Saturday, September 08, 2007

Trilby Takes A Side

My wonderful son, Trilby, only takes sides to support the underdog. We are not a sports-oriented family, so side-taking in a physical sense doesn't come up very often.

Last evening it was past five and he hadn't turned up from school. I called around to his friends' houses, and eventually it came out that he had joined a group of other middle schoolers preparing for the big Friday night football game. The lads were painting themselves blue and white for the game pitting the Danville Admirals against our cross-town rival, the Boyle County Rebels. To his own surprise, Trilby was going to join in the revelry. When I eventually got him on the phone, he asked that we bring his eponymous trilby hat to complete his ensemble. Endub (daughter #2) and I went to the game ourselves, in part to engage in the charming small-town ritual, and in part to enjoy the spectacle of The Boy Who Does Not Take Sides with his face painted.

He conducted himself with suitable decorum through the game, and enjoyed himself with his friends. Endub says she observed some mild flirtation: a girl stole his hat, obviously wishing to be pursued; he caught up with her, rested his hand on her head, and said in a low voice, "I am inflicting massive pain." I believe she giggled.

We won a close game. At the end of the evening, Trilby, the sociologist's son, said that painting himself with the guys did create a bond among them. He added, "I still don't take sides, but just for this hour ADMIRALS RULE!"

A wonderful insight into a fine developing character.

Friday, September 07, 2007

MADD Logic: Ban Teen Driving

I support Choose Responsibility, a national effort to create a drinking license for 18 to 20 year olds. I live among college students. About a third of them don't drink alcohol at all, which I applaud. The majority, though, begin drinking underage. The rule we have set for ourselves today is that we adults forbid ourselves to teach students anything about responsible drinking before we turn them loose at 21. The result is a serious problem with binge drinking and regular drunkenness even among students who we know are smart and teachable. I think it would be better to try to teach young people how one can drink responsibly.

The main opponent of Choose Responsibility is Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Like all sensible people, I am against drunk driving. I feel safe in saying that all Choose Responsibility signatories are against drunk driving. What we differ on is which method will best reduce drunk driving (by anyone), and which method will best reduce teen drunkenness. I think the current method, formally forbidding teen drinking, has proven ineffective on both counts.

One of the arguments that MADD makes is that the mandatory 21 drinking age has saved 17 thousand teenagers who, statistically, would otherwise have died in drunk driving accidents. This is probably true. You know how we could save even more lives? Forbid teen driving altogether. Teenagers are much more dangerous drivers than adults are, especially teen boys. We could save many lives by forbidding them from driving. Is anyone ready for that national experiment? I'm not.

Yes, teen drinking is dangerous, more dangerous than drinking by adults is. But teen anything is more dangerous than the adult practice of the same thing, because teens take bigger risks and have less judgment about what is risky. In every other sphere we try to combat teen risk taking through education. I believe we should do the same with drinking.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

When Breastfeeders Attack!

A local Applebees restaurant in Nicholasville, KY, asked Brooke Ryan to cover up when she breastfed her baby. Now they wish they hadn't. Ryan organized a "nurse-in" on the sidewalk in front of that Applebees. The web carried the story everywhere, and now 60 Applebees in 30 states may get the full La Leche this weekend.

Applebees has said they will send blankets to all of their restaurants for breastfeeding, and have proclaimed that they are 100% pro-baby, pro-family, and pro-breast.

I think they should go a step further. I think they should print breastfeeding blankets with the Applebees logo with their new slogan, "A Neighborhood Milk Bar and Grill." They could give away special logo nursing bras -- Applebras. And baby slings, too -- Appleboughs. The possibilities are endless.

Don't mess with moms.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Will Birth-Dearth States Not Risk War?

James Kurth raises the interesting possibility that the nations with below-replacement birth rates -- not only the industrialized nations, but also China -- will not want to risk their precious only children as cannon fodder in major land wars. Such a policy would, obviously, have its up side if it reduced the chance of war. On the other hand, there are times when a credible military, and the will to use it, are necessary for defense.

It is certainly true that the total birthrates of Western nations are below replacement, often well below. But these birthrates have not been spread evenly to produce a majority of one-child families. Rather, we have a rising number of women with no children, averaged in with the two or three child families of the middle class, and the three or four child families of the poor and immigrants.

Kurth rightly says that the "liberal professionals and professional liberals" are particularly unlikely to have large families. However, they are also particularly unlikely to send their children to war, no matter how many they have. The war-making class and the war-fighting class are as separated as they ever have been, thanks to the all-volunteer force. Short of a large draft, things will stay that way.

Demographic contraction will have a significant effect on how big a force we could muster in a large war. But I don't think the trend toward few children in the educated classes will translate into any greater reluctance to make war at all. Chelsea Clinton and the Bush twins were the precious result of their parents' only birth, but it did not make their commander-in-chief fathers any less likely to commit the country to war. Those kids weren't going to serve, anyway.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Religion Under Liberalism Does Not Quite Equal Secularism

Stanley Fish has a piece in the New York Times entitled "Liberalism and Secularism: One and the Same." He argues that liberalism

"is a form of political organization that is militantly secular and incapable, by definition, of seeing the strong claim of religion – the claim to be in possession of a truth all should acknowledge – as anything but an expression of unreasonableness and irrationality."

Fish says that the liberal state will tolerate all religions -- all religions, that is, that are themselves tolerant. He is right about this. From this Fish concludes that

"The liberal order does not extinguish religions; it just eviscerates them, unless they are the religions that display the same respect for the public-private distinction that liberalism depends on and enforces."

Here I think he makes a mistake. Most American faiths have made their peace with the liberal state, but they also have a wing, at least, that believes that their own faith is, indeed, true. Such democratic faiths refrain from triumphalism and intolerance not because they don't believe their creeds to be true, but because they believe that intolerance is an ineffective way to spread the faith. In a market society, good market competitors win, while crusading warriors lose. Most versions of Christianity, in particular, have been chastened by the disasters of the religious wars and their own experiences of intolerance, both on the giving and the receiving end. I believe that Calvinism has the best-developed theory of why a chastened, self-critical, fair-competition faith is the most insightful basis for evangelism in a fallen world.

Faith within liberal society need not be eviscerated, just because it is humble.