Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Anniversary edition: Matrimonial Math

Eleven years ago today, when we looked as if we were about eleven years old, we were married.

We've been married for 1/3 of our lives. In three years, we will have known each other for half our lives.

The number of arguments we've had in all that time can be counted on one hand. So can the number of children. (These are unrelated statistics.)

Over the past eleven years, the increase in our love has been immeasurable.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Borrowed Thoughts on the Obamacare Ruling

I'd been holding back on posting on the Supreme Court's upholding of the Affordable Care Act, both because it's too hot to think around the Darwin house at the moment, and because I'm a non-expert on constitutional law and found most initial responses dispiritingly knee-jerk. Around Facebook (which since I'm reading Alistair Horne's history of the Algerian war, I'm picturing as a kind of French flash-mob of political opinion) the general consensus among my mostly conservative friends seemed to be that this was the day on which the US Constitution died. Given some of the amazingly bad Supreme Court decisions in our history (Dredd Scott, Roe v. Wade, Buck v. Bell, etc.) a ruling that congress can fine people (if we call it a tax) for not buying health insurance doesn't exactly strike me as rating among the top travesties.

Other conservatives (and apparently some progressives) have spun the ruling instead as some sort of a long term conservative victory in disguise (since it explicitly reject the ability of congress to require people to buy a product via the Commerce Clause.) Although I do think that, at a political level, it keeps the presidential race in November simpler to have Obamacare intact as a weapon to attack the administration with (given that it continues to be unpopular) rather than having it off the table or its most unpopular provisions removed, I don't think it's possible to spin this as a conservative victory. Clearly, the Democrats won on a large new social program being ruled an acceptable expansion of state power.

As if often the case at such times, Ross Douthat sums it up well, so I'll mostly quote his piece today entitled accurate, "Yes, Liberals Won":
There was a widespread and bipartisan impulse, in the wake of yesterday’s health care ruling, to cast John Roberts’ exercise in political finesse as a potentially significant long-term win for conservatism. Variants of this case were made by George Will and Jay Cost on the right, Jonathan Chait and Tom Scocca on the liberal side of things, and many others besides....

I would find this perspective considerably more persuasive if I could envision how, exactly, this war of “slow constriction” is supposed to play out. Does anyone really believe that a Roberts-led Court is likely to revisit the constitutionality of the major post-New Deal social programs? That it’s going to overturn child labor laws and minimum wage laws, or shutter regulatory agencies? Whatever precedent was set yesterday, that kind of genuine counter-revolution seems highly unlikely.

Likewise, does anyone believe that a host of new Obamacare-style programs — crucial to liberalism’s ambitions, but vulnerable to constitutional challenge — are likely to pass Congress in the next decade or two? If we were entering an era in which an aggressive, ascendant liberalism were poised to push through more sweeping social legislation, then Roberts’ line in the sand might matter enormously for a whole series of looming debates. But the state of our finances (and our politics) makes it much more likely that the Obamacare contest will be remembered as a last lurch forward for welfare state liberalism than the first of many attempted government expansions like it. The manner in which liberals won yesterday could theoretically cost them opportunities to further expand the administrative state, but they probably weren’t going to have those opportunities anyway.

In an intellectual sense, the logic of the health care mandate may indeed have been “pregnant with rampant statism,” as Will puts it. But in terms of practical politics, the health care bill was itself the most statist act that’s likely to pass Congress over the next decade at least, and maybe in John Roberts’ lifetime. And by upholding it, Roberts handed liberals a victory in the scope-of-government war that matters most to them, while at worst setting them up to lose some less important skirmishes somewhere down the road.

On a side note of particular interest to Catholics, there seems to be some confusion out there on which "mandate" the Supreme Court upheld in this ruling. The mandate in question was the individual mandate (the rule that if you don't have health insurance from some other source, you're required to purchase health insurance or else pay a fine for not doing so) not the HHS mandate (an administrative ruling from the department of Health and Human Services which stated that many Catholic run organization are not in fact "religious organization" which can potentially be exempted from the requirement to provide their employees with contraceptive and "morning after" coverage as part of their Obamacare mandated health care plans.) There are a number of lawsuits that have been filed against the HHS mandate insisting (I believe correctly) that it is a restriction of the freedom of religion. These lawsuits, however, have not yet wended their way through the courts to a final ruling, and it will doubtless be some time before they do. Although, clearly, if the Supreme Court had thrown out the whole of Obamacare, this would have averted any need to fight the HHS mandate, the ruling yesterday was not a ruling against the specific freedom of religion question in play there, it was on an unrelated issue.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

If You Can't Stand The Heat...

Yeah, it's hot. 100 degrees today.

Our Texas pals are crying me a river, I know, but bear with me here: our house is so straight-up righteous that we don't have any air conditioning. It's so hard core that there aren't even any ceiling fans. I believe we are the only house on the street -- the block! -- with no air conditioner. Even the house next door, that has had only three owners in its 100 years, has air. They can all be that way. If people lived in this house for 120 years without air conditioning, we can tough it out too. There's no school like the old school, know what I'm sayin'?

None of yer new-fangled technology here, young man!

We can get some nice air flow going when there's air worth flowing, but today we opted to shut up everything to retain the nighttime coolness throughout the day. It worked, mostly: it never hit 90 in the house. The children didn't cry too much, perhaps because they sat in a daze, flushed and perspiring.


Now that it's 11 pm, it's cool enough to open the windows. Eleanor is sleeping on the floor with a fan pointed at her head. Julia is sprawled on her bed with a fan pointed at her head. Diana and Isabel are both in the crib, with a fan pointed at their feet, but it's hitting their heads too. Jack is on the couch, with a fan pointed at his head, talking up a storm to me at 11 pm because it's too hot to sleep. And I'm letting him, because it's too hot to touch him long enough to drag him upstairs.

