Archives for August, 2003

The Marriage Strike

Willie Nelson allegedly told a friend once: “the next time I’m about to get married, I want you to make me go buy a house for some woman I can’t stand.” In a similar vein, here’s an interesting piece by Wendy McElroy examining one possible reason for the declining marriage rate–family law regimes that radically disfavor men. She writes of a “marriage strike,” driven by young men’s knowledge of just how badly things can go if they go badly:

One in two marriages will fail with the wife being twice as likely to initiate the proceedings on grounds of “general discontent” — the minimum requirement of no-fault divorce. The odds of the woman receiving custody of children are overwhelming, with many fathers effectively being denied visitation. The wife usually keeps the “family” assets and, perhaps, receives alimony as well as child support. Many men confront continuing poverty to pay for the former marriage.

In a bit of hyperbole that no one with a Y chromosome could get away with, McElroy likens the legal strictures attendant to divorce to slavery. Is there something to what she says, though?

I’m no expert. I didn’t take family law in law school. At the time, the class was taught by an identity-politics feminist who seemed to want to abolish families and have people raised in giant collectives–so the students spent more time plotting the revolution than learning the law. But I did have a couple of hours of family law in my Bar Review class–the only time I remember the material nudging me out of my half-awake stupor and getting me to sit up and take notes. Here was an interesting area of law; and by interesting, I mean insane. Judges with unchecked dictatorial power based on the standardless “best interest of the child” standard. Assets, acquired entirely through the efforts and foresight of one party, that magically become “marital property”–ready for division when it goes splitsville.

But what really woke me up was the concept of “imputed income” for alimony and child support. That means, not your actual income, but what you could make if you were really giving it your all and living up to your potential. In my bar review class, we talked about a Virginia case where a guy had been through a godawful bitter divorce, and decided if he was going to have to pay his ex half his income, it was going to be half of a much smaller pie. So instead of slaving away as a lawyer (as I recall), he took a more blue-collar, end-of-Office-Space type of job, making far less money. Tough, said the judge. You’re liable for what you could make, not what you actually make. And that’s the law. Guys, if you want that wonderful pulse-racing, chest-tightening feeling you get from the kind of bad dreams where you show up late for an exam you didn’t know you were scheduled for–then click this link to a California divorce lawyer’s page.

In that light, McElroy’s hyperbole seems less hyperbolic, if you ask me. I yield to no one in my disdain for the federal government and my resentment over what they strip from my paycheck every two weeks without so much as a by-your-leave. But I’ll say this for the feds–they’re not telling me I need to go back and slave away at a big law firm so I can pay more in taxes. Moreover, I was never in love with the government, and the government never broke my heart and moved away with my kids “to Fukuoka with an Air Force colonel she met in a meat bar,” as Fred Reed puts it.

If you’ve ever read Reed, you suspect that a guy that (hilariously) bitter has had some firsthand experience with the tyranny of family law. And more and more young men are hearing stories like his, and holding off on marriage.

Divorce and child custody law throughout the United States is riddled with anachronisms, having evolved in a time when women had dramatically less economic power and fewer career options than men. Until the law’s reformed, a lot of guys will keep opting out.

Posted on Aug 31, 2003 in Uncategorized | 17 Comments

Talk about a Killjoy…

But I like it: this site exposes “insultingly stupid movie physics.”

Posted on Aug 29, 2003 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Know My Enemy

Don’t know much about neoconservatism? The Christian Science Monitor has put up a cute little neocon studies page complete with a you-might-be-a-neocon-if quiz. “Empire Builders: Neoconservatives and Their Blueprint for US Power” can be found here.

