EdgeWise 2003/12


History of Marriage In America

There's a pretty interesting history of American marriage at the Boston Review. It's really pretty uplifting how much progress America has made in the last 50 years. It then goes on to talk about the current debates relating to marriage, like same sex marriages, plural marriages (polygamy), etc. I liked this quote:
In this view, plural marriage reinforces female subordination and is unacceptable on grounds of equality... In assuming the equal agency of the parties to the contract, the contract model leaves aside the question of whether choices themselves may lead to subordination...Vigorous state action is needed to promote spousal equality, and one important justification for such action is provided by vision of marriage as a relationship between equals that enriches both their individual and joint lives.
I wonder what Janine and Austin's Ketubah says after reading this:
In Jewish law, marriage involved a contract (ketubah) in which a man accepted a woman as his wife in exchange for a bride price, and pledged a specific amount of money to her if he divorced her. Divorce was only available to the man. The blessings of the wedding ceremony invoked a more covenantal relationship, but the contract was essential to marriage. The Jewish contractual law of marriage was different both from Christian law, which by-and-large did not permit divorce, and views of secular contractualists that I examine here.
They probably made theirs gender neutral and whatnot. I don't really remember a bride price. Simpsons DVDs maybe?
posted at 11:34:08    #    comment []    trackback []

Social Conservatives Fears about Same Sex Marriage

Via "Alas, A Blog", a very interesting idea I encountered is that there is a link between the current opposition to same sex marriage and the 1970's opposition to the legalization of divorce. Basically, social conservatives fear the erosion of the family. If marriage is just a self-interested, contractual agreement between consenting, committed adults, social conservatives fear such relationships will not be as durable as one that is unbreakable due to traditional religious sanctification and the shared obligation to biological children.

I think the difference between social liberals and conservatives is that social liberals do not find the duration of a marriage to be the highest measure of a marriage's worth. A social conservative would see ending a dysfunctional marriage as shirking one's duty. Some of them would see ending an abusive marriage the same way.

I think that social conservative fears about the quality of social relationships are to some extent justified. We live in a state of profound isolation and anonymity, with most people not knowing who lives two doors down. However, I think that a fixation on the easily quantifiable duration is misguided, because it's not the cause of the decline in quality. Rather than living in the same 15 mile radius our whole lives as past generations have, we now move from state to state following our careers. Rather than past generation's women staying at home maintaining and strengthening community relationships, women are following their own careers. Rather than a marriage being the centerpiece of a vibrant network of community relationships, community relationships have withered and married relationships have become strained, sometimes even suffocating.

Social conservatives' efforts seeking to reverse actual progressive changes (e.g. women's liberation, divorce, same sex marriage) is futile. Instead, social liberals need to produce creative adaptations to these changes, such as facilitating long-distance relationships, and easy insertion into robust local community relationships.

I believe that cohousing, housing co-ops, and certain internet technologies (video conferencing, VOIP, blogging, instant messaging, video games, etc.) are a step in the right direction, but more ideas are needed. Got any?

Update: Yes, I'm going to set up Mom and Dad with a web cam and whatnot, Janine. I've been putting off showing them how to use it for too long.
posted at 12:27:28    #    comment []    trackback []

Bob Herbert On Domestic Job Losses

Three problems with the below:
Well, the workers whose jobs are now threatened at I.B.M. and similar companies across the U.S. are well educated and absolute whizzes at processing information. But they are nevertheless in danger of following the well-trodden path of their factory brethren to lower-wage work, or the unemployment line.

... Pulling the plug on factory workers is one thing. A frontal assault on the livelihood of solidly middle-class Americans some of whom may be required to train the foreign workers who will replace them is something else.
First Problem: Union Factory Workers are middle class. They were the first big group to lose their jobs overseas, but it's not like those jobs paid that much worse than IT.

Second Problem: An overseas equivalent to an IBM engineer makes 2/3 what they do at IBM. Is an IBM engineer 33% more morally deserving or technically superior to the overseas equivalent?

I'm not saying I'm for offshoring engineering staff. I'm scared crapless that I'll be out of a career.

Third Problem: Does transferring the job overseas, improving the bottomline for a US owned company, in some way enhance the US economy in a way that would create a new domestic job here to replace the lost one?

