Saturday, December 1, 2012

Free Advice to the Religious Right

The advice that follows is generally applicable.  I offer it to the religious right in response to some of the polemic against Frank Schaefer.

  1. You need to eschew the strict dichotomy of friend and foe.  You will find you have few of either if you take a step back.  Most people are ambivalent to your interests.  Very few are antagonistic.  
  2. You need to demand less of those who are neutral.  One of the more ridiculous displays in the past election was Romney's pro-life convictions.  Even if Romney would have won, the manifestation of those convictions extracted at significant cost would have been nothing since there was very little of an actual anti-abortion agenda that could or would be enacted.  Romney was neutral on abortion.  Obama is largely neutral on abortion in practice.  Both offered rhetoric that pretended otherwise.  
  3. Recognize what is an issue and what can be an issue.  A right to refuse the offer of insurance coverage for contraceptive benefits was never going to decide a national election.  This was true even if you claimed this was an issue of religious liberty.
  4. Advocacy and advisement are distinct activities.  Advisors above all else must be judged on their competency.  Too often advocates are forgiven for their piss poor advisement because they are on the side of angels.  Additionally there is fear that the cause will suffer if advocates learn they are piss poor advisors.  Because of this, you have piss poor advisors.  Acknowledge the problem and move on.
  5. Advocacy has historically been a leisure activity.  Too many advocates, especially within the pro-life movement are careerists.  To be perfectly blunt, the national pro-life movement is made up of people whose first interest is themselves.  It shouldn't require 6 figures to be on the side of the angels.  
  6. There may be a majority whose willing to tolerate you winning, but there isn't a majority who share your belief that social issues are the most important issues of our time.  If you want people to give you a respectful hearing on your issues, you have to be willing to give them a respectful hearing on their issues.  And before some people says the other party started it, take a close look at the past 60 years.
  7. For better or worse, the people who disagree with your choices aren't just doing it to piss you off.  Illegitimacy, divorce, and other social ills have been around for a long time.  And by the way, they are called social ills for a reason.
  8. The health and wellness gospel has really harmed social conservatism.  Among other things, it has resulted in a tolerance for racist cranks.  Understand that a lot of other people see H&C as little more than an endorsement of white privilege.

Saturday, October 6, 2012


Yes, this blog has begun to atrophy.  I am moving further into a selfish phase where I don't judge myself against some abstract external standard.  Since I don't judge myself against that standard, I don't tend to judge others against it.  And since the standard is no longer applying to anyone, arguing about it seems a bit trivial.  Perhaps this would seem to be the antithesis to communitarian ideals.  I don't live under those ideals.  I live in the world as it is.  Ideals are for ideologues and the well off, and I am neither, although that likely will be changing.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Happy Labor Day

A little music for Labor Day.  For whatever reason, we didn't sing this as a prelude to the mass yesterday.  We did sing "America".  Perhaps, he thought it was Memorial Day weekend or perhaps all holidays must be appropriated to the nation-state.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Parties as Mediators

I have been mildly entertained by conversations discussing our two political party.  Regardless of party, people act like the two parties are mediating institutions.  While they are technically still mediating institutions, they are almost entirely dysfunctional in this capacity.  Some of this has to do with progressive reforms.  A lot of it has to do with the Internet.  The Internet has allowed talented writers to more easily disseminate information.  In turn, the requirements of a national campaign on an issue - as opposed to a candidacy - has gone from a tens of millions of dollars endeavor into a hundreds of thousands of dollars endeavor.  There isn't a big challenge any longer for a wealthy individual to hire some talented individuals and run a national campaign.  Organizations that can put aside more money can of course have more influence, but the starting requirements are quite low.  As for candidacies, the cost of running for the Senate, as an example, is now down to one or two million dollars.  When I was a youth, it was relatively rare to run for Senate without having held a major office within the state.  Now it isn't unusual at all.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Two Party System

The most commonly made argument against the two party system is that the parties are not representative of the people's interests.  I think this is largely nonsense.  What is true is that the national platforms have a higher variance from regional interests.  I doubt that changes much nationally in the end.  Presently the parties are as weak as they've been in a generation.  This has been owed somewhat to the progressive reforms that weakened the parties.  Oddly enough, the worker was better off with two strong parties, because labor made the parties serve their interests of they delivered votes elsewhere.  That is not the case today.  Today, neither party works in the interests of workers.

Monday, August 20, 2012


In my life, I have almost always been willing to allow suffering for myself.  That has been inclusive of suffering for people better off than me.  The day that started ending was when I noticed that my suffering did not just fall upon me, but it fell upon my children.  It is one thing to suffer for your ideal.  It is another thing to have those who depend upon you suffer for your ideal.  This comes to mind reading this thread.  The absolute fear of bringing another child into this world to join in suffering is quite visible in some of the comments.  Of course, the vast, vast majority of people using birth control (be it NFP otherwise) are doing so for economic reasons.  Of that group, a large number are well off or at least moderately well off.  However, there are more people for whom bringing a child into this world would mean asking him to suffer.  These are people like myself who look almost idyllically at the people able to support large families.  I had never built my value system around the acquisition of material goods.  Were it not for kids, I would likely be content with a certain amount of poverty.  I am not content to allow them to suffer for my ideals, and if the church wishes to be insistent on the matter than she needs to make provision.  Asking the weakest of her followers to suffer for her ideals is simply cruel.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Paul Ryan

Since the guy is from my home state, I feel almost compelled to comment.  Meh.  He was elected in an open race.  He lives in a district neighboring three TV markets with voters fairly distributed throughout the district.  This means opposition candidates tend to be known in one market but not all three.  The district covers around a quarter of each television market, and that makes TV advertising very difficult and more expensive.  He will tickle the ears of the Milwaukee talkers, but he won't do so near to the degree that Scott Walker does.  Demographics and redistricting made it a fairly easy district for him.  This is why for example I have difficulty seeing how people impute charisma to him.  I haven't seen a whole lot of evidence of him ever persuading anyone.  Republicans haven't valued an ability to woe independents since at least Bush the Elder, so they are likely being idiosyncratic in their definition of charismatic.  I think his selection was more about rallying the troops, and I would imagine the troops will be satisfied with the pick.

