Saturday, July 07, 2007

Moving Middle East Map

This link goes to a fantastic moving map of the various empires that have affected the Middle East.

Friday, July 06, 2007

The Love Bank

Willard Harley studies how people stay in love through a long marriage. His wonderful metaphor is that when we meet someone, we start a "Love Bank" account for them. The more we associate good feelings with them, the more their account grows; the more we associate bad feelings with them, the more it shrinks. When a couple discovers how to make each other happy, they build up their respective Love Bank accounts until the become so irresistable that they have to marry.

Long happy marriages keep filling that account, and minimizing the withdrawals. Marriages start to fail when one persons makes more withdrawals than deposits, which leads to a negative spiral.

What Harley teaches the couples he counsels is how to do the basic things that meet their spouse's emotional needs, and builds up their Love Bank account. And what are those basic needs for most couples? Regular readers of this blog will not be surprised at what Harley found in his three decades of research. In most couples, he wants fulfilling sex and recreational companionship; she wants affection and intimate conversation. Harley found that in declining marriages, not only were the couple not meeting these basic desires, they often thought what their spouse wanted was silly.

Marriage is mutual, which means that you have to give what the other wants, even if that is not the same as what you want. And that way you can each fill the Love Bank.

Willard Harley was given an award for his long-term impact at the Smartmarriages conference last week.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Lifetime Chastity for 1 in 5

About a quarter of women, and a sixth of men, report that they had no more than one sex partner in their whole lives. Now, some of these folks may stray after the survey. On the other hand, remarried widows and widowers may have more than one lifetime partner, but still be chaste. Still, this seems like a good baseline number of what fraction of Americans are likely to be virgins or to have sex only with their spouses in their whole lives. The "Chaste Fifth" is a minority, to be sure, but not a negligible one. I will remember this the next time someone proposes that chastity is unrealistic or that "everyone" has unmarried sex.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Most People Fly the Flag

Most Americans fly the Star-Spangled Banner. That is true for young as well as old, Democrats as well as Republicans, the well educated and the least educated. In fact, of all the demographic categories in the recent Pew Research Center study -- sex, race, age, party, region, education -- the only category in which most people did not report flying the flag was African-Americans.

In academic world, though, flag-flying is rare. Yet recently, three of my colleagues - liberal Democrats, every one -- installed brackets and bought flags. As one of my neighbors explained, "patriotic liberals" like him were not going to leave the flag, or the country, to their opponents. In fact, I came by one morning and he was outside, shirtless, picking up the paper, cup of coffee in hand, with his flag flying from his front porch, and his motorcycle parked invitingly in his front yard. I told him the scene looked like the cover of a Toby Keith album (he guffawed).

This Independence Day morning I had my eldest put our flag up, joining in the hallowed ritual of the Fourth of July that most Americans do - together.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Kids Are Still Vital to Married People's Happiness

A new study by the Pew Research Center reports the scary news that only a minority (41%) of Americans think that children are very important to a happy marriage. Press reports have noted that people rank doing the chores higher as a factor in marital happiness. However, when you ask parents how important children are to their happiness, 85% say kids are the most important source of happiness (rank 10 on a 10 point scale) -- higher than any other factor.

I think the first question is a little misleading. The question asked which factors made for a happy marriage in the abstract -- not "your marriage," but marriage in general. On that scale, the rank of kids fell 24 points since 1990. What has changed in the meantime in the public's discourse about marriage? Same-sex marriage, both as a debate and, in a handful of states, a reality. While most people (57%) oppose homosexual marriage, the percentage thinking it should be allowed has risen in the past decade and a half as gay marriage has become a reality for the first time.

I believe that what we are seeing here is a change in how some people - maybe even a quarter of the population -- think about what marriage is. If "marriage" can include homosexuals, then it would seem unfair to assume that children are important to marital happiness in general. However, when married parents are talking about their own, non-abstract happiness, children rank at the very top.

What the Pew survey shows is not a change in how most people rank children, but rather a shift in how some people define marriage.

Monday, July 02, 2007


This is what David Blankenhorn is really worried about in The Future of Marriage. There is a concerted campaign to delegitimize the couple-raising-their-children model of marriage and family life. The form of the campaign is, he argues, being most effectively carried on not by a head-on assault, but by side actions. The proponents of The Full Stacey (see my posts of last week) explicitly want to dethrone The Family by placing it on a level with all kinds of families. The effect of this movement, Blankenhorn argues, will not be to broaden the meaning of family, but to deinstitutionalize marriage. When marriage is whatever people want to call a marriage, then there is no public marriage any more.

The core of Blankenhorn's advocacy of marriage for two decades is that it is the best institution for the hard but socially essential business of raising children. He knows, as I do, that any given child might be raised by all sorts of committed adults, and most of those kids will turn out ok. We should honor all those good-enough efforts to raise children as good enough. But the most likely, the most durable, the most efficient, and the most successful option for kids and for society is still to be raised by their own married parents.

I disagree with Blankenhorn about whether same-sex civil unions are too dangerous to legally permit. I think they are good enough. I also don't think there will be many takers, but that does not affect the principle of the thing. I agree with Blankenhorn, though, that any social change that really did deinstitutionalize marriage would be socially disastrous.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Thais Do the Right Thing, Keep Buddhism Out of the Constitution

Thailand is writing a new constitution. The country is 90% Buddhist. The Muslim minority is getting increasingly militant. The Buddhist leadership pressed the constitution writers to declare Buddhism the national religion. To the consternation of the monks, the constitution writers voted against it 66 - 19. The Constitution Drafting Assembly's spokesman said "we will lose more than we would gain from it." And quite right, too.

The days of nation-state religions are over. Declaring the majority faith to be the national religion now only makes the minorities more oppressed and more resistant. It is a particularly bad idea to make Muslims more resistant at this moment in history. Buddhism has thus far been able to avoid developing a violent fundamentalist wing, at least outside of Sri Lanka, which is a good thing, especially in the religious tinderbox of South Asia.

My advice to the Buddhist monks in Thailand: insist on a freedom of religion clause in the constitution. Then go evangelize.