OPEN SECRETS

I’d been meaning to reply to an exceedingly silly PowerLine post that strained to bolster Bush’s claim that, somehow, national security was compromised by the revelation that the NSA was eavesdropping on them without warrants as well as with them. (As Frank Rich points out today, behind the Times‘ irrelevancy firewall, the Showtime drama Sleeper Cell beat the New York Times to the punch on this anyway.)

Fortunately, Glenn Greenwald has a quite thorough response posted already, so I can just reiterate the highlights:

  • The notion that Osama bin Laden stopped using his sat phone because press accounts tipped him off that we could track it is probably bogus.
  • The claim that it’s “extremely unlikely” that al-Qaeda terrorists were aware of FISA until now because “few Americans knew anything about FISA before the current controversy arose” is, well, mindboggling. I guess it could be that they only just started reading the New York Times, but even ignoring the fact that FISA’s been prominently discussed in the news since the early debates on the Patriot Act, it seems as though hardened terrorist might, you know, have somewhat more of a personal incentive to learn about American wiretap policy than the average Joe. Bush apologists need to make up their minds: Are these guys such a fiendishly clever and unique threat that they require massive expansion of executive power to defend against, or are they some sort of darkside Qeystone Qops so inept that disclosing the obvious gives them new information?
  • It’s similarly hard to imagine that terrorists had been previously counting on the by now hyper-debunked assumption that “it would take days, weeks or months to obtain a FISA order.” If they were minimally attentive, they’d know that FISA allows law enforcement to initiate a tap immediately and then submit a retroactive request for authorization up to three days later.

—posted by Julian

WOULD THAT WHAT IT CONCEALS WERE NOT UNIFORM

Earlier this week, Florida’s Supreme Court struck down the state’s Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provided vouchers to kids in failing schools. The ruling turns on Article IX, Section 1 of the state’s constitution, which stipulates:

(a) The education of children is a fundamental value of the people of the State of Florida. It is, therefore, a paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders. Adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education and for the establishment, maintenance, and operation of institutions of higher learning and other public education programs that the needs of the people may require.

The court’s logic here is that since private schools are not, in point of fact, “uniform,” a program that attempts to provide for the education of children by means of such schools runs afoul of that provision. As the court puts it:

It diverts public dollars into separate private systems parallel to and in competition with the free public schools that are the sole means set out in the Constitution for the state to provide for the education of Florida’s children. This diversion not only reduces money available to the free schools, but also funds private schools that are not “uniform” when compared with each other or the public system.

Far be it from me to claim expertise in Florida law, but this is hard to make much sense of. First, those free uniform public schools are plainly not the “sole means” offered—the very same clause refers to “other public education programs that the needs of the people may require.” More generally, it seems odd to read that second clause as limiting the first. It’s a well settled point of federal constitutional law that parents must be permitted to send their children to private schools, so Article IX can’t be read in a way that suggests the state has failed to meet its “adequate provision” obligations unless all children are educated by means of these free, uniform public schools. And an ordinary reading of a mandate of the form “The state shall provide for X. In service of X, the state shall establish Y,” does not entail that the state may not also do Z in service of X.

You can make the argument work a little better by stressing the “diversion” of public funds from the state system to private schools—but not much better. For one thing, it would prove too much: Since money is fungible, any of these “other public education programs” are, in essence, competing with public schools for funds. Moreover, there’s at least some good empirical reason to believe that subjecting poor public schools to competition from voucher schools imposes pressure for improvement. If you look at the net effect instead of focusing myopically on cash flows, there’s a case to be made that the OSP is, among other things, a mechanism to raise the quality of those underperforming public schools.

DOUBLE ENTRY ACCOUNTABILITY: Kevin Drum at The Washington Monthly and Greg Anrig at TPMCafe both harp on putative contradiction between conservatives’ infatuation with standardized testing as an accountability mechanism and the lack of some equivalent requirement for private schools receiving voucher funds. Now, I’m not all that wild about standardized testing in the first place, but I don’t think this is much of a contradiction.

