« March 2012 | Main | May 2012 »

April 30, 2012

Good Reads

Arnold Kling, who has been reading several of the same books the Editorial Staff are currently reading, sums up the authors' key points particularly well:

In a political debate, you feel like the other side just doesn’t get your point of view, and if they could only see things with your clarity, they would understand and fall naturally in line with what you believe. They must not understand, because if they did they wouldn’t think the things they think.

By contrast, you believe you totally get their point of view and you reject it. You see it in all its detail and understand it for what it is–stupid. You don’t need to hear them elaborate. So, each side believes they understand the other side better than the other side understands both their opponents and themselves.

Haidt examines this belief that we understand our opponents and he finds it to be incorrect. We are not very good at predicting the moral reasoning of our opponents.

Moderates and conservatives were most accurate in their predictions, whether they were pretending to be liberals or conservatives. Liberals were the least accurate, especially those who described themselves as "very liberal."

One may speculate as to why liberals might show the least understanding of their ideological opponents. However, the important point is that neither side understands the other very well. Hardly anyone could pass what economist Bryan Caplan calls the “ideological Turing test.”

In Caplan's test, I would have to appear on a panel with several of my ideological opponents. My goal would be to articulate their point of view so sympathetically that an audience of ideological opponents could not distinguish my views from those of the other panelists.

What the psychological research shows is that most partisans would be extremely unlikely to pass such a test, because we fail to understand the nuances of others' points of view as well as we think we do.

The psychology of moral reasoning leads me to question my own partisanship. The arguments I make for my point of view are likely to be rationalizations. I am likely to value my group identity, leading me to scrutinize opposing points of view to find errors while I overlook flaws in my allies' reasoning.

When I make a case for my point of view, I am likely to reinforce the bonds with my allies but only alienate further those with whom I disagree. When we encounter opposing points of view, we are unlikely to maintain an open mind; instead, our instinct is to look for weaknesses and to make the least charitable interpretations possible.

It's this last that bothers me most: someone disagrees with me, therefore they must be doing so maliciously (or because they're stupid or ignorant).

Kling offers a few tactics for elevating the tone of the debate. Most invoke one of Haidt's central themes: that civilization and society depend on the reasonable expectation of reciprocity, which presupposes the existence of effective ways to deter/punish free riders. I can't help but wonder how much of the vitriolic tone of today's hyperpartisan debates is driven by the conservative perception that government is [disastrously] using force to coerce us into behaving in ways that worsen the free rider problem and promote moral hazard (and thus erode trust/reciprocity) and the liberal perception that a better system of government that encouraged the best parts of human nature would increase both generosity and individual responsibility.

Though I have grave doubts about the ability of government to manage anything well, the core principle that underlies progressive utopianism is not quite as loony as it sounds:

... we found that you don't need to shoot a chemical up someone's nose, or have sex with them, or even give them a hug in order to create the surge in oxytocin that leads to more generous behavior. To trigger this "moral molecule," all you have to do is give someone a sign of trust. When one person extends himself to another in a trusting way—by, say, giving money—the person being trusted experiences a surge in oxytocin that makes her less likely to hold back and less likely to cheat. Which is another way of saying that the feeling of being trusted makes a person more…trustworthy. Which, over time, makes other people more inclined to trust, which in turn…

If you detect the makings of an endless loop that can feed back onto itself, creating what might be called a virtuous circle—and ultimately a more virtuous society—you are getting the idea.

I've seen this effect over and over again in life, so I can't doubt its power. What I have problems with is when government wants to override individual judgments about who does or does not deserve our trust.

I'm still digesting Haidt's and Kahneman's books but if you're interested, Kling's well thought out review is worth reading in its entirety.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:35 AM | Comments (44) | TrackBack

Why Was I Not Informed Of This???

The number one sign you need to work on your form:

Women may not need a guy, a vibrator, or any other direct sexual stimulation to have an orgasm, finds a new study on exercise-induced orgasms and sexual pleasure.

The findings add qualitative and quantitative data to a field that has been largely unstudied, according to researcher Debby Herbenick, co-director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University. For instance, Alfred Kinsey and his colleagues first reported the phenomenon in 1953, saying that about 5 percent of women they had interviewed mentioned orgasm linked to physical exercise. However, they couldn't know the actual prevalence because most of these women volunteered the information without being directly asked.

Since then, reports of so-called "coregasms," named because of their seeming link to exercises for core abdominal muscles, have circulated in the media for years, according to the researchers.

Though we have always thought of exercise as being mildly pleasurable, clearly we are doing something wrong.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:04 AM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

April 27, 2012

Drop And Give Him Twenty

No, the Blog Princess is not dead. Just buried in fundraising emails from the Obama campaign. In my Inbox this afternoon, a heartfelt plea from FLOTUS:

Cassandra --

We're up against a critical fundraising deadline this coming Monday, and we need your help.

We know you're working hard for this campaign, but we also want you to have some fun -- and that's where George Clooney comes in.

If you chip in between now and Monday, you'll be automatically entered for the chance to join Barack at George Clooney's house on May 10th.

Don't miss out -- make a donation of $3 or whatever you can:

https://my.democrats.org/Barack-and-George

Thanks, and good luck,

Michelle

How many "critical fundraising deadlines" does this make, now? It's getting to where we're terrified to ignore our email, lest we miss yet another CRITICAL FUNDRAISING DEADLINE !!11!

In the WSJ, Peggy Noonan notes what she calls "a growing air of incompetence" at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue:

There is a growing air of incompetence around Mr. Obama's White House. It was seen again this week in Supreme Court arguments over the administration's challenge to Arizona's attempted crackdown on illegal immigration. As Greg Stohr of Bloomberg News wrote, the court seemed to be disagreeing with the administration's understanding of federal power: "Solicitor General Donald Verrilli . . . met resistance across ideological lines. . . . Even Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the court's only Hispanic and an Obama appointee, told Verrilli his argument is 'not selling very well.' " This follows last month's embarrassing showing over the constitutionality of parts of ObamaCare.

All of this looks so bush league, so scattered. Add it to the General Services Administration, to Solyndra, to the other scandals, and you get a growing sense that no one's in charge, that the administration is paying attention to politics but not day-to-day governance. The two most public cabinet members are Eric Holder at Justice and Janet Napolitano at Homeland Security. He is overseeing the administration's Supreme Court cases. She is in charge of being unmoved by the daily stories of Transportation Security Administration incompetence and even cruelty at our airports. Those incidents and stories continue, but if you go to the Homeland Security website, there is no mention of them. It's as if they don't even exist.

It's not that they don't exist. It's just that, when weighed against the critically important business of fundraising, actually doing the job America hired him to do isn't terribly important to this president:

President Barack Obama's reelection campaign is sitting on a major cash-on-hand advantage over his likely opponent, Mitt Romney. The president raised $35 million in the month of March alone, while spending $15.6 million during that same time period.

If only he ran the federal government like he runs his campaign. When it comes to raising money, the Obama machine is anything but incompetent:

The rate of donations to expenditures left the president's team with $104,096,193.91 cash on hand -- a huge total, especially when compared to the Romney campaign's $10.1 million.

In addition to the money raised by the Obama campaign, the Democratic National Committee raised $18 million during the month of March (giving the allied forces a combined total of $53 million).

Imagine what would happen if these people spent as much time and energy actually trying to fix the problems we're facing as they do blowing off female reporters, taking lavish, taxpayer-funded boondoggles vacations during The Worst Inherited-from-Bush Depression Evah, and launching heavy-handed, thuggish attacks on anyone who fails to show sufficient Socialistic ardor

Try this thought experiment: You decide to donate money to Mitt Romney. You want change in the Oval Office, so you engage in your democratic right to send a check.

Several days later, President Barack Obama, the most powerful man on the planet, singles you out by name. His campaign brands you a Romney donor, shames you for "betting against America," and accuses you of having a "less-than-reputable" record. The message from the man who controls the Justice Department (which can indict you), the SEC (which can fine you), and the IRS (which can audit you), is clear: You made a mistake donating that money.

Are you worried?

Richard Nixon's "enemies list" appalled the country for the simple reason that presidents hold a unique trust. Unlike senators or congressmen, presidents alone represent all Americans. Their powers—to jail, to fine, to bankrupt—are also so vast as to require restraint. Any president who targets a private citizen for his politics is de facto engaged in government intimidation and threats. This is why presidents since Nixon have carefully avoided the practice.

Save Mr. Obama, who acknowledges no rules. This past week, one of his campaign websites posted an item entitled "Behind the curtain: A brief history of Romney's donors." In the post, the Obama campaign named and shamed eight private citizens who had donated to his opponent. Describing the givers as all having "less-than-reputable records," the post went on to make the extraordinary accusations that "quite a few" have also been "on the wrong side of the law" and profiting at "the expense of so many Americans."

Better hurry up and send in that $3 donation. We wouldn't want anything... unpleasant to happen to you.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:01 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

April 24, 2012

Regrettable Girly-Themed Lego Sets

Over the weekend, the Editorial Staff learned to our horror that the Patriarchy has discovered a new way to crush the souls of young girls - girly themed Lego sets:

According to the LEGO Group, their new line was designed based on four years of research into the ways in which boys and girls play.

...and you thought it was only conservatives who ignore Science when it doesn't fit the narrative! But wait, there's more gender injustice!

Bradley Wieners, executive editor at Bloomberg Businessweek, investigated why LEGO was trying to attract more girls at all. On the surface, he discovered they were responding directly to parents like Peggy Orenstein, author of "Cinderella Ate My Daughter" and poster-mom for equal-opportunity play. He quoted Orenstein saying, "The last time I was in a Lego store, there was this little pink ghetto over in one corner. And I thought, really? This is the best you can do?" The goal was to give little girls another option when they reach the "princess phase," at around four-years-old, the time when boys their age enter their "LEGO-phase." Because, as BusinessWeek reported, "Unlike tiaras and pink chiffon, Lego play develops spatial, mathematical, and fine motor skills, and lets kids build almost anything they can imagine, often leading to hours of quiet, independent play."

But, Wieners foresaw backlash to LEGO Friends. "They're definitely running a risk here of reinforcing some stereotypes, even as they try to break down the ones about girls building," he told NPR's Morning Edition.

And, within a few weeks of Wiener's article running and the new LEGOs being announced, a 1981 LEGO ad surfaced -- a photo of an adorable little redheaded girl (pictured below). She is wearing overalls and sneakers. She is holding an elaborate LEGO creation. The ad copy: "What it is is beautiful." Parents and childless adults alike connected with the image, clicked their Like buttons and sent it flying around Facebook. For places like Princess Free Zone and moms like Sarah Maida, the ad was a perfect foil to LEGO's newer, glossier, "sexier" girl-focused ads.

"It would be easy to assume that this is just about LEGO, but [it] is part of a much larger marketing environment that puts the interests of girls and boys into ... limiting boxes," said Cole, one of the women behind the new petition agains LEGO Friends. Indeed, other classic brands including Rainbow Brite, Strawberry Shortcake, My Little Pony -- and even Troll dolls -- have been transformed. The characters are much more slender, many look like they've gotten hair extensions, the Trolls carry purses. Sociological Images found nine examples which can be seen below.

This got us thinking: what kind of girly-themed Lego sets would meet the approval of gender warriors on both sides of the Battle of the Sexes? A few suggestions:

1. Lego Friends "Bunny Ranch" Set: In a daring twist on the ever-popular Susie's Lemonade ads, an anatomically correct female Lego character with ginormous fake boobs and hair extensions casts off outdated gender stereotypes (and her inhibitions!) by opening a wildly successful brothel staffed by robot prostitutes.

2. Nancy Hopkins Science Lab: Intrepid female scientist seeks to prove women are just as objective and unemotional as men by threatening to faint at the first whiff of an offensive null hypothesis!

3. Hypergamy Heaven: Shameless, gold digging cougars chase tiny alpha males with supersized wallets - compete to see who can snag the biggest sugar daddy!

4. Glass Ceiling Set - confused Mommy longs to stay home and watch soap operas and breastfeed her 5 children until their 18th birthdays, but is chained to her desk by scheming feminists who won't let her make her own decisions. The horror!

Oh go on... you know you want to.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:07 AM | Comments (32) | TrackBack

"Underemployed"

The media have invented a new class of victims: the underemployed. I guess if everyone's entitled to the well remunerated job of their dreams, it might seem unbearably oppressive to have to start at the bottom like your parents did. Don Surber isn't buying it:

As the Associated Press reported: “While there’s strong demand in science, education and health fields, arts and humanities flounder. Median wages for those with bachelor’s degrees are down from 2000, hit by technological changes that are eliminating mid-level jobs such as bank tellers. Most future job openings are projected to be in lower-skilled positions such as home health aides, who can provide personalized attention as the U.S. population ages.”

Recessions happen. Blame government. Blame business. Blame sunspot activity. My wife and I paid 19½% interest on our home in the mid-1980s. We survived. So will this generation.

Perhaps "underemployed" is the new, "near poor". This is what happens when poor is redefined to mean, "I have a job, a place to live, and food to eat but my next door neighbor has more than I do... therefore social injustice has occurred."

My first job after graduating from college as an adult with some work history was a consulting engagement I worked for free. My husband loaded soda trucks and filled vending machines and set up audio visual displays before going to Marine OCS in 1981.

How were you oppressed by the Evillest 1% in your youth? Share your tales of running capitalist pig-dog oppression in the comments section.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:53 AM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

April 20, 2012

Homeward Bound

Home, where my thought's escapin'
Home, where my music's playin'
Home, where my love lies waitin'
Silently for me...

