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Monday, January 31, 2005

Well, Isn't That Special? 


A Google search reveals that Education Secretary Margaret Spellings and the Church Lady have never been seen together.

Coincidence? You decide:

Here's Spellings on lesbians.

Here's the Church Lady on lesbians.

Could it be ... SatanPosted by Hello

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Friday, January 28, 2005

Friday Bonus Cat Blogging 


It's not my fault that you bought only two leather chairs, now is it? Posted by Hello

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No On Gonzales 

The Stone Court editorial board met today and agreed to urge Senators to vote "no" on Alberto Gonzales's nomination for Attorney General. Mary does so without reservation, but I wanted to lay out my conclusions and a few caveats:

1. The reason that has gotten the most attention, and rightly so, is Gonzales's advocacy of torture and, in particular, his strong advocacy for the Bybee memo (and subsequent support for promotion of Bybee to the Ninth Circuit). I am sympathetic to the fact that Gonzales was charged at the time with the serious burden of protecting the United States from terrorism, and that he had an unavoidably difficult responsibility to consider whether and to what extent torture could be used under those circumstances. However, Gonzales went beyond an honest consideration of the issues. Good lawyering would have required him to advise the President that the legal arguments advanced in the Bybee memo were weak, and that his options included forthrightly seeking congressional approval for the course of action he proposed or knowingly deciding, if that was his judgment, to take action in the face of the weakness of the legal position. As in the case of Elliot Richardson, the character to reach independent conclusions when necessary is part of the Attorney General's job. We know that this President is not interested in honest advice on subjects as to which he has already made up his mind, but that is all the more reason that we need an Attorney General who will give it.

2. The Bybee memo endorsed the position that the President has the legal authority to unilaterally nullify criminal statutes. To my knowledge, Gonzales has not disavowed that conclusion. This suggests a fundamental lack of regard for core values (rule of law, separation of powers, etc.) that is inconsistent with holding the office of Attorney General.

3. Beyond the Bybee memo, Gonzales's own draft memo that, among other things, refers to the Geneva Convention as "quaint" is also a substantial problem. Here, I'd like to quote Colin Powell:
I am concerned that the draft does not squarely present to the President the options that are available to him. Nor does it identify the significant pros and cons of each option....

Quite aside from the need to identify options and their consequences more clearly, in its present form, the draft memorandum is inaccurate or incomplete in several respects. (Emphasis added.)
That is not merely a disagreement about conclusions. The theme of Powell's criticism is the same as mine in 1 above. On an issue of critical, national security importance, Gonzales failed to give the President the benefit of full and dispassionate advice, choosing instead to become an advocate for the President's preferred position -- and failing to convey to the President competing views.

4. As I discuss here, Gonzales' lack of candor with the committee concerning Bush's jury service is not itself enough to derail his nomination, but it is certainly troubling.

I do credit the idea that the President is entitled to greater deference in cabinet appointments than in judiciary appointments and, therefore, I do not urge a fillibuster. However, Gonzales has not established that, if his legal opinion were that the President intended to pursue a course of dubious legality, he would advise the President accordingly -- far less that he would refuse to participate in that illegality. If that is not disqualifying for the office, what is?

UPDATE: If I haven't convinced you, maybe one of these 314 (and counting) other blogs against Gonzales will.

SECOND UPDATE: I hadn't seen Senator Feingold's statement in opposition to Gonzales's nomination before composing the above, but his reasoning tracks mine almost exactly, and his writing is far more eloquent.

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Friday Cat Blogging 


The Demo-Cat is content. For now. Posted by Hello

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Thursday, January 27, 2005

HRC: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly 

Astarte posts an excellent critique today on Hillary Rodham Clinton's controversial abortion speech. Like Astarte, I was struck by this sentence:
"Research shows that the primary reason teenage girls abstain from early sexual activity is because of their religious and moral values," Mrs. Clinton said.
The clear implication is that teenage girls, but not boys, are responsible for sexual decisions, and that central to the goal of reducing unwanted pregnancies is promoting a religious ideology that imposes this "gatekeeper" responsibility exclusively on girls. I'm sure Clinton would say that boys should act responsibly, but her focus on girls abstaining reflects a disturbingly essentialistic view of human sexuality. In this regard, see also Hugo Schwyzer on the "myth of uncontrollable male sex drive".

I also have no patience for Clinton's support of some parental notification laws or for her implication that emergency contraception is appropriate only for rape victims (although, to be fair to Clinton, Ms. Musings reports that Nancy Keenan and Ellie Smeal both supported the speech, and even NARAL places particular emphasis on "emergency contraception for survivors of rape").

At the same time, Clinton's speech was not entirely wrongheaded. In particular, I like her emphasis on sex education and preventing unwanted pregnancies:
She called on abortion rights advocates and anti-abortion campaigners to form a broad alliance to support sexual education - including abstinence counseling - family planning, and morning-after emergency contraception for victims of sexual assault as ways to reduce unintended pregnancies.
I like that Clinton threw down this particular challenge -- because the right can't take it up. The anti-abortion movement's self-righteous view of itself is that it is "protecting life". We all know that, for a lot of them, it is really about controlling sexuality and particularly women's sexuality (pace Hugo). But I don't think that's clear at all to the typical "in the middle" voter -- and perhaps Clinton's framing of the issue can help make that clear. Clinton asks, in effect: Why in the world, if you really think abortion is murder, wouldn't you want widespread access to contraception? The right has no good answer to that -- or at least none that will satisfy anyone other than a true believer. That's why they have to resort to deriding Clinton (e.g., here, here and here) and lies or exaggerations about "defective condoms" (as the Times quotes the Family Research Council doing).

Maybe I'm too optimistic, but that seems to me some useful ammunition for exposing the theocrats for what they are.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Oceana Has Always Been at War with Eurasia 

Coming soon to a straight-to-DVD near you: In the Face of Evil: Reagan’s War in Word and Deed. Here’s the poster: Posted by Hello


Well, he certainly fought Hitler, albeit in the Army'’s First Motion Picture Unit. He testified in the McCarthy hearings, so I guess we can give him Stalin (and Lenin, posthumously).

But Osama? The Reagan administration was arming Osama. To be clear, I mostly agreed with Reagan’'s Afghanistan policy, though Fred Kaplan has made the case that, as the Cold War thawed, Reagan missed an opportunity to reach an accord with the U.S.S.R. that would have clipped the growing Islamist threat. But seriously, isn'’t a picture of Reagan facing down Bin Laden -- with the caption, Evil Is Powerless If the Good Are Unafraid –-- just a little much?

UPDATE: In the Face of Evil's creators list as their first media endorsement Maggie Gallagher, who we now learn via Pandagon is also secretly on the Bush payroll. Seems the movie's creators were being honest when they labeled the page containing Gallagher's blurb, "Media Tools".

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Are We Safer Yet? 

$80 billion more -- mostly for Iraq.

$11 billion plus about $2.1 billion a year -- RAND's estimate of the cost to install missile countermeasures on the nation's 6,800 commercial aircraft, a cost RAND concludes is too high to invest at the present time.

RAND may or may not be right about the cost-benefit analysis, but $80 billion could sure buy a lot of security for someone who was, you know, interested in buying security.

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The Meaning of Is, Re-Revisited 

Bottom line on the Gonzales flap: We have to start agitating to get him back under oath.

Via Atrios, Citizens for Ethics has filed an ethics complaint against Gonzales with the Texas bar. The complaint contains the text of Gonzales answer (though not the question):
... During my appearance in court, I recall that I observed the defense counsel make a motion to strike the Governor from the jury panel, to which the prosceutor did not object. I was asked by the Judge whether the Governor had any views on this and recall stating that he did not.
As I understand it, the statement is true, but omits that all that followed several off-the-record conversations in which Gonzales urged that Bush be excused.

