Saturday, May 17, 2008

Lutheran Soda Conspiracy

In response to my previous post about the soda vs. pop/Coke map for soft drink terminology, faithful reader rbush offered this analysis of the mysterious soda pockets:

The St. Louis question mystifies me, so I've been mulling it over. Personally, I was raised in the pop half of Kentucky, but I now attend graduate school in St. Louis and am soon to be married to a St. Louisan.

I don't agree with ibn centre's hypothesis that St. Louis "soda" usage is dictated by the transient student/young professional population. Most of us are confined to St. Louis proper, and the map shows a pretty large circle of "soda" emanating out from St. Louis. Furthermore, for every "soda" person who moves here, I'm sure there's a "pop" or "coke" user such as myself.

So the question I've been pondering is...what does St. Louis have in common with Milwaukee (another soda bubble) that it doesn't have in common with other German areas such as Cincinnati? My answer (and yes, this is a stretch), is the Lutheran Church.

Two of the US's largest Lutheran populations reside in these two areas. In fact, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (2nd largest Lutheran denom in the US) and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (3rd largest Lutheran denom in the US) are based squarely in these two soda circles. The other Midwestern German populations are either more heavily Catholic (Cincy) or far more transient and diverse (Chi-town).

Anyway, that's my incredibly far-fetched theory.... the Lutheran Soda Conspiracy.

I have been thinking about this ingenious hypothesis. If does run into some trouble with the fact that the whole upper Midwest is Lutheran, but not soda-speakers. This map from the Glenmary Research Center shows the Lutheran distribution. So I offer this possible refinement: the soda bubbles emanate from German Lutherans.

I hope you will treat this with all the seriousness that it deserves.

Friday, May 16, 2008

End the Marriage Penalty for the Poorest

David Blankenhorn, president of the Institute for American Values, and Sam Brownback, Senator from Kansas, have a fine editorial this week in the Wall Street Journal. They note that the government has reduced the marriage penalty - the higher taxes paid by married people for filing together - for the higher classes. Now, they argue, it is time to end the marriage penalty for those on welfare.

Marriage, even if it joins very modest incomes, costs people on welfare up to a fifth of their income and benefits. This leads some on welfare to conclude that they would be better off not marrying. Yet marriage is the most likely route to lead poor women, men, and especially children out of poverty. Any policy that discourages parents from marrying is bad; discouraging marriage among the people it would help the most is tragic.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Religious Liberty vs. Religious Toleration

I have been reading John Pottenger's Reaping the Whirlwind: Liberal Democracy and the Religious Axis this week. Pottenger believes that modernity has produced a new "axis" which is reorienting the whole world. He calls this "the religious axis," which seems to me an odd name for a cultural foundation that restricts religion so much. I would call it "the modern axis." Whatever you call it, though, the idea is interesting.

Pottenger says these three factors form an interlocking foundation of modern cultures:
1) The world should be understood through rational and empirical examination;
2) Individuals should develop personal ethics, as through conscience;
3) Society should not simply grant religious toleration to non-favored religions, but religious liberty to all.

In this book the third point is the one he works the most with. He is argues that liberal democracy must fight against its tendency to institutionalize the majority faith. It would be easy to elevate the faith of the majority, and only tolerate the other faiths. It is particularly tempting to enshrine the founding faith of a society as the permanent basis of its culture, no matter what changes later in the composition of the population or the culture of the world.

What liberal democracies must do, he argues, is establish religious liberty for all, not just religious toleration. This is an interesting idea, and certainly has many consequences for politics. He considers Christian Reconstructionism, old-time Mormonism, and Uzbekistan's embrace of Islamic nationalism as all bad moves away from religious liberty toward mere toleration.

I think Pottenger makes some important mistakes. In particular, he does not credit the difference between changing the culture by religiously converting individuals, and changing the state by religiously changing the laws. He is right in criticizing the Christian Reconstructionism of Rousas Rushdoony as trying to do the latter. He is wrong in treating garden-variety evangelicals, who do aim at individual conversion within a secular state, as doing the same thing as the Reconstructionists.

Nonetheless, I think Pottenger does a service to the religion and politics discourse by making a clear distinction between religious liberty and religious toleration.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Is Happiness the Measure of Parenthood?

Daniel Gilbert, the Harvard "Professor Happiness" presented research at a conference in Sydney on Happiness and Its Causes. He reported that marriage makes people happier, which I have often noted here. He also reported some detailed research on the relationship between having kids and happiness.

Parents are happiest when they are anticipating having kids, and after the kids are grown. Parents are least happy, in general, when they have adolescents at home.

One of the useful warnings I can give students in my family class is that they need to have a strong marriage before they have children so that they can weather the "parental crisis" that coping with a baby brings. It does not surprise me that self-reported happiness for married couples goes down with the birth of children, and troughs in the adolescent years.

I think Gilbert errs, though, in how to weigh the whole cycle of parental happiness. He thinks expectant parents overestimate how happy children will make them. Reality sets in when actual demanding children take up your time. Then empty nesters overvalue how much happiness they got from parenting in order to retroactively justify the investment.

I think happiness is the wrong metric here. When we ask parents what is the most worthwhile or meaningful thing they have done in their lives, raising children consistently rates at the top. I think people rate happiness on a more self-oriented scale. Not necessarily selfish; but measured against how it makes me feel now. Meaningfulness, on the other hand, is measured against a broader standard. We are often willing to sacrifice short-term feelings of happiness for long-term value, good, meaning.

The same surveys that ask "Do you feel Very Happy, Somewhat Happy, or Not Too Happy" should add another question. They should ask something like "Do you think your life is Very Meaningful, Somewhat Meaningful, or Not Too Meaningful."

On that scale, I think parents would give higher ratings.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Talkative Toddlers Aren't Terrible

A student mentioned an experiment by Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn in which young children were taught Baby Sign, a simplified version of sign language for children who have not learned to speak yet. The children learned to speak much faster than the control group. In passing, the student mentioned that the Baby Sign kids did not have "terrible twos" because they did not have the same frustration in communicating that other toddlers did.

Which gave me an insight about why the Gruntled kids did not go through terrible twos. The Gruntleds, you may not be surprised to learn, are a very talkative family. "Hypervocative" is the term we use at home. The children were talked to constantly and with a fairly grownup vocabulary from birth. The kids, given their mixture of nature and nurture, were perhaps over-determined to be big talkers and amusing conversationalists while still in diapers. Thus, if terrible twos are caused by an inability to communicate, talkative toddlers should skip it.

It is certainly worth a try.

Monday, May 12, 2008

A Soda Guy Living on the Pop/Coke Line

One of the most persistent differences in regional terminology is what we call soft drinks. I am a native of eastern Pennsylvania, which is deep in "soda" country. Central Kentucky, though, is where the midwestern "pop" meets the southern "Coke" (as a generic name).

The map is amazing.

I am particularly curious about the St. Louis Soda Circle. Any ideas?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

On the Spahr Decision

I wrote a post on the Spahr decision in the Presbyterian Church courts a few days ago. I was saving it for posting today, since I usually write about religion on Sundays.

Now I know that saved posts get published as if they came out when they were drafted, not when I hit "Publish Post."

The entry,"Orwellian Decision in the Spahr Case Further Erodes Trust in the Church, is here.