The Best Paragraph I’ll Read Today

Mark at Publius Endures provides the perfect reaction to yesterday’s ruling by the California Supreme Court:

But first – after all the claims of the Religious Right over the last few years that same-sex marriage would destroy marriage as an institution, I’ll admit my commute home from work this evening was filled with fear. Would my wife and child still be home, waiting for me? Would my wife still be wearing her wedding ring? Would my wedding ring begin to fade away, as if it were a photograph in the hands of Marty McFly? By the time I was home, I was in a cold sweat. When I walked in the door, my worst fears appeared to be coming true – my wife wasn’t wearing her wedding ring! I immediately broke down into tears, begging Chri….err, the Ghost of Jerry Falwell for forgiveness. My confused wife then informed me that she had just taken her ring off to take a quick shower. In other words: California now allows same sex marriage, but my marriage didn’t fall apart! Shocking, I know. But also true.

That’s the reality when religious extremists offer their doomsday scenario for the private, religious institution of marriage if the public, civil institution becomes fully equal as an individual right rather than the silly notion of a collective right between only one man and one woman.

The rest of Mark’s analysis is good, too. For example, this is the second best paragraph I’ll read today:

As many libertarians are quick to point out democracy is a means, not an end in itself – democracy without freedom is meaningless; freedom without democracy is not (think Monaco here, for example). Moreover, we do not live in a pure democracy, but in a constitutional republic; a republic which, according to Madison’s Federalist #10 (you knew this was coming), is set up to prevent any one group from gaining dominance over any other group. The constitutional republic that is the United States, and which forms the template for many, even most, state constitutions (including, I think, California’s, despite its bad habit of direct democracy), is specifically intended to prevent the tyranny of the majority. In other words, our system of government is supposed to distrust mob rule every bit as much as it distrusts the rule of a king. Indeed, the authors of the Constitution viewed the legislature as the most dangerous branch of government precisely because it was susceptible to the tyranny of the majority.

Despite its bad habit of direct democracy, indeed. For further consideration, read Ed Brayton’s dismissal of the Family Research Council’s predictably unprincipled response.


With the current discussion of judicial activism, the corresponding arguments about legislative activism (mostly noted by libertarians) are also relevant. Sometimes that activism takes the form of abdication of duty, to the point that it’s probably more appropriate to call it legislative “inactivism”.

I’m on record that legislatures must protect male minors to the same extent that female minors are currently (and correctly) protected from medically unnecessary genital surgery. (Most recently in the comments here.) Many disagree with that, basing their opinion on the traditional and cultural justifications for the non-medical circumcision of male children. Yet, it’s just as much a tyranny of the majority when a legislature fails to act in defense of rights¹. When it stands idly by while rights are violated because the violation is based on tradition, the legislature allows the perceived majority opinion to justify inaction. Just as prohibition based on mob rule may be improper, permission based on mob rule may be improper. The legislature’s approach must be based on first principles of individual rights. Majority opinion does not supersede the rights of the minority, even if that minority is a lone individual.

¹ The Congress intentionally ignored basic human rights principles by invoking a bizarre mental jujitsu to permit continued male genital mutilation during debate on the Female Genital Mutilation Act in 1995. I’m working on a separate entry on this. I’ll update this with a link when I post it.

It’s time to step into the confessional.

I left the W2 world and became an independent consultant more than four years ago. Professionally, these have been the best four years, although I haven’t gained significant new skills or progressed higher. As an independent, that’s difficult to begin with because you’re hired for a role with a defined boundary. It’s possible to get more, of course, but you have to be proactive because no one is pushing from behind, or pulling from above. (Pick one.) I wasn’t overly proactive in the roles I had because I didn’t want to be.

I like that, personally. I jumped out of the W2 world because I’m not interested in the “Up or Out” career path. Lateral moves are fine because I like the behind the scenes tasks and mental challenges. Digging in code to find mistakes suits me much better than managing people who will dig in code.

Blogging is a perfect example of this. You don’t see me on YouTube and only a select few of you even know my full name. I don’t blog anonymously because I’m ashamed of my ideas. I just like my ideas more than I care for accolades. There is also the desire to block out my professional life from Rolling Doughnut, although I clearly give enough personal information that anyone who knows me even remotely could place the two together.

Before I go too far on this tangent, let it suffice that I like the mind more than the mouth. That’s probably the most pithy-yet-accurate way to assess my interests. It’s why I intend to be a professional writer at some point. I’m working on it. but I’m not ready. Not because of my words. I know I’m good enough there. I’m still looking for the entryway into a published gig, but that’s also not the problem. More on this in a moment.

