Saturday, March 11, 2006

Dubai Ports World is no Worse Than The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company

Having a Dubai firm run our ports is not less foreign or dangerous that having a London firm run out ports. The objection to Dubai Ports World was entirely that the ultimate owners were Arabs who wore Arab dress. That is racism.

If we don't distinguish between good Arabs and bad Arabs (and the thousand shades of indifferent Arabs), we will make our relations with all Arabs worse. This will come back to bite us right away.

For example, Mohammed Taheriazar, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill student who tried to run over a group of fellow students did so because all Americans are enemies of Allah. We think he is deranged because he does not distinguish between Americans who are enemies of whichever terrorist faction he identifies with, and ordinary beer-swilling American students who had not given his cause a second thought.

If we are really interested in peace around the world, we should be looking for people in every country and nationality who we can work with. When every nation knows some "good Americans" and we know some "good (fill in the people)" in every nation, the world will be safer and more stable.

Friday, March 10, 2006

The Opposite of Generativity, Take Two

My query the other day about what is the opposite of the "culture of generativity" brought several interesting responses. Annie at Ambivablog noted that in Erik Erikson's schema, where the idea of generativity as a life stage, the opposition that he names is "stagnation/self-absorption." This gets the opposition right, from one perspective, but does not get the positive spin that I was looking for. Annie suggests "self-realization," which I think is about right.

Tom Strong, on the other hand, thinks that is still too condescending. He suggests "culture of fairness" as the right opposite to the culture of generativity. I will grant him that this notion is more positive – but I don't think it is really matched up with its alleged opposite. Strong's definition is that:

if you dig for the core value here, that's what you're going to find - whether the issue is abortion, or euthanasia, or gay marriage. It's about respecting other people's right and ability to make the best choices for themselves.

No, I just don't see it. Strong is arguing for respecting other people's individual choices. The idea of a culture of generativity, though, is that the society as a whole makes and cherishes life, especially in the form of children. Such a culture has all kinds of room for individuals who make other choices. But if the culture passes the tipping point from generativity to the other thing, it will die. No matter how well the remaining selves realize themselves.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Church Burnings Hit Close to Home

Today's topic is a little off my normal beat. Yesterday three students were arrested for setting fires at nine churches in Alabama. Two of them are students at Birmingham Southern College, and the third had been before transferring to the University of Alabama. I don't know these guys personally, but I could.

Birmingham Southern College is the opposite number to Centre College, where I teach. Both are classic small liberal arts colleges. Both are church-related, Methodist in the case of BSC, Presbyterian in Centre's circumstance. Both are part of the Associated Colleges of the South, an association of the premier liberal arts colleges of the South. I don't know these guys, but I easily could – I have students just like them.

The early accounts say that all three are pranksters and aspiring actors. They were almost certainly drunk when they set the first fires – the official condemnation by the Birmingham Southern president implies as much. An unnamed witness quoted in all the news reports, no doubt a friend of theirs, said the fires were "a joke that got out of hand."

How do we make sense of this? When the story first broke, the reaction of the press and most attentive middle-aged people was that these fires were racially motivated. Church destruction near Birmingham naturally suggests white racists, possibly in hoods, burning black churches. But the story couldn't play that way – the churches were mostly white Baptist congregations out in the country.

Now that the culprits have been caught, the story may unfold a different way: reckless rich kids with no respect for faith arrogantly destroy working-class people's treasures. They were caught through the records of the new SUV tires of one of the three, a doctor's kid who had taken the other two for a night of deer shooting. We don't have a statement from the miscreants themselves yet, so it is too early to tell, but this is my best guess about what happened.

The condemnation by the college's president and the head of security tried an alternate theory: kid's today are worse than they used to be. "We increasingly see," President Pollick and Chief Youngblood wrote, "young adults throughout our nation incapable of distinguishing between healthy and destructive conduct." Now, collecting young people, especially young men, who engage in destructive conduct is something that colleges have specialized in since the dawn of the university. I don't think things are any worse now than they ever were in that regard.

I am a silver-lining seeker. Here is the silver lining I see in this story. The headline on this story today is not "Methodist College Students Burn Baptist Churches." To even write it seems a silly idea. And that is a blessing to count.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Opposite of Generativity

The President criticizes the "culture of death." This is a cousin of pro-lifers calling their opponents pro-abortion or even pro-death. It has not spawned a full answer, though, in the way that "pro-choice" is the alternative value promoted by the proponents of legal abortion.

Lately Maggie Gallagher and others have been using the phrase "culture of generativity." This phrase has been especially useful in the discussion of the abysmally low birth rates in Europe and Japan.

Which has me wondering: what is the opposite of the culture of generativity?

I think it must be the culture of consumption. This is in line with economist Gary Becker's view that children should be viewed as "consumer durable goods" like washing machines, which adults might choose to own if it gives them utility.

Is that that right opposition? I welcome your comments.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Rage Makes You Unhappy

The family study of the moment is by sociologists Brad Wilcox and Steven Nock. In “What's Love Got to do With It? Equality, Equity, Commitment and Women’s Marital Quality,” in the current Social Forces, they found that most married women are happiest when their husbands are emotionally engaged in the marriage. This was true regardless of whether the division of labor at home or in income was equal or not. This finding also held whether the wives described themselves as traditional or progressive.

