Tag Archives: Responsibility

Letter re:”Laissez-Faire Meets the Oil Spill”

Dear Editor:

Thomas Frank ended his list of questions regarding the oil spill by stating that, absent answers from the right, “for now, we are all liberals” (“Laissez-Faire Meets the Oil Spill,” The Tilting Yard, June 2). This conception defines “liberal” as the presumption that government is separate from citizenry, and citizenry separate from leadership.

Frank is correct in noting that when disaster strikes sheep tend to look towards their shepherd. It is tempting to solicit government apologies and centrally-organized hair donations to sop up the spill. It was not so long ago that we sheep voted for change. This disastrous spill presents an opportunity for a new kind of shepherd.

Just this week the Obama Administration presented conflicting messages as slippery as oil itself, a contradiction that permits BP the chance to exploit government dollars rather than bear the responsibility for its actions. It makes no sense for a shepherd to “assume full responsibility” for the incentives that caused a disaster even while the shepherd’s administration serves oil execs with subpoenas.

Indeed, Frank characterizes “liberalism” as the urge to find somebody to blame. Finger-pointing does not lead to solutions. The urge to panic will not absorb thousands of tons of spilled oil. Blame has not catapulted Detroit to economic rebound. No shepherd can protect children from being left behind.

Perhaps in moments of uncertainty we all are indeed temporarily “liberals.” These are the moments that separate the sheep from the shepherds. It is in these moments that those shepherds among us must stand up and focus on the solution. No amount of blame can substitute for true responsibility and leadership, as “illiberal” as those concepts may be.

Kathryn Ciano

Arlington, VA


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Nature and Nurture

This week it’s all about Nature Versus Nurture

First we saw this evidence that women on the Pill — a big dose of estrogen — find themselves attracted to men that would not be as attractive without that hormonal push. Not only does the Pill quell the natural ebb and flow of a woman’s monthly mentality; it actually inhibits women’s ability to interpret male pheromones.

This effect gets magnified by the fact that courtship is all about the combination of pheromones — “chemistry” — and behavioral cues. Women naturally experience an emotional and mental shift throughout the course of the month. When women quash that hormonal flux with a stabilizing hormone super-dose we lose the peaks and troughs.

Unlike their sisters in the animal kingdom, human females don’t openly advertise their ovulation. But even without a human version of the baboon’s bright pink behind, signs of fertility sneak out, according to several studies. Subconsciously, women dress more provocatively and men find them prettier when it’s prime time for conception. And a report from the University of New Mexico demonstrates that the cyclic signs have economic consequences.

Psychologist Geoffrey Miller and colleagues tapped the talent at local gentlemen’s clubs and counted tips made on lap dances. Dancers made about $70 an hour during their peak period of fertility, versus about $35 while menstruating and $50 in between.

Women on the pill averaged $37 (and had no performance peak) versus $53 for women off-pill. The contraceptive produces hormonal cues indicating early pregnancy, not an enticing target for a would-be suitor. Birth control could lead to many thousands of dollars lost every year.

Libby suggests we “consider the pill’s trade-offs: Sure, you can have sex pretty much whenever you want, but you’re seemingly less likely to be in the mood, less able to capture male attention, and when you do finally hook up, it’s with a guy you probably don’t even like!”

The second hormone news this week concerns testosterone. Booth b-school at UChicago provides hard evidence both that testosterone levels directly govern relationships to risk and that that governance comes as a function of thresholds. Self-selecting students who come to Booth’s monolithic investment bank-focused program end up leaving in two groups: most men go into investment banking, while just over a third of women enter the same field.

Someone with a testosterone level of 150 will not be more risk-seeking than someone w/ a level of 140, but both will be infinitely more likely to take a high-pay, high-risk position than someone w/ testosterone at under 100. This binary “threshold” function contributes hugely to the idea that men and women simply seek different exposures to risk.

If most women come under a threshold that most men exceed then obviously the risk-seeking behavior of the two groups will fall into statistically-significant differential groups. I don’t blame women for not chasing the hedge fund lifestyle, but I do wonder how many women sought a highly “competitive” program and then  became frustrated at themselves for deciding midway through that they are more risk averse than they thought.  This decision is not unique to women, but the statistics suggest that women decide against the risks more than twice as often as do men.

dali girl windowTaking artificial hormones masks people’s ability to get an objective grip on what we’re feeling. Important here to note that it’s not just women who go through monthly cycles, or who struggle against risk-averse instincts at work; studies suggest that actually men are more prone to cyclic mood shifts than are women, but because the shifts are not physical men are less inclined to notice or track these moods.  And ask any man in this economy whether he’d trade part of his salary for job security and it’s quickly obvious that we all find ourselves on some deck of this same boat.

Knowing that a given bandwagon carries certain hormonal implications, we should provide for these shifts. If we’re not on the Pill, we should realize that we’ll be quicker to temper that last day, and accordingly treat ourselves to deep breaths. If on the Pill, we should realize that we’ll likely find ourselves drawn differently to certain male traits, and experiment with dosages before committing to a man we may well find less attractive when we enter that baby-making window.