This has been the long way of saying that I finished up my last consulting project in April 2007. I took a little bit of time off because I could. And then I took a lot of time off because I couldn’t find a new role. I had a few leads that seemed to die right before fruition. I had another that died a very strange death, though hindsight left me unsurprised. (This is the role that allowed me to buy my MINI before I should have. Rather than a dearth of intelligence, it was an overabundance of faith. Lesson learned.)

So, bottom line: the $40 I earned for my day of jury duty is my sole income in the last 13 months. Don’t fret for me because I saved well enough in the preceding years. I haven’t had to sell blood or possessions or cancel luxuries like Netflix. My mortgage is not delinquent, and my revolving credit card balances are $0. Nor should you read this as an indictment of the economy. I am not caught in that, directly. (Indirectly, probably.) There are market forces at work in my industry that started long before trouble in the economy. I won’t bore you with details.

Unfortunately, and perhaps usefully instructional, I must redirect my career in the short-term. I’ve accepted a W2 position. I can’t say I’m overjoyed at the prospect. The opportunity is good because, apart from providing income (!), I will learn new software skills. My software methodology skills are excellent and will always be marketable, but as good as my software skills are, they won’t be marketable forever. Creative destruction is at work. I can’t champion capitalism and not expect to get the (alleged) short end of it. But apart from having to go back to being an employee, calling this the short end would be nothing more than whining that change happens. No, thanks.

Now, back to writing. As I mentioned, that’s where I want my career to go. I’m already working in that direction. But I learned something in the last 13 months. I’m scared. I know I can write, but I don’t know if I can write professionally. While I had free days and nights to toil away at making the blank page not blank, I surfed the Internet. I blogged, which is useful, but not completely. I played video games. I watched television. I did everything but write.

Before I convey too much self-loathing, I’ve enjoyed the last 13 months like no other time in my life. I bought a year of retirement and it was wonderful. I loved not reporting to anyone for anything. I learned not to apologize for being who I am. I learned that I could explain a 13 month absence from the workforce and not feel the least bit of concern for how that truth is received. That will be useful.

I also learned I could live on less money than I thought. I learned where I need to focus my pursuits to be the kind of happy I want. A friend of mine is also unemployed right now. He is a workaholic. I can’t imagine how much the time off is messing with his head. I have no such misfortune. Not because I don’t like to work, but the work matters more than working. And 13 months of being disengaged taught me that in a way I didn’t comprehend before.

What does this all mean? First, the obvious. Blogging here is going to be disrupted for a bit while I readjust to a structured schedule and my new employer. I haven’t posted in a week and I’m telling you that when I have somewhere to go every day, I’ll have to figure out how to make this work. Duh. Seriously, though, Rolling Doughnut isn’t going anywhere. Without it, I wouldn’t have written more than 100,000 words on circumcision in the last three years. That matters to me.

Second, my blogging will probably change a little once I’ve readjusted to having a job. I want to write for publication. I’m interested in policy questions and political theory, for example. I also have a book on circumcision tumbling around in my brain. It needs to get out.

But I also want to write fiction. I have no idea if I can write a novel worth publishing. That can no longer deter me. I listened to that for the last 13 months. Years, really, but I can’t excuse away the last 13 months. I had the time. I have the ideas. The two must meet. Again, I don’t know how to do this, but I will in the coming weeks and months. Perhaps I’ll write nothing but shit. Probably I will. But I can’t edit the blank page.

Finally, as to my career, it bums me out a little. I love the freedom that comes with being independent. The money is great, sure, although Congress takes away much of that gain directly through taxes and indirectly through stupid policies like incentives for employer-based health insurance. But dictating when I take a vacation, within professional bounds, is better than asking. Not worrying about accumulated vacation time is also nice, even though vacation was just unpaid time off. That’s a better-than-fair trade in practice.

Still, I’m not worried. I’ll get back to independent eventually. Not in the short-term because my reputation in my industry is important, so I’m not going to screw over my new employer by treating them as a place-holder. However, it would be silly for anyone to assume I’ll eventually retire from this company. Until then, I’ll learn new skills while providing a valuable service in return for a paycheck. As much as I love independence, I’m not interested in losing my house.

I’ll probably return to independent consulting. But maybe not. I’m going to attempt to pull off a writing career. I doubt I’ll make as much money if when I become published, but I don’t care. The money didn’t drive me before, I thought, but I was wrong. It did. Through the last 13 months, it doesn’t now, at least not to the same extent. Not being able to spend money frivolously has been frustrating. I get the urge to spend just to spend. But material things don’t hold the same sway over me now. I need less. (Last night I went to Best Buy to celebrate my new job with a minor shopping spree. I spent $10 on the new Jason Mraz cd. Hey, big spender.)