Glancing back through the archives, I see we complained about the heat when we were in Texas as well -- understandable as our air conditioner broke down twice a year, May and August, regular. And now as then, I say: it's too darn hot.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

On the German Circumcision Ruling

Gilbert of The Last Conformer is a Catholic blogger in Germany who writes in English, and as such he's able to bring some local knowledge to the "Germany outlaws Judaism" story that's been going around.
The abstract legal question has been under discussion for a while. The new part is not that a circumcision counts as bodily injury. German courts have always helt that basically every medical treatment is a "bodily injury" under section 223 of the criminal code. There are however legal justifications that make the act of bodily injury legal. The most important one is consent, which is why doctors are still in business.

Now the question is if parents can consent to their children's circumcision. The general rule is that they can consent to medical procedures if they are in the child's best interest. What exactly counts as the child's best interest is not defined by statute and basically left to the courts. Most German legal scholars think circumcision is in the best interest of a child growing up in a religious setting that demands it, because in that context it's an important part of socialization. A minority think it isn't, because an irreversible damage is more important.
Unlike common law systems, the German legal system doesn't officially have binding precedents. So no new law has been created and any other court or theoretically even the same one could find different in different cases. But this specific court has made its opinion known and presumably would find child circumcision criminal in other appeals from its district.

I am ashamed for my country. Obviously a statute in need of interpretation should be interpreted in the light of the constitutional guarantee of religious liberty. And I think it's pretty obvious that circumcision wins for every religion prescribing it.

But in this case it's especially bad because of our national history with the Jews. A German court declaring it a crime to practice the Jewish religion is even more heinous than it "just" failing to get religious freedom. A week ago I would have thought this impossible and people in other countries are fully justified in downgrading their opinion of Germany.

Still, please keep your sense of proportion in the extent of how far you downgrade your opinion of Germany. Idiotic court rulings happen in all countries and the principles of this one will not stand.
There's more in the full post about the specific context, how the case progressed, and the likelihood (apparently high) that legislation will be passed to make it clear that circumcision is a protected religious practice. Go read the whole thing.

When Design Trumps Worth

Oh, look what's making a comeback: the book.

 The idea of curling up with a good book has increasingly come to mean flipping on an e-reader, not flipping through the pages of a leather-bound novel in a book-lined room.  
Yet the home library is on the rise, having become something of a cerebral status symbol. Affluent homeowners are buying quality books in quantity to amass collections for private personal libraries. These rooms are as much aesthetic set pieces and public displays of intelligence as they are quiet spaces to reflect and retreat. Some people are also seeking the services of experts to help pull together notable collections or to advise on the look, feel and content of their home libraries.
The Journal also provides us with a handy table spelling out what various book holdings say about the owner:
A first-octavo set of John James Audubon's 'Birds of America' The equivalent of owning a Damien Hirst spot painting. 
Anything by Charles Dickens Says: 'I really do read books.' Extra points if displaying 'Barnaby Rudge.'' 
A Visit From the Goon Squad' by Jennifer Egan Owner is confident enough to display pop fiction, and likely reads it, too. 
'The Hunger Games' by Suzanne Collins Says: 'I am very current with what the kids are into,' for better or for worse.
Darwin's father used to work at a bookstore. Occasionally people would come in and want to buy "five feet of books" to fill an amount of shelf space. It didn't matter what was in the books, as long as they looked good.

The fetishization of personal libraries reminds me of Amy Welborn's recent decision to homeschool as a corrective to the increasingly common experience of "going to school" as an institutional experience rather than an educational one.
But, that wasn’t my point. 
My point was that I have been doing the – (deep breath)  – school supplies  - does your uniform fit? – your teacher wants what? we just bought all the school supplies – book covers? Why do we have to do bookcovers?  - welcome to our SCHOOL FAMILY –  parent/teacher meeting – beginning of the year orientation – parent/teacher conferences – giftwrap sales – please return these papers signed on Tuesdays – please return THESE papers signed on Mondays – I have to find an article for music class – but I get extra credit if you go to the PTO meeting! – make an adobe model out of sugar cubes – is your field trip shirt the green one or the blue one? – yes, I signed your planner – wait,don’t throw that away, we need the box tops – SCHOOL FAMILY – you need a check for what? – do you have hot lunch today or not? – candygrams – wait, is it a jeans day today – boosterthon? Try not to run too many laps, okay?  - please send cupcakes/cookies/goldfish but NO PEANUTS – POSTERBOARD – SCHOOL FAMILY.- thing for twenty-five (25) years.

Books, education: what is valuable about them is subjugated to the ephemera of institutionalizing them.

Lost in all this designer wonder over the decorating potential and interpretive power of the book is the reason that books exist: to disseminate knowledge. To entertain. To broaden the horizons of a reader's mind, to put him in situations that he might never encounter on his own, to confront him with choices and their consequences and make him ask, "Was this right? What would I do?" All of this can be accomplished without a custom-designed jacket, a multi-prong marketing campaign, or a personal reading room. It also can be accomplished without the book itself, as the boom of e-readers attests, but that's throwing out the baby with the bathwater. There is immense value in the book itself -- in the discernment of acquisition ("Do I need to own this, or just check it out? Is there enough room on my shelves? Would I read it more than once?"), in the act of possession, in the care required to store a physical repository of knowledge, in the tactile experience of reading. A beautiful binding can elevate this tactile experience, but it can't transform poor text into brilliant writing. A library is only worth the ideas it embodies.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

You Can't Take Us Anywhere

We had been treated by several dear friends to various Austin food experiences over the weekend: the home-cooked brisket, the funky cafe, the elegant yet sustainably-sourced tea shop. On our last night in town, we decided to step down to the restaurant in our swanky internet-steal hotel to grab a bite to eat. The constraint of our 3:30 am alarm meant that we didn't have either the time or inclination to indulge in the more avant-garde concoctions featured on the main menu, but the drinks menu also included a selection of upscale items that translated into "burgers and fries". We were in the midst of packing up, so we sauntered down in t-shirts, jeans, and soft shoes, because this is Austin, guys.

