Saturday, February 26, 2011

Date Tables

The one thing I most wanted to change about Centre College in my first two decades here was the seating arrangement in the dining hall. It was a big round room, full of big round tables. The fraternity men sat together in the tables around edges of the room, looking at the sorority women at the tables on the inside of the room. Independents, and the handful of couples brave enough to eat together, sat in the wings - literally marginalized.

A few years ago we tore down that building. Our new student center was designed, in part, to break up that somewhat toxic seating arrangement. And it worked. The tables are smaller, and the seating patterns are more diverse and less static.

In a journal for my "Family Life" class a student noted that now there are three kinds of seating in the dining hall:
  • Round tables - where groups discuss whatever;
  • High toppers - taller tables, well suited for people watching; and
  • Date tables - where couples eat together, publicly proclaiming their relationship
Date tables, and the public display of relationship that they entail, have their detractors. I think, though, that they represent a large step forward from the previous culture that tended to limit much of the sober cross-sex conversation to the classroom.

Friday, February 25, 2011

No Wedding, No Womb is a Great Idea

Christelyn Karazin is a journalist who specializes in black women's issues. She has launched a blog and blogger project on one of the biggest: combating the 72% out-of-wedlock black birth rate. She has given this project the catchy name of "No Wedding, No Womb."

I think the rising out-of-wedlock birth rate is one of the most important sources of national problems. In no community is this problem greater or more pressing than among African Americans. I have long thought the major initiative to do something about it will have to come from black women. Therefore I am especially glad to see "No Wedding, No Womb," and commend Christelyn Karazin's efforts to everyone.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Fertile Women Are Most Attractive to Men - Unless the Men Are Already Committed to Another Women

A nifty experiment put men in a room with women who were at various stages of their monthly fertility cycle - unbeknownst to the men. The men were then asked to rate the women's relative attractiveness.

One interesting finding is that men rated women differently depending on where the women were in their cycle, even though there was no obvious visual sign of their fertility.

The more surprising finding is that the single men found the most fertile women most attractive, but men in a relationship found the most fertile women least attractive.

This seems to me a subtle chemical defense of marriage that is going on in men.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Are Actions "Direct Communication?"

In the "Family Life" class we are discussing gender differences in communication.

One difference is that women are more inclined to communicate their love in words, while men do it with actions. To take an example we used in class, a woman complained that her husband never told her that he loved her. "What do you mean," says he, "I washed your car, didn't I?"

Another difference is that men are more likely to be direct in speech - directly addressing a topic, and speaking directly to the person they are trying to communicate with. Women are more likely to be indirect - introducing the subject indirectly, and speaking to a third party in the expectation that the message will eventually get back to the person they are trying to communicate with.

One female student took communicating love through actions - a man washing his wife's car - to be indirect. I realized from this conversation that I had simply been assuming actions to be direct communication. The difference illustrates the point we had been discussing.

I would be curious to know your reactions to this question. It would probably be useful to name your gender in your response, if that is not obvious.

Monday, February 21, 2011

This is the Most Exciting Moment in World Politics Since the Fall of the Wall

The great moment when the Berlin Wall fell was an era when two great bastions of tyranny fell - most of the Communist states, and most of the Latin American capitalist authoritarian states. The world is a freer, richer, and more peaceful place because of those two great revolutions.

They were revolutions not just of one nation or another, but of many nations suffering under similar ideological regimes. The several revolutions fed off one another as they rose up. And, just as important, those ideological regimes lost heart, lost faith in their own legitimacy. The continuous pressure and example from the democracies was vital to both encourage the people and discourage the regimes. The democracies, the United States included, have many faults and mixed motives, and we also supported many of those oppressive regimes for a long time. But in that glorious moment, the good causes and good reasons came together.

The Muslim states are the last major bastion of ideological authoritarianism on earth today. We are witnessing a similar combination of happy forces against that ideology. There are sufficient pro-democracy populations in most Muslim nations to rise up, and to rise up with amazing discipline. The ideology that authoritarianism is a Muslim value is tottering, and is being opposed by Muslim intellectuals, journalists, and some religious leaders. And the democracies seem willing, even eager, to support democratic regimes in Muslim nations - even the ones with oil.

The news of the next few months will no doubt bring blood and horror, as some regimes - the Libyan, for example - fight back with brutal oppression. And we do not know what kind of regime Egypt will end up with. After the Wall fell, after all, the Russians gave up their empire, but the Chinese did massacre their democrats at Tienanmen Square. Some tyrannies will win this round, and some oppressed people will not even try to rise up.

I believe that when the dust settles, though, there will be, say, half a dozen Muslim democracies, and a several less oppressive Muslim regimes. Most importantly, the connection between Islam and authoritarian ideology will be broken.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

"Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus" Has Fine Ethnographic Film In It

"Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus" is a kind of documentary of poor white Southerners living extreme lives. It is framed by the commentary of people who are not poor white Southerners, notably musician Jim White, who like to put themselves near extreme lives in order to draw upon other people's passion and authenticity.

I think the commentary is mostly not helpful, especially when they try to claim that these scenes of people at the margins of American society represent the South as a whole.

I do commend, though, the segments shot in a bar, a prison, a coal mine, and Pentecostal church. These are fine bits of life. The people in all these places are clearly from the same place in society. They repeatedly talk about living a self-destructive life as young people. Some turn to church to turn their lives around. Some do not. Both, though, talk about God - and their willful attempts to follow God and live right - as their only hope for a decent life.

I think a fine short film could be made from just these scenes, with a neutral voiceover describing where, exactly, they are shot.

A big part of the film was showing off the performances of musicians described in all the commentary as "" I don't know enough about the genre to know if these were significant performers within it. The songs themselves were not my cup of tea; that is not essential to what I thought was most valuable in the film.

The filmed bits of real life, though, are worth the visit.