselves whether jealousy will be a problem for them. We would, of course, have to build into marriage licenses the decision about whether additional spouses would be allowed. The decision would have to be symmetrical (a couple could not approve additional wives but disallow additional husbands); specific (how many additional spouses); and irrevocable. We would also have to build in a cascade: if Husband and Wife 1 agree to one additional spouse, then Husband/Wife 2 is forced to agree to none.

7) Polygamy leads to paternal neglect. Men with dozens of children are unlikely to be involved in their children’s lives - and may not even recognize them on the street.

This is partially covered by my first paragraph under 4, above. In addition, having so many children a man doesn’t recognize his own is not an inevitable consequence of polygamy. If a man has four wives and has two children by each, he has eight children - not an unmanageable number. This problem is actually one of multiple wives combined with family sizes well outside the norm in Western countries. And, again, this ship may have sailed via the sperm donor tide.

8) Polygamy is often forced upon the first wife.

This is covered by my rules for marriage licenses under 6, above.

9) Polygamy gives the husband more power than a husband has in a two-person marriage. Each wife must compete with all the other wives for her husband’s attention, money, etc. He can leverage one against the other

Again, in a society where women can choose whom to marry and whether to marry at all and where divorce is easily obtainable, women can choose whether they are willing to be in that type of relationship.

10) Polygamy complicates divorce: “How is marital property equitably disposed of when there are multiple wives, each with children?”

I originally thought that inbreeding might be the most powerful argument against polygamy; now I think this is. Not because of the issue of child support in a polygynous union - that is analogous to a man who marries, has children, gets divorced, re-marries, and has children with his second wife - and perhaps a third. The guy is on the hook for child support, his current family feels the pinch, that’s just the way it is.

Splitting marital assets is where things get interesting. I think you’d be looking at the divorcing wife getting either the family’s assets divided by the number of people in the marriage or half the family’s assets divided by the number of wives. So in the case of a man with four wives, a divorcing wife would get either 1/5th of the family’s assets (she’s 1/5th of the family) or 1/8th of the family’s assets (the husband is half the family, the wives collectively are the other half, so a single wife is 1/4th of 1/2 of the family). Which it would be leads me into a discussion of why I think this problem might make polygamy impossible in a Western society where women have rights and where - ahem - gays can get married. What do we mean by polygamy?

Let’s look at the definitions of polygamy, polygyny, and polyandry:

Polygamy: The state or practice of having more than one wife or husband at one time.

Polygyny: The condition or practice of having more than one wife at a single time.

Polyandry: The condition or practice of having more than one wife at a single time.

All these definitions are about a single person (call him or her the “primary spouse”) having multiple spouses (call them the "secondary spouses"), implicitly of the opposite sex. So:

Adam is married to Beth.
Adam is also married to Cindy.
Adam is also married to Diane.
Adam is also married to Ellen.
But Beth, Cindy, Diane, and Ellen are not married to each other.

However, we’re not going to write a polygamy law that is restricted to polygyny; that would never fly. So we can end up with:

Zoe is married to William.
Zoe is also married to Victor.
Zoe is also married to Tom.
Zoe is also married to Sam.
But William, Victor, Tom, and Sam are not married to each other.

So far, so good. But what about:

Adam is married to Beth.
Beth is also married to William.
William is also married to Cindy.
Cindy is also married to Victor.
Victor is also married to Diane.

Now we have what we can call “chain marriage” or, if Diane marries Adam, “circle marriage”. I don’t see any way we could legalize polygamy and keep this from being legal.

Furthermore, once gay marriage is accepted, we’re not going to write a polygamy law that would be restricted to heterosexuals. So, obviously, we’re going to end up with a situation where:

Adam is married to Bob.
Adam is also married to Charles.
Adam is also married to David.
Adam is also married to Ed.
But Bob, Charles, David, and Ed are not married to each other.

Of course, Bob, Charles, David, and Ed could be married to each other; it would just take a few more ceremonies and now we’ve got not polygamy but group marriage.

Or we could end up with a group marriage that looks like this:

Adam is married to Beth, Cindy, Diane, and Ellen.
Beth, Cindy, Diane, and Ellen are all married to each other.
Beth, Cindy, Diane, and Ellen are all also married to Bob. So is Adam.

I still believe that within a few years it will be possible to convince a majority of society that polygamy in the traditional sense of one primary spouse and multiple secondary spouses is okay, whether those secondary spouses are of the same sex or the opposite sex. I’m less convinced that it will be possible to convince society that chain marriage, circle marriage, or group marriage is okay. Even if it is possible to do so, accommodating such marriages would require a massive overhaul of our legal system and of our government benefits system.

Gay marriage is pretty simple legally: Two people get married (just like two-person heterosexual unions); they have or adopt kids (just like two-person heterosexual unions); they are entitled to each others benefits (jlt-phu), the law already spells out what their rights and duties are in the marriage and with regard to children (jlt-phu); the mechanisms for dissolution are already in place (jlt-phu).

We might be able to handle straight polygyny and straight polyandry (one primary spouse to whom each of the secondary spouses are married) by treating them legally as simply a series of two-person unions. We’d have to fight over whether each person in the marriage has rights to an equal fraction of the family’s assets; I think we’d decide he or she does. We’d also have to fight about things like Social Security; I think we’d decide that Social Security benefits stay as is and get shared on a percentage basis with the others in the marriage. We’d have to add more signature lines to income tax forms.