People will try to play his district as liberal, but Mark Neumann preceded him.  Neumann is considered the most conservative candidate in the WI Senate race.  He has lost statewide office bids several times.  Draw your own conclusions.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Moral Theology

Having been involved in Catholic moral debate for half a decade, I've come to a few conclusions.
1.  Some acts by their very nature are wrong.
2.  Applying the butterfly effect to choices is a piss poor way to do theology.
3.  Anything beyond 1st order cooperation is likely crap.

One of the things I like about Catholic morality is that it tries to truly evaluate the exercise of agency.  It does not tend to look at 2nd order effects unless the actor has agency over those second order effects.  These tend to be safeties against demagogues, but demagogues have a tendency to go through stop signs.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Runaway Determinism

A common thing heard nowadays is that something was "a failure in leadership."  Such lamentations are often accompanied by "needing to take responsibility" or "needing to take ownership."  While I too don't like it when bad things happen, I take a rather dismal view to those wanting to attribute responsibility everywhere, everywhere except with the actual perpetrator.  Add to that a zero toleration policy for everyone else's actions but your own and you end up with less actual accountability.  Accountability is a necessary thing, but people should only be accountable for things they have control.  Even then, a liberal birth should be granted so that defensible actions are not treated as incompetence.

A lot of this has seemed to have come from a die-hard determinism.  Determinists tend not to think that there are unknowns.  They just believe there are things you didn't have the will to figure out.  They take it as gospel that if one tiny detail were changed in the past, an outcome today would have been totally prevented.  Perhaps I wasn't as exposed to the same science fiction as these folks growing up, but that is the exact opposite of my own experience.  My experience has been that exceptional events are indeed exceptional.  My experience has been that quickness to presume has not led to insight but rather to rash judgement.  Perhaps I have simply acquired a more refined empathetic spirit, but I have great difficulty holding people to my level of judgement, let alone to a level impossible for even me to achieve.  At the same time, I don't have near the trouble condemning people engaged in actual wrongful behavior as others seem to do.

Monday, July 23, 2012


Rarely do I recycle comments I leave elsewhere.  This comment however pretty much sums things up:
PSU [Penn State University] got what they paid for. Heaven forbid one of these reports ever just say people did what they thought was best with the information they had. Instead we have to pretend that PSU could have prevented child abuse, a rather absurd idea in practice as opposed to the mere ideal of wanting to prevent it. These reports [a reference to the Freeh Report] are necessary though, because they signal we have overcome our past sins, a baptism if you will. Perhaps PSU can even put up signs signaling that they are a pedophilia free zone so as to really emphasize how far they have come. It is all nonsense, but that is social panic for you.
Now the university has chosen to remove the statute erected in Paterno's honor. It unfortunately perpetuates this belief Joe Paterno was instrumental in Sandusky's sexual abuse of boys.  Paterno of course admitted a desire to have done more had he known more, as would all of us.  That isn't enough for the people posing for holy pictures.

With Paterno, everything is evidence of his complicity.  If Paterno talks to school officials and follows up with them, it is evidence that he is trying to cover up the matter.  If Paterno leaves other officials to do their work after reporting his conversation, it is evidence of his callous disregard for the victims.  One of the cases end up in the local prosecutor's lap and he declines prosecution, yet Paterno gets to be the one who clearly didn't exercise his power - whatever that power was off the field - prudently.  His choices for whatever reason are the lynch pin in this whole saga.

One of the more disturbing things about the present generation in power is their callousness to truth and principle.  It is a generation that cares solely about outcome and only the immediate outcome at that.  Their actions will invariably result in more sexual abuse cases being covered up.  The first reason is that the person they know is always the exception to their outcome based philosophy, e.g. the welfare queen is always someone a person doesn't know.  Therefore they will be hesitant to see the perpetrator face the full wrath for what they will invariably consider a misunderstanding or mistake.  The second reason is that people of action have a tendency to get into trouble whereas people who keep their mouth shut don't.  McQueary's life would be a thousand times better today if he hadn't confessed to seeing what he saw in that locker room.  This case has reinforced that.

Friday, July 20, 2012

On Guns Briefly

Before this massive shooting, I had basically resolved myself to the position that we should examine disarming the police.  Specifically, I thought a large caliber rifle for the squad car, even a high capacity one, should be sufficient.  By removing hand guns, my belief was that police officers would be less reluctant to place themselves in situations where one would be necessary.  This is turn would make the police less confrontational.  Time would solve more issues..

