Sunday, October 16, 2011


Mortified is the name of a comedy show of sorts springing up in cities nationwide.  Regular people share "mortifying" events of their past with old diaries, illustrations, letters, videos, and other mementos of traumatizing events.

I wasn't sure if I'd like it.  It turned out to be a hilarious evening.  Some highlights:

Speaker 1: Was raised by hippie feminists.  Her mother taught her about sex, including body parts and male arousal, at age 4 using the graphic feminist book, Our Bodies, Ourselves.  This inspired her to draw lots of pictures about sex on construction paper.  This included body parts and men and women in pajamas with cigarettes in bed.

Speaker 2: Decided in elementary school that she wanted to marry Indiana Jones and formulated plans to follow in the footsteps of his lover in Raiders of the Lost Ark.  This meant becoming a journalist with an expertise in archaeology until she finally met her Indiana.  She thought she found this person - the editor of her college paper - and joined the paper and became a hard working assistant editor.  She lied to get him to give her rides home.  At one point she was interviewed by the paper and she decided to playfully reveal her lifelong crush on Indiana Jones and how the editor was her Indiana.  It didn't come across as funny, but creepy.  She had to quit.

Speaker 3: This speaker brought in letters to his parents - and his goldfish and his bike - from camp at age 10.  The letters to the goldfish and the bike were funny enough, but there were also reports of what other boys were claiming to do with the girls.  One of them got his "nuts fingered."

Speaker 4: This speaker drunk-journaled in high school.  She'd steal her dad's liquor and write journal entries about a friend who might have been more than a friend, and who claimed to be a magic user.  She lost her virginity to this guy at age 17.  More mortifying, she revealed this at a previous Mortified.   As the first Mortified in DC, The Washington Post printed it and  her grandmother read it.

Speaker 5: Revealed his love for the Nintendo entertainment system, showing video clips of him playing Mario brothers.  He wrote letters to Nintendo about how he couldn't afford the second Nintendo system and they should give him one.  They wrote back about strategies that other kids used to buy one, including paper routes, etc.  Nintendo said "many customers report enjoying the product more after working to earn it."  As soon as he saved up for the second version, the third version came out.  However, he now reviews games for a living, so the story has a happy ending.

Speaker 6: was a gnome enthusiast in elementary school.  For his 5th grade science diorama on an endangered species he did gnomes.  This made him unpopular with other boys, so by junior high he had a new obsession - Barbara Streisand.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

More magic than Thor's Hammer

I flew through the sky just like the mighty Thor. Only, I was protected from the wind by a metal cylinder, and I got to sit and relax and read a book. That's right, modern technology delivers things twice as magical as what our ancestors imagined.
 If you like this perspective, you'd probably like the poems of Berton Brailey.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Comedy of Democracy

Democracies socialize their citizens into believing that it's okay for people who know nothing about a given policy to make decisions about policies that affect you.  People are taught that political opinions are neither right not wrong, they are simply opinions.  Simple opinions can land you in jail or forcibly deprive you of money in the case of legislation, however.

The evidence that voters know very little about public policies and the voters who make them is overwhelming - see more data here (  But one pointed example comes from The American Voter, a seminal book in public opinion. Written by scholars that began the most scientific studies of opinion in America (NES), it teaches that the average swing voter is usually a drosophila that vote on the most superficial of matters (though not in such words). Here's an example of an interview they quote:

Is there anything in particular you like about the Democratic Party?

No, there's nothing I've got against them.  I feel that Eisenhower ought to have a show...I think he's done wonders myself!  Of course there's his health but I think he'll pull out of that all right.  Give him good thoughts!  (Give him good thoughts?)  Yes.  (Pray for him?) Sure.  I liked him when he came in the first time.  I like the looks of his face.

You can imagine the Mystery Science Theater robots mocking the woman in those paranthetical thoughts.  Eisenhower authorized important decisions about overthrowing the governments of Iran, Guatemala, and Cuba, and shifted military spending from the army to the air force.  He also made decisions about implementing civil rights.  Yet, all this woman can talk about is how he looks and whether he will pull through his operation.  Her vote is equal to that of an expert.

Given that a police state is more likely to develop without a democracy, I am not suggesting that we abandon democracy.  Rather, I suggest we only use government as a last resort.  People are less superficial about major purposes in the marketplace than they are about decisions in the polling booth, where they know that any time they invest in a decision only has a small chance of changing the election's outcome.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Your Horoscope

 I made these up for a friend's birthday party.  But they apply to you, too!

Aries: You are cute and stubborn, and will find yourself on rough terrain in the near future.  Just like the image of your constellation.

Taurus: A very meta constellation, you will spend an inordinate amount of time deciding whether the Eastern or Western zodiac has more basis in reality.

Not only do you have a long lost twin, but you will feel great anguish in the coming weeks as she suffers horrible caffeine withdrawal symptoms.

