Thursday, August 10, 2017

Women Weaker than Men?

By now, probably everybody has heard of James Damore.  If you haven't, here's an article he wrote that basically got him fired from Google. (source, full pdf).  What I find curious are how the news articles I read contrast  with his actual writing: either by misrepresenting what he said or by pushing views that are actually more biased than anything Damore wrote.  Take this article, for instance.  The author states clearly that he thinks traditional female preferences are indicative of "weakness."

"at 4 pm PT, the tech giant will hold an all-hands meeting to discuss the firing of James Damore and the controversial internal memo he wrote about women and their biological weaknesses related to tech that got him canned from the company." (source)

Note again that word "weakness."  James Damore never wrote about biological weaknesses.  He wrote about statistical preferences and choices that men and women make.  I would be surprised if he did consider the various preferences of men and women a sign of "weakness."

This bothers me because it denigrates the choices women make more often than men.  Are only the choices which more men make than women indicative of strength?  Are women weak if they want to drop out of the workforce to raise their children?  Studies say a majority of women with children under 18 would prefer to be a homemaker.  The number of men who prefer to do so is much, much smaller.  Does this make women weaker than men?
Then there are the routine misrepresentations of the Damore article.  Here's one misrepresentation by the Google CEO, "To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK."

Damore never did that.  He clearly stated that googlers were different than average people.  He also clearly stated that one could never assume things about individuals based on group averages.  I'm pretty sure that applies to small, non-representative subsets of women, such as one finds at Google.  He was simply making the argument that individual choices driven in part by biology would make absolute equality of numbers impossible in the workplace without coercive efforts that ignore women's preferences and are unresponsive to their needs.  He also suggested some ways to increase workforce participation that would be non-coercive in nature.

Here's another misrepresentation, "
The 10-page treatise also claims that biological difference between men and women are responsible for the underrepresentation of women in the tech industry."

Again, not what he said.  He said it was partly responsible.  He readily admitted that sexism exists and should be rooted out.  He just didn't think it was the whole story and thought that assuming it was the whole story misdiagnosed the problem and would have negative consequences.

Damore's firing and the misrepresentation of his viewpoints to justify that firing do not bode well for free speech in this country.  It also points to the fact that the greatest danger to free speech right now is not government but the business community.  Heck, even when the government does come down against free speech, it is often at the behest of powerful business interests (e.g., religious freedom protection acts being struck down).

I care about this issue because I have a daughter and am trying to figure out how to raise her in such a way that her choices, options, and happiness in life are maximized/optimized.  I've actively encouraged her to pursue STEM fields, even though she has said she wants to be a teacher, because I think STEM subjects are the least likely to be tainted with ideological biases that corrupt students and ultimately make them unhappy.  For a long time, I've been keeping my eyes out for female STEM mentors and have actively reached out to them in preparation for her getting older.  However, I know that in doing so, I'm encouraging her to take a longer route to getting a degree in her primary interest (MS in education) and wonder if her choice to change fields will be viewed by feminists and their ideological supporters as a sign of "weakness."

I hope not.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Cartel Violence

Someone recently equated  cartel violence with people on the border tracking down illegal immigrants and holding them until the authorities arrive.  I don't hold to that view, given that no violence is being committed by the people assisting ICE.  I may not agree with their methods, but compared to what I'm posting below, there is no comparison. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Does Child Sponsorship Work?

Normally, I really like the Freakanomics podcast and think they provide many thought-provoking and educational articles/podcasts.  However, a quote from a recent blog got my ire up a bit.  The question was raised as to whether child sponsorship can improve the lot of girls in India, and here is what NYU economist  and  development scholar  William Easterly had to say.
"Stephen and Steve, can I volunteer my services to save you from embarrassment on the blog post today on sponsoring infant girls?  It’s been known in aid and development for decades that child sponsorship does not work (unless you by “work” you mean attract donations). The NGOs that originally did it (most notoriously Save the Children) have been forced by critics to abandon it, and no reputable NGO promotes child sponsorship today.  The reason it never worked (and in fact Save the Children was also forced to admit that they really never even actually did it) is simple: the administrative costs of tracking small donations from an individual donor to an individual recipient child are enormous, so that the administrative costs would eat up all of the donation and then some. So there’s no need to crowdsource this question: just ask any development economist or NGO veteran.