Homesickness in men fighting the War Between the States:

In October 1861 Alfred Lewis Castleman, a surgeon in the Fifth Regiment of the Wisconsin Volunteers, described the first death in his regiment. It was not from battle. “The poor fellow died of Nostalgia (home-sickness), raving to the last breath about wife and children,” he wrote. “Deaths from this cause are very frequent in the army.”

Homesickness was widespread in both the Confederate and Union armies, as thousands of surviving journals and letters testify. Many men came from rural areas and were away from farm and family for the first time. Added to this sense of displacement was the fear that they might be killed in battle and never see their loved ones again.

An 1861 letter from Richard Simpson, a soldier in the Third South Carolina Volunteers, to his aunt was typical. “We are now in the land of danger, far, far from home,” he wrote. Simpson had been away from home before, but, he confided: “I never wished to be back as bad in my life. How memory recalls every little spot, and how vividly every little scene flashes before my mind. Oh! If there is one place dear to me it is home sweet home. How many joys cluster there. To join once more the family circle (I mean you all) and talk of times gone by would be more to me than all else besides.”

While Simpson’s homesickness was intense, it was not debilitating. For thousands of other men, the emotion sapped their strength and left them ill. When it became this serious, doctors deemed it nostalgia. Union records offer a good picture of its consequences: over the course of the war’s first year, the Surgeon General reported, there were 572 cases of nostalgia among troops. Those numbers rose in subsequent years, peaking in the year ending in June 1863, after the draft had begun. That year more than 2,000 men were listed as suffering from nostalgia; 12 succumbed to it. The year with the most fatalities was 1865, when 24 men died of the disease. In all, between 1861 and 1866, 5,537 Union soldiers suffered homesickness acutely enough to come to a doctor’s attention, and 74 died of it.

Given the deadly risks believed to accompany the condition, soldiers of all ranks monitored their own mental health as well as that of their comrades. Union Gen. Joseph Shields wrote in 1862 that soldiers, “if not allowed to go home and see their families … droop and die. … I have watched this.”

This strikes me as almost unbearably sad. It is also odd to read for the one who was left behind.

It never ceased to amaze me how The Unit would pine to be where the action was and then, almost as soon as the wheels touched the tarmac, he longed to be home again.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:31 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

April 19, 2012

Comparative Advantage and Our Terribly Unfair, Sexist Economy

In the Atlantic, Marty Nemko makes the argument that our economy is biased against men:

The 77-cents-on-the-dollars statistic is calculated in a way that is biased against men. For example, while among all physicians, men earn more than women, men are more likely to be in specialties requiring longer training, high-stress, and irregular hours, for example, surgery and cardiology. In contrast, women are more likely to be pediatricians. Despite that bias, across all careers, surveys report that childless women under 30 make more than men. More than 90 percent of workplace deaths, military deaths, and severe workplace injuries (e.g., amputations, black lung disease) occur to men. Such dangerous work justify higher pay for men.

Visit American workplaces, especially major corporations, and you'll find that anti-men practices are not only tolerated but routinely imposed by employers. Women but not men are encouraged to form committees and caucuses to advance their sex's causes in the workplace, often at men's expense. Examples:

• Mentor programs for women only

• Special training for women only

• Fast-track-to-executive position for women only

In honest conversation, most people will agree that, on average, men are more often willing to do the things it takes to get promoted, for example, to make time to take advanced technical courses by forgoing recreation such as sports or shopping. Men are more likely to be willing to move to a God-forsaken place (Montgomery, Alabama, anyone?) for a promotion, and, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, to work longer hours.

Now isn't that just like a man?

Seriously, I'm willing to stipulate that there's a very large grain of truth in most of the things Nemko complains about. On the other hand, I've worked for employers in 10 states and have never run into a single mentorship, training, or fast-track-to-executive program limited to women. In fact, it's safe to say that I've never encountered any formal or informal group or practice that limited its membership or benefits to women and I'm pretty sure the reverse is true as well.

Is there bias against men in many areas of the workplace? Sure, but then there is bias against women in other areas. In the aggregate, men and women have different interests and strengths and thus, different comparative advantages in the job market. I'm going to resist the temptation to counter each of Nemko's examples with heart wrenching stories of how terribly, horribly unfair life can be for working women because I believe his arguments should be considered on their merits without playing tit for tat, IYKWIMAITYD.

I have no real quarrel with the argument that government shouldn't be placing its finger on gender balancing scale. Mere contemplation of the long list of well intended social engineering debacles the government has thrown taxpayer dollars at over the last few decades is enough to send Powerless Men and the Helpless Women They Oppress Simply By Existing straight for the nearest liquor cabinet. In the 1960s, Congress decided to "help" poor black families and after millions of redistributed tax dollars and decades of angst-ridden navel gazing we got 70% illegitimacy rates and dysfunctional homes for our pains. This kind of change makes the status quo look downright utopian by comparison.

Over 4 decades of Warring on Poverty with nary an exit date or strategy in sight is less an advertisement for the efficacy of the Nanny State than an object lesson in the power of unintended consequences. What's missing in all of this hand wringing and selective anecdotary is any respect for the resiliency of the human spirit.

50 years ago, the shoe was most definitely on the other foot with regard to workplace gender bias. Women who wanted to work struggled with significant disadvantages in an environment where men controlled most powerful positions in industry, the legal system, and government. Feminism has managed to narrow the achievement gap between men and women and - in some cases - has actually flipped the balance.

On the right, bashing feminists has become de rigeur and to be fair, some of the loonier radical feminists make the temptation nearly impossible to resist. But like any knee-jerk reaction, reflexive feminist bashing begins to sound like responsive prayers during 11 o'clock morning prayer:

"Lord, for eyeless shrimp blindly bumbling about in oceans the Obamessiah promised to heal, we pray."

"Deliver us from man-hating FemiNazis and their Hateful, Man-hating Hatitudinous Ways!"

"...for 15 year old boys whose beautiful and natural right to consequence free sex has been harshed by nightmare visions of Planned Parenthood v. Casey..."

"Deliver us from man-hating FemiNazis and their Hateful, Man-hating Hatitudinous Ways!"

"...for women, chained to their desks by oppressive feminist anti-stereotypes..."

"O God of our Fathers Proudly Genderless Forebears, deliver us from man-hating FemiNazis and their Hateful, Man-hating Hatitudinous Ways!"

Life is unfair to so many people in so many ways. Do you have an idea for fixing all of this that doesn't involve more government and more taxes and more unintended consequences? Great. Let's hear it.

Now excuse me while I make my own damned sandwich :p

Posted by Cassandra at 08:51 AM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

Web Site of the Day...

...Marines with Dogs and Kids.

Lest we forget:

lestweforget.jpg


h/t our incredibly smart and accomplished DIL #2

Posted by Cassandra at 08:17 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 18, 2012

Child Support/Custody Facts & Figures

In a prior post, the Blog Princess addressed what she called The Myth of Easy Divorce:

A frequent tactic of the simple/single cause supporter is to truncate long term historical trends, notably beginning with an unrepresentative period for marriages and divorces in the US: the 1950s. I'm not sure whether this is deliberate or simply lazy but there's no denying that the practice conveniently airbrushes away over a century of steadily and rapidly rising divorce rates.

The myth of easy divorce is usually accompanied by another popular myth: that alimony and child support create powerful incentives for women to leave their marriages. Once again, the facts don't bear this theory out. Over time, the proportion of divorces in which the woman initiated divorce proceedings has been remarkably stable - it varies between 60-70 percent.

As a follow on to our discussion of custody and child support awards, this post will address some common perceptions about these issues and hopefully throw a few facts and studies onto the table. Caveat: I have spent a lot of time reading studies. I don't do this for a living, but I've done my best to evaluate the studies I've selected. I am open to looking at other studies, but that will happen subject to the time I have available. First, let's address some common perceptions:

Perception: the courts are biased against fathers, who almost never get custody.

Fact: Though it is true that women are far more likely to be awarded custody, they are also far more likely to ask for it in the first place. To establish bias, one must show (at the very minimum) that equally qualified fathers who request custody are denied more than half of the time, and here the data prove inconvenient. Courts can't be expected to award what they're not asked to. It turns out that fathers who ask for custody (and don't give up) are very likely to get either sole or joint custody:

From a state of Massachusetts study of custody awards at the state and national level come these studies of cases where fathers requested custody:

Study 1: MASS
2100 cases where fathers sought custody (100%)
5 year duration

29% of fathers got primary custody
65% of fathers got joint custody

7% of mothers got primary custody

Study 2: MASS
700 cases. In 57, (8.14%) father sought custody
6 years

67% of fathers got primary custody
23% of mothers got primary custody

Study 3: MASS
500 cases. In 8% of these cases, father sought custody
6 years

41% of fathers got sole custody
38% of fathers got joint custody

15% of mothers got sole custody

Study 4: Los Angeles
63% of fathers who sought sole custody were successful

Study 5: US appellate custody cases
51% of fathers who sought custody were successful (not clear from wording whether this includes just sole or sole/joint custody)

The study concluded:

The high success rate of fathers does not by itself establish gender bias against women. Additional evidence, however, indicates that women may be less able to afford the lawyers and experts needed in contested custody cases (see “Family Law Overview”) and that, in contested cases, different and stricter standards are applied to mothers.

More on fathers and custody:

Through most of Anglo-American legal history, there was little custody litigation because there was nothing to fight over. Dad always got the kids. Under English and early American common law, children were regarded as paternal property.

In the mid-1800s, the Industrial Revolution swept fathers out of jobs at or near home and into factories and businesses, prompting the courts to reverse course on custody. Under the “tender years” doctrine, eventually adopted in every state, the mother was presumed to be the proper custodian, especially for young children.

In the 1970s, this doctrine was replaced by the ostensibly gender-neutral “best interest of the child” standard. Today, only five states—Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee—have some form of maternal preference in custody statutes or case law, says Jeffrey Atkinson, author of Modern Child Custody Practice, 2d ed., and professor at DePaul University College of Law in Chicago.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court has not ruled on maternal preferences, Atkinson believes these holdout states are on shaky constitutional ground. “A presumption that women are inherently better able to care for children than men is not a legitimate, accurate method for determining custody,” he says.

Old stereotypes die hard, though, and fathers’ rights advocates say neutral statutory language has done little to change the courts’ pro-mother leanings. Moms are granted custody in 85 percent of all cases, notes Dianna Thompson, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based American Coalition for Fathers and Children. She says the expense of litigation and likelihood of losing discourages many dads from even fighting for custody.

However, statistics on custody awards can be deceiving, since most custody orders are uncontested or negotiated by the parties. A 1992 study of California cases showed that fathers were awarded primary or joint custody in about half of contested custody matters.

Some lawyers believe the gender gap in custody awards reflects a preference for the status quo, rather than bias against fathers. “Family law is a case-by-case, judge-by-judge affair,” says Joel Bigatel, a family lawyer in Narberth, Pa. “If there’s a bias in awarding custody, it’s in favor of primary caretakers. If dad is the working parent, and mom is the stay-at-home, she generally has a leg up.”

Working fathers have the best shot at being named primary caretakers if they have flexible schedules, or if the mother is also working and the children are already in day care or school, says Bigatel.

*******************

Perception: Child support laws are biased against men.

Fact: Higher earning spouses (usually men) pay more but the standard itself is gender neutral.
33 states use the gender neutral income shares standard. For example, wife makes 40% of total income, husband makes 60% of total income, CS is 18% of the total or 18000 for a total income of 100K. Wife's share would be .4(18,000), husband's share would be .6(18,000). If either parent's income goes up, so does their share of child maintenance costs.

17 states apply a fixed percentage to the non-custodial parent's income. Using the preceding example, noncustodial Mom's share would be .4(18,000) or noncustodial Dad's share would be .6(18,000). If custodial parent's income goes up, that does not affect noncustodial parent's duty to pay, since it is based upon his/her income alone.

******************

Perception: Fathers don't spend as much time with children as mothers do.

Fact/Study: True, but changing:

Between 1965 and 2000, men more than doubled the time they spent playing with and teaching their children, from 2.5 to 6.5 hours a week, according to a 2007 study by the Russell Sage Foundation, a New York-based social-science research organization. Mothers spent almost double that amount engaging in such activities, or 12.9 hours a week, in 2000.

******************

Perception: Women often allege abuse falsely to gain unfair advantage over men.

Fact: Not substantiated: (note: this document addresses many common misperceptions)

This matter was investigated by the Denver-based Research Unit of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts which performed a 2-year study which explored the incidence and validity of sexual abuse allegations in custody cases. Contrary to the popular myth that sexual allegations in custody cases are relatively common, the study found that, in the 12 states participating in the study, only 6% of custody cases involved allegations of sexual abuse. The belief that these allegations are typically false was also challenged by the study findings. Half of the allegations were believed by the investigators to be true, and in another 17% determination of the validity could not be made with any degree of certainty. The remaining third of the cases were not believed to involve abuse. However, in most of the cases where abuse was not substantiated, the allegations were believed to have been made in good faith and based on genuine suspicions.

Similar results have been found by other researchers. An Australian study (Brown et al., 1997) found the overall rate of false allegations during divorce to be about 9%, similar to the rate of false allegations at any other time. Schuman (2000) reviewed research that found a range of 1-5% for rates of deliberately false allegations, and 14-21% for mistaken allegations.

