Sunday, April 30, 2006


(Via Crooked Timber) Who thought this was a good idea? How are they going to turn this ideological, starkly elitist behemoth into a watchable movie? Though making it into a movie may be the vehicle of Ayn's ultimate revenge; we'll have no choice but to sit through John Galt's rant at the end. I'm a little puzzled though; I sort of assumed that Atlas Shrugged isn't a book that would "play in Peoria". I suppose that if you market it right people wouldn't have to be familiar with the book. Hell, that might even increase sales. But really, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie? One wonders how Angelina reconciles her philanthropic work with her interest in Objectivism. Whilst we were discussing this dubious turn of affairs last night a friend of mine pointed out that Ayn Rand would have eaten Angelina for lunch. As an aside, when did it become de riguer to dump all over Atlas Shrugged? I mean yeah, its kind of crazy, but calling it a book suited to insecure 15 year old boys is a bit much. I'm not a rabid Objectivist by any means, but there's at least some merit to Ayn's philosophy, yes? This topic came up in conversation with some friends not so long ago. We were talking about how our ideologies were changing as we got older, and I brought up the fact that I was actually getting more, rather than less, liberal in my old age. One of the people I was speaking with said something to the effect that I'd come to the realization that Ayn Rand was crazy after all. My response was that Objectivism would be a fine philosophy if we were all white, Protestant males. Further walking in the world has convinced me that Objectivism's disregard of power differentials and structural inequalities makes it problematic as a theoretical framework in a lot of situations. But it would seem to me that, having recognized these shortcomings, its easy to derive a synthesis which recognizes these inequalities and takes them into account. Anyway, it'll be interesting to see how this one plays out.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Embracing Management

Update: Several parties have accused me of being unduly dramatic; my apologies. I was tired when I wrote this and the "ironical" tone I was looking for failed to show through.
I found (via Alas) this fairly interesting post on "husband management". The whole concept isn't the fault (or invention) of feminists, but I don't think that feminist women are any less guilty either. Based on my experience it looks like this particular approach to relationships is practiced by women on both sides of the feminist/traditionalist aisle. I think about the het couples that I know (myself and wife included), who range from vaguely progressive to positively crunchy, and I suspect (and sometimes know outright) that the men in these relationships are being "managed" to a greater or lesser degree. And it gets better... a lot of the men (myself included) know that we're being managed some of the time. We think we know when we're being managed, our wives are open about the fact that they're managing us, but is that possibly just cover for the times when they're managing us and we don't catch on? But the larger issue here is the question of alternatives. Resistance doesn't get us anywhere in the long run, and the management is benign or even beneficial. I used to be concerned with the idea that I should be acting as an autonomous individual, but that stance eventually led to more problems than it was worth. Frankly I've just given in... what point in being principled if the only outcome is that it makes you miserable?

