On Rape Culture in the Ensign (The Lack Thereof)

2014-02-20 The Ensign

(Note: I published a follow-up to this post on March 6, 2014.)

The March 2014 edition of the Ensign (which is the official monthly magazine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) is already available online. The cover article, called “What is the Lord’s Standard for Morality” is stirring up headlines like Controversial LDS Article Raises Concern Of ‘Rape Culture’ and attracting vociferous rebuttals like Morality? We can do much better than this.

The article is by and large a tame restatement of the basic moral principles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as they relate to sex. These standards are pretty much identical to the basic moral principles of all traditional faiths. Quoting from the article:

The Lord’s standard of morality is not so much a list of do’s and don’ts as it is a principle, which can be expressed as follows: The procreative power is to be exercised in the marriage relationship for two key reasons: (1) to bind and strengthen ties between spouses and (2) to bring souls into the world. These uses have the blessing and endorsement of the Lord.

Despite the fact that the principle is more than “a list of do’s and don’t’s,” the article goes on to clearly stake out the practical implications of this principle in plain English: Don’t have sex outside of marriage, including homosexual sex at any time. Don’t try to get around the “no sex before marriage” on a technicality, i.e. don’t even fool around. Don’t masturbate. Don’t look at porn. Dress modestly. The ongoing controversy illustrates the necessity of these clarifications.

It’s no surprise that these standards would be ridiculed and dismissed by pop culture. If the world at large doesn’t hate you, then you’re doing something wrong. There’s nothing new or noteworthy about the idea that religious fuddy-duddies and goody-goodies are silly in the eyes of the world. What’s surprising to me, however, is the amount of push-back coming from within the Church. The most problematic paragraph comes from the section about modesty, and reads as follows:

The dress of a woman has a powerful impact upon the minds and passions of men. If it is too low or too high or too tight, it may prompt improper thoughts, even in the mind of a young man who is striving to be pure.

The outrage comes from thinking that goes something like this: if you say that the way women dress controls how men think and feel, you are making women responsible for men’s actions. In fact, this is the very logic used to defend rape culture: women who dress immodestly are “asking for it”. Therefore, the Ensign is now perpetuating rape culture.

Let’s deconstruct this reasoning.

First, to say that “the dress of a woman has a powerful impact upon the minds and passions of men” is not the same as saying “women control men’s thoughts.” In every other human interaction, we’re perfectly capable of understanding that a person can influence you without controlling you. If someone cuts you off in traffic, they are going to have a “powerful impact” on your mood. That’s a fact. But your reaction to that provocation is still your decision and therefore your responsibility. That’s another fact. These two facts, (1) that someone can influence you and (2) that ultimately your behavior is still your own responsibility are two facts that people seem to have no problem accepting simultaneously until the discussion turns to modesty. Then suddenly we get this bizarre notion that we can’t say “women have an influence on men” without saying “everything men do as a result is a woman’s fault.” That bizarre notion makes no sense, and doesn’t appear (explicitly or implicitly) in the article.

This article doesn’t claim that women are responsible for men’s thoughts. That’s the accusation, and it is false. Men are still responsible for their own thoughts, but it would be nice if women would dress modestly to help them out. Just as people are responsible for keeping their tempers in control, but it’s generally considered common courtesy not to provoke people unnecessarily. Let me reiterate: if I say “Be nice, because it will help other people not lose their temper,” it doesn’t mean that I’m saying it’s your responsibility whether or not some random stranger loses his or her temper. Even though we interact with each other, we are ultimately responsible for our own behavior, and that’s it. The Ensign shouldn’t need to specifically call this out, because it’s right there in the 2nd Article of Faith: “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins.”

Lizzy Seeberg, who committed suicide after being harassed for reporting a Notre Dame football player for sexual assault. The connection between football culture and rape seems a lot stronger than the Ensign and rape, but one of these targets is easier to attack than the other.
Lizzy Seeberg, who committed suicide after being harassed for reporting a Notre Dame football player for sexual assault. The connection between football culture and rape seems a lot stronger than the Ensign and rape, but one of these targets is easier to attack than the other.