It is also important to note that when false allegations are raised, it is not always mothers accusing fathers. Nicholas Bala and John Schuman, two Queen's University law professors, reviewed Canadian judges' written decisions where allegations of either physical or sexual abuse were raised in the context of parental separation. They examined 196 family law cases that were adjudicated between 1990 and 1998. The results revealed that the judges felt that only a third of unproven cases of child abuse stemming from custody battles involved someone deliberately lying in court. In these cases, the judges found that fathers were more likely to fabricate the accusations than mothers. Of female-initiated allegations, just 1.3% were deemed intentionally false by civil courts, compared with 21% when the man in the failed relationship brought similar allegations.

Perception: It's common for ex-wives to get alimony.

Study (note, since there are no stats cited here, I'm not referring to it as a "fact"):

In the area of alimony, the Committee found that very few women receive alimony awards, while even fewer women receive awards that are adequate. While many alimony awards undervalue the contributions of the homemaker to the family, they also overvalue the earning potential of homemakers who have long been out of the labor market. Further, only a minority of the alimony awards ordered ever get collected. This has a grave impact on those most dependent on alimony, particularly older homemakers who no longer receive child support and who have decreased earning potential because of years spent on childrearing. These women must rely on their own resources to bring contempt action in cases of nonpayment, and they receive little help from the courts.

We began our investigation of child custody aware of a common perception that there is a bias in favor of women in these decisions. Our research contradicted this perception. Although mothers more frequently get primary physical custody of children following divorce, this practice does not reflect bias but rather the agreement of the parties and the fact that, in most families, mothers have been the primary [*748] caretakers of children. Fathers who actively seek custody obtain either primary or joint physical custody over 70% of the time. Reports indicate, however, that in some cases perceptions of gender bias may discourage fathers from seeking custody and stereotypes about fathers may sometimes affect case outcomes. In general, our evidence suggests that the courts hold higher standards for mothers than fathers in custody determinations

.

A second study yielded some interesting stats on pre- and post-divorce income:

incometoneeds.png

Women's income declined regardless of their work status:

income_work.png

Demographics and more information about child custody and support below the fold.

DEMOGRAPHICS

1. Parents with physical custody at the time of the survey were overwhelmingly female:

82.2% mothers
17.8 fathers

NOTE: The custodial parent is the parent with whom the child(ren) lived during the survey interview when their other parent(s) lived outside the household, although there may be equal joint- or split-custody
arrangements.
These numbers reflect actual physical custody at a point in time, not custody awards to mothers vs. fathers.

2. Custodial mothers are less likely to be divorced/separated (44 vs 54%) and more likely to have never married (37 vs 25%) than custodial fathers.

Source: Census Bureau, Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support

3. Custodial mothers are roughly twice as likely to live in poverty as custodial fathers:

cust_poverty.png

CHILD SUPPORT

4. Only half (50.6%) of custodial parents have a child support award or agreement. 90% of these agreements are formal/legal. 9% are informal agreements between the parties.

Mothers are more likely to have an award/agreement (55% vs 30%) than fathers.

5. Fewer than half of parents with a child support agreement receive all the child support they are owed:
cs_received.png

6. In 2009, average child support received was about $300 per month.

The median was about $147 per month.

23% of custodial parents received $417 or more.
29% of custodial parents received nothing.

Number of Children:

7. The majority (57.2%) of custodial parents have a single child.

Mothers were more likely to have 2 or more children (44 vs. 37%) than fathers.

***********************

Release the hounds, as they say.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:09 AM | Comments (76) | TrackBack

April 17, 2012

Father of the Year

Because nothing says, "I'm a dedicated parent" like spending quality time with your son:

A minister, Robert Franco, Jr., 30, was arrested along with the others. He had his 2-year-old son with him when he tried to pick up who he thought was a "lady of the night." However, it was an undercover policewoman.

The spousal unit, whilst relating this one to me, said, "Maybe he's angling for a job with the Secret Service. I hear there may be some positions opening up soon..."

Posted by Cassandra at 12:14 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

It's Official: We Are Doomed

Posted by Cassandra at 12:00 PM | Comments (26) | TrackBack

Tuesday Odds and Ends

A few items of interest:

"Pre-embryos" as property?

... unless and until our legislature decides to tackle this issue, our courts must consider the individual circumstances of each case. In this case, because Husband and Wife never made an agreement prior to undergoing IVF, and these pre-embryos are likely Wife’s only opportunity to achieve biological parenthood and her best chance to achieve parenthood at all, we agree with the trial court that the balancing of the interests tips in Wife’s favor.

The appellate court also stressed that the ex-wife had promised not to seek child support from the ex-husband, and to otherwise structure the divorce settlement in a way that minimizes the risk that the ex-husband will be held liable for child support.

Not sure what to say about this one.

***************************

Shocking stat of the day:

....researchers found a striking correlation: the group of college students least likely to report engaging in risky behavior (drinking, binge drinking, marijuana use and smoking) were those who contributed the most, financially, to their own education. Those students were also more likely to identify strongly with their future occupational identity — the ultimate goal of their degree. To Laura Padilla-Walker, who led the study, and her colleagues this suggests that the level of parental financial support provided to college students may be an important factor in determining whether they flourish or flounder at their academic pursuits.

Next they'll be telling us that hard work builds character, or that there's a relationship between having to work for what you have and appreciating it.

Who knew?

****************************

The Evil Rich already pay more than their "fair share":

FairShareChart.png

***********************

Math for Democrats:

Jerry Brown, California’s reborn Governor Moonbeam, defines his “millionaire’s tax” as applying to anybody who earns more than $250,000 a year. “Anybody who makes $250,000 becomes a millionaire very quickly,” he explained. “You just need four years.” This may be the simplest wealth-creation advice since Bob Hope was asked to respond back in 1967 to reports that he was worth half a billion dollars. “Anyone can do it,” said Hope. “All you have to do is save a million dollars a year for 500 years.”

It’s that easy, folks! Like President Obama says, all you have to do to pay off his 2011 deficit is save $3.2 billion a year for 500 years.

Who cares whether the policy actually works? It's how we feel about it that matters.

**************************

Math for Democrats II (Special Statistics Edition):

Apparently the soaring national debt and the threat of a nuclear Iran are not enough to occupy the government's time, because the Obama administration is pushing to force Westchester County, N.Y., to create more low-income housing, in order to mix and match classes and races to fit the government's preconceptions.

Behind all this busy work for bureaucrats and ideologues is the idea that there is something wrong if a community does not have an even or random distribution of various kinds of people. This arbitrary assumption is that the absence of evenness or randomness -- whether in employment, housing or innumerable other situations -- shows a "problem" that has to be "corrected."

No speck of evidence is considered necessary for this assumption to prevail at any level of government, including the Supreme Court of the United States. No one has to show the existence, much less the prevalence, of an even or random distribution of different segments of the population -- in any country, anywhere in the world, or at any period of history.

****************************

Tax fairness, an interactive infographic.

****************************

Posted by Cassandra at 08:50 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Dude, That's Harsh....

From a story about the Secret Service prostitution debacle:

The 11 Secret Service agents and officers involved in the prostitution scandal ahead of President Obama's visit to Colombia have been stripped of their security clearances, CBS News reports.

All have been accused of misconduct, placed on administrative leave and barred from entering Secret Service facilities worldwide, CBS says, citing an unidentified law enforcement official. They also have surrendered their equipment.

Yikes!

Posted by Cassandra at 06:28 AM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

April 16, 2012

Moral DNA

Via Dan Collins, an interesting Monday time waster:

In the battle for the moral high ground, it seems we have a winner at last.

A leading philosopher has claimed that women are more moral than men.
Professor Roger Steare developed the ‘Moral DNA’ test four years ago to measure both a person’s morality and the changes in their value systems when they enter the workplace.

Since then 60,000 volunteers have taken the questionnaire in more than 200 countries, ranging from chief executives to manual workers and housewives.
Professor Steare said the results show that your gender and age are most likely to influence your morality – with women and the over-thirties proving the ‘most moral’.

I've always been extremely skeptical of claims that men are more moral or rational than women or vice versa. We think, reason, and judge differently depending on our experiences, upbringing or faith, temperment, and yes - probably sex to some degree. But the larger problem with such broad pronouncements is that they presuppose a given definition of morality.

If you place a premium on caring then women will appear more moral but if you place a premium on justice then men tend to edge us out. I've often thought that the way men approach relationships with other people is more suited to a world of competitors: it optimizes on interacting with people with whom you have no bond, or with whom you are actively competing for resources. That kind of moral matrix is shaped by a sharp distinction between the way we treat family and close friends (people who can reasonably be expected to reciprocate kindness or trust) and the way we treat strangers or even enemies (people who cannot be trusted, or who may even wish to harm us). The down side of the traditionally male moral matrix is that having defensive walls up 24/7 isn't always appropriate with a spouse or close family. If you treat your spouse like you treat competitors, you're probably headed for divorce court.

Women tend to have an approach that is more suited to dealing with family or close friends. Intimacy and trust are easier for us. There are advantages to this model - one being that it often disarms other people and makes them more generous and fair. I've often found in the work world that it's easier for me to get others to cooperate (even when this means giving up something of value) than it is for my male co-worker. But it can also be disastrous when used with someone who is dishonorable.

It's also disastrous as a model for large societies, because we don't form the same bonds with total strangers that we form with family and friends. There is no reasonable expectation of reciprocity. I expect that this distinction (and not patriarchal oppression) explains why governments are usually run by men. Their moral model is more suited to the tasks governments must perform.

At any rate, these are gross generalizations. I find Jonathan Haidt's moral matrix interesting because he likens morality to an equalizer with six (OK, I just typed "sex" - I don't even want to think about what that means...) slider bars:

Care
Fairness
Loyalty
Authority
Purity
Liberty

Grim has been taking Haidt's online quizzes:

Dr. Haidt has updated his online quizzes, which you may enjoy taking for fun or edification; or just to help see the point he's trying to make. I was pleased to score perfectly on the scientific knowledge quiz, for example; it's not hard, and I expect all of you will do likewise. Both liberals and conservatives average over six out of seven total points.

The point he is making that gets the most attention comes from his "Sacredness Survey," where he's pushing the argument that conservatives and liberals share three value systems (fairness, avoidance of harm, and purity), but that conservatives have two more (authority and in-group loyalty).

I learn from this survey that Haidt's model ranks me as considering all but one of these values considerably more sacred than is normal for either liberals or conservatives; the exception is authority, for which I apparently have almost no respect whatsoever.

Haidt's Moral Foundations Theory is a model, and like most models it can never capture the infinite nuances of human behavior. But that doesn't mean they have no value. Myers-Briggs is another model that doesn't perfectly capture the human personality, but it achieves its intended purpose, which was to help people understand those who think and respond differently. I can unreservedly credit Myers-Briggs for helping me to understand my mother in law. Once I figured out what type she was, I was able to understand where she was coming from and better predict what would appeal to her or upset her.

As Grim mentions, I've been reading Haidt's latest book The Righteous Mind, and it's fascinating. So if you're inclined, go over to Grim's place and take the quizzes (link is in his post).

I took them a long time ago but would probably have to re-take them as Haidt added "Liberty/Oppression" to the list. I did take the Moral DNA test. Here are my results:

moraldna.png

Models, while not perfect, are helpful to the extent that they provide a framework for analyzing and understanding complex systems. Interesting stuff.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:29 AM | Comments (26) | TrackBack

Incroyable!

It's amazing what one man can do when he's properly motivated:

The president's reelection campaign and the Democratic National Committee took in a combined $53 million in March through their various fundraising accounts, the Obama camp announced in a video Monday.

... The top line number is up from $45 million in February and $29.1 million in January, the trend line is moving in a direction that Democrats can like.

...In March 2008, the Obama campaign -- operating without DNC help -- raised $42.8 million.

Imagine what he could do if he seriously tried to pass a budget or deal with the deficit!

Posted by Cassandra at 07:21 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Things I Missed Over the Weekend...

Stacy McCain apparently linked to the Another Day, Another Victim post thusly:

Cassandra at Villanous Company does her Alpha Female b**ch-goddess workout on James Taranto, who had the temerity to offer a sympathetic view of young male existence in the post-feminist society:

...As for what inspired Cassandra to go off on Taranto, I’m not sure. Maybe my pot-stirring post yesterday put him on her radar screen. At any rate, the great thing about being a married man is that you only have to worry about keeping one woman happy — or at least happy enough that she doesn’t knife you to death in your sleep. Mrs. Other McCain just shared with me a joke her friend posted on Facebook:

“One day a long time ago, there was a woman who did not whine, nag or bitch. But that was a long time ago, and it was only for one day.”

Indeed.

It's hard to tell what it is that Stacy disagrees with in my post because, aside from the repeated personal insults, he never addresses any of the points I made. And though I hate to burst his bubble, what "put Taranto on my radar screen", as he so quaintly put it, was Memeorandum. The link's right in the first sentence of the post.

Perhaps Stacy thinks 15-17 year old boys should not stop and think about the consequences before they have sex?

Maybe he believes that a healthy respect for negative consequences is the same as being afraid of girls?

Or perhaps he disagrees that the Lefty inequality narrative posits that people who work harder, achieve more, or outearn others have done something vaguely wrong and unfair and ought to share some of their ill-gotten gains with the ambitionally-challenged?

Or maybe he thinks boys should not use condoms?

Hard to say. The one thing that does seem clear is that I am supposed to be uber outraged. I do hate to disappoint, but there's nothing (aside from a lot of irrelevant nastiness) substantive there to address.

