Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Can Gods have a Race?

According to the Council of Conservative Citizens they most certainly can, and in the case of the Norse Gods that race is white. The CCC has decided to boycott the movie Thor because one of the gods is being played by Idris Elba, who is black.

This issue has already been dealt with perfectly in comic format.

All I would like to add is that I'm not sure people who continue to think that this guy:

Looked like this:
Really have much place complaining about the depiction of race in the imagery of gods.

Of course one could also point out that, when it comes to Thor, we're dealing with comic book character who fight crime in the 21st century. But, that seems far too rational.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Standing by Our President

Remember when it was downright treasonous not to stand with the President on issues of foreign relations?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

When the Monsters Under the Bed are Real

Exaggeration is used a lot in politics. When you exaggerate in politics I find that it is often a extrapolation of an opponents position, which you frame and pull to the extreme.

Congressman Grayson stood on the floor of the House and said that the Republican health care plan was for 'you to die quickly.' He didn't mean it literally. He meant that he felt like their plan was callous to the point that if you got sick there wasn't recourse, so you better just die quickly.

It's an exaggeration. There were no Republicans during the health care debate who said the words 'I think sick people should die quickly.' So this is a kind of discourse of which I am accustomed.

So when I read feminist blogs talk about 'Men's Rights' groups, I thought they engaged in the same style. If I read 'they don't want women to have the vote' or 'they think women are spiteful bitches are out to get them personally' or some other extreme position attributed to some internet 'men's rights' blogger, I think in my head: 'Republicans want you to die quickly.' I assumed it was an extrapolation of hurtful, but far less insane, positions.

I was wrong. I was very wrong.

The other day I made the mistake of venturing to a couple sites: Men Going Their Own Way, and Feminist Apocalypse. Seriously, go there at your own risk, it is actually bad for the heart and soul.

I found out that crazy positions and opinions attributed to these authors are not exaggerations. These guys really do state that there are no women good enough to marry, or that women shouldn't vote, or that all women will cheat. The sites actually read like Colbert level satire, and in order to maintain my sanity, I'm forced to imagine that at least half the contributers and comments are elaborate satire.

In the middle of a slut shaming rant about how college women 'these days' will just sleep with anyone, anytime, anywhere, the author says 'I was born too soon.' Can't we all picture Stephen Colbert going on an identical rant, and stating the problem with women having promiscuous sex is that they aren't having it with him. That's satire! That can't be real!

So the next time you feel like a feminist seems to be going a little over board, maybe it sounds like s/he's over reacting to a situation, or exaggerating the level of misogyny in the world take a look at the people with whom they do regular battle. I spent half a day looking at the monsters under the 'men's rights' bed and I barely escaped with my sanity, but my decibel level on gender issues has probably been permanently turned up a notch or two.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

More evidence that our democracy is broken

There is a new poll on the public's position on tax cuts. You can find the entire poll here and a summary here, but I want to just make one point:

More people want to let all the cuts expire (27%),
(a position held by zero Senators)

than want to extend the top tax cuts permanently (19%).
(a position held by the majority party in the Senate)

This is a fundamental breaking of our representational system.

Could it be related to Senators, themselves, falling into that top tax bracket? I'll keep waiting for the millionaire reporters and pundits to ask them that one . . . .

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

They are Millionaires - that's why

I'm going to propose a hypothetical scenario which I would like you to picture.

In this scenario I am a law maker, and I am appearing on a tv show. When I go on the show I hand the reporter a briefcase with tens of thousands of dollars in it. I say:

"Here, I really think you do a great job and a great service for the country. I think you should have this."

Then we continue with the show. I don't ask anything in return, there is no quid pro quo, I just think s/he should have it.

Would such an event be notable? Would people be aware that it happened? Would everyone scream 'bias!' and 'scandal!' at the top of their lungs?

Why should they? I haven't asked for anything in return. No one can point with exacting specificity to incidents of the reporter treating me any different than others.

But we would want to know about exchange, and rightly so.

How much do you think the Bush tax cuts are worth to the big names in the country? Left, right, and middle. Hannity, Limbaugh, Beck, Palin, Coulter, Brian Williams, Jon Stewart, Letterman, almost any name that we would recognize in the media. Thousands and thousands of dollars at stake for them personally. Sure, they have a ton of money already, but does that matter? Did it matter in my hypothetical scenario? If someone walked into Fox News and handed OReilly a briefcase with $50,000 in it, would our reaction be "big deal, he has millions, this won't affect his opinion"?

So now what if it was a bribe? What if I gave a Senator a briefcase full of cash, but only if they vote a certain way. Would that be news? Would we want to know who was being offered the money and who wasn't? Would it be headlines in the papers, at the top of every news hour?

So what about the lawmakers? The list of millionaires on capital hill is too long for me to list here. What about their friends? Their family? Their political consultants?

Why are bribes wrong?

It seems like a silly question at first. But really, what's the answer? The exchange of money alone doesn't prove anything at all. Yet, if I walk into a Senator's office and hand him or her a bunch of cash, and then walk out, a whole hell of a lot is going to be presumed.

Because money perverts our intentions, it twists and bends our thoughts to the oddest rationalizations.

Have you ever had a decision twisted by the offer of significant money?
A higher paying job far away from the family?
A settlement offer to avoid a law suit?
A request from a charity for you to make a donation?

If you have then you have felt the subtle manipulations that money can bring to our thinking. "With more money we can afford to take more family vacations" - even if you won't have the time
"Those charities keep most of the money for administration anyway" - do you take the time to find ones that don't?

We know that money can overtly or subtly twist the way we think. It's why we work so hard to purge it from our systems of justice and lawmaking. It doesn't require a quid pro quo, it doesn't require a direct exchange. We might not even be fully aware it's happening ourselves. It's why we put so many restrictions on lobbyists gifts, on wining and dining on capital hill. Will a Senator trade a vote for a $1,000 meal? No way. Will a Senator get caught up in the allure of $1,000 meal and have his ear twisted in a unique way by a well funded lobbyist? That we could see happening.

So you know where I'm going. Tax cuts.

The debate about taxes in this country is currently centered around the $250,000 cut-off. You know who makes more than $250,000? Virtually every single person involved in making this decision.

The lawmakers, the lawmakers' friends, the top lobbyists, the big name pundits.

Take the fiscal commission as an example. The Fiscal Commission which was established to create a proposal for deficit reduction had 16 commissioners. 12 elected and four from the private sector.

9 out of the 12 elected officials on that Commission are multimillionaires. The private individuals' finances are not public record (as far as I know), but I'd take a bet that at least three of them are over that $250,000 line in the sand.

What does all of this mean?