Technically, an omission can violate 18 U.S.C. 1001 (the basis of CREW's complaint) if it's "material". If you're asked what medicines you gave the deceased before death, you can't just "forget" to mention the megadoses of valium. But Gonzales's answer is less clear cut. He described what occurred on the record, but not what occurred off the record. Is what he left out material? Not as easy to say in this context as in the valium poisoning case because there's no objective legal standard -- what's material is what Senators conclude is material. Is it even misleading? Does it imply that off-the-record conversations did not occur? Perhaps, but it's a weak inference to base a criminal charge on.

On the other hand, the cat is now out of the bag. Leahy should press to bring Gonzales back to answer direct questions about what occurred -- which will force him either to admit that Bush sought to get off the jury, contrary to his statements at the time and for the unappealing reasons that are now well known, or to perjure himself (assuming you believe the judge, prosecutor, and defense attorney). The Administration will undoubtedly fight tooth and nail to avoid a recall, but as we learned from the Rice 9/11 testimony debacle, that could backfire in a big way.

So, this is an important story, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. If Leahy and the Senate Dems. take this step-by-step and build a case, some interesting things may develop.

Related Post: The Meaning of Is, Revisited

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Monday, January 24, 2005

The Meaning of Is, Revisited 

Via Josh Marshall, Newsweek reports that Alberto Gonzales was less than forthcoming about his role in helping W avoid serving on a DUI jury in 1996 and, indirectly, avoiding answering questions about his own, then secret, DUI arrest.

Whether this actually sinks Gonzales may depend on the exact text of his written submission on this topic, which I have not yet been able to locate on line. However, my initial sense is that he may be able to skate by on his position that he never "requested" that Bush be excused. Here's what Gonzales said in 2003 about this:
"Before the hearing, I went up to the defense lawyer," he says, "and I mentioned to him that there might be an inherent conflict of interest in having the governor serve. But the defense attorney told me that he had already thought about the possible conflict and that he was going to object to having the governor serve as a juror."
If Gonzales's account is true, that would suggest a wink and a nod -- everyone in the room knew this is what Bush and Gonzales wanted but, perhaps, if he was smooth, he avoiding "requesting" it directly. Of course, we all remember the Dark Ages when that kind of linguistic parsing was bad.

It may also depend on how embarrassing the press makes this for Bush, since it brings up not only the old DUI problem but other fun tidbits as well. I'm looking forward to frequent replaying of this:
[I]n video footage shown by KVUE in 1996 and again on Friday night, Bush had some additional comments on his feelings regarding the case. The KVUE reporter asked Bush if he didn't "really just want to give the guy a pardon and go home?"

Bush answered, "No, I probably want to hang him and go home."
Hard on crime may play well, but there is that beam-in-thine-own-eye thing that doesn't.

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Saturday, January 22, 2005

You Gotta Lotta Bawls, Part II 

You heard it here first: Doug Mientkiewicz has no claim to the ball that was the final World Series out. From Stone Court to "emerging as a legal consensus" in two easy weeks.

But there's more. Roger Abrams, a law professor at Northeastern with an expertise in baseball, adds a new scenario:
By comparison, Curt Schilling could make a legitimate claim to the sock he wore when he pitched in the Series: Although the sock was the team's, the blood was his.

"It's his blood that makes it valuable," Abrams said. "Mientkiewicz doesn't add any value that made it unique to him."
Not so. Major League Baseball Regulations, incorporated in the uniform players' contract (scroll to p. 217), would require Schilling to return the sock:
The Club will furnish the Player with two complete uniforms, exclusive of shoes.... The uniforms will be surrendered by the Player to the Club at the end of the season or upon termination of this contract.
I suppose Schilling could wash out the blood and sell it separately (though eBay refuses to sell body parts, as Jeff Nelson learned when he tried to sell his elbow chips).

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Assume A Can Opener, Part II 

Steven Verdon of Outside the Beltway responds to my initial post about Lawrence Summers:
Normally I'd side with Mr. Vincy here. Yes, when your theory cannot explain the data you need to re-think your theory, and maybe even chuck the whole thing and start over again. But there is one thing that Mr. Vincy is missing here. Economic systems do not operate in a vaccuum. Economic systems almost always operate inside a legal framework (as well as cutural frameworks). Sure there was discrimination such as in the Jim Crow south. But there were also laws the prevented people from not engaging in segregation. Is this significant? I think so and for precisely the reason Mr. Vincy notes, without the laws there are profitable transactions that are not being taken advantage of, and a smart individual more interested in making a buck than in segregation would engage in those transactions.

Currently, as far as I know there are no laws anywhere that make gender discrimination permissable. So to conclude today the economic pressure would not reduce discrimination may not be the right answer. Ignoring the institutional situation can lead one to erroneously reject[in]g a theory. Granted not all instances of discrimination may be attributable to legal institutions, but you don't reject a hypothesis simply because it offends your political world view. (Emphasis in original.)
This has nothing to do with rejecting a hypothesis because it offends, and everything to do with the fact Summers' hypothesis does not withstand scrutiny.

Verdon acknowledges, but then discounts, the fact that not all discrimination is de jure. Was Summers really meaning to argue that there was no discrimination against women in the 1950s, as his theory would imply? Here's a piece that touches on Harvard in the 50s:
Two years later, as one of only nine women (out of 500 students) at Harvard Law School, Ginsburg was invited by Erwin Griswold, a legendary dean, to attend the annual reception for recently admitted women held at his home. There the women were joined by lions of the Harvard Law faculty ... and asked by Griswold, as a matter of ritual, the same question: What was each doing in law school, occupying a seat that could be held by a man? Ginsburg would always remember her diffident answer: Her husband was a year ahead and she hoped studying there would help her understand his work. And she would always admire the classmate with the nerve to respond, "What better place to catch a man?"

After making law review both at Harvard and at Columbia Law School (where she transferred when her husband took a job at a Manhattan law firm), and earning grades among the top 10 students at each, Ginsburg could get neither a job at any Manhattan firm nor an interview for a clerkship with any Supreme Court justice. She came closest with Justice Felix Frankfurter. When given her name by the Harvard professor who usually selected his law clerks, Frankfurter responded by worrying that he might not like how she dressed. "I can't stand girls in pants!" he reportedly said. "Does she wear skirts?" (Told that she did, Frankfurter still declined to interview her, saying he would feel uncomfortable.)

Ginsburg also hoped to clerk for Learned Hand, a judge she held in singularly high regard. Hand declined to consider women because, he explained, he used strong language and did not want to be inhibited by their presence. Ginsburg finally landed a clerkship with a district court judge, Edmund L. Palmieri, who by coincidence frequently drove the elderly Judge Hand to work at the federal courthouse in New York City. Often, as Ginsburg rode along in the car's back seat, Judge Hand cursed freely. Ginsburg asked why he felt so free before a woman-passenger but not a woman-clerk. "Young lady," Hand replied, "here I am not looking you in the face."
To take another familiar example, there was no prohibition against integrating baseball in the 1930s, but no major league owner was willing to sign Satchell Paige or Josh Gibson. Summers' theory would say, well, there must not have been a pool of good black ballplayers, because the Indians would surely have figured out that they could beat their richer cousins in New York by hiring, say, Gibson, who would surely taken less than Bill Dickey was making for a chance to play in the bigs. Obviously, it didn't happen that way.

The first point of all of this is that the economic theory relied upon by Summers is a very poor fit to many real world markets -- and that markets like that for high-end science professors (or top law graduates or baseball stars), which involve a fairly small number of talent selectors who enjoy secure market positions due to large financial and reputational capital, are among those markets that poorly fit Summers' theory.

The second point is that what "offends" is not Summers' conclusion, but the fact that, as someone with a reputation for intellectual rigor in his own area of expertise, he was willing -- indeed anxious -- to reach that particular conclusion based on such shabby reasoning.

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Name that SAO 

Armando over on Kos notes the quick backpedalling by the White House over W's inaugural speech. They wouldn't want their buddies in Russia, China, Egypt, and Pakistan to think we really hold it against them that they're not freedom-lovers.

