23 September 2013

And now back to the CRA debate


As a general rule, societies are probably going to be better off in the long-run using markets to establish whether discrimination is worthwhile or costly than to impose it as a requirement that it not exist. What happens is mostly that people withdraw from the market under those circumstances that they not practice it, rather than amend any discriminatory market behaviors. Or they go somewhere else where they don't have to. Under the former system, they may continue to operate, but new players may emerge who will not practice such tactics and strategies as refusing to serve particular people on whatever basis. They can then gain market share by serving the people who are turned away, perhaps allowing them to charge lower rates on everyone if they wish and drive out the bigots anyway.

Still. I'm not entirely comfortable with a world where someone can decide they don't want to serve someone as a customer on the basis of "who" they are or what they represent rather than other more personal understandings of their (potential) customer. I'm not sure that anti-discrimination laws are the best way to achieve avoiding that world. It might be that loosing licensing laws for starting many kinds of businesses might be a better option in many cases. Anti-gay discrimination while still prominent, is not so widely spread that there would be many businesses that could long afford refuse it as with Jim Crow (where there were both rigid discrimination laws and centuries of culture in place to do so). From the story, the public as polled broadly opposed to laws allowing businesses to make those discriminatory practices legal. This was probably not the case in the South, or even significant portions of the North in the 1950s and 60s.

The net result of that approach doesn't seem to be appreciated by either proponents of anti-discrimination laws or the people presuming to be attacked by them, that the types of businesses that would discriminate against particular groups of people on some class basis (and not because the customer was some sort of aggrieved asshole personally), can only persist in an environment where discrimination against particular groups of people is a more popular action than not discriminating and thereby not subject to demonstration and protest via popular concern or via competitive market entries. I think there's a case for that with homosexuality, but it's not as strong as Jim Crow was. In part because we've had anti-discrimination laws from Jim Crow era in place preventing people from segregating lunch counters and buses and the like, it seems intuitive to our generation that a photographer shouldn't get the same privilege to segregate what weddings they might do. Might they claim they wouldn't do inter-racial weddings, and how would we interpret that as a behavior? People share a certain discomfort with those still as well as they might with homosexual couples. What this suggests to me is that the type of laws preventing such behaviors are also generally unnecessary, because the public backlash against the businesses that do so could be significant in most cases.

I am unclear on what one's private religious beliefs have to do with photography or floral arrangements that they should deny service of those skills on religious grounds and that this is in fact some variety of religious freedom argument rather than a position of entitled privilege that has finally shifted culturally against traditional practices of discrimination to make those practices now unacceptable rather than tolerated common practice. If one doesn't believe homosexual people should get married on religious grounds, they can find churches and other religious assemblies who share that interpretation and will not perform such ceremonies, and it might even be possible to perform these associated private services like photography or floral arrangements on some contract with those assemblies. But I'm also unclear why it wasn't possible to contract with someone else of equal skill and aplomb to conduct those services locally for the discriminated couples, or to contract with someone who might have more enthusiasm for the task requested and perform it with less disturbance and perhaps a better outcome than someone with private religious misgivings that they express as a basis for their refusal to participate.

I suspect there is a point somewhere in between rigid application of religious principles that I don't understand how they apply under these circumstances and a question about how easy it might be to perform these services professionally to compete against such applications and drive them out of business (or nearly so). That point is very likely some variety of market failure, and some variety of social and perhaps even government response is warranted to correct a social injustice caused by widespread biases and prejudices. I'm not comfortable with the approaches being made available, but I'm also not comfortable with people trying to hide behind "religion" to justify certain market commons behaviors. I think there needs to be some social response to that behavior, and that social response could take the form of protest and economic boycotts, negative reviews, and market competition instead of compulsory laws. 

A brief bit of culture

I have attended... probably a dozen too many films this summer. Some notes.
1) Iron Man 3 so far is still the "best" film throughout this year. Which is weak praise and a low bar. The best part of Wolverine was the end-cap introducing the next X-Men film (next year).
2) The World's End was a modest quasi Monty Python film (mostly because of the ending), and the various spoofs it involved. I would confidently say this is the most enjoyable film I've seen.
3) I haven't caught as many independent films yet (Fruitvale might be on the list so far). And I see a few decent-looking films coming out for Oscar bait. I expect the films will improve, but haven't been impressed so far by anything.
4) There's been several civil rights oriented films (42, Fruitvale, Butler, etc). A note on those on a moment.
5) Most of the historical/biopic style films have been a mess as films, but with interesting moments. Jobs was a mess (the story of Jobs interests people, but the movie was all over the place). The Butler was all over the place and didn't seem to settle into "the Butler" as a story so much as "whatever it is white people are supposed to feel bad about, which at least most of which we/they probably should". 42 was more about our worship and reverence of Jackie than the man and the player (though it did some credit to his play, which I was refreshed by).
6) Man of Steel was terrible and gets worse with every thought related to it (whoops there goes another building with hundreds of civilians, oh well, back to punching the bad guy even though that doesn't seem to be accomplishing anything). I skipped Star Trek. It doesn't sound like I missed much.

