June 26, 2009

Sustainable Marriage & Family Rights

There's a certain irony in the gay marriage movement for feminists like my younger self who viewed marriage as a suspicious patriarchal trap. And truthfully, I wonder if the GMM has fallen into a trap - the nuclear family ideology.
Let's step back and ask ourselves: What is marriage for? Is it a romantic ideal or an economic institution? In fact, both functions are inevitable and desirable, though tricky to reconcile, as we see on Jerry Springer. (And those who doth protest too much the sanctity of marriage really ought to just take a deep breath; dictionary definitions have long since included partners which were nonhuman, even inanimate.)
So let's make it easier on ourselves by pulling them apart and creating two institutions. Let the couple institution carry the romance and let the family institution carry the household welfare. Both forms should be legal institutions, each with its proper rights and responsibilities.
The rights and responsibilities of the family would be focused on the welfare of its members, particularly children. A couple who conceive a child would have the responsibility of designating a family that would raise the child, either by the couple entering into a family contract or by selecting an existing and mutually agreeable family.
Thus, a family could contain any number of singles and couples, which would address the problem that the nuclear family is just too small (unless you're rich) to do everything everyone (especially the religious right) wants it to do. And both romantic couples and family members would have the same rights of hospital visitation, inheritance, and so forth.
Another reason for restructuring family in this way is for better consumption efficiency. Currently, big corporations' only criteria is production efficiency, and their size and organization enables them to attain legal and financial powers that now overwhelm nuclear families. But families of up to a dozen adults could get a far better consumption capacity factor by buying fewer appliances and other domestic capital investments, as opposed to one per person or two living apart.
As for sex, we should really just take Miss Manner's advice and not presume to inquire into and pass judgement on the private affairs of others. After all, very few adults wish to conduct their affairs in public. And I know of no one who would benefit more by examining the speck in his neighbor's eye rather than the beam in his own.
Expecting straight sex to provide a strong foundation for all of society is a red herring that distracts us from actually constructing such a foundation. Is that an abomination or what?

June 25, 2009

Sustainable Safety

Ralph Carmona from Gold River thinks we "are losing all sense of local public governance" because law enforcement staff are getting a budget haircut along with everyone else. He suggests that street chaos will result. But according to Tom Tyler, "people obey the law if they believe it's legitimate." He suggests that law enforcement "would do much better to make legal systems worthy of respect than to try to instill fear of punishment."
There are 5 principles of effective deterrence; the classic requirements of severity, certainty, and speed of punishment have been identified by many, and more recently 2 more have been added: provision of acceptable alternatives (to crime) and the credibility of punishers to those punished. Without these factors, deterrence won't influence potential offenders.
When people are deprived of the basics of survival, such as healthy food and shelter, 2 of the most important alternatives to crimes (such as shoplifting bread in Gold River) are MIA. Making sure people have enough good food, and a place to get out of the heat and the cold, are much more at the "heart of Sacramento County's social compact."
Providing for the survival needs of people who are homeless, unskilled, and/or unemployed will be more effective at avoiding chaos than protecting current law enforcement budgets. Community gardens, affordable housing, and a role in society are surely more cost-effective ways to prevent crime. We could even declare a truce in the War on Drugs, perhaps the most counter-productive law enforcement strategy ever devised.
After all, when this country was founded, we did just fine without any cops at all.

June 8, 2009

Confessions of a Plastiholic

     The only way to avoid plastic abuse in this country is to be a hermit like the Unabomber or never buy anything at any store.
     I used to use plastic picnic cups, forks and spoons as unthinkingly as anyone, but by the time plastic plates showed up, I had started to resist using them. And they're the standard for almost every potluck or party you go to. So I made a solemn vow that I wasn't going to use any plastic stuff to eat with. I put together a mess kit with stainless steel utensils and a reusable plastic container from the thrift store - it works great because when I'm done eating I just put the lid on and no mess.
     But then I realized that I'm still using lots of other plastic. Some of it I can re-use, but a lot of it gets trashed. You just can't help yourself when your whole country is abusing plastic.
     Making throwaway items of plastic when it is 99.44%  impossible to truly recycle is abuse. About 2/3 of all plastic packaging is made from natural gas, and 1/4 from oil. If we are going to just throw that gas and oil away, we might as well use it to keep someone warm in the winter instead. Next time you whip out another garbage bag, even if it's the grocery bag, think about it.
     A lot of people have heard about the plastic in the ocean that's killing more than a million sea animals every year.  If there are truly 46,000 pieces of plastic trash per square mile of ocean, as the U.N. says, it's a wonder there aren't more dead bodies. Your old Barbie doll could be a killer.
     The plastic bag industry claims that plastic packaging saves energy because it's lighter than glass, wood, and other things that actually are recyclable. But they don't mention that a lot of plastic containers are used for beverage products, which are extremely heavy. Drinking soda pop in plastic bottles rather than glass ones isn't really going to save any energy - for that you need to drink tap water.
     There are actually some cool ways to re-use plastic, even though it just postpones the inevitable trash.
     The easiest way to truly recycle it would probably be to burn it, the way utilities burn natural gas and coal. And even though plastic probably has fewer contaminants like chlorine and sulfur than oil and coal, burning plastic trash will probably produce a minute amount of dioxins and some other things that could smell like the tailpipe of a car that's burning oil.
     I think I'd rather take my chances with plastic combustion than with nuclear, or mountain-top rape - like the permits for coal strip mining that Obama recently approved.