Other Reasons Why History Textbooks Are Broken

I recently finished History on Trial and am currently working my way through Lies My Teacher Told Me (10th anniversary edition, which doesn't seem to be available on Amazon). These are really good books for anyone who is interested in primary school curricula, history, the culture war, etc. I was pleasantly surprised by Lies; I'd expected a laundry-list of corrections or anecdotes but it actually contains a very well developed discussion of select themes like heroification and the absence of racism in primary school texts. Both books posit similar reasons for why history books are, on the whole, lame, boring, inaccurate, etc: Patriotism, a desire not to offend by commission, a desire not to offend by omission. These combined influences reduce textbooks to little more than bland statements and collections of fact. I think that they're pretty much on the mark as far as they go. But I think they've certainly overlooked one, and possibly two, additional causes which are certainly at work as well. The history that both of these texts would have taught is complex and contingent; this undoubtedly is a much truer reflection of the actual nature of history. But here's a question: How do you test kids on contingent history? It seems, IMHO, that one of the reasons that history books have been reduced to lists of facts is that its easier to test kids using this model. Lists of facts translate easily to multiple-choice, fill in the blank, true/false tests. These types of tests are easy to grade, either the student marked the correct answer or they didn't, and you can have a scantron machine do the grading for you. The alternative suggested by both of these books would require a lot more time and effort on the teacher's part. Complex and contingent history cannot, almost by definition, be reduced to a multiple-choice exam. In this sort of scenario you ask students to make a fact-supported argument which involves, in the least, short answer questions if not full-blown essays. Such types of answers are time-consuming to grade. I suspect that they also lead to a good deal of acrimony between students and teachers, since the grading of such questions is subjective (to some degree). If the common perception of teachers as already overworked and underpaid is correct then it requires a great deal of altruism on their part to subject themselves to additional work and controversy. Which segues into the next cause, the one I'm not so certain about. Teaching history as something other than a list of facts requires teachers to have a really good grasp of the subject. Both History on Trial and Lies talk about all sorts of really cool (relatively speaking) projects that teachers could have their students do; a good one from Lies is to perform historiographic analysis of the representations of John Brown. But in order to organize a project or lead a discussion around a topic like that you really have to be on the ball when it comes to history. I'm not convinced that the average history teacher is up to the task. Personally I tend to chalk that one up to the whole "teacher pay" issue. I'm not trying to imply that "those who can't, teach", but at the same time you'd get a whole lot more of "those who can" if teachers were paid market rates for the level of expertise that their jobs require. I'm relatively certain that I could teach basic computer science or math to high school kids; I've certainly thought about teaching in the past. But really, it hardly makes any sense to even consider going down that road when I can make a metric buttload more as a traveling engineer, and all that job really requires is plugging things in, installing drivers, and making nice to the customer. So yeah, really good books, but I'd really like to see their take on the issues I've raised above.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Umm... Yeah... Duh...

That's my response to Belle Waring's question
What does it mean to "have the mental age" of a 12-year-old? Should you necessarily have the sex life of a 12-year-old, for all your days?
If you accept the "mental age" diagnosis (highly problematic, but that's an entirely different discussion) what possible alternative is there? I try not to be dismissive when I respond to posts, but this is just a no-brainer. We progress, once again, from the principle of consent: legitimate sexual activity between two persons requires the consent of both parties. Assume that a 12-year-old, or equivalent, cannot consent to sexual activity? Anyone want to debate that statement? And before you start quoting Nabokov at me yes, I realize there might be some edge cases, but on the average? Ok, then we have consent by proxy? Anyone want to go down that road? Uh-huh... thought so. As a side note to a nut, who posted a comment asking
Who gets to decide which woman/man with a mental/physical disability is "good enough" to have children? Isn't that getting back into the dangerous grounds of eugenics?
Nope, you can intelligently advocate that position without resorting to anything which smacks of eugenics. One of the duties of being a parent is assuming guardianship of your child. Anyone who is incapable of being their own guardian (which would seem to be a key component in any reasonable definition of mental disability) is likewise incapable of assuming guardianship over a child. QED, unless you intend to support the position that people have a right to bring a child into the world without assuming the concomitant responsibility of raising that child.

What To Do With Failed Experiments?

There's a pretty decent article in the NYT today about the growing divergence in certain policy positions among the states. I personally tend to favor a strong federal government; it just makes sense to me that things like educational curricula and drivers' licenses should be administered at the national level. But I find the "laboratory of democracy" argument compelling as well... letting individual states try out different policies appeals to the empiricist in me. While I was reading the article I was thinking something along the lines of "sounds good... states that choose unwise policies will just wither up and die... wait...". That's where the laboratory analogy breaks down; states aren't discrete little entities that live or die on their own merits. They're part of the larger economic/cultural ecosystem of the US and their choices have impacts beyond their own borders. This would be less of an issue if there were some kind of assurance that states were self-correcting. If we knew that states that made bad policy decisions would eventually fix themselves then it wouldn't be an issue for them to be broken for 5 or 10 years. But Mississippi isn't going to throw in the towel and let itself be annexed by Connecticut, nor does it show any signs of coming out of its slump on its own. So these "problem states" (you know who you are) sit around, sucking up resources and generating social disfunction, leaving everyone else to deal with the collateral damage. At what point do the rest of the states in this glorious union get to say "Enough already"? Even if you could figure that one out how the hell would you go about enforcing it? That's the real kicker, right there. There's no good mechanism that I'm aware of for a set of states to compel another state to change its ways. If more things were taken care of at the federal level you'd always have the option of "throwing da' bums out". But what to do when your backwater neighboring state is creating a generation of ignorant teenage mothers because they teach about ID but not about contraception? As far as I can tell there's not a damn thing you can do about it, though clearly there needs to be some recourse. So I'm going to remember this the next time someone starts talking about states' rights. If we're all in the same boat, what do you do with someone who refuses to pull an oar?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

