August 31, 2007

same-sex marriage? in Iowa?

So, before we continue, I have a question. If your state representative only lists her home phone number on her official web page, can you call her at home? Because I definitely need to call her. Because today, in Des Moines, two guys got married. You can read the AP story or the Des Moines Register story.

I'm, ah, delighted. Overjoyed. Amazed. Shocked. That's my hometown - I may have visited the courtroom where that decision was made - and if I'd had to lay odds on a state, even a Midwestern one, being next for same-sex marriage, it would not have been Iowa. My faith in my state, sorely tested after the last election, springs up again.

So, of course, homework for everyone. School starts Tuesday, too, so do it now.

1) Call your state legislators, if you're an Iowan. Hell, if you're not, email the governor's office to say how great you think this is for Iowa's reputation and how it's made you think of Iowa in a whole new light. Provincial coastal denizens, I'm talking to you.

2) Look at the Justly Married photo set, and think how damn cute all those couples are. Then look at the pictures of Phyllis Martin and Del Lyon getting married and think how damn cute those two old ladies (who were out lesbians in the 1950s) were.

This is the kind of thing that gets people really excited and then sinks. But you know, it really does mean something to all the queer people in your life if you hear about this and get excited and call your legislators and everything. Not only does it make us all feel a little warm and fuzzy about our friends, but all the legislators on the fence? The ones who aren't sure they can get away with supporting same-sex marriage? Or who don't have much of an opinion but don't want to lose their seats over it? One of the things they look at is how the calls are running. If they get five times as many supportive calls as negative calls, they're going to think they won't get eviscerated for this in the next election, and maybe support the same-sex marriage decision. Or even just not actively oppose it. And that's how things get a little better.

Remember how at the beginning I asked if it was ok to call my state legislator at home? That's how small Iowa is. In a place like that, it's easy to swing a decision by saying something about it. I have a couple of pretty crazy stories about things I did in high school - before I could vote! - that permanently affected state policy. Not just me, of course, but stuff I helped organize.

Hurray for my state! Hurray for political participation!

August 25, 2007

single-issue voting

Health care is the single most important issue in the primary, and maybe in the general election too. Bar none. More important than Iraq, more important than the environment, more important than education or queer rights or feminism or trade agreements or crime or abortion or immigration or whatever the hell else they're talking about these days.

Here's why: it's urgent, and it's distinguishing.

All the Democratic candidates are pro-choice and have sort of moderately pro-environment positions. None of them are going to do a damn thing for education as far as I can tell - and I don't blame them, since I've never heard of a president doing much that's useful for education other than funding it. I sincerely doubt any of the candidates will negotiate any kind of trade agreement that improves the world.

Meanwhile, Iraq is going to be a disaster from hell no matter who's in charge. None of them have any kind of environmental or energy position that will really protect us from peak oil or climate change. Queer rights? Who cares what they think? There's not going to be much done for queer rights at the federal level for at least another ten years. These are not salient issues right now, because there's no real national consensus that something must change in a particular direction. Even immigration, which I think is maybe the next issue up, is something around which there's tremendous conflict at many levels - it's more like same-sex marriage than health care in that way, and the next president will most likely not have the opportunity to enact major reform.

Health care is different. Since 1992, the last time we had a go at health care reform, the insurance situation for middle-class people has worsened dramatically. Even many upper-middle-class people are finding health insurance dramatically expensive or difficult to obtain. I've been thinking back to my American politics classes, which strongly suggest that when something becomes a middle-class issue (and especially an issue that affects the professional and upper middle class), there's an opportunity for policy change. Some of the most popular, least politically touchable programs are the housing subsidy for the middle class (home mortgage interest tax deduction) and Social Security, which provides benefits to people at all income levels and thus has a really broad base. We don't have a health care program, but the current conditions give the next president a major opportunity to create one. I think our health insurance system has become so problematic that it will change substantially within the next 5 years; whatever we get is likely to become politically untouchable, so it better be good.

Conveniently, the candidates have very different plans. Put the Republican candidates aside, as they have plans that I generally find fairly repellent (ranging from Giuliani's tax breaks to Romney's unsupported individual mandate1 to Brownback and Thompson with no plan at all) and I wouldn't vote for them anyway. To spell out what I'm looking for: a plan that will provide us with the major benefits of universal health care enjoyed by all other industrialized nations. Those benefits include better public health outcomes because everyone has access to necessary (and especially preventive) care; and lower costs, both because people get treatment before their conditions get too complicated and because the government has negotiating power with the agents who deliver care and supplies.

Let's look at the three major Democratic Candidates. Obama's plan is too complicated, and I think it's unlikely to lower costs or improve public health outcomes in the way that universal health care in other countries does. Clinton doesn't have a [published] plan, which I think is because she got so badly burned organizing the Bill Clinton health care plan in 1992. She's by far the most experienced and knowledgeable of the three about health care, but I'm concerned that she will have the exact same reticence as president that she now has as a candidate.

Edwards has by far the best plan. It would lower the over-all cost of health insurance by spreading the risk through a wider pool (i.e. everyone), and ensure that everyone could get into that pool by mandating that insurers offer coverage to everyone regardless of health history and with no surcharge for previous health problems. He also spells out how he'll support and fund the plan, and dude, it would work.

Go Edwards go!

1. Romney on mandating that individuals buy health insurance: "I think it appeals to people on both sides of the aisle: insurance for everyone without a tax increase." Hey! Does it really matter whether you pay the money to the insurer or the government? Requiring that people buy health insurance is still a government mandate on how my money be used! I don't so much mind the mandate itself - Edwards's plan includes one - as Romney assuming I can't do the math.