Allow me to observe, at this point, that not only does the article not blame women for men’s mental purity, but it never even gets remotely close to discussing rape. That’s… not even in the ballpark. Let’s be really, really, really clear. An Ensign article making the entirely obvious observation that men respond to the way women dress is not “rape culture”. A young girl being brutally raped by football players and then being harassed when she appeals for justice until her family is driven out of town and their house is burned downthat is rape culture. CNN reporters who talk about what a tragedy it is for rapists to be found guilty of rape and deprived of their promising futuresthat is rape culture. Everyone talking about the fictitious death of Manti Te’o’s non-existent girlfriend while totally ignoring the actual suicide of “Lizzy Seeberg…  not long after being intimidated by Notre Dame football players for reporting a sexual assault by one of their teammates,that is rape culture.  Chris Brown being accepted back into polite society (with a few notable exceptions)that is rape culture. Roman Polanski being embraced by his peers after his crimesThat is rape culture. Woody Allen being defended after the very credible allegations of his crimesThat is rape culture. Ray Rice having a fine and dandy career after video emerges of him dragging his unconscious fiancee out of an elevator (because he knocked her unconscious) that will be rape culture if that’s how the story ends. Even if you think the Ensign article is wrong and misguided, putting it in the same category as these (horrifically numerous) examples of rape culture is like comparing every bad thing that happens to the Holocaust. It trivializes real evil and makes you look like a fool.

I understand that there are more moderate criticisms as well, such as the fact that modesty standards often seem to be unequally applied to women vs. men. They appear to be unequally applied because they are unequally applied. They are unequally applied because of the fundamental reality that females are on the supply side and men on the demand side of the sex equation. That is common sense which everyone who is not motivated by politics can see, but it is also (in case you’re skeptical) scientific fact. Men and women approach sex differently but it is men who are primarily motivated by visual cues and also who want to have sex more frequently and more casually. (Once again, these aren’t just random assertions. There is data.) A gender-blind approach to sexuality would be no more reasonable than a gender-blind approach to professional sports. If the WNBA did not exist, how many women would make the cut to play pro basketball against men? Zero. Pretending gender differences do not exist when they do in fact exist may be politically expedient, but it does not actually serve the interests of equality. If you’re looking for symmetry, this is where you will find it: women are encouraged to dress modestly (partially for their sake, partially for the sake of men) and men are encouraged to stop watching porn (partially for their sake, partially for the sake of women). There is equality, but not sameness, in the Lord’s standards for sexual morality. Make no mistake: that is the core outrage which this article perpetuates in the minds of its critics. Mormonism espouses a view of humanity in which gender matters, and therefore believes that men and women owe certain obligations to each other in a complementary relationship. The modern world espouses a denialist political ideology in which gender has no deep or lasting significance that we do not create for ourselves.

It is also no great surprise to me that so much of the outrage at the article is coming from professional therapists. The article invites that response when it leads off with a bold statement that God, and therefore the Church, is the ultimate arbiter of sexual morality.

Some years ago my father, an attorney, was trying a lawsuit. For his authority, he cited only one case—a California Supreme Court case issued many years before. His opponent cited a number of lower­court decisions of more recent vintage. The judge said to my father, “Mr. Callister, don’t you have a more recent case than this?” My father looked at the judge and replied, “Your Honor, may I remind you that when the supreme court speaks on a matter, it only needs to speak once.” The judge nodded with approval. He was reminded that the supreme court trumps all lower­court decisions, how­ ever numerous or recent they may be.

So it is with God our Father—He needs to speak only once on the issue of morality, and that one declaration trumps all the opinions of the lower courts, whether uttered by psycholo­gists, counselors, politicians, friends, par­ents, or would ­be moralists of the day. [emphasis added]

In fact, the reaffirmation that the Church has the final word on these matters may be the only truly novel claim made in the article. Everything else is a restatement of traditional beliefs. This one is hardly surprising, but it is fairly novel. So it’s natural that psychologists and counselors would lash out in response. It’s a turf war: who gets to define moral standards for sexuality? The Church? Or the APA?

Let’s take a look at the claims made by one counselor in particular, as a representative of the apparent conflict between General Authorities and counselors.  Natasha Helfer Parker, in her article Morality? We can do much better than this… has a bullet-list of issues with the Ensign article. She starts by claiming that the article leaves no room for personal revelation. This is obviously not true, as personal revelation is always necessary in addition to official pronouncements and even scripture. That is a fundamental and constant principle of Mormonism. It does not need to be restated in every article. However, in this particular case, I’m wondering precisely what revelation she has in mind. Is she suggesting that if you pray and ask, God might just tell you to go ahead and have sex outside of marriage? There are often shades of gray and complications with applying moral principles, but the “no sex outside of marriage” one is about as universal and clear as it gets.