Cancer: You will eventually come to an end in the belly of Sarlaac, where you will find a new definition of pain and suffering as you are slowly digested over a thousand years.

Leo: After rearing offspring, you will experience an uncontrollable urge to devour your young, as the shape of your constellation suggests.

Virgo: As presidential power increases exponentially, a president will restore the Roman Empire's Vestal Virgins and punish the loss of virginity with by burying the newly unchaste alive.

Libra:  You like balance, but Ayn Rand opposed compromise between food and poison.  Ayn Rand doesn't like you.

Scorpio: Let's just say you should avoid crossing rivers.

Sagittarius: A centaur?  Really?  I'm not a mystic.  No horoscope for you.

Capricorn: As the goat who suckled the infant Zeus, you will be rewarded by a lover who can transform into a bull at will.

Aquarius: As the water bearer, you are charged with carrying drinks down to your friends.  You are actually one of the more useful constellations.

Pisces: Life is repetitive, but you won't notice because you can only remember the last second and a half.

A Suicide Note (relax, just a pun)

In college, I cooked up a thought experiment that challenged my ideas about liberty.  That is, in a free society, should someone be allowed to open a "suicide store"?  Some people want to end their life but can't pull the trigger or even drink poison.  A suicide store would provide death by some painless means and might even offer other services like planning your funeral or writing your will.  Dr. Kevorkian helps terminally ill people to die in their old age, but the suicide store would be open to all adults.  Presumably it could have opaque ads like the ones now used to advertise antidepressants, and offer a wholesome, comforting environment.

I see no justification for shutting down such an operation, or even requiring a lengthy waiting period.  yet it still leaves me queasy.  I know many people who seriously contemplated suicide in college for a bad grade or a failed relationship, when neither one will be important to the person in a couple of years.  Additionally, the very presence of the store could be depressing and induce more people to think about suicide than otherwise would.

The only justification for banning the practice on strict libertarian grounds is that it would be too easy to fraudulently kill people.  Crooked politicians, mafia types, and other criminals could dispose of enemies by forging some paperwork.  For the same reason, I would wonder about making indentured servitude illegal.

If you think it's okay, how young would you be willing to permit people to partake in the services?  Would there be a waiting period?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Atlas Shrugged Review

On a scale of 1-10 in enjoyment, I'd give it a 7 or an 8. You all know my predispositions and can take that for what it's worth. That's better than any of the movies in recent memory (Black Swan, The King's Speech, Sucker Punch, The Town, Dawn Treader) except perhaps True Grit. It's better than most network tv movies, excepting Brave New World (with Steve Schub and Leonard Nimoy). Maybe its on the same level as Stephen King's 1990s version of The Shining. In many ways I liked it better than The Fountainhead with Patricia Neal and Gary Cooper. I think Roger Ebert is wrong - libertarians and Objectivists will generally like it. People who don't like the ideas won't like it. People who are libertarians and don't know it will want to learn more about it. It whets the appetite for rethinking selfishness.

I'm still not sure about the people in between. On the positive side, the cinematography (including Ebert's derided office scenes) and score were beautiful. I was moved by the launch of the John Galt line. Taylor Schilling was beautiful, driven, and calculating as Dagny Taggart (the way I imagined her). The Washington lobbyists are spot on - I know from having met many of them. But somehow the dialog fell flat in several places, and the movie didn't always flow well. John Galt and Hugh Akston, in particular, lacked gravitas. Like others have said, I wish they had taken some liberties and adapted more of the book's dialog for movie purposes - showing, not telling. With more time for the second installment, I hope they do so.

Philosophically, it stayed true to the novel. I wasn't sure what I thought of James Taggart's character when I read the book, and I'm still not sure. He doesn't come across as a real altruist (as he's supposed to), but he also doesn't quite pull it off as a false humanitarian, or someone who wants to help but does a bad job of it. I think the uninitiated will be as puzzled as I was.

Bottom line - if you liked the book, go see it. If you think someone would like the book, tell them to go see it.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Shining Light on Kubrick

I watched Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980) for the first time since 1995 recently.  Since then, I've become much more sensitized to themes of class and race, and I also saw his swansong, Eyes Wide Shut.  Between the two of them, I think that Kubrick wants to say that wealthy white Americans are not the fine people they are cracked up to be.  Most of this is unoriginal analysis, as you can tell by doing any number of web searches.   Major Spoilers Below

The Shining

The Overlook Hotel is built on a Native American graveyard.  You could say the name is indicative of overlooking American history, or perhaps refers to whites overlooking other races.  There are Apache tapestries throughout the hotel and Jack Torrance (Nicholson's character) throws his ball against them while thinking about what to write (is he awakening their spirits?).  The scene of blood pouring out of the elevator is not in the book, and never made a lot of sense except as a horrific image.  One reviewer says it represents the blood of slaughtered Native Americans.  You also see the Indian image on the baking soda in the dry goods room a couple of times.