It means that all of these people have tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars at stake in this decision.

Does this make a difference? I don't know.

Should it be talked about a lot more? Absolutely.

We work so hard to figure out the politics behind these decisions.

"Why would Democrat ___ say/do ____?" And we search for political answers, but none of them quite make sense. Maybe one is kind of close here or there, an idea that could be twisted into a reason to resemble a motivation.

Would we be twisting together these justifications if there were briefcases full of cash in the offices of these officials? Or would we jump to the obvious conclusion, and make them prove otherwise?

In my original hypothetical it didn't matter if the reporter getting the money could be proven to be biased. We would all consider it vitally important to know that s/he received the money and how much it was. Where there is money we assume bias, it's only natural in every part of public discourse. Except tax law?

I want to know exactly how much money the Bush tax cuts mean to each law maker on a personal financial level. I'd like to know it about public talking heads. It should be talked about at every point.

DISCLAIMER: I am not claiming that any politician or reporter is taking a certain course of action for personal financial gain only. I am saying that the personal financial gain their actions bring them is newsworthy. It seems very newsworthy.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Politics as a Game

The fact that the new Majority Leader is being asked political horse-race questions, and not about policy, got me thinking about the political 'game'.

When I was in Middle School some friends of mine tried to invent a strategy role-playing game. Part of the premise is that the players would act like ancient demi-gods, building worlds in competition with other demi-god characters, like mythological ancient Greece. The game was pretty fun for a group of creative 12 year olds, but there turned out to be a structural flaw in the game: it was much easier to destroy than it was to create.

This was a product of us trying to be realistic. The reality is that in the world it is easier to destroy than it is to create. As a result we have to create artificial costs for destroying things. It's pretty easy to burn a house down, but then we send you to jail. It's not something we usually think about, but if burning a house down somehow cost more than building a house (and filling it with stuff), then arson wouldn't be a problem.

But, the game my friends created was about demi-gods, there were basically no repercussions, there were no higher ups to enforce a set of rules. This was because whoever was 'winning' was the de facto higher up.

The problem in the game wasn't discovered for awhile. Several of us played the game in good for quite some time. Focusing on building cities, continents and worlds. That was, after all, the 'purpose' of the game. But, eventually we added new players, and a couple of these new players identified the 'flaw.' They didn't try to create anything at all, they only focussed on destruction, and it was impossible to compete. The end result was they 'won', but I'm not really sure what they won, because we all just stopped playing the game.

It seems to me that we face this in today's politics. Like the rest of the world, it is easier to destroy political ideas than it is to create them. It's no mystery why the Republicans refused to propose a health care law of their own during the Obamacare debate. Some of use seemed to hope that there would be repercussions for these tactics. That a refusal by the right wing noise machine to create anything would eventually cost them something. This is because we are used to our world operating this way, like the arson example. However, the political scenario is more akin to my childhood game. Because the winners get the set the rules.

If destroying things gets you tv ratings and political seats, then who will administer the repercussions? Not the media, because it's best strategy is also to destroy. Not the politicians, they also should be destroying.

I could run a rant about how people should do this, or need to do that, but I'm trying not to end political thoughts with a generic desire that the world needs to be different. Instead, we should consider what structural changes might solve these problems. What policy do we implement in order to encourage policy creation?

One idea is to require more from the minority in the form of bill proposals. I'm not sure why both parties in Congress shouldn't be required to propose a budget.

A second idea I have been pondering is the possibility of bracket style policy decision making. What if some policy decisions were made as a decision between A and B, instead of between A and nothing. One possible way this could work is through a series of brackets. Congress decides on a particular issue like Healthcare. Political bodies propose eight main healthcare bills, after consideration. Then these bills are voted on as competing alternatives, in a series of votes, that works like a tournament.

Clearly, this couldn't be used in every case, but I think serious political gridlock requires a re-thinking of some aspects of the system. It's pretty clear that a group of people have figured out the flaws in 'politics'. One of those flaws is that you can sit back and attack without any genuine repercussion.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Solving All the Problems

It's pretty common for people to identify problems in the United States electoral system. Our current system allows extremists to drive the discussion and our government. Fox News' shows have high ratings and are clearly important in the political discussion. They have viewers that range in number from 1-4 million. About 80 million people will vote in 2010 (much lower than in Presidential years). So the Fox News viewers represent about 5% of voters, but they drive a huge part of our political discussion.

We could go on an on about the issues with out political discourse. Issues that range from information, to decision making, to the two party system, and on and on. However, it's really hard to think about ways to remedy it. We could think of things that individuals could do to help, but we can't just lecture people and expect them to do what we want, we need systemic solutions that can be implemented.

So here's my simple suggestion that we can implement:

After every federal election 10 voters are randomly selected and given $10 million.

It's a lottery, where the only way to get a lottery ticket is turning out to vote.

Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent in the US during an election year. The vast majority of this money is directed at the most important election factor: Getting Out The Vote (GOTV).

Campaigns are becoming more and more GOTV driven. Mobilizing and energizing the base is what really matters. People don't change their minds easily, so campaigns spend their resources to identify supporters and turn them out to vote.

So what happens if we implement a voting lottery? The theory is that it massively increases voter turn-out. The worry is that this drives tons of 'ignorant' voters to the polls. But, it also frees up hundreds of millions of dollars that are currently being spent on GOTV. In theory this money would have to be spent on actually convincing voters. Most of the voters will feel a desire to investigate these elections.

Additionally, our system might actually need a does of more apathetic voters. If we are worried about extreme rhetoric and the polarization of issues, than current non-voters might be essential to diffusing the situation. These are not people who feel passionately about hot-button issues. It's unclear exactly how they will make their voting decisions. Maybe we get more people voting based on who they'd like to have a beer with. But it seems like just as many would do their homework and some basic research online. Especially with candidates and political parties spending all of that GOTV money in attempts to convince voters.

Am I positive this will fix everything? No. But, I am positive that frustrated lectures from bloggers and columnists won't fix everything. Plus, giving 10 people $10 million probably counts as an economic stimulus package.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Capital Gains are NOT the Key to Economic Growth

This is a persistent fiction. It is encountered frequently, as it is used by conservatives to explain to the middle class why they should care about capital gains tax rates for the rich. Simply put, the economic theory is as follows: economic growth comes from investment - investment comes from capital gains - lowering capital gains taxes allows increased investment - increased investment results in increased economic growth.

I could explain how this economic theory fails in terms of economic theory. Arguing about where investment money goes and how economies grow. But, that isn't necessary at all. The frustrating part of this conservative economic fantasy, is that it ignore history. Basic, simple, recent history.

