Obama's middle-class values

Posted in Politics at 9:27 am by ducky

One of the things I really like about Obama is what, for lack of a better term, I will call middle-class values.  He does things like clean up after himself at an ice cream shop, carry his own luggage (pictures here and here and here) and says he turns off lights and will make his kids do chores in the White House.  I don’t recall ever seeing any of the presidents in my adult lifetime — Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton, or Bush 43 — ever carrying anything, even when they were campaigning.  I suspect that Bush 41 never washed a dish or picked up dog poop — ever.  I can’t imagine that either of the Clintons would do so now.

People in power frequently have other people do mundane things for them.  There is a potential that, by doing things himself, Obama could make himself seem less powerful. Jimmy Carter once spent the night in a private home, and it was reported in all the newspapers that he made the bed himself.  My recollection of that is that people were kind of incredulous at him diminishing himself that way.  However, Jimmy Carter ran with a persona of folksiness.  (He was Jimmy Carter, not James Earl Carter, Jr.)  He had to struggle a little against being perceived as a rube, a southern bumpkin.

I don’t think Obama really risks debasing himself in the public eye by doing mundane things for himself.  In contrast to Jimmy Carter, Obama has a public persona that is a bit cold and standoffish.  He even got attacked for being elitist for a little while.  Doing mundane things for himself counters that perception.

Maybe he carefully does these mundane things for show.  Maybe he’s conscious of it and wants to “keep it real”.  But maybe it’s part of his value system that he is not inherently better than other people, and should play by the same rules as the rest of the world.  (Unlike, say, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has demonstrated a pattern throughout his life of acting like rules were for other people.)  I hope so.


Cost of the bailout

Posted in Politics at 9:47 pm by ducky

There has been discussion about how the current financial system bailout is the most expensive government program ever, according to numbers from Jim Bianco (as I saw it reported by Barry Ritholtz).

Bianco’s numbers are adjusted for inflation, which is good, but that isn’t a complete picture.  There are an awful lot more Americans now than there used to be. If you look at the bailout in terms of per capita cost or as a percentage of GNP, you’ll see that there were a few other programs that were comparably expensive.  So yeah, it’s bad.  Yeah, it’s a big deal.  But we have seen worse.

Program Inflation-adjusted cost (billions) Cost per capita (thousands) % of GNP
Marshall Plan 115.3 0.78 4.7%
Savings and Loan crisis 256 0.95 1.7%
Moon shot 237 1.2 4.3%
Iraq war 587 2.0 4.4%
Korean war 454 2.9 15.0%
Vietnam war 698 3.4 11.2%
New Deal 500 4.0 55.1%
Current bailout 4616 15.3 33.2%
World War II 3600 26.3 150%
Louisiana Purchase 217 40.9 NA

Notes: It was surprisingly hard to find historical GNP figures. It only started being recorded in 1947, and the sources aren’t always clear if the figures are inflation-adjusted or not. Also, most of these things spanned several years; I picked a year near the middle for the calculations. Bottom line: take the % of GNP numbers with a grain of salt. They are close, but not exact.

I used the Flow of Funds Accounts of the United States for 1947-2007, and the a very poorly annotated list from Duke for the New Deal and WW2 numbers. Sorry, there are no GNP numbers from 1803.

Marriage equality a threat to men's self-image?

Posted in Gay rights, Politics at 1:08 pm by ducky

Salon has an interesting interview with Richard Rodriguez, who says — as I do — that the fight over “protecting traditional marriage” is really about protecting traditional gender roles.  However, he spotted something that I missed: the role of male insecurity.

And the majority of American women are now living alone. We are raising children in America without fathers. I think of Michael Phelps at the Olympics with his mother in the stands. His father was completely absent. He was negligible; no one refers to him, no one noticed his absence.

The possibility that a whole new generation of American males is being raised by women without men is very challenging for the churches. I think they want to reassert some sort of male authority over the order of things. I think the pro-Proposition 8 movement was really galvanized by an insecurity that churches are feeling now with the rise of women.

I have been struck in the past at how when The Loyal Opposition talks about gay and lesbian people adopting, they usually emphasize, “a child needs a mother and a father”.  It’s usually men I see saying this; Rodriguez’ interview makes me think that what they are really saying is, “Men are important!  We are!  We are!  We are!”, trying to convince both us and themselves that it is true.

(By the way, children do just fine with same-gender parents.)

