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.