Monthly Archives: July 2010

I’ve been meaning to write a post on the finale of LOST for some time now. There seem to be two schools of thought on the totality of the show:

1) They didn’t answer many of the questions and so this show as nothing more than a giant con job.

2) They didn’t answer many of the questions but that’s okay because {fill in rationale here}.

Part of me is dumbfounded and makes me wonder if I watched the same final season as everyone else did. I have gone on record as saying that I didn’t expect them to answer all of the questions and figuring that a lot of people would be disappointed. But I was more wrong about what they did answer than I was about what they didn’t. My main questions going into the last season were:

1) What is the island and why is it special?

2) What is the smoke monster?

3) What happens to the people on the island?

4) Who is Jacob and why is he what he is?

5) What was the Dharma Initiative’s interest on the island?

Of those five questions, they answered four. I have some minor questions about the former inhabitants, how they got on the island, and in some cases how and wy they left (Charles Widmore in particular). Their record was spottier on those, but I consider those to be much smaller questions. And by and large, they were questions that I could answer any number of ways. I much prefer those kind of unanswered questions to those that are extremely difficult. When I look over that video with all of the unanswered questions of Lost, with only a couple of exceptions every question falls into one of three categories: (1) They answered that question to my satisfaction, (2) the question seems answerable any number of ways, or (3) it’s not really important. there were only two or maybe three questions that could be considered anything remotely a show-stopped (one definite, two maybes).

And unlike so many other commenters, I really think that they did have a pretty strong idea of where they were going from the outset. Matthew Baldwin suggests that they had to change course with the Jacob-Esau battle because every other possibility had been speculated upon, but when that type of thing typically happens it raises more questions than it answers and I felt like the late introduction of these characters (both of which having been alluded to or ethereally appearing earlier on) explained far more than they unsettled earlier revelations.

So in the end, I really felt like I got my money’s worth. If I don’t find myself employed soon, I may take a couple weeks and watch it from beginning to end. We’ll see if I still feel that way.

Category: Theater

Megan McArdle on Michael Bellesiles’s latest mess:

I found it incredibly hard to believe that Michael Bellesiles had fabricated the story of “Ernesto”, a student whose brother had died in Iraq. And indeed, it turns out he didn’t. As I initially suspected, the student fabricated the story. Why? Who knows? A student at my high school fabricated an entire fake boyfriend who died horribly of cancer, stories she regaled her creative writing class with for months. And then the teacher called her mother to ask if there was anything she could do to help the student through this terrible tragedy . . .

I have nothing to add on Bellesiles, but I do have some insights on this comment.

When I was young, I used to make up stories. All kinds of stories. And I didn’t convey them as fiction. I mean, that’s true of a lot of kids. But it was especially true for me and my stories would be extremely elaborate. The really strange thing is that I still can’t pinpoint an exact motive. I mean sure, I told “the dog ate my homework” lies, but it went beyond that. They weren’t meant to get me out of trouble. They weren’t meant to make me look good (sometimes they made me look kinda bad). Nor were they entirely for attention as I did not particularly desire attention and I always felt kinds bad and on-the-spot when people would talk to me about something I made up. I kinda wanted to tell my story, have people interested in the duration of my story, then have people forget that the story was ever told. There may have been a desire to be interesting tucked in there somewhere, though contradictorily I would want them to forget what I was interesting because of.

Some of it can probably be attributed to my stellar imagination and the need to express it. It’s noteworthy that the lies stopped when the writing began in earnest, though that could have been a function of age as much as anything else. But if I really had to guess, I would guess it was that I would want the stories to be true because I like interesting things to be true. And on the wings of this desire, “wouldn’t it be interesting/neat if…” because “get a load of this…”.

Should I sire a child, this is one of those things that I am going to keep an eye out on. If my kid is a compulsive liar, I am not going to leap to the conclusion that I did something wrong or even that they’re hiding something. Rather, I am going to wonder if I have a little writer on my hands and dutifully explain the difference between “wouldn’t it be interesting if” and “is.”

Category: Coffeehouse

I once knew a guy that had an allergy to gluten (coeliac disease). He was always sick and even when he wasn’t was gaunt and sickly-looking. Once they determined that he had the coeliac problem, he took on a gluten-free diet and the effects were immediately noticeable. He then came up with the idea that the problem wasn’t that he had coeliac disease. He was unsure such a thing even really existed, believing that it was something the Medical Establishment (which he loathed) made up. It wasn’t a particularly well-formed theory, but nonetheless he decided that gluten was to blame for all that was wrong with the modern diet and most specifically obesity (he was not himself obese). He told this to a couple other people I know (well, he told this to everybody, but a couple people proved receptive). These people weren’t sick like the original guy, but they were overweight and decided that they would try a gluten-free diet. Sure enough, they lost weight!