I'm Not Surprised

Over at Respectful Insolence there's a well-thought out post (via Pharyngula) about MDs who support Intelligent Design. Both Orac and PZ express surprise that there are so many doctors (and soon-to-be doctors) who believe in this sort of thing. I've got to tell them that I'm not nearly as surprised. Thanks to my wife, whom I've know since before she started med school, I've had the dubious privilege of witnessing the transformation of college graduates into practicing MDs. It has, shall we say, torn the scales from my eyes. These people are mortals, yea verily, with all of their foibles and failings. In med school they overslept, didn't study enough, drank to much, were catty and gossipy... all that good stuff. According to my wife med school is a lot like high school; its certainly not an inherently dignifying process. None of the above critique is terribly original, but it bears telling anyway. More telling (and perhaps more original) is an observation that my wife and I have made time and time again. Most (though not all, trust me on this one) MDs are smart in a book-learnin' sort of way, but most are neither wise nor reflective. This really disappointed my wife; she had hoped that one of the perks of becoming a doctor would be that she would get to know interesting people. This was true to some extent in med school; you have the opportunity to interact with people in all 4 classes, so just by sheer numbers there's more of a chance you'll find interesting people. This is not the case during residency. The number of people you work with and really get to know is greatly reduced. We've been able to find a small contingent of interesting people, but I think it grinds my wife down that she has to associate with dumbfucks every day. These people are at the top of the opportunity food chain; if anyone has ever had the ability to make something of themselves these are the folks. But frankly, I've had the opportunity to talk to some of these people and really, when you get right down to it they've got all the self awareness of a bag of hammers. This manifests itself, I think, in a number of ways. Physicians can be very superstitious people and tend to cling to tradition. Which would be fine, if sad, if this didn't have an adverse affect on their patients. You know what's a real big thing these days? "Evidence-based medicine". The first time I heard this phrase my initial thought was "as opposed to what?". Glad you asked. It turns out that many conditions are treated according to tradition rather than, say, according to current research. The worst part is that these book-smart folks like to think of themselves as up-to-date on the latest and greatest. When you point out that in many cases they're within spitting distance of Galen they don't take it too kindly. So no, it doesn't surprise me in the least that there's a whopping great number of physicians who support any one of a number of ridiculous ideas. There seems to be a systematic blindness, if not willful disregard, for evidence in favor of tradition among this set. Given that the ability to fairly evaluate evidence is less a function of education and more a function of true open-mindedness then there is little to separate physicians from the rest of the herd in this regard.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


I finally finished The Dark Tower today. Well done, and thanks.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Easter Musings