When Jack enters the Gold Room bar for the first time, he drinks to the White Man's Burden - again not in the book, and it makes no sense in the immediate conversation.  Jack later goes into the bathroom and talks to the WASPy butler Delbert Grady. Grady explains that his children didn't like the hotel and needed correction.  He "corrected" them with an axe.  He tells Jack his wife and child must be corrected because they don't like it at the Overlook either. Danny, his son, recognizes the hotel - American civilization - for what it is.  He labels it as "redrum," or murder spelled backwards.  Scratch just a little bit beneath the surface - or look in the mirror - and you figure out murder has/will take place.  American history can barely conceal it.  Danny was trying to contact an "outsider" - "a nigger cook."  Those who don't like American civilization must be dealt with "on the harshest possible terms," according to Grady.

It is not a white man or a rich man who saves the innocent in this movie, but a black man who dies in the process of saving women and children.

The bathroom is all symmetrical red and white.  Jack is wearing blue jeans and a blue shirt - he completes the hotel by completing the color of the American Flag (the shirt is plaid blue and white, and he wears a red corduroy jacket, so he's red white and blue all by himself, too).   The flag is also on the hotel manager's desk at the interview - Ullman has a flag next to a cup with a miniature axe in it!  At the end of the movie, Jack is seen in the photo of the Fourth of July ball.  Grady told him he had always been the caretaker - perhaps a murderous caretaker has always been with and will always be with American civilization.

The vestiges of the parties of the rich are pretty indicting.  Ullman said the jet set went to the hotel before they were called a jet set, and that "all the best people" had been there.  A couple of the "best people" have disturbing furry sex.  Another one kill herself in her bathtub.  One says "splendid party, isn't it" as Jack's wife runs through the hotel in terror. 

Eyes Wide Shut

Tom Cruise's character, a doctor, discovers a secret society of rich men who have orgies with hookers.  When he confronts his contact in this society at the end to ask who they are, his contact (played by Sidney Pollack) says "you don't want to know."  These people correspond to "all the best people" in The Shining.  They arrive to their orgies at a mansion in limos with expensive costumes.  When Cruise arrived at the party, they instantly nod to him knowing he is not of their class.  Although he spent a ton of money that night - on a rental costume, a cab, and a prostitute he didn't have sex with - he is clearly outclassed by the orgy attendees.

If it were just the sex, it wouldn't be so bad.  But there are several scenes in the movie where the sex is revealed to be deadly.  Cruise patronized a prostitute before the orgy scene and later found out she had AIDS.  One of the prostitutes at the party who helped Cruise escape is found dead later, and Pollack's character didn't seem concerned - "she got her brains fucked out."  At the beginning of the movie at Pollack's party, Cruise is asked to look at a prostitute stashed away in Pollack's bedroom.  She had a speedball and Cruise recommended keeping her there for two hours to recover; Pollack is clearly aggravated and wanted to get rid of her before then.

The costumed orgy participants are horrific.  Their central room is crimson red and a crimson red figure sits in the middle when he interrogates Cruise.  The masks include Picasso cubist masks and sharp beaks; in fact, the man who brings Cruise's female savior away has a beak that looks like a scythe.  They warn cruise that there will be the most dire consequences for him and his family if he tells anyone.  Cruise has been a good guy - he is shown as a caring figure that heals people.  The rich are amoral and hedonistic, and they don't care if indulging their sensibilities lead to AIDS or other kinds of death in the process of having their secret orgies. 

There is a gender angle in this too.  You witness Cruise's wife on and off set, Nicole Kidman, having trouble with a career and seems to slide back into being a housewife.  She can only confront Cruise about her real feelings after smoking a joint.  She points out that women are assumed to not be into sex for physical pleasure but disputes that, admitting to an affair.  Cruise's daughter is also "indoctrinated" with toys for girls at the end of the movie.  Women are clearly for sale - the costume merchant doesn't deal with two older men having sex with his teenage daughter until after he completes the financial transaction with Cruise.  Later, he hints that he was willing to sell her sex to Cruise as well.

Pollack scoffs at the end when Cruise turns down an offer to send him an expensive bottle of scotch; Cruise was already bought and forced to cooperate - it's silly to turn it down on pretend pride.

There are lot of loose ends in the story, but these were the things that leaped out at me.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Should teachers like all of their students?

I'd like to preface this post by saying my thoughts are not altogether as clear as they might be on this matter.  It also assumes the teacher is in a traditional classroom setting and tries to project how that teacher should behave given that setting.  It does not debate the merit of traditional settings vs. other kinds.

When I taught high school, I once had a discussion with the vice-principal that was part of a routine class observation. In this discussion, she said that students will show classroom etiquette if they believe the teacher is "on their side," "wants them to succeed," and believes in their "potential." The supervisor made reference to a teacher at the same school who goes to class with her high school pom poms and cheers at right answers.  While I think this would help underrested students wake up, this suggests to me that students are supposed to do well to please the teacher, and not for their own rewards.  Of course, me doing this, even with a male cheerleader outfit, would not be a pretty sight.)