All the best,
To which I say, "balderdash!"  Having seen the results of child sponsorship first-hand and even blogged about it a bit here and here and here, I just don't buy it.  For one thing, Dr. Easterly seems to be using an unnecessarily stringent and misleading description of child sponsorship.  Of course child sponsorship doesn't work exactly the way he defines it most of the time.  First world donors donate every month to cover the average cost of providing the NGO's services for an individual child (e.g., typically food assistance, basic health care and most importantly education).  No child sponsorship organization that I'm aware of tracks individual dollars from all donors to the particular child recipient.*  Christmas and birthday gifts are most often separate donations, but even those are averaged out so that no child is left out if a family can't make an extra donation to cover the gifts and parties.    Honestly, it sounds to me like the guy is basing his opinion on either weird definitions of child sponsorship or shoddy, 30 year old "research."  As someone in the comm boxes noted, the only scholarly work that I'm aware of to look at this question found demonstrative positive effects, and this was looking at Compassion International (an organization that IMO is the leader in sheer numbers but not in the effectiveness of their child sponsorship programs).

Also, critically, I think Dr. Easterly is missing the whole point of the child sponsorship program benefits vs. other models.  The core idea isn't to link individual donations to individual children.  It is to average out the donations across large pools of people and to make individual personal connections.  That is the key.  Child sponsorship organizations don't just provide the opportunity for a first world family to provide for the average cost of education, food, etc. for a child in the developing world: they provide an opportunity for people to get to know each other across cultures and become close friends through letters, pictures and even personal visits (if the first world family can afford it).  So many of our charitable donations go to faceless organizations to provide services to people whom we will never meet or get to know and understand.  One of the most valuable services child sponsorship organizations provide is cultural exchange.  The opportunity for people in the first and 3rd worlds to get to know one another and to share their joys and dreams.  This provides hope and encouragement to kids in the developing world and a dose of reality to us cosseted first worlders who forget that we are some of the luckiest people on the planet, resource-wise.  In a recent letter that we got from our oldest sponsored girl, she wrote that she was looking forward to graduating from college "so that my father will never have to work again."   Talk about culture shock: how many American's do we know who could/would ever say something like that?  We live in a country that spends relatively little on education and children relative to what we spend on the elderly.  Grandparents often live on their own and have more disposable income than their grown children and grandchildren.  It is easy to forget that the developing world isn't like that.  It is kid's who get more government spending in the form of school subsidies while the elderly are mostly ignored and left by governments' to their families' care.  My wife has sponsored this young lady for over thirteen years now (since the sponsored girl was in grade school and before my wife and I were even dating).  Looking at all this young lady has overcome and accomplished and at how grateful she is to her father and others who have helped her along her way is very humbling and awe-inspiring.  She truly is one of my greatest heroes and I hope (if we have another daughter) to name her after this young lady and to be able to point my daughter to the letters we have received if she ever asks how/shy she got that name.
How many NGOs can you point to that provide such inspiration and proof of the excellent work they do, and all for the cost of a few translators.  Far from not working, child sponsorship through groups like the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging provide some of the most demonstrably effective aid of any group, anywhere.    
I recognize that the folks at Freakanomics are bigshots who would probably never read a podunk blog like this.  I also realize that they were posting someone else's opinion about which they expressed their own doubts.  However, I really think they missed the boat on this topic and posted some very inaccurate claims.  It is my hope that they look into this topic further and either offer some evidence/clarification on how/why child sponsorship (as  implemented in the real world) doesn't work or a retraction.  Heck, I'd even settle for them offering an alternative point of view, perhaps from one of the U. of San Francisco folks who wrote the article countering the claim of Dr. Easterly.

*As a clarification, I'm not saying donations from particular individuals to particular recipients *never* happens, only that it is rare and the exception to the rule for efficiency reasons.  As an example of an exception to the rule, when one of our sponsored kids got to college, her educational costs increased dramatically to the point that our sponsorship amount was only covering fraction of her tuition, books, etc. and she had to make up the rest with scholarships, jobs and meager family contributions.  When the economic collapse hit in 2008, one of her primary scholarships was cut due to funding shortages, leading her to write that she would be dropping out of college one year shy of getting her degree and would not be able to continue correspondence after a few months.  After our sponsored girl got so close, my wife and I could see that she was heartbroken at not being able to finish college and provide a stable and reliable income for her family.  I made a call to CFCA and was able to inquire as to what it would take to cover for the cut scholarship, allowing her to graduate.  However, such circumstances are unusual and not the rule.  That said, how much tracking is really required to implement something like that.  It took two phone calls between myself and CFCA's front office and an inquiry between the CFCA's US office and their overseas office to make all the arrangements to cover the increased scholarship/sponsorship donations for the next year.  That hardly seems like a exorbitant overhead burden, especially considering CFCA didn't have to (and wouldn't have) pursued special fundraising to make up the difference for one individual.  When the costs rise significantly above the average that they quote to donors, they most often have to cut the kids from the program.  There are too many other kids waiting for help for whom the average cost is sufficient.  However, in staying true to their mission, if an individual donor steps up their donations, they make sure the child gets it.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