Now, it’s possible that there is some sort of relationship between gluten and obesity, but I strongly suspect that the weight loss was attributable to the fact that gluten-free diets were at the time (and are now, though less so) really hard. They prevented you from eating out and from eating a lot of really tasty junk food as well as limiting carb-intake by way of fewer options. They took that out of the diet and they lost weight (until it proved more than they could handle and the weight came back). The gluten-free diet proved helpful by helping them do what they could have done by eating more common food in smaller quantities. It’s sort of like how I intentionally buy crackers that I like less because I will eat less of them. The crackers I buy are not, in and of themselves, weight-loss conducive. But they are insofar as they change my habits.

In other words, I think my friend was wrong about gluten, though his advice had the virtue of helping people lose weight (albeit temporarily) for other reasons.

Long before I was introduced to a concept called Game, I had created something I called RAIN (or RAN) Theory. RAIN stood for Relationships As Implied Negotiation. It was based on the observation that my failures in the relationship realm mostly revolved around making myself too available to girls too early on. In other words, I was showing my hand before it was time and I was not demanding that she would meet me where I was before I would move to the next place. The theory expanded over time to improving my bookcover to better make women more interested in reading the book. In the end, I noticed that more than anything else, it was about finding ways to be more appealing, and less scary, to the opposite sex.

So when I first heard about Game, a large part of it rang true. The first variation of it I was introduced to was Doc Love and his System. Then Neil Strauss and Game proper, though by then I was less interested in such things. With the exception of some of the weirdness of Strauss, most of what I initially heard seemed true by the most important standard, which is that confirmed my existing biases. I still think that there is something to a lot of it in the most basic sense. Ferdinand Bardamu’s The Fundamentals of Game post, for example, seems extremely commonsensical. He breaks it down into seven components, all of which are important in some fashion or another. Should I ever be in the position of having to teach a son of mine about approaching women, I might use that very post.

The problem with Game, though, is that it often comes with a lot of baggage. And a good portion of its acolytes extrapolate these lessons the same thing that my friend extrapolated from Gluten-reduction. They found something successful (or claim to have, or have heard someone else claim to have), but often come up with reasons for its success that have more to do with confirming their (often very angry) biases rather than simply accepting the formula as something that can work. I am not calling out Bardamu on this. Though I disagree with him on a multitude of issues, his explanation of game is such a productive one I am not interested in hashing out the points of disagreement.

The great part about the system is that it can easily cure a very specific set of ills. Namely, what ailed me for the longest time. There are a lot of smart people that have poor feedback receptors. They obviously don’t know what they’re doing is not working, but don’t know why. I managed to figure out a lot of this stuff on my own because my feedback receptor is better than that of the average geek (I’ve noticed this most recently on job interviews, where I can tell if I am getting off-base really quickly). But a lot of people don’t. And so they can just keep making the same mistakes over and over again and never be able to isolate the problem. Further, these people often have limited exposure to girls and so they don’t get enough repetition to see their mistakes.

A problem with Game, as it is frequently discussed, is that its proponents often tend to fixate on a few aspects of it. Ferdinand, to his credit, manages to address the often (though not always) neglected aspects of it such as Presentability and Sociability. I know some guys that fit the first five to a tee and have no success because they completely and utterly fail on the last two.

So having it outlined is an extremely helpful thing. Perhaps the most important of the seven is Indifference because it’s Indifference that allows you to take the hits that come with asking girls out. When you ask out one girl a year, it’s (a) difficult to learn what you might be doing wrong and (b) inherently a big deal. If you can make it not a big deal, you can extend yourself more often without fear of being shot down. Not that you won’t be shot down, but you’ll be more likely to realize that in the end it is only as big a deal as you allow it to be. Calmness, another of the seven, is also helpful.

Insofar as Game is what Ferdinand describes it to be, I think it’s an extremely helpful thing for guys that have trouble with girls to consider. The main thing is that it seems to so rarely stop there. I think it’s one of those things that seems to commonsensical (when you think about it and have your “Eureka” moment) that people feel the need to extrapolate on it. And those extrapolations can lead to some pretty bad places made all the worse that the people that talk about it the most are often the people that have a history of failure and the bitterness that so often accompanies it. Folks like Roissy exploit this by playing to the dark aspects of the theories and making it so dark that the whole thing turns back on itself and the guy feels better about himself (or at least more Righteous) for not playing. For Roissy and his ilk, this is perfect because it becomes a loop of bitterness and self-righteousness.