That’s what’s up with me, and what will be up with me in the near future.

Can protection be harm?

Via A Stitch in Haste, ABC News ran a social experiment in two cities, Verona, N.J. and Birmingham, Ala.

Two years ago, ABC News hired two actors, a man and a woman, to publicly display their affection for each other by kissing in public at a restaurant. Reactions from other restaurant-goers varied; some onlookers enjoyed the sight of young love, while others lost their appetite.

This year, we once again decided to explore how the public responds to public displays of affection — but this time, our couples were gay.

911 “hilarity” ensued in Birmingham, as Kip highlighted. Shameful, but not my point here. Instead, this:

… A topic that did come up repeatedly was children. “I don’t really find it inappropriate, especially during the day when schoolchildren aren’t running around. They might get confused and want an answer for what’s going on,” bystander Mary-Kate told us. The majority of the people who spoke about children seemed to echo Mary-Kate’s feelings. They are indifferent to gay PDA but did not want to, or know how to, address homosexuality with children.

People wilt under the pressure of addressing “tough” issues with children. (Some to a greater extent than others.) But when children get confused and want an answer for what’s going on in the world, the proper response is to treat them like human beings who deserve respect. Adults must apply tests to decide what information is appropriate to censor or finesse, but shielding children from information solely because the question makes the adult uncomfortable is not a rational response to reality.

Obviously I’m drawing a comparison to circumcision, so I’m not going to dance around the topic. When I’ve protested on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol against infant male circumcision¹, children approach to discuss the topic. I discriminate based on age. Without a good qualifier, it’s best to let the child ask. This generally leads to self-selection among the children who are capable of understanding and discussing. The youngest child I’ve spoken to is probably 10 or 11. And I still limit the discussion away from the anatomical function of the foreskin during intercourse and masturbation. However, those children are capable of understanding the core of the issue. They know when they’re being lied to. I’ve witnessed parents offering excuses to children while shielding them from any consideration. The children rejected these excuses by asking further questions.

I’m dismayed at how many people, even when not rejecting that same-sex relationships exist, fear that children can’t understand love if it’s not packaged in a specific, safe manner. Safe, of course, refers to the perceptions of the adult, not the child.

¹ Here’s a writing tip for you. The first edit of the footnoted sentence read:

When I’ve protested against infant male circumcision on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol …

There are no circumcisions occurring on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol, to my knowledge. Clarity demands that the writer group “on the lawn” with what occurred on the lawn.

I will use this in conversation.

In the course of providing an enjoyable threepart-and-counting narrative of a recent trip to New York City with his wife, Wil Wheaton wrote this, in part three:

It was getting late, and though our bodies thought it was three hours earlier, we’d still been up for about 14 hours on less than five hours of quality sleep. All of a sudden, we were exhausted, and ready to collapse like the Mets down the stretch.

I laughed out loud, enough to scare Emmett, who is sleeping at my feet. I love that both for the beauty of an excellent simile and the mocking poke at the Mets. (Go Phillies!) Bravo, Mr. Wheaton.

Writing Pet Peeves

I don’t have time to write any substantive issues this weekend. Instead I’ll just point to this brief explanation to a writing faux pas I’m encountering often enough lately to annoy me.

Although “try and” is common in colloquial speech and will usually pass unremarked there, in writing try to remember to use “try to” instead of “try and.”

Now, about those people who could care less

Poorly¹ chosen words assist big government.

Congress is always looking out for us:

The Senate yesterday approved the most far-reaching changes to the nation’s product safety system in a generation, responding to recalls of millions of lead-laced toys that rattled consumers last year.

Lawmakers still have to resolve key differences between the Senate bill and a similar measure that passed the House in December. While the Senate version is considered by consumer advocates to be tougher, both contain provisions that would require retailers and manufacturers to be more vigilant about product safety.

The biggest change is likely to be a better-staffed Consumer Product Safety Commission, with more enforcement power. Both bills would boost funding for the agency, which had a budget of $63 million in fiscal 2007 and just less than 400 employees, fewer than half the number it had in 1980. The Senate bill, which passed by a vote of 79 to 13, would increase the budget to $106 million by 2011. The House’s version would increase it to $100 million.

This strikes me as more of the same in Washington. Government sets the rules. The rules fail. The government blames the failure on the market and insufficient government size. It’s self-fulfilling and people fall for it. Beyond that, I don’t have much to say on the specifics.