Posted on Aug 28, 2003 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

“Wishful Thinking of the First Order”

Josh Marshall has published a two-part interview with Peter Bergen, author of Holy War Inc., and (I believe) the last Westerner actually to interview Bin Laden. (Part one is here. Part two, here.) In his book, Bergen supported a war to overthrow Saddam Hussein, so it can’t fairly be said that he has an axe to grind with regard to Gulf War II. In that light, it’s interesting to read what he has to say about the purported Saddam/Al Qaeda connection:

BERGEN: You know, the best evidence linking al Qaida to Iraq was what Colin Powell said with George Tenet sitting behind him at the United Nations. And it’s this guy Zarqawi who went for medical treatment in Baghdad. Now I’ve talked to US officials and European intelligence officials and Zarqawi had his own organization that’s not part of al Qaida. And even if you put the best possible spin on everything, A) he has a separate organization, and B) the way US intelligence officials look at it, they say that he would say, “Yeah, sometimes I do work for Osama.”

But the fact is that this guy spent more time in Iran and Lebanon than he spent in Iraq.

I mean, he went to Iraq for medical treatment. He also traveled under an alias, by the way. This is a guy with many aliases. It’s quite possible that he was getting medical treatment without the regime knowing it. After all, he’s Jordanian.

So Zarqawi’s their best [evidence] –and it’s a pretty thin reed. You know, Iraq actually has quite good medical treatment compared to most other countries in the Arab world, from my understanding. So the fact that he went there — and just by the law of averages, by the way, if we accept the fact that, as President Bush said in the State of the Union, that there are sixty countries where al Qaida exists, just by the law of averages, some of them are going to show up in Iraq. But, you know, I spent years researching my book on al Qaida, and one of the striking things is how few Iraqis there are in the organization.

On how it will all play out:

TPM: Well you know before the war, and in the arguments that were made on either side before the war, there was an argument made–at least by certain neoconservative voices in the pro-war camp — that getting rid of Saddam had its own immediate advantages (non-conventional weapons, threat to his neighbors, and so forth) but that changing the government in Baghdad could basically trigger a kind of domino effect in the region.

BERGEN: I just saw that as a sort of theological position.

TPM: Yeah, there was that position and then the contrary position, saying it’s going to domino the other direction.

BERGEN: I’m going to firmly sit on the fence, because I think all we can say about the events of the Iraq war is the following: We speeded up history, right? Because we volunteered for this, we really didn’t have to do it. There wasn’t an imminent threat, you know there was no link to 9/11. Saddam’s a horrible human being, but there are plenty of those around. So we volunteered essentially, and we basically sped history up. I know that you’re a professional historian. When you speed history up, to say [with] rose-tinted spectacles, it’s all going to be great, there’s going to be democracy around the Middle East and everyone’s going to love us, I mean that is as wrong as saying this will be the biggest disaster of all time. We just don’t know.

I mean, we are playing the tape now. Maybe this is an easy way out of your question. The tape is being played. We just have no idea how it’s going to turn out. Yeah, you could imagine a situation–you could easily say ten years from now, Iraq will have split up into a series of — essentially a civil war between various Sunni jihadists and Shiia whatever. Or you could say, you know, Chalabi is running it and everything is fine and we’re all happy. Or you could say — I don’t know. I think making predictions about this is impossible. But to say that it’s all going to come out fine, that always struck me as being wishful thinking of the first order. We just don’t know.

Posted on Aug 27, 2003 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Destiny’s Children

In his elegant brief for moderate antistatism, What It Means to Be a Libertarian, Charles Murray writes:

What has made me a libertarian is a homely image and the answer to a simple question. The image is of an ordinary human being making an honest living and minding his own business. The question is: What does this person owe the government other than to keep on doing what he is doing?

Murray points out that the operative word in the sentence is government. He acknowledges that the ordinary person isn’t a social atom; he has many obligations–to parents, children, community, church, friends. But an obligation to government is different–it’s a gunpoint obligation, the bond of force as opposed to the bonds of affection.

“What should government be permitted to demand of this ordinary person?” Murray asks again. The answer:

“Very little.”

I’m not nearly as measured and moderate as Mr. Murray. But the passage above neatly sums up why I’m a libertarian as well.