The dim cellar vaults of the restaurant were inscribed with quotes extolling the twin virtues of knowledge and food. The atmosphere of sobriety permeated down to the burnt-orange carpet. We were whisked past the bar, at which we cast longing glances, and tucked into a table at which even the candles flickered sedately. Someone materialized to fill the water glasses from a bottle. The couple next to us forked their way through the six-course tasting menu with paired wines. She was manicured and coiffured; he wore Texas Yuppie Casual: long-sleeve shirt untucked, fitted jeans, leather flip-flops. They laughed and clinked glasses; she crossed her legs and bounced a platform heel.

When our server appeared and began deferentially to explain the restaurant's philosophy, Darwin uttered these fatal words:

"We weren't all that hungry, and we know it's close to closing time, so we thought we might just get drinks and order off the bar menu."

The waiter paused for a moment, perplexed. His face went blank as he processed this concept.

"We don't normally serve from that menu in the dining room," he murmured.

"We just thought..." one of us started. "But if it's trouble..."

"It's just that we don't normally serve from that menu in the dining room," he repeated slowly, his logic circuits fried by such an unprecedented request. We were appalled by how gauche we had been and begged to order normally. He demurred in tones of great sadness as he slowly gathered up the wine glasses and the original menu ("No, no, we can do that if that's what you like...") and departed. I met Darwin's gleaming eye, and we both began to convulse with silent laughter. 

Our service was attentive, but grave. The drinks ("Your order will take a moment, ma'am, since The Annex is a hand-crafted cocktail") were excellent. The tartare was superb. Two waiters presented our order of Parmesan Garlic Fries. They set before us the plate of stacked fries and then various condiments. "Here's the garlic truffle aioli," our waiter said, "and perhaps you might prefer sauce americaine." It was ketchup. 

The kitchen sent out a sample of the pork belly, which was delicious. Our water glasses were filled again from a fresh bottle. "I bet they fill the bottles with tap water," I said meanly. We stifled our hysterical giggles.

As we ate our complementary chocolate truffle shortbread (it was excellent, of course), the couple next to us haggled with the waiter over their bill; they'd come armed with some internet coupon which had terms and restrictions to which they had paid little attention. Darwin charged our bill to our room and added a hefty tip to compensate for our lack of decorum. When the waiter returned, he was chatty and confidential. Had we enjoyed our stay? How long were we in town? Where were we from? He had been to Columbus once, years before, passing through with a classmate who drove an MG, and they'd been pulled over by this huge cop who wanted payment right then, and his classmate hadn't had any money on him.... We smiled and nodded and kicked each other under the table, and finally escaped to collapse face down on our bed in groans of mirth, fueled at intervals by strangled howls of "Sauce americaine!"

Monday, June 25, 2012

Real Estate Deal of the Century

If I hadn't already spent that $42 million on our boiler, I would definitely have bought this Gilded Age mansion in NYC.

Seven floors, an elevator, umpteen bedrooms -- really a bargain at the price. And the history! This particular mansion was designed by Stanford White, celebrity architect and notorious for his attraction to young girls. He was later shot point blank by the jealous millionaire husband of actress/model Evelyn Nesbit, who at age 16 had entertained the then 47-year-old White by performing on a red velvet swing while in various stages of undress. The ensuing trial in 1906 was the first to be dubbed the "Trial of the Century".

By The Sword

The Darwin travels have finally ended, but it's a busy catch-up day here at the office, so here's a quick set of lunch-time links for your enjoyment. John Clements of the Association for Renaissance Martial Arts has a piece at io9 entitled, "Swordfighting: Not What You Think It Is". The article style is a little blustery, but it is nonetheless interesting. You can also drop by the ARMA website and check out their web documentary on historical sword fighting techniques and check out some of their training and practice video clips.

Being of the geeky brand of athlete, my high school sport was fencing, and although I enjoyed it a lot, I would certainly agree with Clement's contention that modern competitive fencing (in part due to the arbitrary nature of some of its rules) is very little like real sword combat, even dueling combat.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Asymmetric Warfare and the Conservation of Morality

There's this concept I've been toying with for a while, which I'm tempted to call, after the Second Law of Thermodynamics "the conservation of morality". The idea is basically that sin tends to beget sin, virtue tends to beget virtue, such that when people do evil to others, there tends to be equal evil done back, unless someone intervenes in the cycle by some act of heroic restraint and love. Reading Alistair Horne's A Savage War of Peace about the war between the French and the forces of anti-colonial Arab nationalism in Algeria, it's been striking me that one of the purposes of "asymmetric warfare" is to amp up that "conservation of morality" by committing acts of such unspeakable evil that it causes the entire situation to become vastly more polarized and driven by hate.

