Friday, April 21, 2017

New York City's war on tobacco

The New York Times is valiantly engaging in investigative journalism, and by "investigative journalism" I mean "parroting whatever those in authority say."

De Blasio Backs Plan to Lift Base Price of Pack of Cigarettes to $13

Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged his support on Wednesday to a series of initiatives to cut tobacco use, proposing to raise the minimum price of a pack of cigarettes in New York City to $13 and vowing to sharply reduce, over time, the number of stores that may sell tobacco products.
What could possibly go wrong? It's not as though anyone ever smuggled cigarettes or as though New York City had good transportation links to any other localities.
In 2002, when Mr. Bloomberg took office, 21.5 percent of adult New Yorkers smoked, according to the Health Department. As Mr. Bloomberg banned smoking in bars and restaurants and set a minimum price for cigarettes, the rate fell to 14 percent by 2012, and it has fluctuated since.
Meanwhile, in the US as a whole in the same period, it fell from 22.5% to 18.1%. I grant that the rate of smoking fell faster in New York City than in the US as a whole, but the fact that it did fall in the US as a whole and the fact that the rate started out lower in New York City suggest that other factors were at work.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Someone actually wrote this: The Federalist on pornography

In The Federalist, Dustin Murphy writes a screed against pornography that is larded with the usual proofs by assertion. A few passages stand out, though.

According to Murphy, the antisocial effects of pornography include the following:

One of the greatest tragedies of porn’s antisocial effects is that it fuels an anti-child culture. Thinking sex should be open to procreation, or that the two go hand-in-hand, is regarded like VHS tapes: out of style. Some people consider parents with three or more children to be crazy, and children are generally viewed as a burden. Anyone with a large family has probably experienced negative comments in grocery stores or coffee shops.
In addition to the false dichotomy, the cause of the anti-child culture, if such a thing exists, is pornography because Murphy says so.

As for whether one person's use of pornography harms others, Murphy argues,

Recording sex devoid of love violates a couple’s right to share authentic human love and to experience the whole person, not just private parts, during sex.
No, it doesn't. People are still free to do just that. Murphy's argument is just a short stroll from "Freedom is slavery."

He continues that

laws ought to promote the common good, which is to perfect the community.
In addition to being exactly the sort of collectivist reasoning that conservatives at least used to oppose when liberals used it, that argument presupposes that perfecting the community is possible. It is odd that someone who elsewhere expresses a belief in God argues that secular government can perfect the community. Besides, I am not sure that I should want to live in Murphy's perfect community.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Planning on writing a gay novel? (expanded version)

