The enduring fascination of marriage

An enterprising author/nerd went through Netflix's exhaustive survey of its customers' fine-grained movie genre preferences, which might be called the "Movie Genome Project," and established that the clear winner in moviegoers' collective hearts is stories about marriage.  If you count parenthood, reunited lovers, and couples, the old boy-meets-girl story accounts for four of the top six viewer preferences.  As a friend of mine once put it, "I've had the ass ever since I figured out I was a fall guy for DNA."

After marriage, royalty is an enduring preoccupation.  Further research revealed that the hands-down favorite chronological context is the 1980s, followed in descending order by earlier decades.  (Movies set in 1990 forward might as well not exist.)  The favorite geographical setting, by a large margin, is Europe.

Wondering what ever happened to murder mysteries, war dramas, and spy thrillers?  The author reconstructed 90,000+ outrageously specific and obscure genres identified by Netflix in its attempt to capture the sort of movies their customers prefer.  Experimentation with a genre-yielding algorithm yielded gems like "Fight-the-System Political Love Triangle Mysteries."  It reminds me of a friend who described "The Shawshank Redemption" as the "feel-good prison movie of the year."  A favorite of my husband's and mine always has been "Only One Man," a/k/a "They Jacked with the Wrong Guy."

How Capitalist is North Korea?

The Chosun Ilbo provides an interesting answer: plus or minus 80% capitalist, in the sense of black market. The government-dominated sector has failed so badly that most people look elsewhere.
More than 80 percent of North Koreans are apparently buying and selling goods in the black market or engaging in other commercial activities to make ends meet, learning about free market economics.... One study based on 2009 census data suggests that 83 percent of North Koreans or 14.48 million derive some of their income from commercial activity. In North Hamgyong Province, which suffered heavily from famines, the figure is nearer 93 percent, and even in Pyongyang, which still has a functioning ration system, the proportion is 56 percent.

Another study by Seoul National University finds that 70 percent of North Korean defectors had experience selling goods in open-air markets or other commercial activity. And that applies even to 68 percent of defectors who were privileged members of the Workers Party.

The younger, the more experience they had, with 92.3 percent in their 30s and 88.2 percent in their 40s.

Defectors said their main sources of income were retail sales (37.2 percent), earning foreign currency (11.1 percent), reselling products at higher prices (eight percent) and manual labor (7.1 percent).

Hardly any said their main source of income was payments earned working in state-run factories, and 42.2 percent said they received no handouts from the state.
These are percentages that aren't that different from our own, where about 8 percent work for the government directly, but about 49% receive some form of government income. Of course, our statistics aren't designed to factor in the black market: if you worked in the population of illegal aliens, and those involved in our various black market enterprises (including tax-not-paid cash retail sails at things like flea markets), we'd probably be a little more capitalist than the official statistics suggest.

Still, very interesting. Socialism was one of the big problems in reconstructing Iraq, because farmers lacked the skills to plan their own planting (let alone the skills to estimate what crops were best). They were given orders from a central bureaucracy, along with seeds. If the vast majority of the DPRK's subject population has cut free of all that, the road ahead may not be quite as dark as you'd otherwise suspect for them.

Let's hope it's all true. And up the black market!

Little Sisters, Local 316

This is an exceptional parody from Scrappleface.

The Madness of 'Equality of Respect'

I generally find Mickey Kaus to be a keen observer especially of politics, so I am somewhat alarmed to find that this post he endorsed so fondly strikes me as the biggest crock of nonsense I have read in quite some time. It begins with a preposterous misreading of a set of observed facts.
I had this realization (as with so many others) while living in Japan. I first noticed it when I was sitting in a "kaiten-zushi" restaurant, watching some cooks chop fish. It was robotic, repetitive work, about as difficult - and about as well-paid - as flipping burgers. But my Japanese friend referred to one of those cooks as "sushi-ya-san", meaning "Mr. Sushi Chef". She used the honorific reflexively, not patronizingly or sarcastically. The respect for this low-paid, low-skilled worker was reflexive, automatic. I suddenly wondered if we could get Americans to start calling burger-flippers "sir". The thought made me laugh.

