Saturday, February 14, 2009

Stud, Dud, Thud.

Anthropologist Richard Bribiescas, after studying the effects of testosterone in both promoting reproduction and early death, offered this summary of the ages of man.

(From Susan Pinker's The Sexual Paradox).

Friday, February 13, 2009

The More Choice Women Have, the More They Diverge From Men

“The richer the country, the more likely women and men choose different types of jobs.”

This is the very interesting finding reported by Susan Pinker in The Sexual Paradox. She is specifically studying the problem that got Laurence Summers into so much undeserved trouble: why are there many fewer women than men at the highest levels of math, science, and engineering? Her answer: when given the choice, women with high aptitude for math, science, and engineering are more likely than similarly gifted men to choose something else.

In fact, Pinker argues, it is not that the women are discriminated against or diverted, where men are not. Rather, women with high math aptitude are also likely to have high verbal aptitude and high empathy, whereas math-minded men are not. It is the men who are channeled into science and engineering because they do not have as many other choices. The women, given the choice, are more likely to take their math skill to clinical medicine. They want to do work with people that makes more of a difference in people's lives.

The countries with the highest rates of women in science and engineering are not the ones in which women are most free, but in poor and authoritarian countries where math-competent women are pushed into science and engineering by families that want them to have higher salaries, and states that want more scientists and engineers.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Secret Identity of Successful Women

For the next few posts I will be working through Susan Pinker's The Sexual Paradox.

Pinker is a clinical psychologist. She has worked mostly with boys with problems. She is also a second-wave feminist who knew many highly promising girls. The central theme of this work is that second-wave feminism erred in expecting liberated women to achieve - to want to achieve - the same kinds of things at the same rate as men. Pinker wants to argue that neither sex should be taken as the model for the other; they each have their distinct tendencies, vices, and virtues.

Pinker has been a psychologist long enough to see how many of the children she worked with turned out as adults. Her very interesting finding is that the boys with difficulties often found ways to be successful adults nonetheless; at the same time, many of the girls with great promise chose paths that did not lead them to run the public world.

One small finding that Pinker notes on the way caught my eye. All of the women that she talked to, even the most successful in their public and private lives, wanted her to use pseudonyms for them, and hide all identifying details of their stories. None of the men wanted pseudonyms, even though many had very troubled beginnings.

I am not sure what to make of this exactly. I think, though, that even the most successful women worry that people will not like them "if they knew the truth." Men, on the other hand, expect to pay their dues and make mistakes while climbing the ladder, so are less troubled by whatever past they have.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Marriage Beats DNA

The Kentucky legislature is considering a bill that would give adulterous fathers paternal rights over the children of their adultery, even if the mother is married. The law, by contrast, assumes that all children born to a married woman are children of the marriage. In the past it might be difficult to prove paternity; now, DNA tests can tell us with assurance who the biological father is.

Nonetheless, I think the law is still right. If a married couple want to raise her child as theirs, they should. Marriage is a social institution of the highest value, especially for raising children. In all generations children who are cuckoos in the nest have nonetheless been raised successfully by parents who knew the score. If a man wants to have paternal rights, he should marry the mother of his child. If she is already married, society has already settled the question of who should have first claim on raising the child.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Honey-Colored Cafe for the Obama Crowd

Eve Fairbanks has an interesting field note in the New Republic on the hot new Washington hangout for the Obama left. Busboys and Poets is a café in the black bourgeois section of D.C. It draws anti-war types of all ethnicities. Since the coming of the new Democratic administration it has drawn some of the left edge of those in power. It is probably important that the owner and presiding force is an Iraqi, who comes from outside the often poisonous racial politics of the District.

What struck me about this story, as a student of third places in general and coffee houses in particular, is that Busboys and Poets seems to have achieved what most third places only dream of: to be genuinely integrated. It is notoriously difficult to create a black coffee house. I have been to only one, which serves the Fisk University community. Black third places tend to be either churches or bars, with little overlap. Busboys and Poets is not a pure coffee house, but a café - it not only serves more food than a normal coffee house does, but also alcohol.

Still, Busboys and Poets provides such a model of the best of integrated America that even the Bush State Department brought foreigners there, rather than to the preppy bars in Georgetown favored by the young Bushies. Come on, honey-colored nation. Have a mocha.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Teaser on the Kissing Study

Wendy Hill of Lafayette College has released a preliminary study of the hormonal effects of kissing. She found that kissing reduces the stress hormone cortisol in men and women. And it raises the bonding hormone oxytocin - but only in men.

She promises a follow-up report of a bigger study soon.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

God of Earth and Altar

Today in church we sang my favorite hymn, G. K. Chesterton's "God of Earth and Altar."

O God of earth and altar,
bow down and hear our cry,
our earthly rulers falter,
our people drift and die;
the walls of gold entomb us,
the swords of scorn divide,
take not thy thunder from us,
but take away our pride.

From all that terror teaches,
from lies of tongue and pen,
from all the easy speeches
that comfort cruel men,
from sale and profanation
of honor, and the sword,
from sleep and from damnation,
deliver us, good Lord!

Tie in a living tether
the prince and priest and thrall,
bind all our lives together,
smite us and save us all;
in ire and exultation
aflame with faith, and free,
lift up a living nation,
a single sword to thee.

This has always struck me as a very Neibuhrian hymn, though of course Chesterton was a very convincing Catholic apologist. This is a hymn against worldly pride. It is a hymn for work.

Something I noticed this time: this is a hymn against sleep. I had not really put "sleep" and "damnation" together. I am still in favor of sleep as a good gift of God. But I do agree with Chesterton about work: doing things is what I like to do...