Saturday, July 12, 2008


A hilarious captioned-pictures site, from the same universe as LOLCATS.

For example,

fail owned pwnd pictures
see more pwn and owned pictures

Friday, July 11, 2008

The More Educated You Are, the Less Diverse Your Political Conversations

Bill Bishop takes up the question of political segregation in The Big Sort. He reports on the work of Penn political scientist Diana Mutz. She found that only a quarter of Americans say they regularly discuss politics with people who disagree with them. This is more than in some countries, such as Britain, but less than others, notably Israel.

Even more interesting, I think, is Mutz' finding that this average varies quite a bit depending on your social class. The least educated people have the most diverse group of political discussion mates, whereas people with graduate degrees are the least likely to talk politics with people who disagree with them.

I can testify to how easy it is for conversation among academics, the most educated group of people, to turn into a one-position echo chamber. Liberalism is taken to be an IQ test, and the rare conservative is encouraged to be quiet or go elsewhere. For political disagreement I go to the coffee house, which in our town draws a broader range of people than the faculty club contains.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Strict Father vs. Nurturant Parent

Bill Bishop's The Big Sort considers Marc Heatherington and Jonathan Weiler's study of two contrasting views of childrearing as they correlate with political parties. The National Election Survey, a major University of Michigan study that is repeated periodically, asks whether is more important for children to have one positive quality versus another positive quality, such as being considerate or well behaved, or obedient of self-reliant? Heatherington and Weiler made a scale, with respectful, obedient, well-mannered, and well-behaved adding up to one view, while independent, self-reliant, curious, and considerate added up to another. They called the first view "strict father," and the latter, "nurturant parent."

The main finding of Heatherington and Weiler's study is that Republicans tend to be strict fathers, while Democrats tend to be nurturant parents. This is not so surprising now. It is fairly common to see the Republican and Democratic Parties contrasted as the Daddy Party and the Mommy Party.

What is most interesting is that as recently as 1992 there was not a partisan difference between the two views of childrearing. There is a clear difference only in 2000. Now the divide is so large that, at least among white voters, the strict father/nurturant parent contrast is a better predictor of political party than income is.

Going beyond what Heatherington and Weiler, or Bishop, talk about, there is one feature of this finding that bothers me as a sociologist. Society is not simply the individual writ large. Social structures have their own necessities and logic, beyond what any individual might do. Society is not a big family; the state is not really like mom, dad, or both. I don't fault the researchers -- they are describing reality. But I do worry that the normal human propensity to use social power as if it were personal power is growing.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Big Sort

We are studying an interesting new book from Bill Bishop, The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart. Bishop, a reporter from Austin, has been writing about the increasing geographic polarization in America, especially as it shows up in politics. His particular unit of analysis: party votes per county.

One of his big findings is that the proportion of all counties that have lopsided election results - 20% or more - has grown from about a quarter 30 years ago to about half of all counties today. Many states have close elections, but that is because it way-Democratic cities are balanced by the way Republican-suburbs and rural areas.

Moreover, Bishop argues, many counties are becoming so lopsided because people are moving to areas where like-minded people live. There are fewer undecideds, and not much mind-changing. More tomorrow.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Tall-Steeple Pastor

This is the answer to the question, "What do you mean by a tall-steeple pastor?" from the Facebook group, "Rebuilding the Presbyterian Establishment"

The "senior pastor of a multi-pastor church" is a good rule of thumb definition. Lots of them will be at the Old First Presbyterian of a medium to large city, or a successful First (and possibly only) Presbyterian of a county seat town. They normally are not first-call positions, but one that a pastor works up to. In a well-functioning presbytery they are respected leaders, called to yeoman service on the major committees.

Sociologically they are the successful executives of congregations, and therefore are the natural reservoir of leadership for the higher bodies. In the denomination as a whole, the small group of pastors of very large congregations should provide a good reservoir of leadership for the national church.

Naturally, not every individual in a tall-steeple church will be good leadership material for the larger church. And one consequence of pushing them out of denominational leadership for nearly two generations is that the group of people who end up as a large church pastors may not be good team players anymore -- precisely because they have had to remake the whole presbytery, or even the whole denomination, within their congregation.

If the church routinely honored its tall-steeple pastors, the career path in the whole denomination would gradually fill most of these largest slots with the best denominational leaders, since that would be the normal path to denominational, as well as congregational, service and success.