Conservative economists like to live on the blackboard. Which means they like to explain their economic theories in a way that sounds good, but never test these theories in the laboratory of history. This is how conservative economists can still manage to insist that free market economics prevents racism and sexism in the work place. Despite the fact that we know that both of these things have co-existed for decades. So it is with capital gains taxes and economic expansion.

The historical reality is simple: the tax rates that Republicans insist will destroy our economy are very similar, if not identical, to capital gains tax rates we had in the 80's and 90's. That's right, those decades of economic disaster. Somehow, despite taxing the rich for doing us the favor if having investments that make money, our economy still managed to expand. It's almost as if it's labor, and not wealth, that drives economic expansion . . . but, I digress from the main point.

The point is simple: economists should not be able to get away with this. This isn't rocket science. We all live in the world. Everyone reading this remembers the 90's. It is not hard to think back and realize that taxing capital gains like we did in 1996 isn't going to destroy the economy.

So good. Now no one will ever make that claim ever again. Problem solved.

If you're interested in the numbers, you can find some here:

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"Tax cuts are great! wait, why are you voting for Republicans?"

Here's an article on how nobody knows that Obama cut taxes. It's a solid and informative read. It's also a great article to bookmark so you can send it to any conservatives you know. But, if you don't read it, the gist is simple: Obama cut taxes substantially for 95% of Americans, but if you ask Americans, they don't know he cut taxes.

I would venture to guess that there are two main liberal responses to an article like this. One of them is to declare people stupid. The other is to declare the Democratic Party stupid.

The first response decides that people can't be educated and that they don't know basic facts. "If only voters had a minimal knowledge of basic facts the Democrats would win more elections." They will say.

The second response is basically the same, but it blames the Democrats for failing to deliver the message. "When the Republicans cut taxes, everyone knows about it because they do nothing but talk about it all the time. Where was our message machine on these tax cuts?" They will say.

I think that's not only the wrong approach, but a potentially disastrous one. That response plays right into political and policy suffering. It's how the Republicans have played the Democratic Party for at least 10 years. Not in an elaborate Sting like con, but with the most basic political maneouver in the political playbook.

It works like this. When you want to get a populace to vote for you, you don't try to convince them to agree with you on the issues. Instead, you figure out the issues on which they already agree with you, and you convince them that those are the most important issues there have ever been ever, ever.

The reality is that it is very difficult to change people's perceptions about the world. Ideas are like stains on the fabric of our brains. They set in quickly and are almost impossible to wash out. Once I believe that it's ideal to drink 8 glasses of water per day, it takes an absurd amount of convincing to get me to think otherwise. Even though the original idea was just mentioned to me a few times. Even when I'm convinced that it's no longer the pinnacle of health, it's much easier to then re convince me back to my original setting, with even a tiny bit of evidence. We see this play out in politics all the time.

However, we're pretty fickle when it comes to what is most important to us at any given moment. If you think I should drink less water, it's a lot easier to convince me that it's too far to walk to the kitchen, then it is to convince me that 8 glasses a day doesn't do any good. Our primary concerns fluctuate on a small and grand scale. Even if our priorities are centered are a particular thing, like a child, those priorities will change rapidly. One moment I'm concerned about my child's class-size, the next I'm concerned about crime near the school, or whether he will be drafted, or asbestos in my ceiling, or whether I can buy him groceries, and on and on.

This plays out dramatically in our political system. In our two party system, people have pretty set ideas about what the two parties do well. These are the stains on our brain, and these numbers are astoundingly difficult to move. It took a long series of epically horrible Republican screw-ups on foreign security, for those numbers to kind of edge toward maybe being even between the parties. People know what they know, and they know that Republicans are good at some things and Democrats are good at others. It takes long arching changes in political structure to change these conceptions.

Actually, the Democrats are good at lots of things. No, really, it's true. And, amazingly enough, a lot of people agree. I worked on campaigns in Alaska, a very conservative state. The polls there consistently showed that people felt more confident in the Democratic candidate on a wide array of issues. Most notably: education, healthcare and the environment. Keep in mind, this was in one of the most conservative states in the country, and the Democrats polled substantially ahead of the Republicans on numerous policy issues.

The real crux of elective politics in the short term, is what issues the voters feel are most important. If voters think that one politician is going to keep them safe from an impending terrorist attack, then it doesn't matter if they think the other guy is better on school reform.

So this is where the national Democratic Party has been taken to school over the last ten-years in particular. The Republicans have been screaming for a long time that tax-cuts are the best thing a government can possibly do. Because people like money, this is not a hard message to sell.

Here, the R's were engaging in the above strategy. Everyone knows that Republicans are great at tax-cuts. So, the key was to convince all of us that we care more about tax-cuts than we do about healthcare, education, environment, roads, competence, moral leadership etc.

How have the Democrats responded? By shouting "I cut taxes too!" By frantically trying to gain our tax-cut street cred, the Democrats reinforced the Republicans message: that tax-cuts are super duper important. We were doing their work for them.

We have done it every single election year since 2000. You can't throw a rock during an election season without listening to a politician talk about how s/he is going to cut taxes. It's tempting to insist that Democrats had no choice, but that's how we were played. You see, we've been spending our energy trying to take the tax-cut mantle away from the Republicans, but I would reference the article that starts this post. It hasn't worked. Not even kind of. And, it isn't because the Democrats haven't talked about our tax-cuts. Obama talked about those tax-cuts every chance he got. People did hear it. Even the guy in the article remembers when prompted, that 'oh, yeah,' Obama did cut taxes. He just forgot it. He forgot it because everyone knows that Republicans are better at cutting taxes. It's as common knowledge as the fact that the water going down the drain spins the other way in the southern hemisphere.

Ask people in this country if they care about the environment, almost everyone will say yes. Ask them which party is better at protecting the environment. The majority will answer D. Same on education. Now ask voters which issues are most important to them in an election? Throw in national security, taxes, abortion, and watch environment and education slide down the list.

Are people stupid? Maybe. But people are definitely stubborn. The lesson from 'the tax cut that no one heard of' is that we need to spend more time telling people what's important. Our schools are important, the health of our children is important, the future of the earth is important. These things are worth $400 a year.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Who Would You Donate To?

Lets say you're a liberal and you care about LGBT issues. You want to see equal rights and respect within our country for members of the LGBT community.

More generally, you support Civil Rights.

Now lets say you have disposable income that you would be willing to commit to help make this happen. To whom do you donate?

Which one will actually help progress your goals? Which one will make the world a better place for the LGBT community, your primary goal?