Rather, I want to focus on how we get to these situations. Consider the Washington Post’s headline of the article discussing this legislation:

Senate Votes For Safer Products

I know headlines need a hook in a small space. That doesn’t matter. This is pathetic. This is how government programs begin and perpetuate and grow. Who could possibly argue against this bill to those who will make up their mind on this superficial information? I might as well argue for the routine kicking of puppies.

When discussing policy solutions, we need to identify the narrow problem(s) we wish to address because the law of unintended consequences loves broad solutions. Instead of the title offered, the Post should’ve used something like this:

Senate Votes for Further Product Safety Regulation

That’s still unacceptably imperfect. I’m not a professional. But at least it’s closer to the truth than the simpleton’s solution the Post offered.

¹ I’m assuming the words are chosen poorly. That’s an assumption. I leave wide-open the possibility that such words are chosen deliberately for their propensity to encourage bigger government. Hence the propaganda tag on this entry.

The topic is serious. The process is sport.

Kip was wrong. Until now, I was the last person in the blogosphere who hadn’t posted this comic from Xkcd:

This is quite true for me. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve told Danielle to hang on, I just need to finish a comment. But, while the accuracy of the comic is spot-on, the tone is missing completely. The reader must insert a contextual judgment. For that, I refer you to John Scalzi’s Whatever:

Krissy used to worry that I got too wrapped up in absolutley [sic] pointless Internet slugfests until the day she realized that the reason I did it was because I was having fun, not because I was massively emotionally invested. I might stay up to thump on someone online, but once I step away from the monitor, it’s done. Letting people you don’t even know get you all wound up is no way to go through life.

The slugfests I get involved in concern exactly what you think they concern. Still, Mr. Scalzi is correct. On my chosen subject, I know I’m right. I do not engage in an attempt to fix someone’s thinking. I seek to refine my thinking and debate skills against common irrationality and misunderstanding. It’s self-improvement, not fighting.

Striking the Free Market

I’ve only followed the current Writers Guild of America strike in passing. Mostly I lament the impending doom that is no new episodes of How I Met Your Mother, The Big Bang Theory, Heroes, Journeyman, House, Pushing Daisies, and The Office. Still, I sympathize with the writers. I think what they’re asking for is fair and at least what I’d want in their position. I wish them luck.

However, they’re to blame for their own mess. This is what happens when unions interfere. The Us vs. Them mentality never succeeds long-term precisely because it creates Us vs. Them as the prevailing narrative. Perhaps management is to blame for the initial escalation. I suspect that’s often true, although I’m basing my assumption on no investigation of facts. The desire to get something for as little as possible is universal. No surprise there.

The writers have something of value, which is why they’re now withholding their services. I don’t care if people want to group themselves together, letting the superior talents of the few balance the lesser talents of the many. Take the successful screenwriter and use her as leverage to get the non-working scriptwriter better compensation. It’s not a deal I’d make, even though I have no illusions that I could be the former in my scenario, as opposed to the latter. But talent is always the biggest bargaining chip. Make a concession on that to pull up those who maybe shouldn’t be in the field and you’ve traded your strength for goodwill. I don’t understand that.

I believe in a market price. In this case, producers have a range within which they’re willing to pay. Writers have a range within which they’re willing to write. Somewhere there’s a deal to be made. Or not. The “or not” is the key. Unionization hampers the realization that someone’s expectations may be broken. As I implied earlier, I think that’s the producers in this case, because it’s reasonable for writers to receive compensation if producers use their work on the Internet or on DVD.

Harold Meyerson (predictably) takes up the WGA cause in today’s column. I could’ve guessed his conclusion before reading the first word, but here’s what he concluded:

Nations with more high-tech economies than our own, such as the Scandinavian states, have upgraded technology and increased productivity in ways that have enhanced, rather than diminished, the bargaining power and lives of their workers. In the United States, by contrast, our corporate elites, sometimes using technological innovation as a pretext for their power grabs, have destroyed workers’ bargaining power and kept for themselves almost all the revenue from technologically driven productivity increases. The picketers at Paramount and Disney may look to be a chorus line of wise-asses, but their struggle is a deadly serious test of whether any American workers retain the clout to strike a deal with the unchecked greed that is the modern American corporation.

Reference to any type of elites disqualifies your argument from serious consideration, in most cases. I’m simply not interested in entertaining conspiracy theories as a default.

That said, Meyerson offers the refutation of his own conclusion a few paragraphs earlier in his essay:

“Our current bargaining agreement doesn’t give us jurisdiction over content written for new media,” says Tony Segall, general counsel of the Writers Guild of America West. A side letter appended in 2001 to the guild’s contract with the studios exempted the studios from having to bargain with the union over the paychecks of writers turning out material for the Web, which the insufficiently futurist leadership of the guild (since replaced) apparently viewed as a distant prospect.

