Saturday, October 10, 2009

Mind-Boggling Christo-Kitsch

A painter named Jon McNaughton has created "One Nation Under God." It shows Jesus, in glory, delivering the U.S. Constitution. He is backed by a body of dead patriots, some real and some symbolic. In the foreground are good people and bad people. My kind, alas, are presented in the latter group. Look for The Professor. He is the one right in front of Satan.

McNaughton explains all this symbolism in detail. There is a wonderful rollover feature on the picture itself, explaining each one. Even the sky is explained: "Fifty stars represents the fifty states of the union. Some shine brighter than others."

I do, seriously, praise McNaughton for a competent painting with a public meaning. I like this genre - the School of Athens is one of my favorite inspirational paintings. The text, alas, has many errors, both typographical and historical. But I appreciate the effort to make an argument in painting.

Two side notes:

Shame on the heirs of Martin Luther King for forbidding McNaughton to include King's image with the other Founding Fathers. McNaughton was obliged to name his exemplary soldier "King" in honor of MLK - surely a weird symbol-bearer for a notable war critic.

There is a good satire of McNaughton's rollover text at Shortpacked.

This may truly be the most important new painting of the twenty first century. How do I know that? Because McNaughton says so in an "interview with the artist" that he has with himself.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Three Science Moms Win Nobels

Three women won science Nobel Prizes this week - Elizabeth Blackburn, Carol Greider, and Ada Yonath. All three are married mothers. After the dust-up over Lawrence Summers' entirely correct comments about the several factors that limit the proportion of women at the top of math and sciences professions, I have been particularly interested in women who combine biochemistry and family life. I think of all academic specialties, biochemistry may be the most unforgiving of family life - long hours in the lab, on a schedule dictated by the experiment, in an environment too dangerous to take little kids to, and years of it to get a result.

Mrs. G. and I often counsel ambitious young women that they can have it all - but not all at once. To have a marriage, kids, and a successful career is much easier if launched in that order. Careers for moms can get fully started later than for people who are not home with little ones, but life is long. Ada Yonath said that when she got news of winning the prize, she was with her granddaughter. Go Science Moms!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Keys to Longevity: He Should Marry Education, She Should Marry Job Status

Married men and women live longer. Better educated men and women live longer. Higher job status men and women live longer. These facts are all well established.

A new Swedish study found some interesting cross-sex nuances in this greater longevity.

Her education matters more than his education to his longevity.

His job status matters more than her job status to her longevity.

Men should marry educated women; women should marry high-status men.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Racial Preference in Dating is Bad News for Black Women

The online matching site OKCupid has a fascinating analysis of how likely people are to respond to one another by race. The headline finding is that women of all races are disproportionately likely to send messages to white men, and men of all races are disproportionately unlikely to respond to black women.

I am particularly interested in improving the black marriage rate. I was, therefore, also drawn to two other points in the OKCupid report. When asked "Would you strongly prefer to date someone of your own skin color/racial background?" women in almost all racial groups said yes more than men. The overall yes responses to this question were 46% for women, 34% for men. For African Americans, though, the rates were 22% for women, 11% for men. Black men have the lowest percent preferring to date in their own race of any group.

Putting these facts together we get some pretty grim news for black women's marriage prospects.

I do not read these results as simply showing racism - that is, an absolute rejection of another race. When asked "Is interracial marriage a bad idea?" only 6% say yes. I do read these results as showing the status structure. There is still a racial status structure in America, with whites on the top and blacks on the bottom. Most people, quite reasonably, wish to marry at their same status level or higher. The groups at the bottom of the status ladder are the least likely to marry.

Now, race is not the only aspect of status, and status is not the only consideration in marriage. I am confident that race is declining in significance in all things, marriage chances included. Class increasingly beats race. Nonetheless, every status hierarchy makes some difference in the mating market, and race is still a status hierarchy.

(Thanks to BA for putting me on to OKCupid.)

Monday, October 05, 2009

I Can't Tell "A" Work on a Multiple-Choice Test

I have been involved in an interesting project lately giving advice to an outside agency on how to set A, B, C, D, and failing grades on a multiple-choice sociology test. I have never used a multiple-choice test, and am not likely to. Nonetheless, I am glad I took part in this research project, because it helped me articulate why, exactly, I can't use a multiple-choice test.

My standard for B (good) work is that students show mastery of the assigned material. If they tell me back what I told them or assigned them, that is good. If they can do it in detail, that is very good (B+).

A (excellent) work requires B work plus something original. Their addition does not have to be absolutely original - not even Weber could do that every time. Rather, I want them to make their own connection between what we are studying and something else. I urge them to draw from other courses, their personal experiences, or at least material that we studied earlier in the term.

As a rule of thumb, I tell students that mastering the assigned material is a high school A and a college B.

A multiple-choice test only gives students room to show that they have mastered the assigned material. Even if they were able and ready to add original work, the format of the test gives them no place to show it. Thus, I can't tell A from B work on a multiple-choice test. And so should not use them. Which I don't.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Is Universal Health Care a Religious Issue?

61% of Americans say they favor a government guarantee of health care for all, even if it means raising taxes.

When we get down to cases, the Pew Forum found that the proposals on the table split the population evenly - 42% for and 44% against.

A coalition of liberal religious groups, Faith for Health, backs universal health care. A coalition of conservative religious groups, the Freedom Federation, opposes government health care. Freedom Federation favors more choice and incentives, but holds back from saying the government should guarantee health care coverage for all.

The system we have now, in which the government guarantees health care for sizable hunks of the population - old people, children, poor people, veterans, government workers - is added to a system in which most people get their health insurance through work. That reaches perhaps 85% of the population. Some of the remainder are actually eligible for health insurance, but don't take it.

Still, even with a large government guarantee and a strong system of health insurance for workers, some fraction - say, 10%, or about 30 million Americans - are without health insurance. I don't see any good way to cover them without a government mandate and some kind of government money.

So, is universal health care a religious issue? The Washington office of my denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA), says yes. 56% of mainline Protestants, including the PC (USA), say yes. I say yes.

I think a church that says yes to this question has two options. Either the church supports a state mandate for health insurance for all, or the church offers to provide health care for those who can't afford it.