Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Over the River and Through the Woods

... to Grandmother's house we go.

May you all have a joyous Christmas.

See you in the new year -- I have a big series planned, starting January first.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Anna Karenina Problem: Why There Are So Few Happy TV Marriages

Recently one of my most faithful readers, Edith OSB, asked " I've pondered what it would take to have a TV show with a happily married family who goes to Church each week - the data support the link with stable marriages - and I don't think it's going to happen." Earlier this year I lamented the dearth of good marriages on television, and nominated the DuBoises of "Medium" as the best TV marriage. In response to Edith OSB's specific question, a clear case of a church-going family were the Camdens of "Seventh Heaven," in which the father was pastor of the church. They had a wonderful marriage.

The problem with television as a place for happy marriages is that happy families are not dramatic enough for a domestic show. The Camdens illustrate this perfectly: while the marriage was strong and the children were well-raised, the writers put the children, and later the father, in increasingly contrived scrapes in order to keep the plot going.

Tolstoy famously begins Anna Karenina with this claim: "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." I long puzzled over that. It seemed to me that happy families were truly free to do anything they want to. It was the unhappy families, locked in dysfunctional rituals of addiction and miscommunication, that seemed much like one another. The mystery of Tolstoy's meaning was cleared up for me by, of all things, Jared Diamond's excellent Guns, Germs, and Steel. He cites the "Anna Karenina Principle" not in relation to marriage and family life, but as the rule governing which kinds of animals can be domesticated. The problem, Diamond explains, is that for an animal to be domesticated, it requires a list of characteristics, each of which is necessary, and none sufficient by itself. A relative handful of animals have all the qualities on the list, while many animals have most, but not quite all. This is why horses could be domesticated, but zebras cannot.

Happy families are alike in that they have the whole list of characteristics in the right balance. They are bounded but flexible, firm but adaptive. Happy families don’t have big, tv-friendly dramas based on miscommunication or self-destruction for the very same reasons that they are happy families in the first place.

The better role for happy families on television is to support the work of the family members. The DuBois marriage is secondary to her crime solving (and, secondarily, to his engineering work, of which we see little). The Huxtables of the legendary "Cosby" show had their work as doctor and lawyer to attend to, which their quite functional marriage and family life supported. The Bartletts of "West Wing" had the minor business of the presidency in the foreground to attend to – and even then they neglected their children. I wish we could have seen President Santos' family adapt to the White House, though I expect the writers would have felt obliged to mess them up, too.

Shows that foreground dramatic work, like cop shows, routinely show the job shredding the family. Shows that foreground the family, as most sit-coms do, usually make the family dysfunctional. "Gilmore Girls," one of the Gruntled family's favorite shows, is running on the rocks in its final season as it tries to turn its highly functional single-mom family into a pair of competent marriages. This is more of a problem in television world than in real life.

What I want is a show that foregrounds the work, but with a continuous backstage life of a happy, supportive family.

Monday, December 18, 2006

I'm the Person of the Year! (No, I'm Not)

Time magazine has named you (all of you/us) Persons of the Year. They reason that digital democracy, such as YouTube, MySpace, and your humble blog, have made ordinary content providers the biggest influencers of events this year.

I think they copped out. The problem arose because the leader of the World's Only Superpower was clearly not leading events, but mostly running from them. But he is so powerful that he makes it hard for anyone else to be as consequential. We are now all waiting for a leader to emerge in the United States.

My nominee for Person of the Year: Hu Jintao, head of the Chinese government, for allowing capitalism to develop in the People's Republic of China – which I think will eventually lead to democracy, though of a peculiar form – and for once again not conquering Taiwan, even though there is not much we could do about it in our current embarrassed condition.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Calling Out Donald Wildmon (Not for the Last Time)

I want sensible religious leaders of other faiths to condemn the violent, radical, and just extreme actions and pronouncements of their fringe elements. This entails that I do the same thing with the Christian extremists. Which brings us to Don Wildmon, head of the American Family Association, and his latest silliness about television.

On the CBS show "Two and a Half Men," Charlie Sheen plays an irresponsible womanizer who writes and sings jingles. On a recent show Sheen's character altered familiar Christmas carols to celebrate what he hoped would be an imminent sexual encounter. To Wildmon and AFA, this means that Sheen, Hollywood, and CBS are mocking Christ, Christians, and Christmas.

Let us regain some perspective here. Charlie Sheen is an actor. He does not write the show. He did not invent the character. He did not create the premise of the show. Moreover, his character is not supposed to be admirable or a role model – the whole point is that he is a skunk. And the point of the songs was to celebrate the skunk's hope of sex. They were not about Christ, Christians, or even Christmas. Don, get a grip.

Wildmon recently slammed Rosie O'Donnell (and CBS again) for saying on "The View"'s 9/11 anniversary show, "Radical Christianity is just as threatening as radical Islam in a country like America where we have a separation of church and state. We're a democracy here." I say O'Donnell is mostly right, though the issue is more the violence of radicals than their connection to the state.

I am not saying that Don Wildmon and the American Family Association represent violent, extreme, or even very radical Christianity. I think Wildmon represents fusspot Christianity. And representing Christ, Christians, and Christmas as fusspots truly invites mockery.

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.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

A Complaint-Free World

Mrs. G. handed me the paper. "This is a perfect Gruntled story." Christ Church Unity, in Kansas City, MO, started a project among their young people to see if they could go 21 days without complaining, gossiping, or criticizing. Each kid was give a purple rubbery wristband of the kind that is fashionable for causes of the moment, with the word "spirit" on it. The bracelet is worn on one wrist; if you slip up, you move the bracelet to the other wrist, and start over.

The little project has taken off. People heard about it by word of mouth, and so far they have shipped 9000 of them.

This is an idea whose time has come. I will endeavor to go through the New Year without complaining – not even about the current administration (ok, I may need to start over already).

Friday, December 08, 2006

The IM divide

The Associated Press and America Online have just released a survey of the generational divide in Instant Messaging (IMing) vs. emailing. Among the millions of Americans who use both, 3/4ths of adults email more than they IM; among teenagers, the reverse is true.

I can confirm that statistic in the Gruntled Family: our three under-20s use instant messaging as the main way they communicate with friends, sending dozens, if not hundreds, daily. Mrs. G. and I, on the other hand, send dozens of emails daily. My kids are probably among the 30% of teenagers who say they couldn't imagine life without IM. I used it once, and found it too cumbersome to repeat. IM seems to me to be the worst of both worlds – the expressive limitations of print, combined with the dead air and conversational filler of the telephone.

When I was facing the prospect of a house with two teenage girls, I thought I might never see my telephone. Technology has avoided this problem altogether. Between cell phones and IM, as well as the happy legal invention of the "no-call" list, our house phone is suffering from neglect.

My colleagues and I have noticed more students this year who have great trouble functioning in the morning, or even getting up for, say, my 8 o'clock class. Our best guess is that they routinely spend hours after midnight online. Some of that is spent doing homework. But at the same time, they are carrying on multiple IM conversations with groups of friends.

So I say to all IMing teens and college students: ease up on the IM circles, and let each other do homework and get some sleep.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A Safety Net for the Irresponsible

There is an interesting proposal in The New Republic that liberals and libertarians should form a permanent alliance. As someone who is neither, I can look on this proposal calmly. Brink Lindsey, of the libertarian Cato Institute, notes that millions of libertarians, growing disgusted with the big spending Bush Republicans, voted Democratic this time. He argues that all actual libertarian progress, such as easy abortion and easy immigration, have come about through liberal means.

Still, he admits that the stumbling block is over the social safety net. Liberals, and especially those who think of themselves as progressives, are most devoted to a social safety net for everyone. Libertarians, on the other hand, want individuals to be responsible for themselves.

What was right about the conservative critique of liberalism in the 1980s was the honest discussion of how government entitlements created dependence and perverse incentives to be even more dependent. The great welfare act of 1996 was driven by this realization. This is the great bridge between centrist Democrats and centrist Republicans. The progressives among the former, and the libertarians among the latter, didn't like it.

Here, I think, is the great divide between liberals and libertarians. Liberals think the government should provide for irresponsible and self-destructive people. Libertarians don't. Liberals err on the side of making some people worse than they otherwise would be, in order to have a supported society. Libertarians err on the side of letting some people fail, even die, in order to make a society of stronger individuals.

