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June 04, 2012


I think we may have mentioned this in the past, but fellow Princeton alum here (P '98). What year were you again?

I still have no idea what SYG and the Trayvon Martin shooting have to do with each other. Can anyone fill me in? Last I heard, SYG was not any part at all of George Zimmerman's defense.

But I have tuned out the day-to-day fabulosity of the case, and (as usual) may be completely wrong.

Perhaps the Church could use a more theologically loaded word like "covenant," since that already has some legitimacy among conservatives.

This once again makes me think of Michael Bolton in Office Space: "Why should I change my name? He's the one who sucks."

Slartibartfast: My understanding was that Stand Your Ground was the reason Zimmermann wasn't arrested, during the considerable period when he had not been arrested. Its direct relevance to the case may have passed, if his defense isn't actually using it.

I've seen an unsourced newspaper photo caption claiming he's invoking it, a Reason article saying he's not, and a whole lot of speculation.

The trees are much closer than the steeple and consequently appear higher. It is difficult to tell and meaningless to assert that they are higher. Likewise, without knowing the species of the UK and US trees being compared it is impossible to guess whether the assert difference is size is attributable to cultivation or genetics.

Kids These Days are writing a lot, but the sort of writing that they do on a regular basis is qualitatively different than what Non-Kids These Days used to do. Digital text and print text are different media because the speed and ubiquity of digital communication creates a different model of interaction.

But, yeah, poor reading of that study. I blame Web 2.0 for that reporter's reading skills.

"continues to privilege certain types of relationships over others"

As to the marriage issue, that's the point, which doesn't have anything to do with Christianity, or Roman law (since when do we care about that?), or anything else. The fact is, the state doesn't really have a legitimate interest in preferring some types of voluntary domestic arrangements over others. End of story. (Doctor Science earlier insisted that the whole point of marriage is to create in-law relationships, which I'm pretty sure doesn't cross most people's minds as the "legitimate state interest" in regulating domestic relationships. If it is the "legitimate state interest," I wish someone would please defend that. If it's not, what is the "legitimate state interest"? Inquiring minds want to know.)

If I were to improvise (after midnight here) an answer to sapient's question, I would probably start with the following propositions:

1) Virtually all human societies depend in some form or other on "families" (however defined) to undertake some tasks essential for the survival of that society, chiefly the care, protection, and socialization / early education of the very young. Few societies have tried to operate without families in this role; none, to my knowledge, have succeeded for long.

2) It is therefore in the interest of the state - this or any other - to foster "families" in a general sense, by, e.g., preventing spouses from being forced to testify each other, granting considerable latitude to "domestic" arrangements (you can do things to/with your own spouse and children you couldn't do to/with strangers), providing economic incentives to "families" to stay together, etc. In our society, the fundamental relationship within such "families" has traditionally and conventionally been marriage.

3) However, problems arise when the traditional and conventional no longer hold as they once did. There are more and more "voluntary domestic arrangements" that don't fit within the template of marriage-and-family, so we (= the state, here) have to decide whether to (A) hold fast to the rules and try to weather the social storm; (B) modify the rules so as to include alternative "families" (e.g., gay couples); or (C) give up on the whole thing, which is what sapient's question implicitly suggests.

I honestly don't know how I feel about this (except that A looks like a losing cause). I lean toward B, because I still think it's in the interest of all of us (society, state) to foster stable "families" of some sort that will undertake the otherwise thankless task of raising and socializing the next generation, facilitating the perpetuation of (this) human society. But I'm not sure whether we can fine-tune any attempted modification well enough to do any good in this endeavor, so C is not out of the question for me.

Anyway, I'd probably think more coherently during the day, but I've got other things to do then . . .

I'm trying to imagine Sapient's ideal world without marriage. So, no civil marriage. When my wife gets sick, do I get to visit her in the hospital? Make decisions for her if she's incapacitated? Well, we're not "married" since that's a thing that doesn't exist, so we must have drawn up some legal documents that formalize our contractual relationship in which she gives me the right to visit her in the hospital and make decisions for her if she's incapacitated.

OK, so I have to draw up this contract...sounds easy if you're a lawyer. And I guess I have to keep this contract with me at all times, and she has to as well. After all, if she collapses at work and the EMTs take her to the hospital and I show up, the hospital can't just presume that I have the right to be with her. Of course, the hospital is going to need some more attorneys on staff: everyone has their own unique and special not-marriage contracts and their legal staff will have to closely scrutinize them to see what rights I've been given.

That is, they'll have to closely scrutinize them if they're OK with our not-marriage; if we're an interracial couple or fail to meet all the strictures of the catholic church (it is a catholic hospital you see), well, then it will take the lawyers a bit longer to work through the paperwork. Maybe a few months. And they might find a technicality and decide that no, I don't get to be with her because interracial couples are just wrong that's why. Of course I can fight the giant hospital in court (whee! more money for lawyers!) but that will obviously take a long time and you can't really fault professional counsel for finding some tiny technicality that just happens to stop them from recognizing the rights of interracial couples, so even if I "win", nothing will really change.

