Wednesday, December 24, 2008

What Did She Do To Deserve This?

A couple of days ago I was browsing the Yahoo newsfeed, and started reading through an article about the financial bailout money. Here's a link to the article. The article seems a bit less like news and more like commentary, but it does tell an interesting story. But then I read an inconspicuous paragraph in the middle of the story that blew my socks off. I can't figure it out. Here it is, in its entirety:

Others, such as Morgan Stanley spokeswoman Carissa Ramirez, offered to discuss the matter with reporters on condition of anonymity. When AP refused, Ramirez sent an e-mail saying: "We are going to decline to comment on your story."
So, let me get this straight. A spokeswoman for Morgan Stanley was approached by an AP reporter, asking her to give information about where the money had gone. Ramirez says, "Hey, I can tell you about that, but my bosses will burn me for it, so you can't use my name." The AP says, "No thanks, we don't want the secret information" (since when does the AP turn down anonymous reports about anything), "and not only that, we're going to publicly tell everyone that you offered to squeal on your bosses. Good luck with your next promotion."

Why in the world would the AP, or maybe more specifically Matt Apuzzo, do such a thing? It's incomprehensible. Apuzzo had so many other options. He could have made no mention at all of the offer to share information anonymously (it wouldn't have significantly altered his story). He could have mentioned that the offer was made and refused, without mentioning the name of the person who made the offer. But, instead, he makes a point to mention her full name, mention that she offered to speak anonymously, and in so doing, without advancing his story at all, destroys her career.

And also, it seems, hurts the AP's chances of getting offers of anonymous information from similar whistle-blowers in the future.

I did a Google search for "matt apuzzo" "carissa ramirez", to see if there was anyone else commenting on this. I turned up about 2 million links pointing to the original article. It was obviously a popular piece with wide circulation. I found one link to another blog (Happy Jihad's House of Pancakes), commenting on the same thing I noticed. It even provides a potential alternate explanation. Not a convincing one, but an explanation all the same.

I half expect to find that Ramirez unceremoniously dumped Apuzzo's brother or something, and that sneaking that in was Apuzzo's way of getting childish revenge. But I figure we'll never really know.


A Warm Seasonal Embrace...!

That is, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, to Mark and MB and Kevin and Purple Kangaroo and all you other, um, embraceable ones out there in Embracing-the-Risk land!

Your usual provocative, challenging, and risky topics will return after the holiday break (and after those of us in the Pacific Northwest dig out from under the more-than-usually seasonal weather conditions...!).

Goodwill to all, Stevie.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Immigration Reform and Politics

While I strongly believe there needs to be some way to give illegal immigrants legal protection and there should be a way to keep terrorists from setting up shop in the US, I'm not sure much of what passes for immigration reform these days is very helpful to the situation.

* On the one hand, I'm concerned that if we were to greatly limit immigration to this country, we would be losing out on some of the greatest risk takers and innovators to this country. I don't think the immigration rate is too high. On the contrary, I think it would be a travesty to see it cut in half.
* On the other hand, if we were to just let people in in the same numbers that we do now through some legal means, I'm afraid that it would create a huge bureaucracy and eliminate some beneficial weeding out. It is risky to come to the US now. That weeds out many people who would likely become free-riders.
* On the other hand, people lose their lives unnecessarily, a culture of lying is encouraged and people without legal status have by definition a precarious legal situation and are often taken advantage of by employers.
* The current situation is awful in many respects, but I'm honestly not sure that creating a bureaucracy capable of dealing the current numbers of immigrants would be much more effective in attracting a better mix of people to this country.

Border control used to be done culturally as tribes rejected all outsiders. However, this forced immigrant groups to congregate together in ghettos with little hope of breaking the cultural barriers and succeeding in the way that our open society allows today.

I guess my immigration ideals are
1) Maintaining high immigration numbers through legal means
2) Keeping the standards for entrance high enough to weed out the unmotivated and freeriders, while keeping them reachable by the hard working poor. Is this even possible?
3) Giving the vast majority of participants a path to citizenship.
4) Instituting real penalties for illegal behavior (e.g., if you are convicted of a crime while in the guest worker program, even once, you can never become a citizen and your allowed time in the country is greatly shortened).

Honestly, though, I don't hear politicians of either party talking about this sort of thing. Am I just spending too much time under my rock these days? Are there any serious politicians who are pro-immigration and yet want to see fundamental changes to the status quo? Surely greater minds than mine have thought about this situation from a pro-immigration perspective.

As a side note...
Some people think that it is the social policies of the GOP that cost it the last election (and will cost it future elections until it changes). I say hogwash. It was congressional corruption that cost it the Senate and House several years ago, and it was the economy that cost it the current election. Also, I think it is nativist tendencies by many in the GOP that are one of the greatest threats to its future. Immigration isn't going to slow much, no matter who is in office. Their importance in the electorate is only going to grow. Also, immigrants are some of the people most open to free-market ideas. The dream of most immigrants is to come to a land of opportunity where corruption and lack of basic infrastructure does not stand in the way of success through hard work. Immigrants also tend to be conservative socially. As I see it, it is history and tradition more than policy (outside of immigration friendliness) that ties the immigrant community to the Democrat party. For instance, McCain had much more history than Obama with Hispanic communities, and it was overall very positive, yet he lost their vote. I know of numerous Hispanics in my community that thought that was a travesty. In my experiences with immigrants (legal and illegal), they have far more in common with the free-market ideas and social values of conservatives. Personally, I think they are a much better fit in the GOP than in the Democrat party... on all fronts but immigration. The sad thing is, the congress is controlled by Dems, and I really don't see them working to help the immigrant any more than the GOP. As I see it, the immigrant friendliness is in many ways a facade for the Democrat party.

I've thrown out a lot of ideas here and was in many ways thinking out loud. I would encourage discussion, especially if you disagree.


Poverty, Race and the Role of Government

"People don't change because the government intervenes with a social program. It never happens. They change when they become exhausted with their suffering. The civil rights movement was the greatest of reform, certainly in my lifetime. It happened when people said, 'That's it. Kill us if you want, but we're not going to live the segregated life anymore. We're exhausted with this. Enough. And then change happens.'" - Shelby Steele (around 4:45-5:30 in part 5/5 of his interview with Peter Robinson)

In some ways, I'm conflicted about the above quote (and certainly disagree with many other things throughout the interview). I certainly think that people don't overcome pathologies like illegitimacy that keep people poor through great society programs, but I think Mr. Steele is perhaps discounting the role of the government in instituting policies that make it possible for people to overcome their poverty. Child labor laws and general support of good education is essential to families overcoming poverty. Children need to be at school and not at work if their family is to ever overcome poverty. Also, education needs to matter. An embedded racism that looks at the color of one's skin instead of one's qualifications keeps people in poverty. Racism wasn't a part of my upbringing. There are several biracial marriages among my extended family and friends, and nobody thinks twice about it. However, I'm not sure that is as common as one would hope, and I have met some racist (and otherwise seemingly respectable) people over the last 30 years who would never marry or hire a person with a different skin color.