This discussion helped me to locate where my disagreement is with the majority of teachers I meet today as well as reasons for not liking many of my teachers growing up. Let me address point by point.

I believe teachers should be on the students side when the students are doing what well, but opposed to the students when they are doing something they should not be doing. Different students behave differently, and so a good teacher is on different students' side to varying degrees. The teacher should want all of their students to behave well and get good grades, but not "like" or "approve" of all students equally. Nothing is more unfair than treating all students equally; it degrades good students for teachers to lavish equal praise on the genius and the troublemaker. Why should any student behave if the teacher will make it equally easy to misbehave, or if the teacher simply says "I'm okay, you're okay, let's all be friends," or if the teachers is going to start every day saying "let's forget all of the misdeeds you committed yesterday and start anew"? This is comparable to telling every basketball player he's material for the Boston Celtics, every poet that he's W.H. Auden, or every drug dealer that he has the best dimebags in town. I'd even go so far as to say that the majority of students cannot be "above average."

Many of my high school teachers really annoyed me by seemingly believing that all people were basically good, kind, and hardworking - even kids bullies and students who cheated. I liked it when teachers took a stand against students like that.  All of my teachers growing up were against the death penalty not because it was giving govt too much power, or because some innocent people were put to death, but because all people were basically good. I did not want to go into teaching telling students that life is a big rock candy mountain or that everyone is equal. I wanted to give students the opportunity I never had, which was to have a fair teacher.

There is a countervailing consideration.  That is, that most people underestimate their own abilities.  By believing in students more than they believe in themselves, they can nourish these abilities, and still have a realistic grasp on reality.  However, this needs to be weighed against the need to be fair to students who have already proven themselves.  With students are conducting themselves improperly, it also needs to be weighed against the need to make it clear that their past conduct is unacceptable.

Students at my school did what they can get away with. For example, one teacher with no classroom management skills had half the class ask to go to the bathroom (they really went to lunch).  Students justified it by saying "everyone else was doing it." If teachers don't punish tardiness or uniform violations, students come to class late and out of uniform.

I don't believe you should cheer as loud as you possibly can for an okay answer when you've heard much better. You should be correspondingly less enthusiastic. I know some students put 15 hours a week into their homework and others who put none. These students should not be treated the same. Students who are nasty should be perceived as nasty by good teachers.   I wasn't concerned with students who drink, have sex, do drugs, smoke, listen to heavy metal, swear, or cut school.  I think students are nasty when they're interrupting the flow of the class, denying reality, blaming the teacher for their own poor performance on multiple guess open notes quiz, or asking for something they haven't earned.

Let's not raise kids to be moochers and looters by showering them with undue affection.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Hayek's Law, Legislation, and Liberty

1. At various points Hayek sounds like a utilitarian, cultural relativist, Rawlsian, and natural rights theorist.  Partly, this is because he has an elliptical writing style and writes in almost 100% abstract language with very few examples.  He devotes considerable space attacking utilitarianism but he sounds like one himself in several places.  His cultural relativism comes across very clearly.  He says that one should not interfere with Eskimos who exile a relative to freeze to death after a certain age. 

2. Hayek gives undue regard to tradition.  He argues that cultural practices might have evolved over time and have a use that no one person articulates or knows now, but probably serve some useful purpose.  Therefore, one should proceed with caution overturning any tradition, especially by legislation.  This could justify any number of obviously immoral practices - spousal rape, teasing gay kids to the point of suicide, and slavery.  Once I read the work of Ayn Rand, I tried to go through my day asking why I did everything I was doing, and I was able to eliminate a lot of unnecessary baggage this way.  My life is much better for it and I wish I had been even more thorough.  I believe one should stop anything one is doing out of custom if one can't find a reason for it (even if it is just "It feels good and has no harm that I'm aware of"), and then go back to it if one suddenly finds a reason for it later.  But Hayek continually blasts at this sort of Cartesian philosophy, which he calls constructive rationalism.

Hayek never provides guidelines as to how quickly to jettison customs once people start doubting them. 

3. Hayek's defense of the spontaneous order can lead to the state.  Government regulations and bureaucracies are often responses to things that happened in the past and that people can no longer articulate.  He doesn't spend very much time at all outlining why coercive measures are worse than other kinds of responses to problems of the past.

4. Hayek writes in favor of state supported minimal housing, medical care, schooling, and a guaranteed income, albeit of the voucher variety.  He points out later that voters are seldom willing to fund poor people alone, and measures to help the poor are almost always followed by measures that fund the middle and upper classes, which create a burdensome state that hurts the poor.  Even from the point of view of buying off the poor in exchange for cooperation with capitalism,  it sounds like the poor are worse off as a result of such measures.