With the shooting in Colorado, the debate about guns has begun again.  I tend to be ambivalent on the topic.  I think supporters of gun control tend to be correct that guns are antisocial, and I think they are correct in their constitutional interpretation that guns are a corporate rather than individual right, despite claims by the Supreme Court otherwise.  I also think opponents of gun control tend to be correct that gun control laws have their most pronounced affect on the law abiding.  However, I'm coming around to the belief that prior efforts toward gun control were sabotaged.  I'm coming around to the belief that success can be had if it is willed.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


The power of politics is in the power of organization.  Politics in America is fairly weak right now due to the combination of democracy and cheap information.  The first problem is simply that there aren't a whole lot of minority interests not being addressed.  People tend to organize when it is necessary, and if they are generally happy or believe that their concerns are merely idiosyncratic, they aren't going to feel the need to do so.  Cheap information has allowed political leaders to become very attuned to their chosen constituencies.  Rare is the politician who makes a large unforced error in policy nowadays.

Oddly enough the cheap information age has brought with it a decline in the quality of information from policy organs.  Sister Walsh, spokeswoman for the USCCB, sounds and acts like a right wing shill when she mindlessly repeats talking points of dubious veracity.  Admittedly the only people who follow USCCB statements are people who have already made up their minds on policy questions.  There is no persuasion taking place.  I could cynically describe it as a paint by numbers thing to appeal to six figure and above donors.  The paint by numbers thing is simply having the ability to show the USCCB worked on the donor's pet issue.  To go on a tangent, that reminds me that it is increasingly apparent that a lot of these umbrella organizations are not for the benefit of their members but are little more than vehicles for connecting professionals to large donors.  Is there really any doubt that the USCCB's pro-life office is controlled by donors?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Health Care

While my experience in health care has become dated, I will hazard some opinions on myths and solutions to health care in the United States.

1)  The US needs more clinics.  Yes and but mostly no.  While it is true that one shouldn't have to go to a grocery store to get a loaf bread, the cheapest avenue for providing bread will be through grocery stores.  What small dispenseries like gas stations do is allow for people of greater means to purchase either a higher valued substitute good or a better experience.  While in the case of bread, there are places outside of grocery stores where you can get cheap bread, convenience stores aren't the place to organize the wide distribution of cheap food.  So MRI systems at the clinic level likely aren't saving a whole lot of money system wide.  They are however a convenience and are likely utilitized for more marginal cases.

As for the yes part of the answer, there is gross underutilization in the poor community with a dearth of clinics.  Rather than fee for service, the better model seems to be salaried professionals at the clinician level.

2)  Hospitals are expensive.  They are, but that seems to be an outcome of prior choices.  A lot of clinician work and hospice care used to be done at hospitals.  Taking out the bottom has made the top more expensive.  (The $100 aspirins are a billing choice, much like the old $60 dealer oil change.)  The other change is the proliferation of 6-figure administrators.  Despite television advertisements protesting otherwise, it doesn't seem that the 'hospital' adds much to the health care experience, so one should question the value of all the 6-figure administrators.  (Particualarly galling is the demand for volunteers at hospitals among this excess.)  Then there are the doctors themselves who enjoy large incomes and a disproportionate number of professional protections, albeit protections not as rich in other countries.  Those countries demand doctors receive less pay for those protections.  If this money were adding value, it would be another issue.  There is little evidence for this.  The quality of care in this country seems to be actually divergent.  The cause of this seems to be the relatively weaker oversight of doctors.  Doctors are most accountable to the insurance industry, and the protection for them there is to simply paint by numbers.  Hospitals often fear the doctors more than the doctors fear the hospitals.

3)  Insurance as a huge problem is a myth.  It is only a funding mechanism.  Asking it to control costs is something it is not equipped to do.  They are too distant from cost centers and lack ability to induce providers to find efficiencies.  While I don't think insurance as presently constituted is the best funding model for health care, it is too broad of a brush to claim that wiping it out would significantly lower costs.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Millennials

Since I am around a large number of Millenials, I  figured I would go to the trouble of providing a real analysis of them, considering how deficient the existing analyses are.
If I had to pick an adjective, I would say this generation is rudderless.  It most manifests the current cultural tendency of treating cynicism as critical evaluation.  This shows itself with this generation not having any attachment to institutions with a few minor exceptions.  When this generation does become attached to an institution, it tends toward infatuation.  Examples of these would include institutions of higher education, business, politics, and the military.  A person of this generation will tend to be anti-business or have totally fealty to a business.  He or she will often manage to do both.  While the generation is accused of not having loyalty, this is a bit of a misnomer.  They tend to be intensely loyal and become easily jaded.  Modern business finds the former quite attractive.

Their expectations of social support are low.  Perhaps this is due to having come of age in a period where they were constantly told of the impending end of social security or the broader safety net.  They tend to expect next to nothing from their employers other than a paycheck.  Even there, they don't tend to tie the remuneration with their financial needs.  In other words, they have bought the market narrative.  Likewise with relationships, they do not tend to perceive a legitimate expectation of support from their partners.  This can be seen in such things as reticence to wed.  Marriage is seen as a purely voluntary institution that doesn't provide real benefits or it is so thoroughly idealized that only a monk could seek it.