Nice try, though :)

Posted by Cassandra at 06:28 AM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

April 14, 2012

Housewifery as a Luxury Good

Texan99 riffs on the President's dubious assertion that he and Michelle couldn't afford for her to stay home with the kids:

A definition of luxury becomes even more fraught with unconscious moral assumptions when the term is applied to activities that at one time were considered duties. You hear people talk, for instance, as though the prohibition against theft were a luxury that only the rich can afford, because they are not truly hungry. A more thoughtful way to apprpoach that issue would be to say that a rich man's honesty has not been tested by hunger, with a cautionary note that a rich man should be slow to assume that he would do a better job than his neighbor of avoiding theft if he ever were equally hungry. By defining a virtue as a luxury, however, someone who wants to remove the stigma from violation of a duty can score an indirect moral point in his own favor, or at least disarm his critics in advance -- as if everyone in less desperate straits than oneself were at least unpleasantly complacent, if not outright greedy.

I am referring, obviously, to the President's recent statement that he and his wife did not have the "luxury" of letting her stay home with the kids. This statement is remarkably full of loaded assumptions. To begin with, it's hard not to laugh at the idea that a family with hundreds of thousands of dollars of income "can't afford" to forgo a second paycheck. But even if you buy that notion, calling a stay-at-home mom a "luxury" is essentially to make a judgment that the big house and the cable TV are basic necessities, while personally raising their children constitutes the frill.

The President presumably considers himself something of a feminist, without ever thinking about it very hard. Being a man of his culture, however, he naturally assumes that the man works and then, if there's still not enough money, the woman works too, which just shows you that he's not nutty enough to expect even a very liberal electorate to swallow too many transformative social experiments all at once. But a real feminist wouldn't justify her decision to earn a living by saying her husband couldn't afford to support her. She might suggest that, if it were clear that at least one parent ought to stay home with young children, then some careful thought should be given to which parent it should be. She might also take the position that it's no one's business but hers and her husband's how they arrange to share the adult duties in their household.

I've read her post three times now, and like a fine wine it just keeps getting better.

Posted by Cassandra at 02:36 PM | Comments (23) | TrackBack

Another Day, Another Victim: Perverse Conservatism Edition

James Taranto is upset. Very upset. It seems that teenaged boys are in serious danger of behaving responsibly, and [I'll bet you never saw this one coming] feminists are to blame:

An odd recent New York Times op-ed by sociologist Amy Schalet touts the rise of, as the headline puts it, "Caring, Romantic American Boys." Schalet, who studied American high school sophomores (along with Dutch ones) for a forthcoming book, reports that "boys [are] behaving more 'like girls' in terms of when they lose their virginity," by which she means they "are becoming more careful and more romantic about their first sexual experiences."

Maybe her book will flesh out that claim, but in her op-ed the boys sound downright terrified: "American boys often said sex could end their life as they knew it. After a condom broke, one worried: 'I could be screwed for the rest of my life.' Another boy said he did not want to have sex yet for fear of becoming a father before his time."

If you're anything like this mother of two grown sons, you may well be confused. I know I am, because during the many talks I had with my sons during their teen years, the one point I tried to drive home to them is that sex isn't a game. It's an adult activity with adult consequences. If you fail to use birth control (or if, as happened to this author, you did use birth control but it fails) you will find yourself, as I did at the ripe old age of 19, sitting in a doctor's office as he tells you that you are now the proud carrier of a human life. "Life as you know it" will indeed end.

Taranto's disquiet is even more bizarre when you stop to realize that the boys he wants to free from the onerous responsibility of thinking about real world consequences are only 15-17 years old. Oh, the humanity! I'm not sure I care to live in a world where 15-17 year old boys can't have consequence free sex any more. Should this destructive trend catch on, we are in serious danger of living in a society where people actually think before acting. Or worse, take responsibility for their own behavior!

Question for the ages: didn't conservatives used to think personal responsibility was a good thing for everyone? Or is it only some people who should act responsibly? This seems to be a central theme in Taranto's writing of late. In an earlier column, he identifies a particularly nasty trend: females who want to be educated and productive members of society:

As Charles Murray shows in his new book, "Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010," marriage has declined much less sharply among the educated and affluent than among the so-called working class. But it has still declined, and it can be expected to decline more absent a reversal of the trend toward greater female education and accomplishment.

How can this disturbing trend of education and achievement be reversed before it destroys us all? Tellingly, Taranto doesn't say. Perhaps women could voluntarily limit themselves, so as not to unfairly outshine males who have chosen not to show up for the game? Implicit in Taranto's arguments is a refrain that underlies the Left's inequality narrative: people who work harder, achieve more, or outearn others have done something vaguely wrong and unfair. When inequality happens, the onus is not on low achievers to aim higher or work harder. Rather, it is the high achievers who must level the playing field by lowering their goals and sharing their ill gotten gains with the ambition-challenged.

Once you accept this perverse formulation, it seems only natural that the solution to the problem of "overachieving" females is for them to lower their sights and allow the disheartened men they are victimizing to catch up.

By conflating fear of consequences with fear of girls or sex itself (they're not the same thing) Taranto manages to make rational and responsible decision-making look like pathology. But just in case you still think the world would be a better place if teenagers considered the consequences of their actions and learned to control their sex drives (a technique called "abstinence"), Taranto has another shocker for you:

At the same time, there is good reason for males (men as well as boys) to be more fearful of sex than females. Contemporary reproductive technology and law place all the burden for unwanted pregnancy on them.

All the burden? In what universe do bearing, supporting, and raising a child, or having an abortion, (these are the consequences of unplanned pregnancy for females) constitute "none of the burden"? Let's take his arguments point by point:

Between the pill and abortion, women have complete control over the reproductive process. They can avoid or end any unwanted pregnancy, and the man involved has no say in the matter.

If we accept that 100% of the responsibility for preventing pregnancy rests with the woman, this might be true. But it takes two people to make a baby, and both can use birth control. Only by ignoring the ability to use condoms (which, in the case of unmarried men and women, happens to be the ONLY way to prevent transmission of STDs) can one say that men have "no control".

In Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), the U.S. Supreme Court went so far as to hold that a married woman has the constitutional right to abort her husband's child without even telling him.

Is Taranto seriously suggesting that teenagers, who aren't known for thinking about even obvious consequences like pregnancy or STDs, are factoring the outcome of Planned Parenthood v. Casey into their decision making process? Our public schools must be in better shape than I thought.

A woman's "reproductive rights" also include the right to carry a pregnancy to term.

How can we fix this gender injustice? Perhaps teenaged boys who choose not to use birth control could sue to force their partners to have abortions... you know, to make things more "fair"? One expects to see this kind of consequence shifting rhetoric from the Obama administration. To see it in the Wall Street Journal is mind boggling.

The crucial point here is that while the decision belongs entirely to her, in the event that a child is born the law assigns financial responsibility to the male involved.

Actually, though one would never know it from his essay, the law assigns financial responsibility to BOTH parents.

That is what the boy in her study means when he worries about being "screwed for the rest of my life." Short of sterilization, the only way for a male to be sure of avoiding this fate is to abstain from sex.

It's hard to tell where Taranto is coming from here. A young woman who becomes pregnant and keeps the child is hardly getting off scot-free. Her life will be irrevocably changed. Not only will she bear financial responsibility (hopefully shared, though Taranto seems to think this terribly unfair) for a child, but she will have to raise the child.

The invisible character in this drama is the unborn child. Perhaps "it" would be better off just being aborted? It seems presumptuous of the unborn to expect both parents to share some belated responsibility for an act that changed not one, but three lives. The cheeky things.

One thing is certain in all of this: responsibility is dangerous. But worse, it may well be contagious:

Since most people agree that teenagers should abstain from sex anyway, isn't the trend Schalet notes a healthy one? Not necessarily. After all, if adults abstain from sex too, mankind is doomed:

Taranto has us there: a society of responsible adults strikes us as something greatly to be feared. If such a thing were to come to pass, who would need government bailouts and intrusive social engineering programs?

Update: Welcome, Michelle Malkin readers!

Posted by Cassandra at 09:20 AM | Comments (63) | TrackBack

April 13, 2012

"A Woman's Place Is....."

...in the news, apparently. This week, the Blatherosphere and Twitterverse lit up like a Roman candle over Hillary Rosen's highly entertaining venture into self-beclownment as performance art. Michelle Malkin, a working Mom herself, is no stranger to the Left's schizophrenic and hamfisted attempts to school women about their rightful place in society. She notes that the "She never did a day of work in her life" putdown has been used before:

Teresa Heinz-Kerry did it to Laura Bush in 2004: Q: You’d be different from Laura Bush? A: Well, you know, I don’t know Laura Bush. But she seems to be calm, and she has a sparkle in her eye, which is good. But I don’t know that she’s ever had a real job — I mean, since she’s been grown up.

Apparently earning a Bachelors' degree in education and a Masters in Library Science, then employing those degrees as a professional teacher and librarian don't rate inclusion on the Left's list of approved jobs. Inconveniently, Mrs. Romney's resume turns out to be a tad more impressive than Rosin's blissfully ignorant sneers would lead one to believe. Not that this actually matters. "Women's work", doncha know...

Sarah Palin got the opposite treatment: throngs of concerned progressives anxiously wrung their hands over the heretofore verboten matter of Who Will Mind the Kids if Mommy becomes Vice President? A question that once provoked well deserved scorn in progressive circles was suddenly and inexplicably taken very seriously (as though Gov. Palin's career choices or parenting style were anyone's business but that of Todd and Sarah Palin).

The one constant in all of this agonizing over a woman's proper role has been that if the woman happens to be a liberal, there is no wrong answer. But if she's conservative, there is no right answer. Which, come to think of it, may be one reason Obama's War on Women meme appears to be having at least some effect on the perceptions of the voting public. Let's face it - it gets a reaction every time and the reaction from conservatives is consistently inconsistent. What comes across to women like me, who believe in the value of time honored gender roles, who don't for one moment doubt that conservative policies (as opposed to conservative punditry) have anything but my best interest at heart, who have both stayed home to raise children and left home to begin a career, is that some folks on the right are just as deeply confusicated about all this pesky talk of women having dangerous choices as their progressive brethren in Christ.

Over at the Conservative Commune, ladypart-having blogger Joy McCann takes issue with a recent column by James Taranto of the WSJ:

Taranto is prone to an oversimplification—emphasizing the destructive side of feminism—that is really prevalent on the right, and can be dangerous, for three reasons. First off, many independents and moderates interpret the word “feminist” to be merely “anti-sexist.” To rail against feminism without noting that not all of it was radical can mark conservatives and Republicans as potentially, or even predominantly, sexist—which conveniently underscores a false liberal-left narrative about us.

...The GOP is not the party of rigid sex roles. The GOP is the “come as you are party”: we believe that individuals and families can make these decisions for themselves. We love women who work in the home, and those who work outside the home; we want to keep families’ tax burdens low so that they can make parenting and housework determinations for themselves. We love science. We love rational atheists, and people of faith. We love free markets.

That is conservative.

For well over three decades, I have voted conservative because I believed the GOP to be the party that best aligns with my values and my interests. Conservatism, in my opinion, balances opportunity and respect for individual liberty with responsibility and duty to something larger than self. Therefore, it is deeply distressing to me to see conservative pundits reinforcing the progressive narrative of conservatives as reactionary control freaks fretting about all those uppity womynfolk oppressed and confused by the choices modern life affords to them.

What is a conservative female to think when she sees pundits describing adult women who choose to work (or not) as "chained to their desks"? What is she to think when she sees conservative pundits industriously laboring to prove that (inconvenient evidence to the contrary notwithstanding), educated working women are, in some unexplained but emotionally gratifying fashion, directly or indirectly destroying marriage?

As Charles Murray shows in his new book, "Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010," marriage has declined much less sharply among the educated and affluent than among the so-called working class. But it has still declined, and it can be expected to decline more absent a reversal of the trend toward greater female education and accomplishment.

Think for just a moment about the implication of this stunning statement: if we don't "reverse the trend" of women being allowed to attend college and decide whether or not they want to work, disaster will ensue? Is that really what conservatism is all about?

I don't think so. I've been surrounded by conservative men all my life. My Dad, whose fondest dream for me was to attend law school and be an attorney. My husband, who after decades of being married to a SAH wife, supported me in my long-deferred dream of having a career, and who is my biggest fan and cheering section. My two sons, one married to a teacher with a Masters' degree and the other married to a brand spanking new PhD.

My beloved readers here at VC, most of whom are male and the vast majority of whom respect and honor women.

In the column Joy took issue with last night, Taranto repeats a favorite Lefty narrative: women as helpless victims who "have no choice" but to work... unless of course they indulge their Inner Hypergamist and marry a man of means, in which case the iron shackles that chain them to their desks will burst asunder, ushering a glorious new age of domesticity! No longer will poor, confusicated women have to wrestle with choices. If we just have the courage to reject what feminists keep telling us to do and embrace what conservatives want us to do, we'll be so much happier.

There's just one problem with this formulation: the facts don't support the narrative:

There's been a great deal of talk about the "opt-out revolution" among professional women who stay home, even as working class parents have been forced by men's stagnant wages to work more and more jobs and hours.

The data, though, don't support the impression that staying at home is a luxury. A detailed 2010 study by two Census Bureau sociologist, in fact, found the opposite: While stay-at-home motherhood has become less common over time, the women who stay at home are increasingly those whose low education means they can't earn enough money to making working outside the home worthwhile.