The Democrats are campaigning hard to remind us that the Republicans are worse than them. That's true. But, the Democrats are ignoring the fact that we aren't choosing between Democrats and Republicans, we're choosing between politics and non-politics. When people like Bill OReilly are further to the left on an issue like Don't Ask Don't Tell than a large chunk of elected Democrats, we realize that our $25 is better spent going to a group of high schoolers making a difference in their community.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Do We Restrict the Definition of Rape by Labeling All Rapists Equally Evil?

Rape is a reprehensible crime. In our culture the rapist is the most reprehensible of criminals. On this point, almost everyone would immediately agree.

Yet, as a culture, we have a hard time defining the act of rape. Ben Roethlisberger is a good example of our culture's difficult confrontation with rape. This article does a great job of recounting the Roethlisberger rape, the events around it, and the ways in which he demonstrates the red flags of a sexual predator.

Yet he will go on in public life. Any attempt at criminal prosecution was sunk by shoddy police work. But, it appears there will be few repercussions for Big Ben in the court of public opinion. Many people are prepared to decide that he did not commit rape.

The topic and discussion of rape is well traveled by greater and more informed minds than mine. There's a lot to cover. So I would like to throw just one small and potentially controversial hypothesis into the conversation. That we make it difficult to label all rapes as rapes in the eye of the public, because the rapist is so thoroughly reviled.

It works like this. When confronted with a 'non-violent' rape* (UPDATE: after reading a bit I found the term I should have used here is 'not an over-force rape') a person might have the following thought process: Rapists are evil and irredeemable predators. I don't think Ben Roethlisberger is evil and irredeemable. Therefore, I don't think he committed rape.

At this point we might hear certain lines trotted out. She never hit him. Why didn't she scream? He would stopped if she had done these things. She let it continue. All bullshit. All not factors in whether or not there was rape.

To call what Big Ben did rape, is to exile him to the darkest of places, the deepest of jail cells, never to return. People who are unwilling to do this to Ben the rapist, turn a trick in their own brains and decide that Ben's actions were not 'real rape.'

But Ben might be a bad example. There is lots of evidence, one might point out, that suggests he is pretty evil and pretty irredeemable. That he acted like a sexual predator. There are other examples where this thought process could take hold.

What about a college student who has sex with a girl who is too drunk to properly form consent? He has committed rape by any reasonable definition of the word. Yet many people would hesitate to call this rape. Saying that if she never said 'no' - never pushed back - it can't be rape. Why would reasonable people cling to this view? I suggest that it is because they don't believe the perpetrator is the most evil incarnation of man. In fact, I would suggest that this could even cause confusion among victims. The victim of an acquaintance rape who expresses a confusion about whether she was actually raped, could really be expressing a confusion based on the fact that she doesn't really believe her attacker is evil. After all, she might tell herself, maybe it was her fault for not being more forceful.

These are all disturbing thought processes that help enforce a rape-culture that only considers the most violent sexual assaults rape. Often these excuse phrases are chalked up to confusion about the nature of rape itself. That people need to be educated about consent and sexual action. But, these pro-rape excuses could also result from an insistence that people who commit rape are all equally unsalvageable as human beings.

The reality is that we all know someone, from some point in our lives, who has committed rape. If you went to college it's virtually guaranteed.

I can illustrate with a story told to me by a friend in college. One night, while he was in bed, someone came into his room. She was a friend of his, and he had had a crush on her for awhile. On that night she showed up without warning and climbed into bed with him to try to make out with him. My friend quickly realized that she was too drunk to form words or sentences. He tried to talk to her, but she was unable to respond in any coherent fashion. My friend assured me that he didn't do anything with her, and that she was gone before he woke up in the morning.

If he had had sex with her that would have been rape. It would have been sex without her consent. In such a case, how many people in our society would be willing to assign my friend the label of 'rapist.' Very few. I contend that a criminal conviction would be virtually impossible, even with uncontested facts. So in our reluctance we instead decide that such an act can't be rape, because he's not a rapist.

The unwillingness of people to label rape as rape is frustrating. If there isn't consent, it's rape. The decibel level of the denial of consent isn't relevant. I suggest that we're going to have a hard time pushing back against this reluctance until we start to approach some rapists as salvageable, as redeemable human beings.

Where this idea goes from here is still a work in progress. It's a problem that jail is so poorly equipped to rehabilitate inmates. It's a problem that people like Big Ben are reprehensible sexual predators. This idea can't be seen as saying that some rapes aren't that bad, just that to get some people to see that rape is rape we might have to consider that some rapists can be fixed.

*I'm far from an expert on the subject. But it is my understanding that most rapes that don't involve physical violence still use the inherent threat of violence to corner and isolate the victim. Big Ben is an example. He's well over 6 feet tall and 240 lbs. If he corners a small woman in the corner of a bathroom, I'm loathe to consider this a 'non-violent' encounter, regardless of whether or not blows were exchanged.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

How We Know Anti-Choicers are Anti-Sex

The position that a woman should be forced to carry a pregnancy to term is hardly extreme in this country. It might be a minority held position, but it's a large and vocal minority. Many politicians openly and proudly espouse this view.

The position that a woman who was impregnated due to rape should be forced to carry that child to term is an extreme position. Very few politicians openly espouse this view.

The differing status of these two positions helps us to see the hidden motivations behind the anti-choice agenda: punishing sex. Personally, I don't think that this is the thought process of people who are anti-choice. Rather, I think the anti-sex culture leads to a certain mindset, which leads to certain positions, and those positions are then justified in the mind of the holder.

For the anti-choice crowd the justification is a simple equation:

Life of 'child' > 9 months of mother's time/effort + adoption proceeding

That's the simple equation that is trotted out. Life over short term loss of liberty. Smart liberals even buy into this equation (myself included). We say 'I don't believe that a fetus early during pregnancy is a life, but I think that's an understandable position.' In this way, we accept that this equation is the reason someone is anti-choice, rather than just an after the fact justification.

So lets look at the equation in the situation of a rape. The equation doesn't change. If you believe a fetus is a 'child' then an abortion is still murder. The nature of the events that created that fetus have no bearing on this position. Yet many people who claim to be motivated by this equation would consider a rape exception to be obviously required.

The reality is that pregnancy is a primary 'consequence' of sex. It's used to frighten teenagers into not having sex, along with STD's and getting a bad reputation. Safe, legal abortions threaten to take that consequence away, and we all know that evil deeds should have serious consequences.

When a woman is pregnant, ultimately the anti-choice crowd views it as her fault. She did this to herself. It doesn't matter if she used birth control like the pill or condoms (or if she took abstinence only education: chewed spearmint gum and did it standing up), she is guilty of getting laid. If she didn't want to be pregnant, she shouldn't have had dirty dirty sex. The pregnancy, the adoption, the government telling her what she now cannot do with her body, is the consequence of her wrong action.