If I were to criticize this generation it is that it is very poor at undertanding and being able to articulate its needs and interests.  Occupy Wall Street was a convenient whipping boy, but it nevertheless was the case that the movement was basically unable to articulate a common grievance, let alone advance that to a common interest.  This is particularly stark when contrasted with the Baby Boomer's ability to articulate their common interests and successfully assert them.  If it is to advance, it is going to have to concentrate more insuring the comfort of its own than insuring the comfort of the comfortable.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Wisconsin Recall and Feedback Loops

A frustration in political argument is the other side not accepting one's arguments.  Each side has a tendency to accuse the other of being non-analytic, mostly for not supporting the politician they have chosen to support.  Regrettably, I'm afraid people's choices are logical though.  The proposition most people undertake is simple:

Did doing 'x' advance my interests the last time I did it?

For the analytically inclined, it is a simple feedback loop.  Before dismissing it, keep in mind that it has the ability to explain why people adopt positions that aren't in their theoretical interest and it explains why people tend to make very radical shifts when they abandon a position.  

Using feedback tends to be a superior way of gaining knowledge because there are very few operative principles.  The guiding principle is simple: relationships within systems are complex and measuring the outcomes to inputs is more reliable than making adjustments to theoretical explanations.  This is not without its issues.  One can reasonably argue that the housing bubble was largely caused by use of feedback models.  Knowing this policymakers would be wise to make unstable markets less responsive, but that is an argument for another time.  

As far as politics goes, we can apply this to Wisconsin.  One of many things that bothered people about the results were the number of unionized household members who voted for Scott Walker.  Theory would suggest that a man who disdains the rights of unions would not advance the interests of union members.  An easy explanation is that these people are self loathing and simply voting on other issues.  An explanation that doesn't confirm one side in their moral superiority is the idea that the union members did not think recalling Scott Walker would advance their interests.  One doesn't have to be a Mises Institute (perhaps scare quotes would be appropriate) to find plausible the idea that many workers do not believe the unions that represent them advance their interests.  By looking at how unions are operating in practice, an impartial observer will readily notice that there are some grossly deficient unions out there.  Sure in theory, they help the worker smash the iron fist of capital, but people don't live theoretically.

While there are plenty of memes on the right about the election that should be addressed, there are some on the left that have enjoyed too long of a life.  For example the left seems to believe that the perception of teachers using their power to only benefit themselves is only believed by a small minority.  I can't count the number of people who claim that the general public loves teachers.  I feel like the guy telling the 45-year-old beauty queen that 20-year-old men aren't really into her.  Teachers have not been seen as self-sacrificing public servants for awhile because they haven't been.  Teachers are well compensate professionals, and in our better moments we take a little pride in that.  I'm not claiming we should go back to a day when teaching was a sacrifice, but the 45-year-old beauty needs to start having people appreciate her for who she is because only the most sympathetic are going to appreciate her for what she was 25 years ago.  Walker campaigned in the recall and the budget on an equity claim, one that democrats and union leaders conceded early upon in hopes of retaining collective bargaining rights.  When everyone in the room is agreeing that the financial terms were equitable, is it a surprise that there is little sympathy for the loss?  I'm not claiming the wages and benefits were unreasonable, but the union leaders conceded they were.  The givebacks obviously weren't occurring on their own before Walker's proposal, so there should be little shock that no credit was given for the magnanimity of the teachers and public workers.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Liberty, Healthcare, Choice

I have found the debate around religious liberty, insurance, and contraception to be rather interesting.  That is about my only word for it.  Despite all the talk around it, it has been a rather content free debate.  This has mostly been because activists have been dominating the debate.  These activists aren't educated on the issues involved.  I realize that comes across as elitist, and I'm afraid that is the extent of my apology for it.

There are two approaches to solving any problem.  One approach is the top down approach.  In this approach, existing systems are examined and adjustments are prejudiced over inventions in the decision matrix.  An example of this was the health care reform act.  The existing system was basically retained and it was used to come up with the policy solution.  There are of course faults to be had with this approach.  In health care, I think a detriment to policy was the retention of the employer in the health care relationship.  An employer interest in the health care choices of employees has been alleged and legitimatized by the USCCB when nothing more than a fiduciary interest has been shown.  The argument has been allowed to persist despite no showing of an interest beyond the fiduciary.  Allegedly this is the product of our best and brightest moral theologians.  Never mind that holding the supposition that a fiduciary interest is enough to establish a moral claim would mean that the rich and powerful would be allowed to accumulate greater power under the guise of righteousness.

The other approach to solving problems is the bottom up approach.  This has been taken most often by Catholic bloggers and seems to be preferred by third way people in general.  Over the past couple of years I have come to take a dim view to this approach.  For starters, it seems to be preferred merely so that people can pose for holy pictures, knowing that their 'solution' will never be adopted.  If that is the way the game is going to be played, I propose we ordain unicorns to treat all the health care issues in this country and pay for it with fairy dust.  Logically there really is no reason to treat my proposal as less serious than these bottom up crack pot theories.  A solution that can't or won't be implemented isn't a solution; it is posturing.  That is not to say that bottom up approaches should entirely be rejected.  However, the prerequisite of a bottom up solution is that everyone has to agree that the status quo is unacceptable.  Everyone must agree that regardless of the final form of the solution, one must be moved forward upon.  That is why in practice bottom up solutions are nearly impossible to implement.  That is why one of the easiest ways to oppose a project without having to formally oppose it is to demand a bottom up solution.

