Saturday, December 15, 2007

Pandora Radio is Great

I have been in my office all morning, catching up on recommendation letters and the like. My labors have been aided by Pandora Radio, part of the wonderfully named Radio Genome Project. You tell them what kind of music you like, and they make a station for you. They find music like that, and you tell them if you want to add the new one or not. That judgment, in turn, generates more connections. This morning I have been listening to Allison Krauss Radio. This is becoming a large collection of my favorite genre, what my wife calls "whiny white chicks." At the moment I am listening to Neko Case.

For physical activity, like cleaning my desk and moving furniture, there is Bruce Springsteen Radio.

And its free.

Pretty nifty.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Marriage Choice is Narrower for the Most Educated

Schooling plays a bigger and bigger role in mate selection. As the most educated people spend longer years in school, and with a more homogeneous pool of people, the most educated couples are likely to get more similar to one another in education, age, and status level.

Something I had not thought about until reading Who Marries Whom, which I will be blogging on for the next few posts, is that the least educated couples will be less similar to one another in education, background, age, and status level, than the most educated couples will. There is more variety at the bottom than at the top of the educational ladder, and more time and social locations to choose in. The biological clock is not ticking so loudly for high school women as it is for professional school women, so they are less likely to marry the person they were dating when they finished school.

Educational homogamy is not uniform throughout the social ladder.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Ingenious Design #487: Pregnant Women's Backs

A new study in Nature shows that women have backs and hips that help them carry the weight of a growing baby without falling over. They have another vertebra that helps them lean back more to balance the growing baby's weight. They have wedge-shaped vertebra in the crucial spot, rather than square ones, to help bear the weight like a keystone. And women's wider hip joints let them bear the torque of walking with a big weight in their abdomens with less strain. Pregnant women are still subject to more back problems than other people, but they would hurt even more, and even more often, if they were built like men. The scientists who did the study report these nifty bones are found in ancient australopithecine women as well as modern women.

However you think people got that way, this is a fine piece of engineering. I myself think this is further evidence of providentially guided evolution, but even if you think people were designed this way from the get-go, or evolved this way by random mutation and natural selection, we end up in the same place: pregnant women are ingeniously configured to walk with babies.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Another Good Reason to Fight the Taliban: They Want the Kids to Freeze

The U.S. military is helping the Afghan government push back the Taliban along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. The two sides trade villages. When the Americans go in, they treat the sick kids with medicine. The Taliban have driven out all but a few doctors, and those are only allowed to treat the Taliban. According to C.J. Chivers' story in the New York Times,

Whenever the military or the government distributed aid,... including blankets, children’s notebooks or winter clothes, the Taliban entered the village, collected the aid and set it on fire.

We have to win the war on the Taliban. Would that the administration had stuck to that necessary war after 9/11, and not spent most of our military substance on an elective war that has bogged down.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Opposing Torture is a Centrist Issue

49 retired generals and admirals are trying to explain why torture is a bad idea, doesn't work enough to be worth it, violates international conventions that serve U.S. interests, and is just un-American. They are surprised that they even have to make this case. The officer corps is traditionally overwhelmingly Republican. So far they have met with the Democratic presidential candidates. The generals and admirals are frustrated that, so far, the Republican candidates won't meet with them. The only Republican candidate who has met with them is Mike Huckabee, the Baptist minister turned politician. Baptist ministers know why torture is bad -- just read Foxe's Book of Martyrs.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Mormons are Fine People, But Not Christians

Mormonism is a practical religion that produces strong families and responsible citizens. They are not polygamists anymore, and have no more tolerance for polygamist Mormon sects than the average American does. They promote hard work, practical help to others, and respect for social institutions. Mormon evangelism is the envy of many other churches, and could offer a lesson or three to the declining Protestant mainline.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has been putting on a charm offensive lately to be accepted as just another Christian Church. The Book of Mormon has been republished with a new subtitle, "Another Testament of Jesus Christ." Mitt Romney gave his big religion speech this week to show that his faith should be just as acceptable in a president as that of any previous president. He even proclaimed his belief that Jesus Christ is the son of God.

But when Mormons say that Jesus is the son of God, they mean something different than when Christians say it. Official Mormon theology teaches that God (and the shadowy Mrs. God) were once human beings who worked their way up to divinity. They believe Jesus was a man who did the same. And so can each of us, if we become Mormons. The Book of Mormon is "another testament of Jesus Christ" in the same way that the Koran is. Both books take the Jesus of the Christian New Testament and re-imagine him as a prophet with a specific exalted task. Exalted, but not divine.

The theological conflict between Mormonism and Christianity doesn't come up much in everyday life because most Mormons don't really know Mormon theology. When Mormon evangelists make a convert, they talk to people about living a new life, strengthening their families now and in the afterlife, and get them quickly to baptism. Then, in the years following, they get around to the theology -- if the convert wants to know.

Now, in fairness, most Christians couldn't get far in explaining Christian theology, either. But their clergy could. And if there were Mormon clergy in every town with a Mormon congregation, then the two kinds of ministers would have to have it out at the local level. However, Mormons don't have clergy. Most believing men are "priests," and can lead the local rituals, but the content of the services come directly from Salt Lake City. You don't have to know theology to be a Mormon priest any more than you have to know Christian theology to be a Baptist deacon. The important thing is not know the talk, but to walk the walk, to live the practical requirements of the religion.

I think Mitt Romney is right that his faith does not disqualify him from being president any more than the previous presidents' faith does. But I don't think it is Christian.