Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice
Feb 14th, 2008 by Sam

Are they kidding?  Yes, as you’ve probably heard, Saudi Arabia does have a Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, and what’s more, they banned the sale of red roses AND red gifts, according to the Guardian.

Kind of sounds like the Puritans, doesn’t it?

But there are a few things that are interesting about this…  First, it was reported in a local newspaper as a normal news item.  That just seems odd to me.  Second, people were defying the ban:

“The crackdown has pushed up the price of the flowers on the black market, with some florists making deliveries in the middle of the night, the paper said.

Couples defying the ban placed orders for red roses weeks before the deadline. Some were sending online Valentine’s cards, and others were planning to celebrate the day in neighbouring countries, such as Bahrain, which has a more liberal approach to Islamic law.”

So I checked to see if there was anything about this on  Nothing.

Okay, maybe they don’t think roses on Valentine’s day is a big deal.  And, it shouldn’t be.  So, why go to all the trouble of banning it in the first place?

Seems to be that these religious folks are swimming against the tide – they aren’t going to win this one.  People want to be free to do simple things that the rest of the world takes for granted.

That’s why I’m optimistic about the future.  Al Qaeda can’t win this one.  Not if Saudi’s are going underground to buy roses for their honeys.

And by the way, that’s also why Huckabee and Brownback and even the briefly uber-conservative Romney didn’t do well in the Prez race.  Americans just don’t want a Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice either.

The real Affirmative Action, redux
Jan 15th, 2008 by Sam

It is the opinion here in Cause and Effect World that legacy admissions in college and university admissions are affirmative action programs.

So, if you can’t have affirmative action based on race or sex, why should a public university be allowed to have one based on heredity?

Adam Liptak raises this issue in his column “A Hereditary Perk the Founding Fathers Failed to Anticipate” today in the New York Times.

Apparently, it’s okay to let the children of alumni and/or donors in who do not meet the criteria of the institution (let’s be clear on this – they do not meet the admissions criteria of the institution) as long as there is a rational reason.  Which, of course, there is – mommy and daddy give lots of money in the few years before kiddo applies and then pretty much stop once kiddo is accepted.

Do I have to say that almost all the legacy children are white?

So, it is okay to let the loser children in, but not to do anything to redress centuries of exploitation to the descendents of slavery.

As Liptak says,

“The bottom line, as Charles W. Collier put it in The Journal of Legal Education in 2005, is that the University of Michigan would be free to ‘transform itself into the Michigan University for Alumni Children Only without running afoul of the law in any way.’”

But there may be another way to think about it.  Our Constitution specifically bars the federal and state governments from granting titles of nobility through a series of clauses.  Liptak points out,

“Legal distinctions, titles, powers and privileges,” John Adams wrote in 1788, “are not hereditary.”

Note he said, ‘distinctions, titles, power, and privileges.’ Not just titles.

It is on the basis of So Carlton F. W. Larson, a law professor at the University of California, Davis, is arguing that the Constitution’s nobility clauses prohibit legacy preferences at public universities.

Hmmm.  Interesting.  Do you think these kids even know they are there due to affirmative action?  You’d think they’d be in favor of it.

Blame, shame, and how our genes are the devil that make us do things
Nov 11th, 2007 by Sam

Why do we do those things we know we’ll regret – over and over.

Historically, the modern explanation, in Western culture at least, has been that people just choose to do things of their own free will.

When I was growing up, it was the devil – causing you to do things against God.  Of course, the free will thing was still there…  We were given free will so we could choose to follow God or the devil.

But now those darn scientists are finding out that a lot of our behavior seems to be driven by our genes.  Dare-devil behavior, or overeating, or talking a lot (!) may be personality traits that we get from our genetic inheritance.  Not only that, but those things our parents did that drove/drive us crazy were, oh my gosh, caused by their genetic inheritance.  Yes.  I am saying that everything your parents did wasn’t 1) intentionally designed to drive you crazy, or 2) chosen by them of their ‘own free will.’

How people react to this news depends on how they feel about their own and other’s behaviors as far as I can tell.