She next takes the article to task for calling masturbation “self-abuse” because “this is not an appropriate clinical term.” She may not have noticed, however, the Ensign is not a clinical journal. The inability of experts to understand that specialized terminology must give way to common vernacular in non-specialized contexts is faintly amusing. It reminds me of the time that an outraged medical doctor told my father (a professor of English) that it was unfair for PhDs to be referred to as “doctor” because medical doctors had to study harder and did so much more good. My dad smiled, and reminded him that hundreds of years ago when college professors were already using the term “doctor,” the medical professionals of that day were known as “leeches”. Perhaps if he wanted a unique title, he could try and resuscitate that one?

Most of the rest of the bullet points rely on the same tired strawman approach of insisting on seeing a viewpoint you don’t like in its most crude and absolutist form. But the most sinister criticism she levels is the one that comes at the end of the bullet list, although it’s a sentiment that pervades the entire piece, and that is this: “The way that sexual standards are presented in this type of talk is unrealistic and sets people up for failure.”

Lowering standards cheapens Christ's sacrifice. He did not drink the bitter cup for fun. If there was an easier way to save us, He would have taken it.
Lowering standards cheapens Christ’s sacrifice. He did not drink the bitter cup for fun. If there was an easier way to save us, He would have taken it.

Well now, we wouldn’t want to set people up for failure, now would we? Contrast this sentiment with Paul’s simple statement that: ” all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”

If not all have sinned, than the Atonement is not necessary. If the Atonement is not necessary, then Christ is superfluous. If Christ is superfluous, then the Gospel is a joke. What good news? We have no need of a savior. We just lower moral standards to the lowest common denominator (or maybe pray for an exemption) and then everyone gets to heaven on their own merits. This well-intentioned call for lowered-standards is sadly anti-Christian. The entire message of Christianity–not just Mormonism, but all Christianity–is that none of us can live up to God’s impossible standards. She faults this Ensign article, but it was Jesus himself who said “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Maybe we ought to just hand Parker a copy of the New Testament and a red pen and let her tell us what Jesus should have said.

I will say at least this much for Parker: the fact that she couldn’t even get to the end of one article without cutting out the beating heart of Christian faith provides a very clear example of just how important it is that the business of articulating eternal standards stay in the hands of the General Authorities.

 

The CBO Report on Minimum Wage: What You’re Not Hearing

2014-02-20 Minimum Wage Photoshoot
Applause for lost jobs and inefficient policy gimmicks!

Yesterday the CBO released an analysis of the President’s proposal to hike minimum wage to $10.10 by 2016, and it was more or less a political disaster for the Obama Administration. Why? Because the report indicated that approximately 500,000 jobs would likely be lost due to the impact of the minimum wage hike, leading to headlines like Minimum-wage hike would help alleviate poverty, but could kill jobs, CBO reports, truly bizarre defenses from Democrats that tried to spin job losses into a positive, and some furious push-back against the non-partisan CBO from the Obama Administration. The pushback is a problem in and of itself because the research the Obama Administration cites is primarily about (1) short run effects of (2) one-off minimum wage hikes. The proposed minimum wage hike would be tied to inflation and so the research on past hikes is probably not relevant even in the short-run, and then there’s the problem of longer-run effects…

But forget all that. Here’s the criticism the Obama Administration isn’t having to defend because the media has failed to bring it up even thought it’s right there in the report:

The increased earnings for low-wage workers resulting from the higher minimum wage would total $31 billion, by CBO’s estimate. However, those earnings would not go only to low-income families, because many low-wage workers are not members of low-income families. Just 19 percent of the $31 billion would accrue to families with earnings below the poverty threshold, whereas 29 percent would accrue to families earning more than three times the poverty threshold, CBO estimates. [emphasis added]

So, not only will the policy cost about a half-billion jobs, but only 20% of the additional earnings would go to families at or below the poverty line. A full 1/3 would go to families that already make at least 3x the poverty level. Current guidelines (for 2013) put the poverty level at $23,550 for a family of 4, so we’re talking about boosting the income for families that make at least $70,650. I’m not saying that’s a terrible idea or anything, but if this is President Obama’s idea of anti-poverty measure he needs a better one. Like, you know, the EITC which is (a) relatively popular with conservatives and (b) actually targeted at boosting the income of the working poor without costing jobs.