I don't think the two can make a long-term marriage.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Insecure Farting Grounds Airliner

I have been giving the final exam in my social class course. One of the points that always interests students is the claim that it is very middle class to be embarrassed about body functions. Today's news brings us a prime, ridiculous example. A woman on an American Airlines flight was so embarrassed by her own flatulence that she kept lighting matches. When the other passengers smelled the matches, they thought someone might be trying to light a bomb fuse, and told the flight crew. The plane made a quick landing and evacuation in Nashville. After questioning, the woman finally revealed the truth.

As Benjamin Franklin said, fart proudly.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Boys and Girls are Different, Even the "Gender Variant" Ones

The New York Times is running a fascinating story by Patricia Leigh Brown on children who act like, even want to be, the opposite sex. The story is mostly about the sad conflicts these children, and their parents, face.

Brown cites some of the very few scholars who have studied what happens to these children later. The results for boys and girls, in this as in many other kinds of sex difference, are strikingly different. In some studies, about a quarter of "gender variant" boys grow out of it, a majority become gay, and the remaining small fraction come to think of themselves as transgender, or something else. Most of the girls, on the other hand, grow out of it. Brown cites Dr. Kenneth Zucker, who has treated some 500 gender variant children at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, who said that about 80% of his patients grew out of it – though she does not report if he had different results with boys and girls.

The science of sexual identity is still pretty mysterious. I take these early studies as further confirmation, though, that males and females are different from one another in how much of their gender and sexual identity is nature, as opposed to nurture. Men seem more polarized – either one way or the other – and more shaped by their biology. Women seem to fall more along a spectrum, and where they fall on it seems to be more amenable to change over time.

As I have read the evidence thus far, I don't think I could say anything more definite than that. I believe, though, that the more we know about the science of sex-anything, the more we will see differences between males and females.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Monoga Ginalogues

Eve Ensler, author of "The Vagina Monologues," is soliciting material for a new play about what women think about marriage. The following notice appeared in the Smartmarriages list.

Love, marriage and relationships in the 21st Century. Share your story of marital bliss, torrid infidelity, heartbreaking betrayal, hot monogamy, polyamory or celibacy. Are women better off married or single? We want to hear it all. Documentary Production Company seeks women of all ages and races to ultimately appear in sit-down on-camera interviews with Eve Ensler creator of The Vagina Monologues as we document her creating her next monologue play. At this point we especially want to hear from the Latina, African American, and Asian communities and brides to be. If you are interested in sharing your story or thoughts on the subject of marriage and relationships, please contact us immediately: (lovemelovemenot "at"
Thank you,
Arlene Nelson

The "Vagina Monologues" is a regular production on Valentine's Day on my campus, and at other schools, too. It has become something of a ritual for young women to participate, helping them to talk about women's varied experience, especially with men. The monologues are varied, though I think the playwright selected more negative than positive material. This might reflect her own view, or just a natural desire to show the dramatic.

I think it would be a good thing if women with positive marital stories made a point of giving their testimony to Ms. Ensler. She will make a play of all the varied material that she gets. I think it is normal that we are more likely to rouse ourselves to complain about bad things than to express contentment and gratitude for the good. But if this new play has anything like the effect on young women that the "Vagina Monologues" has, I think we would all be better off if it contained a healthy dose of happy marriage stories.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Note to Church Dissidents: You Can't Seize the Building

First Presbyterian Church of Torrance, California, has been caught in an ugly property dispute, which was finally (I hope) resolved this week. One faction wanted to call a new minister who was under charges in his old presbytery. The loyalists pointed out, reasonably, that the church would be violating church law to call him under those circumstances. Alas, the dissidents wanted to call him anyway. Push came to shove – even during worship – and the two sides locked one another out.

This was the sign that the dissidents had gone over the edge:

The dissident faction proceeded to call the pastor — who during the dispute had renounced the jurisdiction of the PC(USA) — seized the Torrance building and filed suit against the presbyteries and synod to acquire ownership of the property.

This week a civil court ruled that they could not do that. You don't get the property by seizing it – not under civil law, and certainly not under church law.

On the other hand, dissents sometimes get what they want if they make a reasonable offer. Sometimes they don't, of course. And the law is on the side of the loyalists. Still, loyalists, of all people, don't want to divide the church with an ugly fight. Former Moderator Syngman Rhee went to Torrance himself to try to mediate this dispute, and he convinced the loyalist group to let the dissidents hold services in the sanctuary, while the loyalists retired to the fellowship hall, until the matter was settled. Loyalist will normally try to be accommodating.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

A Goat Named Bambi for Christmas

A story about my niece and nephew, who are twin four year olds, as told by my sister (their mom):

Danny and Clara, falling into the "no matches, no reading" category of religious education student, were cast as birth-witnessing barnyard animals for the Christmas pageant. Clara was content to be a cow. After hearing me list the available parts ("cow, horse, donkey, goat, sheep, chicken, pig -- no, not pig,") Dan decided he wanted to be a goat with antlers. Sadly, and I knew this, Dan confuses goats and deer, as evidenced by his once declaring his preschool had a story about a goat named Bambi. So, what he actually wanted to be is a deer.

My amazing mother said "sure" and promptly made him an entire whitetail deer outfit with a suit, hood, and antlers. A fuzzy white belly, ears, and flappy tail, too. Adorable. Why there is a whitetail deer in Bethlehem we are not going to address because upon seeing his outfit, Clara reconsidered and might go as a unicorn with wings, so a deer is practically ordinary in comparison.

The antlers do tend to fall into his eyes, so I suggested taking them off until the pageant. "No," he said. "Then I would be a doe. I want to be a puck."

Friday, December 01, 2006

Excreting AIDS

On World AIDS Day I was reminded of a report by a colleague who had been studying AIDS transmission in village Kenya. He found that many men with AIDS thought that they had a certain amount of the virus in their bodies, and the more sex they had, the more of it they expelled. Therefore men with AIDS were more likely to seek out sex partners than other men were. These guys were particularly interested in sex with virgins, so the men would not pick up a new dose of the virus while they were "expelling" theirs.

Seriously scary.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Third-World Laptop

The One Laptop Per Child project is ready to unveil a simplified, durable, rural-ready $150 laptop for kids in the developing world. Nicholas Negroponte, who has been pushing the project since his days as director of MIT's Media Lab, says governments of Argentina, Brazil, Libya, Nigeria, and Thailand have made commitments to buy and distribute the machines to help educate their kids.

The project has been opposed by big computer companies and some educators on the grounds that poor countries lack the school infrastructures to make use of these computers.

I think giving laptops to kids in poor countries is a great idea. I know they don't have the schools to go with them – but then again, neither do we. I think the real value of this project will be in the million and one unexpected things that kids think of when given access to the world's information. My friend Neil Gershenfeld, another big brain at the Media Lab, has shown that putting simple, tough fabrication laboratories in the hands of kids in the developing world releases some of them to make amazing things. I am confident that giving them computers and the web will do the same thing.

I think the people who should really worry about this project are oppressive Third World governments who wish their people did not have access to the world's information and connections. Who knows, Libya might turn into a leading free society down the road, from a peaceful revolution led by kids with laptops.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Pro-Life Club, Part Two

Yesterday's blog has led to significant conversation both on the blog and among the faculty. This has been very fruitful – it is just the kind of dialogue that we should have.

There were a few criticisms of what I had said that I think deserve an answer.

Some colleagues didn't want to sponsor groups with controversial positions because they thought doing so would compromise their objectivity, or their appearance of objectivity, in the classroom. I can see this worry. As the sponsor to the College Democrats, I do not share that concern. I think we can talk about anything in class without any of us – students or professor – having to become advocates.

Other colleagues argued that there are more positions on the abortion question than simply pro-choice or pro-life. I agree with this entirely. I believe that there are many middle positions on every polarized issue, and we would make better policy if we explored them. That is one of the reasons that I think someone should sponsor the pro-life club: having someone start the conversation will bring out more nuance than we now have. Still, when students say they want a pro-life club, they are looking for someone willing to take a position in favor of legally restricting abortion. For all the nuance that my colleagues and I have offered on this question, I have never heard one take that kind of pro-life position in public.

