Scary

Wow. I just noticed that somebody hit this site by searching Yahoo for: anti-Masturbation device for your son.

I’m hoping that it was just a search out of morbid curiosity, and not out of an intent to inflict such a thing on someone.

Let there be no ambiguity. This blog supports the right of people to masturbate. And to dance. And to do weird web searches. Any attempts to prohibit people from ever doing these things are evil.

Ok?

Marriage

There has been a great deal of discussion online lately about whether gay marriages should be allowed, or whether the Federal Marriage Amendment should be passed, etc.

My opinion (the reasonable one, of course) is that there’s no good reason to deny homosexuals the legal benefits of marriage nor the social recognition of their relationships.

But, the larger issue that this brings up is: Why is this a legal issue at all? Why should the government be in the business of deciding whether or not to promote or disparage particular relationships? Is that really required to secure liberty?

A lot of these controversial issues (e.g. teaching Creationism along with Evolution in schools) are only problems because the state has gone way beyond its proper scope. The government should set up the minimum framework required to protect people from force and fraud and otherwise leave people free to define and pursue their own relationships, values, etc.

I understand that many legal issues (e.g. inheritance, immigration, child custody, forced testimony, etc.) hinge on whether there is a special relationship between people and we use marriage as a surrogate for these. It’s an easy “bright line” to test for that makes enforcement simpler. But these issues can be resolved by appropriate contracts and tests to satisfy the requirements of each situation.

We should be past the days when all of people’s religious values have to be enshrined in the law.

I realize that many traditions encapsulate a lot of knowledge, but why do they have to be defined legally? If some groups want to recognize some relationships as “marriage” and not others, let them set up private organizations to grant their official seal of approval (as with Kosher foods) and leave the government out of it.

Immoral Bush

Ok, I defended Bush and his administration in the last post. Now it’s time to bash them.

I don’t know that much about Bush, personally; but my sense is that he’s probably basically a decent guy. He’s certainly not as dumb as many liberals would like to believe, but probably not as clever as many conservatives would like to believe. I think we’re pretty lucky that he was president during 9/11 because he and his advisors have a good sense of what the problem is and how it must be faced.

But, I’m not one of those who is comforted by his religion-guided sense of morality. It bothers me a lot. It’s a bit scary to me that he seems to believe that he’s on a mission from God. I’m disturbed by his proclamations about how “America” has decided to act to do various things to address all the badness in the world (as evidenced on his recent trip to Africa). He is not America. He’s its servant. He should remember whose money and lives he is committing.

And his economic policy is immoral. Republicans complain about the problems of big government, and have always blamed the Democrats. But now we have a Republican-controlled White House, Senate, House of Representatives and we have record-breaking overspending. We’ve seen huge agricultural subsidies, tarrifs on steel and timber, new drug benefits, etc. It’s an attack on the economy and economic liberty of the country; now and in the far future, all for the sake of winning the next election. It’s awful.

Perhaps I’m wrong and this is all an incredibly clever scheme to fight big government. Perhaps this is necessary to gain a stronger control of the congress, and make it politically feasible to address the crisis that this will help bring about; with massive cuts to spending, regulations, and programs; as well as the approval of liberty-respecting Supreme Court nominees.

This is a case where I hope I’m wrong. But I suspect I’m not.

Technically Accurate

Michael Kinsley, and Eugene Volokh have both criticized the Bush administration for claiming that Bush’s State of the Union statement about Iraq trying to purchase uranium from Africa was “technically accurate”. I disagree with them (and sent Eugene a message with basically this post’s content).

Here’s the quote: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”

Their argument is that when Bush says “The British government has learned X” he implies “And I believe X to be true.” And if X turns out not to be true, or if Bush wasn’t convinced that it was, then his statement was not accurate.

I think that when somebody says “The British government has learned X” it doesn’t mean “And I believe X to be true,” I think it just means that they (the British government) believe that it’s true and whether or not you should believe that it’s true depends on how trustworthy you believe British intelligence gathering and analysis is. Otherwise, why mention the British government at all? Do people really care about trivia such as the history of various pieces of intelligence? I don’t think so. I think it means: here is a claim, here is the source, I haven’t been able to verify it independently, so treat it as you think appropriate.

I agree that, in this context, it implies “And I think it might be true”, but that much is technically accurate; as far as I know.

And even this implication is not true in all contexts where we speak of “X learned Y”. For example, if I say “Palestinian children learned that Jews drink Arab blood” it doesn’t mean “And I believe it’s true, or might be true.” It just means something like “The claims were presented to them and they generally accept it as true.”