If we had a state quasi-monopoly on shoes, with shoe factories run directly by the government and the shoes distributed to citizens, you’d need some kind of elaborate accountability mechanism to provide quality oversight on the shoes—some combination of public inspectors, maybe focus groups and surveys of shoe wearers. But that’s self-evidently (I hope) a second- or third-best form of “accountability.” The best sort of accountability is direct accountability to the shoe wearer. Shift to a private market in shoe provision, maybe coupled with higher public assistance benefits or refundable tax credits so the indigent have some extra cash with which to buy shoes, and the oversight becomes largely otiose. That’s because you’ve suddenly unleashed the dispersed information—what Hayek called “local knowledge”—that had been suppressed in the absence of a viable exit option under the state quasi-monopoly. So when Anrig asks “How are parents supposed to discover good schools in the absence of any reliable, systematic source of information about them?” one answer is that they already have some excellent sources of information about the relative quality of schools for their children, in the form of direct observation of their kids’ performance and informal conversations with other parents.

That’s not to say you don’t want more systematic data, both to assist individual parents in their decisionmaking and to get some threshhold assurance that we’re not just funding finger painting lessons in some basement. But it’s not clear why that requires some kind of one-size-fits-all standardized testing regime. There are a plethora of public and private accreditation agencies to which the federal government refers in determining eligibility in programs like the Montgomery G.I. Bill.

IF THE SHOE FITS: I think Anrig is right to say, though, that “the whole theoretical reason for vouchers disintegrates if the private schools are subject to the same oversight and requirements as public schools.” Uniform shoes for diverse feet aren’t going to provide uniform satisfaction. But to measure schools by a single common metric, you need not just “uniformity” in the sense that kids aren’t unfairly assigned to much poorer schools than their peers the next town over, but a kind of standardization of curricula that clashes with the kind of dynamism that may be the best argument for educational choice.

The real genius of entrepreneurial markets lies not just in making old production methods more efficient (a cheaper, sturdier horse carriage) but in finding innovative new ways to serve old needs (the Model T). Making schools as we now know them better is clearly a worthy goal. But I’m also excited by the possibility of greater experimentation with things like, say, student-directed learning or some kind of middle-ground between homeschooling and the factory-model school—maybe small overlapping but shifting clusters of students working with a series of hired tutors.

Doubtless there are some bare-bones criteria any school is going to have to satisfy for it to be doing something we’re willing to call adequate education. But, to keep the shoe-fetish a moment longer, think of the immense variety of functions a simple commodity like a shoe is supposed to serve. Do you want something to play basketball in? Something to match your Armani suit? Maybe a nice pair of Birkenstocks to let your toes breathe? Something quirky that makes a statement about your personality? Something leather-free, because you’re committed to animal rights? Something to wear out dancing? To pad around the house?

How much more varied, then, are the functions educatio
n serves? The virtue of dispersed accountability is not just that (to borrow A.O. Hirschman’s lingo) the option to exit enhances the voice of those with the best direct experience of a school’s capacity to further given ends. It also expands their power to give the ends. In some cases, admittedly, that will mean fundies deciding that a good school looks like a madrassa with more Jesus. But it also makes it less likely that we’ll see schools producing students as standardized as their tests.

—posted by Julian

YIGAL AMIR, SWORD OF GOD?

Bloggers such as Steve Clemons and John Aravosis have noted Pat Robertson’s grotesque suggestion that Ariel Sharon’s stroke was some kind of divine retribution for “dividing gods land.” I did an extra double take (I guess we’re on triple takes) at this, however:

And the same thing — I had a wonderful meeting with Yitzhak Rabin in 1974. He was tragically assassinated, and it was terrible thing that happened, but nevertheless, he was dead.