Even these cases, though, would get tricky very fast. In legal transactions that require the consent of both husband and wife, do we require the consent of the primary spouse and all secondary spouses? What if the legal transaction seems to directly involve only one of the secondary spouses, say, taking out a loan to buy a car that will be registered only to the primary spouse and that one secondary spouse? Do all the other secondary spouses have to agree? If so, they’re on the hook for the debt; if not, how do we keep them from being on the hook for the debt? We can’t just pick up the rules used by the societies and communities that currently practice polygyny; those rules are based on women having no legal rights. We have to make this all up as we go along.

Now throw in chain marriage and circle marriage. How on earth could we write laws and design government benefits for those? And even if we could manage it for those - I shudder to think what the “buying a car” example would look like - once we accept gay marriage and can thus end up with true group marriages, I think the necessary changes would be simply too much for society to be willing to take on.

I started writing this series convinced that we would inevitably end up legalizing polygamy, largely because of the way the gay marriage battle had gone. Now I’m pretty much convinced that polygamy is almost certainly not feasible in a society with robust women’s rights and is absolutely not feasible in a society with gay marriage.


Monday, October 3, 2011

Polygamy (2): I met a man with seven wives

[This is the second of a series of posts on polygamy. The first - simply an intro - is here. The series is collected under the category “Grim Polygamy”.]

Marriage is whatever society says it is. Since it looks like gay marriage is on its way to being legalized everywhere, we’ve pretty much decided that marriage is no longer the union of one man and one woman; it now includes the union of any two people. There’s no reason to think that our redefinition of marriage will stop there. The success of gay marriage proponents has shown proponents of polygamy how to fight their battle and has pretty much insured their success.

I started writing about the relationship between legalizing gay marriage and legalizing polygamy as a comment to a post over at TigerHawk:

And I know that it's considered the height - or depth - or bigotry and stupidity or some other detestable "y" to raise this issue seriously but once we begin redefining marriage I truly do not understand what the logical, rational argument is against expanding it to include polygamy. There is no rational reason to consider marriage something allowed only between a man and a woman; it is simply the way we've always done things. So why is there a rational reason to consider marriage something allowed only between two people?

All of the arguments that will be made against polygamy* were marshaled against gay marriage: it is forbidden by religion; it is unnatural; it will undermine the institution of marriage; it may well have unintended consequences; it is bad for children to be raised in such a situation. These arguments failed against gay marriage and they will fail against polygamy. Let’s look at these arguments in the context of polygamy and see how their lack of validity in the face of gay marriage will render them useless against polygamy.

Polygamy is forbidden by religion: This is simply a non-starter. No argument based on religious dogma is going to gain traction in a lifestyle debate. In the case of gay marriage, it was simply thrown out; in the case of polygamy, it probably can’t even be raised given the historical acceptance of polygamy among major religions.

Polygamy is unnatural: Based on the historical record, polygamy (or at least polygyny) appears to be for more “natural” than gay marriage. As for the argument that homosexuality is biologically based*, there is no shortage of people arguing that polygamy (at least in the form of polygyny) is what humans are biologically wired for.

Polygamy will undermine the institution of marriage and thus destabilize society: Why assume that legalizing polygamy would result in enough incidences of it to undermine the institution of marriage? Those who support gay marriage scoff at this argument when applied to same-sex unions. Surely, they say, people who are currently committed to heterosexual marriage will not fall by the wayside simply because those who are not can now get married. The same argument seems just as valid with regard to polygamy: Surely those who are committed to two-person marriage will not fall by the wayside simply because those who are not can now get married.

Polygamy may have unintended consequences: Any time you change a millennia-old institution, you’re taking a risk on the consequences. And, again, the historical record shows more support for successful societies that practice polygamy than that practice gay marriage.

Polygamy is bad for children: Supporters of gay marriage take as given that homosexual couples are as likely to be good parents as heterosexual couples. On what rational basis can one assume differently about polygamists? In fact, one could argue that in an age where both father and mother work to make ends meet, having an additional mother around to do childcare is quite a good idea. Having two fathers and two mothers (or four fathers or four mothers) is even better: three adults can work and one be the primary caregiver.

Beyond that, there is the normative argument that marriage is properly a relationship between two people. But there is no reason this argument is any more valid than the argument that marriage is properly a relationship between two people of the opposite sex.

It’s not just that the arguments that will be marshaled against legalizing polygamy failed when they were marshaled against legalizing gay marriage that makes it unlikely polygamy will remain illegal in this country for much longer. It’s also the characterization of those who argued against gay marriage. Those who opposed gay marriage, for any reason, were not considered simply people who preferred a different definition of marriage, who had genuine concerns about the effect on society, who believed that a millennia old institution was altered only at great risk, or who held sincere religious beliefs. No, those who opposed gay marriage were characterized as stupid, ignorant, bigoted, shortsighted, ridiculous, not worthy of response, or crazy. How can anyone who leveled those charges at those who opposed gay marriage now argue credibly against legalizing polygamy?

I do not object to gay marriage. However, I do not consider those who do object to it to be stupid, ignorant, bigoted, shortsighted, ridiculous, not worthy of response, or crazy. Instead I respect their position, acknowledge the validity of their concerns, and couch my position in terms of my own preferences and my opinion that legalizing gay marriage will not undermine the role marriage plays - or should play - in holding society together. This leaves me free to oppose legalizing polygamy when the time comes. I realize full well that when I do argue against legalizing polygamy, I will be denounced as stupid, ignorant, bigoted, shortsighted, ridiculous, not worthy of response, or crazy. I’ll have to put up with that but I don’t plan to give anyone grounds to also denounce me as inconsistent.