Category: Coffeehouse

When was the last time you went anywhere without a commonly accepted form of identification on your person? On purpose?

It’s one of the things I see at court on a frequent basis, but never see in society at large: People without identification. Something comes up where they need ID, and they don’t have it.

I don’t mean they pat their pockets and look shocked, either. They didn’t forget it in their other pants. They never have it. It’s just how they live. If they lose it, or the cops confiscate it, or it gets stolen — which seems to happen a lot — they don’t hurry to get a new one. If they do have one, they didn’t bring it. Why not? “I dunno, just didn’t. Didn’t know I needed to.”

Or — this is one I really don’t understand — someone else is holding it for them. These are adults, mind you. We’re not swimming, we’re not hiking, we’re not dancing in a club in a tight little dress with no pockets. We’re hanging around a court hallway all day.

Or they left it in the car. On purpose. When was the last time you left your wallet in your car on purpose? At the beach, maybe? Not at court, where there are armed officers in the hallways and guarding the doors.

And they’re not lying about not having it. How do I know? Because this comes up not just when, for example, they need ID to drug test, but also when the ID is necessary to get them something they want, such as release of their kids. Anytime someone needs ID, it will be more likely than not that they don’t have it on them.

Poor people don’t drive, either. Or at least don’t have valid driver’s licenses. But that makes sense, because it’s pretty expensive to maintain a car, insurance, registration, and pay tickets promptly. It’s the tickets that really kill them. Still, even if your license is encumbered, it’s a valid ID. Or you can get a state ID that looks just like a driver’s license, except you can’t drive. And people do this. They often have one, somewhere. They just don’t have it on them.

Category: Elsewhere, Road

Phi points to an article about how the outsourcing-to-China business is on a downturn:

Where once low-tech factories and scant wages were welcomed in a China eager to escape isolation and poverty, workers are now demanding a bigger share of the profits. The government, meanwhile, is pushing foreign companies to make investments in areas it believes will create greater wealth for China, like high technology.

Many companies are striving to stay profitable by shifting factories to cheaper areas farther inland or to other developing countries, and a few are even resuming production in the West. {…}

“I have 15 major clients. My job is to give the best advice I can give. I tell it like it is. I tell them, put your helmet on, it’s going to get ugly,” said {outsourcing advisor Rick} Goodwin, who says dissatisfied workers and hard-to-predict exchange rates are his top worries.

A while back I wrote a post that I cannot find (maybe it was on another blog) regarding the outsourcing of IT work. The perception among many is that with manufacturing gone (it isn’t, though granted it’s certainly not what it used to be) the next logical step is for us to lose the IT jobs because, after all, the Indians and Chinese are willing to do it for cheaper! I wouldn’t say that the threat is not there, but one of there were and are some flaws in the assumptions that underly it. One of the assumptions is that they will get to do anything that they can do cheaper there than we can do here. Another assumption is that this is something that will continue in perpetuity (or until something is done).

The problem with the first assumption is that they don’t just have to be cheaper. They have to be a lot cheaper. Every experience I have had that has involved outsourced talent in India, China, or Russia has reinforced this notion. It’s a heck of a lot easier to build stuff here. For a lot of jobs, it can require multiple people to do the same job that one person can do over here. And because of cultural and language differences, they’re less likely to get it right. Now, oftentimes despite all of these things it can still be cheaper and better (from the company’s point of view) to do things over there than over here. And the margin does not need to be as much when it comes to low-skill jobs like manufacturing (though shipping can be an issue, depending on what is being built and shipped). It’s important to keep in mind, however, that if they can build it here for $5 and there for $4, we’ve got a really good chance.

The problems with the second assumption applies particularly to high-skill workers but also to low-skill ones and definitely to the governments of those countries. They don’t want to be our errand boys forever. They don’t want to work for pennies on the dollar forever. Right now they are willing to do these things because they have to. However, as these countries get more wealthy, they’re going to start to be less willing to. As their citizenry gets more educated, they’re going to want to design their own stuff. They’re going to want to build the stuff that they design. And they’re going to want to own the company that makes the profits from the stuff they design and build. And as they start more and more of their own companies, their labor and manufacturing capacity diminishes and they have to start charging more. This is particularly true in the high-skill realm where it costs a lot of money to educated a relatively small portion of the population with the intelligence required to do the work and do it well. But even with manufacturing, they have to get the infrastructure in place and build the plants and round up the people.