If the extra profits funded job training and education of the person laid off, yes it would. It would require progressive taxes skimmed off enough from the corporation and corporate stockholders increased profit to pay for job retraining or re-education subsidies for middle and lower class people. Since education and re-training are a one-time cost, and the increased profits are permanent, this seems plausible, although the overhead for such indirect transfers might eat it up.

However, we are currently gutting job retraining and education finances (e.g. college financial aid) while we massively transfering the tax burden from the wealthy to the middle class. Doesn't this strike you as a bad time for job migration?
posted at 02:40:48    #    comment []    trackback []

How Memory Works At Last?

Some scientists believe they've figured out how the mind remembers: Prions. Yep, the same stuff Mad Cow disease is made out of, the same stuff even an autoclave can't destroy, is the stuff memory is made out of. If memory turns out to be made of the persistant buggers, I wonder if it means dead men will someday finally be able to tell tales.
posted at 21:56:00    #    comment []    trackback []

Regular Cells Turned Back To Stem Cells

This is huge news! They've been able to turn regular muscle cells back into stem cells. Rather than looking for adult stem cells (a needle in a haystack) in order to do therapeutic stuff like regrow spinal cords or whatever, you can now grab any random muscle cell and regress it to a stem cell. This isn't taking it all the way back into something you could clone or anything, but the potential for research and treatment is still huge!
posted at 10:30:08    #    comment []    trackback []

Stuff I'm reading

I've been reading WorldChanging and pretty much everything on there is something worth posting here, so ironically, I haven't posted any of it. Very positive news about good things happening all over, all the time.

LocalFeeds finds blogs that are geographically nearby. Cool.

A Piece on the Bush Tax tells how federal income tax cuts for the wealthy without any new aid to the states has required state and local tax and fee increases that disporportionately affected the poor and middle class. This shift of the tax burden from wealthy to working class is the Bush Tax.

Mark A. R. Kleiman has a piece on Christianity in Theory and Practice and a follow-up piece on the difference between christian ethics and christian identity.

The Decembrist talks about how bad conservative government programs (No Child Left Successful... er, Behind) stir a hatred of the government, which helps conservatives. Different than my last post though.

This open sarcastic letter to Dr. Laura is a great takedown of Christian fundamentalism:
When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord (Lev. 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. How should I deal with this?

I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as it suggests in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness (Lev. 15:19-24). The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

Lev. 25:44 states that I may buy slaves from the nations that are around us. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans but not Canadians. Can you clarify?

I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?

A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination (Lev. 10:10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this?

Lev. 20:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear prescription glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?
posted at 13:10:08    #    comment []    trackback []

Why People Vote Stupid and American Dream Blues

Why do so many blue collar people irrationally vote Republican, when the Republican policies are demonstrably against their own self-interest? The answer appears to be emotional, rather than rational. The more blue collar wages are depressed, and jobs are lost, the more blue collar people long for the golden days of the 1950's when FDR's New Deal really made the us a middle class with real chances at socio-economic mobility.

Today, Blue collar married couples now earn collectively what the husband alone did in 1950. Blue collar white income has fallen to nearly match blue collar minority and immigrant income. A narrowing gap has given many the incorrect perception that relative advancements by women, minorities, and immigrants has come at the expense of white males. Ironically, household income of blue collar women, minorities, and immigrants hasn't really improved. It is rich white males that have hugely benefitted from the decline of blue collar wages.

Feeling betrayed by government rollbacks of progressive programs, and feeling ashamed to be dependent on remaining ones, blue collar white males misguidedly fix their hatred on all government programs, especially those they need most. Rather than connecting the good old days with FDR's dry policies, they are channeled into nostalgia for a time before the civil rights movement, women's liberation, and other genuine advancements. Frightened, ashamed, confused, and feeling impotent, they lash out and support racist, misogynist, Bible Thumping, Government-hating Republicans. And those Republicans punish them for their support.

Add to this mix that Prize Winning Economist Paul Krugman has a very compelling argument that the American Dream is ending.
"A classic 1978 survey found that among adult men whose fathers were in the bottom 25 percent of the population as ranked by social and economic status, 23 percent had made it into the top 25 percent...a new survey of today's adult men, which finds that this number has dwindled to only 10 percent."
This change is the direct result of the rollbacks of FDR's New Deal. The New Deal changed the American Dream from an immigrant's dream of doing better in America than where they were born, into a domestic dream of doing better relative to your parents through hard work. It takes a generation for the socioeconomic mobility effects of policies to be felt, so where do you think those numbers will be in 2025? Do you honestly think the Republicans are going to make things better by more tax cuts for the rich and less spending on education, healthcare, and public transportation?