Personally, I would have supported the adoption of a single payer health care system.  Seeing the difficulty of passing what little was passed with the reform act, I'm personally satisfied that the choices and compromises sought in achieving the act were both necessary and prudent.  While I don't believe there is a strong case to be made for a social obligation for contraceptives, I don't believe their subsidy rises to the level of grave social harm that requires repudiation of the gains made.  For those sincerely opposed but supportive of the dignity that health care provides people, I think repudiation is akin to opposing vegetarianism due to the field mice killed by the machinery that picks the grain.  For those using it as a trojan horse, I find you contemptible.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Film, Humanity, Life

The nice thing about the blogosphere is when it takes you somewhere new.  It all started at El Blog Del Pelon.  It move to here.  And finally I end up at a post titled, "Craven."  The journey starts with a discussion on Christian art, and it ends with a discussion of misandric themes in "Courageous."  I had the displeasure of watching Courageous.  I don't like preachy films, and I didn't really like this one.  (I saw "The Way" since so many people said it wasn't preachy but that ended up being a thinly plotted tale of preachy-ness.)

I'm to the point where I believe that if you don't like messiness, you don't like life.  Real life is messy unless you are rich and comfortable.  I don't like contemplating how well off people finally get over the one misfortune or mistake in their lives.  I like messy.  I like messed up characters who take one or two steps back for every step they take forward.  I like seeing the story of the person who, no matter how depraved, shows a spark of decency.

I celebrated my twelve year wedding anniversary yesterday.  Looking around, I'm quite thankful for the woman I married.  I'm thankful for the children I have begotten.  However, I don't think I could advise those children in good faith to wed and have children.  Not in this society.

Reading this was a great reminder of the view of women.  Maybe, just maybe, we can accept that women at least have a token of responsibility for out-of-wedlock birth.  Maybe, just maybe, we can accept that women are having children out-of-wedlock because they want to do so.  I'll grant that many women will confess that they would have preferred another route, but when it comes down to brass tacks they made what they thought was a prudent choice for them.

Monday, May 21, 2012

State of Communitarianism

One of the things I don't have the privilege of doing is writing an optimistic blog, at least not honestly.  Communitarian ideas are pretty much at a low point.  Yet still they are managing to fall further.  Conservatism would seem its natural defender, but conservatism is very enamored in libertarianism right now.  At least from a policy standpoint, progressives are the alliance.  Progressives however are advocates of their positions for their own reasons and those reasons don't tend to be communitarian.

Where there is a glimpse of hope is in prison reform.  We have created a large and near permanent caste in this country.  Minorities in both the progressive and conservative camps are beginning to recognize this scandal for what it is.  Of course these advocates are overshadowed by larger groups who are just looking for drug legalization.  These larger groups will sometimes offer the scandal of our large prison population as an argument, but it is just an argument of convenience.  But there still remains those that believe that we simply can't label an element criminal and banish them from society.  There is a remnant who believe that we have moral responsibility to attempt and see that all people enjoy the dignity of life.

As to the drug war itself, I don't see the obvious arguments.  I simply do not buy the idea that legalization would cure all that many issues.  I also don't buy that it wouldn't cause any issues.  As it stands, I'm personally closer to the decriminalization side of the equation.  That doesn't mean legalization.  That means treating pot smoking like a parking ticket.  I do not see the merits of treating marijuana like alcohol.  Of course, these positions come down to mere prudential reasonings.  The principled position is simply that the state can and should regulate substances that are deleterious to society.  The extent any substance is so is a debate to be had.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Gay Tokens

In the wake of the North Carolina vote that proscribed gay marriage in that state, I had a cousin who decided to put his wedding ring in his pocket rather than wear it.  He did this as an act of solidarity.  With Obama's announcement that he now supports gay marriage, my facebook became very gay.  There were calls to make public one's support of gay marriage.

Despite having family members who are gay, I have better things to do than obsess over gay marriage, so I don't.  I just found the wedding ring post so interesting and so indicative of the times.  The interesting portion is that my wife and I haven't worn wedding rings in five years.  Our reasons were practical.  The rings either broke or no longer fit, and we didn't feel we could justify the cost of repairing them.  My wife has never worn jewelry.  I never wore jewelry, but that isn't nearly as exceptional.  There was a time in our lives where we did value our rings.  It was important to us to have a visible token for the world to understand our mutual affection.  As we've aged, we have found that the world has never really been all that concerned about us.  As for myself, I have found that how my wife treats me is far more important than her showing a ring to the world.  That she is faithful and true, is a good mother to our children, and maintains a good home is what I care about.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Brief Thought

Freedom and privilege are two often confused things.  Freedom is about what everyone can do.  Privilege is about what one can do because of their status.  Much of liberal thought - be it the democratic or republican form - seems to be about increasing the number of people with a given amount of privilege.  I wouldn't argue against there being a space for that to exist.  I would argue that it shouldn't be confused with enhancing freedom, or whatever euphemism people wish to use to ignore the dignity of the poor.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Authenticity Shopping

Why is shooting fish in barrel looked down upon?  The immediate reason seems to be the excessiveness of it all.  Make it less excessive.  Dipping a net in a stocked pond does not have any respectability.  Before indulging in too many assumptions, let's hit the other end.  Commercial fishing is little more than dipping a net in stocked pond, but the people employed in the profession enjoy some respectability.  Likewise, the advances in aquaculture are actively studied at various universities. So while the degree of "sport" may play into things, there seems to be more going on.

While getting a feel for the landscape, let's move on to excessive things that are widely respected.  Take gardening.  10 hours of labor, watering, weeding, and finally the reward of 5 pounds of carrots.  There are a few kooks who attempt to justify this on economic grounds.  In particular, you can find eccentrics in the organic  gardening community.  Yes, there are non-economic grounds, but in order to maintain relevancy, advocates of course ground a significant portion of their appeal in economy.

