# Statistics and Penis Sizes

I want to discuss human penis sizes. But I’m going to do my best to be dignified about it. I don’t bring it up for its shock value. It is rather that I noticed something that I think is really interesting about the subject. It all started with an Aaron Carroll post over at The Incidental Economist, Penis Size and Suicide: Two Unrelated Stories. The news about penis sizes is from a research paper in BJUI, Am I Normal? A Systematic Review and Construction of Nomograms for Flaccid and Erect Penis Length and Circumference in Up to 15,521 Men. The remarkable thing is just how unremarkable human penises are.

Let’s start with the facts. The length of erect penises are 5.17 ± 0.65 inches. The circumference of erect penises are 4.59 ± 0.43 inches. What’s interesting here is not the lengths but rather the standard deviations. What we know about a normal distribution is that 95% of all individuals will fall within plus or minus two standard deviations. So 95% of all men have penis lengths between roughly 3.9 and 6.5 inches. If you want to get way out into the weeds of pretty much everyone you’ve ever known, 99.7% of all men have penis lengths between roughly 3.2 and 7.1 inches. The girth of penises is even more constrained: 3.3 and 5.9 inches.

Now you may be wondering where Jonah Falcon fits into all of this. He apparently has a 13.5 inch long penis. Sadly, I have no data on the circumference. But 13.5 inches represents a staggering 13 standard deviations from average. To give you so idea of just how outrageous that is, seven standard deviations represent a one in 400 billion chance. And why did I quote seven and not 13? Because the error function failed in OpenOffice after seven. So basically, the odds are astronomically small.

Does that mean that the statistics from the study are wrong? No. It means that statistics just aren’t that useful when you get way out on the tail of a function. The numbers are probably about right. And what this means is that our general mythology of the penis is wrong. I’m glad to hear that. I wish we would stop mythologizing the penis altogether. I don’t think it is just a sign of my heterosexuality that I think the penis is kind of creepy. But it reminds of a joke by a female comedian decades ago, who said that of course women were bad at math because men were always telling them that this (she indicated about three inches with her fingers) was eight inches. There is undoubtedly much truth to that.

But just as the man with an eight inch penis seems to be mostly a myth (especially if he announces it), so is the idea that women don’t care about penis sizes. According to a study out of UCLA, in one-time sexual encounters, women prefer men with penis of greater girth. For long term relationships, they seem to care more about men with jobs. Be that as it may, you can read all about why this would be (it ain’t complicated) at Medical Daily, What Women Want: Penis Size Matters for One-Night Stands, but Not Long-Term Relationships.

So there you have it: all the statistics you ever wanted to have about penis sizes. As for me, I’m just glad I don’t have to strap my penis down before I go out like Jonah Falcon does. I consider it enough of a nuisance as is.

# We Should Treat Everyone Like Marty Stroud III

By now many have read and been moved by the extraordinary mea culpa published in the Shreveport Times by a man named Marty Stroud III, who more than thirty years ago sent Glenn Ford to die for a crime he did not commit…

Yet as these narratives become more ubiquitous, they also expose a nagging hypocrisy. If we are drawn to such expressions of penitence and moral clarity, if we see them as brave or enlightened or even noble, why don’t we grant people in prison the same potential for change? Why have we abandoned rehabilitation, once supposedly central to the mission we call “corrections,” and replaced it with the longest sentences on the planet? Why do we give people who do bad things so few pathways toward redemption? Is it too much to consider that murderers in prison are as complex and human as people who kill in the name of the state? …

Even as more states abolish the death penalty, we have installed in its place different forms of permanent punishment, astoundingly long sentences that deny people’s ability to evolve — or even the human tendency to “age out” of crime. Today, one in nine US prisoners, including people convicted as juveniles, are currently serving a life sentence, according to [PDF] the Sentencing Project, and “those with parole-eligible life sentences are increasingly less likely to be released.” More people than ever are serving life with no possibility of parole — including thousands for nonviolent offenses, as the ACLU found in a major study in 2013. In Shreveport, Louisiana, where Glenn Ford was wrongly sentenced to die, a lesser known man named Sylvester Mead was sentenced to die in prison after he drunkenly threatened a cop while handcuffed in the back of a police car. As I noted at The Nation, Mead’s own trial judge argued that his offense “does not warrant, under any conscionable or constitutional basis, a life sentence.” Yet “Mead’s prosecutor appealed multiple times seeking a harsher sentence because of his old convictions.” We can try to construe this as justice. But like Marty Stroud in 1984, this was a prosecutor bent on winning…

If there is room for redemption at all — and if we are honest about addressing the crisis of mass incarceration — we must start by recognizing that the 2.3 million people we have put behind bars are no less human than the rest of us. That includes many who have done terrible things. What if we gave more prisoners a second chance, some meaningful shot at parole — an opportunity to redefine their legacy, like Marty Stroud did when he sat down to write to the Shreveport Times? What kind of human potential might they reveal? …

“Looking back at that period of time in my life, I was not a very nice person,” Marty Stroud admits about the man he was when he sent Glenn Ford to die. Few seem to doubt his sincerity. How many people in prison would say the same about their own worst mistakes? Would we listen?

# Income Inequality Apologetics

There he was at the top of the column on “innovation” in The Washington Post — every dimwit’s idea of the ultimate innovator: Steve Jobs holding up an iPhone. I don’t really understand why it is that people always think that flashy products like smart phones are the true signs of innovation when it is actually more mundane things like container ships and washing machines that have had the biggest effects on our lives. But I know this much is true: when people talk about innovation, they are usually spouting nonsense. Talk of innovation is usually some form of apologetics for aspects of the economy that don’t work right.

The specific column I’m referring to is George Will’s Wednesday outing, How Income Inequality Benefits Everybody. He started the article by discussing how sweatshop labor in China gives Americans a raise because of all that cheap “apparel, appliances and other stuff.” That’s true as far as it goes, as I recently discussed in, Middle Class Is Dying Because of US Policy. But the really expensive and important stuff is not available via Chinese sweatshop labor. Of course, Will isn’t interested in how globalization is making us all wealthy (perhaps because it isn’t). He wants to argue that income inequality here at home is really to all our benefit.

Will is a shockingly boring writer. Here is his list of billionaires: Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Dell, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs. Interestingly, I have a low opinion of each one of these guys. From the non-innovation of Facebook, which is not worth nearly what it is valued at, to the tax evasion that drives Amazon, to the legal bullying that makes Apple a profitable company, these are not guys who have changed the world. Will then referred to “iPod, iPhone, and iPad” as “unique products.” That’s like calling a cool new brand of jeans a unique products. And finally, he wrote that the price of the iPhone has come down. It has not. It’s submental.

The rest of the article is an introduction to John Tamny’s upcoming book, Popular Economics: What the Rolling Stones, Downton Abbey, and LeBron James Can Teach You about Economics. But you don’t need to read the book — or George Will’s column — because it is just what you heard month after month during Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. These wonderful innovators are only there to help us: “when the wealth gap widens, the lifestyle gap shrinks.” And monopolies decrease prices. And the Rolling Stones moved to France because their taxes were 83%. The implication, I guess, is that this means we must lower the top marginal tax rate to 15%. Also: cheery picked numbers rock and opportunity costs don’t exist. Also: the Rolling Stones never would have recorded Let It Bleed if they hadn’t known there were hundreds of millions of dollars to be made.

There are a couple of things that I find fascinating about these excursions into income inequality apologetics. The first is that the arguments are meant to imply conservative policy. But they don’t. People like Will and Tamny seem to be arguing with communists in the 1920s. No one is calling for a 90% top marginal tax rate. But somehow, for these people, if dropping the top tax rate from 90% to 50% is a good idea, dropping it to 15% is a better idea. It just makes no sense, but then it isn’t based about rationality; it is based upon a desire to further enrich their class. Everything flows from that.

The other interesting thing is how conservatives claimed for so long that income inequality wasn’t a thing. Sure, the rich were getting richer, but so were the poor. But now that this myth has been completely destroyed, the conservatives just come up with another argument for why we shouldn’t worry about income inequality. Now they argue that income inequality rocks! We should love it because we can buy five dollar t-shirts at Walmart. We may die from an abscessed tooth, but that’s a small price to pay for all the cheap junk we have access to.

Conservatives will always argue that we do nothing about economic inequality — or that we make it worse. The reasons for this will change. Two centuries ago, they would have argued that God wants it that way. Today they argue it is good for the poor. But the main thing is that the conclusions never change. That’s the nature of apologetics. Let’s just not mistake it for economic or political analysis.

# Middle Class Is Dying Because of US Policy

Noah Smith is such a brilliant guy, I have no idea why he wrote, Guess What’s Destroying the Middle Class? He started with the silliest notion that there are three reasons why middle class wages are falling: robots, unions and China. I realize that there are a lot of people who talk about this, but don’t we all know that it is a little more nuanced than that? That it isn’t that simple? If you asked me, I would say that the primary reason for falling wages is something else entirely: the new normal coming into 2001 was that middle class wages were stagnant. The difference between stagnant and falling wages is just a matter of degrees. The capitalists in America have gotten even better at siphoning off profits.

There is nothing especially new about this; it’s been going on for forty years. And robots, unions, and China are all symptoms of the larger problem. And the larger problem is that the government has had it out and continues to have it out for the middle class. Let’s do a little Dean Baker 101. High paying jobs in America moving to low paying jobs in China should also reduce the cost of living for Americans. And indeed: televisions are cheaper. But what isn’t cheaper? Healthcare, legal support, college educations. And that’s because we haven’t subjected workers in those fields to the same globalization. And that is a choice that was made by the power elite for the power elite.

I agree with Smith that the robots story is weak. There is a larger problem, however. Our policies allow the owners of capital to capture more and more profits. Robots help in that regard. But technological improvements were arguably as fast during the 1950s as they are today. And we did not see more and more money going to the capital side of the economy at that time. I think that unions are clearly a bigger issue. But even they aren’t huge. I still think the bigger issue is the way that norms have changed. These now allow billionaires to think they deserve their money and don’t owe anything back to society. And this has ripple effects all through the nation, not the least of which being the low taxes on the extremely wealthy.

What really amazed me about the article was Smith’s fatalism with regard to the problem. He concluded that the problem was China — and I think that’s clearly a simplistic way of looking at income inequality — was so fundamental that the only thing that we can do is nothing. “The only solution to the problem of globalization may be to wait.” Chinese wages are increasing. So soon, all those factories will move to India. And then there won’t be any super-large countries for our patriotic companies to run to. In other words: don’t worry American middle class; your wages will rise in just another forty years!

(There’s something I don’t exactly understand with this reasoning. I thought that he was using China as a metonymy for the whole of globalization. But he seems to mean it literally. And apparently, only India can take over China. Somehow, a bunch of countries in Africa wouldn’t work. I don’t understand that, but I don’t suppose it really matters.)

A big problem with the people who claim that robots or education are the only things that are responsible for economic inequality is that these reasons are used as an excuse for doing nothing — or for arguing that there is nothing that can be done. But that is the conclusion that Smith draws from his China hypothesis. And this is strange, because like I said, he’s a brilliant guy. There is no reason for fatalism. The state of the American middle class is not the result of forces beyond our control; it is the result of our own policy choices.

# Morning Music: Oh! My Pa-Pa

When I was a kid, I loved the television show Mister Ed. The show ended before my second birthday, so clearly, I saw it in syndication. It is still pretty much the archetype of the kind of comedy that I most enjoy. Mister Ed is basically a puppet character. Indeed, the 1980s television show ALF was just Mister Ed with one change: ALF was a really unappealing character. Mister Ed was charming, if difficult at times.

In one episode, Mister Ed wanted to go to the circus because his father “worked” for it and he had not seen his father since he was little. (Or at all. I don’t actually remember.) For some reason, Wilbur would not take him. So in order to make Wilbur feel guilty, Mister Ed sang the song, “Oh! My Pa-Pa.” Until I was an adult, I only knew the song from Mister Ed’s repeated singing of it. This did not, however, stop me from writing my own parody of it.

The song was originally in the 1950 German musical, Der Schwarze Hecht with the title, “O Mein Papa.” But in 1954, an English translation of the song was a huge hit for pop sensation Eddie Fisher. I’m not that fond of it. But since I can’t find a version with Mister Ed singing it, I guess we are stuck with this:

### Afterword

I found it: “What Kind of Foal Am I.” The plot is a bit different than I remembered. But at least there is some basis for my memory.

# Birthday Post: Martin Short

Today, Martin Short turns the big six-five. He is, of course, one of the most brilliant comedians of the last many decades. I know him originally from SCTV, but most people know him from Saturday Night Live, I assume. Since then, I know him more as simply the best talk show guest ever. In general, when I watch something like The Daily Show, I won’t watch the interview if it is an actor or a comedian. But I always watch whatever I can from Short. He’s just delightful. He’s as quick witted as Robin Williams, but I can follow him.

One of my favorite of his characters is Nathan Thurm, the nervous sleazy lawyer. Here is a great bit where Robert F Kennedy Jr interviews him as the lawyer for “Big Oil, Inc.” It’s from roughly a decade ago. Today, it almost doesn’t play as comedy. It is so much like what climate change deniers get away with in the mainstream media. Still, it’s brilliant:

Happy birthday Martin Short!