Which brings me to the other issue. I wrote " it is clear that there is almost no ideological diversity on this crucial issue." Several faculty members have taken me to task for not having sufficient basis for reaching this strong conclusion. I want to acknowledge that they may be right. So let me tell you what I know, and why I made this educated guess.

I do not know for sure that there are any strong, ban-abortion, even ban-abortion-with-limited-exceptions pro-lifers on the Centre faculty. I suspect that there are, but they are very quiet about it. One colleague who objected to my generalization thought that not only is abortion itself a private and personal issue – "not anyone else's business" – this colleague felt the same way about one's position on abortion as a public policy issue.

I know that there are quite a few people, myself included, who would not ban abortion, but do have qualms about our current abortion law and practice. Some think Roe v. Wade was bad law and/or wrongly decided, preferring to leave that issue to the states and the legislatures. Others think that nearly all individual acts of abortion are bad choices. Some think that some kinds of abortion, such as the partial birth variety, should be banned. And one might add to this nuance. Still, even this group would be very circumspect about saying anything in public that sounded like claiming that abortion is immoral, or mostly immoral, even if it should be legal in some cases.

We did survey faculty and student opinion about a decade ago. At that time, students were about 2-to-1 pro-choice, though most were moderately rather than strongly committed to their position. The faculty were pro-choice by a larger ratio; more importantly, I think, the faculty were more likely to take a strong rather than moderate position on the issue. This survey is old, though, and perhaps things have changed.

We also have conversations about politics at the lunch table fairly often. These routinely involve a quarter or a third of the faculty over time. Here the evidence is slippery. Someone will criticize a politician as "anti-choice," in a tone that suggests that that is a settled matter and a clearly bad position. And usually this judgment will either be actively assented to, or passed over in silence. Perhaps all those being silent actually disagree. But even that proves the larger point of yesterday's post and Bob Martin's comments before that: in the public sphere among the Centre faculty there is almost no dissent from the pro-choice consensus. Perhaps I should say apparent pro-choice consensus.

All of which still leaves the pro-life club without a sponsor so far.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Who Should Sponsor the Pro-Life Club?

My colleague Bob Martin wrote in our local paper about the lack of ideological diversity in the faculty. He was approached by a student who wanted to start a pro-life student group, and was looking for a faculty advisor. Bob, a moderate libertarian on this issue, declined. But he was also struck by the realization that he was not sure any member of the faculty would be willing to advise such a club. In part, he was not certain what most colleagues' views on the issue were. In larger part, though, he knew that the overwhelming majority would not agree with the students – and suspected that our handful of pro-life faculty members would feel uneasy about sponsoring such a group in public.

Centre College is the most collegial college I know. We do have a range of views, and yet are quite civil to one another about our differences. As anyone who knows academia can testify, this friendly state of affairs is unusual. Still, like nearly every secular faculty we are heavily tilted to the left, though we teach a much more centrist student body.

Last year we were hiring a new dean of the faculty (called a provost some places), which is always a momentous event for a college. In the public Q & A with the candidates, several of us came to ask some particular question of each prospective dean. Some of the questions were clearly quite familiar to the candidates, such as "what would you do to promote racial diversity in the faculty?" All of them were for it, and promised vigorous efforts, which I applaud and have long participated in. My question, though, seemed to catch all of them off guard: "What would you do to promote ideological diversity in the faculty?" All of them said some variety of "I wouldn't," though I am happy to say that our current dean gave the most thoughtful version of "no."

Well, now that abstract issue is having a real consequence for our pro-life students. We have never used abortion as a litmus test for faculty selection, of course, nor even asked about it. Yet it is clear that there is almost no ideological diversity on this crucial issue. Worse, the few professors who do stand out against the consensus have qualms that they might be made to suffer if they buck the trend. An untenured faculty member who considered taking on the students' request said "this is one of the few positions that might actually threaten getting tenure."

The real point of seeking "diversity" is to get people who think differently to work together. All the other kinds of diversity are really just proxies for that goal. Students would be better taught by an ideologically diverse faculty.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Mixed Feelings About the Big Money

The New York Times has a fine piece by Louis Uchitelle on professionals who opt out of the comfortable money that their professions often bring, in favor of the huge money that comes from working for the top of the corporate heap.

The lead story is of a $160,000 per year doctor, married to a better-paid manager, who instead leaps to Wall Street to consult on medical firms. He won't say what he is making, but it is likely to be at least ten times what he used to make, and his net worth is probably nearly $20 million. A story even closer to my heart is of a business professor turned Wall Street buyout guy, with a similar income and wealth jump. Since he and his wife are "serious Presbyterians," they are trying to avoid the gravitational pull of ostentatious living that their new peers often succumb to.

Both of these guys talk about the strong model of philanthropy that Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have created for the monstrously rich, as well as for the merely rich guys featured in this story. I am glad that the Carnegie standard of giving away huge wealth has returned to the very rich. I thank Ted Turner for leading the way with his billion-dollar gift to the U.N. (and I don't often find myself thanking Ted Turner). To have the same ethic filter down to the mere centimillionaires is a good thing.

My first reaction to the doctor's story, though, was that giving up a research career that might possibly have found a cure for cancer just to make more money seems to me to show distorted priorities. As the story added further detail, though – they had kids, he thought he had a better chance to do good by helping promising drug companies than by making promising drugs, and with a big pile he could give some of it away – I developed more sympathy for his choice. And underlying several of the cases cited in the article is the couple's desire for the family to afford to have the highly trained wife home with the kids when they were little. This is, I think, an honorable choice, and the most ancient Good Reason for him to want to make more.

So opting for the big money can be done honorably if the work itself is worthy, the family is helped more than hurt, and if you give a bunch of it away.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Evangelizing New Atheists Will Lose More Centrists Than They Gain

The current crop of evangelizing atheists – most notably Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), Daniel Dennett (Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon), and Sam Harris (Letter to a Christian Nation) – want to convince agnostics that tolerating religion is wrong. The time has come, they argue, to drive the delusion out.

They will probably convince some lukewarm atheists and agnostics to become militant atheists. But I think that, in the main, their project will backfire. It will fail not because believers will reject them – they will do that anyway. Rather, the new atheists will fail because there is a limited market for intolerance in the West these days, and there is almost no market for atheism anywhere else.

The center in our society is mostly composed of religious believers. Still, most of them are also willing to tolerate atheism and give full civil liberties to atheists. The center will draw the line, though, at any view that would require them to become intolerant. And they will lose patience with extremists who insist that, of all things, if they aren't extremists, they aren't rational.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

A joke from Endub

Junior Gruntled #2 shares her father's sense of humor.

Lately the police have been disturbed by the number of sociologists they have found embedded in gangs of drug dealers and thieves. Each time the cops raid such a nest of villains, they expose the tweedy underbelly of society.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Borat Buffoons

Justin Seay and Christopher Rotunda, two members of the Chi Psi fraternity at the University of South Carolina, make drunken, misogynist, racist fools of themselves before the camera in "Borat." Just like Borat himself.

They got $200 for their troubles, and a world of embarrassment. Sacha Baron Cohen, who plays Borat, has a film that has taken in $93 million and counting. The frat boys have sued. Their suit will, no doubt, help the film earn even more.

In the whole film, these guys are the only ones who really embarrass the United States. Just about everyone else, I think, could be charged with an excess of politeness in trying to accommodate a rude, possibly clueless stranger.

The most puzzling part of this lawsuit is that Seay and Rotunda say they were told that the documentary would only be shown outside the United States. That, in their minds, makes it ok. Compare this with the storm that greeted the Dixie Chicks for saying that they were embarrassed that President Bush was a fellow Texan, and for saying it in London. If they had said the same thing in Austin, they would have gotten grief from Republicans, but it would have sunken to a minor difference of opinion among Americans.

No, I think Mr. Seay and Mr. Rotunda deserve their fifteen minutes of ignominy. They have, so far, offered no apology for any of their remarks, nor expressed any remorse for embarrassing their families, their fraternity, their university, and their country. Their only gripe is that they were tricked into revealing to their family, friends, and neighbors what they usually only show to their "brothers" – and, presumably, foreigners.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving to All

The peculiar custom of the Gruntleds is to have the Thanksgiving meal a day early. Last night we were short the eldest Junior Gruntled, who was picked up from college by Grandma. We were up two students, though, who added to the cheer.

