Friday, August 13, 2010

North Dakota Bois are beautiful. And funny.

They should have used the zoo train, rather than the trolley.

Serwer on Douthat

Douthat's musings are like chum in shark-infested waters. My favorite liberal bloggers show up to feast.

Here now, Adam Serwer at The American Prospect.

The meaning of marriage, anthropologically speaking

Those inclined to consider the purpose of marriage might want to hear what anthropologists have to say on the subject:
Arlington, Virginia--The Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association, the world's largest organization of anthropologists, released the following statement on February 26, 2004 in response to President Bush's call for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage as a threat to civilization:

The results of more than a century of anthropological research on households, kinship relationships, and families, across cultures and through time, provide no support whatsoever for the view that either civilization or viable social orders depend upon marriage as an exclusively heterosexual institution. Rather, anthropological research supports the conclusion that a vast array of family types, including families built upon same-sex partnerships, can contribute to stable and humane societies.

The Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association strongly opposes a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to heterosexual couples.

Ezra vs. Douthat - next rounds

Ezra yesterday:  
In other words, America does not currently conceive of marriage in the way that Douthat and Tushnet would like it to conceive of marriage, and in the way it would need to conceive of marriage in order for there to be a good reason the institution can't accommodate gays. So to oppose gay marriage, Douthat and Tushnet must first construct an alternative version of marriage, and then argue that if real marriage opens to gays, that's another step away from the idealized marriage that would be closed to gays.
I'm sticking to my assertion that not even Douthat conceives of marriage in the way he's put forth, because if he really, really did, then he'd advocate for marriage to be available only to the procreating. In fact, he'd need to advocate for the establishment of government sex panels to make sure married couples were engaging in practices that might result in procreation, or risk losing their marriage status. (Truly, I could go on and on with the absurdities that would follow if Douthat's notions of the real purpose of marriage were correct.)

Back to Ezra:
Deep into his essay, Douthat admits that this is a difficult argument to mount. "This thickness issue also helps explain what often sounds like tongue-tiedness and/or desperation from social conservatives when they’re asked to explain what, exactly, it is about marriage that makes it distinctively heterosexual," he says. That's an important insight, but I think it cuts in the other direction. When you hold a position that you feel very deeply but can't justify with persuasive facts or clear theory, it's generally a signal that something is awry in the underlying position.
Ezra analogizes that the move toward acceptance of gay marriage is like the shift from VCR to DVD.

Douthat responds to Ezra today:

Douthat quibbles with Ezra's pick for analogy and says it's more like Betamax vs. VCR.  
Like the Betamax supporters,  social conservatives are convinced that they have a superior product — in this case, a conception of marriage that ultimately leads to greater overall human flourishing than the newer, thinner understanding. But having a theoretically superior product isn’t always enough: You have to be able to persuade the world to buy it, or buy into it, and you have to adjust as the world changes and some of the forces that gave your model a structural advantage in the marketplace shrink or disappear. And on both fronts conservatives have been conspicuously failing.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Ezra on Douthat

Ezra on Twitter says: Ross Douthat's posts on gay marriage are convincing me there really isn't a critique of gay marriage that makes sense.

Could not agree more, Ezra. I tried to write a rebuttal to Douthat's column, but he had made so little sense there wasn't anything to say in response.

Douthat said that the real reason heteroseXual marriage deserved honor was that straight couples had the unique ability to bear biological children. OK. That's true. But so what? It's a tautology, not an argument.

Of all the letters, only X is an X. Does that mean it should be treated differently? Maybe we could always capitalize the X. Of all the ways there are to be parents, only heteroseXual couples can create children biological to both of them.

Fine. But Douthat needs to then make the case that that unique condition matters in order to have said something.

If you want to say that the real meaning and purpose of marriage is about procreation, then what are you going to do with all the marriages of people who can't procreate, don't want to procreate, or are done with their procreating days? What are you going to do with straight couples raising kids that are not biological to one or either of them? There's absolutely no way to construct a sensible rationale for the institution of marriage that honors procreation but not parenting of the non-biologically-procreated. (If we were short on people, then you could; but since we have plenty of people, you can't.) And, if you base your rationale on parenting, rather than procreating, then you have to open the door to same-seX couples who parent.

But the thing about Douthat's blathering about this issue that steams me isn't that it doesn't make any sense; it's that it's dishonest. If Douthat had ever in his life argued that marriage should be reserved for procreating couples and should not be available to straight couples who aren't procreating due to barrenness or age or lack of interest, then I would believe that he actually believes his own rationale for what marriage ought to honor. If he said, "That's right; no getting married for women past child-bearing years. No marriage for men who've had irreversible vasectomies. I really mean it -- marriage is for procreators." But no. He hasn't done any such thing. He's only conjured this position about how the real purpose of marriage is to honor procreators as a way to try to draw a distinction between straight couples and gay couples. He knows that if he focuses on parenting, he can't eXclude gay couples from access to marriage.

It's possible that there is no particularly good rationale for why the government ought to sanction marriage for anyone. Big topic for another day. I think there are some reasons why it makes sense, including but not limited to a structure for parenting, but if you make me pick between a) making marriage only available to straight couples or b) no marriage for anyone, I pick no marriage for anyone.

BTW, how do you pronounce Douthat? I'm calling him DOUGH HAT in my head.

Update: So I guess The American Prospect called out the problem of Douthat failing to explain why the uniqueness of heteroseXual couplings matters, and he's responded by saying that heteroseXual seX has consequences or the potential of consequences that same-seX seX doesn't have.  My charges of dishonesty still stand, since there are no potential consequences for barren/old/vasectomied people having seX and yet Douthat isn't suggesting these folks should be eXcluded from marriage.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Twentieth Century Boy

Adam took on T-Rex tonight for the first time in Erie, PA.

(Sound on this video is painfully distorted. Will substitute something better when it turns up.) Video from mndchngr.

Update 8/15/10 for Michael: By "took on T-Rex", I mean he sang a song originally recorded by the band T-Rex.

Update 8/15/10 pm: Another performance of the same song from 8/14/10 performance (Quebec), recorded by fan Addicted2AdamLambert:

Ezra does an informal survey on the Laffer curve

My boy, Ezra, did an interesting exercise.

The idea behind the Laffer Curve is that there is some percentage at which revenue generated from income tax can be maximized. With tax rates at 0%, obviously no revenue is generated. At 100%, no revenue is generated because there'd be no reason to work. Somewhere between 0 and 100 is a sweet spot where federal tax revenue is maximized.

Ezra surveyed a couple economists and a bunch of politicians about where they think the Laffer curve peaks and presents their answers here.

Answers from Republican politicians and folks who lean to the right politically, tended to be well below 50%; Democratic politicians (looks like only two of them) were up around 70%. The two economists he asked identified top rates of 69% and greater than 60%.

Of course, as Martin Feldstein, Harvard, answered, maximizing federal revenue shouldn't really be a goal of tax policy, so in that sense the question is pointless. Further, half of the pertinent equation is missing when you ponder just the government-revenue-generation portion of the effect of tax rates. You should also be considering the effect on GDP or growth or something reflecting the effect on private sector income or wealth or something. But, still, the question is interesting for revealing how far apart are politicians' views. If you really believe setting income tax rates above 19% causes a drag on the economy, then of course you're going to fret about raising the top bracket from 35 to 39%. If, though, you think that you can raise rates to 70% without being an economic drag, then an increase from 35 to 39% for the top bracket is really not a big deal.

Snakes as art

Gorgeous photos of snakes here. (I promise it's not pictures of Douthat.)

Marriage: "It Wasn't All Bad"

Douthat inspires me to post this.