* Cassandra has made a number of arguments against polygamy that could not be made against gay marriage. With one possible exception - inbreeding - I don’t think any of them will gain any traction against polygamy. I’ll address them in a later post.

** My personal opinion on the issue of homosexuality being biological, a result of environment, or a choice, is that there is probably a continuum, just as there seems to be in an increasing number of human traits: some people who are simply biologically programmed to find the same sex attractive; some who have biological tendencies which can be expressed or not in response to environment; some who have no biological tendencies but become homosexual as a result of environment; and some who choose to live as homosexuals. I may be one the last people on the planet who remembers that some Feminists explicitly choose lesbianism as a reaction to male patriarchy and resent being lumped into the “mainstream” LGBT movement.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Polygamy (1): As I was going to St Ives

I started writing about the relationship between legalizing gay marriage and legalizing polygamy as a comment to a post over at TigerHawk. My comment got way too long to actually be a comment so I posted something shorter - and crankier - over there and spent some time trying to turn that comment into a blog post. I could never find quite the right frame for it so I set it aside.

A few days ago Grim wrote about polygamy, inspired by a school assignment that quotes a twenty-year old Islamic woman as saying she has no objection to her future husband taking multiple wives. If a woman wants to be one of multiple wives, asks Grim, why shouldn’t we let her? He concludes by asking:

Is there some fundamental reason to prefer monogamy, or is it just what we're used to seeing?

In response, Cassandra has presented ten arguments against polygamy. In commenting on Cassandra’s post, I remarked that I had a post about this topic 90% completed and would get it up on Friday. I didn’t, obviously, for two reasons.

First, whenever I say I’ll post by a deadline I don’t do it. There’s something about writing to schedule that makes me utterly inarticulate.

Second, and more important, I thought I would be able to do one post, tying together everything I had to say about my original points, Grim’s argument, and Cassandra’s rebuttal. Not happening. I’m going to end up with multiple posts. I hope to get the first one - which will be basically my original one - up over the weekend. Then one on Cassandra’s points and then one on Grim’s argument. Plus probably one or two side-trips along the way. (We’ll see if I end up with enough posts to finish the riddle.) I realize that by the time I get this all done, everyone except me will probably have lost interest but I’m just glad I’m once again looking forward to doing some long, twisty writing.

As usual, I’ve created a new category to track the related posts: Grim Polygamy.

Friday, September 30, 2011


No diet will remove all the fat from your body because the brain is entirely fat. Without a brain, you might look good, but all you could do is run for public office. - George Bernard Shaw

There are some articles popping up that claim Chris Christie’s weight makes him obviously unfit (heh) to be President. Elspeth Reeve’s has ably identified the goal of these articles and the tiresome, distasteful pattern they follow. Megan McArdle opens her discussion of the articles on Christie’s weight by announcing that she and Jonathan Chait are in agreement that:

... the argument that Chris Christie is somehow unqualified to be president because he is fat is absolutely ridiculous.

McArdle then does her usual good job of outlining - yet again, for all those who weren’t paying attention the first, second, whatever time - the state of research on weight:

The [weight] band that your body wants to occupy is no more a sign of virtue than the color of your eyes. Yet people who would be ashamed to argue that Barack Obama should be excluded from the presidency because of the amount of melanin his skin contains, feel no compunction at all in declaring that your genetic predisposition towards adiposity is an intolerable fault.

Chait focuses on the “moral panic” aspect of articles by Eugene Robinson and Michael Kinsley and concludes:

The only real reasoning I see here is that American elites view obesity with disgust, and they’re repulsed at the notion that a very fat guy could rise to a position of symbolic leadership. It’s not a very attractive sentiment.

All three - Reeve, McArdle, and Chait - are worth reading and I don’t have anything more to say about the aspects they address so well.

However, there are a couple of things that struck me in these articles. First, Eugene Robinson says, in quick succession:

1) He does not intend to blame Christie for his own obesity.
2) He is sure that Christie wants to live long enough to be around for his children’s milestones.
3) Christie should lead himself.
4) Christie claims he is overweight because he eats too much and the wrong things.
5) It’s not that simple because of genetics and psychological factors.
6) Gastric surgery is available.
7) People who lose weight and keep it off do so through proper diet and exercise.
8) Robinson’s sincere advice to Christie: “Eat a salad and take a walk.”

So, once again, which is it: Christie can and should lose weight by eating less and exercising more or Christie can’t lose weight unless he has gastric surgery? Or perhaps it’s that obesity is really hard to write about coherently when a writer is trying to score political points in the context of a topic about which he knows nothing except a series of sound bites.

Second, Michael Kinsley says:

Controlling what you eat and how much is not easy, and it’s harder for some people than for others. But it’s not as difficult as curing a chemical addiction.

Kinsley does not provide a link backing up this claim and perhaps he’s correct. However, I spent about 10 minutes using Google and I found the following recovery rate claims:

Alcoholism: perhaps as high as 35%

Heroin: perhaps as high as 32%

Meth: perhaps as high as 15%

Obesity: perhaps as high as 20% - if success is defined as “intentionally losing 10% of initial body weight and not regaining it”.