But when a woman is raped, none of that feels right. It's not her fault. So the underlying anti-sex motivations aren't there. Despite the fact that it's still a life, despite the fact that it's still 9 months of her liberty at stake, still a lifetime of having a child, the situation has changed. It's changed because she doesn't need to be punished for having sex. In that way the rape exception just makes sense to many anti-choicers, even if they would have a hard time articulating why.

This exact pattern is evident in refusal to support Plan B, while supporting in vitro fertilization that requires the disposal of fertilized eggs. It isn't about life, it's about not letting people get out of the consequences of their dirty dirty sex.

By wrapping itself in 'protection of life' the anti-choice group is the most powerful wing of the anti-sex section of our culture.

P.S. In fairness, there seem to be an increasing number of people who oppose the rape exception for abortion bans. See here. But it's still a minority position among anti-choicers, and another topic entirely.

P.P.S. While I'm on the topic. Can we dispel the whole 'if abortion had been legal, my mom would have aborted me. Do you want me to be dead?' argument. How many people are the result of broken condoms? or failed birth control? of power outages? If I was conceived during a power outage would it make sense for me to oppose a better power grid? "If these redundant power lines had existed 29 years ago I never would have been born, do you wish I was dead?" There are a lots of circumstances that line up to result in a human being of adult age. The 'I wouldn't be here' argument is an intentional distraction from any real discussion of policy implications.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Moronica for the Morons

While I join all other normal people in cheering the fall of California's bigoted Prop 8, I want to show the other side - the people we're fighting against:


"Tyrannical" "“imposed his own homosexual agenda.” “usurpation of democratic authority” “tyrants who threaten to destroy this country” "the serfdom of government by the judges"

These people are stupid. Or, more likely, arguing purely in bad faith. The point of having a constitution that guarantees individual rights over and against the government means that certain rights, especially very personal ones like marriage, are protected from the popular will by a body of officials who are not directly elected and not directly responsible to the people. That's not flawless, but nobody's come up with a better system.

Also, tyranny is a thing that's really happened to people in the real world. The burden that this ruling has on all bigoted Americans is that they have to do everything in their lives exactly as they were doing it before, but with the knowledge that gay people might be doing it do. This is the kind of "tyranny" that makes lives better without making a single life worse; it's the closest thing to a free lunch in modern politics.

But the last quote is really the shocker from that link, and I think it's 100% accurate:

James Edwards is no official of a religious right organization — far from it. But the racist and anti-Semitic host of the Memphis-based radio show “The Political Cesspool” seemed to understand that last point better than most of the ruling’s more “mainstream” opponents. “You can thank Martin Luther King and his crusade to make it illegal to recognize important distinctions between human beings for this,” Edwards wrote on his blog yesterday. “Had the courts never thrown out laws against interracial marriage, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.”

And that describes the opposition.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Dating Pool We Care About

If a girl's number of sexual partners is too high she will be less desirable as a girlfriend/wife. That statement embodies a certain cultural awareness. It also reflect a certain cultural reality. I think most people would admit that it is a true statement. Even if a person considers it ridiculous to adjust your desire to date someone based upon their number, they will probably acknowledge that some people do.

It's a simple matter of mathematics. Some people care about their partner's 'number' and some people don't. The majority of people who care about the number presumably would prefer it to be low, although I'm sure the slut-shamers of the world would be shocked to find that some might prefer the number to be higher. So in the in the end, if you have a high number, there are less people who consider you girlfriend/wife material. Individuals who participate in cultural slut shaming will use this simple math to push the responsibility onto others. You see, *they* aren't the ones judging other people based on numbers, instead they are communicating a simple reality about the world in which we live. They advise women not to sleep around too much because it will make it harder to find a boyfriend. You see, it's the shallow men of the world who care, they are just the helpful messenger.

But this math is deceptive. When it comes to dating pools we don't care about every heterosexual person of the opposite gender. However, it feels a little to easy to simply say "you don't want to date a guy who cares about your number, anyway." While that's certainly true, it suggests a certain moral judgment of that guy. Whether or not such a judgment is accurate, it isn't necessary to judge such men as 'unworthy,' it's enough to label those men as 'incompatible.'

All of our choices shape our potential dating pool under the above math. We limit the number of people who will choose us as mates. Voting for Obama limits the number of people who want us as significant others. But, we don't generally care. Anyone who doesn't want to date me because I voted for Obama isn't someone I want to date. Eliminating them from my potential dating pool is helpful, not harmful. Likewise for a self assured slut. If a girl has made decisions that she is ok with in her own life, then she is far less likely to be compatible with someone who refuses to date her because of those decisions. Eliminating those guys from the dating pool has no effect on finding a boyfriend or husband at all. The only people eliminated were never real candidates.

This requires several assumptions. First, it requires that women have a certain agency in their dating. In that they actually have preferences to find someone with whom they are compatible. The typical slut-shamers of the world seem insistent that a single woman should want nothing more than a male body. That she should bend her personality to his demands.

More importantly this requires healthy sexual agency among the women in the culture. As much as I don't think a sexual number is at all important to someone's date-ability, it is almost certainly important that that person be comfortable with their number. This means being comfortable with past sexual decisions. The best way to do this is to be comfortable with your sexual agency as you are making sexual decisions. This is where the disingenuous nature of those who would slut shame really comes out. If they cared about dating compatibility they would encourage knowledgeable and empowered sexual choices, instead of shoving sex into the dark.

Ultimately it's true that being a slut will limit your dating pool. But much like voting for Obama, any limitation is probably a benefit to finding a truly compatible life partner.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

This is why we can't have nice things

I started reading this, thinking "Wow, you're really missing the point." Then it developed into "Um, wow, you're a terrifying person."


It's about Mad Men, so I've checked for major spoilers, and luckily, it's light on them. A certain coblogger is missing out.

He starts off soft with #10, but let's take a few highlights:

No.9 - Sleep with the boss's secretary

Sleeping with your secretary is one thing, but going after your boss’ secretary -- that’s something even the ballsiest guys wouldn’t do today. When Peggy shows up as Don’s new secretary, Pete blatantly hits on her. Even though he’s rebuffed and even though he’s on the eve of getting married, he still goes over to her place for a booty call. She knows he’s a weasel, but she sleeps with him again in his office. Today, you can’t even call her a secretary, let alone call her a "dirty slut" in the heat of passion.