He specifically states he has no quarrel with Rawls at one point, although one of his guidelines of a good society is one in which a member picked at random will have the highest chances of attaining his subjective ends, while Rawls says what matters is that of the least well off member.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Rationalism in Objectivist Romance : Common Errors Among Young Objectivists

I had a discussion with a recent college graduate who considered herself a devotee of Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism.  Ayn Rand's position on friendship was that one should be friends with others in proportion to their values.  Romantic love is friendship in the extreme, sharing life's most intense pleasure with the person one values the most.

My friend believes that you value or disvalue someone based solely on their values, which are chosen rather than inherited.  This means that in any kind of friendship, including romantic, their physical attributes, including their gender, should count for nothing.  (Many people believe similar things without being Objectivists.  Witness how often we hear that we should look past someone being overweight.  Or watch the movie Shrek).  She is frustrated because she believes that a homosexual male friend should commit to her, but he doesn't want to because he's also attracted to guys - even guys who share his values less than she does.  She said that "being a woman or a man is not a virtue...I have dated a number of guys that I was not initially attracted to, but as I got to know them and discovered their virtues, they became more attractive to me."  These arguments have had some success persuading this guy to date her.

I give her credit for taking the position to its logical consistency.  Usually, I find myself arguing with people that in romance, physical attributes are primary and fundamental.  It's not simply the genital equipment - it's also the body features and aesthetic associations with the equipment.  Otherwise, we would have sex with a person with similar values regardless of whether s/he were male or female, transvestite or hermaphrodite.   Also, if values were the only thing that mattered, all Objectivists would be friends with each other, and they are not.  Values and other personality qualities clearly amplify physical attraction, but I would argue that there are serious physical minimums well beyond just having the right gender.

To illustrate a point, I asked my friend how eating food could be a value given that none of us chose to be food-eaters.  Things don't become values simply because we choose them; things are values because they stand in a certain relationship to our lives/minds/happiness.  Objectivists should not pick values and stick to them just because we picked them; we should pursue what we know through reason and experience with maximize happiness.  And no amount of telling yourself that a person should bring you sexual gratification from his/her virtues will actually bring that gratification.  I suppose you could go without that gratification because you're obtaining other kinds of values, but that would be a major sacrifice.  It's forcing a square peg into a round hole. 

In order for objectivism to work, one has to make assumptions about what makes the mind happy.  Objectivists think we'll be happier as producers than simple inheritors of fortunes or recipients of nepotism because something about the way the brain works makes us happier as such.  Likewise, the brain responds to the physical stimuli of other people, or it doesn't.  My friend basically asked me, "have you tried not being consistently  heterosexual?" - just as absurd as asking a gay person if he's tried not being gay.

As we continued the conversation, she said "it's ridiculous to have the single most important quality in a mate be something [gender] that is no more a virtue than eye color."  I'd say avoiding anal penetration is on a different level of importance to me than the satisfaction of seeing a pleasant eye color, though I didn't mention that to her.

People reward good lookers all the time whether they have the values one wants or not - they're more likely to get good jobs and better mates (at least ceteris paribus), etc.  This skews the conditioning we want to encourage good values.  But if any particular person leaves looks out of their mate calculus, they are not going to reform the society.  What could be more altruistic and futile than doing so?

This is rationalism at its most extreme, because one is ignoring what one feels and forcing oneself to feel what one thinks s/he should feel.

I pursued this argument no further.  She was obviously getting testy and in my view, I planted a seed of doubt.  The only thing to do is wait and then hand her a box of Kleenexes and some Edith Packer pamphlets when the car wreck happens.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Should you date activists in the same movement?

America's Future Foundation had a Valentine's Day themed forum on "diving in or steering clear" tonight.  A member of the audience pointed out that the Catholic Church has been encouraging people to have sex with other Catholics for thousands of years.   Center/right think tanks have several socials a month where you can meet desirable members of the desired gender.  And yet, two libertarian women debated this proposition in a panel tonight. 

Whether by accident or on purpose, the two people arguing for romance with other activists were males and the two arguing against it were females.  Here are the salient points I can recall:


1. Even if you meet an activist from a different workplace at a social like AFF, they might become a coworker.  There are a lot of mergers, cross-think tank pollination, and changing jobs in DC.
2. Other women you work with might become enemies if they know you have slept with an ex or are dating someone they are simultaneously dating.
3. Philosophical purity is boring; disagreement makes conversations more interesting.
4. Dating is a numbers game, and there are a lot more men outside of the movement than in the movement.
5. There are more men than women in the center-right movement, which sounds good until you've had the experience of "rabid wolves" and "eager beavers" pouncing on you at the happy hour.  A more even balance is actually preferable.
6. It's distracting to you and your coworkers if you're dating someone at the same think tank.
7.  You and your romantic partner become seen as a couple rather than as individuals.
8. You miss out on networking opportunities at networking events if you are mainly making sure your date is happy.
9. Gossip is bearable in the relationship but becomes quite painful post-breakup.
10.  If you date older men in the movement they have huge egos and if you break up with them, they become angry and accuse you of giving them mono (a joke that fell flat).
11. By dating out of the movement, you help to spread the word.
12.  By dating out of the movement, you'll hear about different meet ups, events, activities than you would hear about with someone on the same email lists as you.