The idea that women have no choices, or are "forced" to do anything is offensive enough when Hillary Rosen advances it. We always have choices. When we don't like our choices, it often turns out that our previous decisions have narrowed our present options. That's the "responsibility" part of freedom vs. responsibility, and being asked to deal with tradeoffs isn't too onerous a burden for adults.

It is patronizing when the DNC flogs their vision of bemused, clueless women victimized by evil forces beyond our control (aka, heartless conservatives who hate us and want us to suffer). It's equally patronizing when conservative pundits imply that we're being victimized by joyless feminists who hate all that's holy and want us to suffer.

I rather doubt Ann Romney is verklempt over the DNC's latest own goal. She handled the kerfuffle wisely and well because she's secure in her own values and judgment. It is inconvenient for some progressives and radical feminists that around 40% of mothers choose, for whatever reason, to stay home and raise their kids.

And it is inconvenient for conservatives who long to "reverse the trend of female education and achievement" that women like myself, who happily embraced the role of traditional wife-and-motherdom consider themselves better off in today's world than they would have been in the one we remember growing up in.

Even if we're oppressed by all that horrid freedom and the choices and tradeoffs that go with it. Even if all this handwringing over whether womens' lib and the sexual revolution have been good for women grates on our last nerve.

The Left tends to treat women like big, clueless children. We don't combat that mindset by following suit (albeit with a half twist of lemon). I won't hold my breath for either conservatives or progressives to stop telling women what our place in society should be, or what will make us happy. Adults decide these things for themselves - they make their own choices and deal with the consequences.

That is conservatism, in a nutshell.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:59 AM | Comments (27) | TrackBack

April 12, 2012

The White House's Hokey Tax Calculators

Whilst searching for Obama's Executive Order on diversity in the federal workfarce, the Editorial Staff stumbled across something highly diverting: a tax calculator that purports to tell you exactly how your federal tax dollars are spent:

YOUR FEDERAL TAXPAYER RECEIPT
UNDERSTAND HOW AND WHERE YOUR TAX DOLLARS ARE BEING SPENT
Enter your 2011 payments below or select an estimate from the drop down menu!

Finally!!! The Most Transparent and Honest Administration Evah was living up to its lofty rhetoric! Feeling positively tingly with excitement, we prepared to type in our annual income and find out just how our tax dollars are spent!

Imagine our shock and disappointment when we found that according to the Obama White House, no one in America makes over 80K a year!

invisible.png

We beg your assistance in understanding this puzzling omission. Did the administration really intend to leave out the 40% of US households with income above 80K? (in other words, households headed by mostly married couples with multiple wage earners... you know, the households who pay the lion's share of income taxes?).

Here is a summary of some of the key demographic differences between American households in the bottom and top income quintiles in 2010:

1. On average, there were significantly more income earners per household in the top income quintile households (1.97) than earners per household in the lowest-income households (0.43).

2. Married-couple households represented a much greater share of the top income quintile (78.4 percent) than for the bottom income quintile (17 percent), and single-parent or single households represented a much greater share of the bottom quintile (83 percent) than for the top quintile (21.6 percent).

3. Roughly 3 out of 4 households in the top income quintile included individuals in their prime earning years between the ages of 35-64, compared to only 43.6 percent of household members in the bottom fifth who were in that age group.

4. Compared to members of the top income quintile, household members in the bottom income quintile were 1.6 times more likely to be in the youngest age group (under 35 years), and three times more likely to be in the oldest age group (65 years and over).

5. More than four times as many top quintile households included at least one adult who was working full-time in 2010 (77.2 percent) compared to the bottom income quintile (only 17.4 percent), and more than five times as many households in the bottom quintile included adults who did not work at all (68.2 percent) compared to top quintile households whose family members did not work (13.3 percent).

6. Family members of households in the top income quintile were about five times more likely to have a college degree (60.3 percent) than members of households in the bottom income quintile (only 12.1 percent). In contrast, family members of the lowest income quintile were 12 times more likely than those in the top income quintile to have less than a high school degree in 2010 (26.7 percent vs. 2.2 percent).

But wait! There's more hokey tax gimmickry in store! Via Memeorandum, we were amused to see none other than Dana Milbank lampooning the administration's blatantly cynical demagoguery:

President Obama admits it: His proposed “Buffett Rule” tax on millionaires is a gimmick.

“There are others who are saying: ‘Well, this is just a gimmick. Just taxing millionaires and billionaires, just imposing the Buffett Rule, won’t do enough to close the deficit,’ ” Obama declared Wednesday. “Well, I agree.”

Actually, the gimmick was apparent even without the president’s acknowledgment. He gave his remarks in a room in the White House complex adorned with campaign-style photos of his factory tours. On stage with him were eight props: four millionaires, each paired with a middle-class assistant. The octet smiled and nodded so much as Obama made his case that it appeared the president was sharing the stage with eight bobbleheads.

And if that’s not enough evidence of gimmickry, after his speech Obama’s reelection campaign unveiled an online tax calculator “to see how your tax rate stacks up against Mitt Romney’s — and then see what the Buffett Rule would do.”

After our first experience with the White House Tax Calculator, we could hardly wait to repeat the experience! Breathless with anticipation, we hied our Bad, Heteronormative, Taxpaying Self to the the White House website and typed in our annual household income. This is what we saw:

A middle-class couple with an annual income of $42,500 each

20.6%A MIDDLE-CLASS TAX RATE:
30%A MILLIONAIRE'S TAX RATE
Source: OFA analysis

[thud]

Apparently when the White House says, "The Buffet Rule AND YOU", they mean "The Buffet Rule applied to some arbitrarily chosen number that gives us the result we want you to see". What did any of this have to do with the annual income we entered? Our math skillz may not be up to the level of the smart people working at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but as far as we can see, nothing. Nada. Zippo.

Oh, the humanity! We are invisible: as far as the aptly named White [Male] House is concerned, we don't even exist. Now if we invisible folk would only shut up and fork over our fair share of our earned income to the folks who really matter, Obama could get on with the hard work of transforming America into a more diverse, inclusive nation where the failed, divisive politics of yesteryear were just a bad memory.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:41 AM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Apparently, The Obama White House is a Just Another Pink Ghetto

Just the other day the Editorial Staff were shocked (shocked, we tell you!) to learn that our first postracial White-African President has assembled a shockingly undiverse campaign staff chock full of disturbingly white faces. An ironically titled post on the Obama-Biden Tumblr site captions a then vs. now retrospective of his hometown re-election staff:

Chicago HQ, 2011 versus 2012: What a difference a year makes.

Nowwithmorewhiteness!.png

Suggested campaign slogan: Obama-Biden in 2012: Overwhelmingly white then, even more overwhelmingly white now!

We barely had time to get over our shock and disappointment when a new outrage reared its ugly head! Despite an executive order vowing to lead the way on diversity, creating a national council on women and girls, and choosing a women's pay equity bill as the first law signed in his new administration, it appears that Obama's lofty words aren't quite matched by his hiring practices:

Female employees in the Obama White House make considerably less than their male colleagues, records show.

According to the 2011 annual report on White House staff, female employees earned a median annual salary of $60,000, which was about 18 percent less than the median salary for male employees ($71,000).

We took a quick look at the cited report, and the top earning positions appear to be disproportionately held by men.

Of the top 41 positions with salaries of $150,000 or more, about 36% are held by women. Seven Of the top twenty jobs earning the highest salary of $172,200 are held by women.

Thanks to our progressive brethren in Christ, we all know that under a fair and unbiased system, the top ranking positions would look just like America: a little over half female. Are we seriously expected to believe the President of the United States can't find enough qualified women to make up a fully diverse, representative staff that lives up to his professed principles on gender justice?

Say it isn't so!

Posted by Cassandra at 07:29 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Gawker Mag's Brave, Truth Telling Whistleblower

Quote of the day from the Fox Mole:

I am a weasel, a traitor, a sell-out and every bad word you can throw at me... but as of today, I am free, and I am ready to tell my story, which I wasn't able to fully do for the previous 36 hours.

can.jpgWe do not know about you people, but there is no one we trust more to bravely tell us the sordid truth about the tawdry state of the commodes at Faux News than a self-described weaselly, traitorous sell-out. If we didn't know better, we might suspect that the folks at Gawker were having a bit of self-defecating fun at our expense.

Will the evil empire ever pony up for some long overdue restroom renovations? Sadly, with the Fox Mole gone we may never know.

Who knows how many other game changing stories will go unrevealed and unreported?

Posted by Cassandra at 06:35 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

April 11, 2012

Finally, Our National Nightmare Is Over...

Just when we feared the suspense had become unbearable, Attorney General Eric Holder has stepped forward to spread the healing balm of sweet reason over a troubled nation:

“Many of you are greatly — and rightly — concerned about the recent shooting death of Trayvon Martin, a young man whose future has been lost to the ages,” Holder said to the civil rights group National Action Network. “If we find evidence of a potential federal criminal civil rights crime, we will take appropriate action, and at every step, the facts and law will guide us forward.”

Whatever one thinks of Herr Holder, one has to admire his ability to calm an angry crowd. What better to restore our lost perspective than to lend the imprimatur of the Justice Department to professional troublemakers like Al Sharpton whilst delicately hinting at the delicious prospect of a federal hate crime prosecution? According to said Justice Department, all violent crime is serious, but crimes against Hyphenated-Americans must be handled with particular caution:

The number of hate crimes may seem small when compared with the incidence of other types of crimes in the United States. In 1993, for example, 11 of the 24,526 murders reported in the United States were classified as hate crimes, as were 13 of the 104,806 reported rapes. But the simple truth about hate crimes is that each offense victimizes not one victim but many. A hate crime victimizes not only the immediate target but every member of the group that the immediate target represents. A bias-motivated offense can cause a broad ripple of discomfiture among members of a targeted group, and a violent hate crime can act like a virus, quickly spreading feelings of terror and loathing across an entire community. Apart from their psychological impacts, violent hate crimes can create tides of retaliation and counterretaliation.

Please excuse the Editorial Staff. We are experiencing a broad ripple of discomfiture, compounded by quickly spreading feelings of fear and loathing.

Heckuva job, Holdie.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:48 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Oh! The Humanity!

Apparently, we have done something very, very wrong.

disappointed_dog.jpg

Don't let it happen again.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:26 AM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

April 10, 2012

A Question of Balance

In the Boston Globe, Cathy Young addresses the gender wars:

Democrats are accusing Republicans of waging a “war against women’’ by attacking abortion rights and access to birth control. Republicans have tried to turn the tables, claiming that the real woman-haters are the Democrats and citing such things as hateful language by some liberals toward right-wing women. Meanwhile, a massive gender gap has opened up, suggesting that women may reelect President Obama in November. And some Internet polemicists are claiming that the real war is against men.

Is this just election-year noise - or is there really a gender war, and by whom against whom?

At the risk of resurrecting a tired metaphor, this latest skirmish in the battle of the sexes looks an awful lot like the final stages of a particularly nasty divorce. Women have some cause for conern:

The push against government-mandated insurance coverage of contraception, even by faith-based employers such as Catholic schools and charities, would not have been so problematic by itself: There is a legitimate issue of religious freedom at stake, and while most Americans support birth control coverage there is also broad sympathy for religious exemptions.

But when you couple that with aggressive efforts to defund Planned Parenthood and create new obstacles to abortion, it does start to look like a concerted assault on women’s ability to prevent unwanted childbearing - which multitudes of female voters across political lines see as essential personal freedom. And when influential conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh suggests that women who want insurance coverage for birth control are sluts, it starts to look like a misogynist backlash.

In response, conservative pundits and activists have pointed to misogyny on the left, such as political comedian Bill Maher’s use of obscene sexual epithets to attack former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Some left-wing commentators have indeed employed disturbingly sexualized language when lampooning right-wing women. But Republican talk jocks have hardly been more restrained in their sexist gibes at Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or Democratic congressional leader Nancy Pelosi. When it comes to misogynist slurs against female political opponents, both sides bear plenty of blame.

Most of the "war on women" rhetoric strikes me as overwrought and overheated, but that's not the same as saying women (or men, for that matter) have no legitimate interests worth defending. As Young observes, if anything that imperils womens' interests is described as a war on women, men can make the same claim with respect to their own interests:

In response to such Republican measures, some Democratic lawmakers have proposed parody bills targeting men - criminalizing non-procreative male sexual activity, or requiring the father of an unborn child to cover all pregnancy and childbirth expenses. Does that mean that legalized bias against men is a joke?

Not quite. Some argue that current reproductive rights policies unfairly disadvantage males. A woman facing an unwanted pregnancy can terminate it; a man can be stuck with years of payments. If he complains, the typical response - “you play, you pay’’ - is uncannily reminiscent of pro-lifers’ attitude toward women. This dilemma has no easy answer; but there is a striking blindness toward ways in which men’s individual freedoms are often abridged in the perceived interests of children. Even men tricked into fatherhood, or forced to support children proven by DNA tests not to be theirs, have found no legal relief.

Are such policies anti-male? Is the Obama administration targeting men when it pushes colleges to lower the burden of proof for charges of sexual assault or harassment, making it much easier to expel (mostly male) students on a woman’s word? Apart from a handful of men’s rights activists, don’t expect controversy about a “war against men.’’ Gender injustice is generally equated with injustice against women - which, in 21st-century America, is not always true.

There is little doubt in my mind that the rights pendulum has swung heavily in favor of women - often to the detriment of men's interests. But then it started off heavily in favor of men. Neither position is optimal for society at large.