What’s that now? The Rabin assassination was “the same thing”? Because this “terrible thing” caveat notwithstanding, the only way I can parse that introductory bit is to read Robertson as suggesting that Rabin’s murder, too, was an act of God—which would entail that God guided Yigal Amir to kill the Israeli prime minister, perhaps even made sure the bullet found its target. Which, funnily enough, is Yigal Amir’s take on the killing as well: That he was acting under divine guidance to prevent Israeli land from being ceded. The only puzzle is how Robertson can think that divine intervention constitutes a “terrible thing.” Shouldn’t he be proclaiming these murders and cerebral hemorrhages holy, even miraculous? And if Robertson endorses Amir’s defense that he was only carrying out God’s will, will Robertson follow that thought to its logical conclusion and demand that Amir be freed?

—posted by Julian

WOMBS—NATURE’S LITTLE ZYGOTE ABATTOIRS

I don’t think Ross’ post below gets at what’s of primary interest about “nature’s waste” when it comes to zygotes. The point is not that personhood is somehow a function of survival rates (as he points out, the death rate is always 100 percent eventually), nor that hey, nature kills ’em so why can’t we—indeed, I’d love to see conservatives in general resist the urge to conflate the natural and the normative. What’s key is, as he suggests, the question of personhood, and I think our reaction to learning about “nature’s waste” is at least a handy intuition pump in this case.

Our reaction to a genocide is, obviously, different from our reaction to an earthquake that kills millions. Still, anyone with a moderately well developed moral sense reacts to the earthquake with horror and sadness. And if someone is unmoved, we can articulate at least somewhat clearly what’s gone awry: If it’s a failure of empathy because the victims are far away, we can focus attention on how the victims suffered just as you and your neighbors would, had plans and hopes in many ways like yours that have been destroyed, and so on.

Now, my response to learning this fact about nature’s “waste” of zygotes is not anything like my reaction would be to learning that some plague had wiped out millions of people I’d never met. (For the reactions to be similar, among other things I would have to feel as though it were extremely important to change our public and private medical research priorities, ranking spontaneous miscarriage of zygotes higher than just about every other illness.) Maybe that’s a theory-laden intuition, and people’s response to this fact just tracks pretty well their position in the abortion debate. But if, as I suspect, most of us do not now feel as though we are daily surrounded by little killing machines, I think that shines a spotlight on the morally salient features that are missing to account for that relative lack of concern. And I think it comes down to the things I suggested we’d appeal to earlier to show someone who failed to react to the earthquake properly—facts about mental states and related features absent by stipulation.

Now, Ross might say that even if I’m right about people’s common reaction to this, that’s a merely intuitive as opposed to logical argument. But when we get to questions like “what is it about people that matters, morally?” we’re down at the ethical equivalent of accounting for the rules and operators of logic themselves. The foundational question, in each case, can’t be answered within the system except in a kind of rule-circular or coherentist way. That’s not to say a raw, pre-reflective intuition ought to carry a whole lot of weight in itself, but they’re also ultimately the brute facts we’ve got to work with. Maybe we just need our intuition reconditioned by a bit of reflection and abstraction, as in the case of the bigot or the man unmoved by far-off disaster, but it may also draw our attention to the lack of the raw material with which we’d ordinarily do that work.

—posted by Julian

A PENNY (OR MORE) FOR YOUR THOUGHTS

If Doug Bandow’s farewell column on the muddled intersection of money and punditry has a faintly self-serving, “all the kids are doing it” odor to it, I think it nevertheless raises an important point—one I’m inclined to take a little further, actually. If accepting a direct payment to write an op-ed on a particular topic without disclosing the payment is pretty obviously improper, there is, as Bandow observes, a big gray area involving indirect support by way of institutions, or more tenuous links where a writer has previously done unrelated work for some party with an interest in a topic she later writes about.