Those who don’t want to let go of free will:

  • When someone is frustrated with other people’s behaviors, they tend to not want to give up the idea that those people could choose to do otherwise, and therefore want to have the right to blame them.
  • On the other hand, if people are pretty happy with where they are in life, and feel like they have achieved a lot, they want the right to claim credit.

Those who don’t have a problem letting go:

  • When they are frustrated by other’s behavior, but have come to the realization that just yelling at people that “they can change and are just choosing not to” has been futile at best and counterproductive at worst.
  • When people see that their own behavior is caused and accept that willing themselves out of bad behaviors it isn’t likely to work.

So, the blamers are frustrated.  The credit seekers are frustrated.  But the acceptors are not only more serene, they are more likely to get the changes they seek as they explore the causal chain of behavior.

Apparently the Buddists have known this for a while…..  Well, Western culture figured out electricity first, and that’s pretty important too, so we shouldn’t blame ourselves……


Tom Clark of the Center for Naturalism reminded me that our behavior isn’t caused only by our genes – our environment, which includes all of our past, present, and future experiences, interacts with our genes and shapes us going forward.  So, the future has many possibilities, depending on every and all link in the causal chain.

The Real Affirmative Action Program
Sep 29th, 2007 by Sam

Would you be shocked to learn that about 15% of students at elite schools failed to meet their institution’s minimum standards?  No?  Okay, quick – what image comes to mind?  Any chance it was a black or latino student?  Well, guess again, because there is an affirmative action program out there, and it ain’t for blacks and latinos…

Documented evidence of the real affirmative action program has come to light, and the beneficiaries are [gasp] white kids who are in some way connected to people the school wants to keep happy – alumni, donors, faculty, administrators and politicians.

Well, knock me over with a feather – I am shocked, shocked!

Yes, indeedy – schools like Harvard, Wellesley, Notre Dame, Duke, and the University of Virginia are much more likely to admit those with cash and connections than everyone else.  And in doing so, they are turning away students who aremuch more qualified.  Let me be clear – it isn’t that the rich students are as qualified and just have the money and connections.  They are less qualified.

The schools say they have to do this because it is how they keep their donors happy and keep the money coming in.  However, a look at schools with endowments greater than $500 million revealed that they are helping disproportionately fewer students who qualify for Pell Grant money.

So, advantages offered to those who already have them.  Disadvantages (i.e. not even being accepted) to those who do not.


“…young people from the wealthiest fourth of society are about 25 times as likely as those from the bottom fourth to enroll in a selective college, [and] over the past two decades, the middle class has been steadily getting squeezed out of such institutions by those with more money.”

So much for meritocracy in America, because these students, who truly were born on third base, who do actually think they hit a triple and have actually fouled out, have entered the pipeline to the elite jobs in this country that can lead to their running the largest corporations, running the country, and making and judging the laws of this country.

This is what I call affirmative action!  It’s just that it’s informal – not mandated, not regulated

Isn’t it strange that conservatives continue to be in a lather over affirmative action that benefits blacks and latinos, while more than twice as many white kids with mediocre grades are getting into these elite institutions?  Conservative students at Tufts University recently caused a brouhaha due to a satirical piece in a university-funded newspaper making fun of black students, assuming they (i.e. the black students) had benefited from affirmative action.

Why all the concern over blacks and latinos, rather than over the rich, connected white kids?  Well, it’s understandable why the rich connected white kids cause a fuss.  They don’t want attention drawn to their special status.  But, it’s a little harder to understand the poor white conservatives.  Maybe it’s because they know they can never be black or latino, but they can fantasize about and aspire to be rich and connected.  Seems a little counter productive though – yes, occasionally a white person or family can jump classes, but the greater the divide between the haves and have-nots in America, the harder it will be to bridge that gap.

