CAN THE FEDERAL MARRIAGE AMENDMENT PASS THE SENATE? Oxblog is counting votes. Of the 33 Senators who have not anounced a position, if only 5 of them come out against the amendment, it will not pass. I think I'll relax a little. (Link via Andrew Sullivan)
UPDATE: Several readers have alerted me that the vote tally now has more than 1/3 of the Senators on record as opposed (and an amendment needs a 2/3 majority to pass). Of course, people could always change their minds now that it's actually on the table instead of just a debating point. But it seems like there's enough opposition to keep it from becoming a reality. Details at the same link above.
DREAMS: I had many weird dreams last night. In the first, and most interesting, one, I was still at Bryn Mawr College doing some extracurricular or outside project with a very strange guy, whose name I don't remember. Let's call him Robert, to make this easier. Robert was not a student, he was in his early twenties, his face was all scarred with picked-away zits, and he had a son who was about five years old. He didn't have a permanent home, but drove around the country with his son in a van, staying at hotels. He was very difficult to deal with. Some people thought he was obnoxious and mean-spirited, but I and others who had gotten to know him a little realized that he meant well but just didn't interact with people in a normal way.
So, in my dream, I was doing some project with Robert and spending a lot of time with him, and he was really aggravating due to his weird style of interaction with people. Finally I asked him whether he had a non-verbal learning disability (I have a few real-life friends with such conditions). He'd never heard of such a thing, but in the next few days he did some research and decided that he did, and then started changing his behavior and became much easier to deal with.
For some reason, Robert owed me about $75, and he was going to leave town the next day. So I reminded him of this, and he said, "Oh, but I owe you much more than that now." I asked why, and he said because I'd told him about non-verbal learning disabilities, which changed his life and had to be worth a lot of money. I said that he didn't owe me anything for that, because that's what friends are for - they do nice things for each other for free. He was flabergasted by this, and changed his behavior even more towards a normally-functioning person. Or, more accurately, towards a normally-functioning geek.
At the end of the dream, it was some months later, and I was trying to arrange a meeting with Robert when we were both going to be in the same city for just a few hours. I had to go back to Bryn Mawr to do this (I guess I wasn't in school there any more), and there was some stuff with my friend Jamie and a toy horse with wire wrapped around its tail, but I don't really remember any more.
In a completely different dream, I had just entered a two-year Master's program at some unidentified college. For some reason, it was expected that I would study Computer Science, but I really wanted to be studying Political Philosophy or Law. I was in the bookstore, and the salespeople were trying to get me interested in the Computer Science books, but I kept wanting to wander over into the other aisles.
And in yet another dream, Sasha asked me to take a small package to the post office and mail it for him. It weighed about a pound, but when they put it on the post office scale, they said it weighed 90 pounds and it would cost hundreds of dollars to mail! I refused to pay that much, and they refused to believe that their scale was broken, so I took the package back to Sasha. When I told him what had happened, he said, "Yeah, the last package I mailed from there weighed 90 pounds too, now that I think about it."
PEOPLE IN THE NEWS: Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled on Locke v. Davey, deciding that Joshua Davey could not use his state-granted scholarship to major in "pastoral ministries". Yesterday evening, Sasha and I went to see Clint Bolick of Institute for Justice give a talk at Harvard about school choice. In the audience was Joshua Davey, now a Harvard Law student.
It was an excellent talk, BTW. Clint is about to leave IJ to become president of a new group for school choice, which doesn't seem to have a website yet. Good luck to him!
THE INTERESTING QUESTIONS ABOUT MARRIAGE: Someone should take a poll of young adults today, say single people between 18 and 29, and ask them why they want to get married. I bet less than ten percent of them would give as their primary answer, “I want to have children, so I am looking for someone with whom I can mate and form a stable home for my children’s benefit.” A huge, huge majority will say something like, “I want to have a deep, loving relationship with someone that will endure for the long term. I want to share everything with that person – time, secrets, money, a home, children.”
Even people who, like me, definitely want to have children and consider that marriage is very important to raising children well, still view marriage as primarily about love, trust, and sharing, only secondarily about children.
This is, of course, an extraordinarily new development in the history of marriage. Marriage has been about sex and children. It has been about property rights. It has been about political alliances. But love and personal fulfillment have only been the primary motivating factor in marriage for about 200 years. And only the even more modern ability to largely control conception finally completed the transition.
This is a classic example of change through spontaneous order. Marriage already existed as an institution. As people found they had different desires and needs than had previously motivated marriage, they adapted marriage to those new situations instead of creating a new type of institution from the ground up. This allowed them to preserve the beneficial aspects of marriage (a stable family situation for raising children, social recognition – including hospital visitation and medical decision-making, joint property rights, etc.) while removing the aspects that are no longer useful or necessary (dowries, women’s role being restricted to the home, having many children, male dominance, arranged marriages, etc.).