There are other ways in which the customs of Japanese society work to encourage equal respect.
"Equal respect" in Japanese society? This is the culture which has codes governing the right way for social unequals to bow to one another that are so rigorous and tightly defined that schools of international business etiquette often don't even try to teach them. The proper calibration of status is reflected in depth and duration of one's bow to the other. It is the most rigidly formal stratification of any culture I have ever encountered.

The advice you will get as an outsider is to try to bow 'equal depth, equal duration' when meeting your Japanese business contact. This will generally be accepted, but it is not in any way a gesture of equality of respect. Rather, they accept it as a kind of recognition that gaijin are simply incapable of behaving in a fully civilized manner. From them, the acceptance is intended as a magnanimous offer of charity; from you, the bow is intended as a kind of supplication, a widow's mite of courtesy that, while in no sense adequate, is the best you can do given your unfortunate circumstances.

The reason Japanese society refers to the sushi chef with an honorific is because he accepts his place. In return for knowing his place, he is not treated with open disrespect -- what would be the point of that? You need not enforce submission on someone who accepts it and demonstrates his acceptance openly.

"No one discusses how much money anyone makes," he goes on to say. "Displays of wealth are a major taboo[.]" But observe their reactions upon trading business cards.

By these things I do not mean to criticize Japanese society, which has its own beauty and despair. I mean to say that the initial observation is so flawed that one ought not to try to draw any lessons from it.

What sense does it make to talk of 'equality' of respect in any case? Is it equal like you have equal rights under the law? The reason you can talk about human equality in that sense -- it is the only way in which it is possible to talk about humans as equals and avoid speaking nonsense -- is that there is a single source for the rights you have under the law, which creates those rights the same way for every entity. Respect is not like that. Respect is not the creation of a single source, but is created (or not) by each individual you encounter. Some will elect to respect you more than others. You don't even get equal respect with yourself: how much respect you get depends on whom you ask. (Free advice: ask your dog.)

Is it equal like a measure of sugar or cracked red wheat? If so, it should be fungible. If I haven't any of my own today I can substitute a cup from my neighbor, and when I later replace it her situation will be no different than before the exchange. Can I then substitute the respect I have for you for the respect I have for my mother?

Of course not, and the example is intended to begin showing why. Respect follows from relationships. The respect you owe your mother is not merely unequal to the respect you owe someone else, it is categorically different from the respect you owe someone else -- your wife, your first sergeant, an older gentleman, a polite stranger. It is nonsense to speak of respect in terms of equalities.

But let's say we get the category correct, because we hold the relationship stable. Let's talk more about your first sergeant. Most likely over the course of time you'd have more than one. They share the same relationship with you (assuming you don't change ranks or positions yourself, which for this example we will assume). Now, within that category, do you owe them equal respect?

Of course not again. One of them may be a great NCO, who looks after his unit, puts his soldiers before himself, and helps make sure that you achieve your mission. He is devoted to making sure you get home in one piece, prepared to go on to greater things. The other one may be a lousy loudmouth who throws his people under the bus for personal ease or advancement.

If we hold the relationship stable, then, we can talk about respect in terms of more and less. Equality of respect becomes possible if and only if we have a stable relationship. But equality is not at all someone's due. Respect is earned.

We may rightly say that Americans don't evaluate respect correctly, which causes them to fail to respect people who have a genuine claim -- the hard worker at a poor-paying job who is pulling his own weight, for example. There's a relationship there that is not being treated with the respect it is due.

But drop the nonsense about equality, let alone 'redistribution' of respect. Equality of respect is a bad concept.

Welcome, Magpul

Wyoming and Texas probably are using unfair competitive practices.

