Saturday, June 20, 2009

Pittsburgh Rocks

This is the funniest thing I have read this week. It was sent by my sister in Pittsburgh about her first-grade daughter.

[My niece's] reaction to the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team winning the Stanley Cup (with pauses):

"Pittsburgh rocks. My baby head. Off."

Friday, June 19, 2009

Racial "Weathering" and Family Stress

Arline Geronimus argues that African Americans age faster than white people in America due to racism and stress. This has many important consequences - one of which is that waiting until their 20s to have children may not actually be healthier for black women and children, as is normally true for the American population as a whole.

Geronimus blames the faster "weathering" of African Americans on stress. She blames racism as the main source of differential stress. I think this is a plausible way of accounting for the fact that African Americans as a group are much less healthy than other Americans at the same age.

I would add, though, that there is another source of stress that is distinctively high for African Americans: the stress of single parenthood. Black Americans are especially likely to engage in the most stressful kind of single parenthood, the kind that results from never having married in the first place.

Geronimus has taken much heat for her views on racial weathering from stress. If we are looking at sources of stress, though, some are more self-inflicted than others - and thus can be addressed more directly by those enduring the stress.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Family Values Hypocrites Should Resign

Rep. Barney Frank had an affair with a prostitute. He did not resign. I don't think he needed to because he did not try to justify what the other guy did, and because he had not made a big deal about sexual morality before that. His district has re-elected him many times since.

Sen. David Vitter had sex with a prostitute. He should have resigned. He had made a big deal about sexual morality before that - and still does, with no show of shame. He thinks the only thing he did wrong was getting caught.

The latest family values warrior caught with his pants down is Sen. John Ensign. He had an affair with a campaign staffer whose husband worked for him. He seems to have gotten their son a job, too. He only admitted the affair after he was blackmailed. Ensign was a particularly egregious hypocrite. In addition to being a family values culture warrior in general, he had specifically called on his Senate colleague Larry Craig to resign during his sex scandal. And Ensign called on Pres. Clinton to resign during his sex scandal.

It is getting to the point that if public officials makes a big deal about marriage, family, and sexual honor, it is easy to assume that they are sleazy.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sandra Tsing Loh's Divorce

Sandra Tsing Loh is a writer for The Atlantic Monthly who usually covers domestic life. In the current issue she brings us up to date on her marital history.

She hated her father and wished her parents would divorce. She married a decent guy, had two girls, and they made a busy and solvent upper-middle-class home. Then in her mid-40s she had an affair. After therapy she decided she just didn't want to work at saving her marriage. She used this month's column to announce her divorce.

She then drew what she thinks is the logical conclusion from her story and that of some of perpetually dissatisfied friends: we should abolish marriage. More: human beings were never really meant for marriage, anyway. She cites Andrew Cherlin's review of the high U.S. divorce rate, which I wrote about recently, as evidence. Yet what Cherlin shows is that Americans have a higher divorce rate than other countries because we have a higher marriage rate to begin with - because we believe in marriage the most.

Sandra Tsing Loh's divorce is sad for her and her husband, and tragic for her children. It is not evidence that human beings were not meant for marriage.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Classes are Honorable

Egalitarians don't like to acknowledge the reality of classes because they think that their middle class life is the good kind of life. They believe that noting the existence and different cultures of other social classes is necessarily to make invidious distinctions.

However, if we believe in the nobility of labor and of useful leisure we can talk about classes without assuming them to be moral hierarchies.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Education Rationalizes the Status Structure, Mostly

Wittgenstein has a wonderful metaphor of language as like an old city. The oldest parts are crooked, winding, organic. On top of and growing around old bits are the new, modern, rationalized parts.

I think the social structure is like that, too. There is an old, crooked organic structure based on an honor/shame culture. We see it especially at the top, with its residue in Old Money. And we see it at the bottom, where gangs and slums reproduce honor/shame warrior bands wherever bourgeois order is ineffective.

On top of this old organic structure, though, a modern, rationalized grid has been laid. The main mechanism of rationalizing the social structure is the educational system. And the main tool for creating social closure differentiating one stratum from another are educational credentials.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Undermining Elders

One of the problems I addresses in Rebuilding the Presbyterian Establishment is that the church has created structures to undermine the authority of pastoral leaders. I spent this week with the summer conference of the Synod of the Trinity in Pennsylvania. In our conversations on this subject, I realized that the church had also created structures to undermine the authority of elder leaders.

The session that governs a local congregation is composed of elders, and is moderated by the pastor. Prior to the reforms of "the Sixties," a small group of elders might serve for many years. Now elders normally serve for a three-year term, are off for a year, then serve another three-year term. And that is it. Though elders are ordained for life, just as ministers are, their formal service is normally limited to one stint. The same holds for deacons, who serve on a separate board. In most Presbyterian congregations, more than half of the members have been ordained as deacons or elders.

When they go off the session, the governing experience that they learned mostly goes with them. Moreover, the elders who are sent by a local congregation as official representatives (commissioners) to the presbytery, the regional governing body, are chosen from the session. This means that the governing experience that the Presbyterian Church can bring to its central governing body, the presbytery, is also only short-term.

It would be bad to have only a small group serve on the session and presbytery for years and years. No one advocates that. But by requiring rotation of elders, and rarely recalling elders with past service, the Presbyterian Church (USA) undermines the other half of its possible Establishment.