Friday, February 21, 2014

Stuff To Read Over The Weekend, 2/21/14

This long article on the rise and fall of Chris Christie is of interest for political geeks and nerds.

Several states are trying to introduce far wider religious "conscience clause"  protections for firms and workers.  Arizona just passed such a law.

This time the focus is not on abortion or the "right" to refuse to prescribe the contraceptive pill, but on having the "right" to refuse to serve, say, gay or lesbian customers or clients. All this lawmaking probably has its roots in cases like this one, from New Mexico:

Vanessa Willock sent a brief email to Elane Photography wondering if they’d take pictures of her 2006 commitment ceremony to her longtime partner, Misti Collinsworth.
Elaine Huguenin, the photographer and co-owner of Elane photography with her husband Jonathan, said no. “As a company, we photograph traditional weddings,” read her response. “Are you saying that your company does not offer your photography services to same-sex couples?” Willock asked. “Yes, you are correct in saying we do not photograph same-sex weddings, but again, thanks for checking out our site!”
Willock told the state Human Rights Commission she was “shocked, angered and saddened” by Elane’s response, and suddenly worried she and Collinsworth would be unable to find a photographer. Though they eventually did, Willock also filed a complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission, saying that Elane Photography had violated a New Mexico state law banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
In August, the New Mexico Supreme court agreed, ruling unanimously that Elane Photography had violated state law by refusing to photograph the ceremony. Now the Huguenins are seeking to have their case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, saying that forcing them to take pictures of same-sex ceremonies violates their First Amendment rights by compelling them to engage in speech they don’t believe in. If the Supreme Court accepts the case, it will provide the first key test of a conservative political and legal strategy of reframing a losing battle against gay rights into a conflict over religious freedom, one that could rewrite the bounds of anti-discrimination laws in the United States. The case has “widespread ramifications for the conflict between religious rights and anti-discrimination rights,” said Caroline Mala Corbin, a professor at the University of Miami School of Law.

The bolds are mine.  It's important to note that these "religious rights" laws must be written in such general terms that they would open up the door for any type of discrimination that can be justified by some religion somewhere, even if that religion doesn't absolutely require that kind of shunning, unless the particular type of discrimination is already explicitly banned in other state laws.  The possible outcomes are mind-boggling.

In rodent research news, a new study argues that alcoholic daddy mice can sire baby mice with severe problems:

Published in Animal Cells and Systems, researchers studied male mice exposed to varying concentrations of alcohol and one control group exposed only to saline. After exposure the mice were mated and resulting fetuses examined. The findings revealed previously unknown and riveting evidence that paternal alcohol consumption can directly affect fetal development. 
A number of fetuses sired by males exposed to alcohol suffered abnormal organ development and or brain development. Those in the saline group were normal. So, can developmental abnormalities be predetermined at fertilization? This research proves so. The authors believe alcohol consumption affects genes in sperm which are responsible for normal fetal development. 
Until now fathers' lifestyle choices have not seen any repercussion on their unborn children. This ground-breaking research provides the first definitive evidence that fathers' drinking habits pre-conception can cause significant fetal abnormalities.

So prospective papa mice should probably stick to the saline drinks. 

I'm writing about this study because mice studies have in the past been interpreted as giving explicit health advice to human women about their fertility, so seeing that this has recently been expanded to giving health advice to human men about their fertility is kinda interesting.  Another recent study about papa mice taking vitamin B9  also gave human men health advice:

'Men really need to think carefully about the life they're living.'- Sarah Kimmins, McGill University 
Folate, found in leafy green vegetables, cereals, fruit, beans and liver, is known to prevent miscarriages and birth defects in humans if taken by the mother. Because of that, folate supplements are often recommended for women of childbearing age, especially if they are trying to become pregnant, and a lot of processed food is now enriched with folate. In men, folate deficiency is already known to reduce fertility.


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Greg Mankiw's Ode To The Rich

Mankiw, a professor of economics at Harvard, has written an opinion piece for the New York Times, on the topic of whether the rich deserve their large earnings.  I had a tiny problem after reading through his piece, and that is the question of how he defines that pesky verb "to deserve."

This matters quite a bit.  Does Mankiw mean that if we taxed the rich more, for example, something really bad would happen in the various markets they rule over?  That the large earnings of the super-rich, say, are a necessary condition for the rest of us to have nice things at all?