But the part of the Post article Armando quoted I found most interesting was the description of the "Senior Administration Official" who spoke to the reporters:
"It is not a discontinuity. It is not a right turn," said a senior administration official, who spoke with reporters from newspapers but demanded anonymity because he wanted the focus to remain on the president's words and not his.

Is there anyone out there who doesn't think the S.A.O. is Big Time Dick himself? Check out the Post article--it's quite extraordinary when you read it substituting "Cheney" for "the senior administration official."

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Friday, January 21, 2005

Pink 

I really should check The Smoking Gun more often:
The Arizona sheriff who makes inmates wear pink boxer shorts and sleep on pink bed sheets has introduced a new item in his girlish inventory: fluorescent pink handcuffs. Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's deputies will place the new pink cuffs on inmates during transport. The controversial Arpaio--who never misses a chance to degrade prisoners--claims that he actually ordered 1000 sets of the pink restraints as part of an inventory control plan. Since his department's standard silver handcuffs were frequently getting pinched by Maricopa deputies and other cops, Arpaio reasoned, pink ones would be easier for him to track.
Outrageous on so many levels.

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Friday Cat Blogging 


You think you've got it bad? Four more years is thirty-two years in cat yearsPosted by Hello

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Thursday, January 20, 2005

Translating Summers, Part III 

Todd Zywicki acknowledges that that's what he's doing:
WHAT IF SUMMERS HAD SAID: "The distribution of natural endowments for math abilities for men show the same mean but greater variance than math abilities for women. Therefore, men will be disproportionately represented at the tails of the distribution relative to women. In other words, there are likely to be more men in society than women with unusually poor and below-average math skills." ...

Some evolutionary theorists have predicted exactly this sort of effect....

I haven't followed the empirical evidence on this closely, and from what I know, the jury is still out on whether this is scientifically accurate....

The hypothetical statement, it turns out, is therefore functionally identical to the bastardized interpretation of Summers's statement. But somehow I suspect it would be less outrageous if he had said it in such a manner to denigrate the propensity of men to be losers in the genetic lottery.
Again, the hypothetical Summers sounds better than the real Summers -- mainly because it leaves out most of the nonsense that he said. However, as to the part Zywicki does try to translate, his reformulation is problematic because (if I understand the reference) it treats "natural endowments" as equivalent to what Summers referred to as "scores on science and math tests in later high school years".

(Also, and this is just a quibble, but I'd say the hypothetical statement is not functionally identical to what Summers said unless we also assume that the distributions are symmetrical.)

And now, I promise, I'll stop.

Related Posts: Translating Summers, Part II, Translating Summers, Assume A Can Opener.

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Translating Summers, Part II 

As I noted here, there seems to be a frenzy of defending what Lawrence Summers might have said, rather than what he did say. Here's more.

David Bernstein today:
I really don't see why Larry Summers needed to make an abject apology for merely suggesting the possibility that, along with other possible factors, including discrimination, innate differences between men and women may play a role in the disparity between men and women going into the sciences. (Link and emphasis in orginal.)
The original report on Summers' statement:
He offered three possible explanations, in declining order of importance, for the small number of women in high-level positions in science and engineering. The first was the reluctance or inability of women who have children to work 80-hour weeks.

The second point was that fewer girls than boys have top scores on science and math tests in late high school years. "I said no one really understands why this is, and it's an area of ferment in social science," Summers said in an interview Saturday. "Research in behavioral genetics is showing that things people previously attributed to socialization weren't" due to socialization after all....

Summers' third point was about discrimination. Referencing a well-known concept in economics, he said that if discrimination was the main factor limiting the advancement of women in science and engineering, then a school that does not discriminate would gain an advantage by hiring away the top women who were discriminated against elsewhere.

Because that doesn't seem to be a widespread phenomenon, Summers said, "the real issue is the overall size of the pool, and it's less clear how much the size of the pool was held down by discrimination." (Emphasis added.)
Those are not remotely similar similar statements. Merely suggesting the possibility that innate differences, along with discrimination and other factors, may play a role is not equivalent to stating as a conclusion that discrimination is below innate factors in "order of importance" and that "the real issue" is the "size of the pool" -- and that's even without addressing the fact that Summers' conclusions relied heavily on flimsy evidence and reasoning (as discussed here and here).

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Great Idea 

I was tempted to follow Sivacracy's resolution of not posting today in mourning and protest of the Bush inauguration, but I really like Ayelet Waldman's suggestion to pick a rotisserie administration -- kind of like rotisserie baseball but with politics. (Trivia: rotisserie baseball was invented by Times apologist-in-chief public editor Dan Okrent.)

Now, technically, the idea of rotisserie is that you have limited resources, so sure you get A-Rod to play third, but then you have to have Biff Pocoroba catch. I'm going to mostly follow Waldman's rules and pick a dream team "off the top of my head, with a little help from the web", but if the top of my head doesn't do it I'll just skip it and you can fill in your own personal Biff Pocoroba.

So, while I would walk around with a big goofy grin for four years if we had Waldman's administration, I'll also propose one of my own:
President: Howard Dean

VP: Barbara Boxer (Waldman proposed Boxer for the top of the ticket -- and who could argue after this week's hearings? -- but Dean's been my fantasy President for a while now)

Chief Justice of the United States: Hillary Rodham Clinton

Secretary of State: Strobe Talbott

Secretary of the Treasury: Paul Krugman

Secretary of Defense: Wesley Clark

Attorney General: Lani Guinier

Secretary of the Interior: Robert Kennedy, Jr.

Secretary of H.U.D.: Jesse Jackson, Sr.

Secretary of Education: Jesse Jackson, Jr.

Secretary of H.H.S.: Nancy Keenan

Secretary of Veterans Affairs: Max Cleland

Department of Homeland Security: Richard Clarke

Chief of Staff: Rosa DeLauro. (My first choice would be to have her primary Joe Lieberman, but Mary tells me it's not going to happen. DeLauro is not just liberal and savvy, but is also tremendously effective at getting things done.)

Drug Czar: Abolished.
I take the advice part of advice and consent seriously, so please let me know where I went wrong!

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Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Translating Summers 

Lawrence Summers' comments on women in math and science, which were reported by the Boston Globe and discussed here Tuesday, today hit the mainstream media (Times, Post) and blog space (Volokh, Pub Sociology, Kevin Drum (1/18), Yglesias (1/18), Malkinwatch (1/18) [UPDATES: and Feministe, and Feministing, and Rox Populi, and Sivacracy]) big time.

Summers' defenders include Harvard economics professor Claudia Goldin, who's done interesting quantitative work on gender issues and is quoted by the Post as saying "I left with a sense of elation at his ideas.... I was proud that the president of my university retains the inquisitiveness of an academic", and Juan Non-Volokh, a conservative law professor who lays out a balanced case for why researching genetic differences between the sexes in math is an appropriate subject of inquiry that does not require the assumption that such differences will be established and does not preclude findings of sexism, cultural stereotypes, and bias.

The problem is: None of that is what Summers said. At best, it's a very sympathetic translation (or generalization) of what he said. At worst, it's a complete re-writing of his remarks to shift the terms of the debate.

I cannot imagine that there would have been a furor if Summers had said something like: "I'm very concerned about how few women have received tenure in math and science, and I think we need to conduct some serious analysis of the sources of that problem. We need to study seriously all plausible sources of the disparities in hiring and promotion, including bias, genetics, cultural norms and expectations, etc."

But he didn't. As I discussed Tuesday, what Summers actually did was essentially to assume away bias with facile and unpersuasive reasoning (and arbitrary line drawing), and to posit genetics as the strongest possible explanation based on the observation that his daughter treated her trucks "almost like dolls, naming one of them 'daddy truck,' and one 'baby truck'". (As Mary pointed out to me off line, an equally plausible interpretation of the same incident is that Summers' daughter was thinking quantitatively, identifying "bigger" and "smaller" objects with a child's vocabulary.)