I see that PZ Meyers' got his drink on regarding Easter. Easy, man, yer gunna burst a vessel. Anyway, I'll quibble with PZ's post and then I'll move on to the meat of things. Calling Easter a "vile little holiday" might be a bit much. Remember that Easter as it is currently celebrated is a hijacking of a relatively benign celebration of Spring. There's absolutely nothing wrong with recognizing the arrival of Spring; I certainly appreciate it more since I moved to a region of the country that has 5 months of nasty winter. PZ makes these same arguments, but he makes it sounds like everyone is fixated a-la Gibson on the horror of the Passion. Granted, there's no need to dress a celebration of Spring up in religious garb, but we'll let that pass on the grounds that mindful practice of these sorts of rites isn't a bad thing. I'll argue that a lot of people currently celebrate the spring sense of Easter. My wife and I aren't practicing Christians (or anything else, for that matter), but we still like to throw Easter brunch. End quibble. PZ is just wrong in his interpretation of the Crucifixion story; it wasn't a matter of "being unable to pull out a few nails"1. The canonical teaching of the Catholic church (and most other Christian churches as far as I know) is that it was a deliberate choice. But the meat of his argument, about the theological justification/necessity/validity of the Christian got me thinking. I mean, I was raised Catholic, and I don't recall anyone ever explaining why it was theologically necessary for Jesus to die. So I went and looked up the official catechism on the subject. Now I know why they didn't delve deeper in CCD. Talk about subtle reasoning... Here's a meta-critique of the whole affair. I'm a college educated ex-catholic with a greater than average interest in doctrine, and I'm having trouble putting all of the threads of the argument together. How the fuck is the average churchgoer supposed to make heads or tails of it? Bear in mind that this is the official catechism, not some academic addendum. The "In Brief" is easier to follow, but doesn't really answer the question. Anyway, back to the question itself. There appear to be two threads of argument supporting the contention that the Crucifixion was necessary:
  • Fulfillment of scripture/prophecy
  • "Ransoming" of mankind from the "futile ways inherited from [their] fathers".
The whole scripture thing doesn't hold up under even casual scrutiny. The revelations of scripture were inspired by God, in which case the argument reduces to "Jesus had to die because God said so". Which demonstrates why is happened, but not why it was theologically necessary. Also, it doesn't really jibe with the New Testament presentation of an infinitely loving god, which is why I suspect that the official catechism calls the entire affair "part of the mystery of God's plan". Punt... The second thread, the "ransoming", seems to be most clearly expressed in item 602. The wages of sin are death and all that jazz. It doesn't address the actual mechanism of ransoming (presumably God could snap his fingers and say "You're ransomed"), but says that its necessary because of original sin and all the sin that followed. Which is just fantastic. Original sin is a doctrine rife with logical inconsistencies. To start with, consider the act itself. You cannot sin if you do not know what you do is wrong (hence the whole "age of discretion" doctrine). Adam and Eve didn't know right from wrong until they ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil; that they gained this knowledge after eating the fruit is demonstrated by their shame at their nakedness after, but not before. There's probably some casuistic argument to be made to get around the above boot-strapping issue, but there's still the problem of transmission of original sin. The sins of the father being visited upon the son is a very old school, vengeful deity sort of thing, again difficult to reconcile with an infinitely loving god. Again, the catechism punts, saying that "the transmission of original sin is a mystery that we cannot fully understand" (statement 404) . So, in a nutshell, it doesn't look like there's a satisfactory explanation for why the Crucifixion was necessary from a theological standpoint.
1 But he's on the money regarding the whole "omnipotent and human" thing. Many of Christianity's most famous heresies revolve around the exact relationship between Jesus and God. It seems that Christians as a whole have forever been divided on the subject.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Why 'The Ethicist' Is A Wanker

Jon Mandle at Crooked Timber has a post on the NYT's Ethicist column regarding the vitriolic reactions that it engenders in some of his colleagues. He's chalking a lot of it up to professional jealousy; I can't speak to that, since I don't know a lot of professional ethics types. But I can speak to why its a source of mockery among the NYT readers that I know. Let's start with the column title and work our way down, shall we? Why The Ethicist? Why not Dear Abby for People with Large Vocabularies?1 I mean, really, have you looked at the kinds of letters that get published in this column? After vigorous scientific analysis, we at the Shiny Ideas labs have managed to extract the essence of an Ethicist letter:
Dear Ethicist - I have a problem. Should I do what's right, or what's easy? Sincerely, Someone who really should know better
What, you say? That's an unfair characterization? Well, here's an excerpt from last week's column:
I am a first-year professor at a small college being considered for reappointment. A major factor is student evaluations of my teaching and my response to them. Curiously, I am to read these signed evaluations and complete my review portfolio before grading these students. Should I refuse to read them, or just attempt to be as objective as possible (which I am anyway!) when administering grades? Mark Tursi, Dallas, Pa.
Uh-huh, let's run the checklist. Problem? Check. Easy solution? Check. Correct solution? Check. Here's a hint, Mr. Ethicist man. If you're going to write a column on ethics you should restrict yourself to people who have bona-fide ethical dilemmas, not provide pep talks to people who already know the correct course of action. An how, exactly, does Mr. Cohen go about resolving these putative dilemmas anyway? You know, Ayn Rand may have been crazy, but at least she was clear about how she arrived at her conclusions. There's something to be said for stating your axioms and associated baggage up front. Mr. Cohen, on the other hand, doesn't seem to have anything resembling a coherent framework... most of the time he seems to be shooting from the hip, dressing things up with occasional theoretical-sounding references. For example, from the same column cited above, in response to a question about whether lies told to a nursing home patient about her condition were ethical:
They were not. Deliberately misleading a patient robs her of her dignity. This is not to suggest that nurses should deal harshly with patients, but that tact and sensitivity are preferable to outright falsehood. Instead of saying: "Your condition is hopeless," the nurses can say, "Wouldn't it be great if you could go home?" or "You'll feel better if you come to therapy." That is, encourage a patient, humor a patient, but do not lie.
He seems to be endorsing the tactic of changing the subject (or lying by omission, take your pick) rather than actually communicating the truth to the patient. Way to go! I'd give him more credit if he actually confronted the issue; "How to tell someone they're screwed" is actually an interesting discussion with bona-fide ethical implications. So that, in a nutshell, is why The Ethicist drives my cohort up the wall. Its really just a run-of-the-mill advice column all tarted-up for the NYT.
1 Snark attribution: That particular quip is courtesy of Kim in NYC. Hi Kim!

