Archive for June, 2011

Same-Sex Marriage Is Odd

29 June 2011

I’ve stayed pretty close to the fence on legalizing same-sex marriage. I can’t remember when I had any strong reaction against it, but I’ve never been thrilled with the idea.

Let me say for starters that I have some disdain for the traditional trappings of courtship and marriage in Western society. They kind of disgust me; they are rigidly constrained and elaborate, yet they are often played out with vulgar self-mockery. That’s not a beef against gay people, it’s what straight people do. But look now at the news. The typical reaction of gays and lesbians to the opportunity to marry their same-sex partners is to emphatically embrace those trappings. All right, if that’s what they want to do, but the traditional ceremonies of marriage weren’t closed off to same-sex couples by the laws of the state, nor are they totally available to them where same-sex marriage is legal. So I guess the reaction is not just about the facts of the law, but a sense that equality under the law must advance social acceptance of their domestic partnerships, by which those customary trappings are as proper to a gay or lesbian couple as they are to man-woman couples. Those trappings symbolize mainstreaming of same-sex love.

Now, as same-sex marriage becomes legal, some infer that any decent mainstream person must not only tolerate gay relationships, but celebrate them and approve them and support them just as a decent person approves of the opposite-sex kind of marriage.

I don’t think the law can give them that. If conservatives are people who don’t like laws that tell them how to think, there are a great many conservatives in this country. That’s why so many people oppose “marriage-equality” laws without being able to say how the law threatens their marriage.

Aside from the battle over social norms being played out in our mass media, same-sex couples do have cause for concern on the real implications of the law for their committed relationships. There are issues with taxes, insurance, child custody, inheritance, consultation in emergencies, and more. But, as long as that’s the focus, aren’t civil unions that come with all the legal benefits of marriage good enough?

What if we treated same-sex marriage like adoptive parenthood: it isn’t part of the natural order, but we can recognize it as a social good and treat it as generally equivalent to the natural version. We can do that and still understand that some social patchwork is involved, for which we leave room in the law for some special procedures and formalities.

So—I am asking that we leave the door open to discrimination! I am! I admit it! But it is not because I don’t like gay people or am repulsed by their sexuality or because I think I can stop them from being gay. It’s because I think their relationships are odd. Our society doesn’t know how to treat them. We didn’t develop marriage as an institution that would encompass same-sex unions. It’s not an easy fit.

Goofiness of Summer Camps

19 June 2011

Steve Benen derides a Tea Party–directed summer camp in Florida. I think it’s too easy to poke fun at fun learning activities for children. The indoctrination techniques reported about at the Tampa camp aren’t unusual except in their focus on economic principles that aren’t readily applicable in the real world. Once you get kids to understand why communism is flawed and reckless monetary policy debases currency, they have to decide where communism and hyperinflation are in their world. They won’t necessarily believe these dangers lurk in the American Union today. No one’s going to stop them from buying their own bottle of bubble stuff if they have the paper currency to pay for it.

Sure, if you just want the kids trained in a line of plausible-sounding Tea Party rhetoric, this camp is a good start, but even Fox News doesn’t employ all that many people to spew this kind of stuff, so most of the kids will go on to develop more useful skills.

Wall Street Is Republican

11 June 2011

I used to be sort of interested in the stock market. That was before I took up stock trading as a hobby, which absorbed much of my attention and much of my money for a few years before I gave it up for less demanding recreational pursuits.

Anyway, long before I began my dabbling in the market, I was a regular watcher of Wall Street Week with Louis Rukeyser, who impressed me as a knowledgeable and level-headed commentator and interviewer of Wall Street analysts. Above all he was congenial. He regularly displayed a preference for standard free-market and capitalist principles, but it never had an ideological or partisan hard edge. He was also skeptical; on a weekly basis, Lou would stress that market prognosticators could hardly be expected to predict anything with sufficient accuracy to make themselves worth listening to. It wasn’t that he didn’t feature market forecasting and stock picks. Of course these were essential to the show. But there was no sure thing. One watched WSW more to enjoy Rukeyser’s humor than to get any solid tips. Predictions were always offered with the implicit “that’s just what this guy thinks” and usually the guests were aware of their own fallibility.

Maybe that was why it was jarring when the esteemed guest of the week back in 1992 commented on the approaching presidential election with an emphatic¬† “We have to reelect this president.”

Really? We had to reelect George H. W.¬† Bush? We all had to do that? The guest needed it, Lou Rukeyser needed it, the audience needed it? The economy needed it. That’s what this guy was saying.

That’s when I learned how married Wall Street was to the Republican Party. Though I don’t doubt that many of the guests on Wall Street Week over the years had Democratic leanings, and I’m sure most of the Republican-aligned ones at least had more sense than to openly alienate viewers who were not admirers of the Grand Old Party, here was a respectable expert apparently comfortable with the notion that there was a right party for investors, and it was the Republican Party. I think that was the prevailing view on Wall Street then, and it seems to be so today.

I don’t expect any Democratic president or congress to bring catastrophe to Wall Street. The financial kingpins manage that themselves, or with Republican assistance. And when disaster comes, it turns out that the Democratic Party stands ready to save the day after all. But Wall Streeters, even those who aren’t blatant Republican shills, do seem to worry about Democrats taking them down a peg and diverting a few millions out of the bankers’ and brokers’ billions, to benefit the broader public. If that’s true, more reason for me to support the Democrats.

Next year, we have to reelect this president.

Is It Really Not the Sex But the Lying?

8 June 2011

Some people are eager to make clear that they don’t care at all about a congressman exchanging sexual messages privately with other consenting adults, but they can’t abide the lying about it.

I have a test for those people. Suppose a congressman sent messages expressing enthusiasm for professional wrestling and lied about that. Would that be equally outrageous? It seems doubtful to me.

Sometimes a Person Is Supposed to Lie

7 June 2011

Now it seems a good number of people are out there condemning Anthony Weiner for lying.

Lies always bother me some, and some lies bother me a lot. But how much a lie bothers me depends on who’s lying and what about. When an elected official lies about his own sex life, that bothers me very little. People generally avoid revealing details of their sexual behavior, and most people who have to face questions about their sexual behavior or even their sexual feelings will readily lie rather than embarrass themselves. That’s the way humans are.

People are supposed to lie about who they did something dirty with or thought something dirty about. I’m not saying it’s right. Honesty is the best policy. I am saying it is to be expected from most human beings, and people who depend on being respectable to keep their jobs sometimes are going to have an especially hard time being truthful. The stakes are way high for them.

So go on upholding virtue, you watchdogs, but lighten up with the denunciations of each and every lie. When you go over the top, you look like a political tool or someone with his own weird hangups.

Real Bicycle Commuting

1 June 2011

Andrew Sullivan’s commenters are boldly saying a lot of things about bicycling to work that I don’t think are true, or aren’t as universally true as the commenters seem to think.

I actually ride my bike to and from work. For me, two miles takes between 10 and 15 minutes. It’s not a race or an aerobic exercise; it’s getting to work. The commenter who scoffed that he could go 15 miles in 1.5 hours on foot, even though he’s not much of a runner, is out of touch with reality. You need to be unusually fit and well trained to do that. Most people can make that speed on a bicycle pretty easily, but they’d have to exert themselves a lot to go much faster than that over a long haul.

Perhaps because I don’t take it as an athletic activity, my ride to work doesn’t make me sweaty or smelly. It’s slower than driving, but it’s faster than walking and about as fast as any public transit option available for my trip. It’s cheap, and parking is easy.