Horne is talking about the Philippeville Massacre (not bothering to link to Wikipedia because the article is uselessly vague) in August of 1955. Up until this point, the war between the FLN (Front de Liberation Nationale -- Arab nationalist liberation forces) and the French had been fierce but comparatively low level. On August 20, 1955, in a mining village in which relations between colonists and Arabs had previously been fairly good, the FLN staged an attack on the entire European population of the village that killed 123 French colonials, most of them civilians. Only six colonials survived -- people who'd barricaded themselves in a house and held off attackers with heavy fire. When the French military arrived, they found a slaughter of such unremitting savagery that it radicalized nearly all of the European population of Algeria. It wasn't just that women and children had been killed. There were cases of 70-year-old women who had their limbs hacked off and were left to bleed to death. A mother has horribly mutilated, her five-day-old child slashed to death, and the child then put back into her slashed-open womb. When French soldiers arrived they found ordinary members of the local Arab population so drunk with the slaughter that in one case a soldier wrote about in his diary, he and another solder found two young boys so intent on kicking in the skull of a dead old woman who lay in the street that the only way they were able to stop the boys was by shooting them dead.

The goal of the attack had been the radicalize the conflict, and according to the nature of asymmetric warfare, the attackers didn't care whether this resulted in excessive "blowback" towards their side so long as it resulted in total war. It was as if they had dropped an atomic bomb on the "conservation of morality". When the French army showed up and found that nearly every single French person in Philippeville had been killed, they went mad with anger, and in response they killed nearly every single Arab person in the town. The town had been 90% Arab, so this mean that in retaliation for 123 Pied noir killed, over 1,000 Arabs were killed -- many shot in the street, then hundreds mored rounded up as "prisoners" and machine gunned before being bulldozed into mass graves.

In the twisted logic of asymmetric warfare, this counted as a victory for the simple reason that it massively escalated the scale of the conflict. In the fact of what they had seen, neither French nor Algerian nationalists were likely to back down. Too many people knew of too many "like them" who had been brutally killed, and the level of hate and violence had been increased exponentially. Such is the logic of asymmetrical warfare, and it is brutally effective in creating violence, if not in any other objective.

Is Availability of Porn the Key Predictive Factor in Incidence of Rape?

Commenter Joel got off on a tangent on a post last week, insisting that pornography was good for society because it correlated with decreased incidence of rape. He quoted a Scientific American piece from last year which said in part:
Perhaps the most serious accusation against pornography is that it incites sexual aggression. But not only do rape statistics suggest otherwise, some experts believe the consumption of pornography may actually reduce the desire to rape by offering a safe, private outlet for deviant sexual desires.

“Rates of rapes and sexual assault in the U.S. are at their lowest levels since the 1960s,” says Christopher J. Ferguson, a professor of psychology and criminal justice at Texas A&M International University. The same goes for other countries: as access to pornography grew in once restrictive Japan, China and Denmark in the past 40 years, rape statistics plummeted. Within the U.S., the states with the least Internet access between 1980 and 2000—and therefore the least access to Internet pornography—experienced a 53 percent increase in rape incidence*, whereas the states with the most access experienced a 27 percent drop in the number of reported rapes, according to a paper published in 2006 by Anthony D’Amato, a law professor at Northwestern University.

From this Joel concluded, "This doesn't mean that porn is good for any particular man, but all women should be greatful to live in a society where porn is widely available."

Obviously, even if there is a social correlation between porn availability and decreased rates of rape, this doesn't mean that use or creation of porn is moral. Lots of highly immoral activities may happen to correlate with (or even cause) decreases in other immoral activities, and the fact that one of these is immoral doesn't change the immoral status of the other.

However, the whole set of claims sounded fishy to me. "Lowest levels since the 1960s" seems like one of those statement which might, while technically true, still mask a huge difference, rather like "worst economic downturn since the Great Depression". Similarly, measuring statistics based on "the states with the least Internet access between 1980 and 2000—and therefore the least access to Internet pornography" seemed incredibly vague. The internet wasn't even particularly useful for pornography before the advent of the World Wide Web in the early '90s, so the 1980 to 2000 time frame intentionally included a lot of irrelevant time, and measuring the states with the least internet access was likely to simply get you the poorest and most rural states.

Further, I just found the whole proposed causal mechanism fishy. It sounded like the sort of thing where someone fished for a some correlations that worked just a little bit, but they were probably really just seeing some wider trend. My going hypothesis was the the rate of rape would mirror the rate of other violent crimes such as murder. If the rate of rape deviated from the rate of other violent crimes a lot, it would suggest that rape had different causal mechanisms that other forms of violent crime. If it rose and fell in a similar pattern (and I knew that violent crime as a whole had been falling since peaking in the early '90s) that would suggest that rape was just another, particularly nasty, form of social violence.

A little searching around led me to the Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics database maintained by the FBI. From there I pulled data on the rate per 100,000 of population of the set of violent crimes the database tracks: murder, aggravated assault, forcible rape, and robbery. The some total of these is the Violent Crime Rate. The following chart shows those four constituent rates since 1960.

[Click Image for Full Size Graph]

As you can see, the pattern match is very strong. The lowest correlation is between murder and rape, a 54% correlation. Robbery has a 84% correlation and aggravated assault has a 96% correlation. The overall violent crime rate has a 97% correlation with the rate of forcible rape. With correlations that high, if you ask me to tell you what the rate of rape is in the US in any given year, I'm not going to ask you, "Gee, how available was porn that year?" No, I'll ask you, "What was the overall rate of violent crime?" That is a far, far more predictive indicator than anything vague association with porn availability. And predictability is what science is all about. All the rest of what we're hearing is hand waving and self justification.

I then ran averages for each decade. In the 1960s the rape rate was 12.3 per 100,000 of population.