The whole "war on..." meme illustrates the fundamental problem with defining so-called men's or women's rights issues solely in terms of fairness to men or fairness to women. To do so obscures the fact that individual men and women don't act in isolation. Our choices affect others - often in dramatic ways. The remedy for a pendulum that has swung too far in one direction is not to jerk it too far in the other direction. What is needed is a better balance... along with some recognition that imperfect laws that work well in the majority of cases can't deliver perfectly fair results for every individual, every time. Primary responsibility for staying out of trouble has to rest upon the person who has the most control over his or her own life: the person in the mirror.

Civilizations attempt to balance individual liberties with the interests and rights of other citizens. But when a social system transfers the cost of individual choices from individual actors to society at large, consequences are severed from actions and freedom is divorced from accountability. Individual males, females, and no doubt transgendered Artic wolves have considerably less incentive to respect the rights of others or to act responsibly.

That's not a good outcome for anyone.

Imagine a world where complex issues weren't obscured by misguided identity politics. In such a world, birth control would not be just a women's issue. Men are affected by the availability and legality of birth control and abortion as are married couples, employers, children, and the unborn. Families have a legitimate interest in controlling the number of children they will raise. Men and women have a very real responsibility not to delegate responsibility for preventing children they don't want to care for or support. The wisdom of policies that prioritize women's rights while de-emphasizing their responsibilities and minimizing or ignoring the interests of men and children should be fair game for public debate.

Sexual assault/harassment policies at public and private universities wouldn't be framed as affecting "just men" or "just women". Viewed from a larger perspective, the notion that civil institutions must adopt the strict evidentiary standards designed to protect defendants against criminal convictions and jail time is questionable at best. Being expelled or suspended from school is a lesser harm than being sent to jail. Civil institutions have a right to establish standards of behavior and enforce them, and those standards won't always neatly mirror the criminal code because they don't serve the same purpose. Schools arguably have a right to expel students who - in their judgment - violate those standards (and expelled students, if they can show they were expelled unfairly, should be able to seek redress).

The rights of other students to go about their business without harassment or abuse would be balanced with the freedom of individual students to act in offensive, obnoxious, or disruptive ways. And the rights of accused students - who may well be innocent of the charges levied against them - would be protected too. Most importantly, none of these protections would be absolute or guaranteed, because any system of laws designed by imperfect human beings to govern equally flawed - and unpredictable - human beings will be vulnerable to the same human frailties that caused the problems they seek to address. Somewhere in our relentless drive for individual fairness, we need to address that fundamental truth.

When the federal government tries to mandate or influence the standards of civil institutions, it complicates what is already a difficult balancing process. These institutions are no longer free to decide these matters for themselves, nor can they be held accountable when they make the wrong decisions.

Conservatives often lament the erosion of authority in elementary classrooms. My daughter in law experienced this as a second grade teacher - the "rights" of individual disruptive students were strongly protected (often to the point where it was impossible to protect other students from them). Do we really want to duplicate this mess at the post secondary level?

Likewise, liberals often lament the disproportionate (and "unfair") natural biological penalties for having unprotected sex. But when their proposed remedies penalize innocent men for the acts of others, how are we better off as a society?

Most so-called gender issues are far more complex than they are made out to be by proponents of men's or women's rights. Our grandchildren will likely struggle just as hard to find the right balance as we do today. Obama recently issued a laughable statement that women are not an interest group. There are signs that feminism is about to be challenged by men's rights activists touting the same one sided, zero sum arguments.

What a tragedy. Men and women were meant to be partners, not opponents. Partners often have competing interests, but the defining characteristic of a successful partnership is that both partners recognize the importance of something beyond their individual interests. They are able, when needed, to compromise.

The "war on women/men" meme does nothing to encourage compromise or clear sighted analysis of the problems we face as a nation.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:27 AM | Comments (28) | TrackBack

April 09, 2012

Monday Good Reads

Food for thought from Robert Samuelson:

Would Franklin Roosevelt approve of Social Security? The question seems absurd. After all, Social Security is considered the New Deal's signature achievement. It distributes nearly $800 billion a year to 56 million retirees, survivors and disabled beneficiaries. On average, retired workers and spouses receive $1,839 dollars a month -- money vital to the well-being of millions. Roosevelt would surely be proud of this, and yet he might also have reservations. Social Security has evolved into something he never intended and actively opposed.

It has become what was then called "the dole" and is now known as "welfare." This forgotten history clarifies why America's budget problems are so intractable.

When Roosevelt proposed Social Security in 1935, he envisioned a contributory pension plan. Workers' payroll taxes ("contributions") would be saved and used to pay their retirement benefits. Initially, before workers had time to pay into the system, there would be temporary subsidies. But Roosevelt rejected Social Security as a "pay-as-you-go" system that channeled the taxes of today's workers to pay today's retirees. That, he believed, would saddle future generations with huge debts -- or higher taxes -- as the number of retirees expanded.

Discovering that the original draft proposal wasn't a contributory pension, Roosevelt ordered it rewritten and complained to Frances Perkins, his labor secretary: "This is the same old dole under another name. It is almost dishonest to build up an accumulated deficit for the Congress ... to meet."

But Roosevelt's vision didn't prevail. In the 1940s and early 1950s, Congress gradually switched Social Security to a pay-as-you-go system. Interestingly, a coalition of liberals and conservatives pushed the change. Liberals wanted higher benefits, which -- with few retirees then -- existing taxes could support. Conservatives disliked the huge surpluses the government would accumulate under a contributory plan.

******************************

In an essay subtitled, "Women write dirty books for other women to read. Bill Bennett blames men." James Taranto reads several articles the Editorial Staff saw last week and sees "anti-male screeds" and man blaming:

Now wait just a second. How does an essay about "Fifty Shades of Grey" and "Girls" turn into an anti-male screed? Both are written by women for women. Dowd notes, but Bennett omits, that the real first name of author E.L. James is Erika. As for "Girls," Bruni points out that Lena Dunham "is not only its star but also its principal writer and director." And if it's anything like "Sex and the City," no heterosexual man will ever watch it except as a favor to someone of the opposite sex.

Associated Press
Bill Bennett: It's easy to pick on men.

We don't dispute Bennett's contention that pornography is degrading to women, but it takes no courage or insight to say so. "Fifty Shades of Grey" and "Girls" sound degrading too, but Bennett seems to shy away from confronting the fact that this degradation amounts to female pornography--produced by women for the entertainment of other women. In postfeminist America, it's so much easier and safer to scapegoat men.

We read Bennett's essay (and we invite you to do so as well) and saw no argument that men were solely - or even primarily - to blame for hookup culture. What we did see was a strong argument that the sexual revolution/hookup culture/mainstream porn is harming both men and women:

Bruni goes on to grapple with Dunham's loveless sex scenes and wonders whether today's onslaught of pornography and easy sex has desensitized men to the point where they view women, to recall the words of an earlier day, only as objects. Even the act of sex itself is boring to some men unless it is ratcheted up in some strange, deviant fashion -- all at the expense of the thoroughly humiliated and debased woman.

In the act of degrading women, men are also degrading themselves. And the voyeurism, inspired by such entertainment, debases men and women even more. This is a parlous, dreadful outcome for both sexes.

Given that Bennett notes that young women are part of the problem, his essay seems far from the one sided treatment Taranto evokes. Bruni's article makes the same point. The vast majority of it is devoted to the choices young women are making:

Are young women who think that they should be more like men willing themselves into a casual attitude toward sex that’s an awkward emotional fit? Two movies released last year, “No Strings Attached” and “Friends With Benefits,” held that position, and Dunham subscribes to it as well.

In a recent interview, presented in more detail on my Times blog, she told me that various cultural cues exhort her and her female peers to approach sex in an ostensibly “empowered” way that she couldn’t quite manage. “I heard so many of my friends saying, ‘Why can’t I have sex and feel nothing?’ It was amazing: that this was the new goal.”

She added: “There’s a biological reason why women feel about sex the way they do and men feel about sex the way they do. It’s not as simple as divesting yourself of your gender roles.”

... there’s an emerging literature of complaint from young men and women alike about the impact of free or cheap online pornography. Early last year, New York magazine ran an article by Davy Rothbart, 36, who admitted faking an orgasm with a real live woman, learned that other men had done so as well and wondered if a “tsunami of porn” was to blame. It was titled “He’s Just Not That Into Anyone.”

Last February GQ pondered the problem from a feminine perspective. A young woman writing under a pseudonym cited her and her friends’ experiences to assert that for more and more men, “the buffet of fetishistic porn available 24/7” had created very particular and sometimes very peculiar, ratcheted-up desires.

It's a sad state of affairs when any attempt to discuss controversial public policy matters is instantly labeled as "anti-women" or "anti-man". If you doubt that the unprecedented availability of hard core pornography is having deleterious effects on at least some young men, I invite you to spend a few hours Googling the terms "porn" and "erectile dysfunction". I actually sent the Bruni article to the spousal unit the day it appeared. I would not have done so, had it been an "anti-male screed" (unless of course the terms "male" and "porn" have now become synonymous in the public mind).

The Internet poses ethical and moral problems we're only now beginning to grapple with. Much content on the web lights off the reward centers in the human brain in ways I'm not sure either men or women have developed defenses against. Porn is far from the only example of this: social media sites arguably act in much the same fashion on the female brain.

This is a serious subject. It would be refreshing if we could back down from the War on Women!/Man Blaming!!11! ledge and discuss it in a serious manner, but I'm not holding my breath on that one.

***********************************

Dan Riehl has a thoughtful essay on the firing of John Derbyshire:

...the left is always screaming racism, often even when it hasn't been proven to exist - as in the recent case of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman. Even the media falsely screamed it. So, along comes Derbyshire and, I don't know, confesses it, on his part? And all the left can do is scream, get him! Silence him! He must be fired!! What does that solve? It's as if the left wants it to appear as though America doesn't still struggle with racial issues ... except when seizing upon an incident, or issue they think they can exploit for political gain.

... It may not be pretty to read, or come close to some ideal, but how much of what Derbyshire wrote is mostly true in a still too significant portion of America's population, black, or white? And why is the left intent on only dealing with it by screaming and freaking out, when only a calmer, more sensible conversation over time is the only positive way in which to deal with it? It's as if the left, not the right, is absolutely determined to ensure that racial division will always exist in America? Why is that?

Read the whole thing. Grim takes issue with some of Derbyshire's points, but accuses the National Review of "cowardice" for firing him. I think that's a bit strong. It seems to me that NRO can only be fairly accused of cowardice under the following conditions:

1. They actually agree with Derbyshire, but are afraid to say so. I have not seen credible evidence that this is the case, but then I'm not a daily reader of NRO.

2. They believe they have a moral duty to defend their writers no matter what they say and no matter whether they agree with it or not. Perhaps there is an argument to be made for this view, but it strikes me as perverse at best. People form groups and cooperative ventures because they share certain values and goals. If an individual does something the group views as inimical to those values and goals, do they have a duty to defend (or continue to associate with) that person? What is the moral basis for this duty? Are there any limits on it?

3. They have a moral duty to defend Derbyshire simply because he's a conservative. I'm not sure how championing "my side right or wrong" helps to convince voters that conservative ideas are objectively better.

To the extent that Lowry was unfair to Derbyshire, he was unfair in the use of a single word: "using":

Derb is effectively using our name to get more oxygen for views with which we’d never associate ourselves otherwise.

Lowry cannot know whether Derbyshire deliberately "used" his association with NRO to promote ideas he knew they would not approve or agree with. Likewise, none of us knows for certain how the staff of NRO feel about the ideas expressed in Derbyshire's essay. We may (or may not) distrust Lowry's reaction to the essay:

...His latest provocation, in a webzine, lurches from the politically incorrect to the nasty and indefensible. We never would have published it...

But it seems to me that an accusation of dishonesty puts the burden of proof squarely on the accuser. It also (arguably) requires an argument as to why Derbyshire's ideas merit a defense. This I have not seen, though it's possible someone other than Dave Weigel has made such an argument. Two things strike me here:

1. The parallel between this story and the Juan Williams controversy is interesting, but there are striking differences between the two. NPR represents itself as a nonpartisan and impartial news outlet and is supported by federal tax dollars. The National Review has always specialized in unabashedly conservative commentary. It does little or no original news reporting, nor is it supported by federal tax dollars.

Because NRO has always held itself out to be openly conservative, it seems unreasonable to expect impartiality from them. It also seems reasonable that they should be the ones to decide what brand of conservatism they are promoting.

2. Imagine an essay similar to Derbyshire's in its major points, with similar links to sources both anecdotal and factual. But in this article, the author argues that because some minority of men are sexual predators, women should avoid gatherings of men, not stop to help men in trouble, and generally exercise more care when approaching strange men they don't know personally than they do men whose character and values are known to them?

This would strike me as advice that is generally pretty reasonable. In fact, my father and fathers everywhere regularly give their daughters such advice. I'm pretty sure my Dad was not a sexist, nor did he dislike other men.

Discuss amongst your ownselves.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:42 AM | Comments (39) | TrackBack

April 06, 2012

Friday Tune

Posted by Cassandra at 12:05 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Consumer Spending, Then and Now

Whilst working all night toiling away, cramm'd with distressful bread, the Blog Princess stumbled across some very interesting comparisons of how the average American spent his money in the 1940s and now.