The Right Season to Leave

It's Fine, But It's Not Marriage

Dr. Althouse cites a subject of interest to that genuine philosopher Bertrand Russell, which she follows him in calling "Companionate Marriage." The setup is whether it can be right for a man who has no sexual interest in a woman to marry her, simply because she will be a good life companion, but with the clear understanding that there will be no sex.

There is no reason why you shouldn't form a relationship with someone that is life-long, companionable, and sex-free. If you also should elect to live together, and hold property in common, and pursue a life together... well, none of that is wrong either. In fact there are many societies of this type, often with very many partners (for example, some religious orders operate with common property and an understanding that you will be a companion to your brothers or sisters and take care of them if they get sick or old).

Indeed, it's Aristotle's description of true friendship -- common interests, so that the friend is like 'another self,' so much so that you live together and share property. Aristotle assumed this state both could and often would co-exist with marriages, so that families united by common purposes might come to hold property in common (something like a proto-corporate body built on family ties). There's certainly no moral reason you shouldn't do this if it is acceptable to all parties. Obviously if you form such a society with unmarried people, it would require the consent of all parties also for them to marry insofar as that would entitle their spouse to an interest in the common property; but if it is handled as a kind of corporation, the common property of the society of friendship might not be touched by the marriage at all.

You can both marry and form a corporation with a business partner, even one whose sole purpose is to provide for lifelong companionship. If you should not marry otherwise, that's fine too. But if you should happen to produce a child with some third party, your business partner is not on the hook for it unless she chooses to be. The mother (or father) of that child has the responsibilities and duties that would have gone with any other out-of-wedlock birth.

Or you could construct such a society with a vow of celibacy, and a pledge not to marry. That's even more like a religious order.

All of this is fine. What isn't moral is to confuse it with marriage. That is immoral because destroying the legal distinction between non-marital forms and marriage means that courts will have to treat both kinds of unions as the same under the law. That means that precedents in marriage law -- which are of the utmost importance especially to children -- will begin to be distorted by the non-marital unions that are legally treated as if they were marriages.

The same issue applies to same-sex unions, as far as I am concerned. You can form a society of friendship if you want; it can have whatever by-laws you want it to have. That's an exercise of freedom that of course no one ought to deny you. Just remember that a same-sex union is not exactly the same as marriage, and collapsing the distinction is going to have harmful effects by forcing the courts to treat them as if they were. That will create precedents that will distort the marriage law, which will harm especially the children of traditional marriages.

Do what you want. Just maintain the distinctions.

That's Kind Of You, Ma'am, But We Really Can't Take The Credit

A professor who teaches constitutional law courses at the City University of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice penned a Christmas Day essay blaming “southern White radicals” for the disastrous, slow-motion train wreck failure that has been the rollout of the Affordable Care Act.
I'd love to think that those of us who are utterly, totally opposed to this government takeover of health care have had a leading role in destroying it. It'd be nice to think so, because this bill was passed not only over our objections but in absolute defiance of every elected official we sent to Washington. Not one single vote for the bill came from us. How nice if there were a price for that.

The truth is, they got there wholly on their own. They didn't seek our support because they didn't need it, and having rammed this through both houses of Congress (and gotten a compliant Supreme Court to rewrite it so it sort-of passes Constitutional muster), they built it all on their own. Whenever they chose, they made unilateral changes to the law via executive mandates from the President or HHS.

It's their baby, front to back. The problems it has are not, alas, any fault of ours.

State Secession

Paleofuture offers a map of an America where all the proposed state secession movements had succeeded.

Probably the easiest way to enjoy playing with the map is to think about where you live, and whether the proposal makes sense. (Severing North Georgia from South Georgia is defensible because the two are quite distinct culturally, for reasons that follow from the kinds of agriculture enabled by the physical landforms: the proposal looks like it follows the fall line between the foothills and mountains on the one hand, and the coastal plain down to the tidewaters on the other).

Second easiest? Try to figure out how the composition of the Senate would change. Better? Worse?

Global Warming Update

The Manitoba Museum is reporting Winnipeg's temperatures on Tuesday were actually as cold as the surface of Mars.