In my view, it is very important that the re-framing done by Goldin and Non-Volokh does not go unanswered. Non-Volokh worries, "The political and cultural sensitivity of the question should not place it off-limits to scientific examination." The implication, though unstated, is that the left, and particularly the academic left, is unwilling to honestly discuss or debate issues. That same view is explicitly at the heart of Michelle Malkin's original post on this subject and, more generally, seems to be becoming one of the right's central talking points (here's Non-Volokh's co-blogger Jim Lindgren on the subject, and here are a couple of random Summers defenders).

That re-framing is unfair and should not be allowed to pass without comment. Nancy Hopkins, along with many other members of MIT's faculty, spent a great deal of time studying the issue of bias at MIT, including interviewing numerous faculty members and reviewing data on subjects such as the distribution of resources and obligations such as lab space, grants, reseach assistance, teaching and committee assignments, etc. That study was very big news, leaving aside that it was conducted at Harvard's peer institution in Cambridge. In other words, if Summers were interested in serious academic inquisitiveness, his remarks would have reflected that he read the study (whether or not he accepted its conclusions). The fact that Hopkins chose not to engage Summers' poorly informed, carelessly reasoned, and unsubstantiated claims hardly means she is unwilling to have a serious discussion of the issues. More generally, while many people take poorly to disagreement, I am unpersuaded that this is particularly a problem on the left -- and this incident is hardly support for the idea that it is.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2005

'Nuf Said 

Condoleezza Rice today, under oath:
We knew that he [Saddam Hussein] was the world's most dangerous man in the world's most dangerous region.
Uh, what about this guy?

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There Goes That Supreme Court Nomination 

From a long post Sunday on Richard Posner's blog:
The relation between malpractice premiums and malpractice judgments is also uncertain. No doubt capping judgments, which is the principal reform that is advocated, has some tendency to reduce premiums, but perhaps not much, because there is evidence that premiums are strongly influenced by the performance of the insurance companies’ investment portfolios.

A better reform would be to permit, encourage, or even require insurance companies to base malpractice premiums on the experience of the insured physician, much as automobile liability insurance is based on the driver’s experience of accidents. That would make malpractice liability a better engine for deterring malpractice—which in turn would reduce malpractice premiums by reducing the amount of malpractice. Capping judgments, in contrast, would reduce the incentive of insurance companies and their regulators to move to a system of experience-rated malpractice insurance....

In any event, there is no compelling case for federal limitations on malpractice liability. (Emphasis added.)
Posner's a prominent conservative, Reagan appointee to the Seventh Circuit. Here's Jack Balkin in 2003 on why Bush should appoint Posner Chief, and why he never will. I can't imagine the odds just got any better.

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A Dollar Here, A Dollar There 

Josh Marshall distills the substance from today's Times piece on Dick Cheney's role in domestic policy:
In orther words, Cheney supports putting 4 to 6 percentage points of each individual's 6.2% contribution into a private investment account and taking it out of the Social Security system.

(Just for maximum clarity, that means about 97% of the employee's payroll tax contribution, which is 6.2% of their salary up to $90,000. And it's about 48% of the total Social Security money going into the program for the given individual since the employer also kicks in another 6.2%.)

So, in other words, the initial 'partial' phase of the Social Security phase-out, turns about to be 50% phase-out. And the only money going into Social Security comes from the employer. How long do you figure that lasts?
While Cheney is usually "on message" that the Administration only seeks to "reform" social security, the policy choices here suggest that Cheney, at least, is very interested in undermining social security -- and not very worried about getting a bill passed.

While, in theory, money is the same regardless of source, there is a fair bit of evidence that people attach very different weights to money under different circumstances. For example, loss aversion theory explains experimental evidence that in general people view losing $1 as worse than not gaining $1, a result that is not explained by traditional economics. This is relevant here because Cheney wants all of the money for private accounts to come from the employee's half of the social security contribution. From a purely economic point of view, the difference makes no difference. But from a political point of view, it makes all the difference:

If I were worried about selling the bill, I would want the private accounts to come from employer contributions. Employees, for the most part, don't think about the employer contribution as part of their tax burden (though it is), so paying the same tax plus getting an account from money that the employee never sees anyway would be pretty appealing politically. The problem, though, is that the employee would continue to be paying the same percentage of wages into the system, and would therefore continue to feel a proprietary interest in SS. That's where loss aversion kicks in -- trying to take away something employees think they already own is too much for even Bush to try to sell (which is why his rhetoric focuses on not changing anything for near-term retirees). So, the Cheney plan is harder to sell up front, but has the advantage that it eliminates employees' feelings of investment in the system. Instead, social security can be made to seem more like a government handout with the money in too short supply and coming from nowhere in particular -- say, like the Forest Service. But, of course, it gets better, because under the Cheney plan loss aversion would work to get voters feeling invested in, you got it, large public corporations.

A second clue that Cheney is not worried about getting something passed is that the Post reports he is at the high end in terms of how much he is advocating putting in private accounts. (As Marshall points out, that is also a sign that he isn't worried about the long term resiliency of the system.)

On the merits, I'm probably closest to Brad DeLong's view of privatization, which I understand to be that some theoretical arguments for it are not crazy, but the political realities are sufficient to make it (at best) a very dubious proposition. In any case, Cheney is a politician, not an economist (the Post piece also recounts his becoming a convert to the Laffer curve having learned of it directly from Laffer drawing it on the back of a napkin), and the politics of what Cheney wants are clear.

So, in addition to whether and how much, let's add "from where" to the issues to be alert to in the coming debate.

UPDATE: Amanda Marcotte adds insight on how social security reform looks, and is being sold, to young voters.

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Monday, January 17, 2005

Assume A Can Opener 

Michelle Malkin -- who is quick to condemn discrimination against Christians, Christians, Condoleezza Rice, herself, herself, and herself, but not against Japanese-Americans interrned during WWII -- today cheerleads for Harvard President Lawrence Summers' bizarre diatribe on "the dearth of female professors in science and engineering at elite universities":
According to the Boston Globe, the first point Summers touched on was the reluctance or inability of women who have children to work 80-hour weeks. The second point was that fewer girls than boys have top scores on science and math tests in late high school years. Summers' third point addressed discrimination. Summers noted that if discrimination was the main factor limiting the advancement of women in science and engineering, then a school that does not discriminate would gain an advantage by hiring away the top women who were discriminated against elsewhere.

Because that doesn't seem to be a widespread phenomenon, Summers said, according to the Globe, "the real issue is the overall size of the pool, and it's less clear how much the size of the pool was held down by discrimination."
Let's see if I follow that reasoning. Widespread discrimination against women in the sciences cannot exist, because economic theory says it would be inefficient, and someone would exploit those inefficiencies, making it go away. That's a familiar theory that you'll hear from someone who's finished Econ. 101 and now understands everything, but it's not what you'd expect from the President of Harvard. The problem with that theory is that, if you believe it, it would prove that there's never been discrimination against anyone, anywhere, which is clearly not the case, and as I understand economics you have to change your theory when it doesn't explain the data.

Or you can just make up data. From the Boston Globe piece:
In his talk, according to several participants, Summers also used as an example one of his daughters, who as a child was given two trucks in an effort at gender-neutral parenting. Yet she treated them almost like dolls, naming one of them "daddy truck," and one "baby truck."
Oh, OK, well that settles it, doesn't it? Summers taught macroenomics back in the day -- but I bet he didn't know that my eight year old would rather have $1.00 today than $1.10 in a year, so I hope he isn't still wasting his breath on the time value of money.

Summers has also drawn an arbitrary line between "discrimination" and his first two proposed factors, the work-family dichotomy and standardized test scores. I think its fairly clear that some form of "discrimination", or at least "socialization" to use Summers' word, plays some role in those two issues (leaving to another post how much). So, part of what Summers means is this is just hardwired biology, but part of it is more along the lines of "it's not my fault if only 4 of 32 Harvard tenure slots went to women last year".