The only reasonable conclusion is that the push for minimum wage is a political gimmick rather than a sincere effort to improve the lot of America’s working poor. Better to pick a popular but stupid program than the GOP will oppose than a lesser known but smart program that the GOP would probably go along with. I guess if Americans have to suffer for the Democratic party to score political points, that’s just tough luck for them. Now that’s what I call empathy.

The Economics of Sex

Controversial sociologist Mark Regnerus had a Slate article a couple years back entitled “Sex Is Cheap,” which argues that the “market price” of sex is currently very low. The Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture (where Regnerus is a senior fellow) recently put out a short video called “The Economics of Sex,” which seems to cover a lot of the same material. Check it out below.

Against Heterosexuality

The March 2014 issue of First Things features the (free) article “Against Heterosexuality.” In it, author Michael Hannon explains, “Sexual orientation is a conceptual scheme with a history, and a dark one at that. It is a history that began far more recently than most people know, and it is one that will likely end much sooner than most people think. Over the course of several centuries, the West had progressively abandoned Christianity’s marital architecture for human sexuality. Then, about one hundred and fifty years ago, it began to replace that longstanding teleological tradition with a brand new creation: the absolutist but absurd taxonomy of sexual orientations.” Heterosexuality thus became “this fanciful framework’s regulating ideal…On this novel account, same-sex sex acts were wrong not because they spurn the rational-animal purpose of sex—namely the family—but rather because the desire for these actions allegedly arises from a distasteful psychological disorder.”

Hannon provides the history of sexual orientation as a category, beginning in the 19th-century. As classical religious beliefs about sexuality became less dominant, “pseudoscience stepped in and replaced religion as the moral foundation for venereal norms…This perverted psychiatric identity, elevated to the status of a mutant “life form” in order to safeguard polite society against its disgusting depravities, swallowed up the entire character of the afflicted.” In other words, the invention of sexual orientation led to “homosexuals” being seen as a depraved species. “Heterosexual” was constructed to serve as the norm in the increasingly secular society.

While Hannon’s language may sometimes be inflammatory, the history and implications are both interesting and important:

First of all, within orientation essentialism, the distinction between heterosexuality and homosexuality is a construct that is dishonest about its identity as a construct. These classifications masquerade as natural categories, applicable to all people in all times and places according to the typical objects of their sexual desires (albeit with perhaps a few more options on offer for the more politically correct categorizers). Claiming to be not simply an accidental nineteenth-century invention but a timeless truth about human sexual nature, this framework puts on airs, deceiving those who adopt its labels into believing that such distinctions are worth far more than they really are.

How much damage has this binary social construct caused?:

Young people, for instance, now regularly find themselves agonizing over their sexual identity, navel-gazing in an attempt to discern their place in this allegedly natural Venn diagram of orientations. Such obsessions generate far more heat than light, and focus already sexually excited adolescents on discerning extraneous dimensions of their own sexual makeup. This self-searching becomes even more needlessly distressing for those who discern in themselves a “homosexual orientation,” as they adopt an identity distinguished essentially by a set of sexual desires that cannot morally be fulfilled.

And what does this mean for those who identify as “heterosexuals”?:

And yet, when it comes to the gravest evil effected by the sexual-orientation binary, homosexuality is not the culprit. Heterosexuality is—not, of course, as though we can have one without the other. The most pernicious aspect of the orientation-identity system is that it tends to exempt heterosexuals from moral evaluation. If homosexuality binds us to sin, heterosexuality blinds us to sin.

Check it out and give it some thought. We could all possibly benefit from a fresh perspective.

Kirk Hammett Interview at Guitar Center

On the heels of James Hetfield’s interview, Metallica lead guitarist Kirk Hammett opened up at Guitar Center about his custom guitars and high school dreams. In a surprisingly emotional moment, he reveals that one of the most hardcore riffs of the song “Creeping Death” was written when he was 16-years-old. Check it out below. Hetfield and Hammett were early influences in my guitar playing, so I’m really pleased with these interviews.