Granted, China has a lot of excess capacity and it may take a long time before they officially start running short on people. But the factories don’t magically appear and as they have difficulty keeping up the prices they will be able to command will also go up and the difference between how much it costs American companies to build something over here and over there will become less startling. That’s if they don’t start leaving China for other countries, which will then often undergo the same pressures and transformations. I’m not suggesting the jobs are going to start marching right back to the States. Most of those that are gone will stay gone. But over time, I expect less of the new jobs to leave.

That’s not to say that it won’t be a rough transition or that everything is just going to be hunky-dory. Nor is it meant as an argument against trade restrictions that would make it more difficult to buy things in China. I lean against them, but there are arguments in favor of them not really discussed in this post. That’s my way of saying that I don’t want to make this about whether free trade is, in the aggregate, a good or bad thing. All of the above can be entirely true and it may still be a bad idea.

The main point I am making is that a lot of people seem to be of the mind that of the mind that China will be able to have its cake and eat it, too. They’ll be able to be this new hyperpower that runs our errands while paying its workers pennies on the dollar. Success in a country breeds expectations among its people. It’s what happened in Europe; it’s what happened in Japan; it’s what happened in the United States. They’ll demand better pay or better services from their government in order to bring their lifestyles – and hence their wages – more in line with the first world’s.

Category: Market

An article from Fox Business – so take it for what it’s worth – talks about how the Obama Administration wants to help people consolidate their accounts. In theory, it sounds really neat. Instant verification of who you are! No more remembering 100,000 passwords. Of course, nothing that easy comes without costs and risks. It’s supposed to be entirely voluntary, which is supposed to alleviate concerns. But there is a question of how voluntary it becomes when vendors stop accepting anything else. It’s not enough for it to be voluntary. We have to be guaranteed the ability to use other options. The article focuses on costs, which is really a secondary concern if it would make the economy more efficient on the whole (and I think it would).

Does Dr. Laura really respond to common blog entries?

Earlier this month, the government announced (preliminarily) that much of the acceleration problems with Toyota were caused by driver error. But by god, Toyota must have messed up somewhere and our government will turn every stone until they can find some way to justify bringing them before congress earlier this year. So maybe the steering rods.

Joel Kotkin takes up his familiar banner that the notion that everyone is moving back to the city is a myth. One of the problems I keep running into when discussing these issues is that urbanists simply don’t understand that the suburbs genuinely have something to offer even if it’s something the urbanists themselves don’t want. This isn’t their fault. The suburbanists, for the most part, don’t really care about the discussion. They just want to make sure the roads keep getting built.

If possible, Megan McArdle would use science to make her daughters shorter.

DC Comics is kind of cursed with instantly recognizable characters with backstories that are either dull or make it difficult to tell compelling stories. So you end up with Hawkman’s history becoming so convoluted that the character becomes sporadically unseable, an icon in Aquaman who can’t even carry his own series, and yet another reinvention of Wonder Woman. I collected Wonder Woman for a little while many years ago. It was John Byrne’s stint in the series when Diana herself was not actually in the series. On the other hand, the Graphic Audio was a surprisingly good story despite Diana being front-and-center.

The statistics presented in articles like this are pretty damning. They are certainly more convincing (or at least less unconvincing) than they were years ago. At the same time, I look around me and we live in a country of such immense wealth in terms of things. How can so many people be so poorly off in a country where so many people have so much? Misallocation of resources? Debt (and lack of saving), more like. One of the distorting effects of debt is that it becomes impossible to know what we do and do not have.

A look at The Beauty Bias and what can be done about it.

A look at Facebook and anonymity.

How to improve murder investigations.

Category: Newsroom

In our discussion about mail-order brides, Phi linked to his inaugural post, which involved the subject:

1. The first point is that a man’s sexual market value is perceived relative to those around him. IMBs capitalize on this by taking middle-aged, middle class men with low status in a rich country and marketing them in a poor country where they enjoy relatively high status. This works . . . as long as he stays in the poor country. If he brings his foreign bride back to the U.S., it will matter very little that he rescued her from a life of poverty in Ukraine. She will eventually perceive him to be low status by American standards.

While I think this is true, I think it is a narrow look at a broader concept. One that applies not only to women and status but men and women and options in general. People are as loyal as (a) their commitment and (b) their options. Using mail-order brides is a good example of this for a number of reasons.