There’s a parallel passage in Tony Blair’s recent speech to Congress that does the same thing, only in a very different way. In it, Tony’s explaining the need for an expansive version of the war on terror–one aimed not just at eradicating Al Qaeda, but one that leads to a new birth of freedom and a flowering of democracy the world over. He says:

And I know it’s hard on America, and in some small corner of this vast country, out in Nevada or Idaho or these places I’ve never been to, but always wanted to go. I know out there there’s a guy getting on with his life, perfectly happily, minding his own business, saying to you, the political leaders of this country, ‘Why me? And why us? And why America?’

And the only answer is, ‘Because destiny put you in this place in history, in this moment in time, and the task is yours to do.’

Well that’s the funny thing about “destiny” isn’t it? She’s got a role to play for each of us. For Tony Blair, it’s to give enthralling speeches about liberating the world. For the poor corn-fed schmucks out in flyover country, it’s to pay the freight for these crusades and occasionally give up a son.

Posted on Aug 25, 2003 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Dead Red

Having just joined the ranks of good communists, the late Eric Hobsbawm has garnered some pretty favorable obituaries. But Peter Robinson, writing in the Corner, excerpts an exchange that ought to, but won’t, give the eulogists pause:

IGNATIEFF: In 1934, millions of people are dying in the Soviet experiment. If you had known that, would it have made a difference to you at that time? To your commitment? To being a Communist?

HOBSBAWM: This is the sort of academic question to which an answer is simply not possible…I don’t actually know that it has any bearing on the history that I have written. If I were to give you a retrospective answer which is not the answer of a historian, I would have said, ‘Probably not.’

IGNATIEFF: Why?

HOBSBAWM: Because in a period in which, as you might imagine, mass murder and mass suffering are absolutely universal, the chance of a new world being born in great suffering would still have been worth backing. Now the point is, looking back as an historian, I would say that the sacrifices made by the Russian people were probably only marginally worthwhile. The sacrifices were enormous; they were excessive by almost any standard and excessively great. But I’m looking back at it now and I’m saying that because it turns out that the Soviet Union was not the beginning of the world revolution. Had it been, I’m not sure.

IGNATIEFF: What that comes down to is saying that had the radiant tomorrow actually been created, the loss of fifteen, twenty million people might have been justified?

HOBSBAWM: Yes.

Posted on Aug 25, 2003 in Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Workaday Freak

I’m back, after a short jaunt to NYC then home to New Jersey. New posts to come, to give you something to look at besides my grotesque misshapen head. Did anyone catch this article from the metro section in Saturday’s Times? It’s an inside look at what it’s like work as “the Freak” in the Coney Island paintball game “Shoot the Freak,” in which “up to six customers at a time can stand on the Boardwalk, a few yards from Stillwell Avenue, and aim their rifles down an alley filled with trash and concrete bits. There, one finds the Freak, darting and dodging.” The article profiles one Matt Behan:

Mr. Behan, who lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, had been auditioning and working as a telemarketer for a dating service, but it was not for him. So when he was walking, slightly drunk, on the Boardwalk early in the season and happened upon the game, he said, he knew this job was a better fit. “Here I am out of an office, at the beach,” he said, “and I can drink on the job.”

How many of you lawyers reading this just felt pangs of regret and jealousy?

But hey, there’s pressure and frustration in every job:

“Some of the things people say to you are hard to take, like, `Take the helmet off so I can shoot you in the face,’ ” Mr. Behan said. “But you can’t bring it home.”

Posted on Aug 25, 2003 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Telescopic Philanthropy

From yesterday’s NYT:

Having already given one kidney to a total stranger, Zell Kravinsky was sipping an orange-mango Snapple and, unprompted, making a case for giving away his other one.

His wife, Emily, a psychiatrist, has threatened to divorce him, Mr. Kravinsky said, worried that his altruism is coming at the expense of their four children. The Kravinskys have given away $15 million, with Mr. Kravinsky promising to give away virtually everything the family has.

“No one should have a vacation home until everyone has a place to live,” he said. “No one should have a second car until everyone has one. And no one should have two kidneys until everyone has one.”