Today we sit by the fire and read. And eat leftovers.

We are flying the Kentucky flag today, which has the wonderful state motto, "United We Stand, Divided We Fall." May you all stand – and sit, and lounge about, and perhaps go play in the brisk air – together this day.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Here's To Assortative Marriage

Men and women are increasingly likely to marry someone with the same educational background. It used to be that college women were less likely to marry than were less-educated women. Women born after 1960 – that is, my cohort and after – however, are more likely to marry if they are college graduates than not.

One of the pieces of life advice I give to students is "smart men marry smart women." This claim has a double sense. One sense is just to describe assortative marriage: educated men are likely to marry educated women, and vice-versa. The other sense is more prescriptive: men who are smart will seek to marry women who are smart. Beauty fades; brains endure. You will probably be married a long time, so find someone you can talk to. This advice is true for women, too, of course. In fact, since women actually do the selecting in the final analysis, it is really smart women who choose smart men. But the men have to make an effort first. Since women are usually ready for marriage sooner than men are, those men who are ready to settle down earlier get first pick. I urge them to pick for brains.

So as we settle in for the Thanksgiving holiday, one of the things I am most thankful for is Mrs. Gruntled – B.A. with highest honors, Yale lawyer, mother of my smart kids, and, at the moment, baking pumpkin pies. And we share jokes. May you all make the most suitable marriage that Providence allows.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Gay Marriage and Polygamy Tie the Knot

The law is capable of fine distinctions. A society could legalize homosexual marriage and not legalize polygamy, or vice-versa. But politics is not really capable of fine distinctions. If the proponents of same-sex marriage convince the courts that all adults have an equal-protection right to marry one another, then those same courts will conclude that any number of consenting adults have the same right. The political movement to keep the state out of the bedroom applies not only to the gay bedroom, but to all the adult bedrooms in the house.

I cite as just the latest evidence John Pomfret's Washington Post article, " Polygamists fight to decriminalize bigamy." Pomfret cites multiple ways in which the gay marriage and polygamous marriage movements are closely tied – whether the former want it or not:

Consciously taking tactics from the gay-rights movement, polygamists have reframed their struggle, choosing in interviews to de-emphasize their religious beliefs and focus on their desire to live "in freedom."

The U.S. Supreme Court's 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which voided laws criminalizing sodomy, also aided polygamy's cause because it implied that the court disapproved of laws that reach into the bedroom.

Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University … has written two op-eds for USA Today calling for the legalization of bigamy -- and same-sex marriage. "I find polygamy an offensive practice," said Turley, who has become something of a celebrity among polygamists in Utah. "But there is no way its practice among consenting adults should be a felony."

Turley is right – the political movement to let consenting adults marry any way they want to is a potent one. The action in polygamy prosecution has shifted recently as a result of these new political realities. Even the Attorney General of Utah, who is on the front line of this struggle, has publicly announced that he will not enforce the state's bigamy laws. Instead, he only goes after polygamists for rape, incest, and welfare fraud – as he would with non-polygamists, too.

Proponents of gay marriage are usually liberal. Proponents of polygamy are usually conservative. If they had their way, they might each write the law to include their kind of marriage and exclude the other kind. But the political movement they are both riding – marriage is a private choice of individuals that society should just accept – is a tiger they are holding by the tail. If they don't let go, the tiger will eat both movements, and much more beside. And then we will have no marriage at all. Only whatever private contracts any consenting adults want to make.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Janet Edwards' Trial Ends in a Shambles

Rev. Janet Edwards officiated at a lesbian wedding in order to provoke a trial. At the trial she hired busses to bring in supporters, got other famous provokers to come, and sent out invitations.

This week, the Permanent Judicial Commission of Pittsburgh Presbytery ruled that the charges had been filed four days too late, so the case could not be heard.

I don't know who screwed up. Jim Mead, the presbytery executive, laments the mess. He is right that the PJC acted properly, given the case that had been handed to them. And he praises the "hard work and best intentions of the fine people on the Investigative Committee." Without evidence that the investigating committee deliberately sabotaged the case, we ought to assume that it was an honest mistake on their part.

Still, this is not the first time that the church has been cheated of a clear decision on whether its official standards on homosexual practice are real or not. A few years ago there was the notorious case of the gay elder in First Presbyterian Church, Stamford Connecticut. It took so long to reach a decision that the elder's term ran out, and the case was declared moot.

The left and the right of the church are mobilized all the time, and often suspicious of the church's order. The loyalist center, on the other hand, is slow to mobilize and is trusting of the denomination's basic institutions. There is one good way, though, to rouse the ire of the loyalist center: to manipulate the church's rules and procedures in an indecent and disorderly way to sneak in one outcome or another.

Let us hope that the remaining high-profile cases are handled scrupulously.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

A Satirist's Dream

Italian comedians are making fun of the Vatican. The Vatican is upset about it. Humorless lay people are threatening to boycott the sponsors of the satirical shows.

It is a satirist's dream. Touchy powerful people are the best gift one could ask for. I hope the Vatican gets so worked up about it that it becomes a story here. It would be great to have Stephen Colbert, conservative Catholic, slyly satirizing the Pope's secretary.

A representative joke:

The Holy Trinity won a free trip and had to decide where to go.
God the Father said he would like to go to Africa,
Jesus to Palestine, and
the Holy Spirit to the Vatican.
Asked why, the Holy Spirit responded: “Because I’ve never been there.”

[Which reminds me of my favorite Pope joke. Jesus calls the Pope on the phone.

Pope: "Jesus, Hallelujah! To what do I owe the honor of this call?"

Jesus: "Well, I've got some good news and some bad news. The good news is that I am back."

Pope: "And the bad news?"

Jesus: "I'm calling from Salt Lake City."]

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Frustrating Necessity of Family Policy

Allan Carlson concludes Conjugal America with a call for governmental "family policy." But he really doesn't want to. He wishes the government would leave the family alone. Since the Enlightenment, though, and especially since the New Deal, the reach of the government is so extensive that it is unrealistic to think the family and the state could leave one another alone. Better, then, to join them than to fight them.

Carlson wants family policy to recognize that the main social purpose of marriage is procreation, not pleasure. The government's main purpose in family policy, therefore, should be to support procreative marriage and to support married parents in raising their children. Everything else is secondary. The state will need to help support children when their parents can't – or at least it should support other institutions that step in the help the kids. And marriage, as a name and legal status, should be preserved for one man/one woman couples, because they could be procreative.

Does Carlson's position rule out homosexual marriage? Yes. Does it rule out homosexual civil unions? Probably not. By the same token, couples that have kids should not be supported by the state as if they were married; instead, they should be encouraged to just go ahead and get married. And any policies which create perverse incentives for parents not to get married should be eliminated.

Carlson has a reputation in liberal circles as a way-out-there conservative. The position that argues for in Conjugal America, though, is actually pretty centrist. It is also quite close to what most Americans seem to support, based on opinion polls and recent votes on marriage amendments. Marriage is for kids. Other relationships can be good enough. But the state should not treat them as the same as marriage, nor is it obliged to consider them just as good for raising kids.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Families are Little Islands of Freedom

Allan Carlson's strongest point in Conjugal America is that families are our best defense against totalitarian projects. He describes the various ways in which the Nazis, and the Maoists, and the Soviets tried to destroy the family, to make each person primarily an instrument of their various totalizing projects. And he does not spare the West's current totalizing project of "militant secular individualism," which he thinks may be the greatest threat of all to dissolve the family. Yet even that danger, he thinks, can be defeated. We are meant for marriage, meant for raising our children together. Some individuals won't and don't, but humanity will.

Carlson does not talk about the other great totalizing project of our day, Islamic fascism. In some ways Islamism, or salafism, is more powerful than the twentieth century's secular and pagan totalitarianisms because it aims to co-opt the family, rather than abolish it. Men and women are enlisted to enforce a strict patriarchy in their own families, as well as on other people's families. When the story of this time in Muslim lands is told there will, no doubt, be many horror stories of men ruling their homes ruthlessly, and, let us not forget, women piously assisting. But I think there will also be many stories of families making their home a safe haven against the various Vice and Virtue police all around them.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Why Society is Interested in Marriage.