The first one is particularly amusing, given all the perfervid peroratory regarding how much worse we have it than our parents did (and how Joe Sixpack is doomed to a life of penury unless Uncle Sam redistributes all those unearned pie slices in a more "equitable" manner):

spending.png

Two thoughts leapt into our pea sized brain:

1. On the major expenses, it looks like rather a wash to us. The crushing burden of modern health care spending seems to be more than compensated for by dramatic decreases in spending on two of the three basics (food and clothing). Housing spending, despite similarly overwrought rhetoric and fearmongering, doesn't exactly seem to have gone through the roof either, at least by these numbers.

Another look at the same information comes up with larger increases to housing and transportation, but then we're also getting much more:

The jump in spending on housing between 1949 and 2011 is also striking. It's worth noting that people are buying (and renting) much bigger homes today. In 1950, the average new house was less than 1,000 square feet; in 2000, the average new house was over 2,000 square feet.

The rise in spending on transportation was driven by the spread of cars. In 1950, there were only three vehicles for every 10 Americans. By 2000, that had risen to eight vehicles for every 10 Americans.

2. According to this graphic, Americans spend as much on Entertainment as they do on Health Care (yet no one is screaming that the cost of Entertainment is crushing our souls):

wheredidthemoneygo.jpg

It is a puzzlement. Friday debate question: how many of you have fewer material possessions and live in a smaller home than the one you grew up in?

Posted by Cassandra at 07:41 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Organizing for America

Ouch:

Much has been said about how from the beginning of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, he mobilized more of a “movement” than a traditional political campaign. But a movement it has not proved to be — and one major reason has been the way Obama and his team have used his supporters since winning the presidency. Instead of encouraging Obama backers to get engaged in community initiatives, this remarkable network of citizens was essentially viewed as a lobbying arm to get top-down legislation moving inside the Beltway. OFA was not so much organizing for America as for the Obama administration. They are not the same.

...Early in 2009, when OFA asked those on its mailing list what it should be doing in their communities, I wrote back and emphasized that each group of community organizers should determine what needed fixing where they worked and lived and that the energy of the 2008 Obama campaign needed grass-roots nourishment by establishing initiatives that addressed local problems. Unfortunately, there is little evidence that OFA prioritized such bottom-up work. In fact, OFA reported in a follow-up e-mail to the group that the great majority of those on its mailing list agreed that “helping the President pass legislation through grass-roots efforts should be a top goal for OFA.” OFA did acknowledge, however, that more than 60 percent of those initial respondents said “local issues” should also be on OFA’s agenda. But going forward, local issues didn’t get much OFA attention.

Instead, OFA sent a drumbeat of e-mails urging people to support whatever initiative the Obama administration needed help with inside the Beltway. In 2010, people were asked to visit their U.S. senator’s office to bring attention to pending health-care legislation. They were asked to tell a personal story and drop off a flier customized by OFA. In conjunction with legislation that would create the consumer protection agency, David Plouffe, Obama’s political captain, asked voters to download OFA’s “Benefits of Wall Street Reform” statement and hand it out at coffee shops, grocery stores or door to door. While ordinary citizens were used to help the administration, community initiatives not tied to the national agenda got short shrift. No longer were we “the change we seek.” Citizens came to be viewed more as the numbers, and dollars, that the administration needed. Supporters were asked to buy T-shirts from OFA online or to donate $3 for a chance to win a trip to Las Vegas and be at the president’s side at a campaign rally. One appeal simply pleaded, “We need to raise $300,000 by Thursday.”

This may be the cynic in me, but this strikes me as more of a "works as designed" than a bug.

And then there's this:

... yesterday, though, someone — the president or his campaign people — got tired. Someone just didn’t have the energy or imagination to create yet another reason to justify demanding $3 from Americans buffeted by rising fuel prices, a contracting labor market, astroturfed racial strife, hot mic revelations about backdoor deals with Russians, etc. So someone decided to cut to the chase. The heck with justifications, excuses, and heart-rending stories. Just give Obama the money, dammit!
Friend –

The last time I sent you a note like this, we were closing out 2011.

Today’s our first big political test of 2012.

If you can, please donate $3 or more before midnight tonight:

https://donate.barackobama.com/Today

Thank you.

Barack

Too bad we can't just give him money to go away.

Posted by Cassandra at 03:43 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

April 05, 2012

Thursday Morning Odds and Ends

Over at Memeorandum there is much discussion of the First Constitutional Law Prof in Chief's latest legal gaffe. This got me thinking about all the media gushing about Candidate Obama's supposed legal expertise during the 2008 election. Back in 2010, I took a closer look at Obama's legal resume and noticed a curious pattern:

... as it turns out, Obama did precious little of note during his brief stint as an attorney:
"He was doing the work that any first-year or second-year associate would do," Miner said. "In litigation he was doing basic research and writing memos."

...Obama did not work long as a full-time attorney.

The law firm says he logged 3,723 billable hours during his tenure from 1993 to 2004, most of it during the four years between 1993 and 1996.

In 1995, the year his first book came out, Obama started his successful run for the Illinois state senate and stopped working full time once he took office in 1997.

Hmmm... let's see. Just as a rough tally, 3723/4 years equals about 930 billable hours a year.

For comparison purposes, the ABA's Model Law Firm Policy Regarding Billable Hours prescribes an average of 1900 billable hours per year. Over a four year period, a typical associate would rack up about 7,600 billable hours. Obama billed about half of that. But since we're applying a different standard to Obama, let's give him another chance.

Perhaps the type of work he did is somehow remarkable? A few excerpts from a Chicago Sun Times piece about Obama's legal career quickly dispel that notion too:

"He wrote lots of substantial memos, but he didn't try any cases," said Judson Miner, a partner in the firm who was Obama's boss.

A search of all the cases in Cook County Circuit Court in which Obama made an appearance since he graduated from Harvard in 1991 shows: Zero.

His practice was confined mainly to federal court in Chicago, where he made formal appearances in only five district court cases and another five in cases before the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals -- a total of 10 cases in his legal career. He was on the winning side of just about all those cases. Miner said there were 30 cases to which Obama contributed in some way.

Ed Lasky took a look at Obama's time at the Harvard Law Review and his stint as a ConLaw lecturer and found the same pattern of underachievement:

One thing he did not do while at the review was publish his own work. The absence of a paper trail is a pattern throughout his academic and to some extent his political career.

The pattern of leaving no intellectual footprints pre-dates Harvard. He has claimed he lost his senior thesis from Columbia University, where he majored in political science. The thesis was on Soviet nuclear disarmament. The depth of knowledge on display in Barry Obama's undergraduate thesis is of particular interest because he was wrong about a crucial Kennedy-Khrushchev conference, and about the diplomatic history between America and the Soviets.

... Although he was president of the Harvard Law Review as a student, in which capacity he no doubt wrote some unsigned notes, a search of the HeinOnline database of law journals turns up exactly nothing credited to Obama in any law review anywhere at any time. This is yet more indication that his status as "lecturer" at Chicago was not a regular faculty appointment, since regular full-time faculty are expected to produce scholarship. Notwithstanding an apparent eleven-year teaching career in constitutional law at a top-flight law school, not one single article, published talk, book review, or comment of any kind, appears anywhere in the professional legal literature, under Barack Obama's name.

Perhaps if the press had paid more attention to Obama's unimpressive - and mostly part time - legal career, they would not have built him up to be some sort of legal expert whose statements regarding constitutional law should be taken seriously.

*****************************************

George Will on the drug war:

... suppose cocaine or heroin were legalized and marketed as cigarettes and alcohol are. And suppose the level of addiction were to replicate the 7 percent of adults suffering from alcohol abuse or dependency. That would be a public health disaster. As the late James Q. Wilson said, nicotine shortens life, cocaine debases it.

Still, because the costs of prohibition — interdiction, mass incarceration, etc. — are staggeringly high, some people say, “Let’s just try legalization for a while.” Society is not, however, like a controlled laboratory; in society, experiments that produce disappointing or unexpected results cannot be tidily reversed.

Legalized marijuana could be produced for much less than a tenth of its current price as an illegal commodity. Legalization of cocaine and heroin would cut their prices, too; they would sell for a tiny percentage of their current prices. And using high excise taxes to maintain cocaine and heroin prices at current levels would produce widespread tax evasion — and an illegal market.

Furthermore, legalization would mean drugs of reliable quality would be conveniently available from clean stores for customers not risking the stigma of breaking the law in furtive transactions with unsavory people. So there is no reason to think today’s levels of addiction are anywhere near the levels that would be reached under legalization.

*****************************************

spd, KJ, and Pile On are prohibited from commenting on this.

*****************************************

I know I made a few of you mad with my criticism of his financial dealings a while back, but honestly - how can a candidate seriously hold himself out as a leader who can solve America's financial problems if he can't even keep his own finances in order?

The federal government dwarfs even the largest business or non-profit in both size and complexity. At some point, it seems germane to a candidate's qualifications that he has actually demonstrated the ability to do the job we're being asked to hire him for.

Just sayin'.

*****************************************
The best way to show your best friend you love him (or her):

It is possible to take something beautiful and lasting out of the heart-wrenching experience of seeing the animal you love move inexorably toward death. Nobody can take the grief away, nor should anyone try, but our love for animals is nothing but a gift, and it keeps on giving, even when they go home.

A man named Harry, an Iraq war veteran and tennis coach from Minnesota, hit upon a simple and profound idea to transform this otherwise sad experience into a blessed one.

It was a gray morning when the vet told Harry that his dog Duke's heart was failing and that it wouldn't be long before he died. Harry was not surprised, but still, the news depressed him. Listening to the vet, Harry later told me, he'd gotten an idea, one he thought would pay tribute to his life with Duke and give him something to feel besides sadness and loss.
"Tomorrow, I'm going to give you a Perfect Day," he said quietly to Duke as they left the vet's office. He would take the day off from work and create a sweet memory with his dog. It would be a special day, filled with all the things Duke loved most, as close to perfect as Harry could make it. He would take his Canon PowerShot along to capture some images of the day, to preserve the memories.

Of the many regrets I've amassed during my mostly misspent life, one of the biggest will always be that I didn't do this with Sausage while there was still time. Surprising that it still bothers me so much.

Luckily, dogs are made of love. He had a big heart for such a little guy.

Update: Welcome,

Posted by Cassandra at 06:56 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

April 04, 2012

"Unexpectedly!":What Happens When You "Don't Spend a Lot of Time Planning for Contingencies

One of the more amusing political memes we've heard is Glenn Reynolds' "Unexpectedly!" list, in which the liberal-leaning press are always gobsmacked when real world outcomes don't conform to their rose colored world view.

For conservatives, "Unexpectedly" is the comedy gift that keeps on giving. No matter how many times our progressive Brethren in Christ are sandbagged by the gap between the-world-as-they-want-it-to-be and the-world-as-it-is, it's still funny.

Wavering Obama voters have noticed the same phenomenon, though they have a more charitable explanation: Obama is "naive":

Did the constitutional law lecturer who pushed the bill through Congress and signed it into law naively ignore the question of whether the federal government had the authority to require citizens to purchase health insurance?

The naive narrative, in a nutshell:

Monday I spoke to a smart political mind who had been watching focus groups of wavering Obama voters in swing states, and he said that one word that those voters kept coming back to, again and again, was “naïve.” (The term was to describe the president, not themselves.) Those who voted for Obama won’t call him stupid, and certainly don’t accept that he’s evil. But they have seen grandiose promises on the stimulus fail to materialize, Obamacare touted as the answer to all their health care needs and turn out to be nothing of the sort, pledges of amazing imminent advances in alternative energy, and so on. He seemed to think that reaching out to the Iranians would lead to a change in the regime’s behavior and attitudes. He was surprised to learn that shovel-ready projects were not, in fact, shovel-ready. He was surprised to learn that large-scale investment in infrastructure and clean-energy projects wouldn’t great enormous numbers of new jobs. He’s surprised that his past housing policies haven’t helped struggling homeowners like he promised. He’s surprised that his signature health-care policy has become as controversial as it has. The “recession turned out to be a lot deeper than any of us realized.” When a woman says her semiconductor engineer husband can’t find a job, Obama says he’s surprised to hear it, because “he often hears business leaders in that field talk of a scarcity of skilled workers.”

The poor guy. He’s always getting blindsided.

This is a stunning insight that should be a pillar of the GOP presidential platform: leaders aren't supposed to be blindsided by current events. We pay them to look ahead and be prepared, not to blithely hope for the best and then play the victim card when things go wrong.

An even more stunning insight comes from the President himself, via Ann Althouse:

Obama is "not spending a whole bunch of time planning for contingencies."

Shouldn't a President plan for contingencies? Obama was talking about the contingency of the Supreme Court possibly striking down some or all of the Affordable Care Act, and his asserted reason for not troubling with contingencies is purported confidence that the Supreme Court will not strike down the act.

I simply don't believe that they aren't planning for contingencies. I believe he doesn't want to talk about contingencies, and I suspect the main contingency is how to present the loss in the Supreme Court to the American people for the purposes of the reelection campaign.

It doesn't seem too farfetched to argue that a President who is continually surprised by the outcome of his actions (or who admits to not spending too much time planning for contingencies) is not very good at planning. When he continues to make the same mistake over and over again despite ample negative feedback, his "naivity" and "confidence" begin to look like arrogance. But wait! Maybe it's not Obama's fault after all!

Scientists have put a name to Obama's particular brand of ignorance-based overconfidence:

The Dunning-Kruger effect describes a cognitive bias in which people perform poorly on a task, but lack the meta-cognitive capacity to properly evaluate their performance. As a result, such people remain unaware of their incompetence and accordingly fail to take any self-improvement measures that might rid them of their incompetence.

