Wednesday, November 19, 2003


The Supreme Court of Massachusetts has just ruled that restricting marriage to heterosexual couples violates the rights of gay and lesbian people, to much media fanfare, conservative vows to pass a constitutional amendment in defense of the family, and everything everyone could have predicted.

I still do not get why this is all taken to be such a significant issue--why the majority of Americans, including some who support arrangements that would give same sex couples all the legal benefits of marriage, balk at the idea of gay marriage. On the other hand the idea of gay pride celebrations and gay TV networks seem as bizarre as comparable institutions for chocolate lovers, stamp collectors or Mac enthusiasts. However, given that conservatives make such a fuss about homosexuality, I suppose it may be understandable.

Why do they make such a fuss? And why is it packaged as a defense of the family?

The only thing I can think is that they imagine the world will become like the beach during Spring Break, a meat market where they aren't welcome, and that conventional families will become anomalous. On TV families are already a quasi-joke, like mother-in-laws, suitable for cartoons--The Simpsons, King of the Hill. Shows with live actors focus around the office and the after work bar, featuring 20 or 30 something characters, none of whom are married with children.

I suppose I see their point. Almost everyone growing up in the '50s felt odd, and bad, because their family wasn't precisely like Dick and Jane, or Father Knows Best, or the Donna Reed Show. No one had the whole package--white picket fence, paper route, mom who cooked wearing high heels and pearls. We couldn't get it and we didn't want it and we were ashamed and angry about what we felt was our failure because it was so iconic. Maybe that is why the '60s happened.

Now the icon is a world of adults, where no one marries or is given in marriage, working at generic white collar jobs, living in urban apartments, forever 27 with dates every Saturday night. We're angry and ashamed because we can't get it and don't want it, and the "gay lifestyle" is the limiting case--the icon of the new millenium.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Presidential Inauguration

Not US, USD President Mary Lyons.

Faculty in regalia marched in procession behind Iris Engstrand, Emerita of History, carrying the ceremonial mace. Bishop Brom sat with the platform party atired in matching puce cope and biretta. The Choral Scholars in evening dress sang an exquisite Mozart Ave Verum and the ROTC drill team did a routine that involved twirling rifles like batons.There was speechifying, fanfare by the USD orchestra conducted by Angela Young, as Lyons was invested with the Presidential Chain and, audacious choice, a recessional by Chabrier. We exited to the plaza for the reception where there were melting wheels of cheese, wine and loaves of pate. Outside the gate the pickets were carrying signs including one denouncing USD as the "Universodomy of San Diego."

I do like it here.

When I graduated from Lake Forest College during the Revolution, the senior class chose to march in street clothes in order to use money that would have gone to rent gowns to establish a scholarship fund for minorities from the inner city. With all 200 of us kicking in, one faculty member estimated, the proceeds might have paid for about 3 weeks of classes.

Whatever, if anything, was in our heads? No one ever, ever suggested using the money we spent on records or recreational drugs to finance worthy causes. During Kent State the college closed down for teach-ins on the quad. The gist of it was that society as we knew it, including Academia, was over--in the new order to come we would live on communes and universities would be reconstituted as centers for learning macrame, pottery and Native American dances. We would teach oneanother.

I was horrified. Lake Forest college was so enclosed, and I was so naive, that I was convinced it was true--that classes would never start again or, even if they did, that Academia as we knew it would not last long enough for me to be a professor.

In retrospect I'm convinced of what I secretly believed then but tried to avoid thinking. These kids were having fun. By the late '60s college was mandatory for all middle class kids. Most were too dumb to benefit from higher education: they didn't like classes, they didn't like reading, going to lectures, or even talking about ideas and, at Lake Forest College most were so rich that they didn't need to worry about getting credentials for the job market. But they had to be there getting High Culture pushed at them because those were the rules. It would have been more efficient to have them lolling around at the Drones Club pitching spit balls at one another, and using the savings in tuition money to send the intended beneficiaries of our scholarship fund to Lake Forest College.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

So, the WTO has imposed sanctions on the US for tarrifs on steel.

The US steel industry can't compete because it's saddled with expenses for worker benefits and pensions which it pays in lieu of state provided health care, pensions and social safety nets. It looks like it's just as expensive, if not more expensive, for firms to provide these benefits directly to workers than it would be to kick in to the common pot through higher taxes so that the state can provide them. What you gain on the swings you lose on the roundabouts.