Another technical point is that this claim is about acquiring uranium from Africa not just Niger and not just the incident with the forged documents.

In any case, the administration has admitted that the statement should not have been in the speech because if its potential to mislead. I think they are right about this and that they’re right about it having been “technically accurate”. I doubt that anybody supported the war largely because of this one statement. So, I’m a bit confused about what the big deal is.

Ageism

Eugene Volokh has written some very good posts about the Dusty Baker controversy here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Briefly, Baker (a black manager of the Chicago Cubs) got into trouble for saying the following:

“Personally, I like to play in the heat,” he said. “It’s easier for me. It’s easier for most Latin guys and easier for most minority people.

“You don’t find too many brothers in New Hampshire and Maine and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, right? We were brought over here for the heat, right? Isn’t that history? Weren’t we brought over because we could take the heat?

“Your skin color is more conducive to the heat than it is to the light-skinned people, right? You don’t see brothers running around burnt and stuff … running around with white stuff on their ears and nose and stuff.”

Eugene (rightly, I think) says that this shouldn’t be a big deal; that if the statements are indeed false it is an honest mistake, and not the sort of generalization that should be considered rude or offensive. But, this observation of Eugene’s caught my attention:

Things are properly different, as a matter of good manners, when the allegation is tied to something that people generally see as a character defect. Lack of intelligence falls into that category (maybe it shouldn’t, but it generally does); so does uncoachability. When we suggest that people have such attributes, we are properly held to a higher standard of proof. We can see that even if we set aside race: “I’m pretty sure my acquaintance Joe Schmoe might be prone to heat exhaustion” is something that we can comfortably say on very little evidence. “I’m pretty sure my acquaintance Joe Schmoe isn’t smart” is something that we would generally pause a little longer before saying — especially if we’re saying it in public.

Moreover, when we suggest that people as a group have such attributes, those members who lack those attributes understandably bristle — the generalization is felt as more of a personal attack. Again, I think we see this even outside the context of race. Generalizations about groups (fraternity members, people who engage in certain occupations, residents of a particular area) are, especially if they’re accurate, quite acceptable if they relate to a relatively morally neutral property. But if they relate to a morally troublesome trait (stupidity, dishonesty, and so on), they cause more bristling, even if they are statistically well-supported, though not as much as when they’re made about groups that have a more self-conscious identity (such as racial, ethnic, or religious groups).

Have you noticed that it’s very common for people to make this “character defect” sort of generalization about children, and it’s considered quite acceptable? In fact, just today I noticed James Lileks wrote this:

Who believes that hypocrisy is somehow the greatest sin of all? Adolescents. Which ought to tell you something.

I hope the day will come soon when this sort of thing makes us all bristle as much as if it was said about a race.

By the way, if you haven’t read this yet, do it now!

Wanna Bet?

I like to gamble. Is gambling unreasonable?

Superficially it seems unreasonable. With a few exceptions, legal gambling is an activity with a negative expected outcome. The more you do it, the more money you are likely to lose. So what good attributes does gambling have that might compensate for this costly expectation?

It’s fun.

Money won is twice as sweet as money earned. That sounds immoral, but it isn’t. Won money isn’t stolen, it’s gained honorably via a voluntary agreement. And there is something sweet about an immediate payoff.

It’s creative.

Betting on an event immediately makes it more interesting. It was a very clever innovation to add this element to life. Also, depending on the game, there can be a considerable amount of skill involved in maximizing your chances to win. This can involve playing the game well (as in blackjack), avoiding really bad bets (all games), and managing your money to reduce your chances of losing your entire bankroll during the session.

It’s a growth experience.

I think gambling helps you learn a lot about yourself, and gives you an opportunity to improve. It shows you how you handle both victory and defeat. You discover whether you have the discipline to limit your losses to what you decided was reasonable. If you’re not satisfied with the way you do these things, you can work on yourself and improve over time. Mastering these skills benefits many areas of life.

It’s dramatic.

Most of our days are rather boring. Gambling gives us a chance to add an exciting element to our lives; to do battle with uncontrollable forces; to risk something; to feel more alive. Some people get this feeling by driving fast, or by jumping out of airplanes, or riding rollercoasters.

I think there’s something noble and courageous about choosing to face risks, so long as we’re not being irresponsible and risking more than we can afford. Living morally might require us to risk our security some day. And success in many areas requires skill at measuring risks against rewards. Gambling can help us prepare ourselves to better deal with those situations.