Saturday, November 04, 2006

Hating Hume?

Mrs. Gruntled was driving Endub and a friend to the big city. They saw that the highway was fast and full during rush hour, so they were trying to take the back roads to get to an unfamiliar location in time for a fast-approaching deadline. Mrs. G. said she was making a series of sensible turns that would take her northeast to her destination. Unfortunately, they were actually heading southwest.

In the middle of this slightly testy moment, the cell phone rang. Mrs. G., a very sensible driver, handed it to one of her passengers. The call was from Junior Gruntled #1, off at college. This was the message relayed from her: "Mom, do I hate David Hume?"

That broke the tension. When the girls had been dropped off, my wife settled in to a coffee house to call our daughter back for a long conversation about good philosophers and bad.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Oh Lord, No: The Leading Evangelical Quits in Gay Sex Scandal

Ted Haggard, head of the National Association of Evangelicals and pastor of a 14, 000 member church in Colorado Springs, has quit both. A gay prostitute, Mike Jones, says he has been having sex regularly with Haggard for three years. And, just to make it perfect, Jones says Haggard took meth to make the sex better.

Haggard has been one of the leading opponents of gay marriage. Jones says when he saw Haggard on t.v., he realized that the "Art" who was his regular John and Ted Haggard were the same guy.

Haggard denies all of it, and I will presume him innocent until proven guilty. It is a little suspicious that he quit both of his jobs, but that may be standard procedure in evangelical sex scandals. There will be an investigation, which I hope will be quick. And I hope he is cleared, if only so that I can maintain my faith that some leaders tell the truth.

Jon Stewart says the rule is simple: everyone who makes a big deal about opposing homosexuality is a homosexual. In the wake of Foleygate, this seems too believable.

Heavy sigh.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

First Female Circumcision Trial in the U.S.

Female circumcision, in which parents cut off their tiny daughter's clitoris so she won't experience orgasm as an adult, is very widespread in eastern and southern Africa. Perhaps 130 million girls have been cut this way. The practice horrifies most Americans. Indeed, I find it the most reliable way to cure students of a sophomoric "anything goes" cultural relativism. The practice is so revolting here that it is against federal law.

Khalid Adem, an Ethiopian immigrant, has been convicted of circumcising his daughter, now seven, when she was two. He denies it, and blames his South African ex-wife's family. His ex, with the ironic name of Fortunate Adem, says that she did not notice that her little daughter had been cut up for a year. His lawyer says this is so implausible that it shows she knew about it all along.

Absent any reason to doubt the verdict, I accept the jury's conclusion that the father did it. I think it is probably a significant measure of the power of moral outrage, as well as the threat of jail time, that Khalid Adem not only denies doing it, but says anyone who would is a "moron" with his "mind in the gutter."

Georgia, where the trial was held, passed a state law against female circumcision after the case began, though it was not relevant in this trial. If there are other trials, I expect that other states will follow suit.

The silver lining of this horror is that however much the culture war may have advanced in our society, Americans still unite in rejecting female genital mutilation and the very idea that women (alone) should be denied sexual pleasure.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Africa Has Less Promiscuity, But More AIDS

A new study in the Lancet has produced the interesting finding that the well-known high rates of AIDS in Africa do not simply track a high rate of promiscuity. In fact, a larger proportion of people in industrialized countries have multiple partners than do Africans.

The Lancet study suggests two reasons that African men might spread sexually transmitted diseases more often and more efficiently than do their counterparts in industrialized nations. First, those African men who do have multiple sex partners are much more likely to have sex with prostitutes. In southern Africa, where AIDS rates are highest, about 12% of men report having had sex in exchange for money or gifts, whereas the European rate (which is a decent proxy for the American rate) was under 3%. Second, African men who do have sex with prostitutes or mistresses are much more likely to have overlapping sexual relationships with their wives. Add to this the fact that African wives are most likely to say that they cannot refuse sex with their husbands, nor insist on condoms, and we can seen how less promiscuity could nonetheless translate into more AIDS.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Clash of Civilizations Over Women

I think Samuel Huntington is right that there is a clash of civilizations going on between the West and Islam. People I respect think otherwise. And I certainly know that both the West and the Islamic world and hugely complex. There are many points of connection between the two. I hope the connectors prevail.