The myth of mixed-gender parent superiority

Posted in Gay rights, Politics at 12:56 pm by ducky

Our Loyal Opposition in the marriage equality fight likes to yammer about how research shows that children do better when they are raised by both of their biological parents.  This is utter hogwash.

The Loyal Opposition uses studies that show that children raised by both of their biological parents do better than those raised by a single parent.  Studies comparing kids raised by a mixed-gender couple compared to those raised by a same-gender couple shows absolutely no difference on many many measures of success and well-being — delinquency, dropout rate, alcoholism, teen pregnancy, drug abuse, etc.  By contrast, the difference between kids of two-parent families was absolutely huge compared to kids from single-parent families on all of the measures of success and well-being.

My source for the research on family structure effect on children’s well-being is an extensive longitudinal literature review that the Santa Clara County Social Services Agency did in 1996, a time when you would think society just might have made life even more difficult for gay and lesbian parents.

The only measure where there was any difference was a very very slight (but statistically significant) difference in sexual experimentation: children of gay/lesbian parents were no more likely to be gay/lesbian themselves, but they were very slightly more likely to experiment with homosexuality a few times.

While I am not familiar with any research on biological vs. non-biological two-parent families, it isn’t relevant.  If there is a kid who needs adoption, their adoptive family won’t be their biological family, regardless of whether they get placed with a straight or homosexual couple.

I don’t know of any research that suggests that children of parents who used donated eggs or sperm are less happy than biological children.  I suppose it could be true, but if it is, The Loyal Opposition should oppose infertility treatments of all kinds.  Somehow I expect they wouldn’t take on that fight.

I know some people who think that gay and lesbian couples shouldn’t adopt because their children would face discrimination.  By that logic, we shouldn’t allow black people to have children in the US; we shouldn’t allow Christians to have children in China.

Even if there were some difference between parenting by gay and lesbian couples and straight couples, that still isn’t an adequate reason to try and block their child-rearing.  That’s a false comparison.  The real comparison that you need to make is between children in foster care and those that get adopted.  I suspect that adopted kids do far better than those that remain in foster care, and there is a surplus of kids to adopt.

While it is true that it is difficult to find healthy white babies to adopt, sadly, there are lots of non-white, non-healthy babies available.  When my husband and I were going through foster parent training, Santa Clara County had seven times as many foster children as they had foster homes.  SEVEN TIMES.  (And you can be sure not every foster home took seven children!)

We should celebrate and encourage gay and lesbian adoption, not hinder it!


Anti-marriage-equality piece reflects values

Posted in Gay rights, Married life, Politics at 11:26 am by ducky

I found an anti-marriage-equality piece (via Andrew Sullivan) that was very interesting to me because of how it reflected its values.

I saw a striking example of what Jonathan Haight has found about differences in morality between liberals and conservatives. Haight found that conservatives are more likely to value “moral purity”, which basically says “if it feels icky to me, then it must be morally wrong”.

In his essay, Rod Dreher quotes University of Virginia sociologist James Davison Hunter:

“The momentum is toward experience and emotions and feelings. People are saying, ‘I feel, therefore I am.’ This is how more and more people are deciding what is real and right and true.”

Dreher complains that liberals don’t value that:

You can see this in the remarkable unwillingness of many gay-marriage defenders to grant their opponents any moral standing. To disagree with them is to reveal yourself to be a “bigot” (I heard a married, straight young Republican in Texas use that word to describe those who voted for Prop 8; he was far from the only one). Bigots are by definition people whose prejudices are irrational. Bigots are moral cretins who can’t be talked to, only coerced. One is under no obligation to compromise with a bigot, only to smash him.

I think he’s absolutely right.  Liberals cannot understand the value that “if it feels icky, it must be wrong” (especially if “it” doesn’t feel icky to the liberals).  Furthermore, there is no arguing with such a “moral purity” value.  Joe Liberal cannot reason their way to making Joe Conservative feel less icky; Joe Liberal sees it as non-rational irrational because it is not rational by definition.  It is emotional.

Dreher also laments the loss of the “meaning of marriage”:

Though no consensus on gay marriage now exists, the trend lines are not in traditionalists’ favor, in large part because our culture has lost its understanding of what marriage is for. That is, marriage no longer has a settled meaning beyond a nominalist one: it is a contract formalizing the positive emotions two people (for now) have for one another, and binding them in a legal and social framework.

I, a liberal, read that, and go, “yes, that is exactly what civil marriage is”.  (I even have an old blog posting titled “Civil marriage is a contract“!)