One of the non-economic factors in both cases is authenticity.  The argument over sport is an argument over authenticity.  Gardening is seen as authentic.  Where authenticity has fallen is a bit arbitrary.  Dipping a rod with a hook in the water may be sporting, but the use of nets was quite common in fishing.  As for agriculture, things are far more complicated.  Gardening has never been egalitarian.  Agriculture has most often been done by servants, slaves, or some combination of the above.   Perhaps, the superintending portion of gardening in the part we wish to retain.  More likely is that the authenticity we seek is the one of being upper class.  Gardening for sport after all is to be identify with the elite of the past.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Exclusion Is an Exercise of Privilege

Upon reading the title people will have a tendency to become defensive.  In part this traces itself to the American civil rights experience, something that explicitly, or at least implicitly, comes to mind when one mentions exclusion.  The idea of privilege is just as likely to bring forth defensiveness.  On the one hand, you have people who think wearing blue jeans means that you are one of the people, and on the other hand you have a pretty strong streak of denial over the issue of privilege in the US.  In this case, I'm not going to be making a political statement.  I am simply going to seek to establish that exclusion is indeed an exercise of privilege.  I am not making an argument over prudence or establishing a principle of action.

The Adolescent by Fyodor Dostoevsky is one of my favorite books.  A bastard child comes about from the union of a serf holder and serf.  The child knows of his mother and her husband, but he is separated from most of his family as a youth.  The child is conflicted about his real father, but the symbol of power he represents intrigues him.  He detests his mother as a weak woman, and he doesn't have all that high of an opinion of his step-father.  Without giving an extended treatment of the plot, the book needless-to-say does address the topic at hand.   The child comes to an understanding of the love his poor parents had for him.  He even manages to de-romanticize his real father.  Despite the peasant marriage, the step father was unable to exercise exclusion.  And while his mother might have been able to cry rape or its equivalent, it would have fallen upon deaf ears.  She would have been made to suffer, as would her husband.

As I approach midlife, I appreciate more greatly the amount of privilege I've enjoyed.  I have done such things as choosing which family members will enjoy influence over my children.  I have very heavily influenced my children's social circle.  Other choices I've seen but not indulged are things such as homeschooling.  While I would no longer count myself among the supporters of homeschooling, it simply is the embodiment of privilege.  Sure, there are a whole pattern of just-so stories about how homeschooling was the norm, and they are simply nonsense.  Private tutors were the domain of the wealthy.  Literacy among adults is a wholly modern phenomenon, so let us not pretend that teaching reading to one's children was universal.  As we continue on the anti-community streak in America, we pretend that we are protecting our children from various evils when in fact we are often little more than projecting our own insecurities.

Obviously we don't desire suffering, especially for our children.  But it is quite easy to declare our choices as those between suffering and not suffering.  It allows us to escape criticism, particularly since great deference is granted to parental choices.  This is probably as it should be.  But as the adults, it is sometimes necessary to attempt to peal back the emotionalism.  Study after study has shown that this is one of the safest eras to be a  child.  This includes such things as bullying that while awful are by objective measures lower than in prior decades.  While even acting to protect is often just an exercise in privilege - albeit the kind we all support - much of the debate around children is a near arbitrary exercise in privilege.  Be it good or bad, I'll leave others to judge, but perhaps it is time to at least entertain the conversation.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Getting Along

One of the more tiresome things in life is the adage to "get along."  It is quite prevalent on the Internet.  Personally I would like to see the meme eschewed.  The last thing Internet discourse needs is more getting along.  What it needs is more civility.  The last thing it needs is more hosannas offered to jerks.  Getting along is about how much garbage you can tolerate until you tell someone to go fly a kite.  Civility is about arguing in good faith and recognizing that one may share a mutual interest with one's enemy.  Take for a example the relationship between unions and management.  They are portrayed as adversarial.  The thing is that management and unions get along about 95% of the team.  The leadership of both tend to be chummy even.  But when it comes to negotiation time, they each recognize their interests and negotiate for them.  Things can even get heated.  But at the end of the day, there is the recognition of mutual interest.  With Internet debate, there is all too often no mutual interest.  When there is no mutual interest, what is being discussed is often trivial or neither party has real power to effect change on the matter.  This is where you get professional arguers.  This is why so much of Internet debate becomes little more than squabbling entertainment.  It isn't about knowledge or truth.

What needs to occur is for people to recognize their own interest and their community's interest.  Much of present life in the United States is about recognizing abstract interests.  It is a shame that self interest has devolved into a Randian interest in the abstract self.  Everyone gets to be John Galt for the day.  It is pathetic.  It gets really pathetic when you are losing but you attempt to come up with some scheme to think you are really benefiting.  At my university there have been significant cut backs and there are still a large number of students who won't even make the concession that it is bad for the university.  I'm not merely speaking of a prudential calculus where one states that bad is happening but it is better than the alternative.  There is the actual absence of recognition that anything ill has occurred.  I cannot fathom where this idealism has sprung, but it needs to go away.