I didn't want to quote the whole thing, but man, this is creepy. He apparently wants to be as creepy as possible while still being able to have sex, AND be as mean as possible during. Obviously, anyone who writes this piece is going to, you know, be the kind of guy who watches Schindler’s List and roots for the Germans. But this is pretty early to just announce that he wants to yell slurs at women for sleeping with him, and he’s only interested in the ones who would object – you can call people anything you want if they’re into it; you just get in trouble for pissing people off. Secondary point: you’re completely free to sleep with the boss’s secretary in 2010. It was the kind of thing that would get you in trouble in 1960 more than the present, because remarkably, we don’t think of secretaries as the sexual property of their bosses any more. This guy just failed to get with his boss’s secretary.

No.8 - Make sexist jokes

While only the most misogynist among us wants to hurt women with our comments, there would be something great about being able to openly make sexist jokes like Roger Sterling.

We don’t want to hurt women, we just want to say hurtful things to them while not noticing if it does any damage!

No.6 - Orchestrate huge pranks

They spend work hours planning and executing pranks, like filling Pete’s office with a Chinese laundry service: “Who put the Chinamen in my office?” When Don hears about the prank, he doesn’t worry about harassment or "hate crimes.”

Um, hey, the thing about the prank that’s funny isn’t that it’s racialized. He just wants to shout ethnic slurs, apparently.

No.5 - Be politically incorrect

People in today’s society are so ready to be offended. They go looking for it by over-reading into every thing that is said about race, religion and sex. It’s getting to the point no one can make a slightly offensive joke. Mad Men just say whatever they want. Roger asks Don: “Have we hired any Jews?” Draper replies: “Not on my watch!”

Umm, what the fuck? I don’t think I’m oversensitive when I think it’s offensive that someone wouldn’t hire Jews. They’re joking about the fact that they hate Jews. And it’s not offensive in the way that curse words are offensive. It’s offensive because it’s the kind of thing that really makes life suck for people. There were neighborhoods my dad and his parents couldn’t live in in 1960 New York. Definitely couldn’t go to the country clubs where big business deals were conducted. It’s not a question of sensitivity. It fucking sucked that firms like Sterling Cooper didn’t hire Jews in 1960.

I’m not going to bother to quote #4, but he gets the name of the firm wrong (he probably thinks that 30 Rock is a hilarious sendup of life at the BBC), and then comes off as objectively pro-rape. Not even objectively – subjectively pro-rape.

The rest seems to be whining about Facebook and responsibility. Yawn. But seriously, this guy is terrifying.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Only a Republican could believe

Only a Republican could believe returning to the tax structure we had during the 1990's will destroy the economy.

Only a Republican could believe an organization that registered a few million voters stole an election that was won by a ten million vote margin.

Only a Republican could believe President Obama is both a reverse racist because of his white hating black Christian Church and a secret Muslim.

Only a Republican could believe temporarily giving $300/week people who lost their jobs through no fault of their own makes people stop looking for work.

Only a Republican could believe market participants will regulate themselves out of self interest in the wake of financial and environmental disasters that demonstrate the opposite.

Only a Republican could believe the key to preventing teenage pregnancy is to never give a teenager a condom.

Only a Republican could believe constructing a building of religious worship is anti American - a country built on religious freedom.

Only a Republican could believe acquiring information from terrorists works like it does on an action television show.

Only a Republican could believe Unions negotiate salaries and benefits that are too high and ruin companies, while CEO's only negotiate salary and benefits that reflect their value in the market.

Only a Republican could believe homosexuals getting married threatens heterosexual marriages.

Only a Republican could believe supporting the military means continuing to fight two simultaneous wars, not increasing VA funding.

Only a Republican could believe our current healthcare system doesn't need to be changed.

Only a Republican could believe the climate scientists working for universities around the world are biased while the scientists paid by major oil companies are speaking truth to power.

Only a Republican could believe the party of Reagan and Bush is the party of fiscal conservatives.

Only a Republican could believe the multimillionaire pundit/host on tv/radio doesn't have any personal bias when discussing taxes for the rich.

Only a Republican could believe having two dads is worse than having none.

Only a Republican could believe on online forum that empowers the community to monitor its own discussions is fascist and a single individual speaking to millions on tv or radio is empowering.

Please add your own in the comments.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Fundamentalism and Religion

I was thinking about religion - partially in the light of idiots like this, but more just generally. And I think I can split fundamentalists into to camps.

First are the hard fundamentalists, those that believe the Bible is literally true (or whichever holy text: the distinction here applies equally to Christians, Muslims, and Jews). Literally true here means exactly that: everything described in the Bible actually happened, down to a great flood and a bearded man with two of every animal in his ark (and, surprisingly, 7 of some of them), seven-days creationism, and all the rest. These people are unserious and honestly, complete and total morons, and they get laughed off the stage by such radical anti-Christians as Benedict XVI. Jewish scholars tend to think this kind of fundamentalism idolizes the Bible - in a bad way. As in "idolatry" and other blasphemies. Let's ignore them.

But second, and far more dangerous, are the soft fundamentalists. While they'll accept that the Bible is full of parables and and fables, meant to teach a moral lesson, they still believe that every lesson in the Bible is morally sacred and must be followed. They don't say that the Bible means what it says, but they say that it means what it means. That means when the Bible says "If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.," it means it. Honestly, I don't know how to argue with this people, because their arguments make a lot of sense once you grant the premise. If the Bible is a divine gift, how can it be wrong? Not symbolic, not metaphorical, but just flat-out wrong. There's a difference between lying and fiction, and if the Bible so obviously condemns homosexuality, it's either right or wrong. I really can't understand how this kind of prohibition is meant to mean something other than what it facially means, and how a list of commandments is meant to do something other than tell you what to do.

The conclusion of this is that the Bible is either morally supreme, or it is not. And if it's not - if other, non-divine moralities like tolerance for gays or even the abolition of slavery - where does that leave the holy text? This isn't to say that you can't view Jesus as an inspired or even divine teacher of course, but as far as the comparison between soft fundamentalist churches and mainstream churches go, it's tough to undermine the fundamentalist view without undermining the central tenets of faith. This is largely how I end up on the nonreligious side of the equation, because it seems like to go anywhere, you logically have to go so far.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Rape by deception

This story is interesting from a lot of angles: http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2010/07/21/trust-but-verify

At first I really didn't like the idea of rape by deception. It seems like a dangerous slippery slope. I decided that a solid legal standard would be if the perpetrator tells a lie that s/he knows or should know will be a critical factor in the granting of consent. That's a fairly high standard, but we're talking about criminal law, if anything it felt potentially too low. We laugh at characters like Barney on How I Met Your Mother, when he lies his way into a girl's bedroom. Do we want to send him to jail?