When a man and a woman get together, it is not unusual that they would make a baby. Society is interested in marriage to be sure that somebody is taking care of that baby. Otherwise, it becomes our job. Indeed, in most cases where the parents are not married, supporting the kids has become our job, a job that society is not very well equipped to do.

SO, if a man and a woman are going to get together (I am trying to avoid vulgarity here), it is safer for everyone if they get married first.

If they do not, for one reason or another, make a baby, there is no harm done. If they want to be married but don't intend to make babies, or don't even think they can make babies, it is still safer for society and for any surprise children if they get married first. We don't really need to know all the details of what they do together.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Marriage Makes Men and Women More Equal

This week I am working through ideas from, or inspired by, Allan Carlson's Conjugal America. One rich idea is that sexual dimorphism – biologically based difference between male and female – is greatest "when sexual coupling is random or where one male accumulates numerous females" as with other primates. On the other hand, "dimorphism is least when male and female pair off in monogamous bonds."

Carlson cites a study by a Kent State research team led by Phillip Reno. They found evidence that our pre-human ancestors were both pair-bonded and more similar in size and shape than other, non-pairing primates are.

I think that marriage makes for more complementarity and true equality at the social level, too. Among human beings today, subcultures in which monogamy is rare also show the greatest animosity between men and women, and the greatest hierarchy when they do marry. Old marrieds, on the other hand, famously become more of a seamless team – not the same, but working together, equally yoked as one.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Unwritten Sexual Constitution of Our Civilization

Allan Carlson, one the leading conservative marriage proponents, uses this phrase in his new book, Conjugal America. The foundation of this unwritten constitution, he argues, is procreative marriage. Tying procreation and marriage firmly together is, he argues, the cultural achievement on which the rest of Western civilization rests.

Carlson frames the creation of the unwritten sexual constitution in the chaos at the end of the Roman empire. The ancient Roman republic had had a stern marriage code. By the early years of the church, though, the decadence of empire had eroded that old standard to an "anything goes" sexual culture. Making babies and being married had become disconnected.

In the first centuries of the Christian era, Carlson argues, "the Fathers of the Christian Church crafted a new sexual order." They were arguing not only with pagans, but also with two Gnostic strands within Christianity. The Gnostics thought they had a secret knowledge that set them apart from ordinary people. One Gnostic group took their specialness to mean that no sexual rules applied to them, that gospel freedom meant all sex was fine. The other, more intellectually potent brand of Gnosticism argued that sex and procreation were bad, that living in our material bodies is a trial and an imprisonment. On the one hand, sex and babies without marriage. On the other hand, no sex and no babies.

The leaders of the early church took a middle path. They saw, as Genesis says, that Creation is good. Babies are good, and thus sex has its place. The great achievement of the early church, Carlson argues, is to promote an ideal that put sex in marriage for making and raising children. Children, as his first chapter title proclaims are the "first purpose of marriage." Carlson credits Augustine with the most enduring formulation of the Christian ideal of procreative marriage. We sometimes think of Augustine as anti-sex, but really he was promoting a high standard of sex within marriage because sex has such a strong potential to lead us astray.

"And," Carlson writes, "as articulated by Augustine in the year 400 AD, this moral order lasted for another 1,500 years."

I think the idea that there is an unwritten sexual constitution to our civilization based on marriage and children is a powerful one. In fact, I would go a step further, and argue that procreative marriage is Article I of the unwritten constitution of every civilization.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Is Yale Religion Liberal Religion?

The current issue of the Yale alumni magazine has an unusual cover story: "The New Evangelists: Yale Divinity School and the Future of Protestantism." This is the first extensive treatment of the Divinity School that I can recall in the alumni magazine in the twenty years since I graduated. Indeed, much of the university regards the existence of the Div School as a curiosity and a relic, not central to the university's mission today. There was even a serious attempt to abolish the school in the '90s, by a president now happily departed (he also tried to kill the sociology department – clearly a misguided individual).

This story, by Warren Goldstein '73, '83PhD, an historian and biographer of William Sloane Coffin, is about the renewal of YDS. What struck me about the story was the fact that the author, and most of those interviewed for it, took it for granted that the mission of Yale Divinity School was to serve liberal religion. Goldstein's framework was that the decline of mainline Protestantism and the decline of Yale Divinity School went hand in hand. The Protestant "establishment" of old no longer rules, and its leading seminaries have taken a long time to adjust to that fact. Goldstein reads the decline of the establishment as the decline of liberalism.

This is a familiar argument, and yet on second thought it seems peculiar. In what other context would we take it for granted that the Establishment was liberal, much less "progressive," a term that Goldstein also uses?

The Protestant Establishment, at its height, was not defined by its liberal religion. It was defined by its traditional religion, applied to guiding, if not running, a modern society. As I see it, the mainline lost its way and began its decline when it lost confidence that that traditional faith could guide a modern society, and cast about instead for a modern faith.

Yale Divinity School was not created to serve liberal religion. It was created to train ministers of God in a learned faith – a learned, old-fashioned, biblical faith. When I was a student there, I thought that was the strongest part of the school, learned from teachers such as Margaret Farley, Paul Holmer, and Brevard Childs. The revival of YDS does not depend on a revival of liberalism, but on a revival of religion.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Self Interrupting

"Knock knock."

Mrs. G. knows that a dumb joke is coming. Probably one she has heard before. Often. Nonetheless, she gamely counters, "Who's there?"

"Interrupting Starf-"

I have to digress here a moment. This is, indeed, one of my favorites. The knocker says "Interrupting starfish." Before the knockee can finish saying "Interrupting starfish who?" the knocker grabs the knockee's face with one spread, five-fingered hand. Hence the starfish. Also the interruption.

So I got as far as "Interrupting Starf-" when my wife, realizing which dumb joke she would have to put up with, put her face in her hand. And then realized that she had completed the joke for me. Self-interrupting starfish!

She suffers much for art.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Five for Fighting: A Few Fighting Dems Break Through This Time

Of the 55 Fighting Dems – veterans of various wars chosen by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to run for the House of Representatives – five won. This is actually a pretty good showing for a batch of newbies, most of whom were against incumbents and/or in Republican districts. The biggest winner among the veterans was not, strictly speaking, a Fighting Dem at all, but a Senate candidate, former Navy Secretary Jim Webb. In the race we followed most closely, the Pennsylvania 7th, the Eldest Gruntling took to the hustings in favor of Vice Admiral Joe Sestack, who unseated a ten-term incumbent.

As Garance Franke-Ruta points out in the New Republic, it did seem to matter which war the veterans were veterans off . Iraq and Afghanistan vets were better able to address the current war issue than Vietnam veterans were, a problem John Kerry had. I am hopeful that these winning younger veterans will have an immediate impact on how the Congress addresses the Iraqi quagmire that we have created.

I also hope that the other 50 Fighting Dems, and many more behind them, run again and stay in the party leadership and in the policy argument. Tammy Duckworth, the wounded helicopter pilot who drew the unenviable assignment of trying to win Henry Hyde's old seat, was the face of this group. If I were running the party, I would find a way for her to be prominently involved still. And perhaps she can run again. We will never run out of wars, and we will never run out of a need for veterans in both parties.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

We Elected a Centrist Government – Now Let it Govern

David Brooks has another sensible centrist column about who really won this election, "The Middle Muscles In." Since this is the rare week when his New York Times columns are freely available to all, I urge you to have a look.

I think the next two years could be a great era for government. The Republicans have the White House, Democrats have Congress, and the Supreme Court seems about even. The choices for our leaders are to work together, or to get nothing done. I vote for getting something done. This will mean compromise on both sides. The activists of both extremes hate compromise, and have long memories for politicians who they think have "sold out." Centrists, on the other hand, know that politics requires compromise. An uncompromising politician is not a leader, but an ineffective ideologue.

