Saturday, March 31, 2007

"300" Is Hilarious

The movie "300" is beautiful, has great fight scenes, and is completely over the top. The best part is the punchline: the Greeks are fighting the Persians to battle "tyranny and mysticism." Xerxes the god-king represents mysticism? The Spartan pagans, who show their own temple to be corrupt, are the defenders of clear-eyed rational faith? Wow.

The whole episode is enhanced by fact that the Islamic Republic of Iran – which surely would have condemned Xerxes to death as the worst kind of idolater – blasted the film as an attack on Iranian culture.

Friday, March 30, 2007

You Have to Choose How to Raise Your Kids, Even If You Don't Want To

Sociologist Annette Lareau studies how the different home lives of middle class and working class kids gives an advantage to the middle class kids in school, in dealing with other professionals, and in later life. The middle class parents are more likely to engage in "concerted cultivation" of their children's lives. Parents help kids fill every minute with structured activities, which all work in concert in the larger project of cultivating the child's talents. Working class parents, by contrast, are more likely to give their kids much more control of their free time to promote what Lareau calls their "natural growth." From the middle class perspective, the working class kids grow up with stunted potential. From the working class perspective, the middle class kids grow up with no childhoods.

When parents today are faced with the question of how much they should try to structure their children's time, they (we) often think back to our own childhoods. In most cases, parents today grew up with less structured lives than most middle class children today do. Mrs. G. and I are tempted to not schedule our kids so that they can have a life and do what they want. As I reflect on the difference between my early adolescence and my son's, though, some crucial differences emerge. Sure, I watched lots of stupid cartoons. But there were not enough TV options, and no computer options, to keep me from reading or playing outside all the time. My son, on the other hand, could play "World of Warcraft" 24/7. That is, in fact, his plan for the summer. If we choose no structure at all for his time, the choice will be made for us by the "new media."

Even if you don't want to structure every moment of your child's life, not to choose is to make a choice. The culture will rush in to fill the vacuum.

Even natural growth requires concerted cultivation.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Baby Puts Up With Disco

"Baby Loves Disco" sponsors parties at disco clubs for parents and toddlers. It is real dance music, in a darkened club, with real booze for the parents. The kids wander around and play. Some effort is made to make the experience safer for kids – blankets are put over the debris on the dance floor, the higher dance platforms are roped off, and adults are supposed to keep their drinks at least a yard above the floor.

Adults who liked to party before kids like it because they can keep on dancin'. Those who Look With Alarm at any event where kids might get hurt have a plenty to be alarmed about. Personally, none of this kind of partying is my cup of tea. Still, I don't want to encourage the culture of fear by simply opposing Baby Loves Disco because it might hurt kids. Everything might hurt kids. In fact, I think some kids will certainly get hurt – they will fall off something, get stepped on, find someone's beer, get cut by something left by previous ravers, etc., etc. This will be bad. But kids can get hurt sharing most adult venues.

What struck me about the news account of Baby Loves Disco was that there was no evidence that the babies actually loved disco. Sure, little kids love to dance. But the appeal of loud thumping dance music in a darkened club for adults is the offer of sex and danger – two things little kids don't need, or like.

Should "Baby Loves Disco" be allowed? Sure. It's a free country. Do I think anyone should do it? No.

Get a babysitter.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Why Are Right-Wing Comics So Secular?

This one is off the cuff. I write it to clear my head, and I invite comments.

Standup comedy is overwhelmingly liberal-to-anarchist as a field (I was going to say "discipline," but that seems the wrong word). Still, there are some comics and humorous commentators of a right-of-center position who have been successful. Dennis Miller, Bill Maher, Rush Limbaugh, and Ann Coulter come to mind.

The puzzle for me, though, is that most conservatives are religious, but most of the conservative humorists I can think of are not. The humorists tend be adopt a libertarian persona, usually angry. They are as likely to attack religious leaders as the more common leftist comics are. Even when they are formally pro-family, they tend to be more libertarian than cultural-conservative, more Milton Friedman than James Dobson.

