Saturday, March 10, 2007


John Shelton Reed, the dean of Southern sociologists, has done many studies mapping the cultural South. One of the ingenious investigations that he and his students undertook involved looking at phonebooks from all over the South and its edges, to calculate ratios of business names. The central comparison they made was of businesses with “Dixie” in the name versus those with “American” in the name. They also did comparison studies with those terms and “Southern.” Mapping these ratios from all over did clearly identify a core of Dixie, a broader South, and the border regions, such as central Kentucky, where the South blends into the North.

One of Reed’s former students, Kenneth Myers, has computerized the idea behind this research, and coupled it with a massive database. The result is a tool for what he calls “ethno-telephony,” The demo version is just a fun parlor game, while the full-scale service is a wonderful research tool for commerce and politics as well as more academic questions.

Go ahead and try it. I suggest starting with the “red vs. blue” option, inserting the terms “Yankee vs. Dixie.”

Friday, March 09, 2007

Paternity Leave Helps Kids

The British are ahead of us in taking paternity leave for newborns, so we look to them for studies of what difference paternity leave might make. Their Equal Opportunities Commission has just released reports based on a long-term study of the “millennial cohort,” those babies born in 2000 and 2001. This week’s study examined how the kids were doing at three years old. Most children did not have developmental problems. However, the kids were more likely to have developmental problems if their fathers were not involved in their care from the earliest ages. Specifically, child development problems were associated with:

Failing to use the employer’s flexible working options compared with using them;

Allowing the mother to do all the home based childcare instead of sharing;

Taking only annual or sick leave around the time of the birth compared with a mixture of paternity and annual leave; or

Taking no leave around the time of the birth.

The report is not specific on what the developmental problems are or how much father’s early involvement can reduce the risk.

Now is the first time since the beginning of the industrial era when we have enough men and women taking leave from work to care for newborns to really see the comparative effects – comparing both leave-takers and not, and comparing men and women. Britain now has mandatory paternity leave pay, though it was not in place at the time that these children were born. One of the major findings of the study was that professional and managerial class men were twice as likely to take paternity leave as blue-collar men. The paternity leave pay plan was created, in part, to close this gap.

In a sense, this is just one more thing for parents to worry about, one more weapon in the culture of fear. It is important to remember, therefore, that most kids do not have developmental problems. Still, I think it is encouraging to know that if fathers can be more involved in caring for their kids from Day One, the kids will truly benefit.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Is “Waiting on the World to Change” Centrist?

John Mayer is a very intelligent songwriter. I was disappointed when I first heard “Waiting on the World to Change.” The title seems to counsel fatalism, or at least passivity. The song argues

“It's not that we don't care,
We just know that the fight ain't fair
So we keep on waiting
Waiting on the world to change”

I was very interested, therefore, in this morning’s interview with Mayer on National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition.” Mayer contended that telling young people, his generation, what to do is ineffective. “Kids don't even like being talked to like kids anymore.” Therefore his task is to present an idea.

I can go with him halfway, but only halfway. The hectoring tone favored by baby boomer protest songs does seem annoying, if not presumptuous. Still, I think Mayer’s argument, and his song, would be stronger if he presented his idea of what ought to be done about the problem he names. Even couched in layers of “this is just my opinion, I am not telling you what to do,” it seems lame to me to declare that something “ain’t fair” but just leave it at that.

Still, Mayer is good. As he sees it, his job is to “get the ball to the ten yard line.” So I will say that I think, in my opinion (of course), that listeners who agree with him should pick up the ball.

500th post

Yesterday's post was #500 of The Gruntled Center. According to the Statcounter, the blog has had over 100,000 readings in that time.

Thank you all.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Marriage is Not Only for the Rich

Every year the Census Bureau reports that married couples with children at home make up a minority of households. Every year most of the press draws the wrong conclusion. They write articles with headlines like "Marriage disappears as married parent households fall below 25%." This is not the right inference at all. Married couples with children at home make up a minority of households because we are a rich country. Many single people can afford to maintain a separate household. My widowed mother maintains her own household, many of my colleagues have an empty-nest household, and each year Centre College sends out hundreds of students who will maintain households by themselves or with roommates. Yet all of them were, are, or are likely to be in married-couple-with-children households at some point. That is still the case for most people.

What is new in this year's version of the story is the claim that marriage is becoming something only rich and educated people can afford or even want. This is a false idea, and a dangerous one. Yes, there are more people having children without marriage, and there are more couples living together before they marry. But most people still aspire to marry and raise their own children together, in all classes. And most of them will.

Marriage is still normative – it is what most people want and think is good. Marriage is still normal – it is what most people will do, and most of them will have children.

Married-couple-with-children is still the normal household pattern, the pattern that most Americans will enjoy at the appropriate point in their lifecycle.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Obama as Joshua

Barak Obama just gave a great speech at the voting rights march commemoration in Selma, AL. It is 40 years since Dr. King gave his Moses speech, where he saw the promised land, but would not reach it. Obama, under the explicit direction of his pastor's father, himself a weighty church leader, said it was his duty as a member of the "Joshua generation" to go forward into the promised land. The greatest generation, Obama said – many of whom were in the room – had done 90% of the work of the civil rights revolution. It was up to his generation to do the last tenth.

Sen. Obama gave an excellent answer to the question "are you really black like us?" His grandfather was houseboy to the British colonial masters in Africa, but the American civil rights movement led him to dream dreams. His son, Barak Obama, Sr., came to America to study as a result. He married a Midwestern descendant of slave owners because of the civil rights dream. The fruit of that union is Barak Obama, Jr., U. S. Senator and presidential candidate.

Obama talked about jobs and health care, as any Democrat would. He also talked specifically about the scourge of absent fathers, the bane of the black community, which he knows well from his personal experience.

Forty years after Moses, the Joshua generation of African-Americans is poised to take their full place in the promised land. Barak Obama is the leading contender for the role of Joshua.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Herpes Dating

One in four women is infected with genital herpes, and nearly one in five men, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is a staggering rate. Herpes is far from the worst sexually transmitted disease in its effects, but it is annoying. Worse, it is morally very embarrassing, a constant reminder that you did something foolish.

Most people who have genital herpes don't want to give it to anyone else, which is to their credit. But they still want to "date" and most still want to marry. With infection rates this high, a rational solution has emerged in large cities around the country: herpes-only dating sites. These herpes clubs are often as much support networks as they are matchmakers.

I feel for people with herpes. As a Calvinist, I know we all do foolish things all the time, myself included. None of us is in a position to look down on others. Moreover, I think that restricting your mate selection to people you cannot infect is a decent thing to do for society. Herpes dating and support groups are an ethical thing to do for the world, considering…

Still, it is hard enough to find the right mate without eliminating 75% or 80% of the potential pool. The fact that our country needs herpes dating sites is further proof that keeping sex only in marriage is the most realistic morality for individuals, and especially for society.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Cherokee Racism

The Cherokee Nation voted to eject descendents of slaves owned by Cherokees from membership in their nation. By a 3/4ths vote, only "blood" members of the tribe can be part of the nation.

Counting membership in Indian "nations" is one of the last remaining acts of blood racism recognized by U.S. law. They are the last remnant of the 19th century pseudo-science of race which worked so much havoc in every other area of American life. There are many irrationalities in the treatment of native American tribes in our law. I think it is time to put this one to rest.