Saturday, March 20, 2010

Vas Madness

A wonderful trend has taken off over the last three years: get a vasectomy, recover while watching the NCAA "March Madness" basketball tournament. Starting in Oregon in 2008, urologists all over the country are now promoting snip 'n' swish specials. (OK, I made that name up). Appointment days before the first and second weekends of the tournament, in particular, fill up. Some even send their patients home with the game schedules, pizza coupons, and a bag of frozen peas.

I think this could become V-day for men.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Politically Correct Commitment Tokens

Martin Donohoe has an article in the Human Rights Quarterly about how immoral flowers, diamonds, and gold are - that is, the very things men are most likely to give women as tokens of love and commitment.

He ends with this suggestion for alternatives:

Substitute gifts include cards (ideally printed on recycled paper), poems,
photos, collages, videos, art, home improvement projects, homemade meals,
and donations to charities.
I don't think most of these will work. Part of the point of a commitment gift, such as an engagement ring or a wedding band, is not aimed at the beloved women. Rather, they are meant to show the world that he has taken the plunge to commit to her only. Donohoe's suggestions of actions, rather than objects, strikes me as a particularly male way of showing love. All of these objects and actions are good and would, likely, be appreciated for their intention. But they do not take the place of engagement rings and wedding bands. If he wants an alternative to diamonds and gold, he needs something a little more public, substantial - and probably shiny.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Building Character in Rich Kids

We are reading Robert Frank's Richistan: A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich in my senior seminar. Frank's main point is that there are so many rich people in America now - 10 million households of millionaires or better - that they form a separate subculture, the "nation" of Richistan.

Most of America's rich are new money, made by hard working meritocrats and successful entrepreneurs. A major problem for the rich in all ages is raising children without spoiling them. Frank reports that even in deliberate structured programs to train "aristokids" in the special problems of managing wealth, such as Wealthbridge, the children rarely have the work ethic of the parents. In the cases Frank presents, only the children who were deliberately deprived of money they didn't earn, or kids who for personal reasons wanted to outdo their parents (fathers), showed real drive.

I am glad that today's rich parents are worried about spoiling their children. I am glad that many of them are competing with one another to put huge piles of money in good works and charitable foundations, rather than simply hand it on to their kids to consume. These hard-working parents who were so successful at making money naturally want their kids to be good at the same thing. I think a more prudent strategy, though, would be to see the mission of inheritors to be wise administrators of charities, rather than following in their parents' footsteps to build even bigger fortunes. In the whole population of rich kids, of course, there should be some of each, and there will inevitably be some wastrels. Still, it is hard for parents of any class to see their children as having a different mission and destiny than the parents themselves had.

I am drawn again to the wisdom of John Adams:
I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

IQ and Faithful Men

Satoshi Kanazawa reports in the new Social Psychology Quarterly that the higher an adolescent's IQ, the more likely he or she is to be an atheist and a liberal as an adult. This correlation has been reported before.

What is new in this study is Kanazawa's finding that the higher a male adolescent's IQ, more the likely he is to value sexual exclusivity as an adult. The same is not true of women, who generally favor sexual exclusivity across the IQ board.

What Kanazawa does not note is that these correlations pull against one another in family life. Monogamous men are more likely to invest in their children, and their children, in turn, are more likely to succeed in life. Liberals and atheists, on the other hand, are less likely to have children in the first place. So even if Kanazawa is right that liberalism and atheism are an evolutionary advantage because they open people to new experiences, they seem to also be an evolutionary disadvantage. Monogamous men, on the other hand, seem to reap an evolutionary advantage regardless of ideology, because human babies require so much more investment than the babies of any other species.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Counting Classes (ABC Poll)

ABC News released a poll about how financially stressed the middle class is feeling. Asking people what class they are is always a tricky business. Americans will readily accept "middle class" as a designation, but are more resistant to labels that move away from that middle. Yet, logically and empirically, if there is a middle there must be a bottom and a top. What ABC hit upon was this: "Would you describe yourself as working class, middle class, upper middle class, or better off than that?"

Generally, if you give Americans three class choices - lower, middle, upper - 80%+ will choose middle. If you offer "working class" as an option, the middle group splits into "working" and "middle" halves. This poll adds the not-very-compromising "upper middle," plus the helpful euphemism "better 0ff than that" to draw out at least a few of the actually rich. They did not offer a "worse off than that" option for the actually poor. So what did they get?

Better off than that: 3%
Upper-middle: 11
Middle: 45
Working: 36
- and another 2% volunteered "Worse off than that."

The average income for the middle groups seems pretty realistic to me:
Upper- middle: $95,000
Middle: $55,00
Working: $35,000

This seems to me a good snapshot of the self-perception of a middle-class nation.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Telecommuting Takes Guts - For the Boss

National Public Radio has a series this week on Work-Life Balance. They cite a survey showing that 45% of companies offer telecommuting, though on an "ad hoc" basis (not further explained).

The central boss in the radio report, Katie Sleep of List Innovative Solutions, is enthusiastic about telecommuting for her employees. She especially likes the 95% retention rate over 16 years, which she (rightly) calls astonishing. But she notes two caveats. First, she doesn't telecommute herself, because she "likes being around people." And second, she has to be willing to fire employees who take advantage of the flexibility and lack of direct supervision that telecommuting offers.

I think telecommuting is an excellent development for much of white collar work. However, I think it also adds to the burdens of bosses, and increases the likelihood that they are the ones who need to regularly appear in the office, because telecommuting increases the difficulty of managing and supervising - even if the best workers are happier as a result.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Millennial Priorities: Parenthood Separated From Marriage

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has released a rich report on the Millennial generation, today's teens and twenties.

One very interesting finding about family life: most put "being a good parent" as a top priority, but only about a third put "having a successful marriage" as a top priority.

I don't think this really means that young people do not value marriage. I think it means that they think parents should be good parents no matter what - even if their marriage falls apart. On the whole, this high priority on good parenting is a good thing for the future.

I take this priority with a grain of salt, since millennials are much closer to being children than being parents. Only about a fifth of them are married already. We should revisit this question in a decade or so.