I don’t worry a great deal about these things. I do occasionally worry, in my own case, about the self-reinforcing nature of Beltway opinion work. Put it this way: I work at a wonderfully non-dogmatic libertarian periodical, where I’ve never felt any pressure to toe a particular line or hush up one of my various heresies from a “pure” libertarian position. I’m quite sure my friends who’re also political comrades wouldn’t launch some kind of Amish-style shunning if my own views moved to the left (say), and the many liberals in my social circle would probably pat me on the back and congratulate me on having seen the light. I expect I’d be perfectly happy writing apolitical stuff or going back to graduate school. Still, there’s a pretty clear sense in which it would be both socially and professionally awkward if, over a few months of rumination, I decided that A Theory of Justice were pretty much dead-on after all. And I’m 26; doubtless that’s far more the case for someone who’s been, in effect, a professional ideologue (which is more or less what I am) for several decades.

Now, the market value of my opinion is low enough that nobody’s ever bothered to try buying it—but if they did, I expect it would be an easy enough lure to resist precisely because it would be so obvious and clear-cut, the devil approaching with horns protruding and eyes glowing red. It’s the background pressure of an ideological community that I find more worrying, because the way it operates is far more subtle. At the end of the day, you can’t really be sure you wouldn’t have changed your mind on this or that issue in a different context, because there’s no big flashy crisis point—instead you’re looking for the dog that didn’t bark, the internal dialogue you didn’t bother having because (as you and all your friends know) such-and-such counterargument isn’t worth taking all that seriously anyway.

That kind of pressure, I hasten to add, is pretty clearly not “improper” in the sense of running counter to canons of journalistic ethics. It’s probably an inevitable upshot of having a commmunity or a social network. But from the point of view of personal, more than professional, integrity, it’s the kind of “contamination” I find most troubling.

—posted by Julian

THE HIGH COST OF LIVING

Economist Steven Landsburg had an interesting piece at Slate yesterday on the case of Tirhas Habtegiris, a terminal cancer patient whose ventilator was disconnected after she proved unable to pay her hospital bills. Various bloggers on the left howled that “economic considerations” factored in such a decision—while Landsburg argues that they should. Kevin Drum calls it a “condescending, juvenile, obtuse, and soul cankered” effort that reads like “it was written by a native of Alpha Centauri trying to parody Ayn Rand,” and his commenters trot out some predictable tongue clucking about heartless economists who know the price of everything and the value of nothing. While here the critics are mostly on the left, the argument parallels closely what you’ll hear from opponents of assisted suicide on the right: revulsion at the prospect that terminal patients might make decisions about when to end their lives on the basis of “economic considerations.” I’m with Landsburg: It seems mad not to allow economic considerations to play a role—that’s not heartlessness so much as the ethical equivalent of refusing to let your genitals do the thinking for you.

RESCUE RANGERS: What’s at issue here, in part, is what bioethicists sometimes call the “rescue principle”: the idea that scarce (medical) resources are to be devoted to the cases in the most dire need, rather than in the way they’ll produce the greatest overall benefit. And that has some intuitive appeal, but some equally intuitively unappealing results—not to mention, as Landsburg notes, being wildly out of whack with how most ordinary people make decisions the rest of the time. Every time you drive or take a bus rather than flying somewhere because driving is cheaper, you’re implicitly accepting a higher risk of accident as part of that tradeoff. For that matter, every time you catch a movie instead of jogging or have that slice of chocolate cake instead of a salad, you’re making an “economic” decision about allocation of scarce resources, and not allocating in favor of maximizing lifespan. Someone who actually consistently acted as though health were lexically prior to all other values would probably strike us as a bit loopy. But we then have this weirdly asymmetric attitude when dealing not with risks prospectively but with remedies for conditions that have actually manifested. In the hospital room, we say life is priceless. But a hundred times a day, our decisions suggest we don’t really think so.

