Saturday, December 16, 2006

Friday, December 15, 2006

Endub's Wonderful Mustard Seed

Endub (Junior Gruntled #2) is the family artist, and a fine one, in her father's opinion. She was commissioned to make a picture for our congregation's stewardship campaign. They loved it, and plastered the church with it. The stewardship committee loved it so much, they sent it to the national denomination's women's group. They, in turn, loved it so much, they put it on the cover of their magazine.

The artist being worthy of her hire, she got paid for her work. She is a social action Christian, so she turned some of her earnings into a gift of a sheep through Heifer, International. She gave portions of the sheep in the names of her friends. Thus, her friends are getting Christmas presents in the form of "a sheep's eyeball was given in your name." Other body parts have been singled out for a charitable offering. She has an impish grin when thinking up such things.

I think this is something church needs more of: charitable service to others with wit.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

One Vote for DC – a Centrist Position

The District of Columbia is an anomaly in our federal legislature. The residents of the capital have a delegate (currently Eleanor Holmes Norton) who can vote in committee, but not in the full House. D.C. has no senators, though Jessie Jackson sometimes proclaims himself "shadow senator."

Republicans have long resisted giving D.C. representation, because it is overwhelmingly Democratic. Rep. Norton floated an interesting compromise in the last session, partnering with Republican Rep. Tom Davis, to give D.C. a vote in the House, and to give Utah, the most Republican state, another representative. The idea died, but the cause remains.

I used to live in the District of Columbia before we were providentially allowed to move to Kentucky. I like D.C., but it is a very difficult place to raise children. Still, I think all Americans should be represented in the Congress. On the other hand, I think the call for statehood for Washington – a popular slogan among District politicians – is all wrong. The District of Columbia is not a state. It is a city, though a very peculiar one.

So this seems a reasonable compromise. The people of the Washington should be represented in the House of Representatives. No balancing deal should be required; what's right is right. But statehood is out of the question. So, rather than create another anomaly – a Representative without Senators – I have a further idea. Shrink the District of Columbia to the Mall and its immediate environs – the Capitol, the Supreme Court, the White House, and basically the blocks touching them. I would be inclined to throw in the Pentagon, across the river, and Arlington Cemetery. But that would be it. The residential part of Washington would then become the second city of Maryland.

There is an obvious obstacle to this plan: Maryland doesn't want Washington. So the federal government should solve the problem the way it solves most problems – by throwing money at it. Congress should pay Maryland to take Washington. Eleanor Holmes Norton would become another Maryland congresswoman. And the D.C. anomaly would be solved.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Veblen Effect Tuition

Most people want to pay the lowest price that will deliver the goods. Sometimes, though, you want to be sure you get the very best quality goods. There are a dozens of ways to measure quality. One of the easiest, though most treacherous, is price. For some goods, more people will flock to it if it costs more, even if it costs much more than competitors. This is called the Veblen Effect, after Theory of the Leisure Class author Thorstein Veblen.

College education is worth paying more to get the best. And the best education does cost more than the more mediocre kinds. Some colleges cost more because they spend more to educate.

Some colleges, though, charge more just so other people will think that they are as good as the most expensive. They may even be that good, but don't, for strict cost reasons, actually need to charge that much. Still, the market is a harsh mistress. The New York Times reports today that Ursinus College, for example, raised its prices to keep up with the competition – and as a result, applications went up considerably.

I am happy to report that Centre College still offers "a New England education at Southern prices."

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Biggest Parenting and Spirituality Issue at ParentsConnect is a website for parents to give advice to one another. It is sponsored by Nickelodeon and Nick Jr. The conversation is very wholesome, friendly, and more diverse religiously and ethnically than you might anticipate. It is also overwhelmingly by and for moms, as anyone who reads parenting advice would expect.

Since our main issue at the Gruntled Center is faith and family, I looked at the Spiritual Matters section; as a sociologist I was especially drawn to the Family Faith Practices heading. Each section consists of discussion threads started by a parent, and runs as long as the readers have something they want to say. I was interested in what the longest thread would be of parents' concerns in raising religious kids. And the winner is:

"When soccer takes over family faith practices."

The conversation among the moms is sensible and sincere. Some have found no-Sunday leagues. One Jewish mom doesn't have that option; her kids do play regularly on the Sabbath, but she draws the line at the High Holy Days. One particularly determined family reported that if their kids missed a service due to a game, they listened to a recording (podcast?) of the service on the way home.

As this topic makes clear, the ParentsConnect parents are mostly middle class. As a rule, they seem to be married, earnest, and flexible. They are good people to turn to for advice – the writers are like the readers, with a little more experience and an interesting idea or two. It is strangely charming to join in the conversation of people busily engaged in the happy and hectic business of raising children, something they clearly love.

ParentsConnect parents are not every parent. They are, though, the kind of families that give you hope for a new generation of carefully raised children.

Monday, December 11, 2006

More Moms Staying Home in Baby's First Year

New research from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that over the past decade, there has been an 8% drop overall in job-holding by mothers of infants. Working new moms are still a majority, but just barely: 51% of infant's mothers work outside the home.

The higher the husband's income and the mother's education, the more likely the mom is to stay home. But across the board, mothers of newborns are more likely to stay home than they used to be. Those in the middle of the income range – the 40th to 80th percentile – were particularly likely to stop jobs and interrupt careers to be with babies.

There was also a drop for mothers of toddlers and preschoolers, but it was not as large as the drop for new moms.

Perhaps we could see a social norm that mothers would get, and take, a year's leave from their jobs with each child. That is a centrist position that might be feasible, especially as mothers are already voting with their feet – and their forgone paychecks -- in this direction.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

A Picky Point About the Presbyterian Panel Report

The Presbyterian Panel is an ongoing survey of the church conducted by the PC (USA) Research Services office. It is, I think, the best denominational research tool in the country. Three times a year they survey a representative group of members, elders, pastors, and other ministers about issues before the church. Before the General Assembly this year the Panel were surveyed about the major item before the GA, the report of the Theological Task Force on the Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church – the PUP report about which I have written much.

I was involved in that study. Research Services did a heroic job getting the data ready for analysis in time to be useful for the General Assembly. We were just about to start the analysis when the Stated Clerk, the Assembly's highest official, asked that no analysis of the Panel data be published before the Assembly met. He feared that such last-minute information could not be digested in time to be properly considered by the Assembly.

The Stated Clerk, Cliff Kirkpatrick, is a friend and someone I respect. He wrote a generous forward to Leading from the Center. I disagree with his decision not to report the Panel results before the Assembly. But I respect that he made a principled decision.

The Presbyterian Layman, the scourge of the denominational leadership, has reported that Kirkpatrick tried to suppress the Panel report because he didn't like what it would say.

It is true that most Presbyterians do not want to trade the church's purity for peace. They want the constitution as it is to be followed, and don't want local bodies to be making up their own lists of essential tenets of the faith. And most members, elders, and pastors (though not, surprisingly, a majority of specialized, non-pastoral ministers) agree that "a church that is not clear about what it believes is not worth belonging to." The Layman believes these results represent a rejection of the PUP report. I don't, but that is a matter for another day.

But here is the important point I want to clarify: Cliff Kirkpatrick did not withhold the Panel data because he had seen the analysis and didn't like it. No analysis of the Panel data had been done by anyone before the Assembly – you can take that from the horse's mouth. The Stated Clerk decided as a matter of policy that whatever it was the Panel might reveal, it would come too late to really help the Assembly's deliberations.