So, how far has America come and what remains to be done in eliminating racial inequity? What role do you think the government has to play in the change that still needs to happen? What is the role of individuals?


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Marx's Lack of Appreciation for Monogamy

Every once in a while I come across a statement or a turn of phrase that makes me go back and read it again. This quote from Dr. Lionel Tiger of Rutgers did that to me today.

“One of the triumphs of Western arrangements is the institution of monogamy, which has in principle made it possible for each male and female to enjoy a plausible shot at the reproductive outcome which all the apparatus of nature demands. Even Karl Marx did not fully appreciate the immense radicalism of this form of equity.”

Even Karl Marx didn't get how radical that idea was. That's the phrase that caught my eye, because, to be honest, I hadn't thought much about it myself. I suppose for Marx, the neglect had something to do with heterosexual monogamy being the accepted norm during his time. It's interesting how things rarely come into focus or receive our full attention until they are questioned.

Dr. Tiger was speaking about the polygamous tragedy in Texas involving the separation of over 400 kids from their mothers. He was also speaking of the Western/Christian idea of heterosexual monogamous marriage, and how radically it transformed society. Fascinating food for thought. I dug up the original article if anybody is interested in reading it. Yeah, it's over 6 months old, but life under the rock can be comfortable sometimes.


Monday, November 10, 2008

Benefit of the Doubt

I have a number of friends and family who are supporters of Obama, and a number who are opponents of Obama. Very few people in my acquaintance seem to be anywhere near the fence.

In the aftermath of the election, one group of my friends was jubilant, even exuberant. There were tears of joy. They couldn't sleep they were so excited. The world was finally going to be a better place. The other group of my friends was despondent. They had a hard time getting out of bed. America was going to get the punishment it deserved for electing such a terrible president. The situation couldn't be more dire.

I think both response are WAY out of proportion, and I think both groups (if they choose to pay attention) will find that their hopes/fears will not be realized in anything close to the proportion they have in mind.

Today, I saw some news on Yahoo that makes me think I'm on the right track. Obama, it appears, is planning to close Guantanamo and move its prisoners onto American soil. However, many of the high-security prisoners will NOT be put into the civilian courts. Instead, they will be put into some undefined new court proceeding. It's not a military tribunal, of course, no, not that... just something else that we haven't named yet that works a lot like a military tribunal. :)

Here's the key quote, from Laurence Tribe, who is advising Obama on this issue:

"It will have to both be and appear to be fundamentally fair in light of the circumstances. I think people are going to give an Obama administration the benefit of the doubt in that regard."

The benefit of the doubt. Yes, that is probably true... for a while, Obama will get the benefit of the doubt. And, in reality, that will probably be the main functional difference between Bush's plan and Obama's (though Obama will apparently also put some of the prisoners into the civilian court system... I have no idea how he will determine which ones are low-priority enough for that treatment, and which require the special handling of a very-much-different-from-Bush tribunal system).

How much will Obama get this benefit of the doubt? And how far will it go? Those are difficult questions to answer. I expect he will get a little bit more leash than Bush got, in that the major media outlets are more favorable to Democrats than to Republicans. On the other hand, he will probably get a little less leash than Bush, since Bush had a great deal of leeway granted to him in the aftermath of 9/11. I will be very interested to see how this "benefit of the doubt" plays itself out over the next year.


Thursday, November 06, 2008

Chris Matthews Just Wants to Help

Reading through my RSS feeds today, I came across a post on RedBlueChristian that linked to a snippet of an interview with Chris Matthews posted at The snippet focused on a statement from Chris Matthews that his job (as a journalist) was to help the Obama presidency succeed. But the snippet didn't provide any real context for the comments, and I tend to distrust short snippets of interviews pulled out of their context.

So, I went looking, and found the entire interview segment on MSNBC's site. The clip was from a show called Morning Joe, I believe from this morning, and I found the segment right on MSNBC's Videos page. I've extracted a direct link, but if it doesn't work, you can probably find the clip with a little digging on the MSNBC site (at least for a while).

In this case, the extended viewing generally confirmed the original impression of the shorter snippet, and also added a good deal of commentary. After Matthews made his comment, the other hosts on the show took him to task for it, and a fascinating dialog followed. Matthews expanded on what he had said, qualified it to some degree, but basically held to it. At the end, one of the hosts of the show (I don't know his name, unfortunately) gave what I thought was a very pertinent and stinging rejoinder.

Anyway, give it a listen. I found it fascinating, and I will be curious to see if this plays out as Matthews has described it... if the media (in contrast to how they have interacted with Bush and other recent prominent political figures) gives Obama the benefit of the doubt, tries to avoid stirring up controversy (!), and generally restricts itself to clear questions about specific policies, otherwise doing what it can to be helpful to the administration.

Frankly, I don't think that will last long. The public has an insatiable hunger for controversy and scandal, and the major media won't be able to keep its fingers out of that pie. But, it's telling that someone as prominent as Chris Matthews has that desire and intention.


Friday, October 17, 2008

What Would You Change?

I've got a simple discussion question for you.

If you could single-handedly amend the Constitution, what amendment would you choose as your top priority? If you could choose second and third choices, what would they be?

If you're short on ideas, here's a list to get you started.


Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Roe, Meet Casey

Throughout this election season, I've been following a blog called, which posts press releases from the candidates, important news items, poll results, and other information pertinent to the upcoming Presidential election. Occasionally, the blog's author will also post editorials or observations about various developments, and I've found him to be knowledgeable, even-handed, and enjoyable to read.

Earlier today, he posted one such editorial which branched off of the usual topics he covers. It's called "Enough on Roe; Let's Talk About Casey", and discusses how the Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision from 1992 overruled most of the framework built in Roe v. Wade, and substituted a legal framework that allowed somewhat more restriction of abortion than was previously allowed. The legal information and opinion about the decision was interesting, and helped me understand a bit better the state of abortion law.

He closed his editorial with this paragraph, directed at opponents of abortion rights:

"And if you want fewer abortions? Change people’s minds. That will take care of the law in good time. If an overwhelming amount of people believe all abortion is murder, the law will change. The Supreme Court will not do the work for you."
I responded to him, and was pleasantly surprised when he answered my reply in short order. We've gone back and forth a few times through the day, and he has pushed me to learn more about the history of abortion law, and helped me to clarify my opinions about the issue. I won't attempt to copy any of that discussion here, or even summarize it... but if you are interested in abortion law, I think it would be worth the read.

And, I'd love to hear what you think. Is Casey a significant change from Roe? Is it enough of a change? Is it, as John from described it, "the great moderate standard of abortion law that the public has been clamoring for"?

And, getting deeper into the comments, do my comparisons and contrasts between the current abortion-law situation and previous situations with women's suffrage and civil rights make sense? Or am I way off base?