I blame Science, which under Obama seems to be having a few problems with heavy handed government interference.

Unexpectedly!!!

Posted by Cassandra at 07:03 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

April 03, 2012

Extraordinary!!! Unprecedented!!!

Back in September of 2008, the Editorial Staff rejoiced at the prospect of a glorious new era of constitutional erudition ushered in by Real Men of Legal Genius:

The Obama-Biden slate is historic in many ways, but for law professors it has a special cachet: It's the first time that professors of constitutional law have occupied both slots on a ticket. Barack Obama was a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School, and Joe Biden has been an adjunct professor at Widener University School of Law since 1991. More to the point, it's the most civil-libertarian ticket ever fielded by a major U.S. political party.

So one might imagine our surprise to awaken to what is quite possibly the most incoherent statement ever, uttered by none other than The Constitutional Law Prof in Chief:

Ultimately, I’m confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.

Let's walk through this remarkable quote step by step. Would it be unprecedented or extraordinary for the Supreme Court to declare an Act of Congress unconstitutional? Only if one arbitrarily changes the meaning of "unprecedented" from "something that has never happened before" to "something for which there are lots of precedents":

It is certainly not “unprecedented” for the Court to overturn a law passed by “a democratically elected Congress.” The Court has done so 165 times, as of 2010. (See p. 201 of this Congressional Research Service report.)

But wait! The Affordable Care Act (unlike many federal laws passed by a minority of legislators) was passed by a majority. We are not quite sure what the voting margin has to do with the issue of whether or not a law violates the Constitution, but let's put that aside for a moment. If that's not enough to convince you, it is undeniable that the legislators who passed the ACA were elected democratically (as opposed to undemocratically elected legislators, often referred to colloquially as "Republicans").

But the President wasn't done ensmartening the unwashed masses yet. It was time to remind the nation how incredibly hypocritical it is for politicians to suddenly embrace arguments they previously rejected as wrong or unprincipled:

And I’d just remind conservative commentators that for years what we’ve heard is, the biggest problem on the bench was judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraint — that an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law.

We must admit that this tack confuses and frightens us, but then we are not a Constitutional Law Professor. Is the President saying that conservatives were wrong to object to "unelected" jurors (as opposed to the elected kind) overturning acts of Congress? If this argument was bogus when conservatives advanced it, how did it suddenly become valid?

Or is our Constitutional Law Prof in Chief slying suggesting that conservatives were right about judicial activism all along?

We just wish we were smart enough to understand all this high falutin' legal talk. One thing seems certain though. Had George Bush uttered these words, the media would be going on and on about the Dumbest President Evah.

Fortunately, with Barack at the helm we'll only have to endure weeks of the media telling us what the Great Communicator really meant to say.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:24 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Guilty Pleasure

The Blog Princess knows it's bad for her, but somehow she just can't resist:

Dear Prudence,

I've been happily married for more than 10 years to a great woman, and we have two amazing kids. I still find my wife very attractive, and I enjoy our intimate sessions. There's one thing that I don't know how to address. My wife works out frequently and has a great body for a mom of two. However, she has a significant amount of cellulite in her thighs, mostly in the back and some on her buttocks. I know she's got an issue with it. If she's undressing in front of me or is in the bathroom naked, she always turns to make sure I'm not seeing her thighs. When swimming she wears a towel and takes it off just before she enters the water. We have never discussed this in all our years together. Her thighs are a bit of a turnoff, but not a deal killer. We can afford treatment to remove the cellulite, but I'm unsure how to best approach this option or create a space for her to come to the conclusion on her own. Or should I just ignore it?

—Unsure Husband

Feel free to offer your best advice to Unsure Husband in the comments section. Because here at VC, we're caring like that.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:10 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

April 02, 2012

Setting Students Up for Failure

Rick Sander, on evidence that affirmative action sets students up for academic failure:

Some of the most significant recent work on affirmative action concerns a phenomenon called “science mismatch”. The idea behind science mismatch is very intuitive: if you are a high school senior interested in becoming, for example, a chemist, you may seriously harm your chances of success by attending a school where most of the other would-be chemists have stronger academic preparation than you do. Professors will tend to pitch their class at the median student, not you; and if you struggle or fall behind in the first semester of inorganic chemistry, you will be in even worse shape in the second semester, and in very serious trouble when you hit organic chemistry. You are likely to get bad grades and to either transfer out of chemistry or fail to graduate altogether.

This idea was first advanced by Dartmouth psychologist Rogers Elliott (and coauthors) in 1996, and using data from several Ivy League schools, he demonstrated that, indeed, attrition rates from the sciences were highly associated with comparatively lower academic preparation, which in turn was highly associated with receiving an admissions preference. His data suggested that a given student was far more likely to achieve a science degree if she attended a school where her pre-college credentials were close to the median science student.

Virginia psychologists Frederick Smyth and John McArdle provided an even stronger demonstration of these points in a 2004 article. Making use of the same data Bowen & Bok used in Shape of the River, they were able to compare similar students who were interested in “STEM” fields (an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math), and who attended schools with either similar peers, somewhat more prepared peers, or much more prepared peers. Smyth and McArdle found strong evidence of science mismatch. Among their key conclusions: had all the black and Hispanic students in their sample enrolled at schools where their credentials were close to the class-wide averages, then 45% more of the women minorities, and 35% more of the men minorities, would have completed STEM degrees.

Duke economists Peter Arcidiacono, Esteban Aucejo, and Ken Spenner last year completed a study that looked at a number of ways that differences in admissions standards at Duke affected academic outcomes. In one of many useful analyses they did, they found that 54% of black men at Duke who, as freshmen, had been interested in STEM fields or economics, had switched out of those fields before graduation; the comparative rate for white men was 8%. Importantly, they found that “these cross-race differences in switching patterns can be fully explained by differences in academic background.” In other words, preferences – not race – was the culprit.

In research conducted by FTC economist Marc Luppino and me, using data from the University of California, we have found important peer effects and mismatch effects that affect students of all races; our results show that one’s chances of completing a science degree fall sharply, at a given level of academic preparation, as one attends more and more elite schools within the UC system. At Berkeley, there is a seven-fold difference in STEM degree completion between students with high and low pre-college credentials.

What astonishes me is that there's not more discussion of the other major unintended consequence: the dumbing down of post secondary coursework to accommodate un- or underprepared students.

I saw this every day as a math tutor when I went back to school as an adult. Teachers struggled with unrealistic mandates from the administration to keep their D/W/F rates below a one size fits all rate that didn't take the difficulty of the coursework or student preparedness into account.

Most often, students were in trouble because they weren't putting in enough time but a significant number of them also had huge gaps in their basic skills that were almost impossible to overcome quickly enough for them to keep up with the new material. I advised more than one of my students to drop back and take (or re-take) introductory math courses until they had mastered - not merely scraped by on - the basics. What some of these students really needed was to go back to high school level math and get that down.

The real culprit here is the idea that students aren't succeeding because we haven't made it easy enough for them.

Some disciplines are more challenging than others. Some require a narrow set of aptitudes that aren't evenly distributed among the general population. STEM subjects in particular require a significant time investment. There is no way to bypass these requirements, and well intended social engineering policies that fill students with false confidence in their ability or skills aren't much good when it comes time to take a final exam that demands mastery of the subject matter.

Students aren't withdrawing or failing because they lack confidence. They're withdrawing or failing because they haven't mastered the course material.

But there's a more serious problem: if teachers pitch their classes at the median student and the median is lowered by the presence of underprepared students, then more challenging coursework will be watered down or eliminated entirely. This sounds incredibly obvious - and I'm sure most people understand it on an intuitive level - but for some reason it's not kosher to say that this is an unacceptable cost of the diversity crusade.

In a global economy American countries must compete with countries that make academic achievement - not diversity - their top priority. Diversity does nothing to help students solve difficult engineering problems or differential equations. It is no substitute for hard work or careful preparation.

I've often wondered why more schools don't have qualification exams for particularly tough majors or classes - something similar to the A level exams in the U.K. I think that would go a long way towards reinforcing better preparation for STEM subjects, but on the other hand there's evidence that even rigorous exams can be dumbed down.

Posted by Cassandra at 09:23 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

April 01, 2012

Fairness

Head exploding story of the week:

It has often been said that lotteries are a tax on the poor. And that's a fair description.

Joe Weisenthal pointed out yesterday that poor people regularly buy lottery tickets, while rich people only buy them when the jackpots have gotten huge.

What's less commonly realized is just how much money poor people spend on lottery tickets.

According to a 2008 study, reported by PBS, households that earn less than $13,000 a year spend a staggering 9% of their income on lottery tickets. (via Scott Heiferman).

That's 9% of an income that is presumably extraordinarily hard to live on to begin with.

It's hard to know where to start with this one (maybe with the observation that the sensationalistic 9% figure was wrong?). Skip ahead to see how we can fix the "problem" of poor people spending money they don't have in ways the author doesn't approve of:

... given that lotteries are primarily used to generate revenue for states, might it not be fairer to just collect the revenue directly, as taxes?

I'm not even sure what he's advocating here. Presumably, the government could lessen the unfairness of people voluntarily spending money they can't afford to spend by forcing others who have no desire to buy lottery tickets to spend... what? An equal amount of money?

But that's not "fair" either, because those who make more can afford to spend more.

I know! Let's make them spend a proportionate share of their income. But wait - that's not really fair either, because they'll still have more disposable income left over. The only way to make this fair is to force higher earning households to spend almost all of their disposable income! That way, they too will be spending money they can't afford to spend!

Of course, to truly maximize revenue (and allow government to transfer more wealth to lower earning households), government should eliminate those pesky payoffs entirely.

But wait! What if we just turned all income taxation into a giant mega-gazillion lottery?

Or have lotteries discovered a magical way to tax people--one in which even anti-tax crusaders voluntarily choose to pay huge taxes in exchange for a minuscule chance of making a killing?

Should the United States government raise ALL its tax revenue that way?

Hmmm... if we make the contributions "fair", then won't the wealthiest households have an "unfairly" high chance of winning compared to the poor ones?

Fairness is hard.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:31 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Every Day Heroes

Long time readers know that my nephew spent two years of his life in the hospital before losing his battle with leukemia. That may be why this story seems so miraculous to me:

Superhero visits to hospitals let kids be kids in a scary, adult place, but the activities are indeed therapeutic, too, the chief doctor on the cancer floor told me.

“These visits provide an immediate boost for these kids,”said Jeffrey Dome, the oncology division chief at Children’s. “Some of these children have to stay for weeks or months at a time. That wears down the children and it wears down the family. You have to keep up morale. A visit from a superhero is sort of like a fantasy in the middle of all this hard-core therapy.”

As Batman wandered around from child to child, I asked him, “Isn’t this hard?”

His children are healthy. My children are healthy.

“We are very lucky,” he said. “All I can say is we are very, very lucky.”

The party began winding down. Spider-Man changed out of his costume. Wonder Woman changed out of hers. They said goodbye to Batman, still working the floor, as he posed for a photo with a patient’s father. The father thanked Batman and said, “I saw you on the news — Route 29.”

“I think everyone saw me on Route 29,” Batman acknowledged. He asked the nurses at the front desk whether there were any children who couldn’t come out of their rooms to see him.

Assured that there weren’t, Batman headed back down to his Batmobile, followed by the mother of a baby girl with cancer and her healthy 4-year-old son, whose only goal in life at that moment was to see the Batmobile. When the boy saw the car, I thought his eyeballs were going to separate from his body. (Batman is actually in the process of having a just-like-the-movies Batmobile built for $250,000, but it’s not ready yet.)

Batman revved the engines and blasted the audio system — the Batman theme song. Na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, Batman! He revved the engine some more. The little boy didn’t want to say goodbye, but his mom told him, “Batman needs to go fight the bad guys.”

The little boy cried.

“I want to go help him fight the bad guys,” he said.

His mom said, “You need to go help your sister fight cancer.”

Posted by Cassandra at 08:31 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

A Little Perspective on Student Loan Debt

Here:

There is little evidence to suggest that the average burden of loan repayment relative to income has increased in recent years. The most commonly referenced benchmark is that a repayment to gross income ratio of 8 percent, which is derived broadly from mortgage underwriting, is “manageable” while other analysis such as a 2003 GAO study set the benchmark at 10 percent. To put this in perspective, an individual with $20,000 in student loans could expect a monthly payment of about $212, assuming a ten-year repayment period. In order for this payment to accrue to 10 percent of income, the student would need an annual income of about $25,456, which is certainly within the range of expected early-career wages for college graduates. Overall, the mean ratio of student loan payments to income among borrowers has held steady at between 9 and 11 percent, even as loan levels have increased over time ..."

And here:

Borrowing among students at the median is relatively modest: zero for students beginning at community colleges, $6,000 for students at four-year public colleges, and $11,500 for students at private nonprofit colleges. Even at the 90th percentile, student borrowing does not exceed $40,000 outside of the for-profit sector. Examples of students who complete their undergraduate degree with more than $100,000 in debt are clearly rare: outside of the for-profit sector, less than 0.5 percent of students who received BA degrees within six years had accumulated more than $100,000 in student debt. The 90th percentile of degree recipients starting at for-profits have $100,000 in debt; so a nontrivial number of students at for-profits accumulate this much debt, but the situation is still far from the norm."

This is why I'm so suspicious of news stories filled with heart wrenching anecdotes, but short on statistics.

Attending a pricey for-profit school isn't a civil right, nor is it compulsory. It's a choice, as is the mode of financing one's education.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:38 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack