Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Normalizing Relations With Cuba is a Great Step Forward

The news that at long last the United States will normalize relations with Cuba is one I have hoped for all my life.  I believe that if we had engaged Cuba from the outset, pushed for the same kind of trade relations that we had with many other dictatorships, and kept fussing at them about human rights that we also do, we could have created an opening for more freedom, and maybe even democracy, decades ago.

I hope the Congress follows suit and drops the foolish embargo.

I think the combination of Cuban-Americans, Coca-Cola, and the internet will do more for Cuban freedom that all the Cold War freeze-out could ever have accomplished.

Thank you, President Obama. And a hat tip to the Pope and the Canadians for helping.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

No State Tax Incentives for the Ark Park - A Sensible Middle Position

The Answers in Genesis ministry, parent of the Creation Museum, had proposed a few years ago to create an Ark Park theme park, based on Noah's Ark, in central Kentucky.

Gov. Beshear supported the proposal as a good tourism draw for the state.  He caught some flack from the left for that position.  I think he was entirely in the right.

Now, though, the state Tourism Commission has withdrawn the offer of $18 million in tax incentives from the Ark Park.  They say that the sponsors have changed their position.  Originally, Answers in Genesis said they would not have a religious test for hiring at the park.  Recently, though, they have made clear that they would have a religion test for hiring.

The state's position is clear: tax incentives can't be used to advance a particular religion, nor discriminate on the basis of religion.

Answers in Genesis claims that their religious freedom will be violated if they can't both have a religious test in hiring and get state tax incentives.

I believe the state is, once again, correct in its judgment.

I also had my doubts that the Ark Park could ever succeed, but that is beside the principled point here.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Happiness is a Warm Congregation

The new Relationships in America study has a nifty table on the relation of happiness to regular involvement in a religious community.

The core finding:  "frequency of attendance at religious services has a stronger effect on overall happiness than either belonging to an organized religion or self-reported personal religiosity."

The magnitude of the effect is also pretty impressive:  nearly half of those who regularly attend religious services say they are very happy.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Softball vs Golf - A Metaphor for Liberal Happiness vs. Conservative Happiness

A thoughtful student in my "Introduction to Sociology" class was wrestling with Arthur Brooks' report, in Gross National Happiness, that conservatives are generally happier than liberals as individuals, in light of our class' question of what makes for a happy society

This student, herself inclined to be an apolitical conservative, drew from several aspects of what we had been studying to consider, and reconsider, her own experience.

Conservatives look at society and see a collection of individuals, so they believe that personal action is the right focus of attention.  Liberals look at society as more of a collective, so the community requires change in order for real progress to happen.  ... Conservatives could feel happier than liberals in this sense because success is based on an individual's own actions instead of basing it on the actions of everyone else.  It is easier to feel then that you have successfully made changes that are important to you.  An example I thought of when I was reading this was about golf.  I used to play softball, a team sport, then I started playing golf in high school.  I found a greater sense of satisfaction when playing golf because all of my success was based on how hard I was willing to work to achieve my goals.  In softball, I often felt let down and less happy because my team did not practice as much as I did, so we would often lose.  These losses left me feeling down because I was working hard, but by being on the team, I was relying on them for our success.  It was nice with golf because I was reliant on myself.
However, she notes, there are costs to a society that builds no more than individual successes.
I find problems with this as well because it is necessary to work together to achieve goals, and it brings up the Myth of the Individual from the middle of the term.  It showed that we needed a network of people to help support us, or we could face becoming isolated and radicalized in our ideas.  From personal experiences, successes with a group are much more profound ... as compared to personal victories because of the shared emotional experience.  It will be interesting to see how this plays into overall happiness.  I would think shared experiences like collective effervescences would help increase happiness overall because it helps to form bonds with others.  
Her last point, that happier societies come not just from happy individuals, but have bonds across larger groups from shared emotional experiences, is well borne out by sociology.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Happiness Grows With Wisdom

Jonathan Rauch has a fine article in the Atlantic on the U-shaped curve of happiness.

Not for everyone, and not in every society, but strong enough to be a helpful pattern, we see life satisfaction bottoming out in the late 40s for many people.  And then it gets better.

There is much in here, including a whole section on brain development.

I found this to be the most helpful idea:

“This finding,” [Princeton researcher Hannes] Schwandt writes, “supports the hypothesis that the age U-shape in life satisfaction is driven by unmet aspirations that are painfully felt during midlife but beneficially abandoned and felt with less regret during old age.”
The curve below was compiled by economic Carol Graham and colleagues, looking at averages in many different countries.  The X-axis measures life satisfaction on a ten-point scale; the Y measures age.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Politics of Male First Names

Verdant Labs has a fascinating blog post on political trends in first names.

One big finding: "Of male names that are at least fairly common, the most Democratic are Jonah and Malik, and the most Republican are Delbert and Duane."

I think I know what is going on here.

The Democratic end is tipped by distinctively black or Jewish names. In addition to Jonah and Malik, we find Ethan, Willie, Saul, Emmanuel, Isaiah, Tyrone, Omar, Irving, and Israel.

On the Republican side, we find country white names. In addition to Delbert and Duane, there are Rex, Dallas, Brent, Troy, Lyle, Darrell, Billy, Ricky, and Randy.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Distribution of Generosity

Christian Smith, a sociologist at Notre Dame, has been reporting the results of a large Science of Generosity project.  Sociology is particularly useful for giving us a sense of proportion of how phenomena are distributed in a large population.

Americans as a whole are generous people.  We give away huge amounts of money for good causes.

However, nearly half of Americans - 45% - give nothing.

The high standard of tithing (giving at least 10%) is met by only 3%.

Poorer people give away a higher proportion of their income than richer people do.

Looked at another way, 57% of all the charitable dollars in America are contributed by the 5% of Americans who are most generous.

And I should note that the main point of The Paradox of Generosity, by Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson, is that people who give more away lead happier and healthier lives.