So if these numbers are anywhere near right, it looks to me like “[c]ontrolling what you eat and how much” is at least “as difficult as curing a chemical addiction”. And this is with a very, very low definition of recovery from obesity. How low? Well, if Chris Christie weighs 286 pounds (the minimum Robinson thinks he weighs), he would weigh 257 pounds if he “recovered” under this definition. Somehow I don’t think that would result in Robinson lauding Christie’s leadership or Kinsley okaying Christie’s “character” and “control”. (I can’t find decent numbers on people who start out obese, lose enough weight to be considered “normal” weight, and keep that weight off. The number usually tossed around is 1 to 2% which is far lower than the numbers for alcoholism, heroin, or meth.)

Same thing with that bariatric surgery Robinson recommends as a way off the “dieting roller coaster”. According to Weight Watchers (citations in original):

Results of Surgery
Patients lose an average of 50% of the excess weight with all bariatric procedures and this is usually achieved 12-18 months after the surgery and regain 10-15% over three to ten years.

So if Christie weighs 286 pounds and Robinson thinks he should weigh at most 214 pounds (to avoid falling into the “obese” category), Christie’s “excess weight” is 72 pounds. If he underwent bariatric surgery, he would lose 36 pounds which would bring him down to 250 pounds, then regain 7-11 pounds, leaving him between 257 and 261 pounds. Again, I don’t think either Robinson or Kinsley are going to decide that Christie’s weight is no longer an “issue” at 257 pounds.

People love to write about obesity. Especially people who aren’t obese. The fact that no one understands obesity is irrelevant to them; they are quite sure that their lack of obesity makes them experts on the subject.

Personally, I’d much rather have a fat President who can get done at least some of the things I believe need doing than a thin one can’t get anything constructive done at all. However, I suspect one reason Christie can do what he’s doing in New Jersey is because he understands State politics; I imagine he knows where the bodies are buried and may even have planted a few himself. So I’d prefer he stay where he is for now and spend the next four years continuing to fix New Jersey while getting himself plugged into national politics.

I’m pretty sure the country will still need Christie’s services in 2017. And maybe by then pundits will be less confused about what Christie’s obesity supposedly says about his character and more interested in what Christie’s track record actually says about his ability.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Two links for September 11

To think about September 11, read Memorializing September 11th by Wilfred M. McClay in National Affairs:

And the greatest good is often done, as William Blake put it, in "minute particulars," in small but focused ways that individual citizens can manage on their own initiative.

To remember September 11, read the poem “For the Children of the World Trade Center Victims” by BJ Ward, available online as a pdf here.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


Neoneocon is writing about a Russ Smith post which contains the following quote:

There are usual caveats: Of course Obama isn’t illiterate or Bush-dumb because as Jesse Louis Jackson once said, “God doesn’t make junk,” and the intelligence-challenged just aren’t allowed near Harvard, much less become editor of that university’s Law Review.

Neo is focusing on the fact that Bush also graduated from Harvard (and Yale). What struck me (other than Smith’s lousy writing) was the “God doesn’t make junk” part of the quote. Is Smith implying that while God made Obama, someone else made Bush? if so, who?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Pray for them

The Anchoress (via NRO) has up a rant about first responders and clergy being excluded from the commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks. It speaks for itself and I have nothing to add to that aspect of it.

I was, however, taken aback by this statement from one of the articles she links:

During the 2001 "Prayer for America" service at Yankee Stadium, leaders from the major religions—Roman Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Protestants, Sikhs, Greek Orthodox—addressed the crowd of thousands and an even larger TV audience from a podium atop second base.

"I brought every major religion to this event in Yankee Stadium," said Mr. Washington, who is considering holding a news conference on Sept. 11 to object to the exclusion of clergy.

"I'm very upset about it," he said. "This is crazy."

It seems to me that if Mr. Washington is upset because he believes people would benefit from prayer on this sad and solemn occasion then the appropriate thing to hold would be not a news conference, but a prayer service. Or lots of prayer services at lots of houses of worship, perhaps at the same time as the official ceremony and including sincere, loving prayers for all those who were touched by this disaster. I think it would be a particularly nice touch if the first responders were warmly invited to these services.

There are two verses I remember from Sunday School that cover this situation pretty thoroughly:

But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.

It seems worth nothing that the latter verse ends:

And they marvelled at him.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Use fire to fight fire

I gather there are some concerns, particularly among conservatives, about the implementation of sharia law* in the United States. I don’t know how reasonable those concerns are, although as a woman I tend to feel that any possibility of such a thing happening should be viewed with great alarm.

There is, however, a simple way to make sure sharia law is not implemented in this country: pass the Equal Rights Amendment. Not all sharia law has to do with the role of women but a fair amount of it does. the Equal Rights Amendment would insure that the aspects of sharia law that enshrine different rights for men and women could never be implemented. Losing the "sweetener" of being able to treat women like second-class citizens should make the prospect of sharia law much less enticing to many who might otherwise be willing to condone it.


*I do not have a nice, clean summary of sharia law to offer as a link. The Wikipedia entries on sharia law and on women in Islam read - as one commenter put it - like a pro-Islam “tourist brochure”.

