Saturday, February 06, 2010


It was doppleganger week on Facebook recently. I remarked that I couldn't think of a famous person I looked like. This prompted some helpful suggestions.

Several suggested actor Victor French, best known as Mr. Edwards on "Little House on the Prairie."

Ulysses S. Grant got a vote, representing the greatest age of beards in U.S. history.

A sociologically informed friend suggested a young Max Weber (though I think I have a shaky claim on looking like the "young" anything).

One friend made the wonderful suggestion of "santa, pre-realization of true calling."

Finally, we come to Mrs. G.'s suggestion:

Friday, February 05, 2010

What Do Republicans Believe About Sex Roles?

The Daily Kos commissioned a poll by non-partisan independent pollster Research 2000 of over 2,000 self-identified Republicans.

On the whole, these are quite conservative people. Take, for example, these answers:

Should same-sex couples be allowed to marry? No 77%

Do you consider abortion to be murder? Yes 76%

Should contraceptive use be outlawed? Yes 31%

Do you you believe that the only way for an individual to go to heaven is through Jesus Christ, or can one make it to heaven through another faith? Christ 67%

So it was particularly interesting to me to see the answers to these questions about men's and women's roles. The questions were

Should women work outside the home?

Are marriages equal partnerships, or are men the leaders of their households?

What do you think this group of Republicans will say?

Should women work outside the home? Yes 86%

Are marriages equal partnerships, or are men the leaders of their households? Equal 76%

I believe these core objectives of seventies feminism have been achieved.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

The Internet vs. the Second Shift

Virginia Heffernan makes a semi-serious claim in the New York Times Magazine that women have benefited more than men from telecommuting. She says that the WAHM - work-at-home mom - is the most valuable of all the motherhood and (or vs.) career options. She even offers telecommuting as a cure for the second shift. The internet is the real technological development that saved women from being tied to the home, because it lets them work from it.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

"Marriage Benefit Imbalance" - Beating a Horse that Refuses to Die

Elizabeth Gilbert wrote a successful book justifying her divorce, Eat, Pray, Love. Having written about how terrible marriage is for women, she had to write a new book, Committed, to justify her second marriage. Family scholars have been worked up about this book because Gilbert claims that sociologists take as a fact “the ‘Marriage Benefit Imbalance’—a tidy name for an almost freakishly doleful conclusion: that women generally lose in the exchange of marriage vows, while men win big.”

Not true. Family sociologists now show the many ways that marriage benefits women as well as men. Gilbert reaches back to some of the most discredited findings in family sociology to support her conclusion. She cites Jesse Bernard's claim that marriage makes women depressed in the book Bernard wrote to justify her divorce.

What is most striking to me about Gilbert's ambition in her new book is that she misses the main point of marriage as a social institution: to protect and raise children.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

90% Egg Loss By 30

A new British study found that, on average, women had lost about 90% of their egg-producing capacity by 30, and had lost about 97% by age 40.

This is in addition to earlier findings that the remaining eggs are more likely to be damaged the older they are.

Monday, February 01, 2010

A Decent Case for Orphanages

Richard McKenzie makes a pretty good case for orphanages in the Wall Street Journal. He does, though, mix together the dire need in Africa, where there are many actual orphans, with the case of American foster children, few of whom have actually lost both parents.

There are half a million children in foster care in the U.S. I think some tens of thousands of them could be better served by a permanent home in an orphanage than in a series of temporary foster placements.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Beyond Rebuilding 3

Reply to "Rebuilding - Or Building Up? An Alternative View of the Church and Its Future" by Cynthia Holder Rich.

This is the third in a series of responses to the five articles in Beyond Rebuilding, which were written in answer to my Rebuilding the Presbyterian Establishment.

Prof. Rich approaches my argument through empirical research on assessment, which I appreciate. She considers E. Digby Baltzell's account of how an establishment assimilates talented outsiders as the just way to build up and renew the leadership of society, which is foundational to my analysis. (She puts a [sic] after "assimilation" for reasons not clear to me - if you read this Prof. Rich I would welcome a clarification). She cites the evangelization of Madagascar as an example of the bad things that can happen for a church that seeks to include only the powerful. I applaud and agree with all of these elements of Prof. Rich's argument.

I think she errs, though, in thinking that I am arguing that the leadership of the Presbyterian Church should include only the powerful. She writes "But being in power (or to use Weston's term, authority) ... raises issues when we try to follow Jesus." Power is not the same as authority.

The leadership of the Presbyterian Church has so little power to make anyone do anything that the idea is chucklesome. But we do recognize that some people have natural gifts for leadership because they understand what would build up the church and the world, they have the energy and dedication to turn that understanding into reality, and they teach with authority. That is why we follow them. That is why in a well-functioning organization, we draw them into positions with bigger responsibilities, broader scope, and larger numbers of people they are responsible for leading. In order to compensate for the demands of these bigger jobs, we pay them somewhat more, we give them what little power there is in a voluntary organization, and, most especially, we pay them with honor.

One of the ways that Presbyterian Church leaders do the work of building up the church is by drawing people to their congregations. That is a by-product of their authority. They have no power to make anyone come to church. A well-functioning denomination would honor and reward leaders capable of building up little congregations into big ones. And big congregations would be smart to call people who had shown a capacity to lead large, complex congregations. A well-functioning denomination would draw upon the skills of those who lead large congregations to be among the leaders of the even larger and more complex bodies of the church. The leaders of large congregations would not, of course, be the only leaders of the denomination, but they do form a natural body of the people most likely to have the relevant skills.

Prof. Rich cites studies of successful racial-ethnic congregations as producing leaders different from those found in the establishment of 50 years ago. My point, and Baltzell's, is that a smart denomination would include the leaders of the most successful of those congregations in the establishment of the entire denomination. It does the denomination no good, and it certainly does those successful leaders no good, to dismantle the establishment.

Prof. Rich rightly notes that authority is a snare to pride. She claims to "speak 'as one without authority.'" Yet she backs her claims with her experience as a seminary professor and her mastery of relevant research. That is a claim of authority. She has a vision for the church. Asking others to follow that vision is also a claim of authority. Authority is not an oppressive thing. Authority is a tool that any institution needs if it is going to do its job. And any large organization - a denomination of millions of people - needs an established body of authoritative leaders working together if it is going to do its job. A Presbyterian Establishment includes all the authoritative leaders who are good at doing the job of the Presbyterian Church.