How ironic is it that those very conservative white students responsible for the newspaper piece could very well have benefited from the affirmative action afforded to wealthy connected students.  I mean, are the white students told they are part of the privileged 15% who didn’t meet the academic standards?  Is there an asterisk next to their name on all the records, indicating their ‘special status?’  I doubt they even know it – here they go blithely through their college experience, never aware that they weren’t supposed to be there.  Perhaps black, latino and poor white students at Tufts should write their own satirical essay about the wealthy whites who don’t deserve their place at Tufts…

And, left unchecked, this is how we end up with an aristocracy….  I mean, it isn’t like there always was an aristocracy in Europe – it took a while, but money, resources and power ended up in the hands of a few and ultimately they pronounced themselves kings and queens.

In the meantime, as Peter Schmidt, deputy editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education and author of “Color and Money: How Rich White Kids Are Winning the War Over College Affirmative Action” says in the article,

“When social mobility goes away, at least two dangerous things can happen. The privileged class that produces most of our nation’s leaders can become complacent enough to foster mediocrity, and less-fortunate segments of our society can become resigned to the notion that hard work will not get them anywhere.”

Well, resigned doesn’t sound too dangerous to me.  Hope they remain resigned.  Because, the alternative is what is dangerous.  Marie Antoinette can say a thing or two about what a ‘let them eat cake’ attitude can lead to.

The diversity paradox
Aug 4th, 2007 by Sam

To the consternation of Robert Putnam, the liberal scholar who did the research, and many liberals in general, a new study suggests that ethnic and racial diversity are linked to declining civic engagement, reports the Boston Globe.  The greater the diversity in a community:

  • fewer people vote
  • people are less likely to volunteer
  • they give less to charity
  • they work less on community projects

In the most diverse communities, neighbors trust one another about half as much as they do in the most homogenous settings.

Conservatives are jumping right on this issue  – from places like the Manhattan Institute and “The American Conservative” – highlighting the harm the study suggests will come from large-scale immigration.  Putnam says he’s received hundreds of complimentary emails laced with bigoted language.  “It certainly is not pleasant when David Duke’s website hails me as the guy who found out racism is good,” he says.

Love those conservatives, they are so pleasant…

So, ethnic diversity leads to civic malaise.  Not greater harmony and understanding (sorry liberals).  Not conflict (sorry conservatives).  Malaise.

Additionally, there are negative economic consequences.  Greater ethnic diversity was linked to lower school funding, for example.

Okay, okay.  Can we just call this what it is?  Tribalism?

I have long said (ask my husband) that Europe spends more on social programs than the US because the countries are more ethnically homogeneous – and have predicted that the ethnic and economic diversity in Europe resulting from the European Union will result in the dismantling of those social support systems.  Europeans, I predict, will be unwilling to provide support to the new immigrants in those countries, and will move toward a US model, which has much less support.

However, there is also a huge benefit from diversity…

Urban centers, such as New York, London, Rio de Janeiro, Hong Kong, are where the action is….  It turns out that the flip side to civic malaise is productivity and innovation.

“…by hanging out with people different than you, you’re likely to get more insights.  Diverse teams tend to be more productive,”  says Scott Page, a political scientist at the Univeristy of Michigan.

In other words,

“…those in more diverse communities may do more bowling alone, but the creative tensions unleashed by those differences in the workplace may vault those same places to the cutting edge of the economy and of creative culture.”  Boston Globe, August 5, 2007

This is also consistent with the place the United States has had in the world since the 1950′s - leading the world in productivity and innovation and being a ‘melting pot’ or, as some say, a ‘tossed salad’ – since those darn immigrants don’t all actually become just like each other.

This is the diversity paradox, that there are both positive and negative effects from diversity.  And, something that the United States has benefited from significantly.

So, which is more important?  The ‘cost’ of lower civic engagement or the ‘benefit’ of higher productivity and innovation?  If it were possible to go back to living within our national and state borders, and all retreat within our ethnic communities – German, Irish, Jewish, Italian, English, Lithuanian, French Canadian, Haitian, African, Norwegian, Russian, Chinese, Mexican, Puerto Rican…  we would have more civic engagement.  But, I believe that the rest of the world would pass us by in innovation, and we can’t afford that.

So, diversity it is, with the full awareness that civic engagement cannot be taken for granted.