Reduce, reuse, recycle

If I were the “bipartisan, bicameral committee on deficit reduction”, I would simply have my staff retype the Simpson-Bowles plan on committee letterhead. It would save a lot of time and a lot of money and produce an outcome at least as good as anything the committee will come up with in the next three months.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Punitive versus compensatory

Andrew Cohen at The Atlantic is writing about an HBO documentary called Hot Coffee. The documentary looks at four lawsuits; in his review, Cohen discusses two of these: the case of Stella Liebeck (the McDonald’s coffee suit) and the case of Colin Gourley, who “has ‘severe brain damage’ as a result of medical malpractice at his birth.” About the McDonald’s case, Cohen says:

... a jury of her peers ultimately awarded Liebeck $160,000 in compensatory damages (for medical bills and the like) and $2.7 million more assessed as punitive damages against McDonald's.

About the Gourley case, Cohen says:

When Gourley's parents sued, Nebraska law capped their damages at a total of $1.25 million, an arbitrary figure far short of the $6 million the family established it needed to take care of their son for the rest of his life. A jury, which was not told of the state cap, had awarded the family $5.6 million to help pay for Colin's care.

Cohen believes the award in the McDonald’s case was appropriate and that Gourley’s parents should have received the $5.6 million the jury awarded them to care for their son. But these cases are substantially different: punitive damages are not the same as compensatory damages.

In the McDonald’s case, the jury believed McDonald’s was acting irresponsibly and wanted to encourage them to behave better in the future. I might argue that such encouragement would better come in the form of legislation but even if we grant that juries should be assessing punitive damages, why do they go to the plaintiff? Compensatory damages, yes: the McDonald’s customer may well have deserved repayment for the costs she incurred from coffee McDonald’s knew was hot enough to cause severe burns. And I have no objection to her attorney getting some cut of the punitive damages; we want people like her to be able to find lawyers. But why should the plaintiff get any of the money being assessed to encourage McDonald’s?

It seems to me that when the public opposes “frivolous” lawsuits what they’re really opposing is plaintiffs being able to actually make money by suing. If we do away with the profit aspect, then lawsuits are simply about plaintiffs being repaid for money they are out due to bad behavior on the part of the defendant. (I can't actually figure out where the punitive damages should go instead. Every idea I come up with has bad incentives for someone.)

The Gourley case is utterly different. No legislature should be capping compensatory damages. That’s insane. If someone’s bad behavior results in a financial loss or burden then the bad actor should pay up. The plaintiff can present his financial evidence, the defendant can counter with his own, and then the jury can - as Cohen argues they should - decide on a number.

What about pain, suffering, loss of reputation? Well, loss of reputation can sometimes be quantified and, if so, it should be; it can then be treated as a matter of compensatory damages. Beyond that, I’d say cap compensatory damages for pain, suffering, and loss of reputation at some fixed number like $1 million. Is it heartless to put a dollar limit on, say, the loss of a beloved spouse or child? Perhaps, but if so the heartlessness arises from an attempt to assign a monetary value to such a loss in the first place.



Break In by Dick Francis - A cautionary tale about (in part) a system in which a plaintiff whose suit does not succeed must pay the defendant’s legal fees.

Everybody likes Ike

Yesterday the panel at Fox News Sunday included Liz Cheney and John Podesta. In one of their exchanges, Podesta said something that just didn’t sound right. Here’s the exchange; I’ve bolded the part I couldn’t believe:

CHENEY: [snip]

Finally, the president at the end of the press conference, says he wants to increase taxes and get through this initial crisis so that he can spend more on infrastructure. This is an insatiable appetite for spending.


CHENEY: It is driving the country off of a cliff. It is completely irresponsible.

PODESTA: I think that is so fundamentally wrong on the facts. President Obama has proposed taking the domestic government down to the size that it was in the Eisenhower administration. That is in his budget. We have taxes now lower than they have ever been since 1950, and have --

My immediate reaction was that Obamacare alone probably represented more domestic government - in terms of employees and raw spending - than we had during the Eisenhower era. I don’t know if that’s the case but it does appear that Podesta’s characterization of Obama’s proposal was inaccurate or at least sloppy in four ways:

1) I am not aware that Obama has a budget on the table. My understanding is that he withdrew his February proposal and has not presented a formal, specific budget proposal since.

2) Obama is not proposing cutting the size of domestic government as measured by Federal employees on the domestic side back to what it was in Eisenhower’s day.

3) Obama is not proposing cutting the size of domestic government as measured by raw spending on the domestic side back to what it was in Eisenhower’s day.

4) Obama is not proposing cutting the size of domestic government by any measure - employees, raw spending, share of GDP, whatever - back to what it was during the Eisenhower Administration. Rather, Obama said (emphasis mine):

That’s why I’ve called for a freeze on annual domestic spending over the next five years – a freeze that would cut the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade, bringing this kind of spending to its lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was President.

Those four points speak to Podesta’s understanding, accuracy, or carefulness. There is one other point that speaks to Obama’s understanding and accuracy:

5) The “annual domestic spending” Obama wants to freeze does not include “the military, the entitlement programs Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, and interest on that debt.” As JustOneMinute puts it:

But focusing on "domestic spending" sidesteps the philosophy espoused by Willie Sutton - since it excludes interest, entitlements and defense, it is not where the money is.