Traffic Analysis at Difficult Run

The other day I was working on an article about how Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is an awful lot like a reskinned version of Firefly when I realized I should probably check to see if other folks had written about that. They had.

That took the wind out of my sails, so I spent the rest of the evening delving into the site statistics for Difficult Run. I don’t generate any revenue from the site at all, but obviously you want more people to read what you’re writing as opposed to fewer, and I’m just sort of fascinated by the whole idea of publishing: what engages readers and builds an audience? To me, it’s an interesting question. So I always like it when folks like John Scalzi publish about their site statistics (like he did back in 2010 or more recently in January 2014). Also, as a blogger at Times And Seasons, I have access to their site stats as well.

Since I took the time to make some pretty charts and graphs, I thought I may as well write up what I learned and what I”m hoping to see happen for the year of 2014 as far as blog traffic goes.

Chart 01 - Historic Views & Visitors

So this is my total monthly traffic for every complete month that I’ve had the site running. (I launched it during the month of November 2012.) You can see a general upward trend (which is nice), along with a really big spike in June 2013 and a really low dip in December 2014. The spike is from the post Health Insurance vs. Food Insurance which got posted on Reddit and drew over 5,000 views in one day. The dip is because December 2014 was insane: there were holidays, I was moving my family, and I had some ridiculous projects at work. It was a truly awful month, and I basically stopped blogging. Those two months are pretty clearly outliers, I think, but the question is whether or not January 2014 is also an outlier. That’s the month my mum poster her article on whether or not Mormon women ought to receive the priesthood, and it became the second most popular post on the site. I’m inclined to think it’s not an outlier, but I’ll get to that later.

I also did some really basic linear projections to get a ball-park idea of what kind of traffic I can expect to get by the end of 2014. As you can see, it looks like I’d be getting about 12,000 views / month or about 7,000 visitors / month. More on that  in a moment as well, but for now I thought it was interesting that the projections were diverging. That shows that ratio of views / visitor (e.g. how many pages a given visitor looks at) is changing. So I took a look at that as well.

Chart - 02 - Historic Ratio of Views to Visitors

The overall trend is negative, which means that as time goes on my audience reads fewer articles per person. I think that’s probably a natural function of my audience moving outside of the core friends and family who came to see what I had to say early on and towards strangers who come across the site because an article gets linked here of there.

Tracking both visitors and views seemed a bit messy, so at this point I decided to pick just one metric to concentrate on. I think views is the standard (probably mostly because it’s easier to track), but I decided that I would just check out the variability of the two and pick whichever one was the most stable. I picked the coefficient of variation rather than variance because it’s dimensionless, and views (0.55) was a lot less volatile than visitors (0.70), so from here on out I just look at views instead of visitors.

Chart 03 - Sensitivity Testing

So what I did in this chart was look at the impact of different scenarios on future growth. Here are the scenarios:

  • Scenario 1 – I took out the two highest months (June 2013 and January 2014) and left everything else in. This is the most pessimistic scenario.
  • Scenario 2 – I took out the two highest months (June 2013 and January 2014) and also took out the unusually low month (December 2013).
  • Scenario 3 – I took out the highest month (June 2013).
  • Scenario 4 – I took out the highest month (June 2013) and also the unusually low month (December 2013)

The first scenario, where I took out the two highest months but left everything else in, was unsurprisingly the most pessimistic. According to that scenario, the blog would just cross 10,000 monthly views by the end of this year. The second and third scenarios ended up being very similar, and both predict around 12,000 monthly views by the end of this year. Finally, the fourth scenario is the most optimistic and would predict almost 14,000 monthly views by the end of the year.

Up to now, however, I’ve assumed linear growth. That means that I add the same number of new views every month (usually in the range of 400 – 500 in these models). When you’re talking about populations, however, everything from birth rates to disease growth to adoption of new technologies usually follows exponential growth . With an exponential model you’re not adding the same number of views every month, but instead your adding the same percentage of views every month. (So it works just like compound interest.)

So, which model fits the data best? So far, does my model look more linear or more exponential?