Medicine—despite the popularity of the phrase—never actually “saves” lives; at best it leases them back from oblivion for a while longer. So the actual choices we face in medicine aren’t ever really of the form “how much is this life worth?” but rather “how much is it worth to prolong this life another day, or week, or month?” And, of course, since there’s not an objective answer to that question, it’s just as well that mostly those are decisions made by each person about her own life. But we’ve also got cases like these, where someone else has to make the call. The rhetorically appealing answer is that we should treat the value of life as infinite for each increment. But it’s also a slightly crazy answer. As Landsburg points out, pretty much nobody actually makes that call about her own life. Our public spending across the board certainly doesn’t suggest that sort of priority. And even if we did think that were the case, it would be hard to see why a rescue-principle approach would be the one we chose. Because of our time-asymmetrical attitudes, we end up willing to prolong a fading life “at any cost” when the resources devoted to that care would probably do a lot more life-prolonging in some more preventative capacity. But why does it make sense to bias outlays in favor of the most urgent cases, when this only guarantees that there will be more urgent cases—the ones who got less care at earlier stages because we were devoting vast sums to that extra month on a respirator—in the future?

TIME’S WINGED CHARIOT GETS STUCK IN TRAFFIC: The question becomes more pointed the better our medical technology gets. If my colleague Ron Bailey is right, eventually we’ll all just be nanotech-enhanced cyborgs who stay physically about 30 years old for centuries. I’m looking forward to it. But in the meantime, we’re facing the prospect of being able to prolong life in tiny increments at ever higher costs. If we took the rescue principle seriously in its most extreme form, we could probably, eventually, devote all our medical resources to eking out a few more days for people on the verge of death.

If we could, but wouldn’t, then we’re already dealing in the language of tradeoffs. And that, more or less by definition, means paying attention to “economic considerations.” What really bothers most people about this case, I assume, is not that they think people always ought to have their lives prolonged at any cost for any increment, but that there was something unjust about the poverty that prevented this particular woman from having insurance. And that’s a fair objection, but it’s super important, I think, to keep the spheres of argument distinct to the extent possible: There’s one question about economic justice, whether someone has a share of resources we think is adequate to give someone a fair range of real options—to put food on the table and also, if she wants it, provide for medical insurance. There’s a distinct question about how we react once people have disposed of just shares as they see fit and still find themselves in dire medical straits. As I suggested, technology will eventually make that an issue even for the affluent, as it increasingly becomes possible to squeeze out a few more weeks for a few more millions.

With that in mind, we can reframe the question this way: Do we really have one question, about economic justice, where there’s only a further, distinct-seeming question about justice in health care because people are trying to correct for perceived injustice on that front. Or is it, rather, that there’s a really distinct sphere of justice for healthcare, where even after someone’s disposed of their fair share of wealth, we’re obligated to treat life extension (and maybe only or especially at the verge of death) as of infinite value, even if the person herself didn’t or wouldn’t have? Landsburg’s catching flak for having answered the second question, I think correctly, in the negative, without really acknowledging the first question properly. But the answer to the second question still ought to be in the negative, and we’re apt to arrive at some profoundly screwed up ideas about medical ethics and health policy if concerns on the first front push us to confuse it with the second.

– posted by Julian.

PERPETUAL PEACE?

I see Cato is hosting (and streaming over the Web) an interesting looking event next week with Columbia’s Jack Snyder and U Penn’s Edward Mansfield about their new book Electing to Fight: Why Emerging Democracies Go to War. I spoke briefly to Snyder, after reading a chunk of his previous book on this topic, about a year back while working on a short squib on the rather more radical ideas of Princeton political scientist Joanne Gowa, a skeptic of the democratic peace hypothesis. Without going so far as to endorse Gowa’s critique in all its particulars, she and Snyder are a useful antidote to the assumption that, from the point of view of promoting stability and security, “spreading democracy” (in the formal sense of popular elections) is some kind of silver bullet. What would likely be effective to that end is the spread of liberal democracy—which entails cultivating a whole complex of mores and institutions. It is, of course, much easier to focus on flashier, more photogenic milestones like lines of purple-fingered voters outside polling stations. But as Snyder and Mansfield make clear, it may also be dangerous.

