Saturday, November 29, 2008

"Twin Peaks" Revisited

The entertainment of Thanksgiving week was watching "Twin Peaks" again with daughter Endub, who was born just before the series ran on television years ago. We have now seen the whole first story arc -- Who killed Laura Palmer? The show really holds up well. The oddness, humor, and genuine creepiness still come through, even when you know how it turns out.

My recollection is that it got so silly in the second season that it was canceled for good cause. Nonetheless, I am looking forward to finishing the whole set, and then the prequel. And now I can share it with the next generation.

"The owls are not what they seem."

Friday, November 28, 2008

Averge Cost of an Easy Divorce: $50,000 calculates it this way. The average American family, according the Census numbers, is married, has two children, makes between $50,000 to $74,999 a year and owns a home worth about $185,000 - though the home value varies enormously by location. This family would spend more than $50,000 on lawyers, counseling for themselves and the kids, and the many costs of selling the house and moving.

Contested divorces cost much more - easily twice the amount of an uncontested divorce.

And that depends on being able to sell the house. MSNBC reports, mostly on the basis of anecdotes but probably accurately, that divorces are down at the moment because unhappy couples can't afford to sell their houses or charge the other services they would need.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Best Age to Marry for the Kids: Mid-Twenties

Sharon Jayson has an excellent article in USA Today about the debate over what is the best age to marry. The marriage age has been creeping up and averages the highest ever -- nearly 26 for women and 28 for men. Everyone agrees that you shouldn't marry as a teenager if you can help it, and most agree that you should start having kids by 30 if possible.

The division among the scholars in this debate is between Norval Glenn, who found that those who marry in their mid-twenties are happiest, and Andrew Cherlin, who argues that those who marry in their late 20s or early 30s are the most mature and settled.

I side with Glenn in this debate. I think having children is important to the great majority of married couples, and delaying trying to have kids into your 30s is dicier than most people know.

I was struck by another point in this debate, though: everyone in it assume that marriage should come before children. This is a debate among people on the upper side of the "marriage caste" divide. For those one the lower side, where single teen mothers are the norm, 40 is the ideal age for marriage, whereas 20 is the ideal age for motherhood. This is the further reason I side with Norval Glenn. He holds out for the crucial connection between marriage and parenthood. Separate them, and the social fabric unravels.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Georgia "Get Married, Stay Married" Campaign is Great

The Supreme Court of Georgia has started a billboard campaign urging parents to Get Married, Stay Married. Using private funds and donated billboard space, Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears has led a broad-based campaign to fight crime through better marriages. She noted that 72 percent of incarcerated juveniles are from "fragmented" families and that 65 percent of Georgia's civil court dockets concern matters pertaining to children and families, outnumbering not only all other civil cases but also all felony and misdemeanor cases combined.

This is a great idea. There is much that can be done right now just by making the public argument for marriage. When African-American leaders like Chief Justice Sears speak out the power of the bully pulpit (or billboard) is focused where it is needed the most.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Privilege Exercise 2008

My "Social Structure" class again hosted the Privilege Exercise last night. Based on Peggy McIntosh's article "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack," we formed the 100 students in a line, shoulder to shoulder, then asked them to respond to a seriess of questions. The questions were of the form "If you had more than 50 books in your house growing up, take a step forward" and "If you were ever stopped by the police because of your race, sex, ethnicity, or sexual orientation, take a step back." After 50 questions, the group was divided enough to see social stratification in a more literal sense than usual. We then broke up into four groups, based on our relative privilege, and talked about the experience. After about 20 minutes, we reconvened as a whole to talk about privilege, difference, and what to think about it.

One of the most interesting findings this year was that all students acknowledged that being a Centre College student itself is a privilege. They were there in part from their own hard work, and in part from the advantages that some -- but only some -- of the students started out with. The least-privilege group appreciated that they had to work harder to get to Centre than the most privileged group had (on the whole). They also knew, though, that compared to many people they grew up with, they were the very privileged. One of the students in the least-privileged group said that coming to Centre "wiped the slate clean"; thereafter, each of the students' position in the world would have more to do with their own achievement and less with their backgrounds.

Sometimes McIntosh's inventory is used to teach people that privilege creates an oppressive structure of domination that is very difficult to change. Centre students do come from quite a range of backgrounds, and they do see the differences in privilege and structural domination -- to a point. They focus more, though, on making the most of their opportunities, being grateful for whatever privileges they have, and looking to provide more for their own children and the society in general. This seems to me to be a healthy, realistic attitude toward privilege.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Faith-Based Initiatives Will Live On Under the Community-Organizer-in-Chief

One of the legacies of the Bush administration that President Obama will be happy to receive will be the faith-based and community initiatives.

Many secularists and liberals in the Democratic Party object to government working in partnership with religious institutions to solve social problems. Barack Obama, though, has welcomed faith-based initiatives as one good tool among many to address the worst ills of society. As a former community organizer, he knows that for the poorest and worst off, the churches are by far the most likely to stick to the task of helping. As a Gen Xer, he is more interested in results than rhetoric. Most importantly, as a Christian, he knows that God has the greatest power to change lives. I think that is why he was drawn to church in the first place, and how he became convinced to open his life to God. He tried hard to change people by his own will, by secular organization, and by government action. They all help, but they never do the whole job because they can never get down to the bottom of people's problems. Only God can.

I look forward to a new, less partisan, more diverse array of faith-based initiatives in the Obama administration. And if he can make that work, the new Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships program may be the enduring positive legacy of the Bush presidency.