Why gay marriage WILL destroy SOME marriages, and why they can’t say why
Jan 3rd, 2007 by Sam

Social conservatives are cheering in the Massachusetts since the citizen-initiated proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage was advanced by the legislature yesterday.

Which leaves many of us scratching our heads in puzzlement as we try to understand WHAT ON EARTH ARE THEY ARE SO WORRIED ABOUT? HOW does gay marriage affect your marriage?  HOW will it destroy the fabric of our society?  WHAT are the terrible consequences that we can anticipate if, in the end, the proposed constitutional amendment is not affirmed (as predicted on this blog yesterday)?

I have truly tried to understand (this is the goal of Cause and Effect World – to understand cause and effect).  I have listened to a lot of social conservative talk radio.  I have read a lot of social conservative blogs, websites, and other media.  I have debated this issue on the Boston radio station WRKO 680AM with Todd Feinburg and callers, and none of them have offered anything more concrete than, “marriage is the foundation of our society, changing it will have a negative impact, to assume otherwise is naive.”  Oh, and, “it isn’t a civil right, so we aren’t compelled to offer the right of marriage to gay couples.”

And those are the thoughtful ones. The crrrazy ones start talking about polygamy* and animals** and the conversation moves from puzzling to ‘unproductive.’

So, there is something that is perfectly obvious to them, but they can’t articulate.  Most social libertarians and liberals I know throw up their hands and conclude that social conservatives are just doing that conservative thang they do – resist change.  Remember when the church was against organ transplants?  Well, they did come around on that eventually.

But, what if we take them at their word?  What if their marriages will be somehow tarnished by gay marriage?  How could it be?  Here’s an idea…

A few weeks ago, a woman called a radio station and said that she had been married for 30 years, and that for some of those years, the marriage was very difficult, and that she had contemplated leaving her husband.  She said that what got her through those times was her belief that marriage was sacred.

She didn’t say it, but the implication was clear that if marriage weren’t sacred, she would very likely have walked out.  What she did say was that in her view, permitting gay marriage made the institution itself not sacred any more.

So, imagine if this is what is in the hearts of all of these folks.  They are staying married not because they are happy, but because marriage is sacred.  Maybe they have fallen out of love.  Or, maybe they ‘had to get married’ in the first place.  Or maybe their spouse has become unattractive, or even repellent to them.  Maybe their spouse has become addicted to prescription pain pills, or gambling, or sports, or talk radio, or pornography.  Maybe their spouse is drunk most of the time.  Maybe their spouse is mean and nasty to them and/or the kids.  Maybe their spouse has simply become someone they find boring or just vaguely irritating (think About Schmidt).

But, they stay in the marriage because it is sacred.  It is their duty.  It is the honorable, holy thing to do.

To them, because gay sex is repugnant, seems unnatural since children cannot result, and is specifically prohibited in the Bible, state sanctioned marriage of gay couples sullies the institution which, and this is the first key point, will make some people more likely to leave an unhappy marriage. And, here is the second key point, they can’t talk about this because it would reveal the sad state of their marriages. And, it would be revealed not only to us.  It would be revealed to their spouses, their children, and, perhaps worst of all, to themselves.

So, we have to take them at their word.  Divorce may increase as the result of gay marriage.  But, in our society, do we limit the rights of a small group of adults because it may have a deleterious effect on the marriages of others?  I, of course, say no.  And, I do feel sorry for the conservatives who are trapped in unhappy marriages.  But, as the child of parents who divorced after many years of an unhappy marriage, and having been divorced and now happily married, I say – get out of the unhappy marriage.  It’s better for the kids, it’s better for the spouses.  Yes, marriage is better.  But, unhappily married may be worst.  And, happily married is best.

* Polygamy – In general I am for as much freedom as possible, but this needs a lot of study because it’s a lot more complicated than two people.  The legal issues are mind-boggling.  From a moral perspective - if they are all adults, I don’t care.  Just don’t suggest it to my husband!

** Animals can’t give consent.  Get serious.

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