—posted by Julian

MAN AND MAN AND MAN AND WIFE AND WIFE

Stan Kurtz is on the marital warpath again, this time eschewing a frontal assault on gay marriage advocates and taking aim at groups of polyamorists who, he darkly warns in a recent Weekly Standard cover story, will soon be clamoring for their own figurine-crowded cakes if we break the hermetic hetero-seal around marriage. The Standard story, which breathlessly touts a private cohabitation contract signed by a Dutch trio as a harbinger of the polyamopocalypse, provoked a short backhand from Rob Anderson at The New Republic Online, which in turn occasioned a riposte from Kurtz, who complains that Anderson just plain ignores his many substantive, knock-down arguments. Kurtz, unfortunately, will not share the magic glasses that allow him, like Roddy Piper in They Live, to see these splendid arguments—to the rest of us they remain cleverly disguised as either bald assertions or inchoate panic.

Let me get something out of the way at the outset—and for those of you who aren’t going to scroll all the way down to the byline, note that this isn’t Andrew writing: As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing particularly wrong with polyamory, and if the state’s going to be in the business of sanctioning romantic relationships, I do think there’s a good case to be made for providing some kind of legal arrangement for polyamorists. So, bereft of magic Kurtz-glasses, I don’t see broad acceptance of group relationships as the self-evident evil he does (a point to which I’ll recur in a bit): I don’t think this slippery slope is going anywhere particularly bad. But neither do I see quite as much Crisco on the ramp as does Kurtz: Even if he were right that legally sanctioning the tiny number of Americans who prefer their domestic bliss à trois (or more) would have dire consequences, the idea that this move flows straightforwardly from the acceptance of the argument for gay marriage just won’t hold up.

HOW SLIPPERY DO YOU LIKE IT?: Some of the arguments for gay marriage, of course, do cross-apply to polyamorous groups: There’s something intuitively unfair about government’s formally recognizing some relationships as valid and socially blessed while excluding other classes, whether homosexual or multi-partner. But what Kurtz harps on specifically is a civil rights argument, and the link here isn’t remotely as tight.

Gay marriage is plug-and-play. You’ve got a pre-existing two-person institution with rules that can be immediately applied to gay couples with little more than a cosmetic transposition of a “husband” for a “wife” (or vice versa) in the relevant statutes. The civil rights argument for gay marriage leans pretty heavily on the fact that marriage as it’s currently constituted could be easily extended to gay couples, but excludes them without compelling reason.

That’s pretty evidently not the case in the same way with group marriage: From child custody to taxes to immigration, the extension from the 2-person case to the N-person case would involve far more than merely removing a poorly motivated gender restriction. And consider for a moment that last area of law—immigration. One of the crueler upshots of hetero-only marriage is that straight Americans, but not their gay fellow citizens, can obtain residency for their foreign-born partners through marriage. Gay marriage in this instance would provide formal parity—the demand is, in essence, “let me, also, extend my residence rights to one romantic partner.” For the same rules to apply to polyamorous groups would entail not simply extending the same rights straights currently enjoy to a class currently excluded, but expanding those rights.

This is, in short, the difference between an African American objecting to being made to sit at the back of the bus and a portly guy objecting that the seats on the bus are too narrow to accommodate his frame. Both objections might have merit, but they’re of fundamentally different orders.

BI-CURIOUSER AND CURIOUSER: Kurtz tries to shore up his civil rights analogy by arguing that one-on-one marriage will end up being cast as discriminatory toward bisexuals. “I never say that bisexuals are polygamists,” he writes. “But I do claim that there is an important link between bisexuality and polyamory, and Anderson does not address the connections that I do draw.” What connections? As far as I can tell, Kurtz must mean the assertion that “what gay marriage is to homosexuality, group marriage is to bisexuality.”

