Saturday, October 25, 2008

Bipartisanship We Can Believe In

Even if she didn't really mean it, I appreciate the gesture.

(Photo by Max Whittaker/Getty Images)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Habits Beat Deadlines

My friend Mark Mallman had an interesting post on his blog entitled "Deadlines." He is a master's degree student in sociology, and is having the normal graduate student trouble of getting down to the writing. He had tried to get his advisors to set deadlines for him, but it didn't really work. Both he and the advisors knew the deadlines weren't serious.

Instead, Mark has adopted the harder but more rewarding habit of a fellow student of setting aside a time each day -- 8 to 10 a.m., in his case -- to write. The rules are simple but firm:

She [the fellow student] does not allow herself to email, text, answer the phone, answer the door, eat, or play solitaire. She does not allow herself an out. The trick is, even if she only writes a hundred words in the two hours, it's writing only time.

Mark has adopted a similar rule, and it is already having good results. He is writing. I have a rule something like that: that is how I write a blog post each day. I have not been as strict about which distractions are excluded. When I get down to writing that book, though, I think these stricter rules will be necessary.

I suggested a similar rule to my undergraduates. They don't have a master's thesis to write, but they all have papers and quizzes, as well as notes and letters, that they should be writing at any time. They might not have two hours a day, but I think one hour a day is realistic for undergraduates.

In fact, I expect that nearly everyone reading these words has something that they are supposed to be writing all the time. Unless we are professional writers, we treat writing as a side job to be done only when we can no longer put it off. But our lives would be better, and our writing would be better, if we made a habit of absolutely setting aside time to write each day.

Because habits are more powerful than deadlines.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Class War is Not So Simple at the Top

Robert Frank, in Richistan, reports that those with a net worth of $1 to $10 million tend to vote Republican in order to reduce their own taxes, while those worth more than $10 million tend to vote Democratic and give to liberal causes in order to “preserve the system of fairness and opportunities they had growing up.”

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Likely Abortion Politics

I posted about abortion the other day in response to a friend's challenge. This led to an interesting further exchange, which I reproduce here.

I was glad to see you decided to respond to the Robbie George piece on Obama and abortion with a blog entry a few days ago. But I must tell you I was generally disappointed in the result, primarily because I thought you dodged the issue. It is true, of course, that George was extrapolating rather liberally from the FOCA language that you so helpfully provided. But that is the very point. As you well know, the left has famously supported an array of innocuous sounding policy statements, like the FOCA one, but then their lawyers argue from those statements for a regulatory regime and legal framework that goes far beyond what most people associate with the original position. Frankly, the FOCA position sounds roughly similar to our current abortion regime, which is what makes it seem harmless. But I can easily see NARAL and their ilk driving a Mack truck through the language to do exactly the sort of things George mentions in his piece. That was the issue you sidestepped by veering off into the argument about George’s piece being alarmist and rhetorically overblown. The piece may well have taken liberties, to be sure. But you provided no evidence (perhaps because no evidence exists) about what limitations on abortion Obama might actually find acceptable.

I don't know what limits Obama would put on abortion. Neither does Robbie George. Hillary Clinton has supported the 95-10 proposal. I expect that Obama would too if given a law to sign. It is clearly not one of his big issues either way.

Sure, there are people on the left who want to drive a truck though innocuous statutory language. Same thing on the right.

The truth is that there are not enough members of Congress who care enough about this issue, on either side, to force though a major abortion bill -- FOCA, anti-FOCA, or a serious compromise. FOCA will not be the first bill he signs, because there will not be a serious abortion bill in the next Congress, any more than there was in the last one (or dozen). And President Obama will not spend political capital to get one, any more than Pres. Bush did.