August 20, 2007

so long, Wallyann!

Kitten status: adopted in record time by someone at the vet's office. All us suckers are way relieved that we're not stuck with her.

August 18, 2007

You've always wanted a kitten!

WallyAnn Radio Hegemony Cricket is not my cat. But maybe she's yours! She's 13 ounces of adorable gray fuzz with big blue eyes, bat ears, and a pretty little white nose. Her meow will rip your heart right out of your chest. In fact, she's already suckered 5 people who are determined that they (um, we) do not want a cat into feeding, bathing, and flea-combing her, not to mention taking her home and carting her all over town. Wanna take her home?

August 13, 2007

the importance of math education

There's an article in the New York Times pointing out that it is logically impossible for men and women to have different average numbers of sex partners. Which is a problem, since men and women report significantly different lifetime averages (e.g. 4 sex partners for women, 7 for men in the US, or in Britain 12.7 for men and 6.5 for women). Anyone who is decent at math and remembers the definition of the mean will be able to tell you that in a world with about the same number of men and women, it is impossible for men to have more hetero sex partners than women. Indeed, a mathematician has actually proved it. So, explanations?

1. The researchers say it might be that men have significant numbers of sexual experiences with women who aren't counted in the survey, like prostitutes or women in other countries. That would mean that there's got to be some country somewhere where women have many more sex partners than men, and thus far no one's found it. Also, I question their ability to screen prostitutes out of the survey data.

2. Men and/or women are lying their heads off in what they think are the socially approved directions. I think this is quite likely.

3. Men and women have very different distribution patterns for their data. The mean number of partners must be the same for men and women, but that doesn't mean the median number of partners must be the same. As an example, imagine that there are only 5 men and 5 women in the world, and a total of 13 sexual partnerships. The men have had 0, 1, 3, 4, and 5 sexual partners; the women have had 1, 1, 1, 5, and 5 sexual partners. The mean for both groups is going to be 13/5 = 2.6 partners, but the median number of partners for men is 3, while the median for women is 1. That's a huge percentage difference just because women had a few people with high numbers of partnerships, while most women still had fewer sex partners than most men. Is this likely on a large scale? I don't really think so - it's a lot harder to skew data like that when you're not making it up and there are thousands of people in your data set. But I don't really know, and apparently the social scientists who could find out for us aren't. My best guess still goes to #2.

This is an example of bad math education perpetuating a particular social ill, namely the idea that men get around more than women. To his everlasting credit, the mathematician who inspired the article points out exactly this: that taking this data as accurate works to “reinforce the stereotypes of promiscuous males and chaste females" and may skew self-reporting and behavior. If math education were better, and people understood mean and median and interpreting statistical graphs, and if the news media could therefore publish graphs of the statistics in question, there'd be a lot more ways for people to check stereotypes against reality.

When will those darn math teachers do something about it?

August 12, 2007

authentic schmauthentic

Iowa is a certain kind of hipster heaven. We have trucker hats, dive bars, cowboy boots, soda fountains, and cheap beer. We have craft shows and karaoke.

Only thing is, there aren't any hipsters. This stuff is for real.

August 8, 2007

being home

Everyone talks about the caucuses. Everyone. Instead of "How 'bout that local sports team?" it's "How 'bout that Democratic candidate?" Or occasionally, "Damn, the Republican field is pathetic." Which it is.

I can pretty much do as much running on the bike path down by the river as I want. With the dogs. Best thing ever in the morning? A big fluffy blonde dog and a smaller, sleek brown dog with green eyes chasing rabbits and messing around in the water.

I like my parents but I'm glad I don't live with them.

People remember me. A state rep I volunteered for in college remembers me. My parents' friends want me to move back. Sometimes it's nice to remember that if I want to move back here, there are things I can do.

I drink more here than I drink anywhere else. The average might be down to 2 glasses a night by now, after I cut back a bit. Glass of wine while you cook? Glass of wine with dinner? Go out for a beer with friends? Yeah, I think I'm safe to drive.

Bull testicles. My friend Aroog's birthday party involved bull testicles and karaoke and his little sister trying to get me to go to church with her the next morning. I ate Rocky Mountain oysters (just a smidgen - beans and rice for real dinner), sang "Goodbye Earl" and "Boy Named Sue," and bought Aroog's mom a rum and coke, which is funny because that's what he pours at his infamous New Year's parties. As far as the karaoke went, two of my high school friends have talent. The rest of us have heart.

August 6, 2007

how not to apologize

Michael Ignatieff offers the world's lamest admission of being wrong in the Sunday New York Times Magazine. To summarize: "political judgment is about specifics. But let's not talk about the specifics that could have shown us that this war was a bad bet (and thus help us figure out the next one)! Instead let's talk about general principles of political leadership!"

Ignatieff also says, after quoting Bismarck to the effect that good judgment means you hear the horses of history early, "Few of us hear the horses coming." I saw a debate between Leon Wieseltier and Mark Danner right before the war, and the basic summary of the arguments went as follows: Leon Wieseltier supported the war, arguing that Saddam was really damn bad and Bush was the only chance we had to get rid of him; Danner opposed it, arguing that the Bush administration would do such a bad job with it that it wouldn't be worth it.

Guess who was right?

I think what Iraq actually teaches us is that you can't disregard means. You have to have the whole thing thought through before you're done. And you can't support an entity as incompetent, corrupt, and lawless as the Bush administration to tackle a very complicated, high-stakes WAR.

Which is basically saying that wishing doesn't make it so. I wish Ignatieff - who has a Ph.D. and a political position - would maybe express a little actual remorse for the disastrous war he supported.