The solution is obvious. Fire those spoiled unionized blue collar workers and replace them with a crew of less uppity, non-union wage slaves. Compassionate conservativism isn't any better than bleeding-heart liberalism--to get the benefits, do like Walmart.

Monday, November 10, 2003

PC, WC and the Paradox of Tolerance

Think of it this way:
Those countries with indoor plumbing and flush toilets are pro-Robinson consecration.
Those countries with wells and outhouses are anti-Robinson.
You can thank Sir Thomas Crapper for this fine kettle of fish!

-----------------------from the Beliefnet Anglican Debate message board

While the consecration of Eugene Robinson as the Anglican Church's first openly gay bishop received kudos from the cognescenti in affluent Western industrialized nations, primates from the Global South were not amused.

Liberals, keen to support the interests of the disadvantaged, domestically and internationally, have always been ambivalent about the intended beneficiaries of their programs. When it turns out that the oppressed do not share the vision of the good life that motivates their progressive agenda, they resort to snide remarks about deficiencies in their plumbing systems.

Back in the 20th century, when liberals in the media discovered that the working class supported the war in Vietnam and actively opposed politial policies and social programs intended to liberate them, they invented Archie Bunker. When white upper middle class college students discovered that most blacks wanted the kind of lives their parents enjoyed and were beginning to get it as a consequence of the civil rights movement they castigated Martin Luther King as a sellout and redirected their support to the Black Panthers.

We imagined a secular, egalitarian utopia, untainted by racism, sexism and puritanism, where there would be justice, freedom and peace. As it turns out, the oppressed, whose interests we believed we were supporting, want a puritanical, fundamentalist Islamic hellhole where they can freely perpetuate their cultural customs of sexism, tribalism and violence.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Terry's Law

In Florida, the state legislature hastely passed a low entitling the parents of a women in a persistent vegitative state to reattach her feeding tube. It is being contested in the courts by her husband who insists that she would have preferred to be removed from life support. Once again the case plays as a dispute between the religious right, promoting the enforcement of arbitrary restrictions, and the friends of individual freedom and preference satisfaction.

Is it a normative question or is it an empirical one? The suggestion that rarely surfaces is that Terry might prefer to remain on life-support because the current cultural assumption is that most people would prefer not to have their life prolonged by extraordinary means. That may be so, but I want to survive as long as possible and I don't care how many tubes or machines it takes.

How many of these tacit empirical assumptions drive what appear to be the debates about normative issues--in particular about whether "traditional values" and rules trump personal preferences?

A recent Gallup Poll indicates, for example, that ethnic diversity is becoming the current orthodoxy. 50% of individuals aged 30 and under believe that members of ethnic minorities should remain ethnically distinct rather than "blending in" as compared with 34% of Americans over 30. This is the coming orthodoxy, trickling down from the politically correct elite to the masses.

But no one seriously addresses the question of what members of ethnically "diverse" groups prefer, at at least what they would prefer if they were informed and cooly deliberative. Moreover, ethnicity as promoted in the public schools and mass media, seems so innocuous--a matter of spicy foods, street festivals and ethnic costume--that no one worries about it. And, as popularly presented, there are always escape clauses--the idea that you can choose whether to identify with your ethnic group of "blend in," and that you can choose how, and how much, ethnicity you want.

Maybe ethnicity, reconstructed in this way, is innocuous and unlikely to promote the real thing: ethnicity as practiced in the Balkans or Paterson, New Jersey. Even so, it is depressing that people have so little sense of individual identity and so few interests that they latch onto their supposed ancestral cultures to define themselves.

What is that impulse? Any authentic ethnic affiliation is an unchosen characteristic that constrains.

Friday, November 07, 2003

Money Isn't Everything

Paul Krugman wonders, in
today's column how poor white Southerners, traditionally Democratic stalwarts, could have been bamboozled into voting for conservative Republicans against their economic interests. Answer: the race card.

Yes and no. We all agree that Dean's remark about wanting to get guys who drove pick-ups with confederate flags was a faux pas--but not on the "subtext."

Dean wasn't, as Krugman hints, accusing poor white Southerners of racism--he was implicitely characterising them as that type of person. He might just as well asked support from "housewives who shop at Walmart" or "people who live in trailers"--or for that matter "soccer moms," "Jewish lawyers" or "Baby Boomers who drive Volvos."