If you are planning on writing a gay novel, take this simple quiz to see whether you should proceed.
  1. Will the characters live beyond-fabulous lives in Manhattan, Fire Island, or both with no discernible way to pay?
  2. Will you expose the reader to intricate details about the characters’ partying and sex lives but never tell the reader what they do for a living?
  3. If you do tell the reader what they do for a living, will it be limited to entry-level jobs, despite the characters' ages?
  4. How about the military or the police, unless relevant to the plot?
  5. How about sex work?
  6. Will you just make your characters independently wealthy?
  7. Will you make a character a student but never say what his major is or what he plans to do with it?
  8. Will a plot point be set in a location that you have never visited and cannot be bothered to research?
  9. Do you dismiss out of hand the need to research any location that is not New York City, San Francisco, or a part of Los Angeles County?
  10. Will the protagonist be impossibly gorgeous and universally desired?
  11. Will he be a Mary-Sue version of you? 
  12. Will the book be centered on his inner life, even though he doesn’t have one?
  13. Will he search for true love, find it, and toss it away without motivation?
  14. Will he basically live his entire life without motivation, like some supremely fabulous houseplant?
  15. Will he see everything, do most of it, and never learn from his experiences?
  16. Will he bewail a fate that is a foreseeable consequence of the way he chooses to live his life?
  17. Will he pine for an unattainable man whom he attains at the end?
  18. Will his moral code effectively be "It's okay when I do it"?
  19. Will the reader know what he looks like because he looks at himself in the mirror and describes himself in his mind?
  20. Will you provide another major character simply as a foil for the protagonist’s fabulousness?
  21. Will the protagonist and his love interest be the most physically attractive men in every room?
  22. Will you tell the reader that they have buff bodies but not mention that they expend any effort to maintain them?
  23. Will they be 100% sexually compatible upon meeting and remain so over time?
  24. Will the protagonist’s partying and sex life be the only reasons for the reader to care what happens to him?
  25. Will your characters have no hobbies or interests apart from partying, sex, and either being gorgeous or admiring gorgeous men?
  26. Will one of the characters be a magical “other” (person of color, lesbian, Jew, gender-nonconforming person, what have you) who sets the white, cis, male, nominally Christian protagonist on the right path?
  27. Will one of the characters be a designated villain, even though he never does anything particularly bad?
  28. How about a designated hero, even though he never does anything particularly good or behaves no better than the villain?
  29. Will you designate heroes and villains through physical attractiveness, penis size, or, heaven help you, both?
  30. Will one of the characters be a devout Catholic who later commits apostasy and becomes the party boy to end all party boys?
  31. How about a crazy right-winger who turns out to be gay?
  32. How about a politically correct puritan who turns out to be a whore?
  33. How about someone with a trendy name that is unlikely given when and where he was born?
  34. How about a lesbian who coaches a sports team or teaches physical education or women’s studies?
  35. Would it surprise you to learn that a lesbian can teach physics?
  36. Would it surprise you to learn that a gay man can teach anything?
  37. If one of the characters starts out devoutly religious and later leaves his faith, you will simply state that he has done so instead of showing us his thought processes as he does so?
  38. Do you take it for granted that all gay men are attracted to the same physical type?
  39. If one character is a gay man who is attracted to a different physical type from everyone else, will you use his attraction to that different physical type for comic relief?
  40. Do you only think you know what anal sex is like the first few times? Yes, Annie Proulx, you have to answer this one.
  41. Will at least one character be a gay man based on stereotypes of heterosexual women?
  42. How about a heterosexual woman based on stereotypes of gay men?
  43. Will your novel read like a novelization of a Hallmark Channel movie, except that the love interests are both male and that there is at least one sex scene?
  44. Do you think that you can get away with converting someone else’s heterosexual novel into your gay novel just by changing the first name and pronouns of one of the love interests?
  45. If you are not a gay man, do you refuse to care whether gay men will regard your novel as realistic portrayals of gay male life?
  46. If you are not a gay man, do you think that you have a special insight into the gay male experience that gay men need to hear and that you are, for whatever reason, the one to share that insight with them?
  47. Would your novel make more sense if one of the gay male characters were rewritten as a heterosexual woman who had magically acquired a penis and wanted to try it on a man?
  48. Will part of the plot or exposition center on a religion with which you are familiar solely through pop-cultural osmosis and whose doctrines and practices you cannot be bothered to research? Yes, Christianity and its denominations count.
  49. Will the characters engage in dialog that no one would say in real life, just so that you can make a point?
  50. Will something happen that would never happen in real life, just so that you can make a point?
  51. Will you make a point simply by having the protagonist state it as a self-evident truth?
  52. How about by having the protagonist attack straw-man counterarguments?
  53. How about by appealing to ridicule?
  54. Will the protagonist often get into political or cultural arguments and never lose?
  55. Will the protagonist criticize a viewpoint that you consider to be wrong or offensive and, in the process, inadvertently defend an even worse viewpoint?
  56. When the protagonist makes your point for you, will the other characters immediately fall into line, as though you novel were a Chick tract?
  57. Are you writing your novel to make a point for which the only evidence will be your novel?
  58. Will your novel make a point that will make you a darling of anti-gay social conservatives?
  59. Will everyone have HIV?
  60. Alternatively, will your novel be set in a parallel universe in which, even though it is well after 1981, no one has ever heard of HIV?
  61. How about a parallel universe in which no one has ever heard of any STI other than HIV?
  62. Will the protagonist’s HIV status be the only reason for the reader to care what happens to him?
  63. Will you include gratuitous praise of lesbians based on comparing gay men as they live in the real world to lesbians as they exist only in theory?
  64. Do you refuse to care how human nature works?
  65. Will you willfully rewrite human nature just to make a point?
  66. Just because one letter in the LGBTQUIMOUSE+++ alphabet soup applies to you, do you consider yourself qualified to be a spokesperson for everyone in the soup?
  67. Will you have characters of multiple races, ethnicities, religions, or socioeconomic categories just as tokens?
  68. Will you have characters of multiple races, ethnicities, religions, or socioeconomic categories who speak and behave in stereotyped ways rather than being fully fleshed-out characters?
  69. Will you have characters of multiple races, ethnicities, religions, or socioeconomic categories who never express differing perspectives or opinions?
  70. Will you have an important character who is transgender but not bother to find out what transitioning entails?
  71. Do you believe that a person’s identity categories tell everything there is to know about that person, including that person’s speech patterns and that person’s opinions on religion and politics?
  72. Do you believe that you have something new to say solely because of the intersection of your identity categories?
  73. Will your characters’ religions be solely identity categories that have nothing to do with what they believe or practice?
  74. Will you use your characters’ religions as a way to designate heroes and villains?
  75. Will you use your characters’ kinks for that purpose?
  76. Will you use a character’s kink for comic relief?
  77. Does “Tell; don’t show” make sense to you?
  78. Are you writing your novel just to capitalize on the success of a popular novel by someone else or a popular TV series?
  79. Will the ending make no sense in the context of the rest of the novel?
  80. Will your novel make just as much sense if the dog eats fifty pages?
How to score: If you answered "yes" to any of the above questions, I suggest that you not write your novel.
Shamelessly ripped off from Inspired by The Fantasy Novelist's Exam.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