First, there is generally a lack of commitment. It’s a marriage of convenience. They sidestepped a good part of the “getting to know you” phase. She’s often looking for material goods and access to the United States and he’s looking for someone with a greater degree of (superficial) devotion (under threat of deportation) and often a more attractive woman than he would be able to get stateside. They’re the best that they can do, but far from perfect. They don’t have much in common. They barely know one another more often than not. Often, if he could find himself an American woman as attractive and attentive as she is, he would not have given her a second look. Likewise, if she had access to a Russian man with his traits and wealth, neither would she. They’re both in a position of need and willing to overlook a lot.

That’s not the foundation of a strong marriage. The same often occurs early on in relationships between unattractive and unpopular people. The main difference, though, is that over time these two are more likely to genuinely bond than are an American and a foreigner. They’re more likely to have more in common, to understand one another better, and so on. And so they’re more likely to reach the point where they would forego “better options” because they’re attached. Maybe I’m being overly skeptical that this is going to happen with people that start off with virtually nothing in common, but I don’t think so.

The second thing is that MOBs draw attention to the quick increase of options on the part of one of the two partners. As Phi points out, the guy who seemed fabulously wealthy to someone living in The Ukraine no longer seems so in the United States. Further, since wealth is by its nature comparative and absolute, she is confronted with more of what she is missing the same way that someone that upgrades neighborhoods suddenly notices what they don’t have that their new neighbors do. In any event, she can now bad herself a man of more comparable attractiveness or that doesn’t have whatever the man had that forced him to resort to MOBs. It’s not quite that simple because she will always be a foreigner (and on something other than her first marriage to any new guy she meets in the US) and that’s a liability, but it’ll be closer. While she might leave the guy for someone wealthier, my guess is that she would probably leave him for someone more attractive if there is a great disparity.

It’s harder to find a place with the sudden increase in options amongst Americans. The most obvious place to look is college. One of the reasons that so few high school relationships survive college is that each partner is suddenly confronted with so many more options. You do the best you can at the high school level, but when you get to college you’re more likely to find someone cute who also shares your weird interests or someone who shares your interest but, unlike your high school sweetheart, is also kinda cute. These relationships also often fall short on the commitment scale since we’re dealing with still-developing senses of attraction.

Another example is when one partner suddenly loses a whole lot of weight and starts getting the idea that they might could do better than their still-fat partner. This is the example where the first factor, commitment, helps a lot because it’s more likely to exist.

Not to get all One To Grow On or anything, but this is one of those areas where being with someone (and having someone together with you) for the right reasons matters so much. In the case of MOBs, both partners are in a way cheating. He’s using leverage he didn’t particularly earn (it was afforded to him by virtue of being born in the United States of America or into a family of citizens) to score a wife with attributes he would have a lot of difficulty getting otherwise. She’s cheating to get into the US and to get access to the comparable wealth by using her attractiveness. Again, this is not the foundation of a successful marriage and it’s not unlikely that either party is going to bolt at a better opportunity (though only one of these two is likely to rapidly see better opportunities). But the same applies to other sorts of relationships. Two unattractive people can fall in love, but if they’re disgruntledly settling for one another (which I’ve seen happen) it’ll usually fall apart even without the option. It’ll merely take the perception of an option with a “real girl” or “real guy.”

So in conclusion, I would just like to say that anyone that says “I wouldn’t sleep with you if you were the last person on earth” is probably lying. They may not have the commitment, but expectations are quickly adjusted based on availability.

Category: Coffeehouse

-{The next installment from a dormant series}-

While staying in Estacado, I have been the guest of my good friend Kyle. Kyle has been a great host in every respect but one. In The World According to William, when hosting somebody from out of town, it’s best to make accommodations for them to eat where they want to eat. You live there. You can eat wherever you want to whenever you want to. If they’re just in for a couple of days, they may want to eat some specific places. Now, if you really don’t like eating there, maybe you find a compromise.

Kyle has been really hip on showing me some of what he considers the best restaurants in Santomas to be. I appreciate the thought. I really do. But there are already so many great restaurants here that I already know about. Eating at a new great place (and I don’t doubt that the food would be good) just gives me another place to miss and to add to an already long list of restaurants I want to eat at. Fortunately, I managed to convince them not to take me to a place that I knew I wouldn’t like, but even that took effort. I don’t like raisins. No, it doesn’t matter how great or “unnoticeable” they are. I don’t care if I can just overlook it if I don’t think about it. I don’t want to overlook it. I want to eat at a restaurant I haven’t been able to eat at in over two years.