The presidential race has also begun in earnest. Today Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack became the first Democrat to declare for president. Vilsack is chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council, the centrist/conservative wing of the party to which I belong. The DLC is committed to working with Republicans to get something done, as they did so well under the first DLC president, Bill Clinton. I hope Vilsack and others of both parties who begun to run for president in earnest will continue to push for actual achievement from the government we have now, without waiting for the promise of pie later when the other party is magically gone. Because the other party will never be gone. We will always have to work together.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Agenda for the Democratic Congress: Action, Not Recrimination

We won, and I am delighted. Democrats have retaken the House. We may even get the boon of the Senate, too.

The self-destruction of the Republican Party lately has been so spectacular that it has been hard to keep up with. One website showed films of people trying to read a list of indicted Republicans in one breath for a $100 prize. No one could do it.

A new era is upon us.

It might be natural, now that the Congress can actually find out what went on for the last six years, to spend the next couple of years in investigations. I hope, though, that they will not. Leave that to the historians. We are stuck with the mess now, no matter who created it and why. We need to do something about illegal immigration, and the trade deficit, and the federal debt, and global warming, and most of all about Iraq.

I hope Speaker Pelosi and (perhaps) Majority Leader Reid spend the next two months working with their new leadership to come up with a rich 100 Days legislative plan. Use the honeymoon to do something, and the rest of the term may be productive as well. Personally, I would start with the minimum wage.

In any case, I hope that the new government will simply move ahead, and let Tom DeLay bury the dead.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Glorious Day Is Finally Here!

Vote Centrist!

Go, Fighting Dems!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Anti-Abortion/Pro-Choice Democrats Can Win

Amy Sullivan has a fine piece in the New Republic about the unexpected rise of anti-abortion Democrats. She profiles Bill Ritter, the Democratic candidate for Colorado governor, with asides about Senate-candidate Bob Casey, Jr. in Pennsylvania, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, and Ohio Representative Tim Ryan. They are Democrats who support legal abortion and want to seriously reduce the number of them that women choose to have.

Tomorrow we will see how they, and others like them, do. A year ago you would not have predicted a big year for anti-abortion Democrats, or Fighting Democrats (the veterans who are remaking the party), or even that Democrats in general might have a big year. But Providence smiles on the party to take a centrist turn. And thus on the nation.

The Gruntleds will be following the election with intense interest.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

A Surprise Wiggle in the Haggard Scandal: Evangelicals Say National Association of Evangelicals is Irrelevant.

Ted Haggard, who resigned as president of the National Association of Evangelicals in a gay sex and drugs scandal, poses a problem for other evangelical leaders. Some, like James Dobson, stand by him as a friend. I was curious to see what Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, the loosest cannons of the evangelical movement, would say. And of course Haggard, as NAE president and megachurch pastor, was part of the famous White House conference calls with evangelical leaders – what would they do?

The White House, not surprisingly, said Haggard's part of those weekly calls was not important. As David Kuo, former #2 in the White House Faith-Based Initiatives Office has recently revealed, the White House viewed those calls as a tool for pacifying, rather than listening to, evangelical leaders.

More surprising is the tack taken by Robertson and Falwell: they have attacked the National Association of Evangelicals itself as irrelevant. The NAE under Haggard has been more politically moderate that Falwell's Moral Majority or Robertson's Christian Coalition had been. Still, they had worked with the NAE for years as the umbrella under which many evangelical projects and ministries were shaded. That both men would distance themselves from Ted Haggard personally is not surprising; that they would dismiss the NAE at the same time is.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Hating Hume?

Mrs. Gruntled was driving Endub and a friend to the big city. They saw that the highway was fast and full during rush hour, so they were trying to take the back roads to get to an unfamiliar location in time for a fast-approaching deadline. Mrs. G. said she was making a series of sensible turns that would take her northeast to her destination. Unfortunately, they were actually heading southwest.

In the middle of this slightly testy moment, the cell phone rang. Mrs. G., a very sensible driver, handed it to one of her passengers. The call was from Junior Gruntled #1, off at college. This was the message relayed from her: "Mom, do I hate David Hume?"

That broke the tension. When the girls had been dropped off, my wife settled in to a coffee house to call our daughter back for a long conversation about good philosophers and bad.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Oh Lord, No: The Leading Evangelical Quits in Gay Sex Scandal

Ted Haggard, head of the National Association of Evangelicals and pastor of a 14, 000 member church in Colorado Springs, has quit both. A gay prostitute, Mike Jones, says he has been having sex regularly with Haggard for three years. And, just to make it perfect, Jones says Haggard took meth to make the sex better.

Haggard has been one of the leading opponents of gay marriage. Jones says when he saw Haggard on t.v., he realized that the "Art" who was his regular John and Ted Haggard were the same guy.

Haggard denies all of it, and I will presume him innocent until proven guilty. It is a little suspicious that he quit both of his jobs, but that may be standard procedure in evangelical sex scandals. There will be an investigation, which I hope will be quick. And I hope he is cleared, if only so that I can maintain my faith that some leaders tell the truth.

Jon Stewart says the rule is simple: everyone who makes a big deal about opposing homosexuality is a homosexual. In the wake of Foleygate, this seems too believable.

Heavy sigh.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

First Female Circumcision Trial in the U.S.

Female circumcision, in which parents cut off their tiny daughter's clitoris so she won't experience orgasm as an adult, is very widespread in eastern and southern Africa. Perhaps 130 million girls have been cut this way. The practice horrifies most Americans. Indeed, I find it the most reliable way to cure students of a sophomoric "anything goes" cultural relativism. The practice is so revolting here that it is against federal law.

Khalid Adem, an Ethiopian immigrant, has been convicted of circumcising his daughter, now seven, when she was two. He denies it, and blames his South African ex-wife's family. His ex, with the ironic name of Fortunate Adem, says that she did not notice that her little daughter had been cut up for a year. His lawyer says this is so implausible that it shows she knew about it all along.

Absent any reason to doubt the verdict, I accept the jury's conclusion that the father did it. I think it is probably a significant measure of the power of moral outrage, as well as the threat of jail time, that Khalid Adem not only denies doing it, but says anyone who would is a "moron" with his "mind in the gutter."

Georgia, where the trial was held, passed a state law against female circumcision after the case began, though it was not relevant in this trial. If there are other trials, I expect that other states will follow suit.

The silver lining of this horror is that however much the culture war may have advanced in our society, Americans still unite in rejecting female genital mutilation and the very idea that women (alone) should be denied sexual pleasure.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Africa Has Less Promiscuity, But More AIDS

A new study in the Lancet has produced the interesting finding that the well-known high rates of AIDS in Africa do not simply track a high rate of promiscuity. In fact, a larger proportion of people in industrialized countries have multiple partners than do Africans.

The Lancet study suggests two reasons that African men might spread sexually transmitted diseases more often and more efficiently than do their counterparts in industrialized nations. First, those African men who do have multiple sex partners are much more likely to have sex with prostitutes. In southern Africa, where AIDS rates are highest, about 12% of men report having had sex in exchange for money or gifts, whereas the European rate (which is a decent proxy for the American rate) was under 3%. Second, African men who do have sex with prostitutes or mistresses are much more likely to have overlapping sexual relationships with their wives. Add to this the fact that African wives are most likely to say that they cannot refuse sex with their husbands, nor insist on condoms, and we can seen how less promiscuity could nonetheless translate into more AIDS.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Clash of Civilizations Over Women

I think Samuel Huntington is right that there is a clash of civilizations going on between the West and Islam. People I respect think otherwise. And I certainly know that both the West and the Islamic world and hugely complex. There are many points of connection between the two. I hope the connectors prevail.

But on one issue there clearly is a clash: whether women and men are equal. Indeed, in the furthest reaches of the Islamic world, the issue seems to be whether or not women are people.

A case in point is Afghanistan. Under the Taliban, Afghan women were the most oppressed in the world. Since we overthrew that regime and installed one with at least the trappings of parliamentary democracy and gender equality, the formal rules for men and women have been made more equal. Women make up 25% of the Afghan legislature.

But things haven't really changed there. A new human rights report says that most Afghan women are still pushed into arranged, even forced marriages. Worse, most of those brides were married before the legal age of 16. Western civilization has fundamentally rejected that way of treating women. Muslim civilization, even the more moderate parts, has not. That is a clash. And that is a clash worth fighting.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The 80% Minority Doesn't Shop Alone

The New York Times has a quite interesting article by Mickey Meece on the increasing attention that sellers are paying to women, the "80% minority" who make most household purchasing decisions. For example, when Best Buy figured out that women were shaping more like 90% of consumer electronics decisions, and outspending men $55 billion to $41 billion on the kind of gadgets they sell, they redesigned their selling strategy to be more female-friendly.