LGBT rights as "the most conservative of causes"

In discussing Caitlyn Jenner's mission, Jennifer Finney Boylan writes,
As I listened, I wondered whether L.G.B.T. rights really ought not to be the most conservative of causes. Above all else we want to be left alone, without interference, to live our lives with truth and grace. What could be more conservative than that?

And yet the modern Republican Party seems to have no problem interfering with people’s privacy when it comes to sexuality and gender identity. From abortion rights to opposition to marriage equality, the Republicans have advocated more government intrusion into private lives, not less.

Sexuality and gender identity are not the only issues on which the modern Republican Party seems to have no problem with bigger and more intrusive government, as we are seeing now with Donald Trump and as we saw with Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Also, many LGBT activists take stances opposed to the right of others (or even of gay men) to be left alone, without interference, to live their lives with truth and grace (if I understand what she means by that term).

Ironically, both movements have roots in traditions of at least paying lip service to what Bolyan calls "the most conservative of causes." The Stonewall riots, after all, were hardly pro-government. If both sides took that cause more seriously and got over the notion that freedom is a zero-sum game, they would have a much easier time realizing both their own and each other's right to be left alone.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The post-fact society

It's now fashionable to say that we now live in a post-fact society led by Donald Trump. However, the post-fact society has been developing for a long time and is not attributable only to the right.

Right-wingers did not give us political correctness, although they now defer to no one in being PC when being PC suits them, nor did they give us the new age or postmodernism. Nor do they have a monopoly on the "This is how it makes me feel as a member of such-and-such identity category" non-argument, which someone actually used on me after I had cited epidemiological data.

See also Intellectual Unilateral Disarmament.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Diversity versus viewpoint diversity

One of the stated purposes of diversity at least used to be to let people of different viewpoints learn from one another. However, the way in which diversity so often works out in practice has led to the use of "diversity of everything but viewpoint" and variations thereon as a punchline.

Now, the right-thinking people have responded by memory-holing that stated reason. Jim Downs writes,

Words have a history. Their meanings develop at a particular time in response to specific questions and debates. “Diversity,” for example, emerged as a term that the left adopted in order to advance the goals of yet another historically laced term, “multiculturalism,” which referred to efforts to value the experiences of marginalized and oppressed peoples. That so-called gay Republicans can co-opt that term for their conflicted plight is an abomination. Gay Republicans, by and large, are not oppressed, nor do they suffer from the lack the financial capital or social status that would qualify them as marginalized. Yet they use the term with zero historical consciousness.
Somebody is showing zero historical consciousness.

Zack Ford puts it more succinctly when he says, "Ideas are not identities." While he applies that statement against some particularly unappetizing ideas, his blanket statement both belies the above-noted stated reason for diversity and places the emphasis squarely on identity politics. It also does not explain why diversity cannot cover both.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Live by the political sword, die by the political sword (3)

The New York Times reports that Obama has left the door open to strong security tactics by Trump:
Over and over, Mr. Obama has imposed limits on his use of such powers but has not closed the door on them — a flexible approach premised on the idea that he and his successors could be trusted to use them prudently. Mr. Trump can now sweep away those limits and open the throttle on policies that Mr. Obama endorsed as lawful and legitimate for sparing use, like targeted killings in drone strikes and the use of indefinite detention and military tribunals for terrorism suspects. [emphasis added]
Whether you think that Obama or Trump can be trusted to use such powers more prudently, the emphasized part shows a problem that I have noted before here and here. Namely, just because those who are in political power now agree with you, you should not assume that those who agree with you will always hold political power. If you want to trust government with power that you do not want your worst political enemies to exercise, remember that it's a safe bet that your worst political enemies will eventually get to exercise that power. I have heard the response that we should just keep those enemies from ever gaining power, but life does not work that way.