1. Obviously, you share common political beliefs, and you're more likely to share underlying values, than some random person.
2. Dating is tough.  Why would you want to restrict yourself from dating any pool of people?
3. You can mitigate damage from gossip and rough break ups by being professional at work and mature/honest with your dates.
4. You have one less thing to argue about.  One of the speakers mentioned an argument in the car with a significant other while picking up Karl Rove from the airport.  According to him, the S.O. glared at him as if she was contemplating a car wreck for the future of the country.
5. How about spreading the word from libertarians to conservatives, or vice versa?  We'll understand each other better.
6.  Best case scenario - soul mate.  Worst case scenario - water cooler gossip.  The ratio of benefit to cost seems favorable.  [Of course, worst case scenario is really sexual harassment or some other career damage.]

In the rebuttal, one of the women mentioned that consequences are much worse for females.  Women can be seen as social climbers if they date within the movement, whereas men give each other high fives and say "atta boy!" if they date a superior.  Men are also much more forgiving of men who have dated/slept with the same woman than women who have slept with the same men.

I thought it was odd that conservatives and libertarians were seen as obviously part of the same movement.  I thought the differences were serious enough that they would not see each other as family.

In the last question, a man said that at CPAC, a woman took down his email to add him to an organization's email list.  She not only added him but sent a friendly email.  One of the female speakers called that "an indicator of interest."

A man in the audience blurted out "Atta Boy!"

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Supply and Demand of Dating 20 somethings

 The dynamics of online dating are totally different for men and women.  In February 2005, long before the Craigslist killer, I proved this to a skeptical friend by doing an experiment on Craigslist.  This is old news, but I might as well share it with someone other than my original interlocutor. 

I wrote an ad for myself with no photo attached in the "men seeking women" section.   Here is the ad, entitled "Renaissance Intellectual Seeks Counterpart."

"I was raised by wolverines since the age of 3 (OK, that's a lie, but they might have done a better job than some real parents). I have been a part time instructor at a college, but I'm starting a PhD program in political science. I'll do whatever it takes to become a college professor: juggling, flame throwing,etc. I like Epicurean delights, cheating death with extensive exercise, hitting the road for some serious soul searching, and sipping a cafe latte while reading a book by Milton Friedman (I can't help it - I was raised by insensitive wolverines). I'll be happy to send a pic if you send me yours. I have light brown hair, thin but toned build, and blue eyes."

In one week, I received 6 responses from women.  None of the responses were interesting to me, and half of them had spelling or grammar errors that were deal breakers.

After the week was over, I took the same ad and posted it in "women seeking men."  Again, the ad had no photo.  I received 43 responses in the next 24 hours, and 83 over the next seven days.  If you ever reply to a woman's post (on Craigslist or any personals website where you email as many as you want for the price of one), that's what's you're up against.

I've heard women complaining that men send them pictures of their anatomy or request big breasts in their responses. Old (sometimes married) men with no chance send them pics. I received much higher quality responses. If the pics and self-descriptions were semi-accurate, most of the responses I got were from successful, polite men.  One guy looked like a Calvin Klein model. A few of them were bald.

The most interesting responses were:

"Interesting profile, I too was raised by wolves however, and after sever years of hearing about the 3 little pigs and the little girl riding through the Hood I decided to abandon that part. I'll start slow with just a small picture and If I hear from you I'll continue. I have a big one too,Picture I mean.. stop that . lol"

"The wolverine understands strength, understands power, understands endurance, respects the alpha male. The alpha male controls the pack because even if all beta males would attack him at the same time, he would always kill at least one other before being killed. The female with the greatest wisdom, greatest endurance, leads by action or inaction, chooses the which pack’s alpha to follow, holds the ultimate power of the wolverine. Therefore, alpha must be not just strong, but wise and kind to keep her. This alpha is sick, reads craigslist instead of Faulkner, loses meaning of symphonic clause sentences when writhing in intestine pain. No doubt I would have lost the pack for the week, been killed by the betas."

"What do you think? Could two people reading Milton Friedman and Leo Tolstoy be compatible?"

"I dont think i have ever met a woman who was raised by wolves but you sound like one of the more normal cl women who happens to also be raised by wolves."

"Epicureanism? Cheating death? Hitting the road? Very nice. Milton Friedman? A little troubling but the 'insensitive wolverines' joke makes it seem less troubling."

"While I was not raised by wolverines myself (which has left me with a lifelong complex) I was born in IN next to Michigan (home of the Wolverines) and my twin brother and I were almost named Romulus and Remus (who were raised by wolves, as you know) but then my Dad relented at the last minute. It's too bad that is not a joke. I mean, could I make up something like that?"