Is this not proof of what can happen when you turn over your individual bargaining power to the unchecked power of another? Leaving aside the reasonableness of the WGA’s demands, they created their own mess through unionization.

Meyerson also provides an example of free market principles, which he uses to explain only corporate greed.

Last year, however, NBC-Universal asked the writers of “The Office” to create two-to-three-minute “webisodes” of the series for the Internet. Though the webisodes drove up the show’s ratings, the studio paid the writers nothing for their work. The writers, not surprisingly, ceased their webisode writing; the guild sought to negotiate for them with NBC-Universal and got nowhere fast; and the issue of the writers’ right to bargain collectively for Internet work became the crux of the writers’ conflict with the studios.

Assuming no pre-existing contractual obligations for web content, won’t the writers have power without a strike to demand payment? I wouldn’t be so silly as to suggest that writers provide the web content for free to generate higher salaries for a show with improved ratings. Actually…

The problem with unions is that they’re not dynamic enough to keep up with the marketplace. They can’t handle innovation in anything other than hindsight. As a result, they create unnecessary problems and constraints. The current situation with the WGA is just further evidence.

It’s August. Prep-work for the heartbreak must occur.

It’s that time of year again. Summer is winding down. The last whiffs of meat charring on barbecue grills are in the air. Temperatures are making a final push higher before their looming decline into autumn. School buses are getting waxed and refueled. The Phillies are making a push for the post-season.

For the better part of the last seven years, the Phillies have followed the same routine. Slump horribly in April. Play en fuego throughout May. Swoon rhymes with June for a reason. July brings an improbable hint of life. The last few sputters in the playoff engine burn out in the first days of August as the team pulls itself back into contention. Playoff optimism fever strikes the Phandom. And at some point, this always happens:

Despite every persistent, justified note of pessimism, the Phillies have a chance. The road to the playoffs is clear, lit up like Clark Griswold’s house at Christmas. Phans begin scanning travel websites to figure out the myriad of possibilities for traveling to the World Series League Championship Series Divisional playoffs. Optimism is the only rule of the day.

Yet, somewhere in the back of every phan’s mind, he or she knows. We’ve been here before. This time isn’t going to be different. The collection of tickets to playoff games that never happened litter the hidden memorabilia box in the closet, tucked into the original envelope because they’re too painful to look at every day. The hot streaks will come to a close somewhere in September. The details of the script aren’t set, although we can’t shake the feeling that our nation’s capital is now the swamp where Philadelphia’s October dreams go to die. How will it happen this year? That’s all we can think about.

And yet, this year is no different. We want to believe, so we let ourselves believe. We allow a brief glimpse of “what if this year is different?” slip through the cracks of our mental barricades. Maybe, we think, we’ll be able to look back on this team the way we look back at 1993. That team shouldn’t have succeeded the way it did. Even with the almost fulfillment of the goal that year, that was our team. “They” became “we”. We almost won it all. We could taste it. It was ours. We love those guys. We want these guys to mean as much to us as those guys. We wonder if it can happen again.

Like every other phan who’s checking scores from around the league every day to see how the Phightin’s are holding up for October, we know how this will end, except we allow ourselves to get suckered sucked in once again. We’re along for the ride, even when we expect it to crash horribly and, inevitably, far too short of the road’s end. We believe this year will be different.

Please let it be different this year.

Oh, hai.

I’ve been away from blogging for nearly two weeks for various reasons. Some I mentioned, but primarily I’ve lacked motivation. I’m not burned out from blogging or in any way preparing to quit. I still like the outlet and the chance to focus my thoughts and ideas. But not having a job right now has given me a little time to fully detach and figure out a bit about my future creative direction(s). For now, they’re private, but this is a good development.

That’s the result. However, I can verify how it seems like it’s possible to get many tasks done and achieve more when insanely busy than when working without constraints or commitments. That’s just the motivation part. As I mentioned, I am still without income. I’ve just embraced that. And, no, you don’t have to worry. I’m not in danger of starving any time soon. The bank will not foreclose on my house, although a large part of me wishes they would. (Indeed!)

I’ve let laziness creep in a bit. That’s not entirely awful. But it isn’t permanent, either. I’m fairly certain the job search is coming to a successful close, and mentally I’m getting the itch to blog. Of course the latter happens as I’m heading to New York for the weekend. I’ll return with the haphazard pattern that constitutes full-force here at Rolling Doughnut on Monday(-ish). Thanks for being patient.