Upon further consideration I've realized this is an odd social programming. There is a crime called 'larceny by trick.' If I lie to you in order to convince you to give me your stuff, I've committed a crime. If I lie to you to get you to consent to sexual activity, no crime. Shouldn't our sexually repressed culture be more concerned about chastity than things? I think I'll have to reconsider what is a fairly patriarchal view that boys lying and tricking their way to sex is just boys being boys.

Monday, July 19, 2010

My new Laptop

This comic from www.xkcd.com got me thinking:
Computer technology has both advanced at an impressive rate in the last 14 years and stagnated. I have recently purchased a new laptop. By all objective measures of computer performance, it is a vastly superior machine than the last one I had, and has the equivalent computing power of literally hundreds of the type of computer I owned in 1996.

Yet, somehow, it can't really do more, it just does better. What could I do with a computer in 1996? Play games, word processing, access the internet. These are the same functions I perform with my new, much better computer.

I actually think that we are on the verge of an actual technological breakthrough in how computers function. The ipad flirts around the edges of an actual breakthrough in what a computer does, not just how it does it. In my opinion it is clearly monitor technology, not computing power, that is the major hurdle to overcome. When my entire desk surface is a touch-screen monitor for a centralized computer, that I can also access from my fold-up pad, we might actually see a transition to something different.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sports Synchronicity

With the weekend upon us, I figured we could stand to have something trivial, and since I last posted about sports, I wanted to look into some statistical quirks: when do records/achievements line up between sports? Ignore the category of units, and you line up the chase. These are the best ones I could come up with after a little research. The list I'm looking at is below, but these are the highlights:

Brett Favre, at 497 passing TDs, is on similar pace to the MLB record for wins (511) by Cy Young. He could pass it this year.

The NFL receiving record, at 22,895 , isn't out of line with the NBA rebounds record, at 23, 924. That's basically one more top-flight season for Jerry Rice. Still, that's 6 more seasons above 1500 yards for Randy Moss, or ten more for the younger Andre Johnson. If only he hadn't suffered through David Carr.

Stolen Bases in a season (138) near receptions in a season (143). That stolen base record was set in 1887, and hasn't even been neared in my lifetime. However, it stood above all receivers efforts until Marvin Harrison 2002.

A season's rushing efforts top out at 2105, while rebounds maxed out at 2149. OJ Simpson, rushing for 2003 yards in a 14 game season, could have topped it if he had a modern 16 game season.

After that, it starts to become a real stretch. Remarkably, the scale of all of these records really remains out of sync.

NFL Records
Passing Yards
Season Record: 5084; Season landmarks: 4000, 5000; Career: 69,329
Passing TDs
Season Record: 50; Career: 497
Rushing Yards
Season: 2105; Season Landmarks: 1000, 2000; Career: 18, 355
Rushing TDs
Season: 28; Season Landmarks: 20, 25; Career: 164
Season: 143; Season Landmarks: 100; Career: 1549
Receiving Yards
Season: 1848; Season Landmarks: 1000, 1500; Career: 22,895
Receiving TDs:
Season: 23; Season Landmarks: 20; Career: 197
Season: 31; Career: 208
Career: 2544
Season: 22.5; Career: 200

Season Record: 92; Season Landmarks: 50; Career: 894
Season Record: 163; Season Landmarks: 100; Career: 1963
Season Record: 215; Season Landmarks: 100; Career: 2857

Batting Average
Season Record: .439; Season Landmarks: .400
Season: 262; Season Landmarks: 200, 250; Career: 4256
Home Runs
Season: 73; Season Landmarks: 50; Career: 762
Stolen Bases
Season: 138; Career: 1406
Season: 59; Season Landmarks: 20; Career: 511
Season: 62; Career: 596

Season: 2149; Career: 23,924
Season: 4029; Career: 38,387

Goals, EPL: Season: 60;

Friday, July 16, 2010

No Homo

Browsing the web I encountered something amazing:

Things like this astound me. I honestly can't think of anything gayer than feeling the need to proactively deny ones homosexuality. If a guy compliments my shirt I don't think he is thinking about my penis. If that same guy then goes on to explicitly say that he wasn't thinking about my penis, well, now I know that he was thinking about my penis. Saying 'no homo' is akin to complimenting a girl's necklace and following it up with a ramble about how you weren't looking at her breasts. Not that they aren't nice breasts to look at, they are, but really the necklace is just pretty, not that she isn't pretty, cause she is . . . You get my point.

The natural next step of the 'no homo' phenomenon is the need to put a disclaimer on the use of 'no homo' itself. So I'm going to be the first to coin the phrase 'no homo squared.' It both declares that the speaker is not a homo for whatever he just said or did, and that he is not a homo for saying 'no homo.' Of course this will lead to natural 'no homo' inflation, but we'll worry about that as a culture when we get there.

Thanks for reading as always, I love you, no homo squared.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Honoring the fallen


I do feel conflicted about this, but my point is this, about being a Canadian: What it's like to be from a country that has more geographic features than fallen soldiers, so that when there's a dust-up over a more trivial naming, it's just a question of the order.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A picture of our cowardice

I have a standard list of websites that I browse when I'm looking for quick procrastination, something I find myself doing often while studying for the bar (the nice online lecturers tell you when to take breaks). Yesterday I came across this picture and it stopped me in my tracks:

The cost of war.

It's hard to offer commentary on such a powerful image. Everyone reacts differently to the costs of war. All of us are touched by it in different ways. Those reactions are naturally shaped by how we feel about a particular conflict. My reaction is one of anger toward our government; a desire to yell at Senators who seem oblivious to recognizing the costs of their actions. But, that's hardly helpful toward a discussion, so I offer the following list:

1965 - 1,863
1966 - 6,143
1967 - 11,153
1968 - 16,592
1969 - 11,616
1970 - 6,081
1971 - 2,357
1972 - 641
1973 - 168

Those are U.S. service member deaths in Vietnam during the era of the Vietnam War. At some point along that trajectory the relevant military leaders in the United States knew that South Vietnam was lost to the communists. We can be confident that this point of time was well before the 'fall' of Saigon in 1975. Such a point in time will come in our current wars. Not necessarily a point of 'loss' or 'victory', but a point when U.S. soldiers should be gone and aren't. A point when the tragedy of this picture happens without reason.

I am an expert in advocating on behalf of the devil, and I have entertained academic arguments for the value of wars lost. When I look at the picture I linked above, the very concept seems shameful. In 1973 heartbreak like that happened in the United States one hundred sixty eight times. To buy what? Dignity? Feeling like we didn't waste our time?

Currently we continue to fight two wars abroad. Two wars that are nebulous enough that I suspect neither will be won nor lost. I know that our soldiers kill and die abroad for our protection. There is little doubt that there are terrorists abroad who would like to kill Americans. Me and you. But, what risk is there of that, when weighed against the lives we know we are losing every day?

