Friday, March 26, 2004

Everything Must Be Required or Banned

The Georgia House of Representatives recently voted to ban female genital mutilation. Most likely, they were rightly appalled at the cultural/religious practice of clitoridectomy. (Were they motivated in part by anti-Arab sentiment? I wouldn’t be surprised, and that’s sad. But on this matter, multiculturalism loses in my book. Cutting up your daughters’ genitals doesn’t become okay because it’s a cultural or religious practice. And yes, I think that about male circumcision, too.) But in a typical example of legislative overreaching, the Georgia state legislators went ahead and banned genital piercing as well, even when voluntarily chosen by adults. Once again, government can’t seem to make that crucial distinction between “inherently wrong” and “wrong because it’s not by choice.”


Thursday, March 25, 2004

What's Not at Stake in the Pledge Debate

This report by Dahlia Lithwickon the oral arguments before the Supreme Court in the Pledge of Allegiance case (a.k.a. Elk Grove United School District v. Newdow) highlights a delicious irony of the “under God” side’s position. The folks who have been beating their breasts about the powerful importance of the phrase “under God” can only win the constitutional debate by admitting the phrase is not really important at all! The key argument in support of their position is that the phrase “under God” is nothing more than ceremonial deism with no real (or at least, no serious) religious connotations. If the phrase carries any more significance than that, the Justices will have little choice but to strike it down as unconstitutional. Having “under God” in the Pledge is either (a) meaningless and constitutional or (b) meaningful and unconstitutional.

Only if the Supreme Court vacates the Circuit Court’s decision on grounds of standing will the “under God” crowd be able to have their cake and eat it, too. No wonder they’ve spent so much time focusing on the standing issue: they don’t want the Court to decide the First Amendment issue at all, because no outcome of that decision would be a favorable one. They just want this case to go away.


Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Lucifer, the Lord's Servant

Radley links to this pants-wettingly funny Onion article, from the Onion’s first post-9/11 issue. The article got me thinking about the economics of the afterlife again. The usual Bible story is that God and the Devil are enemies. But if you think about the functional quality of hell, it would seem that Lucifer still serves the Lord. God wants people to behave virtuously and eschew sin. The pleasures of heaven provide a carrot, the torments of hell provide a stick, and together they constitute a comprehensive incentive program. If Lucifer had really wanted to spite God, wouldn’t he have made hell a glorious paradise? Inquiring minds want to know.

This question seems so obvious that I figure somebody must have asked it before, but I don’t know who.


Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Slip-Sliding Away

You can now access my co-authored (with Mario Rizzo) article on slippery slopes, mentioned in a previous post, without Lexis-Nexis access. I don’t normally advertise my own articles on this page, though perhaps I should – all the other academic bloggers do. But I decided to mention this one since slippery slopes discussions have been popular in the blogosphere lately. And before anyone asks: Yes, I’ve read Eugene Volokh’s article on slippery slopes, which is excellent and cited in Mario’s and my article.


Sunday, March 21, 2004


Steve Landsburg talks about the economics of orgasm (thanks to Alex for the pointer). I can’t improve on Landsburg’s explanation, so just read the article. However, I do think he makes one incorrect inference:

According to the 2000 Orgasm Survey (did you know there was a 2000 Orgasm Survey?), 72 percent of women have faked at least once in their current or most recent relationship, and 55 percent of men say they can tell when their partner's faking.

Apparently someone's deluded, though it's not clear whether it's the woman who overestimates her acting ability or the man who overestimates his perceptiveness.
Hold on, there. It wouldn’t be surprising to find that someone’s deluded, but the statistics cited don’t prove it. 55% is not the percentage of men who think they’ve caught a faker, or the percentage of recent sexual relationships that men perceive to have involved faking. 55% is the percentage of men who say they can detect faking when it occurs, and that is perfectly consistent with 72% of women faking.

For example, assume (for argument’s sake) that the pairing of women and men for sexual relationships is independent of women’s tendency to fake and men’s perceived ability to detect faking. Then the two figures together imply that approximately 40% (55% x 72%) of recent sexual relationship paired faking women with men who thought they could detect faking. If the men are correct about their detection abilities, we should expect 40% of men to have detected faking by their last partner. If a survey indicated that 40% of men had in fact detected faking in their most recent relationship, there would be no particular reason to think any men were deluded about their perceptiveness. If the survey indicated otherwise – if fewer than 40% of men said they had detected faking partners – then we would have evidence that some men are, in fact, deluded about their perceptiveness. (Either way, some men are being fooled, in the sense that some women are faking undetected. But being deluded, as Landsburg uses the term, means overestimating your perceptiveness or acting ability – i.e., thinking you couldn’t have been fooled when you were.)

However, even the evidence of fewer than 40% of men having detected faking by their last partner, if such evidence existed, would be tainted by the independence assumption. It might be that faking women are most likely to stay with men who are easily fooled, because nobody wants to get caught. A countervailing effect would result from women choosing to dump men whose inability to satisfy them leads them to fake more often. The balance of the effects could go either way, but suppose the first effect is larger. Then we would expect to get faking women paired mostly with oblivious men, and non-faking women paired with perceptive men. In this scenario, while there would certainly be many men getting fooled, few people would actually be deluded in Landsburg’s sense of the word, because most or all of the men being fooled would also recognize their lack of perceptiveness.