It’s a really hard point to get through. I run into the same problem with my father. We have a tradition of eating breakfast together. I want to eat at Happy Burger, which he likes as well as most other options, but he keeps wanting variety (which come to think of it is kind of odd for Dad). He keeps wanting to take me to Denny’s because he has a coupon. But he, and I, can eat at Denny’s any time (and I’ll pay for Happy Burger!). I don’t get the opportunity to eat at Happy Burger very often. Fortunately, I think after a few rounds of this he’s finally “got it.”

Yeah, I’m whining and grumbling a bit because I had a list of three restaurants I wanted to eat at over five meals and I only got to eat at one of them. Two of them couldn’t be helped just because of my itenerary, but in two cases I was left with the choice of either going somewhere alone instead of enjoying food with my friend (I should add that these are restaurants that I know he likes, he recommended a couple of them to me in the first place!), getting into a dicey standoff with my friend who has otherwise been the perfect host (and whose efforts on my behalf lead to the visit in the first place!), or skipping out on where I want to eat for a new place that I either won’t like or will like and will not be able to eat at again.

Category: Coffeehouse

Phi points to an article on mail-order brides and a scam therein:

To understand this incident you have to know about the Violence Against Women Act of 1996,” said Oldenkamp.“There is a little piece in it that states if an immigrant is abused by her husband or other family member, and can prove the abuse, then they become admitted for permanent residence.Elana was going to get her green card with or without me.

I find myself instinctually unsympathetic to those that marry a foreign girl they never met and get screwed in the process. Part of me thinks, “Well what they hell did they expect?!” Part of me finds the notion distasteful and I have to fight off the urge to say that they got what they deserved. I fight off that urge because while those that do or would beat their MOBs (a suitable acronym, considering…) do deserve what they get, nobody deserves trumped-up charges (as Oldenkamp alleges). Further, while some portion of these men may have ordered these brides because they wanted someone “docile, soft, and calm” (these are not characteristics I would generally associate with Russians) in a lot of cases it’s men without a lot in the way of other options. Men that have trouble relating to women on a square level. Hey, I can relate.

This is all further complicated by the fact that the participants from each side are going to be drawn from subsets of the population. The women are more likely to be desperate and/or ambitious, which makes them dangerous. The men are likely to be bitter and/or controlling, which makes them dangerous.

But even when I get past my biases, I am still uncomfortable with the business as a whole and can’t get too excited when I hear horror stories. I definitely do not support trumped up charges of spousal abuse. Nor do I support women using a sham marriage to get into the country and then cutting off the rope to the anchor at the first opportunity. These exploitations on the women’s part range from distasteful to abhorrent.

At the same time, though, I don’t entirely know what the alternatives are. If you don’t offer these women a degree of protection, you leave an extraordinary opening for exploitation the other way. A man can marry a woman and exploit the residency issues to turn her into a virtual slave. Or a punching bag. I mean, if she raises a fuss he can just divorce her and she’ll be sent home. That threat alone provides extreme leverage and marriage is not an institution at its best when one party has that kind of leverage over another. Giving a MOB (or a MOG, if such a thing were to exist and if domestic violence were a concern) recourse on the whole strikes me as better off than the alternative. We can quibble over what sort of standard of proof is required, but somewhere in a line beyond which his actions are demonstrably illegal and she should be able to report it without facing deportation.

On the other hand, I’m not sure how much it helps. The men with the most leverage are going to be those married to women that they manage to keep socially isolated. They’re less likely to speak English and it’s also less likely that she’s going to have the funds to hire a lawyer or the slightest clue where to go. The VAWA requires proof of hardship in the event of deportation, but those for whom the greatest hardship exists are those that would be deported before they knew what their rights were. Or maybe not, if she is appointed a lawyer by default or she at least knows to ask for one (if court-appointed lawyers exist for deportation?). In any event, it’s precisely those that would suffer the least hardship (comparatively speaking, anyway) that would have the strongest idea of what their rights were. Elana, the woman from the story above, notably had good command of English.