I don’t know what’s weirder about this story: is it the Peter-Singer-on-crack aspect to it? Manic utilitarianism run-amok–until your obligations to family and friends are eclipsed by your obligations to strangers? Or is it that somehow, in his mania, Kravinsky’s stumbled across the right answer to organ shortages? “He said he was even considering breaking federal law and offering to pay someone to give their kidney away to a stranger.”

Posted on Aug 18, 2003 in Uncategorized | 30 Comments

Like Rain on Your Wedding Day

So there’s a bar/restaurant in my neighborhood called the Marx Cafe: A Revolutionary Cuisine. Near as I can tell, it’s not post-cold-war kitsch–the owners seem to be genuine leftoids, occasionally hosting readings from earnest anti-globo tomes and using their window space to decry institutionalized racism or some such. Still and all, the Marx Cafe sells microbrews at close to six bucks a pop and has a “no panhandling” sign (in Spanish and English) featured prominently in the window.

I thought that was ironic enough, but this is over the top. I prefer life’s little ironies when they sidle up on you with a bit of subtlety, not when they smack you in the forehead like a big wet flounder. Sunday’s WaPo has an article on the so called voluntary agreements by which busybody neighbors take it upon themselves to control how local businesspeople operate. It quotes one of the Marx Cafe’s owners:

“Do you know what a communist country is? Well, this community is like that,” Pasikhani said. “They want it run like they want it. We have no choice because they come in here saying they’ll arrest us all the time.”

A communist country! Dude, you run the frickin’ Marx Cafe!

Posted on Aug 17, 2003 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Tony and Woodrow

Remember that old Al Gore or Unabomber gag? Somebody ought to redo it with Tony Blair and Woodrow Wilson.

Here’s Professor Wilson, 1917:

We are glad, now that we see the facts with no veil of false pretence about them, to fight thus for the ultimate peace of the world and for the liberation of its peoples, the German peoples included: for the rights of nations great and small and the privilege of men everywhere to choose their way of life and of obedience. The world must be made safe for democracy. Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty. We have no selfish ends to serve. We desire no conquest, no dominion. We seek no indemnities for ourselves, no material compensation for the sacrifices we shall freely make. We are but one of the champions of the rights of mankind.

And here’s Tony Blair, 2003:

We are fighting for the inalienable right of humankind – black or white, Christian or not, left, right or a million different – to be free, free to raise a family in love and hope, free to earn a living and be rewarded by your efforts, free not to bend your knee to any man in fear, free to be you so long as being you does not impair the freedom of others. That’s what we’re fighting for.

Much as I appreciate the rhetorical hat tip to the Millian Harm Principle, I’m surprised to learn that that’s what we’re fighting for. (And Tony, while you’re at it, why don’t you try implementing that at home?) I thought we were fighting to kill the bastards who killed 3,000 Americans.

Posted on Aug 16, 2003 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Take the Recall National

For people who supposedly respect the Constitution, conservatives sure are amendment-happy lately. They want a victim’s rights amendment, a flag-burning amendment, and a “marriage amendment” that would federalize family law. Orrin Hatch recently got behind a proposal to get rid of the Constitution’s requirement that presidents have to be born in the USA. (The examples offered of people unfairly barred from office–Henry “powah is the greatest aphrodaisiac” Kissinger and Madeline Halfbright–haven’t convinced me there’s any urgency here). My view has always been, don’t mess with the document unless there’s a really pressing need.

But now there’s an amendment I can support. The California recall has restored my faith in politics. Politics-as-entertainment, anyway. What could be better than listening to Arianna Huffington and Father Guido Sarducci have at it in a battle of the tortured accents, while a purse-lipped and queasy Gray Davis looks on uncomfortably? We need to take this California recall thing national, with a constitutional amendment. And, as a friend of mine suggested last night, the amendment’s language should stipulate that no national election will be valid unless there’s a celebrity running. Preferably a where-are-they-now type of celebrity trying to resuscitate a dying career.

If the threshold for recall is set low enough–say, 100,000 signatures, or, hell, 10 signatures–we could spend all our time on the bread-and-circuses joy of recall elections, which would leave precious little time for governing. This could bring a level of fun to politics that we haven’t known since the sour, progressive Protestants stopped the Irish political machines from giving out free booze at the polls.