The article has examples of smart sellers in industry after industry who are figuring out who they should be selling to. And more power to them. I hope they all reap a competitive advantage, and that more women get better service.

What is surprising to me about this article, though, is that all of these women are presented as doing their buying alone. No husbands or boyfriends figure in these purchasing stories. It is one thing to recognize the great importance of women buyers, and likewise to recognize the importance of women earners, who spend their own money. But it seriously distorts the picture of purchasing reality to leave men out altogether. Women do make most household purchasing decisions. But they do so mostly in married, or marriage-oriented, households, working together with their husbands.

The next step, therefore, should be when retailers figure out how to sell to couples purchasing together.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Form of Government Revision I: Welcome and Openness

The Presbyterian Church's Form of Government Task Force has just released the first draft documents of their ambitious revision of this core section of the church's constitution. The most extensive of these drafts documents is chapter one, "Particular Congregations and Their Membership."

One section that has grown and grown in liberal church constitutions has been the list of groups who are not excluded from the church. Since the church officially welcomes all, it may seem peculiar that they have developed long lists specifying who they don't exclude.

The historical reason for making such lists, though, is clear: at a certain moment the church had to say "we welcome people of all races." This was important and necessary at the time. For many of the oldest church leaders, the civil rights movement was the clearest and most heroic moment in their life in the church, which they have been reliving ever since. All subsequent struggles have been seen as replays of the civil rights struggle, and each has added another term to the non-exclusion list.

At some point, though, the non-exclusion list gets so long, that it is numbing, if not a little silly. Especially since no one is really excluded, anyway – all are welcome. So I was curious what the revised non-exclusion list would look like in the new Form of Government. Here is the relevant paragraph.

1.0302 Welcome and Openness
The congregation shall welcome all persons who respond in trust and obedience to God’s grace in Jesus Christ and desire to become part of the membership and ministry of his Church. No persons shall be denied membership because of race, ethnic origin, worldly condition, or any other reason not related to profession of faith. Each member must seek the grace of openness in extending the fellowship of Christ to all persons. Failure to do so constitutes a rejection of Christ himself and causes a scandal to the gospel.

So what made the cut? Only race and ethnic origin. Everything else is covered by the capacious expression "worldly condition." This has the advantage of being more succinct. But it does raise the question; why do we still include race and ethnic origin? Why not just say this:

No persons shall be denied membership for any reason not related to profession of faith.

I am guessing that race and ethnic origin are still included so no one would forget the civil rights movement. But really, I don't think anyone will. We won. And we can show we won more powerfully if we don't even suggest that racial exclusion is possible.

My recommendation to the FOG Task Force: when it comes to reasons we don't exclude people from the church, less is more.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

When the Toes Stand Up

Mrs. Gruntled is very fond of having her feet rubbed. Fortunately for my thumbs, Junior Gruntled #2, the wonderful Endub, is gifted at Reflexology, the art of relaxing the body through foot massage. Often at the end of the day Mrs. G. will find an artful way to request a Reflexology treatment from her teenager. This week's dialogue was wonderfully topical.

Mrs. G.: So, what’s the policy on reflexology? Is it “stay the course” or “cut and run”?

Endub: When the toes stand up, I’ll stand down.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Very Religious State Universities

Princeton Review publishes a bunch of fun college lists every year. One list, Students Pray on a Regular Basis, is based on their campus survey question, "Are students [here] very religious?"

The top of the list is a not-very-surprising collection of church-related schools: Brigham Young, Wheaton, Pepperdine, Notre Dame.

The top twenty does include, though, four state-related universities. This fact is a little surprising at first. Looking at the four, though, perhaps it isn't.

9. University of Utah
10. Texas A&M
17. U.S. Air Force Academy
19. Auburn University

Utah is a world unto itself religiously – even the state university is effectively Mormon. I am not surprised that many Texans are religious; I think the Aggies make the list, but not UT, because the higher a school's engineer-to-humanities ratio is, the more religious it is likely to be. The Air Force Academy, located in the Western Capital of Evangelicaldom, Colorado Springs, has been so religious lately that it has gotten into hot water. Why Auburn is the sole representative of the Southern state schools, I don't know, but I am not surprised to see the Deep South on this list.

Interestingly, the parallel list, Students Ignore God on a Regular Basis, based on the lowest scores on the same survey question, has no state schools in the top 20, with the possible exception of the New College of Florida.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

New Jersey Judicial Activism is Still Wrong

Most people accept gay civil unions, but not marriages. The New Jersey Supreme Court agreed with the majority of Americans on that point yesterday.

But most people oppose judicial activism. We want our legislation made by the legislature, not the court. The New Jersey court screwed that up. Worse, they did so right before the election. In 2004, when the Massachusetts high court mandated gay marriage, they threw the national election to the Republicans.

If the Republicans don't manage to get a bounce out of this latest example of liberal overreaching, it will only be because it gets buried under the mountain of GOP scandal.

Regardless of what you think of the merits of this issue, I hope everyone can see that when the court mandates the conclusion that the legislature must reach, it undermines democracy.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Parents are Productive Sociologists

The American Sociological Association's researchers Roberta Spalter-Roth and William Erskine did a study of which sociologists use family-support policies, such as flextime and delayed tenure clocks. They wanted to see if mothers were more productive than their childless counterparts when they used such policies.

The results are striking. Mothers, not surprisingly, used family-support policies much more than childless women do. And it is also not surprising that mothers who didn't use family support were less productive than childless women. Thus, in 2003, these were the median number of peer-reviewed publications for the two groups:

unsupported moms: 4
childless women: 5

And now comes the interesting part. Family support closed the gap between moms and single women. And then doubled the gap, in favor of the moms. Average number of peer-reviewed publications by supported moms: 9.

Having kids is not career death for academics. On the contrary, with a bit of support from the school, mothers can be much more productive than childless women, just as fathers have long been more productive than childless men.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Rising Radical Center

E.J. Dione has a hopeful piece in the Washington Post about the great Democratic hope of reclaiming centrist voters from the Republicans. There is, indeed, a notable group of moderate, even moderate-conservative Democratic candidates – most importantly, Bob Casey, Jr. in Pennsylvania. I have already written about the Fighting Democrats, the 50-plus veterans running for the House and Senate. This is good all around.

My only quibble with Dione's argument is that the center needs to be radical to rise. More exactly, centrists don't have to be mad to vote as a group. The moderate center is always here. It votes regularly for someone. I think the main feature of the "centrist voting bloc" is that we want to vote for centrists.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Premium-Blend Culture

There is a fascinating New York Times article being widely circulated on "The Starbucks Aesthetic." It is not about the coffee or the store, but the music, movies, and now books that the chain has taken a big role in marketing. In my seminar on "Class Culture," we look at the words and phrases that sum up the style of social class. So I was interested in exactly how they pick which art to promote, and what words they use to describe their choices.

So what art does Starbucks sell? Ray Charles' duet album Genius Loves Company sold 800,000 at Starbucks alone. Frank Sinatra's The Wee Small Hours was big. Just now they are pushing Meryl Streep reading The Velveteen Rabbit, Mitch Ablom's book For One More Day, and the movie "Akeelah and the Bee." And who do they sell to? Starbucks' core customers are educated forty-somethings making in the high five figures.

Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz describes the "halo effect" that Starbucks gives to the art it promotes, which in turn generates a halo in customers' minds about Starbucks. His terms for their artistic choices: “quality, good will, trust, intelligence.”

Nikkole Denson, who runs Starbucks' entertainment division, said she chose "Akeelah and the Bee" and Ablom's book because they were “all about community and inspiration,” "socially relevant,” and “almost an education without being preachy” -- “not racy or dark, but thought-provoking.” Timothy Jones chooses the music Starbucks sells, such as Charles, Sinatra, and newer artists such as Madeleine Peyroux because they have “a believable sound that isn’t too harsh.”

The best clue that the Starbucks' aesthetic is bobo or knowledge class comes from Mr. Jones' description of where Starbucks itself looks for cultural validation: “We do our best with a new artist when there’s sort of an NPR [National Public Radio] buzz going on around him, the stars-in-the-making.”