Friday, October 03, 2008

Bailout Bill Politics

Maybe a good argument can be made that the Senate should be allowed to originate a taxing bill, but as it stands Constitutionally, they cannot. So how did the Senate pass the recent "bailout bill" before the House? Enter RI-D Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy's "Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act of 2007". From The Providence Journal:

In order to get around the Constitution, the leaders turned to the time-honored stratagem of finding a live but dormant House bill -- Kennedy’s mental-health parity bill -- to use as a shell.

"They take out the entire text" of Kennedy’s old bill, "and then, by amendment, they substitute the other bill," said Don Ritchie, an assistant Senate historian. Two bills, in this instance: the emergency rescue bill and the tax provisions and the final version of Kennedy’s mental-health parity wrapped inside.

And that is how Kennedy of Rhode Island became the original lead sponsor — in name only — of one of the most hard-fought financial bills in congressional history.

Add to that the fact the bill is being pushed through and it becomes very attractive for earmarks. From "Billions in earmarks in Senate's bailout bill" (with more details at TCS):
Wooden arrows: This tax break, backed by Oregon's two senators, would benefit an Oregon manufacturer of wooden arrows for children by $2 million over 10 years.

Racetracks: Earmark would allow auto racetrack owners to depreciate their facilities over seven years, saving the industry $100 million over two years.

Rum: Offers rum producers in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands a rebate on excise taxes worth $192 million over two years.

Wool: Reduces tariffs for U.S. makers of wool fabric that use imported yarn, worth $148 million over five years. The measure was pushed by Reps. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., and Melissa Bean, D-Ill.

Exxon Valdez: Plaintiffs in the suit over the 1989 oil spill could spread their tax payments on punitive damages over three years, cutting their tax bill by $49 million. The measure was backed by Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska.

American Samoa: Allows certain corporations to reduce their tax liability on income earned in American Samoa, at a cost of $33 million over two years.

Hollywood: Extends a tax break for film and TV companies that keep their production in the United States, worth $478 million over 10 years. The provision was originally pushed by Rep. Diane Watson, D-Los Angeles.

In case you're curious, here's the latest version of the bill as of 10/2/2008, and a section by section analysis.

I know this stuff happens all the time but it just seems wrong. What's more, I would imagine that the vast majority of people would agree that it is wrong, yet it continues.

My question: Is this just reflective of the nature of negotiation and compromise? Is there no better way? Should we just accept these tactics? Am I just being too persnickety in letting this annoy and frustrate me? :)

btw, I'm still struggling to understand the economics, but this looks like a decent summary: Making Sense of Our Financial Mess.


P.S. Both McCain and Obama voted for the bill. I think this reflects the difficulties that McCain will have in keeping his remarkable promise to veto any bills with earmarks as President when he believes the bulk of the bill is vital.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Mandatory Abortion for those 25 and Younger

Ted Rall had some interesting quotes in a recent article.

"Even pro-choice liberals are afraid to speak the truth: teen marriage and parenthood are disasters for everyone concerned. I have serious problems with well-off married couples who decide to terminate their pregnancies for frivolous reasons. Conversely, abortion ought to be mandatory for people under 18. Twenty-five would be better. Teen marriage should be banned."

In case we didn't get the point, he closes the piece with this.

"Congress should act to protect these kids from themselves--ban teen marriage, mandate teen abortion."

Question: Since when did a individual's/couple's "right" to control their reproduction become someone else's "right" to mandate when they should marry and reproduce?
Answer: Quite a while ago.
* A side note about Dr. Connelly's book, linked to above. While I take umbrage at his misrepresentation of Catholic theology and practice, you kind of have to do that if you are writing a book which criticizes the population control ideologues as severely as his book does. As a prof. at Columbia University, it was the only way to save face and gain acceptance of his work in academic circles.

Honestly, I wonder how prevalent this idea or its variants is among the elite in US society? My aunt's a big proponent of forced abortion/sterilization for the "stupid"/underclass, but I haven't personally met too many others who hold (or at least widely admit to holding) such radical opinions. Yet, it seems from my reading that such a philosophy must hold sway with at least a large minority of ruling classes around the world, or it wouldn't have been so prevalent in policy over the last century. Given the tremendous advances in biotechnology in the last decade, with more certainly to come, I find that thought more than a little disconcerting.


Commie Americans - Capitalist Europeans

I know the post title is a major oversimplification of the situation, but I do find the subject of this article linked to below more than a bit ironic. It also raise some good questions. Does more front-end regulation lead to more stable financial systems overall? Were European investors simply less greedy than their American counterparts (excluding the UK and Spain)? Is our political system so infused with greed, that the politicians will use taxpayer dollars to bail out almost any group that has enough money? Is the assumed greater stability of Europe more conducive to long term growth of financial markets than the riskier/greedier US market?

EU Shuns U.S.-Style `Active Role' on Growth, Banks (Update2)

I don't know the answers to all those questions conclusively, but I do know that widespread corruption and greed can be a bigger drag on an economy that pretty much anything else and eventually, perhaps inevitably, leads to economic collapse (e.g., the former soviet union).


Friday, September 05, 2008

Community Service

Jim Lindgren at The Volokh Conspiracy has some interesting posts which consider what Obama meant when he stated in his July 2, 2008 speech that:

We cannot continue to rely only on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives that we've set. We've got to have a civilian national security force that's just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded.

Lindgren suggests that the "civilian national security force" comes from Obama's "unprecedented plans for universal community service for young people and for hugely increased funding for a myriad of voluntary service programs for the rest of us." The highlights seem to be:

- 50 hours per year of mandatory community service for middle and high school children.

- a $4,000 yearly tax credit toward college tuition in exchange for 100 hours per year of community service for 4 years.

- converting work-study jobs into serve-study jobs.

- forming additional service corps, doubling Peace Corps, tripling AmeriCorps.

The issues which popped up at VC (which tends libertarian) include concern over the government's inefficiency, logistics, reinforcing the cycle government dependency, defining what is and what is not "community service", ensuring effective service, and generally mandating or coercing good behavior.

I found that last one to be particularly interesting. The argument for the children's program seems to be that since the fed already mandates educational curriculum, and since community service is generally regarded as good (some private schools or organizations already require it), why would federally mandating community service be any different?

But if it is acceptable, what other good behavior should be mandated? How about giving blood? Is there a limit? And if it is good for children, why not mandate it for adults as well? What are the criteria for such mandates?

What do you folks think? Is this a good or a bad idea? Is it something worth trying?


Friday, August 29, 2008

Obama Lies about Voting Against Bill Outlawing Infanticide while in the Illinois Senate

I prefer to stick to issues and don't like to bash politicians on this blog, but Obama has pushed me to my limit. When confronted about his vote against the Born Alive Infants Protection Act, Obama stated that he voted against the bill because it was significantly different than the Federal Bill and undermined Roe vs. Wade. You can see his response on youtube. He further went on to call call the National Right to Life Committte who had claimed that he misrepresented his vote "liars."