Posted on Aug 15, 2003 in Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Omelettes, Eggs, Imperialism

Here’s a true fact (the best kind) I learned recently while reading Niall Ferguson’s Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power. You probably thought it was Stalin who said you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs (i.e., don’t cry over the poor saps we have to kill for reasons of state). So did I. But actually it was late-19th-century British MP Joseph Chamberlain, a leading imperialist and enemy of Irish Home Rule. Also the daddy of Neville Chamberlain, who bequeathed to latter-day imperialists the one historical analogy they appear to know. Eeenteresting…

Posted on Aug 14, 2003 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

J. Lo Kan’t Krav

I’m loathe to criticize J. Lo. in her moment of celebrity anguish. But last night, I watched her movie “Enough”; in which she beats her stalker ex-husband to death using her newly acquired skillz in Krav Maga, the Israeli fighting art taught to IDF soldiers. Even as a neophyte yellow belt who probably couldn’t even beat up Ben Affleck, I have to say that J. Lo’s technique leaves much to be desired. For example, the Krav Maga “guard” position requires one to maintain slightly curved hands with fingers together–not splayed like the “spirit fingers” cheerleading routine in “Bring It On.” And one would not use the upright arm technique to break a chokehold with one’s back against a wall. That technique depends on the torque created by stepping back and rotating one’s body–dropping the attacker’s hands into the “basket” created by your bottom arm, leaving the top arm free for a bone-shattering elbow to the face. With back to the wall, the better option is a simple two handed “snatch and pluck” with an almost-simultaneous, sharp kick or knee to the groin, knee to the solar plexus, knee to the face and piledriver elbow to the base of the skull. Nor would a person attack in single strikes, interspersed by elaborate exposition of her plan to get away with killing her attacker by claiming self defense. Krav Maga would counsel continual strikes until the attacker is disabled–attacks that utilize one’s relative physical advantages. In J. Lo.’s case, perhaps a quick hip-check–pitching the attacker off the balcony.

Posted on Aug 13, 2003 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Why Not Hate the Player Instead of the Game?

It has come to my attention that the saying “Don’t hate the player, hate the game,” despite its continuing popularity with the kids, has little to recommend it. At best, it’s a counsel of futility. “The game,” whether used to refer to competitive struggle in the field of romance or the financial struggle to climb the corporate ladder, is a permanent feature of the social architecture. Human beings are evolutionarily programmed to seek rewards and climb status hierarchies. Some strive with class and good sportsmanship, and a sense that winning isn’t everything. Those players should indeed not be hated. But other, less scrupulous players, who lie, and cheat, and play without grace–those who would sell their mother’s kidneys for club money or take up golf just to get closer to the boss–those players are worthy objects of disdain.

“Don’t hate the player, hate the game,” can only mean one of two things: (1) rather than hate the offending person, hate something that won’t, and shouldn’t, change: “Don’t hate the driver who cut you off–hate cars.” Or (2) that you should strive to overthrow the existing order and work a revolutionary change in human nature: “Sisters! Don’t hate the guy who cheated on you–hate men! Work for the revolution, when we’ll put them all up against the wall.” Well! You don’t want to be a feminoid Marxist, do you? Reject this dangerous, utopian, collectivist philosophy. Hate the player, don’t hate the game.

Posted on Aug 13, 2003 in Uncategorized | 10 Comments

Why I Am Not a Conservative, Part 27

…because if I was, I’d have to get all sniffy about the damage the California recall is doing to the dignity and majesty of the governing process. That’s what George Will does this morning in the Post. Writes Will: “Truly conservative Californians — you few know who you are — will vote against the recall to protest its plebiscitary cynicism.” Gosh: cynicism about the political process–heaven forfend. I mean, how are people going to take “statecraft as soulcraft” seriously with Gary Coleman, Ahnold, Zsa Zsa Huffington, Larry Flynt, et al. running around? Gallagher Smash!

Posted on Aug 12, 2003 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments