Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Best Age Difference for Husband and Wife?

By marrying a woman 15 years younger, preindustrial Sami men maximized their surviving offspring
By David Biello

Men marry younger women and women prefer to marry older men, in general. But is it culture, genetics or the environment that drives such a choice—and is there an optimal age difference? New research shows that, at least for the Sami people of preindustrial Finland, men should marry a woman almost 15 years their junior to maximize their chances of having the most offspring that survive.

"We studied how parental age difference at marriage affected [families'] reproductive success among Sami people who married only once in their lifetime[s]," says ecologist Samuli Helle of the University of Turku in Finland. "We found that marrying women 14.6 years younger maximized men's lifetime reproductive success—in other words, the number of offspring surviving to age 18."

Ah, so them Sephardis may have a method to their madness... It's not unusual for Sephardic girls to get married before they're done with highschool - to guys in their 30s.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Oh, what's in a name?

I'm being troubled lately by the huge imposition which the label of "Orthodox" implies. It's true that I've typically used it on my blog to refer to the standard (little c) conservative system of belief, but that actually may be unfair to the rather sizeable portion of people who may identify as Orthodox but do not hold to that system.

And then practically the issue is what ought I call myself. I don't like labels since they only serve to restrict your thinking, but I know I don't fit into any of the categories currently out there in the Jewish world. And I've never really had to worry about this for myself since I don't tend to publicize my views - but as time goes on, more and more curious people play the role of the clever detective and figure me out. So anyway, sure, I take some inspiration from R' Kaplan, but I'm no Reconstructionist. I take some from R' Heschel, but I doubt I would be comfortable in his shul. I take some from R' Soloveitchik and R' Feinstein, but surely with some reservations. I even take plenty from the likes of the Ramchal and the Rambam - but obviously not everything. So what am I?

Sometimes I (half) jest and call myself Post-Denominational. But that's next to meaningless. I also jest sometimes and call myself "Modern orthodox" (big M, small o). But truly speaking, I do suspect that the most accurate label for me might just be where I started from all that time ago, in those years before blogs. A grand Hegelian cycle. And that is Modern Orthodox. Sure, not in the same half-understood sense that I thought back then, but in the truer sense of what Modern Orthodoxy theoretically holds itself to be - a no-holds barred engagement with modernity while maintaining our regular Halacha and traditions. (Though I am sympathetic to Yehudi Hilchati's notions on this topic.)

See, I believe, like so many others in the program of Judaism and the system of Halacha. True, I do take issue with a number of figures who hold positions of authority and some Halachic conclusions they've reached, but at the same time the system has proven the test of time and I'm in no position to buck it.

Now, is it a great label? No. And is there great contestation of what it means? Sure. But like all labels imposed on humankind, the true humans can only approximate into which groups they believe they sit.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Medical Insurance Madness

It's very interesting how one of the primary reasons why those who oppose a national health care plan is because of the believed increased costs and taxation that will go with it. But most people don't seem to realize that per capita the US government already spends more on health care than most other developed countries, including England, France and Canada. It's beaten only by Iceland, Norway, Monaco and Luxemborg (2004 figures). That money comes from your tax dollars and it covers only covers 45% of total health care costs. That's right. You are already getting taxed more than those other nations and are getting only 45% of their return.

On top of that, total US expenditure for the rest of that 55% comes from private insurance, out of pocket, etc. So the total per capita costs in America are 50% - 100% more than what they pay total in other developed nations. You are getting doubly reamed for a medical service that nationally has poorer showings in many respects than those other countries.

In essence, you are already paying the same (or more) taxes for socialized medicine as other nations but are not getting the benefits from it.

Private insurance systems are for profit and do not work for your interests. Additionally, people who cannot afford simple, cheap care for medical problems will do without and will then wait until they need to go to the ER when their costs can be absurdly high. Who do you think foots the bill there? Either US governments who pay for it through taxes or rising medical costs which get passed to you anyway.

As long as we're living in a society which isn't really willing to refuse people medical care, then you are de facto living in a socialized state. You just pay for it in an incredibly inefficient way which raises medical costs, worsens public health and has the private insurance people laughing all the way to the bank as they skim significant administrative costs off the top.

Another big issue that people take are with are with wait times. They hear horror stories of waiting periods in the months for simple medical tests. Now while these are sometimes true, they are most often exaggerations and are typically for optional medical procedures. But in any case, the correct way to look at the issue is essentially through a moral view. Obviously there are limited medical resources so the question is how they get parsed out. In a system like ours, wait times are often kept to a minimum because poor people just aren't getting the care they need. They don't even get on line. It's only because poor people are suddenly are in the waiting rooms that richer people find they have to wait a little longer.

So essentially, the choice is between giving poor people health care or keeping it from them. Wait times are the inevitable effect of having more people able to acquire medical care.

Now, I'm not arguing that having a single-payer system is without its drawbacks. It does invite over-use of the system because if it's free then people will be more eager to use it - even when they really don't need to. It also invites higher expenses in the system in some respects because when given an option between a cheap proven drug and the new expensive one, if people aren't paying for the difference then they're far more likely to choose the more expensive one.

But these are not incredibly difficult deal breaking issues. They can be dealt with in other ways, but the overall view of the US medical system in view of economics and morality seems to fall heavily on the side of a single-payer system. The for-profit insurance companies work at cross-purposes to actual medical care since they only care about profits while, simply, good medical care can be expensive. And a lot of people in need are either given the run around to save costs, are dropped from service or simply cannot get coverage in the first place. Competition for medical insurance drives up costs for administration, advertisement and political "gifts" that have nothing to do with medicine. It's simply a bad system.