I have no idea how to interpret that, unless as the claim that if equal treatment of homosexuals entails recognition of gay marriage, then equality for bisexuals entails recognition of polyamorous marriage. And there’s no way to make any sense of that without the presumption that bisexuals intrinsically require multiple (simultaneous) partners for romantic fulfillment. Consider, for a moment, some other dimensions of sexual preference. Along many of those dimensions, I have no terribly rigidly defined “type”. I’ve found myself attracted to blondes and redheads; to Anglo and Latina and black and Asian women; to lit majors and econ geeks. Kurtz, presumably, would infer from this diversity of romantic tastes that I need some kind of elaborately orgiastic living arrangement to be satisfied. And, come to think of it, that does sound like it might be fun. But it’s scarcely necessary—and the assumption that it would be is about as well supported as Kurtz’s parallel assumption in the case of bisexuals. Which is to say, not at all.

CATS AND DOGS, LIVING TOGETHER! IN GROUPS!: All that notwithstanding, what if we did decide to legally recognize polyamorous groups? There would, of course, be “public policy objections,” some of them worth taking seriously. As alluded to above, it’s not a terribly good idea to make group marriages or civil partnerships (or whatever they ended up being called) a way to hand out unlimited numbers of green cards, or of dividing child custody rights a dozen ways—group marriage couldn’t just be two-person marriage with a new paint job. Still, assume some kind of legal recognition existed. What would the problem be?

It’s a little hard to suss out, because for all the reams of paper and gallons of ink folks like Kurtz and Maggie Gallagher have expended warning us that gay marriage will have the same effect on hetero couplings that water does on the Wicked Witch of the West, they’ve never been wholly clear about the actual mechanism by which this is supposed to happen. Kurtz hints that it has something to do with decoupling marriage from the idea of parenting. That makes very little sense in the context of gay marriage: There are thousands of gay couples raising children now, and polls suggest that as many as half who don’t currently have kids would like to (either by adoption or artificial insemination). It makes still less sense in the context of polyamorous groupings involving both sexes. Recall, after all, that statistically speaking, the most “traditional” form of marriage is polygamy—and they seemed to have the “reproduction” thing down OK.

Of course, as Dahlia Lithwick has argued, cultures that endorsed polygamy have often manifested coercive or otherwise exploitative forms of it. But if that alone is a basis for condemning polyamory, you can make the equivalent case against marriage per se. I went to see Lucia di Lammermoor before Christmas—a tragedy about a woman whose brother forces her to marry a powerful noble instead of the man she loves, a family enemy. (The Met production’s mediocre, by the way; save your money and stay home with the Berlin Callas recording.) What’s abberant for the period, though, is not the brother’s insistence but Lucia’s resistance. What once was a mechanism for establishing trade between tribes, or cementing political alliances, or setting up household division of labor has become an institution deserving of the reverence it’s now afforded: It turned out that marriage didn’t inherently require treating women like chattel after all.

There’s no more reason to think that this is an intrinsic feature of polyamory, which is why Kurtz’s argument that polyamory will undermine norms of fidelity won’t fly: He’s using as a point of comparison polygamous societies whose high rates of infidelity, even on his own account, seem clearly bound up more tightly with background assumptions about the dominance of men than about anything inherent in the marital form. As it stands now, of course, polyamorists in committed relationships must either eschew marriage altogether, or if they are married, play havoc with those norms of fidelity. If you want to reinforce those norms, it seems to make more sense to let the married couple who’re de facto living as part of a trio formally add their third partner.

—posted by Julian

VACCINATIONS AGAINST THE GAY

So, Hetracil was just an ingenious thought experiment, but it turns out that authorities in the United Arab Emirates are serious about trying to chemically “cure” homosexuality. A group of men arrested at a gay wedding ceremony (apparently frowned on in the UAE) will be subject to “treatment,” including injections of male hormones. Color me dubious: I can think of a couple clubs that would put to rest the notion that a paucity of testosterone is the culprit here.

—posted by Julian