Incentivising accusations of spousal abuse is certainly troubling and if I were to isolate a concern, that would be it. If I were a man considering a MOB, it would matter far less if she got her own independent visa than if I have to defend myself against charges of spousal abuse. On the one hand, Elana’s accusations and the scratches that she had her son inflict would be pretty flimsy while applying for a green card. On the other hand, even if that is the case and Elana gets deported, Oldenkamp is still having to defend himself against felony assault charges. Back on the first hand, if Oldenkamp is a reliable narrator it’s pretty ridiculous that they pursued the charges. We can posit a situation wherein Oldenkamp would not have had the evidence that he did suggesting his innocence, but we can also posit a situation where a woman actually is being beaten mercilessly and has no recourse beyond deportation. Having to only be better than sent back to Russia provides a man a whole lot of leverage. Of course, being able to threaten trumped up abuse charges does the same for the woman. Regardless of the position that the government takes, somebody’s got lots of leverage.

One thing I find notable, though, is that absent charges of abuse a foreigner appears to lose the “conditional” on their conditional visa in two short years. If I were a man looking for a MOB, I think that would be my primary concern. That she just waits it out. She puts up with me for two years, being just enough of a wife that I don’t divorce her and deportation is kept at bay, and then leaves at the earliest opportunity. In that case, I am out several thousand dollars and two years of my life. Of course, at least then I am not out several thousand dollars, a little over a year of my life, and facing felony charges like Oldenkamp.

So I guess if you’re a guy looking for a woman to dominate, you can probably find someone less likely to be able to leave. If you’re a guy looking for an actual partner and are looking for intelligence and competence (and the ability to speak your language), you’ve got just two years to win her over for real. Or you look for potential Elana’s like a hawk and insulate yourself against charges of spousal abuse, which is wonderfully fertile ground from which love should grow.

Seems that the best way to win the game is simply not to play. It’s extremely risky from both ends. Or, if you do play, know your rights and what their rights are. Then again, how smart is it to engage in a marriage where you’re in such a defensive posture. For women from the poor side of a poor town in a poor country, it may be worth it with or without VAWA. Men, however, should really think twice. They are, in a sense, trying to game the system by taking advantage of her poverty. That is not the formula for a successful marriage even in a world where VAWA does not exist.

I found this site a pretty good primer on the subject. On the whole, it actually made me more sympathetic to both parties of the marriages while making me even more sour on the concept. But what are you going to do? The VAWA has the advantage of discouraging men from doing it (which is where the bottleneck is), though sort of at gunpoint. At the end, there’s no law that can be written that either (a) can’t be worked around or (b) doesn’t provide a serious imposition to those that are seriously in love with and want to marry someone that they met abroad. The closest think I can think of is the requirement for more face-to-face meetings over a long period of time. But that’s (a) harder to prove/disprove and (b) simply makes it more expensive, not impossible.

An aside: One of the commenters at Phi’s place points out that the MOB business has been infiltrated by the Russian… well… mob. This was actually the topic of the episode of the late, great TV show Life, that introduced us to the main villain of the entire show. Sort of. Roman Nevikov’s operation would sell wives to desperate men. The husbands would then be extorted to keep their wives. They’d lose their wives anyway and she would then be remarried to another mark.

Category: Newsroom, Statehouse

A lot of folks have been rolling their eyes at the recent proposal in San Francisco to ban pet sales in city limits. Just another example of the nanny state and big government trampling on our liberties. As far as libertarian thought goes, this response makes a great deal of sense. But ED Kain links to (and expands upon) a pretty good counterargument:

No one need suggest that a kitten’s life is morally equivalent to a human’s to observe that something is terribly wrong when we casually dispose of one much as we would the butane in a Bic lighter: that is the mark of a callow society, a cruel society. It does not speak well for us that we kill millions of sentient, sensitive animals every year through grotesque, painful methods such as gassing and heart-sticking. Pet stores are one of the main reasons we do this.

The author, Claire Berlinsky, goes a step further than I would in supporting the ban of pet shops everywhere. I’ll get into why I am not on board with that idea later.

If one does not accept government intervention for the welfare of animals under any circumstances because animals are no more than property, there isn’t much that can be said to convince you. But for the rest of us, pet shops represent a real problem for the welfare of animals even if we don’t find the sale of living creatures distasteful (which I don’t) or oppose the captivity of creatures to the whims of measly humans (ditto).

Pet shops, by virtue of their trade, make it their business to sell pets. That means convincing people that they want pets. The problem is that while someone can change their mind after buying an iPhone and be left with nothing left than a hunk of plastic that they don’t want to use, someone that changes their mind after buying a pet has a living, breathing creature to care for. This is inherently more problematic. Even if they return it (if they can), if they got a puppy they have put the animal in a position where it is less likely to be adopted in the future (“So someone else didn’t want this animal, so why should I take it?” and “Oh, well I was hoping for a puppy under 12 weeks for training purposes”).

