Saturday, December 09, 2006

A Complaint-Free World

Mrs. G. handed me the paper. "This is a perfect Gruntled story." Christ Church Unity, in Kansas City, MO, started a project among their young people to see if they could go 21 days without complaining, gossiping, or criticizing. Each kid was give a purple rubbery wristband of the kind that is fashionable for causes of the moment, with the word "spirit" on it. The bracelet is worn on one wrist; if you slip up, you move the bracelet to the other wrist, and start over.

The little project has taken off. People heard about it by word of mouth, and so far they have shipped 9000 of them.

This is an idea whose time has come. I will endeavor to go through the New Year without complaining – not even about the current administration (ok, I may need to start over already).

Friday, December 08, 2006

The IM divide

The Associated Press and America Online have just released a survey of the generational divide in Instant Messaging (IMing) vs. emailing. Among the millions of Americans who use both, 3/4ths of adults email more than they IM; among teenagers, the reverse is true.

I can confirm that statistic in the Gruntled Family: our three under-20s use instant messaging as the main way they communicate with friends, sending dozens, if not hundreds, daily. Mrs. G. and I, on the other hand, send dozens of emails daily. My kids are probably among the 30% of teenagers who say they couldn't imagine life without IM. I used it once, and found it too cumbersome to repeat. IM seems to me to be the worst of both worlds – the expressive limitations of print, combined with the dead air and conversational filler of the telephone.

When I was facing the prospect of a house with two teenage girls, I thought I might never see my telephone. Technology has avoided this problem altogether. Between cell phones and IM, as well as the happy legal invention of the "no-call" list, our house phone is suffering from neglect.

My colleagues and I have noticed more students this year who have great trouble functioning in the morning, or even getting up for, say, my 8 o'clock class. Our best guess is that they routinely spend hours after midnight online. Some of that is spent doing homework. But at the same time, they are carrying on multiple IM conversations with groups of friends.

So I say to all IMing teens and college students: ease up on the IM circles, and let each other do homework and get some sleep.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A Safety Net for the Irresponsible

There is an interesting proposal in The New Republic that liberals and libertarians should form a permanent alliance. As someone who is neither, I can look on this proposal calmly. Brink Lindsey, of the libertarian Cato Institute, notes that millions of libertarians, growing disgusted with the big spending Bush Republicans, voted Democratic this time. He argues that all actual libertarian progress, such as easy abortion and easy immigration, have come about through liberal means.

Still, he admits that the stumbling block is over the social safety net. Liberals, and especially those who think of themselves as progressives, are most devoted to a social safety net for everyone. Libertarians, on the other hand, want individuals to be responsible for themselves.

What was right about the conservative critique of liberalism in the 1980s was the honest discussion of how government entitlements created dependence and perverse incentives to be even more dependent. The great welfare act of 1996 was driven by this realization. This is the great bridge between centrist Democrats and centrist Republicans. The progressives among the former, and the libertarians among the latter, didn't like it.

Here, I think, is the great divide between liberals and libertarians. Liberals think the government should provide for irresponsible and self-destructive people. Libertarians don't. Liberals err on the side of making some people worse than they otherwise would be, in order to have a supported society. Libertarians err on the side of letting some people fail, even die, in order to make a society of stronger individuals.

I don't think the two can make a long-term marriage.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Insecure Farting Grounds Airliner

I have been giving the final exam in my social class course. One of the points that always interests students is the claim that it is very middle class to be embarrassed about body functions. Today's news brings us a prime, ridiculous example. A woman on an American Airlines flight was so embarrassed by her own flatulence that she kept lighting matches. When the other passengers smelled the matches, they thought someone might be trying to light a bomb fuse, and told the flight crew. The plane made a quick landing and evacuation in Nashville. After questioning, the woman finally revealed the truth.