A secondary finding was that self-described progressive wives are less happy than traditional wives, no matter what the arrangement of work and household chores. The Slate article commenting on this study, by Meghan O'Rourke, is entitled "Desperate Feminist Wives: Why wanting equality makes women unhappy." In the discussion of this article at the Family Scholars Blog, on the other hand, one respondent argued that "conservatives are happier because their circle of concern extends no farther than themselves."

A good marriage makes most people happy. If you enjoy a happy marriage, this does not mean that you are selfish. Happy marriages enable all kinds of people, left, right and center, to do good things in the world. I think "progressives" are less likely to feel happy even in a good marriage because they think they ought to feel outraged.

But the pleasure of righteous indignation comes at a cost: rage makes you unhappy.

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Bonfire of the Assets

Married people accumulate wealth. Married men, especially married fathers, work harder and save more. Waite and Gallagher, in The Case for Marriage, report that marriage is like a 12% annuity. Each year spent unmarried in adulthood decreases your likely total wealth by 3.5%. Married people build wealth better that singles or cohabiters.

Widows and divorced people lose wealth over time. Divorced men stop working harder, as a rule, once they get divorced. Divorced women are likely to end up with 1/3 less wealth than they would have if they had remained married.

Most American families show an upward trajectory in wealth, in class, and in status. Pick just about any American family: if they have even three generations of solid marriages and at least as much education as their predecessors, the youngest generation will be wealthier.

Divorce stops that upward trajectory. Divorce usually means running two households on the same income that used to support one. Moreover, assets are typically lost, split, even destroyed along with the marriage. In the typical case, he will live less well than he did before, materially and socially. She will make a household with the kids that has much less income per capita than they had before, and is not likely to generate wealth for a long time, if ever. If the family started out working class, they are likely to end up poor. This is most of what the "feminization of poverty" means.

If the mom has kids without any marriage at all, the downward financial spiral is likely to begin at day one, before there are any assets to burn.

Look at any extended family tree, and compare the branches. The one with the most enduring marriages is likely to be the richest.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

A Minister's Conscience and the Church's Rules

Jane Spahr has been trying to get thrown out of the Presbyterian ministry for decades. She was ordained as minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the large, mainline edition of the Presbyterians, more than 30 years ago. Along the way, though, she decided to divorce her husband and take up with a woman, while keeping her status as a Presbyterian minister. The church, meanwhile, clarified its traditional position that the Bible says homosexual practice is a sin. Since Presbyterian ministers take a vow to be guided by the Bible, as well as by the rules of the church, Spahr might have resigned from the ministry in 1978, when this "definitive guidance" on church doctrine was first made.

Jane Spahr, however, decided to be a "lesbian evangelist" in the church – informally at first, but these days as her official job. She has been trying to provoke discipline ever since. In 1992 the church courts decided that she could not take a new job as a pastor of a Presbyterian congregation because she did not accept the church's rules. However, that court also said that, since she had been ordained before the rule was officially stated, her ordination was grandfathered in. She now works for an organization called That All May Freely Serve, which exists to overturn the Presbyterian Church's understanding of what the Bible says about homosexual practice.

Since being turned down for a pastorate, Spahr has been trying to provoke prosecution by performing same-sex "marriages." These ceremonies are not recognized by either church or state. Spahr even went to Canada to try to perform a legal same-sex marriage, but it turned out she had failed to get a license to perform weddings in Canada, so they didn't count, either. The Presbyterian Church has had several constitutional amendments on whether ministers could perform same-sex weddings, and each time majorities of church voters from across the country have said no.

Spahr, who says she has performed hundreds of same-sex weddings over the past thirty years, was tried in her own presbytery of Redwoods in California last week. On March 3rd the presbytery's judicial commission (church court) acquitted Spahr.

Here is the really important part: the church court agreed that Jane Spahr had violated church law for ministers. However, they ruled, 6 to 1, that she was “acting within her right of conscience in performing marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples.” The court declared that the church's constitution offers a "definition, not a direction.” This line of reasoning threatens to dissolve the whole denomination. As the presbytery's attorney, Stephen Taber, put it, "You have a situation where any minister anywhere can claim, 'My conscience tells me I can sleep with 16-year-old girl outside my marriage vows,' and who's to question his conscience?"

Now the stakes have been raised to a higher level. The issue in the inevitable appeal of the verdict is no longer what Jane Spahr did, but what the presbytery's judicial commission did. If a presbytery can decide that the church's constitution doesn't apply to its ordained ministers if the don't want it to, then we have a constitutional crisis.

The silver lining of this mess is that the Presbyterian Church at the highest level may make clear that the whole church makes its constitutional rules, not six judges in California. In that sense, this case is much like the disastrous ruling by a handful of California judges that "In God We Trust" is an unconstitutional motto.

I think it likely that the higher church courts will reject this decision by the presbytery's judicial commission. And on that day, Jane Spahr will finally get her wish – to be a martyr. At that point, she can become a minister of the gay-friendly United Church of Christ – something she could have done decades ago.

More on this story as it unfolds.