1970s, 26.0
1980s, 36.5
1990s, 38.3
2000s, 32.2

So Prof. Ferguson's statement is actually false, the rape rate is not at its lowest since the 1960s (it was lower in the '70s than it was in 2010 at 27.5) and the current rape rate is more than 2x the rate for the 1960s, when pornography was unquestionably much less available than now. The only way that this pseudo correlation comes to be is that the web has only existed since the early '90s and by coincidence all forms of violent crime have been on a steady decline since the early '90s. Unless one wants to claim that burglary and aggravated assault rates are being driven down by the availability of internet porn, we don't have much of a causal case to make here.

Joel later asked:
But your statement that the more porn => less rape correlation is "very loose" requires pushback. The fact is, those two trends have been observed together all over the world: whenever porn availability goes up, rape goes down. Everywhere. So:

1) You are actually telling us that this is coincidence? Really? It happens again and again, and you still say, "Coincidence"?

2) There's a simple and straightforward explanation as to why this is in fact causation: The safety valve effect of porn is real.

So tell me: what evidence would it take to convince you of this? Consider your answer carefully, because some researchers are probably looking into it right now, and you may rest assured that I will notify you when their results are published.
Given the shoddy nature of the "research" which Joel has quoted thus far, I rather doubt that there's any convincing research being done on the topic that would support Joel's pet claim, but I'll toss out a couple of minimum requirements to suggest that the availability of internet pornography has anything like a real effect on the incidence of rape:

  • Get a large population sample at a young age and track their usage of pornography through regular surveys.  Show that sex crimes are committed significantly more often by those who do not use porn than those who do.  For bonus points, show that this is the result of lack of access rather than preference.  
  • Track two regions which have shown similar trends in rape rate over the last 50+ years.  Significantly decrease the availability of pornography in one of these two regions, and then measure a statistically significant increase in the incidence of rape in that region relative to the other one, while their trends in other violent crimes remain the same.
  • Do the reverse of the previous test: show two regions in which porn has been highly unavailable, and and in which their crime statistics have been highly similar.  Show that liberalizing porn availability in one of these regions correlates with a decrease in incidence of rape in that region relative to the other, while all other forms of violent crime remain on similar trends.
  • Show that the previous two are repeatable in multiple areas.
  • Show that the rate of rape deviates from the rate of other violent crimes in a way that can be explained by some sort of annual data on porn consumption.

Hit those criteria, and I'd think maybe a decent case is starting to be built.

I'll close by knocking the ball into the other court. The fact that the correlation between overall violent crime and rape is so incredibly high got me thinking: Is the rate of rape currently higher or lower than you would otherwise expect? I averaged out the overall violent crimes rates and rape rates from 1960 to 2010 and found that the ratio between these is 0.06. I then used that relationship to predict where the rape rate "ought" to be each year based on the violent crime rate. The result is that rape has actually declined more slowly than you would expect since 1996, based on the overall violent crime rate. it's actually a pretty steady "over trend" pattern for the last 10 years.

Can't imagine why that would be... Wait a minute. Those lines cross in 1999 and rape has been more common than the violent crime rate would suggest ever since (by an average of 9%). It hasn't been the case that internet pornography has been far more available in the years since 1999 than it was in the years before, has it?

(For the record: No, I don't think that's a particularly strong case. But it certainly cuts against the opposite contention which Joel is trying to make.)

UPDATE: In the comments, Joel has expressed grave concern that I used the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics, which are based on crimes reported to law enforcement agencies (with appropriate adjustments to deal with apparent over or under reporting.) He avers it would be better to look at the National Crime Victimization Survey, which is based on an annual survey in which the Justice Department contacts 40,000 households and asks all members of those households over 12 what crimes they have been victims of that year. (The purpose of this methodology is to capture crimes which people don't report, for whatever reason.)

I don't think it's correct, as Joel does, to call these the "real" crime statistics, since the real number of crimes is fundamentally unknowable. Both the number of crimes reported to police and the number of crimes reported to DOJ surveyors are going to be subject to necessary sampling errors, and I'm not sure it's possible to say that one set of data actually reflects the true state of crime in the US better than the other. While it's certainly true that for a wide variety of reasons, women who are victims of rape may not report the crime to the police, it's also the case that in the survey some people will necessarily be missed (people living in highly marginal circumstances will be harder to contact), will not want to talk, or will be unavailable to talk (the NCVS only accepts data from the victim herself, which is why it reports no homicide data, this also means that cases of rape followed by murder will necessarily be unreported.)

All that said, there's no reason not to look at this data as well and see if it, like the FBI's data, suggest that the primary predictive factor for the rape rate is the rate of overall violent crime, or if there seems to be some other factor at work. Here's the overall trend chart.

Running the correlation between the sets of annual data for rape and total violent crime, I get a correlation of 89%. There's also a correlation of 91% between robbery and rape and of 91% between aggravated assault and rape. Simple assault shows a correlation of 82% with rape.

This means both that the rate of change in the rape rate, as shown in the NCVS's survey methodology is not unprecedented, and that it one can predict the number of rapes likely to have occurred in a year with a fair degree of accuracy by knowing the amount of overall violent crime. The availability of pornography does not have this predictive value -- or at least, none of these "studies" which attempt to show a connection between the availability of porn and the number of rapes even attempts to put together some sort of annual number which can be used to measure porn consumption or availability, and so any attempt at prediction is impossible.

Really the only thing that Joel's thesis has going for it, according to the NCVS's data is that the incidence of rape took a sharp down turn in 1991 which was three years before the overall violent crime rate took a sharp downturn in 1994. However, since that time the rape and violent crime as a whole have decreased at almost exactly the same rate.

Unequally Yoked Goes Catholic

Posting has been thin around here for the last while, because between one thing and another I've been on the road for nearly two weeks, and the whole family has been on the road for the last five days. What should happen while I was getting behind on my reading but Leah Libresco of the atheist blog Unequally Yoked announces that she is in RCIA and is now Leah of the Catholic blog Unequally Yoked. You can follow her responses to comments from some of her atheist readers in this post (my impression has generally been that atheist readers have, up till now, outnumbered Christian readers, at least in regards to who comments.)