Monday, April 10, 2006

Ritual and Tradition (A Rebuttal)

I see that my humble self has had the honor of being skewered by one of the Internet's finest, though I think my position is not as far from Ed's as he makes out. It seems to be that we diverge primarily in our views of tradition and ritual. Ed originally wrote
Ritual is important in a society and most of our important rituals are church-related, from Bar and Bat Mitzvahs as rituals for the passage to adulthood (or something near it) to marriage ceremonies to funerals. And certainly, church communities do act as support groups in a wide range of ways, most of them positive. On top of that, much of the great art, music, architecture and so forth has roots in the church and these are all valuable both to society and the individual.
My concern is not necessarily with their value, per se, but rather with the way in which they are commonly interpreted. I've touched on this briefly in the past in writing about rites of passage. My concern in that case was that rites of passage encourage people to think in dichotomies; they forget that the rite is merely the formal recognition of an ongoing process. I believe that this critique can be expanded to ritual in general; the average person posited by Ed forgets that ritual is symbolic, intended to remind the practitioner of something else. They focus their thoughts on the ritual itself rather than the truth behind the ritual and, in the end, the ritual ends up obscuring the truth that it was originally intended to illuminate. With regards to tradition he goes on to say in his new post
I absolutely agree that my craving for a connection to something more permanent and timeless than last year's one hit wonder and this week's fashion trends is a function of living not merely in contemporary culture, but specifically in American culture (which is primarily popular culture and thus far more transient and temporary).
That's the start of an answer, but its not the whole answer. Why does transience cause us to crave tradition? Why the reaction formation? I'll posit that change reminds us of our mortality, and that we reach for tradition in an effort to deny the same. This is armchair psychoanalysis as its best (worst?), but that's beside the point. The point is that we crave tradition because it serves some deep-seated, psychological need which we choose not to face head-on. Again, in the interest of little-t truth, wouldn't it be better to identify and reconcile this need rather than continue to crave tradition? This is where the "pandering" comes in. There is a dichotomy between reaction and considered choice; an action is either volitional or reflexive. As Ed points out sexual desire is a primal reaction and we exercise choice as to the when, where, and how. In that case we're exercising conscious choice. But the average individual, living an unexamined life, makes no such choice when it comes to tradition. They grasp at tradition because it makes them feel good, rather choosing tradition through a process of rational evaluation. This is what I mean by "pandering"; its fine to indulge the reptile brain (at length), but its another thing to reflexively accede to its demands. Now, lest I be branded an ascetic or Philistine, I'll concede the merits of wine, balsamic, and the Sistine Chapel. But I think these examples prove my point. The aged balsamic is good because balsamic improves with age, ditto with wine. The Sistine Chapel is enthralling because its an archetypal example of fine (high, even) art. But none of them are valuable merely because they partake of tradition.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Pass The Salt...