Perhaps cultural conservatism, as a position, can be a passion because it is serious, not funny. When Stephen Colbert parodies cultural conservatism, it is funny because the character "Stephen Colbert" sees nothing to laugh about. When Bill O'Reilly does the same material straight, however, it is rarely deliberately funny.

There is such a thing as religious humor, but it tends to be gentle and apolitical. Political humor, on the other hand, is rarely pro-religious, even if it is anti-anti-religious – attacking the excesses of the ACLU in restricting hymn singing by school choirs, for example.

It should be possible to have a funny Pat Buchanan. I just can't think of any.

Any help from the great reading world?

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

By Age 3, Professional Kids Have a Larger Vocabulary Than Welfare Parents

Betty Hart and Todd Risley have been studying language development in infants and toddlers for a quarter century. They have been doing this not simply for academic reasons, but to find the real causes of the advantage that higher class kids have over poor kids. Their main finding is that, in general, the higher the class of the family, the more they talk to their babies. And their amount of talk– not their social class or income or race -- predicted their children’s intellectual accomplishments.

The most graphic example of what difference this makes is the finding I have used as the title of this post.

All families talk some to get on with the necessary business of life. What is added in talkative families is talk that describes the world, expresses emotions, tries out ideas. Every family has an average level of talkativeness, starting from this baseline of necessary business. The average family in Hart and Risley's study said something 400 times an hour, with the group ranging from 200 to 600 utterances an hour. This means that the average 3 year old has heard 8 million words; the children of silent families hear only half of that, while the toddlers of the talkers have already heard 12 million words. By three, kids learn to talk at their family's average level, and stop there.

Hart and Risley are quick to point out that there are enormous variations in how much parents talk to their children. There are talkative welfare parents and silent professionals. In particular, the classes in the middle of this range, the working class and lower white collar families, show a huge range in how talkative they are.

So talk to your babies. About anything.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Murder Hits Close to Home

You may have seen the story of Chiara Levin, a beautiful and accomplished young woman who was murdered in Boston over the weekend. She was the daughter of a colleague. I have known her for years. She appears to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time, and not the intended target of the shooter.

This is a tragedy for the family, and has cast a pall over our little town.

My only larger concern is that it is the kind of story that some of the cable reporters might get obsessive over. If they play it as "beautiful white girl killed by black gangbangers," the Nancy Grace-type ghouls will latch on to it. I already disliked that kind of reporting in cases where I didn't know the people. The thought they they might hound my friends out of pretended concern is angering.

Not as gruntled as usual today.

Hug your young people.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Will King Charles III Be an Anglican?

Elizabeth II, the Queen of Great Britain, is not only an Anglican, she is the nominal head of the Church of England. One of the titles that she still bears, inherited, ironically, from Henry VIII, is "Defender of the Faith" – ironic because the title was bestowed by the pope, before they had their little falling out.

Prince Charles, the heir apparent, has said that he will change that title to "Defender of Faiths." So, will Charles be head of the Church of England when he is king? Will he defend all faiths, while keeping his own the established church of England?

The Church of England is in deep trouble. Though most English people are members, very few attend. The Anglican communion worldwide is fighting with itself. The Archbishop of Canterbury can't get the U.S. Episcopal Church to play nicely with all the other churches in the touchy worldwide organization.

Perhaps the accession of King Charles III (or George VII, or whatever he picks) will lead to the best thing that could happen to the Church of England: disestablishment. Christianity as a whole is in deep trouble in Britain, and no one thing will help much. But the Anglican Church might be free to evangelize and grow, if it were freed from the responsibility of being the praying arm of what has become a secular establishment, presiding over a diverse society.

I don't know what Charles Windsor's actual faith is. He has not been the stolid churchwoman that his mother is. He has invested his political capital in defending traditional architecture, rather than traditional religion. His sons, likewise, have not suggested that church is the core institution in their lives.

Someday, Elizabeth II will not be queen, hard though that is to imagine. Odds are that her son will succeed her. And sometime after that may come a day when the Church of England is one church among many, the British monarch is just another member of that church, or even another denomination, and the Anglican communion is a loose association of denominations – led from Nairobi.