Sometimes, when I read libertarian writing, I glimpse a vision of the world where contracts are frictionless: every interpersonal interaction is mediated through a formal legal contract that completely specifies everything of interest. In that world, there are no transaction costs because SHUT UP and so the fact that everyone needs to be an attorney and that legal dispute resolution is mind bogglingly expensive on such a massive scale doesn't matter because SHUT UP. I think there's a similar sort of naivete at work here.

Of course, this ignores the fun that happens when your family arrangements involve more than two adults: network effects square! I can't wait to read the contract that specifies how child custody gets divided among a family consisting of five adults when two want to split. I imagine that contract will be very simple and that everyone involved will have a clear understanding of its terms before they form their family unit. And if they don't bother with the contract, well, the state can just settle this minor custody dispute using, um, something or other as the resolution protocol. I'm sure judges can work that out on the fly; the state certainly has no interest in restricting the nature of family arrangements that people will bring before its courts to untangle. No, we should be able to construct family units of arbitrary complexity and then demand that the state figure out to partition them on the fly, one judge at a time, because that result is likely to maximize fairness and will probably cost very little.

anent tree height :

England is substantially north of Princeton.

London latitude 51 d 30 m N

Princeton latitude 40 d 21 m N

ten degrees of latitude is 1/36 the Earth's circumference, or about 690 statute miles;
over a thousand kilometers.

Doesn't seem possible, does it ?

"Slartibartfast: My understanding was that Stand Your Ground was the reason Zimmermann wasn't arrested, during the considerable period when he had not been arrested."

It's my understanding that they didn't arrest him at the time because all of the evidence they had at the time agreed or was at least consistent with his claim of self defense. And that situation hasn't really changed, unless you're prepared to make a case that he so savagely attacked Martin's knuckles that he broke his nose.

IOW, he wasn't arrested for law enforcement reasons, he was arrested for political reasons, and that's why it took so long to happen.

I think it was in one of the Great Courses lectures that I heard that the first groups of settlers coming to America from England imagined they were moving to a warmer climate, which turned out to be a mistake.

Being from NJ and of partly Spanish descent, I found it amusing as a kid to find that, if you could move the Garden State due east far enough, you could place it in the middle of Spain, with no change in latitude.

Europe is so far "up" on the map that Venice is north of Vladivostok, as I recall.

Venice is latitude 45.5 degrees North, or close enough; Vladivostok; a bit above 43 degrees.

I ran into this effect when I was in Sweden several years ago; the latitude of Stockholm (the city I flew into) is a bit over 59 degrees North, which compares with the middle of Hudson Bay on this side of the ocean. Juneau, Alaska is south of Stockholm by a few dozen miles.

It was quite nice there, but it was also August, or perhaps September. It (rural Sweden) reminded me of the part of Michigan that I was born in, in the upper peninsula. Except that the northernmost part of the UP is maybe 850 miles further south than is Stockholm. Extend a line of latitude through Stockholm and across Canada, and you'll find maybe a couple of hundred thousand Canadians living North of that line. And, sure: several hundred thousand Alaskans.

Latitude is relevant for sunlight, but I expect that mean temperatures depend a lot on the presence of the gulf stream.

Perceptions of latitude are skewed even on this continent (meaning North America) as you go east to west. Seattle is north of Montreal. The northern border of California is just about even with Chicago and Connecticut. The East Coast is generally more south than it seems without busting out a map and checking (or so it seems to me that it seems that way to people generally).

I knew a lot of that stuff, but still got thrown off by this: my great-aunt (and her daughter, and granddaughter, and great-granddaughter) all live up on Cape Breton Island, near a place called Margaree Harbor. Cape Breton Island is the northeastern tip of Nova Scotia, so of course it's way the hell up there, right? They live about halfway between the near end of the island and the remotest tip (Cape North).

There are places in Maine that are north of where they live, it turns out. There's a good degree of latitude that Maine extends north of where they live.

My colleague in our London office is always amazed by the differences in our weather until I remind her that, despite its location on Lake Erie, Cleveland is still 10 degrees of latitude farther south than London is.

Regarding Krugman and European "austerity".

I think he sees the big cautionary picture of who the eventual winners will be:


Iceland lies completely South of the Arctic circle (which cuts Norway in half). The Southern tip of Greenland is about the latitude of Stockholm. The Eastern and Western coast of Greenland have a very different climate and it is the European side (which one would expect to be warmer) that is uninhabitable while almost all settlements are on the American side (which one would expect to be colder).
Now try to explain this to people who have difficulty to even understand that there is a latitude-temperature connection in the first place.

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