Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Good of Society

I read a USA Today "Opposing View" editorial yesterday. In it, the Vice President for Policy at the Family Research Center, Peter Brigg, made the statement, "Society gives benefits to marriage because marriage gives benefits to society." Apparently, homosexual unions cannot provide those same benefits to society, so they shouldn't get the benefits of marriage in return.
So what benefits does heterosexual marriage provide to society? Mr. Sprigg mentioned two - procreation, and providing children with both a mother and a father. Obviously, that's a bit idealized - many heterosexual couples fail at one or both of those, but for the sake of discussion, I'll grant the point. I can think of other benefits, though. A married couple tends to live a more conservative, stable life. (That's conservative in terms of not drinking and partying as much, not in terms of, say, voting a straight Republican ticket.) A married couple is immune to sexually-transmitted disease, as long as neither of the is cheating. A married couple uses less resources than a non-married couple - they only need one house or apartment instead of two, for example. I can't come up with anything else offhand, though - any ideas, anyone? Post a comment.

So let's look at these - in reverse order for my own narrative purposes. Obviously, a homosexual couple living together provides the same reduction in resource usage as a married couple. Or, for that matter, a heterosexual couple living together, but I suspect that Mr. Sprigg wouldn't be much happier about them than he is about gay couples.

Sexually transmitted diseases - certainly a curse that has fallen unequally on homosexuals. But a stable homosexual couple is just as immune to AIDS and such as any married couple.
A more stable life - I hate to use stereotypes, but anecdotally, gay people (especially men) tend to date a lot, party a lot, go clubbing a lot, and so on. I feel sure there are many committed gay couples that maintain that lifestyle, at least for awhile, but sooner or later - just like a hetero couple - they settle down and stay home.

Now for the two Mr. Sprigg felt were most important. Married couples provide their children with both a mother and a father. I have to mention it again, this is an idealized view - according to these statistics, about a third of children see their parents divorce before they hit 18, and as many as half of them see a second marriage fail. But, again looking at the idealized picture, a gay couple provides most of the same benefits to their children as a hetero couple. Two parental points of view, a "backup" in case one parent dies, twice as many people to take them to soccer practice and watch their school plays, and so on. I have to admit, they don't get the benefit of learning from parents of both genders. I don't know how much difference that makes, though, as every study I've heard about indicates that children of gay couples are no more likely to be gay than children of straight couples. Besides, the children can find role models of the other gender at school or other activities - and good gay parents will make sure that happens.

Of course, gay couples cannot procreate, cannot provide the next generation to continue our society. Well, that turns out to be only half-true - a lesbian couple can easily have children thanks to sperm donors, either anonymously, or by choosing a male friend to help. Even if we don't count that, many more children do we need? Are homosexual couples not having children really going to drop the birthrate, especially since they won't be having children even if they CAN'T marry?

Oh, and one more point - a gay male couple can't have their own children, but they can adopt. They can take one of the thousands of unwanted children from those oh-so-moral hetero couples, give it a loving, stable home, and raise it to be a useful and happy member of the next generation. I'd say that counts as a benefit to society.

So, Mr. Sprigg - got any more excuses for your prejudice and intolerance? Giving gay couples the right to marry does nothing to reduce the rights and privileges of straight marriages. And I have never heard an argument against gay marriage that doesn't boil down to "Eww! It violates MY religion, so YOU can't do it!" Last time I checked, the Constitution said that's not a good enough reason to prevent it.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Home Sapiens Assinus

How many man-hours are wasted every year by that worst sub-species of Homo Sapiens, the Common Two-legged Jackass?

Consider the gas station. Have you ever had to go in and leave your license or something before getting a fill-up, then go back in to pay afterwards? That extra trip to get them to turn on the pump is because the station had too many “customers” drive off without paying. Only an extra 30 seconds or a minute – but multiply that by every customer, every time, day after day.

Consider the grocery store. The idiot who brings 23 items to the 15-items-or-less line. She’s actually saving the time of the one or two customers in the regular line…but costing that same amount of time to the four or five customers behind her in the express lane. Net change, two or three people times the extra five minutes or so for her full transaction.

Consider a traffic jam on the interstate. The jerk who pulls out into the offramp or onramp to get around a dozen stopped cars, then forces his way in front of them. Not much of a cost, a few seconds – times the dozen cars he passed. Times the four or five people who seem to do this EVERY time I’m caught in traffic at the Fort Belvoir exit off of I-95. Plus all the idiots who do the same thing when I’m not there to see it. Plus all the other exits in busy areas where the same thing occurs.

Maybe those examples are too insignificant for you. Consider safety seals. Not just the extra few seconds it takes to peel off the extra plastic seals on any over-the-counter medicine bottle, but also the extra time and resources it took to PUT that plastic there. You can calculate it based on the time it took to wrap it on the bottle, to make the plastic, to crack the petroleum, to drill for the oil – or you can calculate it based on the extra cost to the consumer, in terms of his hourly wage. It’ll probably work out about the same, and it IS significant. All from one very successful jackass, the 1982 Tylenol Killer, and a few copycats.