Similarly, if we’re in a drag race program where only the most risk-friendly survive, we should consider how much we really enjoy risk, and whether we’d be happier at, say, Harvard, an equally prestigious but more leadership-oriented, less bank-focused (and therefore less risk-dependent) program.

What bothers me about the way these studies are presented and advertised is the underlying familiar assumption that women are helpless to resist. Yes, the nature of hormones blinds us to their effects on our bodies. But women in this year 2009 are sophisticated actors with all of this knowledge under our belts. Perhaps I find my eyes welling up at Hallmark commercials (or, more appropriately, media re politics and the economy) during a given week, but I’m aware enough of the science behind it that I’m not overwhelmed. I don’t blame my body. It’s simply not about being one sex or another, but rather about the choices we make within those physical bounds.

I’m not sure that we do properly compensate for the effects we should be sophisticated enough to anticipate.  With regards to the estrogen studies, I suggested last week that perhaps this “estrogen effect” has contributed to our growing divorce rate. It makes sense that with rising Pill use, prevalent, temporary birth control that stops at marriage and influences attraction would lead to widespread divorce.

Add to that the statistical evidence that it’s women who initiate most splits, and it seems that the link between widespread Pill use at courtship age and rising divorce rates is not as tenuous as we’d like to think.  Even if we should by now be in a position to anticipate changes over time, we are not acting to create the appropriate cushions to ease those anticipated blows as they come.

This is mostly interesting from an academic perspective. But for women I’d draw the same conclusion I always draw: Pay attention to the factors. Be sophisticated about decisions. And enter every relationship — as much with hormones and significant others as with higher education — with an understanding of who you are and what you want.

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Police Checkpoints at Home

What starts with “P” and ends with “olicestate”?

Rather: What happens when a federal jurisdiction attempts to police a bunch of individuals lacking in any intermediate municipal governance or representative voice in that federal rule?

The WaPo reports:

A civil liberties group pressed its challenge of D.C. police checkpoints yesterday, asking an appeals court to overturn a ruling last year that cleared the way for authorities to continue using the tactic.

Whoa, what kind of judge would so glibly pave the way to hell with good intentions? Ohhh, Judge Leon, what a tangled web you weave; if only we were dealing with enemy combatants, then maybe you would ask for some stricter scrutiny in examining whether or not we should be subject to federal checkpoints in our backyard.

In October, U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon refused to grant an injunction and strongly endorsed the checkpoints.

What do residents of Da Capitol think about this? Well, absent political responsibility to a voting constituency there’s really no conclusive way to find out. Well played, DC! You have closed that last pesky “federalism” loophole on accountability!

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Whatever Happened to Plan A?

Early this week the Food and Drug Administration will announce a new plan to lower the required age for obtaining the “Morning After” pill without a doctor’s prescription from 18 to 17.

Plan B is a godsend for women whose birth control unexpectedly fails.  But offering a reprieve for adult women is quite different from embarking on a slippery slope of “morning after” options to younger and younger women.  Shouldn’t we be teaching the next generation of women about the many options available to them at Plan A, like choosing a partner and using birth control, rather than teaching them that they only need face the music the Morning After?

For all of the hue and cry surrounding Plan B’s post-2006 availability, the pill’s increased availability has had no measurable effect on the nation’s teenage pregnancy or abortion rates.  While many variables contribute, those statistics demonstrate that before women had OTC access, they were not suffering from widespread pregnancies and abortions that were finally prevented with the 2006 measures.  Instead, women were somehow finding other measures to protect themselves prior to 2006, and in 2006 they switched to the morning after method.

While successful in 2006 at making Plan B available over the counter to women over age 18, supporters have long hoped to make the morning after pill available to all women, regardless of age.  “Any person who is sexually active should have access to plan B when plan A doesn’t work,” said associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Stanford University Medical Center Kay Daniels in a 2006 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle.  “In fact, any woman who comes to me and says she uses condoms, I say, ‘That’s great, and here’s your prescription for Plan B.  Fill it and put it in your closet.’”

Indeed, a couple trying to conceive stands only about an 82% change of becoming pregnant.  Various “Plan A” choices decrease the possibility of pregnancy to as low as 1%, if using condoms or the Pill.  Plan B merely represents the last bastion in the stand women may take to protect themselves form unwanted pregnancy, starting with refusing a second cocktail and ending, ceremoniously, the morning after.

The FDA’s announcement represents compliance with a federal drug’s order to lower the age limit by a year, the beginning of what may well be a very slippery slope.  On March 23, District Judge Edward Korman ordered that Plan B be made available over the counter to those 17 and up, and recommended that federal agents consider lifting age requirements altogether.  Judge Korman suggested that politicians had too long focused on politics rather than science in creating artificial age requirements for a drug that would not harm a 17 year old woman any more than it would a woman 18 or older.

Young women should take note that this further step towards protecting our reproductive rights does not alleviate the requirement that we consider our actions.  Yes, we may easily thwart unintended consequences.  But the fact that sales of Plan B have doubled since the pill became available over the counter in 2006 suggests that women are not stopping to consider their options at Plan A, but merely relying on the morning-after choices to protect themselves.