"as a greek am an antiquity intellectual.. perhaps we can communicate ;) ?"
- This was the entire message. What a scholar!

There are far more men seeking women than women seeking men for this age bracket - not surprising.  What I think it proves, though, is that women should be more understanding of men who have a mostly generic personal ad response and send it out to a lot of women.  If a woman only dates 6 of the 83 responses she receives from her ad, a man's odds are not very good if he puts all of his eggs in one basket or even a dozen baskets.  If women only have relationships with one in 6 dates, that means that men have to write 83 unique  responses to a 83 different personal ads.

The ratios are ostensibly even at popular bars and clubs,  but men nearly always would like to meet women there, while many women go just to dance, hang out with their female friends, and be seen.  Additionally, the lights are dim and the noise is high, so it is difficult to accurately assess how they really look and talk at such places.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

C Change at CPAC

I met New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson at the Cato Institute in July and gave him my card.  His campaign contacted me and offered me admission to CPAC for $15.  I wouldn't have been interested except I remembered that CPAC chose Students for Liberty over Bob Jones University last year, so I knew that you didn't have to be a social conservative.  This year, the Family Research Council, the Concerned Women of America, the American Principles Project, and Sen. Jim DeMint all declined to attend because the gay organization Go-Proud was there.

Apparently, that wasn't the case just 3 years ago - in 2008 or before, you would have found lots of participants gung-ho for the Iraq War.  Even last year, Ron Paul only filled the smaller rooms.  Admittedly, 50% of the audience were college students.  Nonetheless, I imagine there were a lot of students in 2008 as well.

This year, Ron Paul was filling the largest halls.  Republican C-man Paul Ryan started his speech with "How many of you like Ron Paul?  How many of you like Rand Paul?  How many of you like Paul Ryan"? Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld are not safe at CPAC anymore - someone yelled "war criminal" when
Rumsfeld appeared.  If they're not safe at CPAC, where are they safe?   The Young Americans For Freedom president was booed for calling Ron Paul supporters "nuts," as was Donald Trump for saying his candidacy was unrealistic.  As it happened YAF had tons of leftover cake, which the presidents served himself.  Some students started taking the silverware and cutting it themselves, but not trusting the spontaneous order, the president said "I'll handle that" and students (including me) walked away.

On Thursday night, both Rand and Ron Paul gave a talk.  The talk was preceded by a 20 minute humorous cartoon about the history of central banking and the Fed. The huge audience cheered when Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton.  The movie ends with the protagonist talking to Ben Bernanke in Spartan clothing and
Bernanke attempt to buy the protagonist's cooperation.  The protagonist then yells "THIS IS AMERICA!" and kicks Bernanke down the hole.  At many times people got up and yelled either "End the Fed" or "Run Ron Run."

Overall, I found the experience dull.  I went Thursday and didn't go back Friday or Saturday (except for evening festivities) for the price of my time.  Most of the speeches were "pander...stand up and clap...pander...stand up and clap...pander...conclusion."  Most of the participants avoided deep thoughts as well, seeming to view political candidates as saviors instead of recognizing the need for cultural change or realizing that American values were not yet consistent with pure capitalism.

I voted for Gary Johnson and Mitch Daniels in the straw poll.  Ron Paul had his shot in 2008, and he's now too old at 75.  But Paul nonetheless trounced Johnson - over 30% compared with Johnson's third place finish of 6%.

I went to a bar both Thursday and Saturday night, and was mostly bored at both.  The bar Adams Mill was packed like a sardine can and you had to charge your way to the bar.  I left after 20 minutes.  Saturday night was "Reaganpalooza," and was slightly less packed and less crowded.  I mainly talked to my UCLA colleague Emily, who was at CPAC for field research.  I also heard about this incredible story ( about James O'Keefe - the ACORN pimp - attempting to seduce a reporter with dildos and Viagra on a boat, but the reporter was warned by his assistant, an acquaintance of mine.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Cranks: An Academic Work Hazard

After a long day at a political science conference, I went to the hotel's whirlpool with one of my fellow conference goers.  There was also a muscular, tattooed, middle-aged Native American.  My colleague and I talked about my presentation earlier in the day, along with the discipline.

After about 10 minutes the Native American jumped in and started talking about politics and history.  He said America was settled by the debtors, rapists, and thieves of Europe. He pointed out American institutions derived from the Iroquois.

Furthermore, Native Americans did not cross from Asia to the Americas, but from the Americas to Asia.  The proof is in the Bible, which refers to "red people" in various parts.  [Of course, the Bible has a completely different god than his tribe's god.]