I ran into Leah last year when she ran a "Ideological Turing Test" in which a number of writers tried to answer questions both as an atheist and as a Christian, and readers tried to determine who the real atheists and the real Christians were. A new round for this year just finished up.

Leah's a seriously interesting person, and I imagine her blog isn't going to settle down into a just-another-cookie-cutter-Catholic-blog rut any time soon:
I’m still confused about the Church’s teachings on homosexuality, I still need to do a lot of work to accept gifts graciously, and I still love steam engines.

Starting tomorrow, this blog is moving to the the Patheos Catholic channel (the url and RSS will remain unchanged). Meanwhile, I’m in RCIA classes at a DC parish, so you can look forward to more Parsing Catholicism tags (and after the discussion of universalism we had last week, I think it will be prudent to add a “Possibly Heretical” category).

This post isn’t the final word on my conversion. I’m sure there’s a lot more explaining and arguing to do, so be a little charitable in your read of this post and try to give me a little time to expand my ideas over the next few weeks. (Based on my in-person arguments to date, it seems like most of my atheist friends disagree two or three steps back from my deciding Morality is actually God. They usually diverge back around the bit where I assert morality, like math, is objective and independent of humans. As one of my friends said, “Well, I guess if I were a weird quasi-Platonist virtue ethicist, this would probably convince me”).
It's good to have her coming into the fold, and she'll certainly continue to be in my prayers.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Radiation of Fatherhood

We're in the midst of some serious wedding insanity -- three out-of-state weddings in three weekends, and this weekend's is MY BROTHER'S -- and Darwin is gone this week at a conference. There is advanced chaos at the house. Everything I do is done in the least efficient way possible. People have fevers. Single parenthood has worn me down to the extent that I'm ordering pizza and picking up burgers rather than face my kitchen. In marriage, the two become one flesh, but right now I feel like Darwin took my mind. I left my brain in San Francisco.

As Darwin was getting out the door to the airport, the girls were in tears, sobbing goodbye and clinging. This surprised me, as in the past I've tended to think myself as the one mainly inconvenienced by Daddy being gone. The ladies are becoming more aware, and it's touching. I found Julia's welcome-home card, written on pretty craft paper:

Dear Daddy,
I'm so glad you're back home. Please don't ever go away again. I missed you verry verry verry much.
Love, Julia

Later the card was cut up so the paper could be used for some project, but the sentiment stands, I'm sure.

In these few days without Darwin, as I've melted into a lame puddle of goo trying to wash all the laundry in the house and change the hotel reservations and see which orthodontist is covered by insurance (I am not ready to enter the world of children with orthodontic devices), the importance of a good father has been brought home to me again and again. My children are blessed to descend from several generations of good fathers on both sides of the family, and the legacy of those holy, vigilant men is seen in the way my husband and father and brothers interact with my children, an example of God "bestowing mercy down to the thousandth generation, on the children of those who love me and keep my commandments" (Ex. 20:6).

But then I read about the epidemic of teens viewing porn, and my heart aches, not just for my own innocent children but for all those they will encounter in life who will be in thrall to this crushing sin. I know that all I can do for my children is to provide them with a good strong foundation to be able to avoid and withstand these sorts of assaults. Perhaps God's mercy to the thousandth generation is the gift to each generation to be able to confront the choices of adulthood with a self already oriented to what is good. That doesn't mean that every choice my girls (and my boy) make will be good -- God doesn't co-opt their free will, so neither can I -- but at least their wills will not be unduly warped or misaligned by the sins of previous generations.

I'm thrilled to think that in nine months my brother could be holding a child of his own. Then we'll get to see what the next generation of my family's fathers will be like. I think he could be a contender to start his own thousand-generation holiness dynasty.

Please pray for John and Gail this weekend, and for all family members discerning marriage.

Monday, June 11, 2012

God is Not a Sadist

Sometimes a pious turn of phrase, taken too literally, can become a destructive way of looking at our relationship with God. One of these, I think, is the idea of God sending us suffering so that we can grow in virtue by bearing up under that suffering.

It's easy to see how one gets here. All the pieces are good and true. God is the creator of the world and holds it in existence through the power of his will, so although God does not will evil to happen, he allows it to happen, and he makes it a part of his plan. Thus, one can say, in a sense, that when bad things happen to us they are "part of God's plan" in the sense that God remains in control. He's not saying, "Whoa. I hadn't expected that one. How did that slip by?"

It's also true that when we experience suffering we have the opportunity, by willingly joining our sufferings to Christ's sacrifice, rather than allowing them to make us angry or resentful, to grow in virtue.

However, put these two together and we start getting ideas like, "Think how much God must have loved you in order to [cause your spouse to die/make your child disabled/give you cancer/make you lose your job]! It's tough love, but God is willing to cause us any degree of suffering in order for us to grow in virtue."

This, I think, while often said by earnest and well meaning people, and actually a very wrong way to think, and if taken seriously paints a very sick picture of God. After all, God, at the very definition of his being, by loves us. He is love. To love is to wish the best for the other. As such, God does not want us to suffer, although when we do suffer it is his will that we should grow in virtue through the experience. God's will, however, in its fullest realization, the perfection for which he made us, is that we should be happy. Not that we should suffer.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Phrases from the Russian Textbook

Come in, please. Take a seat.
I'm sorry I'm late. It was difficult to find your house.
I spoke to Vladimir Smirnov yesterday. He said that I should telephone you.
It is cold in my room. It's also very noisy. The window doesn't close.
There is no toilet paper. Please do not say that I should buy Pravda.
I have reread the letter. I cannot understand it.