But on one issue there clearly is a clash: whether women and men are equal. Indeed, in the furthest reaches of the Islamic world, the issue seems to be whether or not women are people.

A case in point is Afghanistan. Under the Taliban, Afghan women were the most oppressed in the world. Since we overthrew that regime and installed one with at least the trappings of parliamentary democracy and gender equality, the formal rules for men and women have been made more equal. Women make up 25% of the Afghan legislature.

But things haven't really changed there. A new human rights report says that most Afghan women are still pushed into arranged, even forced marriages. Worse, most of those brides were married before the legal age of 16. Western civilization has fundamentally rejected that way of treating women. Muslim civilization, even the more moderate parts, has not. That is a clash. And that is a clash worth fighting.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The 80% Minority Doesn't Shop Alone

The New York Times has a quite interesting article by Mickey Meece on the increasing attention that sellers are paying to women, the "80% minority" who make most household purchasing decisions. For example, when Best Buy figured out that women were shaping more like 90% of consumer electronics decisions, and outspending men $55 billion to $41 billion on the kind of gadgets they sell, they redesigned their selling strategy to be more female-friendly.

The article has examples of smart sellers in industry after industry who are figuring out who they should be selling to. And more power to them. I hope they all reap a competitive advantage, and that more women get better service.

What is surprising to me about this article, though, is that all of these women are presented as doing their buying alone. No husbands or boyfriends figure in these purchasing stories. It is one thing to recognize the great importance of women buyers, and likewise to recognize the importance of women earners, who spend their own money. But it seriously distorts the picture of purchasing reality to leave men out altogether. Women do make most household purchasing decisions. But they do so mostly in married, or marriage-oriented, households, working together with their husbands.

The next step, therefore, should be when retailers figure out how to sell to couples purchasing together.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Form of Government Revision I: Welcome and Openness

The Presbyterian Church's Form of Government Task Force has just released the first draft documents of their ambitious revision of this core section of the church's constitution. The most extensive of these drafts documents is chapter one, "Particular Congregations and Their Membership."

One section that has grown and grown in liberal church constitutions has been the list of groups who are not excluded from the church. Since the church officially welcomes all, it may seem peculiar that they have developed long lists specifying who they don't exclude.

The historical reason for making such lists, though, is clear: at a certain moment the church had to say "we welcome people of all races." This was important and necessary at the time. For many of the oldest church leaders, the civil rights movement was the clearest and most heroic moment in their life in the church, which they have been reliving ever since. All subsequent struggles have been seen as replays of the civil rights struggle, and each has added another term to the non-exclusion list.

At some point, though, the non-exclusion list gets so long, that it is numbing, if not a little silly. Especially since no one is really excluded, anyway – all are welcome. So I was curious what the revised non-exclusion list would look like in the new Form of Government. Here is the relevant paragraph.

1.0302 Welcome and Openness
The congregation shall welcome all persons who respond in trust and obedience to God’s grace in Jesus Christ and desire to become part of the membership and ministry of his Church. No persons shall be denied membership because of race, ethnic origin, worldly condition, or any other reason not related to profession of faith. Each member must seek the grace of openness in extending the fellowship of Christ to all persons. Failure to do so constitutes a rejection of Christ himself and causes a scandal to the gospel.

So what made the cut? Only race and ethnic origin. Everything else is covered by the capacious expression "worldly condition." This has the advantage of being more succinct. But it does raise the question; why do we still include race and ethnic origin? Why not just say this:

No persons shall be denied membership for any reason not related to profession of faith.

I am guessing that race and ethnic origin are still included so no one would forget the civil rights movement. But really, I don't think anyone will. We won. And we can show we won more powerfully if we don't even suggest that racial exclusion is possible.

My recommendation to the FOG Task Force: when it comes to reasons we don't exclude people from the church, less is more.