Summers' defense, I'm sure, is that he was being intentionally provocative (he says he said several times, "I'm going to provoke you"), but that's surely not how it was perceived in the room. Malkin condemns MIT biologist Nancy Hopkins for walking out on Summers rather than engaging in "rigorous academic debate", but neglects to mention that, according to the Globe, "Hopkins was the main force behind an influential study documenting inequalities for women at MIT, which led that school's former president, Charles M. Vest, to acknowledge the pattern of bias in 1999." That is, and not to put too fine a point on it, she actually knew something about the subject that Summers was just making stuff up about and, I'm pretty sure, Hopkins was willing to engage in quite a bit of "rigorous debate" to get MIT to admit to bias.

Related Post: Manufacturing Acts of Self-Victimization

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Saturday, January 15, 2005

Seeing More Red: Brooks and Birth Dearth Baloney 

Okay, I decided not to let myself get all wrought up about Phillip Longman's most recent pronatalist screed, even though there are a number of serious problems with it (for example, as I noted in response to Longman's previous pronatalist screed, he completely ignores immigration, which actually has a substantial relationship to how many people we have in the labor market and able to contribute to Social Security...).

But now David Brooks has picked up on the theme. Like Sylvia Hewlett, Brooks is very worried about those poor career gals who are getting to their mid-40's and suddenly realize they forgot to have a baby.

While I have no patience with Hewlett's tone of suggesting that all real fulfillment comes from motherhood (which, reading her, sounds as if it's always rewarding, delightful, joyous, etc.) and that high-powered careers are always and only stressful, demanding, and ultimately cold and empty, I do actually have some interest in and sympathy with one of the issues she raises in the book and which Brooks' column has picked up on, and that is the issue of sequencing of family and work stuff. (Wow, that was a more than usually convoluted sentence...)

Educational and career paths that evolved when men-with-wives-at-home were the only ones following them may not be the best for a time when most men AND women work. As someone who sequenced childbearing and career in an unconventional order for someone of my age and educational status (college, kid, Master's, kid, PhD, job)*, I am interested in and sympathetic to suggestions that we need more flexibility and choices in these paths.

But Brooks' proposal still makes me cranky:
it might make more sense to go to college, make a greater effort to marry early and have children. Then, if she, rather than her spouse, wants to stay home, she could raise children from age 25 to 35. Then at 35 (now that she knows herself better) she could select a flexible graduate program specifically designed for parents. Then she could work in one uninterrupted stint from, say, 40 to 70.
First, he gives that lame lipservice to "rather than her spouse", but in the context of the whole piece, you know he doesn't really mean it that men could/should take this option. Second, you don't have to take 10 years off to have 2 kids, and if you did, you wouldn't then need to "select a flexible graduate program specifically for parents." As it happens, graduate programs are quite flexible as it is (at least compared to 9-5 jobs), and we don't need to create "mommy track" grad programs.

Anyhow, as I said above, I am a big believer in greater flexibility in the sequencing and/or combining of families and work. But I'm also very skeptical of mommy tracks.** I'd also like to note that this sequencing plan takes all the pressure off employers to make changes in their approach to families and work. If women do the kids stuff first, take a really long time at it, then do grad school, and don't start work until they're 40 (and their kids are something like 15 and 13), and work straight through, employers can continue to make outrageous demands on people's time. Young men will continue to be expected to work like dogs--after all, they'll have wives at home to make this all happen smoothly--and older women will, too--after all, their kids are off at college, so they don't have any outside needs or responsibilities.

Anyhow, Brooks then takes all this to the conclusion that we should make these changes so that college-educated women (hmmmm, what race, class, etc. does he mean???) will have more kids, and he ties this in to the Longman canard that more babies are the answer to the social security "crisis" (which, of course, is not a crisis at all). He even suggests that we institute means-tested tax credits or tuition assistance that would help women who wanted to sequence their lives this way.

May I just note that there is a significant group of women who were trying to sequence their lives exactly this way, and who Republicans decided didn't have a right to go back to school after they had their babies? Poor women. Since the 1996 welfare law changes (I refuse to call it reform), poor women aren't allowed to count going to college toward their work requirements. Unlike rich women, who Brooks would like to allow to "sequence" their lives, the welfare system says poor women can't sequence--they can't stay home while their kids are young, they can't go back to school when the kids are a little older. They just have to work in dead-end jobs from the time the kid or kids are babies, with no time or opportunity to get more education.

* Note: Brooks' assumption that women don't have kids first and then go back to get more education and training is incredibly classist, among other things. It's true that I was almost alone among my fancy-pants college class in doing this, but visit classrooms at state universities and community colleges (undergrad OR grad level), and you'll find plenty of women who had their kids young, are now getting further degrees or training, and will then go on to a long, uninterrupted work career.

** An oldy but goody: Ehrenreich, B., & English, D. (July/August 1989). Blowing the whistle on the "mommy track." Ms ., 57-58.

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Friday, January 14, 2005

That Didn't Take Long 

Sharon Cuts Ties With Abbas Over Militants.

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The Iraqi Voting Rules: Israelis and Women 

Last night, Mary asked me an interesting question: Given the decision to let Iraqis living outside Iraq vote, are Iraqi Jews who are now citizens of Israel permitted to participate in the Iraqi election? Given the prevalance of de jure anti-Jewish laws in the Middle East, I imagined that the answer could go either way.

Happily, the answer is yes. The rules provide that anyone over 18 who can establish Iraqi nationality may vote. Since Israel is not one of the 14 countries with a polling place, Iraqi-Israelis must travel to vote (presumably to Jordan), but that is no different than the requirement on, say, Iraqi-Egyptians. So, no anti-Semitism here, unless Israel should have qualified for a polling place under the standard applied (size of Iraqi population), but I have seen no data to support that. (Thanks to this site for Iraqi Jews for the links.)

Less happily, the nationality requirement has this sexist provision:
III. Iraqi nationality: In order to prove Iraqi nationality, you must present a document or documents issued by state, state agency, international institution or International Red Cross organization which confirm that you were born in Iraq; or you have current or had previous Iraqi citizenship; or your father has Iraqi nationality. (No. 24 (emphasis added).)

III. Birth to father of Iraqi nationality: You must present a document or documents which show paternal link plus your father’s nationality as Iraqi. Your father’s registration receipt may be accepted as proof of father’s nationality. (No. 25 (emphasis added).)
What legitimate interest is served by permitted people whose father was Iraqi to vote but denying the vote to people whose mother was Iraqi?

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Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Lipstick on a Pig 

About two weeks ago, Amanda Marcotte reported on the Ninth Circuit's (that's the "liberal" circuit) upholding Harrah's right to fire a female bartender for refusing to wear makeup.

Today, I looked up the opinion and was interested to note that one of the amici curiae submitting a brief was the Council for Employment Law Equity.

The Council for Employment Law Equity. Hold that on your tongue for a moment, like a fine whisky. Sure sounds like an operation that might be on the side of the unemployed bartender, doesn't it? Actually, it's an industry front group with an Orwellian name. A Google search didn't turn up a web site, but it does reveal that it was founded by Mark DeBernardo, a partner at the law firm of Winston & Strawn, and has been represented by Samuel Estreicher, special counsel to Jones Day (who has also been counsel to the inauspiciously-named "Black Alliance for Educational Options"). As far as I can tell, the "organization" exists only as a front to file to amicus briefs, opinion letters, and the like.

So, does the left have these? Where's Catholic Bishops for Choice?

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The Most Litigious Man In History* 

I couldn't help but note that Don King has filed another lawsuit, this time suing ESPN for defamation, seeking $2.5 billion in damages for a show that "accused King of being 'a snake oil salesman, a shameless huckster and worse,' claimed the flamboyant promoter underpaid Muhammad Ali by $1.2 million and claimed King — convicted in a 1967 beating death and acquitted in another killing in 1954 — 'killed not once, but twice.'"

Just this week, and not for the first time, I cited a case involving Don King. In fact a Westlaw search revealed nearly 60 written decisions involving King or his eponymous company as a party. Though I'm sure some cases led to more than one opinion, any litigator will tell you that most cases don't lead to even one opinion in the Westlaw database, so there are probably more. (We know the above criminal cases aren't in Westlaw, for example.) I'll also add the highly probative anecdotal evidence that he is the only famous person that I've run into in court on more than one occasion.