We went to Russia last year.
Life will be better in the twenty-first century.
Next week we'll go to Siberia.

She loves only herself.
They are in their hotel room.
We have come to Russia in order to speak Russian.
I want him to apologize.

The students who studied Russian found interesting work.
There are very few businessmen who have mastered Russian.
All the girls who studied Russian married Russians.

And speaking of translations, this transcription of Carmina Burana tastes like chicken:

Novena for Order, Day 8

We've been praying the Novena for Order faithfully, but one of the reasons I haven't posted much is that I'm feeling less inclined to get on the computer and write for the sake of yapping. This hasn't yet translated into the virtue of not clicking around to kill time, but one step at a time.

For Ordering a Life Wisely
St. Thomas Aquinas

O merciful God, grant that I may
desire ardently,
search prudently,
recognize truly,
and bring to perfect completion
whatever is pleasing to You
for the praise and glory of Your name.

Put my life in good order, O my God

Grant that I may know
what You require me to do.

Bestow upon me
the power to accomplish your will,
as is necessary and fitting
for the salvation of my soul.

Grant to me, O Lord my God,
that I may not falter in times
of prosperity or adversity,
so that I may not be exalted in the former,
nor dejected in the latter.

May I not rejoice in anything
unless it leads me to You;
may I not be saddened by anything
unless it turns me from You.

May I desire to please no one,
nor fear to displease anyone,
but You.

May all transitory things, O Lord,
be worthless to me
and may all things eternal
be ever cherished by me.

May any joy without You
be burdensome for me
and may I not desire anything else
besides You.

May all work, O Lord
delight me when done for Your sake.
and may all repose not centered in You
be ever wearisome for me.

Grant unto me, my God,
that I may direct my heart to You
and that in my failures
I may ever feel remorse for my sins
and never lose the resolve to change.

O Lord my God, make me
submissive without protest,
poor without discouragement,
chaste without regret,
patient without complaint,
humble without posturing,
cheerful without frivolity,
mature without gloom,
and quick-witted without flippancy.

O Lord my God, let me
fear You without losing hope,
be truthful without guile,
do good works without presumption,
rebuke my neighbor without haughtiness,
and -- without hypocrisy --
strengthen him by word and example.

Give to me, O Lord God,
a watchful heart,
which no capricious thought
can lure away from You.

Give to me,
a noble heart,
which no unworthy desire can debase.

Give to me
a resolute heart,
which no evil intention can divert.

Give to me
a stalwart heart,
which no tribulation can overcome.

Give to me
a temperate heart,
which no violent passion can enslave.

Give to me, O Lord my God,
understanding of You,
diligence in seeking You,
wisdom in finding You,
discourse ever pleasing to You,
perseverance in waiting for You,
and confidence in finally embracing You.

that with Your hardships
I may be burdened in reparation here,
that Your benefits
I may use in gratitude upon the way,
that in Your joys
I may delight by glorifying You
in the Kingdom of Heaven.

You Who live and reign,
God, world without end.


Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Confessions of a Wanne Be Classical Homeschooler

This was the second day of summer vacation in the Darwin household, but from the activities it would have produced some of the better homeschooling bragging rights of recent months.

I'd ordered a copy of Minimus: Starting out in Latin, which arrived while I was at work today (along with a copy of Istanbul Passageto get me through upcoming plane flights.) Our 10-year-old (who had been reading the first couple pages over my shoulder via Amazon when I ordered it) immediately snagged it, ran upstairs, and read the first ten chapters with enough comprehension to drive her eight-year-old sister nuts by correcting her on Latin vocabulary as she was trying to read it later. (Punches were thrown.)

Then when I got home from work I got out the telescope and projected the sun's image onto a piece of paper so the kids could see the transit of Venus across the sun's face.

From this, you could almost get the impression that we're some kind of homeschooling superheroes. If we're this good when school isn't in session, how much better are we when it is?


Despite past ambitions, we seem to keep finding ourselves to be much less of classical homeschoolers than we had imagined we would be. The things that very reliably happen around here are: math, spelling, religion, and reading/read alouds. Much to our relief and happiness, the oldest two have really blossomed into recreational readers over the last year, and the read alouds they enjoy are, I'm convinced, fairly decent. (I recently finished reading them The Hobbit and am now reading Stuart Little, while MrsDarwin is working through David Copperfield with them.)

However, while I know we'd both pictured guiding the kids through a detailed round of world history, mythology and the beginnings of world literature, this has been a lot more rocky. We were really good about reading mythology with them (and our oldest now enjoys reading it herself). They've heard plenty of the bible and about the saints. And we had a moderately successful run at reading Gombrich's A Little History of the World aloud to them a few years back. However, in a whole variety of other text books, story books, and books picked up from the library we've stalled out repeatedly in attempts to cover world and US history with them at a level that interests them as 3rd and 4th graders.

A big part of the problem, frankly, is me. Over the last 10 years, since leaving college, I've fallen back in love with reading history and read a lot of it. The problem is, that in the process I've managed to pick fights with nearly any book we try to use with them, except historical novels aimed at kids (The Winged Watchman was a hit in a way in which my attempts to explain the nature of communism and fascism over dinner was not) and a limited number of other subject specific books and materials. All the history books aimed at 3rd and 4th graders seem so simplistic. And yet, the kind of complex, conflicted, history that I enjoy reading so much simply doesn't involve an eight or ten year old, to whom a good story involves good guys, bad guys, and the whole world in the balance.