It's one thing for Obama to misrepresent how he voted in the Illinois senate. It's another thing to call people exposing his misrepresentations liars and to further refuse to apologize for it or take them up on their offer of claiming that their evidence are forgeries. Personally, I think Obama is counting on not enough people hearing about this evidence and taking his bluff at face value instead of researching the facts. The honorable thing would be to admit that he was wrong and made a mistake. One of the biggest Democrat complaints about Bush is that he can't admit a mistake, and this is who they nominate? This is practically unbelievable. Surely, there was somebody better out there than Obama... I refuse to believe that this is the best they've got.

Anyway, if you want proof that Obama is lying, here it is.

Here is the text of the Illinois bill before the amendment.

Here is the text of the amendment that Obama voted for. This amendment makes this bill practically identical to the federal bill, unless you think a comma is huge difference.

Here is the text of the federal Born Alive Infant Protection Act.

Here is a side by side comparison of the Federal and Illinois bills highlighting the wording differences (all of which I think we can agree are minor).

Here is a copy of the voting record for Obama showing that he voted against the bill as amended. He didn't just vote present, he voted, "NO."

Here is a timeline with lots of links to the various lies Obama has told regarding this issue.

So, does anybody think the son of a b@#$ will every admit that he voted against a bill that is practically identical to the Born Alive Infant Protection Act, that he voted against outlawing infanticide for survivors of abortion? To this date, Obama hasn't admitted his factual errors nor apologized to the NRLC for calling them liars. In fact, he is still spouting off the same spineless bulls*%!. If you don't think Obama will ever admit his error, do you he will get away with this deceit or that most people will become informed about it?

I'm sorry if I come off a bit hot about this point. This is probably the most spineless, dirty thing I've seen a candidate do this election cycle, and it happened to touch on an issue I care a lot about.

Easing out... if making even a general comment about on when human life begins is above a constitutional lawyer's pay grade, how will that person ever be able to decide on what constitutes torture of enemy combatants?

To end this, there are a lot of links here, if anybody finds that one is broken, please, comment about it and they will be fixed. Honestly, I doubt the Obama campaign link will last long, but we'll see.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Church Attendance = Higher GPA :: But :: Importance Attached to Religion has No Effect?

There was an that I read today which says that church attendance had more of an impact on a kid's GPA than whether their parent's went to college. Here's the kicker, though. Apparently, the importance a kid attaches to religion is not a factor.

"The study also showed whether the teens said religion was important to them.

"Surprisingly, the importance of religion to teens had very little impact on their educational outcomes," Glanville said. "That suggests that the act of attending church -- the structure and the social aspects associated with it -- could be more important to educational outcomes than the actual religion."

That's one explanation. I haven't read the survey for myself, but I would posit another possibility. Within evangelical Christian circles, religion often has a peculiar definition. Instead of being defined as 1) "The service and worship of God or the supernatural," 2) "Commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance" or 3) "a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices" it is defined as "earning one's way to God" and classified as bad. Sometimes elements of 3) come into play in this definition (e.g., an institutionalized system of religious practices), but never the entire definition. Thus, I've met some extremely religious people who will adamantly claim that they are not religious. To be honest, I think this kind of linguistic gymnastics is a bit bizarre, but it is not uncommon in certain evangelical circles, and I think it potentially screwed up the above survey. In order to measure the importance people attach to religion and capture this particular subculture, I think one would need two questions: one which asks, "How important is religion to you?" and the other which asks, "How important is a relationship with God to you?" Taking the higher of the two scores would would then offer a way to accurately measure the importance people place on religion.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The War is the Cause of our Budget Deficit and Other Myths

Do you ever get tired of hearing how the wars in Iraq and/or Afghanistan are bankrupting our country? I sure do. I'm not saying the wars have absolutely nothing to do with the deficit, nor am I saying either or both of them are just, but the idea that they are primarily responsible for the economic state of this country is based on myth and Democrat party propaganda, more than anything else.

In particular, I would like to point to Figure 4-1 in the Congressional Budget Office Long Term Forecast, which shows that compared to historical levels, current defense spending is much, much less than during the mid 80's and a little more than half of what we spent throughout much of the 60's as a percentage of GDP, which is the real measure of government spending.

The real question is then, obviously, why is our budget deficit so high? The answer to that question requires far more time than I have right now, so the CBO LTBO link is my teaser. Ross Perot also has some charts that can serve the purpose of a teaser to stimulate thought on the real causes of our federal budget deficit.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Hypocrisy in Politics? No....

I hesitate to post this, because I'm a Republican, and this example reflects negatively on the Democrats. But, I'll do it anyway, with the caveat that I expect nothing less (or more?) from the RNC. It's much more surprising, these days, to find a politican or political group that isn't hypocritical... and I've become jaded enough that I just figure we haven't discovered their hypocrisy yet.


A Swastika--call CPS!

Here's an article about a mother whose children were removed because she helped her daughter draw a swastika on her arm and had white pride symbols in the home.

To me, this seems like a dangerous abuse of CFS authority. Although I disagree with the family's beliefs, I think they should be allowed to teach them to their children. As long as they are not abusing their children or causing them to participate in a crime, they have every right to teach their children whatever they believe.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Title IX for Science and Engineering Departments

"Instead, they complained of being pushed so hard to be scientists and engineers that they ended up in jobs they didn’t enjoy. “The irony was that talent in a male-typical pursuit limited their choices,” Ms. Pinker says. “Once they showed aptitude for math or physical science, there was an assumption that they’d pursue it as a career even if they had other interests or aspirations. And because these women went along with the program and were perceived by parents and teachers as torch bearers, it was so much more difficult for them to come to terms with the fact that the work made them unhappy.”"

This paragraph resonated with my own personal experience. My wife would seem to be a poster child for women in engineering. In fact she was. She was featured in an article for a university publication. She was good at math and science in high school and got funneled down the engineering path by various advisers. She had great internships, great science, math and engineering grades throughout high school and college, and got a good job after college making good money. The only problem was she never liked school or her jobs, and eventually she quit engineering to work in health care. What a waste of 6 years of her life. I tried to convince her otherwise, even getting her an offer for a research position in the engineering department where I was getting my own master's degree. It sure would have been nice if she had remained an engineer, from our pocketbooks perspective, but perpetuating a career where one is miserable is a ludicrous waste of potential.

