Saturday, September 30, 2006

If Pirates Oppose Zombies, Do Ninjas Support Them?

Austin had a wonderful "March for Zombies' Rights." You know, "Brains – The Other White Meat," and "Zombies Was People, Too." The zombie march drew some protesting pirates. Which raises the important question, if pirates oppose zombies, do ninjas support them?

Junior Gruntled #2 says yes, because ninjas help create zombies. I think they would, because ninjas can hide among zombies while sneaking up on protesting pirates.

The long war goes on …

Family Values Congressman Quits For Hitting on Teen Boy

Mark Foley, a conservative Republican representative from Florida, was caught sending emails to a 16-year-old page that are at least creepy, and seem much worse to me. The Republican leadership knew about them months ago, but covered it up. Now that they have come out, Foley has decided not to seek re-election.

Jon Stewart says the rule is simple: all politicians who decry sexual sins are committing them (ok, he put it a little more graphically). I am not that cynical, but the sheer hypocrisy of the family-values pols, and the shamelessness of their leaders, makes one want to weep.

We will look for better news tomorrow.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Hypergamy Means That the Rich Favor Sons; The Poor, Daughters

One of the most interesting things that I learned from Richard Conniff's The Natural History of the Rich is an implication of hypergamy. Hypergamy is the tendency of women to marry up socially, no matter how high they themselves are in the social structure. The highest-status women, therefore, run out of suitable mates, as do the lowest-status men. Therefore, the rich through history have favored sons and disfavored daughters, while the poor have done the reverse.

The new thought that this led me to was this helps explain why poor neighborhoods tend to produce matriarchal clans. It is not simply that the men are not expected to be responsible, but that the mothers favor their daughters as the more likely child to lift the whole family up.

I am still chewing on the implications of this idea.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

No, New York Should Not Ban Fat

The New York City Board of Health took a step closer to banning trans fat in all city restaurants. Many doctors think that trans fat is bad for your heart. It probably is. But it shouldn't be banned in a free country.

The model that the fat banners use is the smoking ban in New York public buildings, including restaurants. I support a smoking ban in most places, including restaurants. Personally, I would let people smoke in bars, since people go to bars in the first place to do things that are bad for them.

The point is, though, that second-hand smoke is bad for other people beside the smoker. Second-hand fat is not even a meaningful concept. The Board of Health might spend its budget trying to convince people that trans fat is bad for them, and telling them all the kinds of food it appears in. They might require labels on all trans fat foods. They might even make fun of fat people.

But banning fat is just too intrusive. It gives some reality to the insult, "health Nazis."

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

61% of Americans Sleep Together

The National Sleep Foundation surveys the country about how, and how well, they sleep. Most Americans spend their nights "two in a bed," according to a new book by that name by sociologist Paul Rosenblatt. The vast majority of these co-sleepers are married couples. Many of them report that they would sleep better apart – due to snoring, thrashing about, differences in body temperature, etc., etc. Still, when Rosenblatt asked the couples he interviewed why they slept together anyway, "they looked at me as if I'd asked them why they keep breathing."

As most parents can prove from experience, co-sleeping is not always limited to two in the bed. Little people have a hundred reasons to appear in the night, wanting to be held. Often they then spend the rest of the night doing what seem like elaborate ballet routines in their sleep. When the junior Gruntleds were small, we referred to this as "spending the night with the Zamboni machine." For much of our children's youngest years, we hit upon the ingenious solution of sleeping on a mattress on the floor ourselves. The little ones would consent to sleep on the floor next to mom and dad if they were only a few inches higher. This was much better than having sharp little elbows in the ribs, or tiny feet suddenly in one's face.

I find it hard to sleep when business takes Mrs. Gruntled or me away. I can fall asleep well enough when I try. It just seems unnatural to turn out the light and lie down alone. Which I suppose is a sign that marriage becomes second nature to us in a literal sense.

Two in a bed – the bedrock of American solidarity.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Virtual Wedding, Real Brideprice

The BBC reports of a couple of Zimbabweans who met in London, but wanted a traditional wedding back home. They couldn't afford to go home just for the wedding – and similar couples couldn't get back into Britain if they did go home – so their relatives held a wedding ceremony in Zimbabwe for them. The wedding was complete with everything, except the bride and groom. This last point was the news hook for the BBC.

What struck me about this story, though, was that the main reason they needed a Zimbabwean service was to make sure that the brideprice was properly negotiated and paid between the families. Since this is a negotiation that the couple do not take part in even if they were at home, the couple's residence thousands of miles away was no real impediment.

An American might ask, though, if the couple have indeed made it to London, met on their own with no family help, and are not only supporting themselves, but sending money back to their families, why do they need to pay a brideprice at all? The whole social structure that created the brideprice system – where women are scarce, and her family can, in effect, sell her to her husband's family – is missing in London. If they were truly emigrants, we might think that brideprice would be one of the first customs they would want to leave behind.

But, of course, they are not emigrants, but temporary guest workers, by their own choice. They are commuting to a job from the homeplace, like tens of millions of poor people around the globe. They are like hundreds of Appalachian couples over the decades who met in Lexington or Cincinnati or even Detroit, but came back home for the wedding. But in this case, the trip itself is too expensive and legally fraught to make even for a wedding.

These Zimbabwean couples don't want to leave behind the world of brideprice. They just want to pay it in pounds.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Jewish Aspersions

I have been trying to see it from Virginia Senator George F. Allen's perspective. The Southern California kid who turned himself into a Confederate clearly has been searching for roots all his life. He had exposed some bizarre vein of prejudice in calling an Indian-American "macaca" – a North African way of calling someone a monkey. It was in that context that reporter Peggy Fox asked him at a public debate about his rumored Jewish roots. "It has been reported," said Fox, that "your grandfather Felix, whom you were given your middle name for, was Jewish. Could you please tell us whether your forebears include Jews and, if so, at which point Jewish identity might have ended?"

Dana Milbank, of the Washington Post, reports Allen's reaction this way:

Allen recoiled as if he had been struck. His supporters in the audience booed and hissed. "To be getting into what religion my mother is, I don't think is relevant," Allen said, furiously. "Why is that relevant -- my religion, Jim's religion or the religious beliefs of anyone out there?"

"Honesty, that's all," questioner Fox answered, looking a bit frightened.

"Oh, that's just all? That's just all," the senator mocked, pressing his attack. He directed Fox to "ask questions about issues that really matter to people here in Virginia" and refrain from "making aspersions."

How should we read this? We now know that Allen's mother is indeed Jewish ethnically, though she converted to Anglicanism and raised her son an Episcopalian. Her father, Felix Lumbroso, was imprisoned by the Nazis in Tunisia because he was Jewish and had opposed them. We also know that Allen had only found out about his Jewish roots a month before this public question. And his mother had begged him not to tell, because she had kept it from the rest of the family.

Still, a month is time enough to get used to the idea, and to have an answer ready for the inevitable reporter's questions.

When asked if he had Jewish roots, George Allen took this question as an aspersion.

Now, I am about as Jewish as George Allen is – ethnically but not religiously, from several wonderfully intermarried lines. Like Allen, I carry a middle name from a pretty-Jewish grandfather – Joseph, in my case. My eldest carries my grandmother's maiden name, Blum, as her middle name to honor her beloved ancestor. My daughter is a Christian, an ordinary meat-and-potatoes Presbyterian. But she will Never Forget. We honor our Jewish heritage, as we do the rest of the family lines.

I don't think calling out Jewish roots is "casting aspersions." George Allen does. In that moment, like the macaca moment, he really did reveal his true identity.