Chart 04 - Linear vs. Exponential

Without getting into the technical details, the R-squared value is a measure of how good your model fits the data. In this case I used all the data (no throwing out outliers) and compared it with a linear model and an exponential model. The linear model got 0.4283 (which roughly means it explains 43% of the variance in the data) and the exponential model got 0.6063 (so it explains about 61% of the variation in the data). Based on this: the data looks exponential. That’s good news if you’re me, because an exponential model is going to yield a lot more growth down the road. But there’s a caveat: when I started taking out outliers, the difference between the exponential and linear models all but disappeared. With just a couple of those outliers gone, the r-squared values were above 0.9 for each. Even though the exponential model always did better, the advantage is tiny once you throw out a couple of outliers.

Still, what would growth look like based on an exponential model? This chart–the last of the bunch–shows the original data, some linear projects, and some exponential projections all at once so you can get an idea of the possibilities.

Chart 05 - Linear vs Exponential Projections

So this chart shows the actual data points (as points) along with two linear projections and three exponential projections. You can tell that up through the data that I have so far, it’s pretty hard to tell the two apart. But by the end of the year, the difference really matters. The lowest exponential projection has about 22,000 monthly views by December 2014, and the highest linear projection has less than 14,000. The optimistic exponential projection has close to 40,000 monthly views by year’s end!

So here’s the fun part: which do I think it’s going to be? I think that the exponential model is the best model of growth in general, but with one big caveat. It assumes that the underlying reason for the growth is constant. For example, you only get the joy (or suffering, depending on which side of the coin you’re on) of compounding interest if the interest rate stays the same. Difficult Run doesn’t have an interest rate. It has content. And so my guess is that we’ll continue to see exponential growth if the quality and quantity of the posts keep up with reader expectations. The posts have gotten better, the site layout has gotten better, and I’ve recruited some good editors and guest posters. All of those efforts have to continue, but if they do then I think when I look back with the 2014 data all in a spreadsheet, the growth will look exponential rather than linear.

And, just for fun, I’ll make a specific prediction: I expect to see 25,000 monthly views by the end of January 2015. That doesn’t mean there will be 25,000 views in that month. There could be more or less, but we’ll be in that range. Which sounds pretty awesome, until I realize that that would still be about 4% of the monthly traffic that John Scalzi averaged through 2013.

Don’t Be An Ally

2014-02-15 The_Daughters_of_Zelophehad
The crazy-sounding name actually comes from a Bible story found in Numbers 27.

For someone who writes about Mormonism an awful lot (and blogs at Mormon blog Times And Seasons), I’m actually surprisingly new to the “bloggernaccle“. Which means I’m not really very familiar with a lot of the big-name blogs, even if I’ve heard of them. Like Zelophehad’s Daughters. (Easier to remember than to spell!) I take it that my bloviating on issues related to gender roles and overall skepticism of feminism and all things socially left might get me into some pretty hot water over there, but that’s just a guess. I don’t actually know.

In any case, I happened upon this piece by Eve over there called Don’t Be My Ally, and I really liked it.

Her main point, which is that the relationship of “ally” is incredibly dehumanizing for ally and allied alike, is profound. To my mind, it’s basically a politer version of the “identity politics” criticism from the right-wing of American politics: reducing people to their categories is an awful thing to do to someone. She’s also unafraid to point out what I consider to be far and away the worst trait of Mormon feminism:

In recent years I’ve been unsettled to see how often Mormon feminism roots itself more deeply in in various secular feminisms than it does in Mormonism or in Christianity.

My own relationship with the term “feminism” is… complex. I go back and forth. But if Mormon feminism were really and truly distinct from secular feminism (i.e. the political dogma of the American left), I would be very excited and much more interested in engage and self-identifying as feminist. (I am concerned about women’s issues; I’m just leery of the baggage that comes with the word “feminism.”)

Lastly, she manages to get in some good digs at male allies that (1) I firmly believe need to be said and (2) made me chuckle:

Inevitably some allies tote their ally(ship? hood?) to enhance their own status and credibility, and some usurp the voices of those they ostensibly champion.

Yup. I like to refer to this as “White Knight Chauvinism,” although another variety (which I have yet to name) is basically a slightly better-disguised of nice-guy whining. You know, when “nice-guys” (which usually, at best, means “socially impotent”) complain that girls always date jerks as though they could sort of browbeat attractive ladies into dating them. It’s weird and creepy. And, as a guy, I can’t help but notice that more or less the same motive seems to operate for some allies who view their support as a way to ingratiate themselves with the ladies.