Further, unlike with other things that we prohibit the sale of, such as narcotics, we are not denying most people that genuinely want the product the ability to get it. You want a dog? You can still get one! You just have to go to the pound! They’re being put to death because not enough people want them and not just dogs that have something wrong with them. So the usual fears about a deathly black market don’t really apply so much. The number of people so dead-set on a purebread puppy that they would be willing to break the law and enter into a black market is relatively small. It’s mostly just a preference. And an availability. And that the most obvious answer to the question of where you get a pet is a pet store.

One of the counterarguments I am hearing is that a society that eats meat cannot care about animal welfare. Usually tossed in are the profound insights that we tend to treat different animals differently. Some suggest that our choice of dogs and cats to be family friends is a random accident or at least a subjective choice with no particular value.

To me, though, there is no inconsistency inherent with treating different animals differently. People, in the aggregate, have basically made different arrangements with different animals. And with arrangements come relationships. Dogs and cats were not chosen as housepets by random or cause they’re just cuter than the rest. Our relationship evolved from the fact that dogs and cats have something specific to offer us. Dogs and cats are smart enough to be useful (herding sheep, catching rodants) but dumb enough to, in the aggregate, be controlled. For that matter, horses proved themselves useful for riding. And so we put them to work and became fond of them. This is pretty natural and it takes something external, like a religious prohibition or a lack of available animals, for this kind of relationship not to develop. And besides all that, to the extent that we use them solely for companionship, they’re particularly useful for that, too! They’re the right size and have the right temperament.

Other animals, though, are primarily useful only insofar as we eat them. So while we can form a relationship with a dog or cat based on what they do for us around the house (they make excellent vacuum cleaners) and the convenient companionship they provide, we form relationships with cows based on how tasty they are (or how tasty their milk is). Because they have no other use to us, it’s hard to look at them any other way. They’re too dumb to be useful in another capacity. They’re too big to be kept in the house. I don’t know how smart chickens are, but they’re not entirely convenient to have in the house the way a dog or cat is. From what I understand, pigs are smart and are domesticatable, but their size and the habits they form make them inferior pets to dogs, so they’re applying for a job that has been filled by the most qualified applicant.

So we have a relationship with dogs and cats that is particular. We will hold them hostage, but we will also feed them. We will feed them food they disfavor compared to the food we eat, but we will give them shelter. We will treat them in a lot of ways that they do not understand, but we’ve worked it out that so long as we rub their tummy, they’re happy. Not having owned any cats nor desiring to, I don’t have as many insights to our precise relationship with them, but I assume that there is something similarly worthwhile about them.

It seems to me that adding (in the aggregate) to that arrangement that we will take minimal efforts to see that fewer of them are needlessly killed is not particularly unreasonable.

Above I said that I would not go as far as Ms. Berlinsky. Here’s why: sometimes people really do need to buy a pet. Some people really have their heart set on a particular breed and getting a mutt from the pound is not an acceptable substitute. I would prefer the government not prevent that from ever happening. I think as long as we make sure that’s what they want, we can push the fence-sitters to the pound. But even if we don’t want to accommodate those, there are some that need need purebreds or dogs with traceable lineage. If the dog is being trained for a very specific task, some breeds are better than others. If a police department is going to spend thousands upon thousands of dollars training a drug-sniffing dog, they are going to want that dog to be of the right breed (or make sure that it doesn’t have particular other breeds in him or her) before they do so and that is not unreasonable. There are also people, like the President of the United States, that need hypoallergenic pets.

I am hoping that Clancy and I will be getting a new dog in the next month or two. I have a natural preference for mutts over purebreds and so I would probably go to the pound in any event, but things that would push me in that direction and away from breeders are good steps. Making purchasing a bred dog less convenient, for instance, or more costly. As it stands, I may well get a for-sale dog if the local pound doesn’t have what I want. I am not above such selfishness simply because I want a dog of a certain size and a certain age. Probably not because of my preference for mutts as well as having the point hammered into my head by my ex-girlfriend the former dog trainer (Julianne), but in a better world it wouldn’t even be a close call or something that I would consider.

So what to do? My preference would be to tax the hell out of purebreds (and use the money to take care of the mutts at the pound). At least try it and see how it goes. I have no illusions that there won’t be a fair number of unreported sales, but they’ll have a harder time setting up shop at the mall or widely advertising their services. Maybe it’ll work, maybe it won’t. But I think it’s worth a shot.

Category: Market