The current United States debt is over $14 trillion. Obama’s freeze on domestic spending would, by his own estimate, reduce the debt by $400 billion over the next ten years. By my calculation, Obama’s $400 billion is less than 3% of the debt. That’s less than 3% of the current debt, not of whatever the debt will be in ten years. Every little bit helps; journey of a thousand miles; and all that. But a plan to cut less than 3% of the current debt over the next ten years isn’t what I would offer if I wanted to prove Obama is fiscally responsibility.

Raising and lowering

A couple of links discussing courses of action I’ve written about previously:

Via The Corner, Spengler advising that the McConnell plan is the best route for Tea Party Republicans. Specifically, Spengler wants - as do I - to take a debt ceiling crisis off the table until after the 2012 elections. He believes that if Republicans can avoid a default and “put the onus [for raising the debt ceiling] on Obama”:

The Republicans would then have a year and a half to run against Obama's irresponsibility - his incompetent economic management, his demands for tax increases, his failure to address the deficit.

What he says makes sense but reading his essay - especially his version of the message Republicans would have to sell - makes me realize that his approach and mine require the Republicans to make a short, punchy explanation of what they’re doing and why they’re doing it, and to stay on message with that until November 6, 2012. I’m not sure that’s possible. I pay a fair amount of attention to this stuff and I have no sense that the Republicans have presented a single, coherent message on this so far. There’s no reason to think they’ll suddenly be able to do so. Members of Congress want to be re-elected so they’ll shade the message to appeal to their constituents. Having had to vote for the McConnell plan or any other approach that raises the debt ceiling could possibly impose sufficient discipline to keep current Congressional Republicans on message: they’ll have to have a coherent way to explain their vote. However, add in Presidential politics, in which you’ve got national candidates who desperately want to win and who will not have had to cast that vote, and disciplined messaging goes by the board.

Instapundit and TigerHawk suggesting a “5% across-the-board cut in spending” right now, then rinse and repeat next year and, presumably, some number of years after that. Like TigerHawk, I don’t think more targeted cuts are possible for reasons I outline in a previous post. However, I prefer cutting 10% per year and - in contrast to TigerHawk who is suggesting reducing the Bush tax cuts by 5% - I also want to cut taxes right along with spending, at 9% per year.

If, however, we could actually get a 5% across the board cut - and I mean really across the board - I’d take that. I’d also give the reduction of the Bush tax cuts to get it, if that reduction was also across the board; that is, no getting back 5% of the revenue by raising taxes only on the rich. Instead everyone at every income level loses 5% of the tax reduction they would have gotten under the Bush tax cuts.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Steyn and 'Puter

A few posts on the debt ceiling, cutting spending, and “revenue increases” (which I believe used to be called “tax increases”) that caught my eye.

Mark Steyn: No bargaining with Barack Obluffer (via TigerHawk):

In the real world, negotiations on an increase in one's debt limit are conducted between the borrower and the lender. Only in Washington is a debt increase negotiated between two groups of borrowers.

’Puter: First Principles and The Debt Ceiling:

Republicans have done a singularly shitty job of identifying the first principle in play here. That principle is: live within your means.

’Puter: Enough (I do love a good rant):

Elites of the liberal and conservative varieties, along with just about everyone living inside the Beltway, just do not get it. Let 'Puter put it simply.

This is not about sticking it to the poor. This is about standing up for the unsung makers in the country.

What do I think about raising the debt ceiling, cutting spending, raising taxes? I think we should all in one bill raise the debt ceiling enough to get us to January 31, 2013; freeze spending wherever it is right now; and not raise taxes. Then both parties should make the 2012 elections about whether we want to keep raising the debt ceiling, spending, and taxes, or whether we want to lower all three.

I doubt that approach will result in anything useful since it looks like most people want to keep the debt ceiling where it is; not raise taxes (except on the rich, a category which is ill-defined to say the least and is, by any definition, not large enough to fund our current level of spending); and cut only the spending from which they themselves do not benefit or about which no sufficiently touching sob-story can be found or created. But living in a democracy means letting voters make stupid decisions. Reality always cleans up the mess eventually.


By the way, The Gormogons in general have been even more readable than usual lately. For example, here’s the Czar explaining how we can tell that Obama Does Not use Chicago-Style Politics:

If President Obama used Chicago-style politics, he would have a much more accomplished track record than he clearly has. Chicago would have won the Olympics. Nearly all of the stimulus package would have wound up here. His wife would be Secretary of something or other. Her brother, Craig Robinson, would be the head of a multi-million-dollar civic improvement commission and also own a concrete company he knew nothing about an hour ago. Windmills in China would mysteriously disappear and wind up in Oregon. Usâma bin-Lâdin would have been found face-down in a river, with a GOP campaign strategy plan stuffed in his pocket. The entire US Army would be spotted in a Florida resort, despite having paychecks that say they are currently in Afghanistan. And for the last four years, all of Iraq would be covered in orange cones and construction horses.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Run that by me again

Via Megan McArdle, there’s an opinion piece up at MSNBC arguing that the Harvard researchers who want some obese children removed from their parents are wrong. I haven’t thought through the Harvard idea enough to have an opinion on it but I was struck by two statements in the MSNBC piece. First (emphasis mine):

The only basis for compelling medical treatment against a parent’s wishes are if a child is at imminent risk of death — meaning days or hours — and a proven cure exists for what threatens to kill them. Obesity does not pass these requirements.

The risk of death from obesity is real, but it is way down the road for kids. There is no proven cure for obesity.