The civil rights issue interests me. This is the first generation of Americans without a major civil rights era moment to fight over. Gay rights is a civil rights issue, but it is distinct from the more momentous historical era of repression for blacks and the fights and fits to oppose it in the form of repression. This isn't the same as saying that racism is now defeated. Or that racist election strategies don't still try to pass laws restricting black votes (or Latino votes). But we also don't have fire hoses and dogs out and firebombing and beatings of men and women just fighting for those recognitions. I think therefore between Lincoln (and Django sort of) last year and 42, Butler, and Fruitvale, there's some basis for having these films out. People do need the dramatic impact and power of the stories of our past. Both to remind us that there were serious issues at stake, not that long ago, and that they were, at least in there more serious levels, overcome or can be. The problem with these as films tends to be that they very rarely humanize the figures involved very well and examine their motives and motivations. They function too often as "see, look how evolved we are today!" back-patting moments rather than enlightening portraits into the mixtures and multitudes that human beings contain and are. Racists today are jerks and complete assholes. Racists 50 years ago were, well basically everybody and everyone. There are and were decent people, who are otherwise sensible and capable, but who contain the presence of prejudices. Our prejudices and biases are subtle and insidious and not easily captured by screaming racial epithets at each other. I haven't really seen that covered, that hate is common and can be redeemed in some way more than that hate is stupid. Which it is, but that's kind of a boring film at this point.

Another cultural note:
Why is that shows have trouble ending? Writers can create books that end the story. Sometimes it takes a couple of books to do it, but it can be done. Why do shows have this issue? I've seen very few series terminate in a way that felt sensible, both as a series and as a last season. It's not limited to shows, as movies often have these formulaic battle sequences that get annoying to see with 30 minutes left of just special effects and explosions (even very good effects and explosions are more of "let's see what we can top here" than a good story conclusion).

Some examples:
Sopranos ending seems to have annoyed everyone (I actually liked it, but I also wasn't a huge fan of the show), but it's probably a low point for the series that people are confused if their TV is broken for a minute.

Wire's 5th season is still good, but nowhere near as good as the rest of the series. I never watch it other than a couple of episodes (Omar-Marlo feud coming to a fluky end, Mike killing Snoop, and the finale). Even the 2nd season I will watch on occasion well before sinking into the 5th. I expect part of the reason people keep wanting a 6th season is because 5 was kind of lame relative to expectations. (The 3rd and 4th seasons are still the top sequence of TV show for me, which is why 5 looks so bad in comparison. I've had trouble getting fully into Breaking Bad, but it has had some contention for high expectations on writing and story. And Firefly didn't continue beyond one season and could be the other contender except it worked more like a sci-fi setup and didn't always have a major plot point per episode to keep the writing tighter at times.)

Dexter's 6th and final seasons are a complete mess. The end itself was quite lame really. The show really came off the rails around the beginning of season 6, possibly because Dex stopped killing people as much and mostly because he didn't really have the distractions of "work-life-secret-life" balance. Which was the big part of the story interest of the show was how he concealed himself from those close around him. 7 was okay for that simple reason that he had to reveal and balance himself again.

Mad Men stopped being relevant a couple seasons ago.. and hasn't ended yet.

Homeland started off okay but since the show didn't kill the mole/terrorist as in the original series at the end of season 1, they charted off into 24 territory of absurdity-driven events. Which never ends well, since 24 was pathetic as a story-driven object.

Lost's ending pissed off everyone who followed the show. I didn't follow it since it was a JJ Abrams vehicle, which means it should have been pretty clear after the first couple of seasons that the writers didn't know where they were going. But still, the bad ending has basically dropped the show from the major following it had developed years ago to people just having no interest in it again.

Which is why the Breaking Bad ending seems to have been carried off pretty well.

I'm not sure why this is that challenging to write an ending to a story. Perhaps the problem is that TV shows don't always know this IS the last season, on the expectation that they could be picked up for another if this one does well. This is less of a problem now however for HBO/Showtime/AMC series that seem to have pretty steady control over when they will end, how long or short the series is per season, and so on, so I don't buy this as a full explanation.

I think the better explanation is that a lot of the fairly good series really work more like very extended films to explore a particular universe and its interactions. There's a first season which mostly works to set up the major characters and the universe they populate. A second to flesh them out and introduce new obstacles and characters, and a third or fourth to hit stride in writing and plot (and possibly kill off some people or write them out). It's not impossible to carry the tune out longer if it is working, but it seems like they start experimenting too much with pushing boundaries of the show rather than recognizing the limitations they've created in the universe of characters and working within those with some new twists and challenges that haven't been explored yet.