This is the kind of thinking which leads to eating Irish babies. I'm sympathetic to their assessment of the effects of organized religion on individuals, but at the same time I've a problem with endorsing the idea just because it has a positive social outcome. This goes back to my previous post about the numinous feelings induced by drug use. If you are, like myself, a materialist, agnostic, (weak) atheist, can you (should you?) in good conscience describe such experiences in spiritual terms? If you are, like Ed Brayton, a deist who denies the existence of revelation, is it proper to be endorsing religious institutions? What does it say about you and your system of morality, that you endorse an idea or institution based on its beneficial effects even thought, at its core, that same thing is founded on principles which you consider to be untrue? I think it makes you a pragmatist which, as far as I'm concerned, is generally a benign stance to take. Governments, for example, have ideological charters (life, liberty, pursuit of happiness in one notable case), but they should be pragmatic about how they go about fulfilling their charter. The greatest good for the greatest number, as long as they can do so without substantively violating any of their core principles. Rigorous consistency and ideological purity at the level of national government is unachievable. People, on the other hand, have the ability to be consistent about the ideas they choose to endorse. If you're ok with a pragmatic approach that's fine, but you better be ready to follow it to its logical conclusion. What I really find objectionable in Ed and Mr. Olson's approach is that is has a "bread and circuses" feel to it. They're essentially advocating organized religion as a mechanism for ensuring social stability. But why stop there? Let's posit any idea or institution is good if it
  • Increases social stability and happiness by some measure
  • Doesn't violate anyone's fundamental rights
There's all sorts of things that fall into this category. Escapist entertainment? Yup. Government subsidized recreational drugs? You bet. I'll confess that I'm being a little hyperbolic here, but I can't help but feel that in the end you end up with a society straight out of Brave New World. Additionally, Ed talks about the value of tradition and ritual. To which I would offer this rejoinder: Why are the centuries-old bottles of balsamic important? Neither age nor generational continuity should automatically imbue an object or idea with special merit. I can't help but see the craving for tradition as a reaction to the constant change which is the norm for contemporary culture. But that's just it, its a reaction, not a considered choice. Ed's choice of the word "craving" indicates that there's a non-volitional component. In the end it seems like nothing more than pandering to the id/reptile brain. You can find value in tradition, but tradition is not inherently valuable.

Random Literary Conceits

I'm currently reading The Bride Stripped Bare by Nikki Gemmell at the recommendation of my wife. Its not typically the kind of book that I'd pick up on my own, I'm more of a non-fiction kind of person, but its turning out to be fairly interesting. Of particular note is the fact that its written in second person. I don't believe I've ever read fiction in that voice before. Initially it was a little jarring, especially considering that the putative protagonist is female, but I got used to it fairly quickly. I suspect that a female reader might find it more immersive because its easier to identify with the "you" of the story. In the very least its an interesting experiment with generally positive results. The blurbs on the jacket call it an "erotically charged tale of tragic yearning", and up to a point it actually manages to deliver on that promise. There's definitely a charge, its erotic, and there's some tragic (possibly melodramatic) yearning going on. But then it goes downhill... chapters (or "lessons" as the book calls them) 72-74 are little more than really bad porn. I mean, its hardly better than the crap you can pull off of USENET... we're talking Clan of the Cave Bear bad here. Nikki, why'd you have to go and do that? You had a pretty good book, but then you fucked it up with mediocre love scenes. Here's another thought, though, which is only tangentially related. The story is presented as a "found manuscript"... a father presenting the writings of his mysteriously disappeared daughter to a publisher. I'm not done with the book yet, so maybe that makes more sense later, but right now that presentation doesn't seem to be adding anything to the story. This came to mind because the book I read prior to this one, The Geographers Library, also presented its story as a manuscript. In that case it wasn't "found" but rather was presented as the protagonists memoir of events written down for the edification of another character. Again, this presentation was little more than a couple of pages bracketing the main story that really didn't seem to add anything to the book as a whole. Now there's a literary tradition of presenting stories as manuscripts of various kinds; one which springs to mind readily is Kirkegaard's Either/Or. In that case, however, the presentation was integral to the book as a whole and consisted of far more than a couple of pages at the beginning and end. So what are these modern authors trying to achieve by presenting their stories as manuscripts, since the presentation really doesn't affect the interpretation of the story one way or another? I've a couple of theories, but their fairly cynical and I can't support them based solely on the two instances mentioned above, so I'll just leave the question hanging as is.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Maybe They're Not Evil After All