What Color are Your Glasses?

Do you ever wonder where people purportedly writing about the same set of events get their information? Awhile back I had that experience when comparing how professors at Boise State and UC Santa Barbara wrote about the Reformation in Germany. The tone, some of the facts and the overall character of the articles is so different.

An Atheist Chaplain?

I'm not sure exactly who thought an atheist chaplain at Stanford would be a good idea, but it seems destined for failure.  Atheism is just too closely correlated with hedonism and not giving a rip about other people if one can't get anything out of it for something like this to work.

""A lot of people go back to religious organizations when they start having children," whether or not they believe in God, because religion offers community, Figdor said. "What I really want to do is create a vibrant, humanist community here in Silicon Valley, where people can find babysitters for their kids and young people can meet each other."

The problem is, you can't create a vibrant atheist community around babysitting groups.  Vibrant communities form when people have a common purpose and atheism itself is a really crappy motivator.  Any "religion" that teaches it's adherents that life is ultimately meaningless and there is no lasting purpose to existence is going to have trouble motivating people to do anything that requires sacrifice.  The article's explanation of why students themselves like having an atheist chaplain says it all.
"Armand Rundquist... president of AHA! - the campus group of atheists, humanists and agnostics - said many atheists aren't interested in having a chaplain.

Then they discovered additional benefits to Figdor's talents.

"He got us some discount tickets to the atheist film festival in San Francisco," said Rundquist, adding that "it's been really great" to have Figdor as part of what he called a new movement at Stanford."

Discounted entertainment!  Now that may be a reason to meet when you're a college student at one of our hedonistic universities, but it's destined for irrelevancy when one tries to apply it to the broader culture.  Learning that life is has no ultimate purpose or meaning is thin gruel after experiencing one of life's many setbacks.  Religion (especially historical Christianity), offers community that is there for you from cradle to grave.  It requires great sacrifice, but offers benefits for members and society at large that no atheist group can dream of matching.  Have you ever heard of a soup kitchen run by a voluntary community of dedicated atheists?  Do you have a family member with a disability or mental illness?  Good luck getting help from your local atheist community.

Speaking from my own personal experience, my wife's best friend from high school went out to their gradeschool playground and blew her brains out last summer.  It was a tragedy that hit my wife hard and left her unable to function for months.  It was clear within a couple weeks that homeschooling which had been tenuous before was no longer a possibility.  With just two weeks to go before school started, I had to find a place for my kids to attend.  The public schools in my state are just awful and sending them there was tantamount to handing them over to atheists who didn't give a rat's patootie about their spiritual life and would at best be educating them to mediocrity.  On the other hand the last couple years have seen my family experience some financial setbacks that made sending them to our parish school impossible until some people at our church stepped forward and quietly paid half the cost for my kids to attend.  I don't know these benefactors well.  I've never had them over for a meal and have only spoken to them before or after mass, but they cared enough about my family to fork over thousands dollars so that my kids could get a top notch education this year (and for as long as they are able and we need it).  Our parish school depends on many donors like this, since tuition only covers half the cost of operation for our 3 year old parish school that is operating on a shoestring budget.  The principal and teachers have all taken massive cuts in pay compared to what they could make elsewhere in order to create a rigorous academic and thoroughly Catholic educational environment.  It is this sort of sacrifice that is common among Christian communities, but is almost unheard of in atheist ones.  When life throws people curveballs, atheist communities just aren't there for each other.  For all the problems in our Christian communities, we are there for each other.  Is it any wonder that of all the religious groups in America, atheists have the lowest retention rate: just 30% of children raised by atheist parents remain atheist.  By leveraging control of our elite cultural institutions atheists have been successful in converting many Americans to their religion of meaninglessness, but they have failed where it matters most for long term viability: their own children.  Add that to the fact that committed atheists have very few children, and maintaining a stranglehold on our educational establishments and elite cultural institutions is the only way atheists have of reproducing ideologically.