People don't like to be a type of person. We think of themselves and our peers as being beyond type--it's outsiders, the people with whom we don't socialize, who are person-types. I have a pop book on class in America which divides the social landscape into 6 classes and describes minutely the decor, dress, cuisine and personal habits of members of each division. At the end there is an escape route for "Class X," individuals who transcend class categories--that is readers of the book who, after tittering nervously at the author's insights about the habits of their demographic group, are assured that they themselves are really out of the box, not people of a certain type at all.

Appealing for the support of a type of person was bad enough, but the class message made it worse. Money isn't everything when it comes to the appearance of class affiliation. Bush's inarticulate pronouncements from the Texas Ranch--our very own answer to Marie Antoinette's Royal Cowshed--win hearts and minds. Even if we don't get no bucks, better a good ol' boy who tawks like us then a damn Yankee professor like Krugman.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

The Market Works--So Where's the Beef

"When you don't pay taxes, don't pay Social Security and don't pay workers' comp, you have a 40 percent cost advantage," said Lilia Garcia, executive director of the Maintenance Cooperation Trust Fund, a group financed by California cleaning contractors to police fly-by-night competitors. "It makes it hard for companies that follow the rules."Illegally in the U.S., and Never a Day Off at Wal-Mart

Walmart has been hit for hiring crews of illegal aliens through cleaning contractors. Most of the workers, from Eastern Europe, Mexico and obscure parts of Asia and the Middle East don't seem to mind the long hours, poor working conditions or wages which, while low by American standards, are up to 10 times what they could make in their native countries. Walmart customers are pleased because they can buy cheap consumer goods. Walmart managers and investors are also, of course, pleased. So where's the beef?

I'm of two minds about this and one mind may not be strictly in line with the stated purpose of this blog. Most people don't want to market to work--they want blue collar workers to make decent family wages and time and a half for overtime and white collar workers to have "professional level" salaries. They do not even have any serious complaints about the lavish compensation packages of corporate CEOs. Regardless of what the market wants, they want to see people getting the salaries that seem "appropriate" to their sex, race, class and credentials.

Unskilled indigenous males have, for a long time, made good money working at blue-collar union jobs. We think Joe Sixpack should make enough money to support a family and pay the mortgage on a modest suburban home because he's a white guy. Bosses get paid much more than secretaries even though they are far less important to the operation of businesses, but we think guys should get more than gals, and that a college degree, simply because it is a class marker, entitles the bearer to a professional level salary.

As an academic, I'm on the gravy train too--if the market were working I would be lucky to get a job at minimum wage. I was hired out of a field of 350 applicants, almost all of whom could have done my job just as well as I do. I am eminently fungeable. Moreover, the world does not need philosophy professors and, if the market were working, none of us would have jobs. I am one of that great mass of Smart People Who Can't Do Math who has no useful skills and can't do heavy lifting.

Comes the revolution, we're all in the same boat.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

Episcopal Chic

It seems students from the University of Durham in New Hampshire, will be protesting conservative protestors tomorrow by staging their own demonstration and calling for "a more realistic and broadminded approach" to the current stance on homosexuality in the Church. One of the students, a 21 year-old woman called Nika with a hard-to-miss silver ring in her bottom lip, told ACNS/ENS that she had never been to church, but was joining the protest. "I am very spiritual," she said, "but I'm not much for organised religion." Asked if she'd consider actually going to a church that took this kind of action, she said, "Yeah, I think I would. Yeah, I'll have to give it a try." [ACNS News Service]

"Muffy," said Skip, looking up from the Times "The Episcopal Church has ordained an openly active gay bishop!"

"Oh, wow," said Muffy, "The Episcopal Church is sooooo realistic and broadminded--not like all the other churches that are against sex! Let's go to church!"

"Wait a minute, Mummy," said Brookstone, their teen-aged daughter, tugging excitedly on her nipple-ring, " this is so coooool I have to go tell the gang!

"Hey, guys," Brookstone shouted to a group of lithe, caramel-tanned, dudes and chickies playing volleyball on the beach, "The Episcopal Church has ordained an openly active gay bishop!"

"Oh, like, wow," said Herrington, so excited that his tongue stud popped out, "that is just like awwwwwwsome! Let's go to church!"


Meanwhile, philosophy faculty at the University of Durham in New Hampshire, at an emergency department meeting, voted unanimously to be baptized en masse.

"The Episcopal Church has ordained an openly active gay bishop," said the Chair, "They are soooooo intellectual! Let's go to church!"