Abstractions are killing us.  Freedom of speech for example is little more than the toleration of jerks and pornography.  If you desire either, it isn't for me to tell you otherwise, but for the love of all that is holy, let us not pretend that there is some cosmic reason to do so.  Even the prudential calculus from the historical perspective is largely hogwash.  For most of the world's history, jerks weren't tolerated.  For much of the world's history, pornography and public solicitation have not been tolerated publicly.  Again, if you like being able to download Internet pornography, more power to you, but please do not act like your act is furthering some public interest.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Illusion of Reason

While the self esteem movement was plenty noxious and we are still living the consequences of it, a similar movement has enjoyed uncritical growth.  That movement was the one that pushed reason.  It comes in many guises.  Critical thinking was one catch word.  With children's programs we are seeing the word "hypothesis" and the scientific method thrown around quite a bit.  The problem is not with reason itself.

It is ultimately a problem of hubris.  One of the requirements for reason is knowledge.  Society is coming around to accepting this.  Society now has created a simple dichotomy.  There are stupid people and intelligent people.  The former can't reason, and the latter can.  This would seem to solve a lot of problems except that it is unexceptional to hear someone refer to a person with a doctorate as an idiot.  In other words, the people who agree with me are smart seems to be a convenient tautology regardless of the merits.  While admittedly the rank tribalism so rampant today is an ill effect of this, I'm not sure it is worth dismissing as a bad thing altogether.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Bourgeois Murder Is Okay

When the Republicans gained complete control in Wisconsin, one of their first acts was to enact a law called the "Castle Doctrine."  The law has been cited as the justification for the cold blooded murder of a 20-year-old man.  A homeowner had called police about an hour prior to the shooting complaining of a loud, underage drinking party nearby.  When police had come a second time the party, the underage drinkers fled.  One hid on the porch of that homeowners house.  That homeowner got his weapon, didn't attempt contact with the police, and shot the youth in cold blood.  More of the story can be read here.

For reasons I cannot understand, they weren't releasing the cold blooded murderer's name.  His name is Adam Kind.  Of course gun nuts will claim that they are all responsible and don't seek out people to kill in cold blood.  And to be frank, I really don't have a big hang up with guns.  I have had a loaded gun pointed at me.  I do however think cold blooded murderers should be punished.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Organization of Children

Continuing from a past week's theme on marriage, today I will go more in depth on children.  First I must confess that the title seems a bit preposterous, but it makes up for it in its aptness.  The best way to describe the interaction of the court system with families is the social organization of children.  The root of the preposterous nature is of course that we like to think that children are spontaneously organized.  This fits the dichotomy of things being planned or spontaneous.  Perhaps some examination on what seems to be an obvious question is in order.

For starters, the dichotomy should be explored and credence should be attempted to be given to it.  On the spontaneous end, there is a nontrivial number of children brought about by unions that fill a spectrum from the partners completely not knowing each other to vague familiarity.  The children of these unions have variously been raised by grandparents, other relatives, placed for adoption, raised by one of the parents, and raised by both parents.  On the planned end of the spectrum, we have the children brought forth in marriage.  These marriages have been arranged, romantically voluntary, or spontaneous, those being shotgun or voluntary.  These children have predominantly been raised by both parents or by one parent with the support of the other, with or without divorce.  Mostly depending on poverty level or premature death, the introduction of grandparents or other relatives has been been known.

I think the historical record would support there being a distribution.  I have had the tendency of wanting to romanticize about a time and place where all children were planned, but the older I get, the less I'm able to support those fantasies.  Several big changes have occurred in the past two generations.  The first is that the orphanage system has collapsed over night.  The second change is that women are able to support themselves without resorting to prostitution.  The third change has been the ability to obtain and enforce court orders.  Specific to the last change has been DNA profiling.  That has turned ascribing fatherhood to a nontrivial task.  As far as the orphanages went, we should keep in mind that society became horrified by them.  I say that as a caution to those who would have us move immediately back to them.

Whether we are no longer victims to our biology and whether this is a good thing are both interesting questions.  I'm afraid I won't quite get to them here.  As a father, I kind of like having a system that ensures I can see my children without a court order.  Perhaps I would be happier being able to have sex with whomever I wanted.  Of course this system was already in place.  Adultery has had varying levels of tolerance in different times and places.  If statistics are to be believed, a third to have of all married partners have had adulterous relations today.  At least in that respect, it does not seem we are being held captive to our biology.  There is the question of maintaining relationships that aren't otherwise desired.  Even here, we are just talking about the state (society) putting their thumb on the scale and making one choice more attractive than the other.  In the end, I'm going to come down on the side of stability for children.  I think when spontaneous organization occurs, it is prejudiced toward that end, and so I am more likely to support it.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Church As Cult

Over on Deacon's Bench, an article was posted on the increasing trend of people drafting friends to officiate weddings.  To this I made the observation that this should be posted alongside the posts that demand greater confrontation with the laity under the guise of "catechesis."  This produced the interesting response that the Sacraments are a great time to confront people, except they used the catch term "re-evangelize."  I noted that this is little more than the selling of Jesus to which the host proclaimed Jesus a salesman.

Sitting here today, it is very difficult to see Catholicism as developing into something other than a cult.  In some respects this is unfair to cults.  With cults, the members at least make Dear Leader responsible.  If Dear Leader has a small harem, they can at least expect support from Dear Leader.  If Dear Leader asks the followers to do things, the followers do expect to be given some fulfillment.  Catholicism is doing it on the cheap.  It demands a lifestyle supportable only by the moderately wealthy in this country.  Its diocesan priests are all moderately wealthy.  It promotes deacons from the class of the wealthy.  What the cult members get in return is absolution from their sins of materialism and concern trolling over the abortions of wealthy daughters and gay marriage.  The marriage one is a bit humorous considering that the Church in America can't seem to effect a valid marriage whenever the matter comes under examination.