He also mentioned that his god gave the four races of Earth each a gift.  The four races - his words - were the red men, the yellow men, the black men, and the white men.  The yellow men were given knowledge of technology.  He said that black men were given the gift of athleticism, and nodded respectfully to my colleague on the other side of the whirlpool, who happened to be black.  Finally red men were given the gift of compassion, and white men, knowledge of how to wield power.  This guy thought it was outrageous that Natives were called Indians, but calling them red was okay.

My colleague excused himself and went to the sauna calmly and silently.  According to him, I had a glazed look on my face as if I were struggling to find a way to bring the conversation back to a reasonable level.

I asked, what about the Aztecs?  They ran an empire.  He said, "well, just as there are regional differences in Asia between the Chinese and Japanese and Koreans, there are some regional differences among the Native Americans."  I excused myself shortly after this point.  Arguing with random strangers like this is not worth my time.

The next day, my colleague and I came home from dinner and went to the hotel bar, rather than the elevator, since the Native American was about to take the elevator.

What's your favorite story of a crank?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Predicting Obama's Place in History

In 2008, I wrote an unpublished op-ed about why liberals should vote for McCain and conservatives Obama.  The short version - if Obama won, he'd have little political capital, and disappoint the liberals, and if McCain won, he would hasten the demise of the Republican Party. 

This conclusion was sparked by a political science book called The Politics Presidents Make, by Yale political scientist Stephen Skowronek.  US history consists of regimes where one party's ideas and institutions are somewhat more dominant for a generation.  "Opposition presidents" who oppose the dominant regime always run into trouble - Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon, and Andrew Johnson were examples that were almost impeached because they overreached and alienated both sides.  In order to accomplish something when the other party's ideas are more popular, they need to be sneaky, compromising, and two-faced.  There are five regimes in US History - the Jeffersonian Regime, the Jacksonian Regime, the Lincoln Regime, the New deal Regime, and the Reagan Regime.  In early 2008, when I wrote the op-ed, I believed that the ideas of the Reagan regime still had vitality in 2008; Bush fatigue should not be confused with Reagan fatigue.  I predicted that Obama would be an opposition president.

Generally, regimes end with a leader who tries to straddle the stalwarts of their party and those who think the party's solutions no longer work in modern times.  Think of Jimmy Carter.  McCain would have fit that mold perfectly.  He had a record of being a maverick, and yet tried to prove that he was a loyal conservative during the campaign.  Skowronek calls these leaders "disjunctive presidents."  Streamlining things by vetoing pork was a good plank for McCain, because that's something that appeals to everyone, both the base and the reformers.  Carter did that too - he promised to improve welfare services without spending any more money on them, and tried to streamline government with deregulation.  Yet, their political failures hasten their party's demise as the public believes their party's solutions no longer work.  Some presidents are dealt a losing hand.  I didn't think of Bush as a disjunctive president, however, because disjunctive presidents have never won reelection, and almost never have the political capital to launch a war.

Two things seemed wrong with this in the fall of 2008.  First, Obama's indictment of the Reagan regime seemed a lot more thorough than Clinton, Nixon, and Johnson's indictment of the Reagan, New Deal, and Lincoln regimes.  It even seemed to generate a movement for transformational leadership.  Second, I thought the really poor economy would give Obama much more capital than normal, and the Congressional election was a landslide for Democrats.  Other presidents we might consider transformational did not have supermajorities in Congress as big as Obama's (especially the most recent one, Reagan, whose party never controlled the House).  Even Franklin Roosevelt's majorities contained a lot more conservative Democrats than now exist in the Senate.  The poor economy could have skipped the disjunctive phase and placed Obama right in the transformation phase. 

Now, I think my original prediction was more on target.  If Obama were to be a transformational president, as he hoped to be (remember his praise of Reagan), he would have to energize liberal followers the way FDR did (with unions) or Reagan did (with the conservative movement).  The only movement he's energized is the Tea Party, an opposition he helped crystallize.  Crystallizing an opposition is much more characteristic of opposition presidents than transformational presidents.  The movement behind Obama's election was more about the man than his issues.

For conservatives, the bad news is that opposition presidents often win reelection.  Presidents Tyler, Taylor, Cleveland, Wilson, Eisenhower, Nixon, and Clinton are opposition presidents, and only the first two lost reelection.  Obama has also passed a lot more of his liberal proposals than any of those presidents except Woodrow Wilson.  The good news is that a McCain presidency would have been a disaster for conservatives.  The Tea Party, lacking a bete noire, would have been much less powerful while liberals would have formed a strong group opposed to "Bush's third term."  With the recession looming large, a McCain presidency would have been a prolonged test of conservative ideals in the public mind (the public, rightly or wrongly, would see Bush and McCain as conservatives).  Having a Democrat in office has deflected much of that feeling.  Republicans can marginalize Bush and don't need to explain away McCain.

I say this with hesitation; the stimulus and health care proposal are truly repugnant to conservatives.  The health care proposal will be very hard to dismantle, and perhaps worse than anything McCain would have done, but the alternative might have been a worse health care proposal down the line.