Dreher doesn’t explain what the “meaning of marraige” is, but Andrew Sullivan (who perhaps is more familiar with Dreher’s corpus) says:

Rod longs, as many do, for a return to the days when civil marriage brought with it a whole bundle of collectively-shared, unchallenged, teleological, and largely Judeo-Christian, attributes. Civil marriage once reflected a great deal of cultural and religious assumptions: that women’s role was in the household, deferring to men; that marriage was about procreation, which could not be contracepted; that marriage was always and everywhere for life; that marriage was a central way of celebrating the primacy of male heterosexuality, in which women were deferent, non-heterosexuals rendered invisible and unmentionable, and thus the vexing questions of sexual identity and orientation banished to the catch-all category of sin and otherness, rather than universal human nature.

This is exactly what I was getting at in this post and in the first paragraph of this postMarriage equality is not a threat to traditional marriage.  It is a threat to traditional gender roles.


Blogs fomenting partisanship? No, conservatives.

Posted in Politics at 5:03 pm by ducky

In his post today, Scott Rosenberg suggests that there are people who blame the blogosphere for how intensely nasty and partisan our political world is right now.

Excuse me????

Partisan nastiness has been going on far longer than people have been blogging.  The Web was pretty well unknown during Clinton’s first term, and in its infancy during the second.  I seem to recall a whole lot of partisan bickering back then.

I don’t think that divisiveness is due to the Web, I believe that it’s due to conservatives.

That’s a little hard for me to write because I want to be fair.  But I really think it is true.

I recently read an article on research in morality that points up values differences between liberals and conservatives.  One thing that researchers found was that liberals put a much higher value on fairness than on group loyalty, while conservatives value them about equally.  This research suggests that a liberal is more likely to sacrifice group loyalty in the name of fairness than a conservative, e.g. to help a conservative do the work to send in an absentee ballot.  This research suggests conservative is more likely to toe the party line, even if he/she doesn’t believe in it.

When Palin was insinuating that Barack Obama wasn’t a “real” American, she was exploiting her white audiences’ high value on group loyalty.  By making it look like Obama had a different in-group, Palin made her audience worry that they might end up as the out-group.

(Being a member of an out-group might be particularly scary if you have yourself treated out-groups unfairly.  I’m just sayin’.)

I was totally unconcerned about being in Obama’s out-group.  You would think that I, a 45-year old, hot, white woman with an upper Midwest accent, who lives above the 48th parallel, might identify more strongly with Sarah Palin.  However, I am a liberal, and I believe that Obama is a liberal.  As such, I absolutely believe he will be fair.  I absolutely do not believe that Palin will be fair.  And I think that is part of her appeal to her base.

(P.S.   I was kidding about being hot.)

Are we moving back to the US?

Posted in Canadian life, Family, Politics at 1:45 pm by ducky

Several people have asked me, “So are you and Jim moving back to California now?”

The answer is “No, not yet.  Maybe never.”

I had six reasons to move to Canada:

  1. I was devastated that my fellow Americans could elect G.W. Bush for a second term.  That said to me that my fellow Americans and I were not at all on the same page, and that maybe I didn’t belong in the US.
  2. I was upset at how my government shredded civil liberties for both citizens (e.g., illegal wiretapping) and non-citizens (e.g., torture and abuse).
  3. I was unnerved by an almost willful neglect/disinterest in some major, fundamental structural problems in the US and Californian economies.  In particular, the US has been, as Lloyd Bentsen famously put it in a 1988 VP debate, been “writing hot checks” for a very long time: spending a lot but not paying enough in taxes to support those costs.
  4. UBC was more nurturing than Stanford, my other choice for grad school.
  5. We have lots of relatives close to Vancouver, just across the border in Bellingham.
  6. Canada’s health system is not tied to employment.  It is highly likely that we will, at some point, earning money but not be employed.  Living in Canada, that’s not a problem.  (Like right now.  I’m looking for work and Jim is consulting.)  Living in the US, that might be a problem.

The fact that my compatriots turned out in such droves for Obama lessens the feeling that I am out of step with the rest of America.  I was shocked and appalled by the divisive tactics used by the McCain/Palin campaign, but enormously heartened at the number of Republicans who have publicly voiced being likewise shocked and appalled.  So Obama’s election knocks off #1 pretty well.

I have finished my graduate degree, so #4 is off the list.