Well, now this is an EXCELLENT answer because you both acknowledge what seems to be true—that we will have to wait and see what Obama really thinks about abortion—and also provide a very politically grounded comment, that we’re just not in line for significant abortion legislation anytime soon.
Of course you’re correct that the right does the same kind of thing as the left on policy language—presumably that’s part of the ongoing struggle over the Defense of Marriage Act, for example. Seems to me this whole arena, of both sides trying to impose their views and policy approaches on the country via seemingly “safe” national legislation, would make a great conference topic for centrists who are trying to keep their sanity. I know an issue I’d love to see discussed in this vein involves “equal rights.” I’m certainly in favor of the notion of “equal pay for equal work,” for example. But I don’t have any clear sense of how this could be enforced without introducing so many skewed incentives that we’d end up worse off than we already are. Again, I’d like some centrist discussion of this rather than the usual bomb throwing from the political extremes.
To which I say, Amen.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

All Taxes Redistribute Wealth -- That's What They Are For

There has been some very foolish talk on the campaign trail lately that one side is bad because they want to use taxes to redistribute wealth. This is silly -- all taxes redistribute wealth. They take from everyone to serve the common good. We all pay taxes so we can all have roads and schools and mail and security and thousands of other common goods. Some of our taxes go to individuals for their individual needs, such as school loans or medicare payments. Even the small fraction of Americans receiving straight-up welfare in order to take better care of their kids are serving the common good. The Earned Income Tax Credit is better than old-fashioned welfare because it only goes to people who are working, and only goes to working people who do not make quite enough to take care of their kids.

Rich people get back less money in services because they need them less, and poor people get more because they need them more. That is just. That improves the common good.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Alternative to Arranged Marriage is Not Cohabitation

National Public Radio had an interesting series on arranged marriage among American Muslims. The main point was that even though American-raised, even American-born Muslims find themselves between American do-it-yourself mate selection and the arranged marriages of the Old Country, many American Muslims do find arranged marriages work out fine. Moreover, having your parents take an active role in mate selection takes out much of the anxiety of finding someone who is suitable without having to succumb utterly to American sexual norms.

Which leads me to what struck me most about this series. The final installment begins with this question to Shad Imam, who is now six years into his happy arranged marriage: "How do you marry someone you haven't lived with?" While cohabitation before marriage is common in the United States, and is the norm for college graduates, it is not really a good way to get to know a potential spouse. Cohabiters who marry have a higher divorce rate than people who do not live together before the wedding. The best-educated couples are starting to get this message, and their rate of pre-marital cohabitation is going down.

NPR is usually ahead of the curve on cultural trends. It is instructive to see that on this one they are still peddling the wisdom of a previous generation of mothers -- the antithesis of the moms who are arranging marriages -- to "give him a test drive first."

Sunday, October 19, 2008

End Race and Sex Quotas in the Church

In my essay Rebuilding the Presbyterian Establishment, I call for ending the Committees on Representation that are mandatory at all levels of church government in the Presbyterian Church (USA). This point is secondary to my main point, which is that the whole church would be better off if we had an establishment of authoritative leaders to draw on. We used to, but we do not now in part because we deliberately dismantled the structures that create and recreate an establishment since the Sixties.

Still, one of the reasons that the "old boys' network" was dismantled was to create more opportunities for people who were not old white men to be in positions of leadership. Committees on Representation were mandated to monitor compliance with the cultural mandate, and shame the recalcitrant.

There may have been a moment when it was necessary to mandate the inclusion of women in leadership positions in the church, and to mandate the inclusion of racial-ethnic minorities and disabled people on the monitoring committees. I believe that, as that generation retires and is replaced by my naturally inclusive generations, that moment when the church required demographic quotas has passed. They are becoming counter-productive because they foster the idea that sex and ethnicity are primary identities within the church, rather than all being one in Christ.

Yesterday I met with the General Assembly Committee on Representation, the highest such body in the denomination. They were gracious, and we had a civil conversation. I thank them for the invitation. You will not be surprised to learn that the committed members of the Committee on Representation were not convinced that their body was no longer necessary. Fair enough. Several members of the committee also argued that overcoming white male privilege requires people who are not white males to always be in the conversation. I think the church does benefit when people who are not white males are in conversation. But that is a means to a higher end, not an end in itself.

We are faced now with the prudential judgment of whether we still need formal structures to push for demographic representation, or whether the Presbyterian Church is now normally against sex and race exclusion. I believe we have reached the time for change.