Consider locks. If we didn’t have people who can’t be trusted to leave our possessions alone, we wouldn’t need them. Calculate the extra time we all spend locking and unlocking our houses, cars, offices, etc. Add in the extra time and resources to make the locks, alarm systems, security cameras. Add in the time and resources of police who have to investigate burglaries. The time of the courts and the lawyers. The extra prison space and resources we need to hold the crooks. Even the time of the thieves, themselves – if they weren’t committing crimes and/or sitting in prison, they could theoretically be doing something useful.

Heinlein said that time is the total capital of our lives – you can spend it, waste it, lose it, or have it taken from you, but you can never get it back. Ayn Rand suggests that every product or service is beneficial based on how much time it saves the consumer through increased efficiency. If we had some way to prevent all that sort of wasteful behavior by jackasses, big and small – how much more could we accomplish?

Thursday, October 5, 2006

Why Cover Up?

I think the Republicans missed a golden opportunity last year to take a moral stand, deflect a lot of the corruption issues that have come up, and reverse their steady decline in popularity over the past year. I find myself wondering why.

According to statements in the Washington Express (a mini-paper published by the Post), Speaker of the House Hasturt’s staff knew at least a little about ex-Representative’s Foley’s “indiscretions” sometime last fall. Apparently Rep. Boehner and Rep. Reynolds discussed it directly with the Speaker last spring. Now a senior Congressional Aide says he brought it up THREE years ago. According to those statements…he knew.

Picture it, Washington D.C., November, 2005 – House Speaker Hasturt accuses Rep. Foley of sexually harassing Congressional Pages. He has provided copies of e-mails and instant message logs to the House Ethics Committee. Rep. Foley is expected to resign later today. Republican and Democratic leaders have issued statements calling for improved oversight of the Congressional Page program and deploring Rep. Foley’s behavior…

The media would have gone nuts – much as they have this week. The Democrats would have pointed to the moral decline of the Republican party…but not too much. That pitch would have been deflected by the fact that the Republican leadership was hanging their own man out to dry. The Republicans could have collectively shaken their heads, expressed their disappointment in Mr. Foley’s conduct and the way he fooled them AND his constituents for so long…and then continued on with business. In fact, they could have held the incident up in the future. – “We will not accept such unethical and immoral behavior in the Republican Caucus – when we find it, we will remove it, just as we did with Foley!” By now, a year later, it would have become a positive point to bring up on the talk shows, instead of an embarrassment and distraction.

Admittedly, I’m looking at this with the ease of hindsight. But it seems so obvious that it could have been a boon instead of a blunder that I wonder why it didn’t happen that way. Has Congress as a whole gotten so used to covering up scandals that this one didn’t seem to be any different? Is it possible that it ISN’T any different, that this sort of thing is rampant within the House of Representatives, and we just happened to hear about this one? Or nearly as bad, is it possible that Mr. Foley knew of enough damaging scandals to paralyze the party leadership for fear that he would take them down with him? I don’t know. I strongly suspect that the Democratic Party would not have reacted any differently in the same situation. I’m also pretty sure that the first party to clean house, dumping their own rascals in order to make themselves scandal-proof, will end up with a major lock on both houses and the Presidency. To do that, though, one of them has to have enough honest members to sit as a majority in the House and Senate. It frightens me to think that neither of them may be able to manage that.

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Duck and Cover

Here’s a hypothetical for you to consider.

A successful U.S Army Recruiter has been sexually harassing some of his 17- and 18-year-old prospective recruits. Someone discovers this and reports it to his Battalion Commander, a fairly senior officer. The Battalion Commander looks at the statistics and decides that without this Recruiter, his Battalion is going to come up short on their recruits for the year. He doesn’t report it, he doesn’t initiate an investigation, he doesn’t move the Soldier to a less-sensitive position. Instead, he covers the whole thing up and looks forward to making his annual goal.

Several months later, the papers get hold of the story. Certainly, the Recruiter is going to get slam-dunked – probably court-martialed. But what’s going to happen to the Battalion Commander? A brief “watercooler survey” of some Soldier friends of mine suggest that even if the media wasn’t involved, the officer would be transferred to a staff position and probably never again promoted. With the public watching, he’d more likely be relieved of his command (that’s a career-ending move, for those of you not in uniform), and possibly court-martialed alongside the Recruiter he protected.

Now, let’s replace some of the people involved. For the Recruiter, former Representative Foley. For the Battalion Commander, Speaker of the House Hasturt. And for the recruits, let’s substitute 15- and 16-year-old Pages.

So what should happen to The Honorable Mr. Hasturt?