Lots of social institutions and public policies have been built up around the institution of marriage, taking it as a given. Taxes, for instance – I don’t know the details, but I’ve read that the “marriage penalty” is the result of assuming that a married woman does not work outside the home and levying extra taxes if she does. [UPDATE: Sasha assures me that it's much more complicated than that. I couldn't make it all the way through his e-mail, though, which is why I'm not an economist.] Social security survivor benefits also assume that a wife does not have her own source of income or financial security. Hospitals assume that if two people are really in love and want each other around all the time, they will marry – and so unmarried partners would be more of a distraction than a comfort in the sick room. Needless to say, a lot of these things have become untrue as the institution of marriage has quietly evolved.
Social conservatives look at this process of evolution with horror. Marriage must mean what it has always meant, they shout, refusing to acknowledge the changed reality around them. But marriage can not be put back “the way it was”, nor should it. Why is an institution motivated by mutual love less moral than an institution motivated by sex and child rearing, anyway?
Now that marriage is based on love, not children, there is no reason to deny that homosexual relationships are just as valid – and just as important to their participants – as heterosexual relationships. No, marriage has not included them in the past. When marriages were primarily about providing a good environment for the children (the consequence of sex, in the absence of contraception) there was no reason to include gays and lesbians. Now, marriage is about recognizing and solemnizing a loving relationship. Same-sex couples have just as strong a claim to love as heterosexual couples.
The really interesting question is whether all these extraneous things built around marriage should be modified. Taxes and social security benefits. Medical decision-making and inheritance. Property rights and divorce. Since these things are written into actual law, they cannot change slowly and quietly as social norms about marriage have done. Should they be changed, and how? Why is nobody talking about this?
VIEWS ON GAY MARRIAGE: Andrew Sullivan has received over 1,000 e-mails since the President announced his support for the FMA this afternoon. Many are posted on his site, and are definitely worth reading.
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, "When you enter the land of Canaan, which I am giving you as your possession, and I put a spreading mildew in a house in that land, the owner of the house must go and tell the priest, 'I have seen something that looks like mildew in my house.'"
UPDATE: No, I'm not making this up! For the full version, and what the priest should do about the mildew, click here.
THAT GREAT REGIONAL LANGUAGE VARIATION SITE now lets you take a short quiz to see what region of the U.S. your dialect is most like. My first score was 60% Dixie (just barely into the Dixie category), with most of my answers being neutral/nationwide. When I went back and changed my answers to a few terms I use interchangably but less often, I got more Dixie - up to 76%. Great fun! (Link via Andrew Sullivan)
PICTURES FROM SAN FRANCISCO: When I followed the link on Will Quale's blog, I didn't realize how moving these images would be. There are pages and pages of photos from the San Francisco gay marriages available at this page.
As Michael Jennings, another Samizdata contributor, observed on his own blog: "I think the moral of this story may be that there are a great many people in the blogosphere whose lives really sucked when they were 14 and in high school." That's certainly true. But there are a few other morals as well in this story of a Los Angeles teenager whose bad day at school on Friday got the attention of a bunch of London libertarians and a Nashville, Tenn. law professor by Sunday.
One is that the Internet really has folded certain corners of the planet into the small town of Blogville, Planet Earth; conversely, the traditionally small, closed world of high school can no longer be so small and closed — not when any kid can find countless informed opinions that differ from what the teacher thinks with just a few mouse clicks.
Calmer and more staunchly independent than almost all those around you, you have a long history of rising above adversity. Recent adversity has led to questions about your sexual promiscuity and the threat of disease, but you still manage to attract a number of tourists and admirers. And despite any setbacks, you can really cook a good meal whenever it's called for. Good enough to make people cry. Take the Country Quiz at the Blue Pyramid
BAD STRATEGY: William Saletan argues that Kerry is winning because people think he's most electable, whereas the actual swing voters, who matter most to electability, favor Edwards. Interesting... (Link via Andrew Sullivan)
MESMERIZING: That's the term to describe the new Real-Time Word feature on the front page of the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. It displays for a few seconds a random word that somebody looked up in the dictionary, many of them misspelled or nonstandard.
SMALL PROBLEM, BIG PROBLEM: When we changed the sheets yesterday, we noticed that there was a small tear, maybe an inch long, in the fitted sheet. No big deal, we figured. However, the tear was positioned right at Sasha's foot level - meaning that whenever he turned in the night, his foot caught the tear and ripped it open a little further. Within hours, the tear was long enough to be at my feet too, and by morning, the sheet was ripped 3/4 of the way across and bunched both upwards and downwards such that we were mostly lying on uncovered matress. Oops.