But then:

But if we don't yank heavy kids from their obesity-encouraging homes, what should we do? [snip]

... might we try to change our food culture? This means doing what we have done for smoking. Demonize the companies that sell and market food that is not nutritious. That means you, candy, soda, fried food and snack food outfits. Tax them too. And get Hollywood and television to make overeating and not exercising uncool just like they did with smoking. Put exercise back on the menu for all school kids.

So which is it? There’s no proven cure for obesity or changing our food culture will cure obesity?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Dan Savage, a gay sex-advice columnist, had never really registered with me until he and Megan McArdle got into it - and I have to say I found him awfully unpleasant in that exchange. I’ve now read a New York Times Magazine piece on him (via Althouse) and his It Gets Better project sounds like a wonderful thing. My adolescence was stormy for reasons that had nothing to do with sexual orientation; I only survived because of my conviction that adulthood did not have to be miserable. That conviction grew out of the people I saw around me and the stories I read in books, both examples of people like me who had happy lives. I cannot imagine how miserable it must be to be without the kinds of role models who demonstrate what life after high school can be. The It Gets Better project provides those examples for gay high school students who may have nowhere else to look for people like them and Savage deserves high praise for starting it.

That said, I still find Savage pretty unpleasant. I had to laugh at this:

“The mistake that straight people made,” Savage told me, “was imposing the monogamous expectation on men. Men were never expected to be monogamous. Men had concubines, mistresses and access to prostitutes, until everybody decided marriage had to be egalitarian and fairsey ” In the feminist revolution, rather than extending to women “the same latitude and license and pressure-release valve that men had always enjoyed,” we extended to men the confines women had always endured. “And it’s been a disaster for marriage.”

My view would be more along the lines of:

Men were never expected to be monogamous because women had no recourse if they weren’t. Women pretty much had to get married - it was difficult for a woman to support herself, unacceptable for her to have children without being married, and very difficult for her to support any children she did have - and divorce was not an option. If a husband cheated, the wife had to suck it up and put up with it.

Thanks to the feminist revolution, women now have a choice about marriage and some of them - apparently the vast majority of them - expect marriage to mean monogamy. Men are free to not marry women who want monogamy but it’s pretty nervy of them to complain because they no longer have the hammer and are therefore required to consider the preferences of the women they claim to love.

More generally, the Savage attitude seems to me another argument for separating marriage into two distinct forms: civil and religious/traditional/vow-making. Let the government handle civil marriage as strictly a business relationship, a partnership formed for the purposes of property and children. I’d suggest we not call it marriage but rather fall back on a term like “civil union” or perhaps “marital partnership”.

Those for whom the state-imposed aspects of union are enough would do nothing beyond filling out the appropriate forms at the local courthouse. Those who prefer a union that includes making behavioral vows to supplement the legal obligations laid down by the state can have a religious ceremony or can exchange vows in front of whomever they please.

We would then end up with such entities as “Catholic marriage”, “Baptist marriage”, “non-religious traditional vow marriage”, “hand-fasted”, and so on. It would be messy but really no messier than what we have now (anybody but me remember “POSSLQ”) and it seems to me it would be far less messy than continuing to use the word “marriage” when we’ve gotten to the point where we don’t even agree on what it means with regard to something once upon a time as basic as monogamy.

I was also struck in the NYT Magazine article by this:

In their own marriage, Savage and Miller practice being what he calls “monogamish,” allowing occasional infidelities, which they are honest about. Miller was initially opposed to the idea. “You assume as a younger person that all relationships are monogamous and between two people, that love means nothing can come between you,” said Miller, who met Savage at a club in 1995, when he was 23 and Savage was 30. “Dan has taught me to be more realistic about that kind of stuff."

If Savage was male and Miller female, I would assume this is an example of a man pressuring a woman into the type of sex life the man prefers - regardless of what the woman is comfortable with - as the price of maintaining the relationship. As Kay S. Hymowitz put it, in a must-read essay on the sexual revolution and the movement for women’s rights:

But for most female mortals, the rules of the new regime were elusive at best. You kind of liked a guy you had just met, so what next? What did you do when he pressed, “Are you hung up or something?” The old order was built on guilt, shame, and inhibition; you sure didn’t want to go there.

I suppose it’s indicative of something that I make somewhat the same assumption about Savage and Miller, an assumption helped along by the fact that the article discusses how many extramarital affairs Savage has had but not Miller. The Savage approach appears to mean that the spouse with the most, um, unusual sexual preferences has the right to have an affair and, therefore, that the, shall we say, unadventurous spouse’s preference for a monogamous relationship must give way before the desires of his or her mate. The NYT Magazine article later discusses this in terms of men and women but I suspect the same dynamics may well be at work in at least some same-sex marriages (emphasis mine):

“Sometimes he [Savage] can shame women for not being into things that their male partners are into, if they have male partners,” Sady Doyle, a feminist blogger, told me. “The whole good-giving-and-game thing is something I actually agree with. I don’t think you should flip out on your partner if they share something sexual with you. But I think sometimes it’s much harder for women to say, ‘I’m not into that,’ or ‘Please, I don’t want to do that, let’s do something else,’ than it is to say, ‘Sure.’ Putting all the onus on the person who doesn’t have that fetish or desire, particularly if the person who doesn’t have that desire is the woman, really reproduces a lot of old structures and means of oppression for women.”