*In case King wants to sue me for defamation, let me make clear that this is opinion, satire, etc., and, more importantly, that I don't have $2.5 billion.

UPDATE: The News Writer reminds us that King was a big Bush supporter, but he's obviously not on board for Bush's attack on litigation. As I've pointed out before, while they're happy to close the courthouse doors to regular folks, the right is quick to sue when its interests are at stake. And, to add to the fun of internecine warfare, ESPN is a corporate sibling of WABC radio, the the official "home of the 2004 Republican National Convention" (both are owned by Disney).

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The Tip of the Iceberg 

Atrios links to a "lovely" post by "Vox" advocating "the merits of anti-semitism". The short version of the post is: It's easy to see how people hate Jews when they complain about a German Cardinal's sermon that equates the Holocaust with abortion. (The Cardinal said, "Hitler and Stalin let millions of people be destroyed, and today, in our times, millions of unborn children are being killed"; merits of the comparison aside, I'd say the passive "let" is a pretty poor choice of words, no?)

So, is this just some crank with a weblog (not that there's anything wrong with that)? Seems not: 1. An Atrios commenter indicates that Vox is a writer for UPS. 2. Vox's comments are largely supportive (check them out if you have a problem with hypotension). 3. On a whim, I googled "abortion holocaust". I got 201,000 results. That included (just in the first page), gems like this one, written eight days after September 11:
In consideration of the semi-horrific (the abortion holocaust is more fully horrific) events that took place on September 11, 2001 at the "World Trade Center" in New York City and at the Pentagon, it is plausible to believe that an "Abortion Holocaust Memorial" should be built on the major site that is seen as God's warning to mankind that if the real holocaust does not cease then there would be far greater disasters and destruction to follow. (Emphasis in original.)
And this one:
Objections are often heard when references are made to the astronomical numbers of abortion taking place every year as an "abortion holocaust." In reaction to such a reference I had made in a letter to the editor on abortion, one reader ... took exception to my likening of Henry Morgentaler's abortion franchise here in Fredericton to an Auschwitz killing chamber. ... I also believe Henry Morgentaler's jewish background has justifiably been brought into the abortion debate because of the bleak irony of having a survivor of an evil nationalistic mentality, under which his parents were exterminated as worthless junk, performing similar tasks on human beings which he describes as mere blobs of protoplasm. (Emphasis added.)
In other words, Vox is not a lone loon, but merely an outspoken proponent of a far-reaching ideology that legalized abortion is the equivalent of the Holocaust.

This equation is not just offensive to Jews -- though it is surely that. It is evidence of a fundamental moral bankruptcy of the portion of the pro-life movement that hold this view. If you can't distinguish between a pregancy ending and this or this, then you are either insane or evil. To be clear, I am not saying that opposing the legality of abortion is inherently incompatible with a moral worldview. Even if I would not agree with them, I can imagine morally honest reasons to oppose legalized abortion. But the equation of abortion to murder is a central tenet of the mainstream anti-abortion movement, and the equation of legalized abortion to the Holocaust is its logical, and thoroughly repulsive, consequence.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Adopting Queer Arguments 

World Magazine Blog continues to be an inspirational source of creative reasoning. Fresh from its diatribe against basic health care for expectant mothers and rape victims in tsunami-affected regions (discussed and linked to here), today's offering magically finds an alignment between the anti-gay and anti-choice agendas:
WHY NOT GAY ADOPTION?

The U.S. Supreme Court refused yesterday to hear a challenge to a Florida law that prohibits gay men and lesbians from adopting children. Good. Maybe more states now will pass legislation protecting kids from gay adoption. Most readers of this blog know very well the ethical reasons for giving adopted kids both a father and a mother, but here's one more pragmatic one: The possibility of a child being adopted by a gay couple makes many young women less willing to consider placing their children for adoption.
Get it? We should support a law prohibiting gays from adopting children because "many" more women will have abortions if they know there's the possibility the baby might be adopted by someone who is gay. I suppose anything is possible, but given that there is clearly substantial and well-organized interest in gay people adopting, it seems much more likely that permitting gay people to adop will increase adoption, which is normally what the Christian right advocates. (In fact, I suspect that it's very unlikely that adoption by gays would systematically increase the incidence of abortion unless the Christian right, through advocacy like the above, starts pushing the idea that that's a reasonable reaction; it's frankly hard to imagine "many" pregnant "young women" thinking that way unless that's what they've been hearing in church.) But anything to prove that all deviations from the paradigmatic family form of the 1950s conspire to defeat God's plan, right?

On a related point, I'd be very interested to know how Florida is administering the statute at issue, Fla. Stat. s 63.042(3), which provides simply, "No person eligible to adopt under this statute may adopt if that person is a homosexual." That's pretty vague. What does that mean? Living in a committed homosexual relationship? Has homosexual sex from time to time? Once back in college? Enjoyed watching Madonna and Britney Spears or Colin Farrell and Dallas Roberts? OK, that's a bit silly, but the point remains. Unless Florida invests serious cash in developing a defensible definition of "homosexual" and in investigating potential adoptive parents (and we know how much Jeb wants to invest in child services), the statute will mainly apply to parents who self-identify as gay, making clear that this statute is all about stigmatization, and (even from the point of view of its advocates) badly suited to its purported purpose.

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Sunday, January 09, 2005

Feministe Worthy? 


Herewith, our submission for Feministe's "“I Should Be Ashamed of My Liquor Cabinet But I’'m Not”" Award. Note: No mixers, but a splash of water is permitted. Posted by Hello

UPDATE: Mary adds, "This is really Fred's liquor cabinet. We don't have the bottle of gin that constitutes Mary's liquor cabinet."

SECOND UPDATE: Just to be clear, Mary's gin is not there because it, er, went for a little trip with us this weekend. (And, anyway, it lives in the freezer, and I didn't want the picture to look staged or anything.)

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Saturday, January 08, 2005

God Wants You To Die In Childbirth 

Yesterday, Orcinus reported on the "beyond the pale" hatefulness of some prominent right-wing reaction to the tsunami. (Presumably, this reaction is not typical of the right, since one of its themes seems to be disappointment with Bush for spending tax dollars to help those Osama lovers.)

A subset of the beyond the pale reaction seems to exist among the pro-life movement. Here's yesterday's World Magazine Blog:
The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) has kept its pro-abortion agenda curiously silent in the wake of Southeast Asia’s devastating tsunami. UNFPA has faced harsh public criticism in past natural disasters for supplying “reproductive health kits,” which include contraceptives, morning-after pills, and portable abortion devices. The organization has not disclosed whether it is currently delivering such kits, but solicited donations totaling $28 million dollars in its latest press release for, among other things, “the reestablishment of basic reproductive health services.”
Where to begin?

Obviously, there are a lot of reasons why providing access to birth control and abortion are especially important in tsunami-affected regions. Just off the top of my head: raising a child in the post-tsunami world is likely a difficult and dangerous proposition for many parents (and for the children); access to reproductive services has been disrupted, leading I suspect to additional unwanted pregnancies; that problem is likely compounded by what I have read is an increase in rape following the disruption; a pregnant woman who lost her husband, home, job, family, or all of the above might decide that she needed to have an abortion; a woman whose health was affected by the tsunami might need an abortion for her own health; and probably a lot of other reasons.

But one need not believe in abortion rights to be disgusted by this attack on tsunami relief:

First, it condemns providing contraceptives as part of a "pro-abortion agenda", without addressing the fact that contraceptives reduce the demand for abortion -- and without addressing the obvious health and other consequences to an unwanted pregnancy in post-tsunami conditions.