In some ways, I think time may simply be our friend here. As they get a little older, they'll be able to read and appreciate better stuff. And, frankly, I don't look back and think "wow, I learned so much in third grade history, it's a good thing that I got all that covered". Third grade history in parochial school involved something about California and the main things I can recall is the model of a Mission I built and the argument I got into with my teacher as to whether the Vikings discovered America before the Spanish. (I was told if I wrote "The Vikings" rather than "Columbus" on the test I would be marked down because that textbook discussed Columbus and not the Norse, and any reading I had done on my own was beside the point. I went ahead and did it anyway because I can never walk away from a fight.)

Adventures in Search Engine Use

To whoever got to one of my old posts on college core curriculum courses while searching "mom amateur porn" on from Italy, I hope you enjoyed the post and kind of hope you didn't find what you were looking for.

The internet can be so odd...

Monday, June 04, 2012

Six For Summer: Reading Recommendations

I'm a sucker for lists. As such, I've been having a lot of fun over the last few weeks poking around the Top Ten list put together by book review editor J. Peder Zane. Zane asked 125 British and American "top authors" to provide ranked lists of their ten favorite books. He then scored them based on priority (a book listed first on a list got ten points, second got nine points, etc.) and tallies all these scores to deliver a Top 100 list of books. The top picks are roughly what you'd expect, as the methodology leans heavily on consensus (#1 Anna Karenina, #2 Madame Bovary, #3 War & Peace, #4 The Great Gatsby, #5 Lolita) but what's interesting is that after each book you can see links to which authors rated a book highly, and click through to see individual author's top ten lists.

With summer starting, I have my own (doubtless far over-optimistic) list of planned upcoming reading. The prospect of long days, some of them out of the office, somehow promises the possibility of reading more than usual, despite the fact that vacation this year will be spent crisscrossing the country to attend a series of weddings.

However unrealistic this may be, it seems time for a summer reading list meme, and so I present: "Six For Summer" The rules are simple, list six books that you would recommend to others this summer and provide a quick description of each. Of the six, three are "watershed reads", books that you look back on as having been pivotal in your life. (To avoid repetition, the Bible is off limits.) The other three are "waterside reads", the sort of book you can read straight through in one long, lazy afternoon, or read in five to ten minute snatches during a trip, and enjoy either way.

Watershed Reads

Brideshead Revisited was one of my father's favorite books, but he'd told me that I shouldn't read it until I was 40 because I wouldn't understand it. The result was, of course, that I read it right away -- in the summer before leaving for college. I don't think I got as much out of Brideshead at 18 as I have in later years, but nonetheless I got a lot. The idyllic glow of Charles' early days at Oxford appealed strongly as I headed off on my own for the first time, while Waugh's tragic and wistful vision of what follows provided a much needed grounding in human reality. I think I've read Brideshead four or five times now, and it continues to grow on me over time.

A Dance to the Music of Time really is a book that you're best off reading when you're a little bit older. It self enforces that a bit, as it is arguably a single novel, but one which was published as twelve short novels over the course of 24 years (1951 through 1975) -- even if you start young you'll be older when you finish. The twelve novels are broken up into four movements of three novels each, which very loosely align to the four seasons (spring through winter) of the year and of life. The First Movement begins in the 1920s as the narrator character, Nick Jenkins, is at school with his friends. The Second Movement, which I'm currently re-reading, takes place in the mid to late thirties as the second world war looms. The third movement takes place during the war, and the fourth stretches into the early seventies. Somewhat like Brideshead, the theme here is memory, and way in which people and themes move in and out of one's life like the participants in a dance to which one cannot always quite here the music. Powell has a lush, mid-century British prose style which is a joy to read. While when I first read the books I just enjoyed them, they've grown on me over time, as the complex, interwoven story of Nick's circle of acquaintances (the clubbish circle of mid century British arts and politics) comes to seem more and more like life.

The Lord of the Rings is certainly the longest standing member of my watershed list. I first read it at 13, but it's influence on my life goes back much further. My parents met through the Mythopoeic Society back in the early '70s, and so not only did I grow up steeped in Lewis & Tolkien, I probably never would have existed had my parents not met through a shared love of their works. Although I've almost completely fallen away from reading new genre writing, LotR remains a classic for me, and one that re-impresses me every time I go back to it -- the more so now that whenever I crack it open I realize how badly the movies missed the boat by the comparison.

Waterside Reads

Spies of the Balkansis Alan Furst's most recent available novel, or if you wait another couple weeks you could try this year's Mission to Paris. While I've enjoyed some Furst novels more than others (my favorites thus far, in no particular order are Spies of the Balkans, The Polish Office, Kingdom of Shadows, and Spies of Warsaw) all are taughtly enjoyable thrillers set in the days of falling night in Europe during the final lead up to World War II and the early days of the war. Furst has a strong moral sense for the ways in which people are drawn into conflicts and the trade-offs they make once they are.

Amy Welborn's Wish You Were Here: Travels Through Loss and Hope is half travel book, half memoir of grief and loss, and the strong sense of the Sicilian sun makes it perfect summer reading. Well written and touching, you may find yourself blinking away tears a few times, but it is at root a deeply beautiful and hopeful book. And shouldn't all hope be infused with beauty and sadness?

The History Of Our World Beyond The Wave is a deeply quirky book. It takes what might be the premise for a SciFi thriller (a giant wave circles the world, wiping out civilization and leaving few survivors) and produces instead a surrealistic fantasy with theological undertones. Short, well written, and delightfully odd, it's a worth-while summer read, and is perhaps the only book in which a yellow VW bug becomes an object of sheer terror.

Please feel free to provide your own lists either in the comments or on your own blog (in which case, please link back.)