Saturday, April 25, 2009

Monkey Fighting

How do you edit a famous vulgarity to make is safe for work (or TV)?

Probably not this way.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Race Differences in Men's Nurturing Hormones?

Another interesting possibility that comes from juxtaposed reading.

Edin and Kefalas, in Promises I Can Keep, report that black welfare moms are less likely to be beaten by their boyfriends than their white and Hispanic counterparts because the black women are less likely to live with the fathers of their children.

Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, in Mothers and Others, reports that men become better fathers by sharing the hormones of pregnant women and newborns. The sustained physical contact makes men's prolactin levels rise (a nurturing hormone) and their testosterone levels to fall.

Perhaps one of the reasons that poor black men are so much less likely to be daily providers for their children is that they don't live with mothers and babies enough to get the nurturing hormonal changes that help make other men into providing fathers.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Leaving the White House - for the Kids

Ellen Moran, the White House Communications Director, is leaving to become chief of staff to the Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. The Commerce job is no easy sinecure, but is not the life-eating total institution that the White House is.

Why is she leaving this dream job?

"She met with Locke twice in recent weeks, and said she decided that the role was a better fit for her professionally and personally in the long run. She and her husband have a daughter and a son both under age 4."

I think it speaks well of her priorities that she can make this decision. Not everyone would make the same call, nor should they. But if everyone, even those at the very top, can keep their family's needs in an appropriately high place on their priority list, the world would be a better place.

Ellen Moran is still having it all. Just a little bit less of it right now.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Working Class Family Patterns vs. Middle Class and Poor

This is a thought inspired by putting together Annette Lareau's Unequal Childhoods with Edin and Kefalas' Promises I Can Keep. Lareau found that the middle class tend to raise their kids one way, while the working class and poor raise theirs another way. She thought there might be a child rearing difference between the working class and the poor, but it didn't turn out that way.

Edin and Kefalas found that poor women see children as a stage on the way to marriage, which the authors implicitly contrast with the middle class norm of marriage as a step toward children. They did not study working class families in this ethnography.

So if the working class does not differ from the poor in how they raise their children, how do they differ from the poor in family life? My guess: the working class are more likely to marry before the kids are born, even if not before they are conceived. The working class is like the poor in child rearing, but like the middle class in marriage.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Long-Term Divorce Effects: A Testimony

The blog Confessions of a Community College Dean has an affecting personal appreciation and eulogy for the blogger's divorced father. This is not science, but powerful testimony. Some excerpts:
I remember vividly the day they told us they were divorcing. I can describe where everybody sat. It was the summer before I turned 11.
The years after that were harder. I was the latchkey older kid, so I had to watch my brother until Mom got home. ... We did the 'joint custody' thing, which is tough in the teen years when you'd really rather be with your friends. To this day, I get a little weird sometimes around packing.
Now he's gone, and I'm a father. ... Much of what I try to do as a father is defined, in part, by awareness of what he did. Having seen the 'divorced dad' thing up close, I want no part of it. And while God knows I've got my flaws and my blind spots, defeatism is not one of them. I will not teach my kids to settle. To deal, yes. To settle, no. There's a difference.

Monday, April 20, 2009

College Drinking and Poor Teen Sex: An Analogy

We are talking about teen welfare mothers in the family class, using Edin and Kefalas' Promises I Can Keep. The authors quickly dispose of the first two myths about teen pregnancy - that poor teens would not get pregnant so often if they had more sex education or if they had more access to birth control technology. That is not the problem. The teen moms in this study know perfectly well that sex can lead to babies, and they have birth control technology, which they use when they don't want to get pregnant.

The real difference between the teen welfare moms and my middle class students, or the middle class do-gooders (like me) who want to prevent poor teen pregnancy is that the poor teens don't really care if they get pregnant or not, while the middle class people who plan their lives, do. The Promises I Can Keep moms said that half of their children were "neither planned nor unplanned." Having a baby was not something they were trying to do, but it would not derail any life plan they had.

To students on the elite college track, this attitude is dumbfounding. I was trying to think of an analogy that might make this calculation seems more intelligible. This is what came to me.

On any given weekend, a sizable minority of college students will not drink at all, a small minority will get drunk on purpose, and another group will drink and may end up drunk. This last group might be as many as half. On this campus, nearly all of these students will have received extensive education on the effects of alcohol. Some take this information and choose to be abstinent. Some take this information and choose to be moderate drinkers. A few ignore it utterly and aim to get drunk. All students, likewise, have several kinds of "drunkness prevention technology" available to them. Some use it religiously, some ignore it.

I am most interested here in the middle group. They know drinking can lead to drunkenness. They know several ways that drunkenness can be avoided, some of them foolproof. They go to a weekend party and they don't really care if they get drunk or not. Their drunkness was "neither planned nor unplanned." They did not make a plan one way or the other because getting drunk or not would not derail any life plan they had.

For poor teen moms, having a baby is not in itself a bad thing; that is not the way they measure their character. Being a bad mom would be a bad thing, but they don't plan to be bad moms. For college drinkers, getting drunk is not in itself a bad thing; that is not the way they measure their character. Being an alcoholic would be a bad thing, but they don't plan to be alcoholics.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Bagram is Obama's First Really Bad Decision

Candidate Obama attacked the shameful policy of the Bush administration to hold prisoners at Guatanamo in Cuba with no charges, no lawyers, no due process, no habeas corpus. President Obama's first act on his first day in office was to close down Guatanamo.

Now, though, the Obama administration is planning to hold prisoners in the even more remote Bagram air base in Afghanistan under the same shameful "black hole" rules.

I strongly supported President Obama and still do. Nearly everything that the new administration has done have been a step forward for the nation, and a relief to me personally. Because I support Obama, I think it is my duty to criticize wrong things that my guy does.

The no-rules prison at Bagram is very wrong.