There was a post awhile ago over at Dispatches From The Culture Wars about my hometown, Long Beach, trying to seize the property of a Baptist Church. Needless to say I was none to happy with this; Long Beach has its problems, but the ridiculous abuse of power has not generally been one of them. So I was back home, not too long ago, and found an article about this in the Grunion Gazette, our (very) local paper. Unfortunately, they don't keep their archive online, but here's a search that turns up the article (entitled "Protest Greets RDA Vote To Take Church Property") and a link to where you can buy the entire article for $2.95. The long and the short is that this is not nearly as outrageous as it initially appeared. The church had apparently leased (or otherwise taken possession of) the property in 2002 with the understanding (apparently there's written documentation to back this up) that they would need to move again soon as the property was scheduled to be redeveloped. The issue is whether allowing the church to remain in place for 4 years (rather than the shorter time span the church was originally told) somehow nullifies this agreements. I've no opinion one way or the other; it seems to be to be largely a matter of applicable (and probably obscure) law and precedent at this point. The upside, however, is that it is readily apparent that the LBC did not just try to march in and seize the property under emminent domain as was originally reported.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

What is 'Work'?

I recently had a very interesting conversation with my wife regarding what counts as 'work'. She'll be finishing residency soon, which puts us in the enviable position that my salary will no longer be necessary from a day-to-day bill-paying perspective. We were talking about what I'm going to do at that point when I brought up, not for the first time, the idea of being a house husband. She's not really into that on the grounds that keeping house isn't a real job. Which is kinda funny itself, since she went to a womens' college which is totally into valuing work which has traditionally been done by women. A caveat here is that we don't have children; she's supportive of me staying home to raise the kids and do housework at the same time. But solely doing housework was a non-starter. So, first question, are there any good arguments to support the assertion that maintaining a household (minus kids) is morally equivalent (in some sense of the phrase) to holding down a 9-to-5 job? From there I started trying to pin down exactly what would count as work. High school teacher? Yes. An hourly position as the junior bottle-scrubber at a brewpub (with the assumption that I'd try to work my way up to master brewer)? Yes. Some 10-hour-a-week sinecure turning out propaganda pieces for a Republican think thank? Yes. But not a househusband. Its not the money, its not the time, its not the prestige. So what is it, then? And why, if time, money, and prestige are all non-issues, is keeping house not 'work'? This is where it got interesting... I think I eventually pinned her down to the following:
  • Everyone needs to work.
  • 'Work' is defined by what society recognizes as work.
Now I've a couple of issues with the above statements. First, 'everyone needs to work' sounds like a celebration of work for its own sake. I suspect its derived from the notion that respectable people are gainfully employed. I don't agree with that, but that's a matter of opinion that I really can't contest. The second point, which is the crux of the issue, is what counts as 'work'. She posited the example of having people over for dinner; she feels fine telling people that I'm a storage engineer, but wouldn't feel right telling people that I'm a househusband. I don't find being a storage engineer particularly fulfilling; I look for that sort of thing outside of my job. Presumably I could devote even more time to personal growth if I wasn't occupied with travel etc. She didn't buy this argument, but wouldn't elaborate further when I said that it looked like she was applying a sort of cocktail party test. So it looks to boil down to the fact that she has to be able to present me to our peers as gainfully employed. On the face of it that seems to be a thoroughly ridiculous rationale, I'd be interested to know if any of y'all who might stumble across this entry had any opinions on the issue?


I'm not particularly given to schadenfreude, but this article in the NYT had me smirking in appreciation. You see, boys and girls, when you go around putting words on your body in a language that you don't understand you might end up with "translation issues".
"This one here, this means 'strength'." "No no... it means that when two men love each other you are the one below." Wish I could remember what that's from, I keep thinking 'Booty Call' but I don't think that's right. Regardless, let this be a cautionary tale to those who would mindlessly appropriate other cultures.
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