As an aside, non-denominational Christians don't do much better in retaining their children: they are a full 24% below Catholics (hardly a healthy group to compare oneself with).  That rather surprised me, to be honest.  I can explain some of the Protestant non-retension to simple church hopping, but that has always struck me as more of a one-way street toward less denominationalism.  Are we seeing the children of non-denominational Protestants stick with a denomination or are they abandoning the faith altogether?  Does Pew survey adequately address these questions for Protestants?  These sorts of questions are always muddier and more difficult to answer for Protestants than for atheists, Hindus, Catholics and Mormons due to the clarity of their beliefs and religious identities.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Lure of Decriminalization

When people talk about the dangers of the black market, and the benefits that come from decriminalization, they are usually talking about drugs. Make drugs legal, they say, and most of the societal ills (and prison overcrowding) that come from the black market will go away almost overnight. This may be true. Particularly with low-impact drugs such as marijuana, this is an enticing idea. Today, on the Volokh Conspiracy blog, Ilya Somin trots out an even more extreme idea for decriminalization... creating a legal market in organs. Make it so that somebody who needs, say, an extra $10,000, can offer to sell a kidney on Craigslist. Somebody who needs a kidney can find one, pay the up-front cost, and get a new lease on life. I'm having a hard time finding the problem in his idea. I'm sure it's there, and I'm hoping one of you can point it out to me. It sure is a fascinating thought... Mark

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Outcomes for Adult Children of Homosexual Parents

The largest ever (and only decently sized) random sample study of the adult children of homosexual parents was published in a peer reviewed journal a couple weeks ago. The media has fed us a steady diet of studies of the children of gay households based on non-random samples with subjects recruited from advocacy groups, so it will come as a shocker for many that a truly random study doesn't agree with earlier "snowball" studies. Honestly, given the media conditioning we've received in the last few years, even I was shocked at the magnitude of some discrepancies in the well being of adults with a parent whose had a gay relationship. 

Some highlights...
a) 31% of adult children with lesbian mothers have been forced to have sex against their will vs. 8% from intact biological families.b) 23% of adult children with lesbian mothers have been sexually touched by a parent or adult caregiver vs. 2% from intact biological familiesc) 13% of adult children from intact biological families have had an affair while married or cohabiting vs. 41% with a lesbian motherd) 61% of adults with lesbian mothers identify entirely as heterosexual vs. 90% for adults from intact bio. families.e) only 29% of adults with lesbian mothers are currently employed full time while 28% are currently unemployed vs. 49% of adults with intact bio families having full time employment and only 8% being unemployed.f) While faring worse overall than adult children from intact biological families, adult children of gay men fare much better than adult children of lesbians. I found this incredibly counter-intuitive given the reputations women have over men as parents. 

Here are some some random reasons I've brainstormed on that last one... 
f1) I've read elsewhere lesbians tend to break up more than gay men (e.g., have a higher rate of dissolution of civil ceremonies/"marriages"). Unintuitive at first for me, until it was pointed out that women initiate more divorces.  Period.  Doubling the number of women in a relationship greatly increases the relationship standards and doubles the gender most likely to initiate.f2) the number of people with gay men as parents were much lower than the number of of people with lesbian mothers, since it's more unusual to have a parent who's a gay man and they typically have to work much harder to become a parent than women. That is, self selection for parenting plays a greater role for men.f3) The reputation women have as being more competent parents is extremely over-rated. f4) Lesbian women are more bitter than gay men, and children with bitter parents don't fare as well.  Before anyone gets mad at me for saying this, I've only heard it from people in favor of gay marriage and it honestly doesn't jive too well with most lesbians I've known.  So, get mad at other people, not me.f5) Your idea here________________

Overall, it's a fascinating read for those interested in such things.

Of course, none of this will matter, let alone get much media attention, because it doesn't agree with elite views on how society should be structured.  That and society hasn't given a rat's patootie about how divorce affects kids for the last 50+ years, so why should we start worrying now?  Damn the torpedoes.  Full speed ahead into cultural suicide!!!!

As an added bonus, here is a review of the totally inferior studies cited in the APA's brief on gay parenting.