Saturday, September 18, 2010

Yawning Is Contagious - But Less So for Autistic Kids

Yawning is a socially contagious action. A study comparing autistic kids and typical kids found that the autistic kids were much less likely to yawn in response to videos of people yawning. This suggests that responsive yawning is a kind of empathy.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Elizabeth Warren, Knowledge Class Hero, Gets a Big Job

Elizabeth Warren has been asked by President Obama to help start the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. This is only fitting: she thought it up in the first place.

The knowledge class has a critical, even alienated side. This is only one side of the story, though, and not even half. Most members of the knowledge class work within existing social institutions to make them work better for the common good. They tend to be earnest, a bit nerdy, not stylish, but, to my mind, wholesome in trying to use their smarts for all. They are not only trying to understand the big picture in some depth, but trying to make it better, too.

If you wanted a name and a face for that branch of the knowledge class, I nominate Elizabeth Warren.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

State Prison Population Declines for the First Time in 40 Years

This is a little bit of good news. The total prison population went up last year, because there are more federal prisoners.

The boom in prisoners comes mostly from imprisoning drug dealers. I am all for imprisoning people who commit crimes, and drug dealers, as a group are vile.

Still, I think we should legalize marijuana and tax it heavily. In fact, I would be happy to dedicate the pot tax to fighting the really bad drugs - there seems a certain poetic justice in that. If we extract marijuana from the war on drugs, we can devote our prisons to the worse criminals.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Accommodating the Genderless Exceptions

Newsweek has an article about a possible "genderless" future, in which "no gender" would be one of the choices.

I am OK with legally acknowledging that some rare individuals do not have a clear sex or gender. And I think it is only civil to accommodate such people in social life in nearly every situation. The condition is so uncommon that I do not think we should build an entire third-gender infrastructure.

I do think it is a mistake to claim that gender is "assigned" for most people. For the vast majority of people, gender and sex are the same. We do not have to mentally disconnect the two in all cases just because they are not clearly connected in a few rare cases.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Marriage Would Help the Working Class Move Up

The growing class gap is between the married middle class and the cohabiting working class and poor people. One of the reasons the bottom half of the class structure is getting less likely to marry is that they think you already have to be steadily middle class first. Brad Wilcox and Andrew Cherlin present the latest numbers in a useful Wall Street Journal article.

The future success stories among the poor and working class who grow into the middle class will, I am confident, be mostly told by those who make the commitment to marriage (and religion) the foundation of their lives. With that strong foundation, building, saving, and investing in the family is easier and safer.

The best thing we can do for the working poor and working class is to promote the idea that a permanent commitment to marriage (and not just to your spouse) will help you make a richer and more secure life for yourself and your children.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Double Income Goes for Better School Districts

Robert H. Frank, in Falling Behind: How Rising Inequality Harms the Middle Class, reports this study from knowledge-class hero Elizabeth Warren:

As Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Tyagi have shown, ... most of the extra income earned by families as a result of the move to two-earner couples was consumed by higher housing prices as these families sought to buy homes in safer neighborhoods with better schools. (66)

Buying for better schools is a rational knowledge-class investment, and safer neighborhoods is a rational choice for every class.

If the cheaper places to live can make their schools better, then smart, able couples will move there. This would have the double benefit to the families of getting better schools for less, and allowing the couple (mostly the mothers) to cut back on work and invest the time in a happier life for the whole family.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Civility Triumph: Qur'an Not Burned

International Burn a Koran Day fizzled.

I am grateful to the imam who went to talk calmly with the pastor. And the pastor for calling it off.

Go civility (the hard way).