Is being a virgin in your 20’s harder than being an Olympic athlete?

According to hurdler, Lolo Jones it sure is.  I actually caught a bit of her recent interview on HBO’s Real Sports, so was quite intrigued to see these rather potent response from Slate’s Emily Shire:

However, Jones also ascribes an irksomely large value to virginity. In the Real Sportsinterview, she said maintaining her sexual purity is “the hardest thing Ive ever done inmy lifeIts harder than training for the Olympics.” For those who don’t know Jones’ remarkable racing history, she is essentially claiming that not having sex is more difficult than training to run 60-meter hurdles in under eight seconds flat; not only is that hyperbolic, but it insults the willpower, strength, and commitment Jones devotes to her sport—or any personal endeavor other than abstinence. Jones places virginity on such an impossibly high pedestal that even the greatest athletic event in the world could not compare with (marital) sex. It is completely understandable that Jones wants to combat the “uncoolness” associated with being a nonsexually active adult, but feeding into a mythical cult of virginity does not help matters. Rewarding chastity only serves to shift rather than resist the flak associated with adult abstinence.

That Jones makes her virginity into a prize is also problematic because it is not ultimately even a decision for herself. Jones stated during the interview that  “Its just a gift I wantto give my husband.”  Really, something that supposedly involves more work and discipline than making the Olympics is for some person you haven’t even met yet? While Jones’ faith in her future spouse is admirable (especially for someone who has braved the online dating world) it’s disheartening that her choice to remain a virgin is not for her own sake, but someone else’s. If virginity is commodified into the “perfect gift,” it becomes about a woman pleasing a man rather than herself, and it is difficult to picture the determined and forceful Jones being that submissive in any other aspect of her life.

You go, girl!  Shire, that is.  I’m no expert on the cult of virginity, but I’m nonetheless fairly confident in concluding that is very much about a patriarchal system in which men “own” women’s sexuality.   That’s not at all to argue that sexual promiscuity is a good thing, but I think Jones’ attitudes about viriginity to reflect an outmoded way of thinking which devalues women’s autonomy.

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Photo of the day

So many cool photos in this Alan Taylor set celebrating the 75th birthday of the Golden Gate Bridge.  If you enjoy photography at all, definitely check out the whole set.  I love the sense of scale in this one:

A surfer rides a wave churned by a winter storm underneath the south tower of the Golden Gate Bridge, on January 4, 2008, in the San Francisco Bay. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Obama’s ad campaign and social science

Meant to get to this Slate piece last week, but, as often happens in life…  Anyway, as long as there’s political ads going on, this remains quite relevant.  It’s basically about how the Obama campaign is using social science to determine what their most effective ads are.  As a social scientist, of course, my basic response is– how cool is that?!  Anyway, here’s what the campaign is up to:

The Obama campaign’s “experiment-informed programs”—known as EIP in the lefty tactical circles where they’ve become the vogue in recent years—are designed to track the impact of campaign messages as voters process them in the real world, instead of relying solely on artificial environments like focus groups and surveys. The method combines the two most exciting developments in electioneering practice over the last decade: the use of randomized, controlled experiments able to isolate cause and effect in political activity and the microtargeting statistical models that can calculate the probability a voter will hold a particular view based on hundreds of variables.

Here’s a single example of how in 2008 the campaign used a classic experimental design to determine the most effective ad:

The Analyst Institute convinced many of the left’s leading institutions that randomized-control trials could be adapted to answer such questions empirically. In March 2008, after John McCain had become his party’s nominee and as Democrats still struggled to pick theirs, the AFL-CIO wanted to determine how to most effectively define the Republican in the eyes of its membership. Working with the Analyst Institute, the AFL’s political department developed three different direct-mail attacks on McCain. One highlighted the senator’s economic-policy agenda and one (called “McBush”) portrayed him as a clone of the unpopular incumbent. A third was presented a testimonial from an old white union electrician and navy veteran who conceded a McCain strength at the outset. “War hero? Absolutely,” the veteran says. “Voice for working families? No way.”

The AFL assigned Ohio union members to one of the three programs, and after mailing them conducted polling interviews with around 1,000 people in each group. Recipients of the “policy” and “McBush” mailers seemed unmoved by the messages they contained: around 38 percent of each universe supported McCain, almost indistinguishable from his support within a control group that had received no contact at all from the AFL. But the “testimonial” left its mark on the Republican candidate: only 32 percent of its recipients said they supported McCain, a drop of 5.6 percent against the control. The AFL made the testimonial a central part of its mail program nationwide.

Pretty cool.  And apparently they are doing this very wide-scale in 2012.   So much better than focus groups which are perhaps a small step up above voodoo.  Now, this is obviously a great idea, and parties/campaigns usually copy great ideas from each other, but I will be quite curious to see if Republicans choose to adopt this very clear social science approach (heck, Political Science apparently isn’t worthy funding via the NSF).

Sugar-sweetened beverages and obesity

So, I’ve been watching HBO’s four-part documentary, “The Weight of the Nation” the past week and it as a sobering and depressing look at just how unhealthy our nation has become in regards to weight.  It’s easy to just blame all the individuals for not being more self-disciplined, but the simple truth is that when you look at the stunning and rise in obesity there is clearly something systematic at work far beyond the decisions of any given individual.  And, when there’s something systematic at work that’s bad for the American public– and its really hard to disagree on that point– then it’s time for the government to step in and do something.  A great start would be to stop subsidizing unhealthy food– as if that could happen any time soon.  And since that won’t happen, government tries other things.  Like trying to reduce intake of sugar-sweetened beverages.

Here’s a popular CDC chart that shows what we’re dealing with weight-wise:

I seem to recall one of the many factoids that of all the correlates with overweight and obesity out there, consumption rates of sugar-sweetened beverages were actually the best predictor of being overweight.  Thus, it certainly would seem that policies to try and cut down on this would be a good thing.  Nonetheless, I’m fairly skeptical of whether NYC’s policy will work and I think you really do have to question where we want to be a society where the government tells you how big your soda cup can be.  I was pondering this while getting my 4th Diet Dr. Pepper (tastes more like regular Dr Pepper!  Love it when fountain outlets have it) refill at the local sub-par pizza joint today and thinking what would they do, say no refills for regular Dr Pepper?  Give me the 20 oz cup because I told them I would fill up with diet but a 16 oz cup if I said I intended to get regular?  Obviously, there’s practical issues with making this work.

Over at Wonkblog, Sarah Kliff relies on some interesting research by Brian Wansink about portion size to argue that this NYC just might work:

Portion size, on the other hand, has consistently been shown to affect how much we eat. In one well-known experiment, Philadelphia moviegoers were given either a medium or large bucket of stale, two-week old popcorn. Those with the large bucket ate 33.6 percent more popcorn, despite the fact it tasted pretty awful. When the package size of a snack food is doubled, calories consumed tend to go up by about a third.

“The more general explanation of why large packages and portions increase consumption may be that they suggest larger consumption norms,” writes Cornell University’s Brian Wansink, who has pioneered much of the research on food portion size. “They implicitly suggest what might be construed as a “normal” or ‘appropriate’ amount to consume.”

Alas, I caught an interview with Wansick on public radio yesterday and he said he didn’t actually think this approach would work and might actually be counter-productive by convincing people that public policy efforts to address obesity are doomed to failure.  NYC is going through with this, so I guess we’ll see.

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