As Benjamin Franklin said, fart proudly.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Boys and Girls are Different, Even the "Gender Variant" Ones

The New York Times is running a fascinating story by Patricia Leigh Brown on children who act like, even want to be, the opposite sex. The story is mostly about the sad conflicts these children, and their parents, face.

Brown cites some of the very few scholars who have studied what happens to these children later. The results for boys and girls, in this as in many other kinds of sex difference, are strikingly different. In some studies, about a quarter of "gender variant" boys grow out of it, a majority become gay, and the remaining small fraction come to think of themselves as transgender, or something else. Most of the girls, on the other hand, grow out of it. Brown cites Dr. Kenneth Zucker, who has treated some 500 gender variant children at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, who said that about 80% of his patients grew out of it – though she does not report if he had different results with boys and girls.

The science of sexual identity is still pretty mysterious. I take these early studies as further confirmation, though, that males and females are different from one another in how much of their gender and sexual identity is nature, as opposed to nurture. Men seem more polarized – either one way or the other – and more shaped by their biology. Women seem to fall more along a spectrum, and where they fall on it seems to be more amenable to change over time.

As I have read the evidence thus far, I don't think I could say anything more definite than that. I believe, though, that the more we know about the science of sex-anything, the more we will see differences between males and females.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Monoga Ginalogues

Eve Ensler, author of "The Vagina Monologues," is soliciting material for a new play about what women think about marriage. The following notice appeared in the Smartmarriages list.

Love, marriage and relationships in the 21st Century. Share your story of marital bliss, torrid infidelity, heartbreaking betrayal, hot monogamy, polyamory or celibacy. Are women better off married or single? We want to hear it all. Documentary Production Company seeks women of all ages and races to ultimately appear in sit-down on-camera interviews with Eve Ensler creator of The Vagina Monologues as we document her creating her next monologue play. At this point we especially want to hear from the Latina, African American, and Asian communities and brides to be. If you are interested in sharing your story or thoughts on the subject of marriage and relationships, please contact us immediately: (lovemelovemenot "at"
Thank you,
Arlene Nelson

The "Vagina Monologues" is a regular production on Valentine's Day on my campus, and at other schools, too. It has become something of a ritual for young women to participate, helping them to talk about women's varied experience, especially with men. The monologues are varied, though I think the playwright selected more negative than positive material. This might reflect her own view, or just a natural desire to show the dramatic.

I think it would be a good thing if women with positive marital stories made a point of giving their testimony to Ms. Ensler. She will make a play of all the varied material that she gets. I think it is normal that we are more likely to rouse ourselves to complain about bad things than to express contentment and gratitude for the good. But if this new play has anything like the effect on young women that the "Vagina Monologues" has, I think we would all be better off if it contained a healthy dose of happy marriage stories.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Note to Church Dissidents: You Can't Seize the Building

First Presbyterian Church of Torrance, California, has been caught in an ugly property dispute, which was finally (I hope) resolved this week. One faction wanted to call a new minister who was under charges in his old presbytery. The loyalists pointed out, reasonably, that the church would be violating church law to call him under those circumstances. Alas, the dissidents wanted to call him anyway. Push came to shove – even during worship – and the two sides locked one another out.

This was the sign that the dissidents had gone over the edge:

The dissident faction proceeded to call the pastor — who during the dispute had renounced the jurisdiction of the PC(USA) — seized the Torrance building and filed suit against the presbyteries and synod to acquire ownership of the property.

This week a civil court ruled that they could not do that. You don't get the property by seizing it – not under civil law, and certainly not under church law.

On the other hand, dissents sometimes get what they want if they make a reasonable offer. Sometimes they don't, of course. And the law is on the side of the loyalists. Still, loyalists, of all people, don't want to divide the church with an ugly fight. Former Moderator Syngman Rhee went to Torrance himself to try to mediate this dispute, and he convinced the loyalist group to let the dissidents hold services in the sanctuary, while the loyalists retired to the fellowship hall, until the matter was settled. Loyalist will normally try to be accommodating.