Thursday, May 27, 2010

"Some Dreams Are Bad Dreams"

After hearing a very poor graduation speech Wednesday, I read a very good one today. Two big messages:

"Some dreams are bad dreams."

Do not live each day as though it is your last.

The two things do go together. Lots of personal triumphs are the realization of dreams that hurt other people (financially, emotionally, or physically). Actions have consequences. If this is your last day then they don't. It may be worth turning that around and asking people to live as if each day was the last for another person, but probably not. It's a good speech. Go. Read.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Frustrating Conversations

In speaking with someone regarding the AZ law I had mentioned that the sheriff from the Tuscon area (Pima county) has, as part of his jurisdiction, a decent stretch of the Mexico-US border, and that he opposes the new law. At the same time the Phoenix area Sheriff (Maricopa county) who supports the law is a ways in from the border. I was told that I was wrong and was ranted at for having an opinion but not even knowing the geography. The geography, by the way, is shown above. How wrong was I? A little. I would have place Phoenix closer to Flagstaff, and the edge of Maricopa county is only ~40 miles from the boarder at closest approach even though Phoenix is more like 130 miles.

I recognize that illegal immigration is not confined to the border, but the border is the point of conflict. That is the line that drug smugglers are trying to get across. That is where security forces will be working. That is where the rancher was killed (maybe by an illegal immigrant). I recognize that Tuscon is super liberal and all, but I'm pretty sure that their sheriff wants low crime, not high, and that he is far more likely to have to deal with boarder related crime, and that his opinion on the matter, therefore, holds a bit more sway to me. I'll grant that if it were the other way around I would likely make a different argument (something along the lines of how the Maricopa sheriff seems to strive for attention like Sarah Palin, and that he doesn't seem to care so much about solving the problem as bitching about it), but I digress.

I didn't know the AZ geography perfectly, but I had it right so far as the point I was making goes. Criticism leveled against what I had wrong is more an indication that the counter position is weak, or that the person who is posing it cannot adequately express its strengths.

Also, for the record, I think that Bush's push for immigration reform was good. It was one of the very small number of things that I agreed with him on (and strongly agreed at that). It was not derailed by Democrats, but by Republicans like Tancredo.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Sentence Failure

In the effort to condense complex ideas and thoughts into something for this blog I (often) end up with impossible to decipher sentences. There were a few in the gender discrimination article. Mostly what I wanted to say is that the pay gap is a symptom of gender discrimination, but not in a "evil sexist companies" way.

Evidence to my perspective popped up on CNN today in this article on women making more money than their (male) spouses. Until that article is not newsworthy, or even odd seeming to many people, there will be a pay gap. That has less to do with evil sexist hiring/salary practices and more to do with the way that we perceive roles for men and women as a society. That the article is news is still a problem, but what it says indicates that things are getting better.

This perception issue resonates across all gender issues (including the violent/angry sexism which is still around).

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Vitamin D

The main reason anyone doesn't get enough is because we (collectively) spend too much time not outside. On top of that we tend to slather on loads of sunscreen when we do go out meaning that we don't get our Vitamin D even then. Now this study saying infants are Vitamin D deprived, especially breast fed infants.

That breast fed infants are not getting enough Vitamin D should tell people that we are insanely over paranoid about going outside and the possibility of getting burned. Not that we should have to give an infant a dietary supplement. I know that there are dangers of overexposure to UV and that it is worse than it was 1000 years ago, but it is also overblown. If you are sensible about going outside--don't be outside in the sun from 12-3 unless you have to and then keep covered first use sunscreen second, don't wait until mid summer and 90 degree weather to get sun, if you skin starts to feel warm get in or under cover, ...--then there shouldn't be a problem.

It only takes 15 minutes of exposure to get your Vitamin D. Supplementing this is insanity, not good practice.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Hornet's Nest Being Kicked

When it comes to the gender pay gap, I'm very conflicted, mostly because I'm male.

First off, according to the linked report there are "legitimate" things that cover a good portion of the difference (80%). The remainder, the authors say, can be reasonably contributed to gender discrimination. Seeing as the resulting gender pay difference is only 5% one year out of college (women make 95% of what men make in the same professions), I'll buy that.