On top of being an article I really liked, it just made me happy to see such common sense coming from an outlet that I would be predisposed to view with skepticism. It’s always good to be reminded of the possible common ground between reasonable people no matter what their political home turf may be.

Economist Jeff Smith Won’t Sign Minimum Wage Petition

I’ve written about my criticisms of minimum wage a couple of times already. (Walker has weighed in as well.) Here’s a good article, posted by Michigan economist Miles Kimball but quoting fellow professor Jeff Smith, on reasons why Jeff Smith refuses to sign a petition supporting a raise in the minimum wage. His concerns are:

1. It is poorly targeted relative to alternative policies such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). And, yes, I am familiar with the argument that the minimum wage and the EITC are complements; what is thin on the ground, so far as I am aware, is evidence of the empirical importance of this argument.

2. As pointed out recently by Greg Mankiw, it distributes the costs of the increased minimum wage in a less attractive way than alternative policies such as the EITC, which implicitly come out of general tax revenue.

3. Most importantly, raising the minimum wage fails to address the underlying issue, which is that many workers do not bring very much in the way of skills to the labor market. Rather than having a discussion about raising the minimum wage, we should be having a discussion about how to decrease the number of minimum wage workers by increasing skills at the low-skill end of the labor market. This would, of course, mean challenging important interest groups. It is also a bigger challenge more broadly because it is less obvious how to do it. But that is the discussion we should be having because that is the one that will really help the poor in the long run, in contrast to a policy that feels good in the short run but only speeds the pace of capital-labor substitution in the long run.

None of these arguments are novel, and I’ve cited all of them in the past, but they are worth repeating. Minimum wage: the best you can say is that it’s a really inept and obsolete policy.

Top All-Time Political Donors, 1989-2014

Who are the top donors to political parties? And which political parties are the recipients? There is an eye-opening list of the top 156 donors between the years 1989 and 2014. For all the rhetoric about Republicans being the party of “big business” and “cronyism,” it is interesting to see that the majority of the top 20 donors gave heavily to Democrats. Or, as economist Mark Perry put it, “Combined the 18 labor unions donated more than $35 for every $1 donated by Koch Industries, $640 million vs. $18 million.”

Check it out.

In Defense of Creationists

“But what of man’s relation to the Divine?” “Quiet, please, we’re arguing over how old dirt is”

So begins a thought-provoking article in The Week on the evolution vs. creation debate entitled “In Defense of Creationists.” Being one who accepts evolution, rejects a young earth viewpoint, etc., I struggle sometimes in my church’s culture and Sunday School courses. The article’s author describes my outlook fairly well:
Genesis describes the created world and the Garden of Eden like a temple, and Adam’s duties therein are outlined in terms of worship and priestly service. Revelation describes the heavenly Jerusalem and the worship of all the saints, martyrs, and angels in the heavenly temple. It measures this city of God in cubits of gold brick and precious jewels. These liturgical blueprints informed and inspired the construction and worship within the Jewish Temple of Jerusalem and every Christian sanctuary worthy of the name across the planet.
And let me emphasize something important: What I just described is the “literal” interpretation of these Biblical texts. When I say Genesis and Revelation are a kind of divine architecture course, I’m taking the text on its own terms. It may be spitting into the storm of common idioms, but to be a literalist is to read poetry as poetry, history as history, and parable as parable.

Anglican bishop and biblical scholar N.T. Wright explains this rather well below.

Noting the tearing down of liturgy following the Protestant Reformation, the The Week author explains that the texts were then “reduced to a replacement science textbook and a ripped-from-the-headlines Michael Bay–style blockbuster.” Yet, despite this recognition, the author provides a charitable view of creationists’ peculiar interpretation of scripture:

They have gotten lost in the woods while trying to protect the big truths of Christianity: that God created the world, that we are dependent on him, that we owe him everything, and that he loves us even though we are sinful. In the world most of us inhabit, day to day, the world of lovers, wriggling kids, disease, war, and death, the sureness of God’s love is relevant in a way that the details of early hominid fossils never will be, glorious as they are. Have some perspective, people. In protecting that big truth of creation — that we are all made in God’s image and all endowed with supreme dignity — fundamentalists zealously guard things that follow logically from that.

As the article’s subtitle reads, “Sure, they’re misreading Genesis. But for all the right reasons.”