While “Plan A” includes such measures as condoms and prescription birth control, a more important element in women’s reproductive rights is our ability to determine when and with whom we will have sex.  Widely available morning after options merely lower the bar for decision-making at the critical moment when a woman decides whether or not she wishes to sleep with her partner.  Choice is a tremendous boon, but only if women consciously make that choice.

Making morning after choices so widely available to young teenagers changes the terms of this debate.  If parents forego birth control discussions in favor of abstinence-only talks, teens will more likely engage in unsafe practices and rely on Plan B the next day.  Plan B does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases.  Nor does Plan B protect young women in high school from the potential pitfalls of engaging before they are ready.

The fact that sales of Plan B increased so dramatically since becoming available over the counter suggests that women are relying on Plan B as their Plan A.   Rather than wait for Prince Charming—or even carry a condom!—women have begun counting on their morning after choices rather than engaging in the series of choices that are still available to us.  The fact that neither pregnancy nor abortion numbers have changed confirms that women have maintained the status quo: using only one method.  At one time that one method was waiting for Mr. Right.  Then for a long time women carried protection and used it properly.  Now, however, the statistics indicate that women prefer to forego those traditional methods.

Reproductive rights are only empowering if women choose to empower themselves.  Women should maintain a high bar for selectivity and not rely on Plan B to replace Plan A.  It is one thing for an adult to make these choices.  But shouldn’t we at least suggest to the next generation that they have a series of choices, up to and, yes, including, the morning after?

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Modern Responsibility

Dear Editor,

Please find a response to Mr. Howard’s commentary regarding modern law and waning American freedom below.  I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Howard that the Responsibility Age is a positive part of the “Yes, We Can” era, and I was thrilled to read his article.  I would like to add a focus on the fact that “Responsibility” requires individual responsibility, rather than just subscription to a collective choice.  Many members of my generation have mindlessly repeated that “Yes, We Can” without realizing that “we” is nothing more than a series of individuals fully responsible for what we do.  I remain a fan of your commentary page for great articles like this one, focusing on real values.  Thank you very much for your time.


Our free choice has been usurped by a carrot, not a stick. Philip K. Howard observes (”How Modern Law Makes Us Powerless,” Opinion, Jan. 26) that our modern, litigious age has created a pervasive sense of “powerlessness.” Americans, once ambitious leaders of the free world, are now rule-followers, impotent in the “shoving match” that has replaced “the power of personal conviction and the authority to use [our] common sense.”

But it is the promise of reward, not threat of punishment, which imperils President Obama’s “Responsibility” era. In today’s economy, those corporations that tread the right side of the line are rewarded with huge “stimulus” checks, rescuing them from bankruptcy obtained by their own fiscal irresponsibility. Even bipartisan opposition cannot stop a totally unified government, as we learned when the House passed still more bail-out checks over united Republican opposition.

The “Responsibility Age” should be an age of individual responsibility, where each citizen takes responsibility for his own actions. If individuals lose track of their personal responsibility in the crush of “Yes, We Can,” we begin to forget that “we” is nothing more than many voices saying “I.”

Mr. Howard correctly identifies that the forgotten component to freedom is that the legal boundaries preventing men from doing certain things (like stealing) also protect a frontier where “men should be inviolable.” If individuals permit a collective “we” to usurp the crucial responsible components – “I” – we will perpetuate the “legal maze” and continue to violate each person’s ability to take responsibility for his or her own actions. We should remember that we are not powerless, unless we continue to trade our responsibility for the carrot of collective choice. If we take responsibility for our actions now, yes we can protect what is best about America.

Kathryn Ciano


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Teach a Man to Fish

A letter I mailed today:

If you give a man a fish, he will eat for a day.

If you teach a man to fish, he will eat for a lifetime.

Ben Bernanke, I thought you believed in America’s ability to learn to fish.

Our bipartisan system―with all of its flaws―splits across this point. Obama’s plan to “spread the wealth around” suggests taking from those who have learned to fish to in favor of those who will not learn. Taking a pole―or a plunger―from someone who has learned in order to “redistribute” to one who has not will not result in more fish for everyone; it will result in thousands of unused poles. College graduates have already seen a decline in job prospects. Restricting jobs from the top in favor of wealth redistribution at the bottom only deepens this gaping equity hole and ensures more desperate measures to come from a unilaterally Keynesian government.

While McCain is not perfect, his economics rely on the uniquely American disdain for a free lunch. Party lines aside, the Federal Reserve Chairman’s lack of propriety in endorsing a candidate (”Bernanke Endorses Obama,” Review & Outlook Oct. 21) indicates that he has lost faith in our ability to provide for ourselves. Encouraging everyone to eat for free perpetuates free riding and only ensures that soon there will be no lunch for anyone.

If 300 million Americans all simultaneously rescind individual responsibility for our own futures, we are in for one heck of a ride. Americans, pick up your poles, get learning, and get fishing!

Kathryn Ciano, Arlington, VA

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