I will, unfortunately, follow that with: it isn't really possible to control for everything: imagine two companies that do the same thing, but one pays employees 20% more and is 90% male while the other pays less and is 50% male. Even if size and all other perks are the same, the former company is male dominated and might have a harder time attracting and keeping women (even if they were to favorably hire them). Of course, this is still gender discrimination, as the other company is effectively taking advantage of the fact that they can get top tier women at 80% the price by having more of them to start out with. This is still a problem.

I suppose what I never feel is well addressed is the question "What does 'gender discrimination' mean specifically?" The authors don't really answer that question effectively and that means their solutions to closing the pay gap end up short. So while many of their solutions make sense and are good, some, however, seem based on their own acceptance of societal gender discrimination.

Particularly when it comes to a few issues. So long as child care is perceived as benefiting women's employment it is likely to hurt their paychecks with respect to men's. Same with family leave. Same with using hours as the primary measure of productivity. Simply proposing these things as solutions is conceding that women can't achieve the same pay level without these aids which men don't need that cost companies money. I don't believe that.

I don't expect to be paid as much if I don't work as many hours as someone else. I don't expect to be paid as much if I require more time off per year for family or medical emergencies. I wouldn't expect to be paid as much if I have a child and make (use of) the company provided day care.

But those are all related to societal gender discrimination, not workplace. We happen to live in a society that believes men are more valuable in the workplace in part because it believes men are less valuable at home and as parents.

It is very likely that workplace gender discrimination is still prevalent (particularly going back in time) but so long as it is socially ingrained it won't go away. Things that force the issue do--rightly or wrongly--make men angry. If we can reach a point where men see things like day care at work and family leave as being of great benefit to them, and if we can reach a point where a man who is a stay-at-home dad taking care of the house and kids is not thought of as "unmanly" and if we can reach a point where a woman who works is not considered a horrible mother and if we can reach a point that a woman who marries down the economic ladder does not seem odd, then we will be able to have gender pay equity.

It is possible, of course, that forcing pay equity through pro female gender discrimination is an effective and good method to doing this. But pretending that those solutions are somehow fair in a world that they are required only to produce fairness for women, and not that they are a different form of gender discrimination required because of the gender discrimination that is societal is just dishonest.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Housing and Inflation

Been playing with this.

I don't generally believe that thinking of a house as an investment is the right way to think. I mean, it is one, but it's not really a good one. When house prices are not being boosted by bankers gone wild they only grow at the same rate as wages (which is approximately that of inflation...most of the time). But what they really do is hedge your monthly living expenses against inflation.

If I buy a house now on a 30 year mortgage, my "rent" will stay static for 30 years then drop precipitously. Taxes are likely to change, so that isn't completely right, but that change is small compared to rents. Rents, like houses, tend to inflate with wages, but unlike houses, rents are locked in a year at a time. So next year, rent goes up, my mortgage doesn't. Same the year after and the year after that.

If I can have a mortgage payment that is only a little more than an equivalent rent (my mortgage is about the same or a little less than an equivalent rent) then I start gaining on the up front costs of purchasing after a few years. This is true whether or not the "value" of my house is increasing at a similar rate, or at all, and maybe even if it is falling.

People who plan on moving every 2-5 years don't necessarily get this benefit since the upfront costs to purchase takes a few years to wipe out and in the present economy will likely take a bit longer than normal.

To me this is one of the most important reasons to purchase. I like reading, but many of the rent vs own arguments I see there relate to immediate financials and not long term. If I can purchase a place at $2k/mo (mortgage + taxes + pmi/other) and rent the exact same place for $1700/mo it may look like renting is better (especially when factoring in closing costs), but that only holds for the short term.

This argument, of course, falls flat if we face deflation rather than inflation. So it is still a gamble, but even if you only listen to inflation skeptics (those that don't think we are likely to see high inflation starting in a year to a few years) you won't find many people arguing that we are likely to see much deflation, and that what we do see won't last. In fact many of the same people who have been arguing against buying houses (prices still need to come down!) also argue for buying gold! When it comes to a good hedge against inflation, historically, stocks do better than gold. Investments, however, are with extra money (what you don't need to live on) a is a way to use your monthly shelter payment (rent) as an additional hedge against inflation, and also maybe even as an investment (albeit a weak one).

This argument also falls flat if you buy a house at the wrong time and place, like, say 4 years ago in California. People who bought at the peak of the market may never recover their investment. Of course, people buying then were having to pay much more than what the equivalent rent would be.