Think only Blue collar people are negatively impacted? Think again. There will be 235,000 less software Programmers by 2015. What type of engineering position can't be sent overseas? Pretty soon, many more of us are going to be in the same leaky boat with the blue-collar workers. Is that when the rest of us start to find Republicans emotionally appealling?
posted at 13:32:32    #    comment []    trackback []

Scientific Exploration of Humor

Hey, here's a fun home humor experiment: pretend you don't understand technology while you are obviously using it. No, not like grandparents mystified by how their email gets to you. More like Oog the Caveman loudly beseeching the Wind Spirits to carry his words while dialling his cellphone. Y'know, sacrifice a plush toy to the Dark Lords of PowerPoint. Light votive candles before attempting to recompile your operating system. That sort of thing. Let me know how it turns out or if you come up with any good ones.
posted at 18:18:24    #    comment []    trackback []

Gender Detecting Text Scanner

Pretty Interesting internet doohickey. You feed it text (works better with more than 500 words) and it tells you the gender of the writer. Supposedly 80% accurate, which is about what I got (1 wrong, 4 right) when I fed it the last few long blog entries I've made.

Yes, it is not an amazingly technical piece of programming, but it's cool enough that I dub it honorary "doohickey".
posted at 18:08:48    #    comment []    trackback []

Progressive Action Plan for Power

Nick Confessorre has a plea for ideas coping with what looks like a long period of Republican domination of elected and appointed office, and he makes a good case that is what we're in for.

I believe the Republicans' unpopular majority power is as symptomatic as events during when that power is used (e.g. recent Medicare reform). The unpopular majority stems from flaws in the system that a better funded party is better equipped to exploit.

Fighting a rearguard action trying to win back a majority is as fraught as attempting to ameliorate the harshness of conservative policies while a minority. Democrats adopting similar tactics (such as shoring up "safe" seats of their own in order to focus their efforts on a dwindling number of competitive elections) is a losing strategy, not to mention intensely distasteful.

Republicans have exploited flaws in our electoral, campaign, media, and other systems. It is in progressives (democrat and republican) self-interest to prioritize fixing those systemic flaws. Here's what I think would improve things:
  • Increase Turnout by making Voter registration easier through same-day election-day registration, and Motor Voter legislation (where renewing license registers you to vote)
  • Less Corrupt Campaigns by passing Clean election funding and tighter campaign finance laws
  • More reliable elections through verified voting receipts and Open Source E-Voting to address concerns raised by the recent Blackbox voting scandal
  • More Proportional Representation - (aka Full Representation) would eliminate the possibility of gerrymandering, and increase voter turnout (see Arend Lijphart's Patterns of Democracy).
  • Better funded Independent Media (NPR, PBS, BBC), while facilitating more innovative grassroots media (micropower radio station spectrum licensing, webcasting, etc.)
  • Better informed media and public through funding a public Lexis-Nexis, along with some of the better governmental watchdog sites like campaign contribution tracking, citizens for tax justice analysis, Open Government Awareness
  • Increased Transparency through regulations like having the last 5 years of IRS Tax returns made public prior to an election or appointment, and requiring the public publishing of tax returns 5 years after leaving office. (No quick kickbacks or revolving door conflict of interests)
  • More efficient Government Information Through the adoption and contribution toward open source software where it makes sense
posted at 17:28:16    #    comment []    trackback []

Fight Diabetes with Food

It looks like eating cinnamon is a way to fight diabetes. In lab tests, cinnamon, cloves, bay leaves, and turmeric have all shown promise in enhancing insulin's action. Add this to eating whole grains and Buckwheat.
posted at 16:00:48    #    comment []    trackback []

Hilarious "What a Crappy Present Site"

Very appropriate seasonal website.
posted at 20:50:56    #    comment []    trackback []

Cloning, Contraception, and Other Things

With regards to contraception, why should a sperm, ova, or fertilized egg, be given full personhood? Why bequeath special significance over other cell types if you can convert fluidly from one type to the other? This now appears increasingly likely to be the situation.