This, in turn, brings up another issue that intrigues me. I haven’t made an exhaustive study of the topic, but my general impression is that much of the discussion about whether gays’ views of monogamy in marriage differs from straights’ views of monogamy in marriage talks about gay marriage between two men. It will be interesting to see if there are significant differences in the types of marriages gay men create and the types of marriages gay women create.



* Just for the record, I think McArdle’s point in this dispute was valid but insufficient: the problem with Anthony Weiner’s behavior wasn’t that he was married; it was that he was creepy. Flasher in a raincoat on the street corner, guy in a raincoat sitting in the back of a porno movie house on Times Square creepy. Even if Weiner had been unmarried and uninvolved, he would have been creepy.

McArdle says:

To me, society can enforce norms about what constitutes acceptable sexual behavior--or it can enforce the norm that you and your partner(s) have to agree in advance upon what constitutes acceptable sexual behavior.

Looked at in those terms, at least in the Anthony Weiner case, I have norms about what constitutes acceptable sexual behavior that have nothing to do with what he and his partner have agreed on. Or as the wife of the author of the NYT magazine put it when he asked her:

which would upset her more: to learn that I was sending racy self-portraits to random women, Weiner-style, or to discover I was having an actual affair. She paused, scrunched up her mouth as if she had just bitten a particularly sour lemon and said: “An affair is at least a normal human thing. But tweeting a picture of your crotch is just weird.”




Sex and the Empire State - An interview at National Review. The interview is interesting but two things about is are especially noteworthy. First, the link on page 5 to a downloadable version of the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy article, “What Is Marriage?” I do not think the authors of the article have successfully made a compelling case that marriage must - regardless of religious considerations - be between a man and a woman but the essay is a good summary of issues and relates to my post in laying out the hope expressed by some who support gay marriage that it will be the just the first step in redefining marriage completely (see, for example, page 32 of the pdf).

Second, on page 3 the interviewee, a passionate and dedicated opponent of gay marriage, speaks of those on the other side in New York:

They are sincerely dedicated to their cause and filled with moral passion to advance what they deeply (albeit, in my view, mistakenly) believe is a civil-rights agenda. If I could choose opponents, I would choose different ones. Moreover, among them are people for whom I personally have great respect and even affection. They are good, patriotic people with whom I am proud to be allied in other very important struggles, and sad to be in political conflict with in this battle. I know how deeply they believe in their cause, and how determined they are to prevail. For some it is an intensely personal matter.

Would that everyone on both sides approached the fight with such civility.

Closing the book on open marriage - W. Bradford Wilcox at The Washington Post. Some sociological push-back outlining the problems of making non-monogamy the norm.

Future of Gay Marriage - Ross Douthat’s column:

There’s a lesson here. Institutions tend to be strongest when they make significant moral demands, and weaker when they pre-emptively accommodate themselves to human nature.

Dan Savage Versus Monogamy - Ross Douthat’s blog:

By stripping away any common definition of the proper relationship between sex and marriage, and asking every couple to essentially rebuild the institution from the ground up, he [Savage] would end up piling far more weight on the marital unit than any individual relationship can be reasonably expected to bear.

Douthat quotes at length from a brief but excellent Eve Tushnet piece:

But of course the whole weird premise of Savage's claim is that eros is so powerful and irrational, sexual fulfillment such an obvious non-negotiable, that... we should talk things out like rational adults before we get married and then stick to our rational rules and goals.

Tushnet in turn refers readers to “Rules of Misbehavior”, an essay in Washington Monthly that is a must-read on this subject:

If there is something to treasure in the old, traumatized ideal of lifelong monogamy, it’s not that it demeans sexual fulfillment. Rather, it’s that monogamy integrates sexual fulfillment with the other good things in life—having someone to pay bills and raise children with, having a refuge both emotional and physical from the rest of the world. It is an ideal that is powerful even when it is not fully realized (as it rarely, if ever, is), not a contract voided by nonperformance.

"[Q]uestions of identity and self-fulfillment"

Reihan Salam writes about a recent study on the incomes of two-parent families. Interesting post. Here’s a sample:

Imagine that the world in 1975 was quite a bit different from the world in 2009. In this alternate reality 1975, large numbers of educated men were primarily engaged in household production, due to a combination of the strenuousness of completing essential household work, powerful social conventions, and intense discrimination in the market. Many men devoted as much time to finding a wife who could serve as a “breadwinner” as they did to building their own skills and credentials, due to blocked opportunities caused by discrimination and the fact that many women were eager to play this role.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Depends on what you want to develop

Robert Herbold (formerly of Microsoft) has written an opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal, entitled “China vs. America: Which Is the Developing Country?” One thing Mr. Herbold particularly likes about China is that country’s five-year plans:

In every meeting we attended, with four different customers of our company as well as representatives from four different arms of the Chinese government, our hosts began their presentation with a brief discussion of China's new five-year-plan. This is the 12th five-year plan and it was announced in March 2011. ... Can you imagine the U.S. Congress and president emerging with a unified five-year plan that they actually achieve (like China typically does)?

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about the Second Five-Year Plan, also known as The Great Leap Forward:

However, the Great Leap Forward, which diverted millions of agricultural workers into industry, and the great sparrow campaign, which led to an infestation of locusts, caused a huge decrease in food production. Simultaneously, rural officials, under huge pressure to meet their quotas, vastly overstated how much grain was available. As a result, most of it was allocated to urban areas or even exported, while twenty million peasants starved to death.

Via Ace of Spades.