Starbucks has even speculated about making its wireless connection the basis of a new network or channel. Here, though, I think their current business plan creates a bottleneck that they might fix. Starbucks' wifi is not free, but is part of a telephone company package. Most independent coffee houses (like the one in which I am writing this) offer free wifi to outcompete Starbucks. If the Big Green Machine wants to become a total edutainment platform for the knowledge class, they will have to offer their instructions as freely as NPR does.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Presbyteries Should Not Cover for Protesting Congregations

The national offices of the Presbyterian Church are funded, in part by a per capita assessment on every member. Per capita is assessed by each congregation, which is responsible for passing a fixed amount up the line to fund the presbytery, synod, and General Assembly work. A few congregations around the country withhold their per capita, or that portion which is supposed to go to the synod and General Assembly as a protest. In addition, a number of congregations don't pay their full per capita because they can't afford to.

The official position of the church is that per capita is not a tax – the church is a voluntary organization, no one has to pay. On the other hand, no one has a right to withhold per capita as a protest.

Presbyteries are responsible for sending the full per capita up the line. This rule was invented to cover impoverished churches more than protesters. If a poor church could not pay one year, a richer church would be expected to pay more and all the congregations would look out for one another. Sometimes, though, the presbyteries cannot or will not cover the missing per capita. This year, the shortfall is expected to top $400,000.

When a congregation withholds part of its per capita as a protest, however, the protest is lost if the presbytery simply covers the shortfall.

I think this is a loss for the whole church. The highest levels of the church should be constantly aware of grass-roots protest. If disaffected locals find their voice stifled this way, they are more likely to exit the denomination altogether.

Let the protests be show. Publish all the congregational names. We all need to know what's going on at the grassroots, painful and embarrassing though it may be.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

"Reds" Relevant? Really?

"Reds," Warren Beatty's enormous 1981 movie about American Communist icon John Reed and the left of a hundred years ago, has been re-released with some fanfare. Beatty says it is even more relevant now than it was when it came out at the beginning of the Reagan administration – when it was so harmless, Beatty says, that the Reagans themselves showed it in the White House. The current occupant is not likely to do the same.

Beatty says the film is about political opposition during wartime. And it is true that most of the action follows American communists and socialists attacking World War I as simply about profit. They are all excited about the Russian Revolution and the new burst of freedom in the Soviet Union.

But seriously – is a movie about communist revolution at all relevant now? I think the excitement in Los Angeles about the DVD release of this film tells us more about Hollywood's idea of politics than about real politics. What they are excited about is sheer activism, sheer opposition to the government. The actual communists in the film, though, cared more about the kind of society they were trying to create (very misguidedly) than in the drama of the revolution. Hollywood revolutionaries, on the other hand like the drama – and the difference between the kinds of wars that were being fought then and now, and the kind of society the opposition envisions – doesn't register as important.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

On Not Getting "Second Life"

I am a nerd, but not a geek.

When a student introduced me to the elaborate virtual world of Second Life, my first instinct was not to go there, but to ask geeks to explain it to me and send me things to read. I am grateful to same, especially to my brother-in-law. This helpful guide from Wired may help other nerds and pre-n00bs get the lie of the land.

As a sociologist I am interested in how people think the world is made and how it could be made. Second Life is a wonderful experiment in free market social engineering. Its great appeal is that you can do and make just about anything you can imagine.

My main concern, as readers of this blog know, is with family life, so I was curious about how family life is made there. I asked helpful student Nora "Do you court, marry, and have children?" in Second Life. Her answer is instructive.

Yes and no. You can choose a partner, but to make this official, I think you pay an extremely small fee to LindenLabs so that they can change your online profile. Anything beyond that is the decision of the users. There are definitely wedding places in SL and there are of course people who met in SL and who married in real life. There are no SL babies, though. … But there aren't babies built into the game, unless you get really smart and figure out how to script that! :) You can actually change your avatar to look like a young child, but anyone younger than 17 or 18 (i forget which) isn't allowed into SL. They have their own separate grid to use.

I used to be very interested in narratives of alternative worlds. Science fiction got me through high school. But I have found that since becoming an official sociologist, and most especially since having a wife and children of my own, I am much less interested in virtual or alternative worlds, and more interested in the real one.

I think it is wonderful that Second Life exists, and that the half million people who regularly work and play there have found a place for their passions. I celebrate the wonderful variety of this world, including the alternative worlds it contains.

But I don't find it to be something that I want to do myself. So I very much welcome responses from people who do "get it" to elaborate on why.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Evolving Upper Class: Smart or Handsome?

Oliver Curry, an evolutionist at the London School of Economics, has gotten some notice recently for his prediction that humans are slowly evolving into two sub-species divided by class. He thinks that the full split into a tall, good-looking, healthy, smart subspecies and a short, ugly, short-lived, dumb subspecies will take 100.000 years. But even by the year 3000 he thinks there will be a noticeable division. Race differences as they now exist will be ironed out by intermarriage. The new and larger split would be by class, rendered more and more biologized.

Pierre Bourdieu, the late French sociologists who I have written about several times recently, notes that the ruling class is divided into a monied side and a cultured side. Bourdieu's work is not concerned with evolution, but I think he might accept that the upper classes would be increasingly likely to marry within their class, inching toward speciation. I think, though, that people in these different class fractions tend to marry on their own side of that divide. Over a many generations of such selections, the two fractions would divide.

What we are talking about is still at the level of a parlor game, so let me take a wild guess here. Many observers of the rich have noticed that they use their money to select attractive mates. I have noticed that the smart tend to use their smarts to select smart mates. (Yes, there are ugly rich people and pretty smart ones; we are talking big trends here.) SO, if Curry is even a little right, perhaps the Eloi of the future will be themselves divided into the smart and the handsome. And that might be a fair fight.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Do Unmarried Households Reign? No, Not Really

"For First Time, Unmarried Households Reign in U.S." reports a current story in Yahoo! News by Maxim Kniazkov. The article notes, correctly, that in the Census Bureau's 2005 American Community Survey 50.2% of American households do not include a married couple, while 49.8% do.

Does this mean marriage is now the minority "lifestyle?" No, not really. When we do an apples-to-apples comparison, the survey shows that of family households (which have, or had, kids), 74% are married.

Some of the bare majority of unmarried households is made of single parents. Kniazkov rightly notes that most of the unmarried households, though, are what the Census Bureau calls "non-family households." He interprets this to refer "primarily to gay or heterosexual couples cohabiting out of formal wedlock." This, however, is not so. As the Survey's tables show, 82% of those non-family households – some 30 million households altogether – are people living alone.

Put another way, of the 50.2% of American households that do not include a married couple, more than half are single people living alone. And one thing we know about single people living alone is that the overwhelming majority of them want to get married, and the large majority of them will someday.

So, yes, most American households now do not include a married couple. Does that mean marriage is on the outs? No, it means America is a very rich country. In America, 30 million adults – 10% of the total population – can afford to live by themselves. But they don't want to do that forever. They want join their single household with another, and join the married majority of adults.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Scholar Says Lobby Suppresses Criticism; Lobby Gets Scholar's Speech Cancelled, Thus Proving His Point.

I am a centrist, an academic, and a friend of reasoned debate and the marketplace of ideas. I think the story told in this headline is wrong, wrong, wrong. It doesn't matter which lobby.

Imagine if the Lobby in question were for evolution, creation, tobacco, health, free trade, protection, faith, secularity, or anything. If the speaker were a racist, or a sexist, or flat earther, or pro-plagiarist (hey, every profession has its pet hates), using political pressure to make another organization rescind an invitation is just wrong.

In this case, the scholar is Prof. Tony Judt of New York University, who was invited by the Polish consulate in Washington. Judt had been critical of the Israel lobby for suppressing dissent and misdirecting U.S. foreign policy. Here is the Washington Post's account of the dirty deed:

An hour before Judt was to arrive, the Polish Consul General Krzysztof Kasprzyk canceled the talk. He said the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee had called and he quickly concluded Judt was too controversial.

If you don't like what someone is going to say, pushing them off the rostrum is wrong.

The cure for bad speech is better speech.