Saturday, March 17, 2007


Deborah Tannen writes about how boys "fight for friendship." Annelise, a student in my family class, applying this insight to the young children she works with at a preschool, has come up with a wonderful word for these solidarity-making fights. An excerpt from her journal:

I have noticed this fighting phenomenon with boys. They are always picking fights and their first reaction to someone who has said or done something they didn’t like is to shove them. Working with kids, I have to break up these little squirmishes all the time. The fights, however, do not damage the boys’ relationship. One boy might get mad at another and push or hit him, but no matter how upset the boys are at the time (sometimes everyone starts crying), they will soon go back to playing together. When I say soon, I mean it might be seconds and no longer than a couple of minutes. Girls, on the other hand, only fight if they are mad enough to stay mad.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Chinese Communists Impose Private Property, Sowing Seeds of Their Own Destruction

There was a wonderful New Yorker cartoon a few years ago when the Soviet Union fell. It showed the devil in his office, speaking into his intercom. The caption read, “Miss Jones, find Joe Stalin. Tell him communism is dead.” The devil has, appropriately, a devilish grin.

We could bring that cartoon out again today, changing only the name of the sufferer. Karl Marx said that private property is the fundamental idea, the fundamental exploitation, on which capitalism rests. The owners expropriate the value created by the workers as the capitalists’ private property in exchange for mere wages. Ironically, though, the workers cherish the sanctity of “private property,” because they hope to have some someday. The very people who are most exploited, Marx said, preserve the stability of the system that exploits them by venerating its central dogma. BUT, says Marx, the capitalists sow the seeds of their own destruction this way. The workers become united in their misery. It only takes a genius to show them the truth of their condition – like Karl Marx, thought Karl Marx, or Stalin, thought Stalin, or Mao, thought Mao – to rally the people to overthrow capitalism. Communism does not merely take property from the owners for the workers. It takes the idea of property from the capitalists and gives it to the state, um, that is, er, the people. The foundation of communist dogma is the abolition of private property.

The Chinese Communist Party used all the muscle of tyranny to force through its captive legislator a law restoring private property, over the opposition of the remaining communists in the People’s Republic.

“Miss Jones, find Mao Zedong. Tell him communism is dead.”

Thursday, March 15, 2007

“Girls Gone Wild” for the New York Times Set

The New York Times magazine has a titillating article about the “cuddle puddle” at Stuyvesant High School. Stuyvesant is one of the hardest and most competitive magnet schools in one of the hardest and most competitive cities. They draw kids from all over New York, including children of former hippies and aging avant-gardists. It is a tough crowd to shock. Within the school’s 3000 students, a handful engage in show-off hook-ups with anyone and everyone within the group.

The one sociological fact in this extended anecdote comes from the first teen sex survey done by the National Center for Health Statistics. That survey revealed that 11% of teen girls had experimented with some kind of same-sex physical encounter. This is the same percentage of women 15 to 44 who have had similar encounters. The Times reads this as a trend of increasing same-sex experimentation – or even of rising non-heterosexuality – among teenagers. It is probably true that more girls are experimenting sexually with other girls than was true a generation to two ago, especially in liberal enclaves. Still, on the face of it, if all of a group shows the same percentage of some behavior as one subset, then it could just as well mean that all the action is taking place in the subset. In this case, if 11% of teen girls kiss girls, and that percentage doesn’t rise when all women up to age 44 are included, then we could reasonably guess that all the experimentation happened in the teen years. This is probably too strong a conclusion, but it does seem reasonable that single young women experiment sexually with other women, but few mature women do. And this experimentation does not translate into large percentages of permanent homosexuality: the national lesbian rate seems to be steady at about 2%.