Applying Title IX to engineering and the sciences worries me. College sports are over-rated, and ancillary the fundamental mission of a university to educate young adults. But science is right in the heart of a universities educational mission. Are we going to drop programs that have difficulty attracting females in order to keep the ratio of women to men in science programs the same? Honestly, I don't think it will ever be implemented on the same scale as in sports. People will talk about changing things. Studies will be done. Recruitment efforts will be launched. Minor changes will be made here and there. Tons of money will be spent. Heads will roll if they question the prevailing feminist doctrine. More women like my wife will end up with miserable careers, but in the end all the efforts won't actually change much and programs won't get cut. 20 years from now, there will still be large imbalances in gender ratios for nursing and engineering careers. Despite (what I hope are) sensationalist claims otherwise, I believe the costs are too great and too many women see through the bullshit to foist Title IX off on engineering/science departments in a form anywhere near what has prevailed in sports.


Opposition to Outlawing Sex Selective Abortion or Why Killing Females Because They are Females is Acceptable Collateral Damage to Some Feminist Groups

My favorite website this week is If you haven't seen it yet, it's well worth a perusal.

I found this quote which struck me for both its frankness, the despicableness of the faulty moral reasoning, and the source. The author was the former director of the UN Population Fund, and Yale isn't exactly a bastion of pro-life thought.
"Others, however, while acknowledging that sex-selective abortion is a morally reprehensible practice, stress a woman’s right to choose her reproductive outcomes as paramount. Many pro-choice and feminist groups are convinced that outlawing sex-selective abortion will undermine the reproductive rights of women."

Another quote that I found scary was this one: "Higher (male-to-famale sex) ratios are observed in urban areas, 111, and in the wealthier Indian states of Punjab and Haryana, 126 and 122, respectively." I've been told by Indian friends in the past that sex preferences are mostly limited to the backwoods provinces in the NE. This seems to directly contradict such claims and does not bode well. If the wealthier (presumably better educated states) have the highest sex ratio imbalances, that implies to me that rooting out such deep seated prejudice is going to be very difficult and won't occur automatically with development and a better educated female populace. Indeed, even immigrant communities in the US have measureable sex ratio imbalances. "Increasing evidence suggests that the practice of sex-selective abortions is occurring among Chinese and Indian immigrant communities living abroad. In the US, for example, figures from the 2000 census indicate US-born children of Chinese, Indian and Korean parents tended to be male."

The article on this "dilemna" underscores for me the logic behind denying US funding to the UNFPA which helps to administer China's draconian one-child policy (including forced sterilization and forced abortion) and which leads to terrible consequences such as the kidnapping and sale of children. Organizations which have lost their moral bearings to the point that outlawing sex-selective abortion is considered to be a "dilemna" don't deserve taxpayer dollars.


Friday, July 04, 2008

Sponsoring the Elderly through CFCA

Today, July 5th, is my day for the 40 Day Fast. Please, check out Andira's blog about clean water as well. Without further ado...

Emy has been staying with my family for the last week. She will be with us for two weeks while her family is in Chicago vacationing and wrapping up the affairs of a deceased family member. Emy is a wonderful Filipino grandmother in her 70’s. She is also very lucky in that she has a daughter and son-in-law who can take her into their home and take care of her in her old age. Watching her shuffle around our house reminds me of all the people in the developing world who don’t have children who can take care of them.

In the US, we have Social Security and Medicare to provide income and health care for the elderly. As a society, we take pretty good care of them materially, and children are much more likely than the elderly to go hungry and live in extreme poverty. In the developing world, though, there are no governmental safety nets. The elderly must rely entirely on their families or community organizations. While this works out well for many people, since they have children who can take care of them, some elderly people fall through the cracks. Perhaps their children have emigrated to look for work and are unable to do more than send an irregular check. Perhaps their child died. Perhaps they never had children. There are a myriad of reasons why people end up in extreme poverty in their old age. Probably the most terrible thing about material poverty among the elderly is that it is often the result of a lack of social connections. Because of this, it can be accompanied by great loneliness. As Mother Teresa said, “Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.”

The Christian Foundation for Children and Aging provides an opportunity for people in the first world to connect with an elderly person in the developing world to provide them with food, clothes, medical care, the opportunity to be involved in social programs and (most importantly) to provide them with the knowledge that they are loved and valued.

Sponsoring elderly people isn’t sexy. I sponsor several kids through various aid organizations. The kids draw pictures and write letters telling us about their plans for the future. One gal who has been sponsored by my wife since before we were married is nearly grown and wrote last month asking for advice on career and college choices that she’s been pondering. It’s a pretty awesome experience. You know you are making a difference and that someone’s life will be changed for many years to come. You can see their handwriting and social abilities improve as they get older. You can see their dreams come to fruition. The elderly are different. Many are losing their eyesight and are unable to write letters for themselves. They soil themselves. Their goals are modest: they have no plans for college, marriage and family. They have trouble getting around. They are set in their ways: if your primary purpose in sponsoring somebody is to convert them to your religion, you’re probably wasting your money. Yet, none of that matters to God. He loves them no less than any child, and if we are to imitate His love, we cannot overlook them in our efforts to combat poverty and spread His love around.

Today, I would ask that you read the stories of these people and consider sponsoring an aging person through CFCA. It costs just $30/month and provides so much more than food, clothes and medical care. It provides someone with hope and love. It also reminds your kids that the elderly are important and that they had better make darn sure to take care of you in your doddering years. 

As for myself, I think I’m gonna go sit down next to Emy and chat for a spell. I enjoy hearing her stories about her years as a singer, about growing up as a musician’s kid at the Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong before and after the Japanese invasion of WWII, and about the farm back in the Philippines.

The obligatory financial stuff
CFCA is a fantastic organization: 93.8% of donations go to program support. CFCA has received seven consecutive 4 star ratings from Charity Navigator (less than 1% of charities make this cut) and is the ONLY child/aging sponsorship organization to receive the A+ rating from the American Institute of Philanthropy.

Poverty among the elderly is not an issue that is going to go away. The UN Population Division projects that by 2050 the proportion of elderly people to working people in the developing world is set to rise by over 250%. As of 2005, the dependency ratio was 8.7%. By 2050, the UN projects that the dependency ratio will climb to 22.6%*. The world is set for an unprecedented growth in the percentage of elderly people, and it is very unlikely that social structures and services are going to keep pace with this change.
* Statistics taken from TABLE II.1. AGE COMPOSITION AND DEPENDENCY RATIO, BY DEVELOPMENT GROUP AND MAJOR AREA, ESTIMATES AND MEDIUM VARIANT, 2005 AND 2050 in World Population Prospects: The 2004 Revision, Volume III: Analytical Report

Saturday, June 28, 2008

40 Day Fast

I will be participating in the "40 Day Fast", basically just a bunch of people sharing about various charities and ways to help make this world a better place to live. I think I'm up July 5, but here is a list of others, if anybody wants to follow along.

It would be better to have this list in the sidebar, but alas, I do not have access to that. So, don't forget to comment on Steviepinheads post on human rights for the great apes.


The 40DF Bloggers

6/23 Brant
6/24 AmyApril
6/25 BrianRick
6/26 AnnieP.D.
6/27 AutumnKelly
6/28 ScottGene
6/29 LorijoFay
6/30 LiciaChris
7/1 JasonAmbre
7/2 LauraBeth
7/3 StevenSarah
7/4 TimLeslie
7/5 Mama'sAndira
7/6 ShawnStephanie
7/7 ShaunPolly
7/8 PrairieCharley
7/9 MarkKat
7/10 CrystalDavida
7/11 truvyneValerie
7/12 PeteBrent
7/13 JonathanJeanine
7/14 BrodyLori
7/15 NatalieKjaere
7/16 AdamJacquelynne
7/17 EuphronyDan
7/18 ToddRodney
7/19 MandyRandel
7/20 BradShawn
7/21 StephenBlake
7/22 BrandyMichael
7/23 AnnieJoel
7/24 RyanMaryann
7/25 Kristin Alex
7/26 MelissaClint
7/27 EmilyErin
7/28 BartDoug
7/29 LizMike
7/30 NancyKristi
7/31 JessieJane
8/1 TressaToby
*Click for full List
Learn more...

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Human Rights for Great Apes?

I suspect most of you have heard the news that Spanish legislators are considering conferring certain rights on great apes (which, in common parlance, would include the two species of chimpanzees (common and bonobo), the various species or subspecies of gorilla, and the orangutans; whether the "lesser" great apes (gibbons and siamangs) are included, I don't know).

I'm also beginning to see various hoots and cries and expressions of amusement, astonishment, and incredulity about this Spanish venture, and I'm interested in the reaction of you folks.

One of the (more reasoned) criticisms that I've heard involves the supporters' argument that apes should be accorded rights, at least in part, because their DNA makes them "99.4% human." This figure, if it is the one being used (and it was the one used, IIRC, by the particular supporter I mention below), does sound overstated. Depending on which aspects of the genomes are being compared, for example, we may share with chimpanzees somewhere between 94% (taking into account gene duplications), 96% (the "official" 2005 Human Genome Project figure, which takes into account what are called "indels," insertions and deletions in otherwise-corresponding gene sequences), or 99% (an earlier figure, calculated prior to having the full transcripts of both the human and chimp genomes available) of our DNA with chimpanzees -- and less, presumably, by at least a little, with the other great apes.

I heard a BBC interview with one of the supporters of the Spanish legislation on NPR last night. While she did rely on (what sounded like the inaccurate, or at least outdated) percentage of genetic similarity between the other great apes and ourselves mentioned above -- and I would agree that establishing some sort of a percentage test or cut-off for the extension of "human" rights has various moral, practical, and philosophical problems -- she did make a different point, and the one that I mainly wish to discuss here: the legislation does not, she claims, confer legal "humanity" on great apes.

Instead, said she, it confers a limited sort of legal "person"-hood. Lest you now shake your head -- or expectorate, or however your cultural subset of apes expresses dubiety -- and cluck about "those darn lawyers," please first consider that there is some support for making the "human being"/"legal person" distinction: corporations, for example, are legal "persons" (they can sue and be sued; own, sell, and lease, etc., real and personal property...), but are clearly not human beings.

The nice lady gave an example of the kind of conundrum in which apes currently find themselves without "person"-hood protections. An aging chimp (let's say -- I forget the actual species) has been humanely cared for by an organization in Austria for many years. Now the organization has gone bankrupt and its assets -- including the chimp -- are being sold off, with at least the possibility that the chimp will wind up in the hands of less-than-ethical medical researchers (let's sidestep, for the moment, the question of whether it's ever justifiable to utilize great apes in medical testing by positing that there are such things as humane and ethical and well-regulated/ inspected medical research facilities...) or will simply fall out of adequate care altogether and wind up being a victim of (what we all might agree would be) abuse, neglect, or ...

Apparently there are donors willing to provide for the further care of this ape. But they can't just give the money to his current owner -- the bankrupt facility -- because that money would then fall into the hands of the creditors. And they can't give the money to the ape itself, in part because the ape isn't a legal person -- not even a "person" with tightly-delimited rights (such as a mentally-challenged or senile or comatose person, who might well be the ward in a guardianship situation, lacking his or her own right to manage money, vote, own -- ahem! -- handguns, drive, etc. ...).

Now, one can of course imagine ingenious ways around the Austrian situation (though one doesn't know enough about Austrian bankruptcy and non-profit law to know if they would actually work...): perhaps the donors' funds could go to organize a non-profit with the purpose of purchasing and caring for the poor critter. This might have the advantage of not leaving the (otherwise-innocent, so far as we know) creditors of the old facility out in the cold -- the new facility would simply purchase the ape from the creditors of the old. But the lady's point -- to the extent that this pinhead grasped it -- is that there are always going to be situations without convenient legal workarounds, where the most direct and effective way to protect arguably-sentient (if still non-"human") creatures like these is to allow for them a limited sort of legal personhood, but not fully "human" legal status...

Below all this lies the moral argument, of course. Even though we all might agree that the other great apes are not, in all respects, entitled to the full panoply of rights that us "human" great apes may be entitled to, may they not they share enough of key "human" qualities -- empathy, self-consciousness, family feeling, awareness of pain and loss, intelligence, capacity to communicate, etc. -- to be deserving of some more limited form of rights and protections?

Needless to say, we quickly come to the 'slippery slope' concern: where's it all gonna end? To my mind, that's a better argument for a situation where there's an indivisible slope or spectrum -- one where there's no point on the gradient which can, in any sort of principled fashion, be distinguished from any other. We might face such a situation if all of our pre-hominid brethren (or at least a representative and overlapping sampling), going right back to our most recent common ancestor with chimps, were still alive and kicking... But they're not. (And I recognize that some of you may not be persuaded there even IS any such ancestral kinship, but note that that doesn't necessarily resolve the other questions raised by our increasing grasp of the intellectual and emotional sophistication of some of our fellow travelers on the planet, even if they're not our very close kin.)

So we've got humans. And we've got some definable set of characteristics upon which to base a separate category of animals to whom we might accord a limited quasi-personhood. And then we've got other animals who lack one or more of whatever that definable set of characteristics might turn out to be -- who we continue to assign to the traditional "feral" or "property" categories, about whom we might erect various overarching protections -- hunting laws; protections from certain kinds of abuse; ecological protections; import/export and trafficking laws; and so forth and so on.

Of course, once we start listing the characteristics for this intermediate status of not-human, but not mere-property kind of animal, we do risk a limited "slippery slope" problem: who else gets in to this charmed circle? Some of the cetaceans? The lesser apes? Some of the "higher" non-ape primates? Elephants? Those raucous and annoying, but oh-so-clever corvids (ravens, crows, jays, magpies), about whom I reading right now? ("In the Company of Crows and Ravens" by John M. Marzluff and Tony Angell

Are we actually "evolved" enough to start concerning ourselves morally with "every crow that falls"?

And, as with every extension of "rights," how meaningful is it if it simply becomes another "unfunded mandate"? A "right" that goes, all too often, unremedied? Why create a new set of rights, when we can't even meaningfully enforce or guarantee over wide swaths of the planet the rights we've already extended to our (arguably) even more-deserving fellow humans? The old, why-should-we-spend-money-on-a-space-program-when ... problem, dressed up in King Kong habiliments.

There's certainly no reason not to have some fun with this notion, but I don't find it an entirely silly one.

Friday, June 20, 2008

What Would My Grandfather Think?

I’m not sure what I would do if my kid decided to sue me, and won… but whatever I would do I’m sure the Canadian senate wouldn’t approve.

If this doesn’t make the SNL top ten list, I don’t know what you need to do to make it…

HT: SDG/Jimmy Akin

I wish my grandfather were alive to talk to about this. He had a wonderful sense of humor and used to tell great stories about growing up in Alberta, CA and Montana. His father used to wake up the boys by slapping the headboard of the bed while saying, "Come a runnin'!" If the boys weren't up in rather short order, the entire bed got flipped and they were dumped on the floor. Friggin' child abuser! If only my grandfather had the option in the 1920's/30's of suing his parents, imagine how much better he would have turned out.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

High Energy Density Alternative Fuel

If this is true (and oil prices don't drop tremendously), then someone is going to get very, very wealthy.

Energy density has always been the bane of the biofuel/ethanol from corn industry. If your mileage drops, it can really cut into the emissions and cost savings. But if energy density can be increased while cutting emissions and cost, somebody is going to make bank. The innovation and money being poured into energy research are the only upsides I see to the increased gas prices. Premium is pushing $4/gallon in my locale. Back 4 years ago when gas prices were really high at $1.50/gallon, I didn't think I'd see this day before I turned 40/50.


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Cost of Raising Children

How much does it cost to raise kids in today's dollars? Every year I see estimates in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and it makes me scratch my head. It seems to that the people putting together these statistics pull these numbers out of their ass thin air. Today I went and read some of the actual FDA report upon which these news articles are based (pdf warning).

I still don't get it. If this is true (and that in my mind is a big if), then Americans pay a hell of alot of money to raise (on average) relatively stupid kids compared to the rest of the first world, a significant portion of whom (nearly 30%) don't even graduate from high school.

According to this survey, the cost of raising a kid through age 18 (note that this does not include college expenditures) for a middle income bracket family is $197,700. This is about $11,000/year/child. According to this report, the cost of raising my 2 kids is more than double the cost of my home in today's dollars.

Below are two figures from the 2006 FDA report. My apologies for how small they are. You can pull them up in a separate browser tab or just look in the pdf report to find them if you want to look at them closely.

From my perspective, the only way to come up with a number close to this is to consider lost opportunity costs for working wives who are staying at home. If one does that, the numbers don't come close. A woman missing out on 20 years of work at $30k/year is losing $600,000 in today's money. Give her a college degree and a family is easily passing up a cool million dollars by having a mom stay at home.

But the FDA doesn't consider lost opportunity costs. They are solely interested in how much a family pays for housing, food, transportation, clothing, healthcare, education, child care and miscellaneous items like personal care and entertainment expenses.

So what goes into these bigger numbers? What percent of parents vs. non parents pay more to live in a nice school district? That can be a big expense, but can it explain an average cost/kid of $66k ($132K for two child families). That sure doesn't apply to me. Some people might get a slightly larger house, but how many people would get a 1 or 2 bedroom house vs. a 3 or 4 bedroom house if they didn't have kids? For me a 3 bedroom home is probably the smallest I would go, even without kids. The total education costs are high for public schooling and home schooling, but they are low for private school. The food costs for children in the 0-2 age range are ridiculous in my opinion, but then again my family didn't buy formula or baby food. A average teenage boy can certainly put the food away, so maybe $50/week/kid is justified. The clothing costs seem ridiculous to me, but then again with few exceptions I don't shop for new clothes for my kids (or for myself for that matter). Overall, to me these numbers look greatly inflated.

Looking at the big picture, according to this study a family which grosses $59,600/year will spend $197,700/kid. Multiplying this by the family size factor and taking it out to eight kids, one can see that large families are quite expensive. The biggest question this raises for me is this: are families with 8 or more kids all con artists with drug/forgery businesses on the side?
# Kids: % Income Spent on Kids
1 Kid: 23% of gross income (124%)
2 Kids: 37% of gross income (100%)
3 Kids: 43% of gross income (77%)
4 Kids: 57% of gross income (77%)
5 Kids: 71% of gross income (77%)
6 Kids: 86% of gross income (77%)
7 Kids: 100% of gross income (77%)
8 Kids: 114% of gross income

Clearly, this equation breaks down soon after 3 kids, so why do the report authors even bother saying the numbers should be multiplied by 0.77 for when the family has "three or more" children. Did I miss the disclaimer for families with more than 3 kids? I certainly don't believe 0.77 is the correct factor for 4 kids, because there is no way on earth that a middle income family spends 60% of their gross income on their 4 children.

The only way these numbers make any sense to me is if I imagine that two working parent families have very extravagant lifestyles compared to my own. I didn't see anywhere in the report where two working parent families were broken out from two parent families with only one person in the workforce. Even then, though, the results seem rather dubious.

So, what's wrong with my analysis? Did I miss the fine print by only skimming the report over my lunch break? Am I just a whacked out cheapskate who can't relate to the average Joe? Does anybody think that on average a middle class family spends 37% of pre-tax income to raise 3 kids? Enlighten me, please!


Friday, March 14, 2008

CO2 to Gasoline

While I still have some lingering doubts regarding the certainty and extent of anthropogenic Global Warming and its implications, I found this NY Times article to be interesting: Scientists Would Turn Greenhouse Gas Into Gasoline.

Essentially, they extract CO2 from the air and use it to create hydrocarbon chains from methane to gasoline and jet fuel. In a sense, they seem to be making a case for a sustainable hydrocarbon fuel economy that would be compatible with the existing infrastructure.

While this is not a new idea, Martin and Kubic claim to have made significant progress in making the process more efficient such that the consumer cost may be $4.60/gal or even $3.40/gal with some (presumably foreseeable) technological advances. Their Green Freedom (pdf) system proposes the use of a nuclear reactor to provide the energy required for this conversion, though any source would do.

The question seems to be, how efficient is the energy conversion to gasoline as compared to other similarly feasible and safe fuels or storage? Relatedly, is gasoline inherently unhealthy (e.g. cancer, respiratory diseases)? If so, what alternatives are safer, healthier, and feasible?

It seems to me that this would also have significant implications for our foreign dependence upon oil and create a sort of upper limit on the price of oil world wide.

This development is also notable as an alternative to present solutions to removing CO2 from the atmosphere, such as burying it (Michigan well gets carbon dioxide out of air, into ground).