That woman's husband was willing to die for us, but where is our willingness to die for him? Where is our willingness to die for her?

When Robert McNamara said that Vietnam was a mistake he spoke not just of the futility of the military conflict, or the manner in which it was engaged. He said that we vastly over-estimated the threat. We were engaged in a global war on communism that had many fronts, but our fear caused us to over-estimate the threat of a communist Vietnam.

Today we are engaged in global war on terror on many fronts. Again, we have over-estimated a threat from a handful of geographic locations. The costs in those locations are astronomical.

It's a cowardly country that sends its heroes to their death so that we might feel the tiniest bit more secure in our world. And, I'm back to wanting to yell at Senators.

Here is McNamara telling us things we learned that we clearly didn't learn:

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

In Praise of Inefficiency

As I watched Mad Men, I came to a conclusion about our economic woes: this country needs to be less efficient. We praise efficiency to high levels in a capitalist system; competition demands it. However, the more capitalism becomes truly in effect, the more efficiency turns from a positive force for development into a destructive force for individuals.

Everybody at Sterling Cooper has their own secretary, which is really remarkable if you think about it. There's no way those guys need that much help, so really, if the goal is maximizing profit, they're wasting a ton of money on a secretary who watches a door and fields a few phone calls. An efficient operation would lay off most of them, and there's the rub: inefficiency creates jobs. The less pressure there is on maximizing corporate profits, the more perks arise, and the more money spreads out. And it's not just expanding the service workforce: the copywriters drink all day and leave at 5. For every four guys you can keep until 7, you lay off the fifth and get the same output. His benefits package is pure savings, and moreover, if you stop the drinking, you get the same output from exactly four guys.

Better machines mean fewer machines, or less spent on machines. And those machines are built by people with jobs, who are going to lose them. Even things like a food budget helps: you're not going to lose much productivity if you stop paying for lunch, so it's a good corporate deal. But if you keep it, it's more money leaving dividend accounts and going directly into the economy. It trickles all the way down.

The flip side of this is that if you become inefficient, you start losing in competitions: other actors will start running circles around you. You can counter that by directly taking money out of the top, but in a corporate setup, that's impossible: you have legal duties in the other direction. Privately owned companies, not bound to maximize profit, will whimsically become inefficient and spend their own money on what is ultimately economic stimulus.

It applies to politics, as well: an efficient Republican party realizes that 100 Senate seats amount to a zero-sum game - each one they lose is one you gain. And there's only one presidency. This is clearly the game the current GOP is playing, and why shouldn't they? The success of the nation is inherently inimical to the opposition party, who will never get as much benefit from cooperating as they will from the failure of the majority. It's obviously in the GOP's interest to see Obama fail, and only patriotism would hold them back. But patriotism is whimsy in this context, inefficient. And of course, they ignore it. Sometimes Senate comity has prevailed in these situations, but that's bizarre and anachronistic at this point. And besides, if they really believe their dogma, two years of a botched economy followed by a political revival is probably long-run good for the nation. It's amazing politics went this long without open war between the parties.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Paternal Instinct

The last few years have seen me experience a new phenomenon in my life: a feeling of paternal instinct. This instinct does not manifest as a desire to have kids of my own. It's best described as feeling as if I could engage in hand to hand combat with a saber tooth tiger. I first noticed it around my baby niece. She was, and continues to be, absolutely adorable. But rather than a desire to hold her (terrifying), make cooing sounds at her, or have one of my own, I felt a desire to beat the tar out of anything that would try to hurt her. I'm sure we all want to protect our families; I'm certain I would also want to tar-beat anyone who tried to hurt anyone in my family. But, this was not an intellectual awareness, this was a noticeable increase in adrenaline and testosterone. A chemical reaction to the presence of baby.

I'm always interested when I experience something that I recognize as evolutionarily built into my brain. Whether I'm scared of an insect I know to be harmless, or spending time babysitting on the lookout for a charging rhinoceros, knowing that the instinctual feeling isn't relevant, or particularly helpful, doesn't do much to change it.

However, even more than my fear of spiders, sharks and zombies, this particular instinct feels almost completely obsolete. In fact, the more I've thought about it, the more I realize that the desire to keep a small child safe from physical harm through the use of protective violence is almost certainly harmful. The protector might be a very natural role for fathers in a more primal, evolutionary setting, but that role is far less clear in a modern world.

First, it's not available as a demonstration of love. Parental love appears to be a fairly important piece of childhood development.* I'm sure that most parents want their children to always know how much they love them, I'm sure I will. Yet, we are all aware of the image of a stoic, seemingly unemotional father figure, who loves his children with all his heart. That male is the centerpiece of many classic TV shows. In such stories this love might be demonstrated in a moment of sacrifice, or in the father's brave efforts to keep his family safe. Clearly culture plays a huge role in creating this particular father role, but I think it's also instinctual and desirable for many men. But, in the real world the opportunities to demonstrate your love for your child by protecting them from harm are few and far between. But, the desire, the fantasy, is going to live strong. I wonder if this creates a certain distance between some men and their children as the men struggle to demonstrate, or even understand, their love of their child and their role, and no opportunities to show this love through action arise.

Second, I could see this protectionism instinct as creating more actively harmful results. Most notably guns in the house. I think we can see the cultural and instinctual role of father as the protector when we imagine approaching a father and saying: "You need a gun in the house in order to protect your family from harm." In fact, it seems that certain advertising takes that exact tactic. Certainly, there are many men who scoff at such a statement, but I'd guess that even many liberals, even many Europeans (outside the gun culture) would balk just a bit. But, we all know that having a gun in the home creates more danger for children, not less. The reality is that when faced with danger in today's world it is almost universally better to contact the authorities than to react with violence. The desire to react with violence, or a bottling up of this protective instinct seems to have a great deal of potential for serious harm.

In all of this I don't mean to create a biological excuse for distant or overly protective fathers. Despite my willingness to do battle with a pack of wild hyenas every time I pass a playground, I don't plan on keeping a gun in the house. Also, I'm sure that women have similar feelings of protectionism around small children. I mostly point this out because these feelings have been unexpected and interesting. There are certainly 'fatherhood' groups out there that seem to be based on the idea that fathers are disenfranchised in today's society. I wonder if some of this feeling doesn't come from a feeling of uselessness regarding their most primal instincts.

I would suggest that we men need to understand that the modern world requires of us actions that are far different, and almost certainly far more rewarding, than the actions of a standoffish protector.

*I don't mean to suggest that source of this love has to be parents.