Second, this "pro-life" advocate seems to have little concern for, you know, protecting life. Here's what UNFPA is actually planning to do with the money (per the press release cited by World Mag):
Activities covered by the $28 million will include:

* Providing and distributing equipment, medicines and supplies to ensure safe childbirth and emergency obstetric care, as well as prevention of HIV transmission;

* Reestablishing maternal health services, including reconstruction of facilities, in areas where medical infrastructure and services have been devastated;

* Psycho-social support to tsunami survivors, including women who have become heads of household as a result of the disaster;

* Preventing and treating cases of violence against women and youth through community outreach programmes and medical and psycho-social support;

* Promoting the access of unaccompanied women and other vulnerable populations to basic services including water, sanitation, food, health and protection;

* Providing and distributing sanitary supplies; and

* Supporting youth through education programmes and drop-in centers.
Providing medicine? Promoting safe childbirth? Preventing HIV? Providing maternal health services? Helping women and vulnerable poupulations get food and water? I can sure see why someone who's "pro life" would want to put a stop to all that.

I hope that this insensitivity is not typical of those who would describe themselves as "pro life", though some of the comments to the post made me wonder:
That's the best the thing the UN can think of doing in the wake of such overwhelming number of deaths!?!? -- Provide for even more deaths -- that's just icing on the cake! Why is it that most of the people who strongly rail against God for taking back to himself human lives that belong to Him and that He has given in the first place, are the same people who strongly defend the "right" of one human to take the life of another human simply because that human might be "inconvenient" to them. [Emphasis added.]
..............................................................................
HMMMM..Luke's comments [advocating birth control] sound oddly familiar! Oh yes....they ring reminiscent of China's population control "old' policy.
..............................................................................
Rather than taking advantage of the folks Luke describes - at a time when these parents-to-be may be most susceptible to the abortion sales pitch - let's hope the UNFPA can control their bloodlust until this situation has calmed down a bit. [Emphasis added.]
..............................................................................
In other words, UNFPA's strategy for preventing children from growing up in poverty is to not let them grow up at all.
..............................................................................
The term "reproductive health services" has nothing to do with either reproduction or health. Preventing conception isn't reproduction. And one may try to argue that condom use can reduce the chance of catching diseases, but why would health funds be used to help people engage in unhealthy behavior?
..............................................................................
The battle to establish Creationism, while important, is secondary in impact to the battle to discredit the 'Population Bomb' mindset of so many in powerful and influential places.

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Friday, January 07, 2005

You Gotta Lotta Bawls.... 

Red Sox first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz caught the final out of the World Series, and he won't give the ball back to the Red Sox:
Calling the ball, "my retirement fund," Mientkiewicz stored it in a safe deposit box. Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino said Thursday he's going to ask Mientkiewicz to return it to the team....

The most expensive baseball of all time is Mark McGwire's 70th homer, which went for $3 million.

Mientkiewicz ... left no doubt that he believes the ball belongs to him.

"I know this ball has a lot of sentimental value," Mientkiewicz said. "I hope I don't have to use it for the money. It would be cool if we have kids someday to have it stay in our family for a long time. But I can be bought. I'm thinking, there's four years at Florida State for one of my kids. At least."
Much as it pains me to side with the Red Sox, their first baseman -- like Bill Buckner before him -- doesn't have a leg to stand on. While fans get to keep balls they catch, Mientkiewicz was acting as an agent of the Red Sox when he caught that ball -- meaning that the Red Sox were, in effect, acting through him when he caught the ball -- so he has to fork it over to his employer.

UPDATE: Volokh's initial reaction was the same as mine, but he adds an update that maybe the ball belongs to the Cardinals, since as the home time they supplied the ball. In my view, that doesn't change the analysis as between Mientkiewicz and the Red Sox. Even if the Sox had a clear obligation to return the ball to the Cards, the Sox would still have the right to get the ball back from Minky since they would still have an interest in controlling the method of return. (I, for one, would definitely ask for a receipt.)

UPDATE 2: Volokh suggests further (though he is skeptical) that a custom of players keeping certain balls could, in theory, be an implied term of Minky's contract. Volokh gives the example of an umpire stopping the game for a player to retrieve his 3,000th hit, though acknowledging the distinction that this ball did not represent Minky's personal accomplishment. Off Wing Opinion adds the precedent of the ball that went through the legs of the aforementioned Bill Buckner and was given by the umpire to a Mets official who later auctioned it off for charity.

I don't buy that the custom argument saves Minky. To imply a contract term, the custom must be so well established (like fans keeping balls) that a reasonable person entering a contract would assume the custom would govern. That's clearly not the case here -- Minky didn't say, "What are you talking about? Everyone knows players get to keep game-winning balls?", nor is that what anybody thought. The custom argument is particularly hard when the underlying contract has been so thoroughly negotiated -- the current collective bargaining agreement is over 200 pages; it addresses player compensation in depth, and even requires players to return their personal uniforms to the team when they're done with them. Minky's personal contract was negotiated further. If he wanted balls, he could have asked for them.

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Friday Cat Blogging 


Can I eat this one? No. No, I don't think so.... Posted by Hello

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Thursday, January 06, 2005

Sex and Regression Analysis (No Marriage This Time) 

Eugene Volokh comments that the new study finding that access to emergency contraception (EC) does not lead to increased high-risk behavior also finds no "significant reduction in pregnancy rate". Volokh concludes that he is not opposed to EC and that women should have access to it, but that the reporting should be clearer that "it doesn't seem to have much of an effect in reducing unwanted pregnancies".

To some extent, this response seems to confuse population-level and individual level effects.

First, let's look at the individual. On average, the chance of pregnancy from an individual act of intercourse ranges from 0-9%, so for simplicity's sake let's call it 5%. The study says that 37% of women in the advance access group used EC during the study period, compared to 21% for clinic access and 24% for pharmacy access, and that about 40% of all groups had unprotected sex at least once during the period. Again, to simplify, let's assume that they had unprotected sex exactly once, and that EC is 100% effective. That would mean that an advance access woman who had unprotected sex had a 0.375% likelihood of pregancy (.37*0+.03*.05)/.4. A woman in the clinic access group would have a 2.35% likelihood (.21*0+.19*.05)/.4. In other words, she is six times more likely to get pregnant. If I'm that woman, that's pretty significant to me.

So, why doesn't that translate to population level significance? Mainly because of the other 60% who are not having unprotected sex. I'm guessing that group is mostly (male) condom usage, since EC is not particularly relevant for a woman who is actively using oral contraceptives. Since a typical condom failure rate is 14%/year, a fair estimate of the likelihood of pregnacy in the protected sex group is 7% -- meaning that something like 4.2% (.07*.6) of the overall group is going to get pregnant without even thinkint to use EC. (I can think of all kinds of reasons why that estimate for the overall group might be either high (e.g., some people are abstinate or I'm double counting because part of condoms' failure rate is from failing to use them every time) or low (e.g., other relevant methods, like the diaphragm, have higher failure rates, many women in the "unprotected" group will also have protected sex and thus face the risks of contraceptive failure) but for the moment I'll just say that I think they would probably cancel out enough that 4.2% is in the right range.)

Combine all that, and we might expect to see 4.35% (.07*.6+.00375*.4) of the advance access group pregnant versus 5.15% (.07*.6+.0235*.4) of the clinic access group -- a difference to be sure but not a huge one, and certainly a difficult one to document in a real world study.

That's theory. In the actual study (JAMA ($)), the bottom line pregnancy numbers are even higher (8.7% for clinic access, 8.0% for advance provision, and 7.1% for pharmacy access) -- meaning that the small changes attributable to EC will be even harder to discern.

Indeed, the study authors do conclude that overall "the public health impact [of advance provision of EC] may be negligible because of high rates of unprotected intercourse and relative underutilization of the method". So, the study seems to support the conclusion that making EC more available can reduce pregnancies, but that education and other forms of birth control remain critical tools in reducing unwanted pregnancies.

Like Volokh, I will ask readers to please let me know if I'm misunderstanding the data.

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Sex, Marriage, and Regression Analysis, Part II 

In an update, Lindgren adds the following question:
Ann Althouse thoughtfully raises a point that I had intended to discuss but my post was already long--the causal order of all this. Are people with money (or expectations to earn money) more attractive to the opposite sex, or is it simply that when two people marry, their family income tends to go up because their family is more likely to have 2 incomes? Does expected income cause marriage or does marriage cause higher family income--or both?
I have no idea; but Mary does:
It's definitely not just that household income goes up because two incomes are bigger than one.