This all is rather peripheral to the actual ministry of Jesus.  Jesus didn't found a country club.  If one is of the clericalist bent, and I am, one believes that Jesus founded a Church.  The Church was founded to serve the people.  The people served were to be throughout the world.  While it is well and good to speak of the laity's responsibility, it seems to have become a bit of a cop out.  The clergy have a specific obligation to the people.  That is the difference between a salesman and a minister.  For the salesman, the product is the thing.  If no one buys the product, the product dies, and the salesman is out of a job.  For a minister, the product is ancillary to the well being of the person.  The minister should act in the way he does because he believes the person will be benefited.  In the case of the Sacraments, the minister believes the person will benefit from the encounter with the Divine.  This is the sentiment behind "if X is Christianity, then to hell with it."

In the end this is what makes the whole idea of ordaining one's own minister interesting.  The idea that the minister should serve the people is almost a revolutionary concept today.  The whole attitude of you need to play by my rules is quite amusing.  As we fast approach the washing of the feet on Holy Thursday, perhaps the people who call themselves ministers will once again recall that theirs is an ordination of service, not merely of  power.

Monday, March 5, 2012

No Post

No post this week.  Unfortunately life happens, and this place isn't first on the old priority list.  I am trying to maintain a Monday at 8:00 AM CST schedule.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

News Break

Okay, a show of hands for who was shocked that the latest school shooter was a middle to upper class white kid?  If these were a bunch of black kids doing these shootings, people would be bravely initiating the conversation.  They would be bravely transgressing political correctness.  They would be doing the difficult work no one else is willing to do.  Rich white kids on the other hand?  They just seemed so normal.  Quiet.  But normal.  Oh, and likely victimized.  The last part is true only until years later when a journalist is brave enough to show the dearth of evidence of bullying.

Apologizes for the break from Monday posting.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Government as Preventer of Tyranny

Many in America tend to pine for the old American West.  They look back at a day when all men were equals.  They look back upon a day when any man could live off the fat of the land.  They look back to a time where men organized themselves into communities and ran justice on a local and fair scale.  They look back to a time when they didn't have to worry about interference from the federal government.  They look back at a time when they didn't have to fear the machinations of East coast financiers.  In short, they look back upon a fantasy.

Monday, February 20, 2012


In my more cynical moments, I think the benefit of marriage is to divorce attorneys. Having found myself a marriage advocate for over a decade and having been married for over a decade myself, I simply have difficulty seeing the benefit of it in the modern context. During this time, I have opposed gay marriage, and yet the advocates of gay marriage are convinced that marriage is conferring of some benefit. I don't really want this to devolve into a post on my idiosyncrasies. I do want to advance what I believe to be a communitarian rationale however. Rather than make this post unnecessarily long, I'm going to make some disjointed statements. Taken apart, I'm afraid people will take the opportunity to make pointless arguments on terms I'm unlikely to be persuaded upon. I'm certainly open to arguments, but I'm not likely to be persuaded by appeals to modern liberalism, be they in their Democratic or Republican forms. On the other hand, I recognize that people who come across this blog will be seeking persuasion on those terms.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The New Commons

There is an industry that requires permits to operate. It has hours where it isn't allowed to operate. It is even sometimes zoned into areas it is allowed to operate and areas it is not allowed to operate. The businesses are required to at least not harm the area within which they operate. Ideally they add to the area. These people are street peddlers. They have operated for centuries. Typically being single person operations, they have never had the power of wealth or prestige. Because of this, they have had to bend to the legitimate (and often illegitimate) whims of public pressure.

Through technology, a new commons has developed. Television and radio are the new commons. The Internet is as well, but I won't be discussing it specifically. More people gather in front of their radios and televisions than gather at large public spaces like zoos. Yet television and radio have managed to largely escape the regulatory burdens that apply to other players in the public square. There are of course historical reasons. The first reason is that the infrastructure was fairly expensive. Transmitters and receivers were almost entirely and have almost always been purchased privately. The greater concern was ensuring the system was built. At this point though, the costs of the system are almost entirely sunk.

Friday, February 17, 2012

In The Beginning

In American political life, there is an obsession with choice. Choice is not a bad thing. It should not however be valued for its own sake. Unfortunately this has been what has happened in much discourse. Often, the obsession over choice is treated as the same as the desire for freedom. Freedom is different from choice though. Freedom is about being able to get your legitimate desires. For the man who can't walk, a wheelchair is freedom. For the poor, the freedoms they seek often have little to do with choice. I believe the civic life should be about improving the lives of the poor and marginalized.

For me, communitarianism is the philosophy that sees the flourishing of the person in the flourishing of his community. An academic would put this as social capital being more important than personal capital. As a political program it is about privileging the interests of the community, particularly the poor, over those of the rich. This is not communism, socialism, or for that matter capitalism or democracy. Each is good when it represents the interests of the poor. Each is bad when it represents the interests of the elite. This is also not a third way. This is about working within systems as they are. It is pragmatic.

Philosophically, this is a direct confrontation with libertarianism. Libertarians treat as axiomatic that poor people are better off in a society with greater choice. Communitarians believe poor people are better off when they have maximal freedom. Powerful people are the ones who enjoy choices. This has been true throughout history. Those who defend choice unreflexively inevitably are defenders of the powerful.