Our families are still in Bellingham.  We could move to Seattle and be slightly closer to our families, but California would be quite a bit farther away.  So #5 favours Vancouver or Seattle, but still disfavours California.

I think Obama will probably make #2 better.  Issuing an executive order banning torture at one minute past noon on Jan 20, 2009 would be a good start, but to see how he does on #2, I’ll have to see him govern.

Likewise, on #3,  I won’t know if he will make things better until I see him govern.  However, it’s not likely that he will be able to avoid “hot checks” in his term because of the horrible horrible financial problems.  He also can’t do much about California’s problems due to Prop 13.

There are more factors to consider now.

Ducky Watching Election Returns

Ducky Watching Election Returns

  1. I like many things about Canada and Vancouver.
    • I have friends here.  (It was really nice to watch the election last night surrounded by a bunch of friends!)
    • It is really cool to live in the heart of downtown.  We are able to walk to everything (so much so that we only use our car about twice per month).
    • I like, in theory, that there is skiing so close.  We have season passes this year to a mountain that we can see from our apartment.  It takes about 30 minutes to drive there.
    • By and large, Canadian government services have far better customer service than in California.  It takes me about twenty minutes to renew my Social Insurance Number (like a Social Security Number in the US).  It took me about fifteen minutes to move my driver’s license to BC.
  2. It is not a perfect fit.
    • In particular, I still have ambitions to change the world, while I think Vancouver puts more value on having fun.  I’m trying to get the “fun” attitude, but it’s swimming upstream for me.  (Hopefully the ski passes this winter will help!)  Silicon Valley is all about changing the world, and so that is a huge magnet attracting me south.
    • I don’t like maple syrup, I have never played hockey, and I thought Anne of Green Gables was a boring book.  I did not spend many years steeped in the Canadian cultural stew, absorbing the Canadian value system, shared experiences, and etiquette.  I will never be fully Canadian. (At the same time, the longer I stay in Canada, the less time I spend in the American cultural stew; the less American I become.)
  3. Somewhat to my surprise, I discovered that I still love my country.
  4. I am growing to love Canada.
  5. I haven’t found a job yet.

So.  Will I return to the ever return to the US?  To California?  I’m not sure.

Move to Canada?

Posted in Canadian life, Gay rights, Politics at 11:39 am by ducky

To all my GLBT friends in California who want to live somewhere that respects them, there’s always Canada.

Canada wants immigrants.  Here’s the funny version; here’s the serious version.

Do think carefully, however.  Canada is not the US.  There are some
subtle but important differences in the culture, outlook, and
priorities.   They are not better or worse in one country or the other,
they are different.  Exceptions: it is easier to shop in the US and the
Canadian governments have better customer service.

If you are thinking about emigrating to British Columbia, I’d be happy to talk to you about it.

Update: Here’s a blog post by an American lesbian talking about what it’s like to live in a country where she and her partner are fully completely legally married.

Prop 8 looks like it will pass

Posted in Gay rights, Politics at 11:20 am by ducky

It’s looking like California’s Prop 8 is going to pass, and that’s a very sad thing.

However, I think it was far, FAR more important that Obama get elected than that Prop 8 fail.  If McCain/Palin had won, we would have seen a significant shift in the Supreme Court to the right. We could have kissed goodbye to any hopes of getting marriage equality through the Supreme Court for twenty-five or thirty years.

With Obama in office, it will probably stay roughly the same in liberal/conservative makeup, but get younger.  I expect that we will now see a federal Supreme Court case in five to ten years about marriage equality.  And we will win that one — not just for California, but for everybody.

There is no good legal argument against marriage equality.  Let me repeat that: there is no good legal argument against marriage equality.  The arguments are emotional or religious, not rational.  The rational arguments — the one on which our legal system is founded — say that citizens get equal protection under the law.  It’s in the Constitution.  It’s fundamental to the constitution.  So unless the SCOTUS has people whose judgement is influenced by religion or emotion, we will win that fight.  (This will be especially true after five or ten more years of seeing same-sex marriages function in Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut, Canada, Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Israel, and South Africa without destroying the fabric of society.)

So yes, it is disappointing.  It would have been nice to put this issue to rest in California forever.  However, it is not dead.  We will overcome.

(Update:  Andrew Sullivan has a similar post, written with eloquence.)


Yes we did!

Posted in Politics at 10:59 pm by ducky

President Barack Obama.

Yay!  Thank you, America!

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