First, for understanding the association between higher income and more marriage, it helps to look at it more culturally and historically. The Western European pattern in the past was that a couple needed to be able to establish an independent household in order to marry (it was not customary to marry while living with parents). This resulted in relatively high ages at first marriage in historical England, etc., and in the pattern of people (women as well) going into "service" in their late teens and early twenties to save up enough money to marry.

Similarly, part of the explanation for the early marriage of the 1950s seems to be the combination of high-paying jobs for relatively young people and gov. help with buying houses, both of which meant that it was easy to start an independent
household...

Interview research with unmarried mothers suggests that they would like to be married but feel they can't afford it, in part because they associate marriage (as do most in our culture) with a certain level of financial independence (and often home ownership).

So part of the answer seems to be that people in our culture feel that a certain level of economic stability is a prerequisite to marriage.

There's a fair amount of evidence that controlling for other characteristics, and using longitudinal data (therefore clearing up some of the causality issues), those with higher incomes are more likely to marry.

At the same time, there's also evidence for a marriage wage premium for men (but not for women, except possibly for African American women). So to a certain extent, being married also makes you have a higher income (if you're a man)- -but it's not because of having two incomes in the household. The reasons for the marriage wage premium for men aren't totally clear. I think it's at least partly discrimination, but the economists like to talk about how much more productive married men are, or that marriage is a signal that a guy is serious and worth investing training money and effort in since he's less likely to quit.

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Sex, Marriage, and Regression Analysis 

Jim Lindgren at Volokh reviews a study of sex, money, and happiness by economists David Blanchflower and Andrew Oswald. Apparently, Blanchflower and Oswald concluded that people with higher incomes do not have more sex, but that turns out to be false (sort of). People with higher incomes do have more sex -- but the difference can be explained by other variables, mostly that people with higher incomes also tend to be more likely to be married, and married people have sex somewhat more frequently than unmarried people.

This reminded me of an incident that took place a couple of years ago. Mary and I were on a commuter train late in the evening, and in the next seat a rather inebriated and obnoxious young fellow was complaining loudly to the two women with whom he had been out drinking that he and his stay-at-home wife (who was still home with the kid at like 10 p.m. this day) never had sex and, by way of explanation, that once you're married you stop having sex. Mary leaned over and said, "Actually that's not true. Married people have sex more often." When they looked at her in disbelief, she added, "I know. I'm a demographer." As often happens when you stand up to the loudmouth on the train, Mary got approving looks from the other commuters, and we all got a bit more peace and quiet after that.

Anyway, the point of this is to ask: Why, if married people have sex more often, has the American Beauty idea that exactly the opposite is true captured the popular (and, judging from Blanchflower and Oswald, possibly even the academic) imagination?

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Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Questions I Hope They'll Ask Alberto Gonzales 

Mr. Gonzales, you approved the August 1, 2002, memo signed by Jay Bybee that concluded that to violate the federal torture statute, "torture must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or death" and that even this prohibition was "an unconstutional infringement of the President's authority to make war"; isn't that true?

Did you form an independent judgment as to the correctness of the conclusions in that memo?
At this point, the answer almost has to be, "No", or more likely a series of evasions designed to avoid "Yes." Of course, if he says "Yes", you're off to the races and can ask him about every conclusion, why he thought it was right, whether, when, and why he changed his mind (in my experience, excellent questions for exposing lies), what his judgment is now, etc. So, let's assume he says "No" or the equivalent. Then we have:
In the course of your duties as White House Counsel, is it your job to form independent judgments as to legal issues?
Now, he's kind of stuck. The answer, at some level, has to be "Yes." It's fine to trust your staff and delegate to staff, but ultimately the AG can't completely delegate judgment. And, of course, if he was merely relying on others, that opens the obvious question of: If you felt you needed the advice of others with greater expertise than you, why didn't you consult with appropriate officials at State or Defense? But "Yes" isn't so good either, now, because then we get these questions:
Did you expect the President to act on your approval of the Bybee memo? Did you consider this to be an important subject? In fact, wasn't the question of whether the United States government would use torture one of the most important topics that came before you as WHC? Wasn't the question of whether the President has the legal authority to unilaterally nullify criminal statutes? Wasn't the President expecting your personal judgment on those issues, Mr. Gonzales? So, given all that, how could you have done anything other than forming your own independent judgment on the Bybee memo?
Clearly, he doesn't want to get here. So he has to stake his defense on finding a deft way to avoid answering "independent judgment" questions in the first place -- I don't know what you mean by independent judgment, it's more complicated than that, blah blah blah. So, the key here is to get him to answer those questions before he's on the defensive. Right near the start, get him to answer some "softball" questions about the nature of his responsibilities, what he does for the President, etc. He really can't evade those without looking like a schmuck and, whether the phrase is "independent judgment" or something in his own words, he will acknowledge that the President relies on his personal judgment -- and then he's stuck between acknowledging that the Bybee memo reflected his own judgment or that he delegated his judgment responsibilities on one of the biggest issues that came before him.

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Tuesday, January 04, 2005

What the Dependency Ratio Actually Is 

Fortified by the return of Krugman, I tried wading in to David Brooks' column today. I got as far as,
the dependency ratio - defined as the number of people over 65 as a percentage of the number of people 20 to 64 years old
in the third paragraph before I had to stop in disgust. No, Mr. Brooks, the dependency ratio is actually defined as
the number of individuals aged below 15 or above 64 divided by the number of individuals aged 15 to 64, expressed as a percentage.
Look it up. Or if that's too hard, ask Professor Krugman.


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Unintended Baby Boom? 

A story in the Washington Post today reports on a study by the National Center for Health Statistics, which found that
[T]he number of women who had sex in the previous three months but did not use birth control rose from 5.2 percent in 1995 to 7.4 percent in 2002.... Other analysts called the spike a troubling development that translates into at least 4.6 million sexually active women at risk of conceiving a child they had not planned on.
Some possible reasons for the decline in contraceptive use among adult women? One reason proposed in the article is the high cost of many contraceptives (especially the pill) coupled with increasing proportions uninsured (and high co-pays for those with insurance) and the fact that public funding for family planning is declining:
Title X "is nowhere near keeping up with inflation," said Susanne Martinez, vice president of public policy at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Adjusted for inflation, the program's 2003 budget was 57 percent smaller than it was in 1980, she said. In addition, Title X dollars are now spent on a broader range of services, such as testing for sexually transmitted diseases.
A second reason proposed is that abstinence-only education may be having an effect among adult women in their 20s who learned only lies about the ineffectiveness of contraceptives in school.
I also wonder to what extent the increasing difficulty of obtaining contraceptives may have started to have an effect (or may increase the problem going forward).
In any case, an increase even of only two percent in the proportion of sexually active women not using contraception has the potential for large increases in pregnancies and, by extension, abortions or births:
In analyzing previous reports by the National Center for Health Statistics, [James] Trussell [director of the Office of Population Research at Princeton] has determined that half of all unintended pregnancies occur among the more than 95 percent of women who used some type of contraception, probably because the method failed or was used improperly. That means the other half of unintended pregnancies came from the sliver of the population not using birth control.

"That is why this is of enormous concern," he said in an interview. "This tiny minority contributes half of all unintended pregnancies."
And the response from our friends on the right?
"Pregnancy is not a disease. . . ." said Leslee J. Unruh, president of the Abstinence Clearinghouse.
So I guess, there's no need to try to prevent it?
"Women don't want to use birth control because of the side effects." [said Unruh]
Um, not using it has some side effects, too, lady--like pregnancy.
"The women making these choices are making a conscious choice. They are not stupid." [also Unruh]
Nice attempt to make it seem as if it's the pro-family planning liberals who are anti-women, but no dice. No one on our side is saying women are stupid. We're saying a.) they've been misinformed, and b.) their choices are not freely made given the current health care system and declining public funding.

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