Or does Mankiw mean that the high earnings of the top 0.01 percent, say, are deserved in some moral or ethical sense?  And if this is the interpretation, does it have the corollary that the poor deserve their poverty?

Or does Mankiw mean something else, altogether, given that at the beginning of the piece he appeals to how people in general might feel about the question whether the rich are deserving or not:

In 2012, the actor Robert Downey Jr., played the role of Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man, in “The Avengers.” For his work in that single film, Mr. Downey was paid an astounding $50 million.
Does that fact make you mad? Does his compensation strike you as a great injustice? Does it make you want to take to the streets in protest? These questions go to the heart of the debate over economic inequality, to which President Obama has recently been drawing attention.
Certainly, $50 million is a lot of money. The typical American would have to work for about 1,000 years in order to earn that much.
That sum puts Mr. Downey in the top ranks of American earners. Anything more than about $400,000 a year puts you in the much-talked-about 1 percent. If you earn more than about $10 million, you are in the top 1 percent of the top 1 percent. Mr. Downey makes it easily.
Yet, somehow, when I talk to people about it, most are not appalled by his income. Why?
One reason seems to be that they understand how he earned it. “The Avengers” was a blockbuster with worldwide box-office receipts of more than $1.5 billion.

Let's see what Mankiw's detailed argument are.

More on Writer's Block. The Woody Allen Case.

This post is all about me.  It may not deserve publication at all, but I'm trying to dissolve my writer's block, by any means necessary.  And I think talking about some of the issues that cropped up in my head can be useful, because they relate to the way we have debates in the social media.

This current block began  when I  did a lot of research and thinking about the Dylan Farrow post and the various aftermaths (and before-maths).   At the time I had a post all structured in my head, then I read more and more and more and the structure melted back into thought clouds which didn't lend themselves to the kind of analysis I can do.

This giant, unwritten post is still clogging up my writing channel (cloaca?).  There are many unwritten posts in my head, and some of them are on very important topics.  That they remain  unwritten gives me guilt and shame and all the rest of the nice spices, but they don't cause writer's block.  This particular post did.

So I just tried to write it out by force (with all the evidence various camps quoted) but that didn't work.   Heh.  Then I tried to write to myself the reasons why I can't write the post, and that didn't work.  A perfect circle.

One more attempt, from a slightly different angle:

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Women, Get Your Mrs. Degrees Before It Is Too Late!

Amanda writes about a Wall Street Journal piece which urges that young women in college should start investing more in husband-hunting and less in their careers.  This one is by Susan Patton but the template has been used by many others before.

The conservative, anti-feminist story goes something like this:

1.  All men want is casual sex:

When you find a good man, take it slow. Casual sex is irresistible to men, but the smart move is not to give it away. If you offer intimacy without commitment, the incentive to commit is eliminated. The grandmotherly message of yesterday is still true today: Men won't buy the cow if the milk is free.

  Men don't want intimacy, commitment, marriage or children.  All they want is sex (a common anti-feminist view of men, by the way).   Women want marriage but not sex, and heterosexual women must con heterosexual men into marrying them.

The exchange plan the conservatives tell women to have is to refuse to provide sex without marriage.

Think of sex as milk and a young woman as a cow, as Patton does in her article.  Men won't buy the cow, she writes,  if the cow gives away its milk for nothing.  So it's important for the cows not let any milk leak.  That way you, the cow,  get to be bought (and presumably fed and cared for)  and this is called marriage.

What this means is that a woman must cross her legs until that ring is around her finger.  The flaw in this plan is pretty obvious. There's a big market for just the milk out there.  If men truly did not want commitment or marriage or children, they could find enough milk to buy or even get it provided freely.

2.  Never mind that actual market.  Patton argues that cows get old real fast, and any woman who spends time on her career and next promotion and so on will suddenly find herself competing with much younger women in the marriage markets!
Think about it: If you spend the first 10 years out of college focused entirely on building your career, when you finally get around to looking for a husband you'll be in your 30s, competing with women in their 20s. That's not a competition in which you're likely to fare well. If you want to have children, your biological clock will be ticking loud enough to ward off any potential suitors. Don't let it get to that point.
Somehow those much younger women are not like the women this article speaks to, which is illogical and bothers me.  Because if young women in college indeed are not prioritizing marriage, then they are not yet competing in the marriage markets with their older sisters (those poor deluded careerists whose eggs are beginning to smell.)

But never mind.  The real point of this step in the theory is that youth is what makes women attractive to men, youth fades away, and anyone who focuses on work is going to miss the marriage train.

Because somehow "planning for a husband" is so time-intensive that it cannot be combined with planning for promotions and a career or studying hard?  Women can't walk and chew gum at the same time?

That's what Ms. Patton appears to be saying.

4.  The final step is to accept that men don't mind "marrying down" but women do, and that women like marrying up but men don't*:

Could you marry a man who isn't your intellectual or professional equal? Sure. But the likelihood is that it will be frustrating to be with someone who just can't keep up with you or your friends. When the conversation turns to Jean Cocteau or Henrik Ibsen, the Bayeux Tapestry or Noam Chomsky, you won't find that glazed look that comes over his face at all appealing. And if you start to earn more than he does? Forget about it. Very few men have egos that can endure what they will see as a form of emasculation.

This is a common Evolutionary Psychology** argument ("all women are gold-diggers", "all men look for brainless Barbie-dolls," and this is argued to be hard-wired in our genes).  I have written several stunning take-downs of those arguments. 

A better way to understand why women in the past have tried to marry up (in the sense of finding a richer husband) is because of the laws which took most of the alternatives away from women so that marriage indeed became the best career path for most.  If inheritance favored sons over daughters, if guilds excluded women from membership, if the incomes women earned didn't belong to them but to their families, if universities and professions explicitly excluded women, well, how is a woman to make a living?  Add to that the weakness of any birth control, and you can see why Marriage As An Economic Arrangement would have been much more central to women than to men.

But writers like Patton implicitly assume that this is how men and women are, in some fundamental sense***.  She also seems to think that men won't mind having a wife who can't follow erudite discussions, perhaps because he can always talk about the Bayeux Tapestry with his male friends?  The same alternative is available for those uppity college women, of course.

Duh.  I ask myself why I write about any of this because Patton just takes out the conservative recipe, found under the title:  How To Keep Women From The Top End Of The Labor MarketThe Fear Cake,  measures out the ingredients and bakes the cake.  The recipe fails, because it's not based on facts about marriage rates and women's education.  As Amanda points out, evidence suggests that more educated women are more likely to get married over their lives than less educated women, and the general evidence on marriage shows that it's not in trouble among the more educated or the higher earning parts of the US population.

So why aim this advice to a particular group of women?  Why not write about the decline of marriage among those with less education and fewer earnings options if your job is to uphold traditional marriage? 

The answer is in that name of the cake I created.   None of this is about caring about the fate of young women in college but about a certain kind of social structure, the kind the social conservatives (who read Wall Street Journal) prefer to see, the kind of social structure which is reflected in the gender percentages of Republicans in the US Congress and the kind of social structure which cannot be maintained if too many women catch the brass ring or insist that kitchen chores and childcare must be shared more equally.

What's ironic about the Patton article is that in the olden days what she recommends used to be called getting your Mrs. Degree, and getting your Mrs. Degree was one of the slurs college women got thrown in their faces, along the lines that they were taking away the college places which should really go to those who plan to have actual careers.  Which just goes to show that it doesn't really matter what young women in college are there for; the conservatives would rather not have them there at all.

But honestly, the funniest thing about the Mrs. Degree piece is that it assumes some weird sort of giant effort to be required to hook a husband and that the puny female brains cannot fit both falling in love and studying but must choose between the two.  The next funniest (though also insulting) thing in the piece is the treatment of men as rather simple one-cell creatures which run on the need for sex and can be manipulated on that basis.  Sadly, that manipulation would end up hurting the women more than men.  This is not something Ms. Patton worries about, of course.

*This term is usually understood to be about education and income.  You "marry up" if your spouse earns more than you and/or is more educated than you.

**The capital letters serve to define this as the sub-field of the more extreme evolutionary psychologists, the ones who like JustSo stories about the prehistory where nomadic tribal living (with very little opportunity for amassing any kind of resources except those embodied in the person) in family-based units somehow provided the optimal environment for women to develop hard-wiring which today translates into preferring older men with large bank accounts.

***But more women do seem to be "marrying down".

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Blogger's Block

This, too, shall pass.  In the meantime, the world can also be beautiful,  life is not only a struggle, but it  has those moments of awe and joy and beauty