The stars of the cuddle puddle show are pretty girls who kiss each other in public and talk endlessly about sex – until they find a serious boyfriend. They have found a way to be famous within a school of high achievers, and shock their parents, and get an admiring profile in the nation’s leading newspaper. Which is more than the spring-break boob-flashers at Panama City of the more proletarian Girls Gone Wild could manage.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Separate Bedrooms for the Rich

Another reason our houses are getting enormous and our rich neighborhoods sprawl: the new fad among those who can afford it is to build a second master bedroom, so husband and wife don’t have to share a bed. This seems to be due to snoring men and restless women, more than anything else. According to the New York Times, most custom-built homes – which, almost by definition, are for the upper middle class and richer – will have dual master bedrooms or “owner’s bedrooms” by 2015.

This story has been much commented upon in the marriage-related blogosphere. Most have commented on the effect of dual bedrooms on sex. This seems to me a not very important part of the story, especially since the consensus seems to be that it has little effect on the couple’s sex life. More interesting, I think, is the fact that the writers have noted snoring as the main cause of the separation, but they are reluctant to spell out who is doing the snoring. The particulars make it clear that it is noisy men being sent away by easily disturbed women.

What strikes me the most about this story, though, is that the class implications are invisible. As is often the case with Times lifestyle pieces, this story about the minor travails of the upper middle class has been presented as if this were a widespread trend among all Americans.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

“I Be Concubining”

This one is so awful it needs no comment.

Ricky Lackey was before a judge in Cincinnati for theft. The case was settled. In the course of the trial, though, the judge was unsettled. The judge asked Lackey, who is 25, if he had any children. This amazing dialogue ensued:

Lackey: "None, but I have six on the way."
Judge [puzzled]: "Are you marrying a woman with six children?"
Lackey: "No,I be concubining."

Six different women are expecting Lackey’s children in the summer and fall.

Lackey, who was in court for stealing about $3,000 by defrauding a bank, claims that he is a record producer who is about to sign a multimillion-dollar deal.

As Lackey left the courtroom, a group of teenage girls, there for a different case, spotted him. One of them swooned “Oh, there’s Ricky Lackey!”

Lackey, eyeing the likely mother of his nth child, said “Fans.”

Monday, March 12, 2007

DePauw Gives Foolish Sorority the Boot

Following up on my post of February 26th about Delta Zeta's decision to throw out all their members at DePauw except the pretty thin ones, the president of DePauw cut off ties with the sorority because “We at DePauw believe that the values of our university and those of the national Delta Zeta sorority are incompatible.”

The sorority, in an indirect admission that they had screwed up royally, announced that they were cutting off communication with news organizations.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Small Presbyteries Would be Beautiful

The March 12 issue of the Presbyterian Outlook has an updated version of an old proposal to move (back) to much smaller presbyteries. Philip Butin, president of San Francisco Theological Seminary, had published a version of this “big idea” more than a decade ago in the Outlook. In light of the ongoing crisis of middle governing bodies, he presents an updated version.

If we had small presbyteries of 12 to 20 congregations, just about all of the cadres could have an ongoing, organic church life together. The pastors could readily know one another and meet more often than at presbytery meetings. The elders active beyond the congregation could get to know another, too, and take the lead in regional projects that should be lay led.

Butin proposes something like remaking the current presbyteries into the new synods. I have thought about that before. I think, though, that synods have almost no function anymore. They should probably be laid down. There is one model of synod, though, that we might revive: the state synod. Sometimes, the church needs to speak to the state in an organized way, just as it needs to speak to the national government in an organized way. A state synod could be a very modest organization. The ongoing tasks that might be dealt with at the synod level could be what remains of our church camps and our campus ministry.

I think presbytery size these days is driven more by the economics of funding full-time executive presbyters than it is by the organic right-sizing of church units. I am a big fan of EPs/GPs. I think they are the backbone of church order. If I had my druthers, only presbytery executives and stated clerks would have an advisory vote at the General Assembly. Smaller presbyteries could rarely afford a full-time executive or stated clerk. These duties would have to be attached to a particular congregation or two. So be it.

An organic presbytery would be a viable unit of church governance. We would not sink to congregationalism, as we are now threatening to do. But we could move past the sense of crisis and doom that stalks the middle governing bodies now.