FREEDOM TO CHOOSE A T-SHIRT DESIGN: Eugene's post on self-made t-shirts and bureaucracy reminded me of a really annoying incident that happened to me in seventh or eigth grade. We were voting on student-drawn designs for our middle school band t-shirt. Everyone I'd talked to liked one particular design, a yellow smiley face with "Band is Swell" written underneath (I think we were having some sort of communal retro/rebellion moment). The band director had us all close our eyes while we raised our hands to vote on the designs. She told us that a different design had won the vote, something involving a pun on "Orange Crush" that nobody really understood. We were all somewhat baffled. But nobody made shirts from the "losing" design.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY: The best part of living with someone is that if you ignore the dirty dishes in the sink, they actually might disappear. The worst part of living with someone else is that he might have realized the same thing.
TOO MANY CHOICES: The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz has been getting a lot of press lately. I haven't read it, but the idea rings true to me - after a certain point, more choices make you less happy. If you're presented with too many kinds of jam in the grocery store, you are less likely to buy jam at all. And in bigger decisions - if there are many, many, many fields in which you could get a job, how on earth are you supposed to decide which one to pick?
Over at Reason magazine, Ron Bailey has been bashing the implications of the concept, saying that it will lead to (and indeed already has, from its author) calls for greater government regulation to remove "excess choice" from people. But he recognizes that some people choose to limit their choices. Immediately one thinks of religious limitations - Old Order Amish, restrictions for nuns and priests, keeping kosher, Muslim notions of modesty, etc. But we should not let examples of freely-chosen major choice-limiting blind us to the freely-chosen minor choice-limiting we all take part in.
Choice-limiting is a large part of what culture is about. It's accomplished in two major ways. First, the choices presented to me might blind me to other options, either because I've never heard of the option or I've never heard of "people like me" (defined however) taking that option (e.g. I would never have considered getting a job or going to a technical college after high school because my entire peer group, 98% of my graduating class, went to four-year colleges.) Second, choices are limited by the social stigma of choosing a disfavored option.
This is a double-edged sword, clearly. If something that's perfectly okay ends up as a disfavored option, a lot of innocent people will suffer. Homosexuality is a good example, and in cases like this, it's good that these social norms are breaking down and new choices are becoming available. But what about the breakdown of codes of honor? Extreme stigmas against lying? The shame of having children outside of marriage?
J.S. Mill discussed this problem in On Liberty (chapter 4, maybe?). He pointed out the crucial role society plays in discouraging behaviors that are harmful but that individuals still have a right to do if they so choose. The ostracism or bad will that this kind of behavior creates should be viewed as a natural consequence of the behavior, not a rights violation. But he also stresses the importance of not shutting off too much of the world, since someone needs to try new things in order to move society forward.
A hundred and fifty years ago, too much was forbidden. Does American/Western culture now allow too much? Social conservatives have thought so for a long time. While I strongly disagree with their vision of a good society, I'm starting to think they might be right in theory.
HOMEMADE GOODNESS: In January 1999, I went on a no-plastic diet. This was conceived after I ate way too many gummy bears in one sitting during finals week my Freshman year of college. Prohibited on the no-plastic diet were things like gummy bears, jell-o, tofu, margarine, ranch dressing, and over-processed products. Exempt was anything containing chocolate. I stayed on the no-plastic diet for two years before quitting in favor of a more moderate approach.
One facet of the no-plastic diet that I kept, however, was butter instead of margarine. After getting used to butter for two years, my first taste of margarine was incredibly disappointing. I can't stand the stuff. Now, I've found something even better. I ran across this simple recipe for homemade butter.
For those who can't be bothered to click the link, here's how it goes: Find a large, empty jar with a tight-fitting lid (I used an empty glass Smucker's jam jar) and refrigerate it, empty, for an hour. Pour heavy cream into the jar to about half-full or a little more. Shake vigorously for 15-30 minutes (it's best if you have other people to take turns with). Chunks will form. Pour everything out through a strainer into a bowl. The liquid in the bowl is buttermilk, pour it into a container. The chunks are butter - slightly contaminated. Put them into the bowl once you've poured the buttermilk out, and cover with very cold water. Strain. Repeat rince and strain process until water runs clear. (Buttermilk mixed in will cause the butter to sour.) Refrigerate.
It's really strange, this butter. The texture and taste clearly identify it as butter, and yet it tastes ... slightly unlike butter. Fresh, creamy, buttery in a way that store-bought butter isn't. There's really no describing it, you have to try it for yourself. It's like solidified cream. Which, I guess, it actually is. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to go back to regular butter after this.