Hat tip to Jonathan Adler at Volokh Conspiracy.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Time Zones and Other Questions

Sunday I was sick and forgot to change the time on our clocks. I was reminded about how on my 5th trip outside of the two states I grew up in (at age 25), I was driving through Indiana and asked a lady at a gas station what time zone I was in so that I would know whether or not I needed to change the time on my watch. The lady said she didn't now what time zone she was in and just gave me the time. As I walked out of there, I thought to myself, "Boy, is that lady stupid."

While perhaps she should have known what time zone she was in from a geographic sense, at a practical level, I was the one being stupid. Since Indiana is one of only two states to not use daylight savings time and effectively changes time zones relative to the rest of the country, it was unimportant and probably unknown by most folks in Indiana. I was being the stupid one by asking what I thought in my ignorance was an obvious question.

This story always reminds me about how I go often through life asking what I think are obvious questions to get at answers to questions and forget that my underlying assumptions and ignorance may be blinding me a better way to approach the subject. With that in mind, thanks to all the bloggers and "real world folks" out there who challenge me to think about things differently and to reevaluate my unquestioned assumptions.


Monday, February 11, 2008

Can you (Literally!) Smell Divorce?

I don’t have time to blog extensively on this too much, nor have I had much time to think about it, but the broad sociological consequences of recent research into human attraction and smell are mind boggling.

Here are some initial reactions/questions that I have.

1) How big a player is the sense of smell in the overall picture of human attraction? Is it a major player, even when subconscious? Is it a minor player, perhaps only making a difference when other means of mate selection are inconclusive?

2) What is the effect of deodorants and fragrances on this function? The obvious answer is that they interfere. How much do they interfere and how often do they influence the end result?

3) How did past cultures with arranged marriages handle this (or present ones for that matter)? Was there much enough interaction between the sexes to allow the physiological process to work? Were there means for the girl to communicate these preferences (through her mother perhaps)?

4) It appears that not only do hormonal contraceptives interfere, but they actually reverse the natural preferences in mate selection from dissimilar MHC profiles to similar MHC profiles. The explanation for this is that BCPs artificially turn off fertility by simulating pregnancy. Scientists speculate that a woman wants family around when she is pregnant. Perhaps it is also the worst of times to be looking for a mate. There are many angles to take this one, given the widespread use of hormonal contraceptives.

4A) Quite often, even when a woman is not sexually active prior to marriage, she begins taking hormonal contraceptives in anticipation of marriage and the desire to postpone children. I wonder if there is a higher incidence of cold feet among this demographic?

4B) It is quite common in American culture for serious decisions regarding mate selection and engagement to take place after the initiation of regular sexual relations. Most often when this happens, the female is on hormonal contraception. This opens the door to vast numbers of women in our society to have their brains interpreting their potential mates smells the exact opposite of how they would if they were not taking the pill. What are the consequences of this? How does it impact the future of the marriage? The article mentions people with similar MHC have more miscarriage and infertility problems. Given the decreased attraction and increased stress due to infertility and miscarriage, it would seem a reasonable conclusion that there would be a higher incidence of divorce among this demographic.

Thoughts anyone?


Monday, January 28, 2008

What determines modesty?

I've been having an interesting discussion on another group about women covering or trying to reveal as little as possible of their breasts while breastfeeding.

There seems to be quite a large cohort that feels that thinking a woman should try to be as "discreet" as possible is an innately "anti-breastfeeding" view. Some even think that by covering up while nursing, women are prolonging the culture's view that the act or at least the body part is somehow dirty or shameful.

This has got me thinking about modesty in general.

Modesty varies so much from culture to culture, and obviously from gender to gender. In some cultures showing one's hair or an ankle is considered racy, while in other cultures nudity is the norm and is not considered sexual at all.

I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on a few things:

1. What determines modesty in a given culture?

2. What factors bring about changes in the culture's standards of modesty?

3. Should we, in general, try to remain within the standards of modesty of the culture in which we find ourselves, or are there sometimes good reasons not to do so? What would be some examples of good reasons not to, if you think they exist?

4. Is there ever an absolute right and wrong for standards of modesty (i.e. are some standards wrong because they result in abuse or discrimination or because they are simply unreasonable and/or unfair, or is showing certain body parts always wrong regardless of culture)?

5. How much does context determine whether showing a certain body part is appropriate or not, within a given culture? Does the attitude, reason and intent for showing a body part make a difference, or is there purely a clinical, quantifiable standard based on what body part is being shown? Are there situations where unavoidable or necessary exposure of a particular body part would be fine, while purposefully and unecessarily exposing that body part would not be ok? If so, where and how would you draw a line?

6. Why do you, personally, make the choices you do when it comes to modesty?

If you have any other ideas of points to discuss on this topic, feel free to add them. BTW, I'm not necessarily discussing law so much as common practice or what people think "should" be done, but I wouldn't be opposed to a discussion of the ethics of legislating modesty.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Giving to Charity is Profitable?

I have barely read the entire article, let alone tried to find holes in their statistics/logic, but I find the possibility intriguing.

It reminds me of an article I read not too long ago that looked at the differences between the way the rich give and the way poor and middle class people give. The basic premise was that rich people give to preserve their way of life (e.g., symphony and museums) while middle class and poor tend to give to help others with more immediate/tangible needs. Sadly, I don't have a link to that article to see if there is any overlap and perhaps there wouldn't be, since the first study also looked at the giving of time (in addition to money) to see if the correlation held.


Awhile ago I blogged about Russia's population crisis and the bizarre holiday that resulted from this problem. I wrote at the time that I was skeptical the holiday would have any effect because I saw the problem as "a fundamental lack of hope in society and an unchecked march toward cultural suicide."

Apparently, I was seeing the glass as simply half empty while others see this attitude as portending great hope for our planet. Silly me.

Even though I profoundly disagree with these folks' assessment of our situation here on planet earth, I found their ideas interesting to read about. Honestly, though, I have much more respect for the second couple than the first. The first couple strikes me as hypocrites and probably dishonest, while the second couple strikes me as much more sincere and consistent in applying their philosophy.

Reading this article again raised the question for me of why Russia is implementing these featured couple's ideal demographic situation on a nation-wide scale? Personally, I doubt the average Muscovite is truly out to save the planet. Here is my list of possible causes.
1) Saving the planet
2) Improving one's standard of living
3) Not seeing children as worth the hassle
4) Not being confident of one's ability to provide
5) Not seeing hope for the future and not wanting to bring a child into a hopeless world.
6) Your idea.

What am I missing? Are there other reasons that you can think of? Which reason/combination of reasons do you think is driving the drop in fertility in A) Russia and/or B) Western society? Honestly, I have a tough time imagining what would drive such societal trends, since I see children as the greatest joy/hope on earth and wouldn't mind having a whole passel of them. So, please, those of you closer to this pulse (or more able to imagine/envision what would drive it), clue me in. I just don't get it.


HT: Mission Territory who also has a great review up about the book "The Design Matrix: A Consilience of Clues"