Wired reports on coaxing embryonic stems cells to become gametes (sperm in this case) and combining them with normal ova to create new embryos that appeared viable. ScienceDaily has the academic press release. Previously, scientists were similarly able to create ova from stem cells and do the same thing. There are ever-increasing types of successful conversions between one adult stem cell (e.g. skin) into another adult stem cell (e.g. kidney). There are also increasing types of differentiated (e.g. kidney) cells that an embryonic stem cell has been coaxed into becoming. So far, I'm not aware of anyone converting an adult stem cell into an embryonic one, or an adult stem cell into sperm and ova, but it seems increasingly likely to be possible to do both.

My thought has always been that a human's worth (and rights) resides in their ability to think at some minimal level. Even highly intelligent adults don't have more worth than children, but there is a minimum threshold, such as brain death. The idea that personhood was granted to single cells seemed really dumb to me. If there's no neurons, there can't be neural activity sufficient to qualify as a person. Hence, I never had a problem with people using contraceptions as they wish, even the so-called "Morning After Pill". So this post is mostly me being smug about being right, and waiting for a lot of other people to wise up.
posted at 17:00:32    #    comment []    trackback []

Urban Detroit Farming

Pretty cool news about Detroit plowing under abandoned houses and whatnot to make microfarms, some as large as a city block. Urban Farming, with tractors and all. We live in a very strange world.
posted at 14:20:32    #    comment []    trackback []

More on Political and Personal

I have re-read David Neiwert's 'Political and Personal' Post a few times. I love his writing, and I think it is an important contribution, but I am suspicious of it, precisely because it so well articulates conclusions I want to hear and evidence I myself feel. Because the evidence is subjective and anecdotal, it's hard to know whether and to what extent the conclusions are accurate. Further, regrettably like much good journalism, it cultivates the authority of neutrality by not endorsing or even suggesting any potential productive courses of action (group or individual), even as it well communicates the urgent need for such to be taken. I do think with only a little modification it could be much stronger supported, and more empowering.

An example of the subjectiveness of some of the evidence, the election of 2000, September 11th, and the current war in Iraq may only have caused us (the dissenters targetted, whether liberal to truly conservative) to pay more attention to violent or eliminationist rhetoric, from both prominent pundits and unknowns, that has always been present (although not perhaps as frequent or as blatant). Also, conservative critiques of their own members for such rhetoric are subjectively described as insufficient, rather than empirically quantified and compared to an agreed positive period in the past or an agreed negative period in the past (like McCarthy Era). Further, how do we prevent or stop such rhetoric from being spewed?

On the other hand, empirical evidence of the polarization that George Bush has engendered in the population is readily available, as are historical comparisons to past presidencies (both polarization and social conditions/effects). The socially corrosive effects of a bitterly partisan polarization of the population are well studied and understood, as are those structural systems that either encourage or discourage such polarization (see Lijphart's "Patterns of Democracy"). Scienfific techniques such as Linguist George Lakoff's "Framing" (more here) can be applied to good effect on the populace at large by dissenting groups and individuals. Further, once we get past this period we can take corrective action to prevent the reoccurence such as better financed independent media (NPR+PBS) and electoral reforms such as Instant Run-off Voting or Proportional (aka Full) Representation that encourage cooperating coalitions rather than bitter partisan dichotomies (see again Lijphart or FairVote.org).

Similarly, in individual relationships, neurological and cognitive studies have empirically revealed ways that hatred can be prevented or eliminated in the same way that phobias can be successfully treated as diseases (see pulitzer prize winning science journalist Rush Dozier Jr.'s "Why We Hate", summary here). Although somewhat less rigorously empirically verified, other techniques such as Marshall Rosenberg's "Nonviolent Communication Techniques" are more easily, universally applicable and comprehensive.

I don't mean to suggest that these are the only possible efforts/techniques, or even the best ones, but just that they exist and have some empirical evidence supporting them. I know empirical studies are bloodless, boring, and slow to reveal insights, especially in the heat and urgency of our current dire situation. Further, we remain ignorant as to the extent of the problem on many fronts (such as the eliminationist rhetoric and how close it is to a violent reality), how effective some of the potential solutions are (especially implemented from a position of weakness), and whether other, better solutions remain undreamt. However, it is a uniquely American arrogance to believe that I (and others like me) can think and act our way out of any problem, so long as we remain in hopeful and active pursuit.

Update: Added linkage by request

Update 2: What other solutions are there? Any drawbacks to the ones I gave?
posted at 14:52:32    #    comment []    trackback []
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