According to the Curiosity Rover, Mars reached a maximum temperature of -29 C on Tuesday, a temperature Winnipeg only reached shortly before 3 p.m.
New Years' Even festivals mostly continued as planned, except for the horse-drawn carriages. It was too cold for the horses.


Via Rhymes with Cars and Girls, an interesting article and comments about the "Prideful Worker" effect; i.e., the worker who's above taking the work that's available.

My parents and their siblings came of age in the Depression, when there was no such thing as this.  It was root, hog, er die; the "hunger" issue that's so casually thrown about in modern America was quite real for them.  My generation is more inclined to be picky, which it's possible to be if you have another source of income:  a family member with a job, government benefits, or independent means from savings or inheritance.

The article touches on the "Non-relocating Worker," too--someone who could find work in booming North Dakota but won't move there for whatever reason.  A commenter noted that moving isn't always an option for someone with a family member with a good job.  It's a dilemma that can't be grappled with effectively unless the whole family considers itself a unit, and is really up against it economically.  Our ancestors uprooted themselves, sometimes leaving behind part or all of their families if necessary, and took big chances on a new world.  Would they have done it if they'd had unemployment checks to live on?  I doubt I would have.  It takes the wolf at the door to get me to work at anything but crochet and Project Gutenberg.

Songs for the New Year

That one is particularly beautiful. A good song to start the night.

Of course, for many this will be the last night of Christmas celebrations.

By the end of the night, we have returned to the first song, but with different words. Not 'new' words, for these are quite old.

The full lyrics:
The old year now away is fled,
The new year it is entered;
Then let us all our sins down tread,
And joyfully all appear.
Let's merry be this holiday,
And let us run with sport and play,
Hang1 sorrow, let's cast care away
God send us a merry new year!

For Christ's circumcision this day we keep,
Who for our sins did often weep;
His hands and feet were wounded deep,
And his blessed side, with a spear.
His head they crowned then with thorn,
And at him they did laugh and scorn,
Who for to save our souls was born;
God send us a happy New Year!

And now with New-Year's gifts each friend
Unto each other they do send;
God grant we may our lives amend,
And that truth may now appear.
Now like the snake cast off your skin
Of evil thoughts and wicked sin,
And to amend this new year begin:
God send us a merry new year!

And now let all the company
In friendly manner all agree,
For we are here welcome all may see
Unto this jolly good cheer.
I thank my master and my dame,
The which are founders of the same,
To eat, to drink now is no shame:
God send us a happy new year!

Come lads and lasses every one,
Jack, Tom, Dick, Bess, Mary and Joan,
Let's cut the meat unto the bone,
For welcome you need not fear.
And here for good liquor you shall not lack,
It will whet my brains and strengthen my back;
This jolly good cheer it must go to wrack:
God send us a happy new year!

Come, give's more liquor when I do call,
I'll drink to each one in this hall,
I hope that so loud I must not bawl,
So unto me lend an ear.
Good fortune to my master send,
And to our dame which is our friend,
Lord bless us all, and so I end:
God send us a happy new year!
There's a very nice, appropriately rowdy version on this album.

Message and fact

Tom Coburn in the WSJ:
The culture that Mr. Obama campaigned against, the old kind of politics, teaches politicians that repetition and "message discipline"—never straying from using the same slogans and talking points—can create reality, regardless of the facts.  Message discipline works if the goal is to win an election or achieve a short-term political goal.  But saying that something is true doesn't make it so.  When a misleading message ultimately clashes with reality, the result is dissonance and conflict.  In a republic, deception is destructive.  Without truth there can be no trust.  Without trust there can be no consent.  And without consent we invite paralysis, if not chaos.

Red & blue experiments

This Washington Post article is, for the Post, a fairly nonpartisan look at the competition between red and blue states that are pursuing distinct strategies to solve social, economic, and political problems.  The thesis is that the results of experimentation are getting a little clearer now that so many states have vested control of most or all of the state government in the hands of one party.