Saturday, March 06, 2010

"Color Him Father"

In my recent search for non-country songs that covered the life-cycle of a marriage I was introduced to this fine song, the Winstons' "Color Him Father." Thanks to NSangoma on the Booker Rising blog.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Cohabitation Still Bad for Your Marriage Chances

A large new report on the effects of cohabitation, led by Pamela Smock, has just been released. Some see it as new evidence that "Cohabiting has little effect on marriage success"as the USA Today head line put it. Others say it shows "Cohabitation Linked to Exponential Increase in Relationship Failure Risk" as puts it.

Both are right. In fact, these findings are nothing new. For at least a decade it has been clear that people who cohabit before marriage do not improve their chances of marital success. Cohabitation is not a good way to "kick the tires," to test your compatibility. This new study confirms that conclusion. However, there is a big difference between people who are already engaged - with a ring and date - when they start cohabiting, as compared to those who live together with no definite plan for the future.

Engaged cohabiters act more like marrieds. "Just living together" couples do not.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Habeas Corpus is a State Right for All in America

I think habeas corpus is a core centrist issue. It should be the foundation of any discussion about the law, the basis on which the center can bring together left and right. Habeas corpus was suspended by the previous administration to deal with the post-9/11 emergency, and has been restored by the current administration.

Some people argue that habeas corpus is a right of citizens, but does not apply to anyone else we capture and call an enemy. Some even want to strip citizens of their legal rights if the government calls them an enemy.

Last night I got to ask the Chief Justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court something that has been bothering me: is habeas corpus a fundamental human right, or a right granted by the state that applies only to citizens? Justice Minton had no better answer than I did; fundamental human rights is not an issue that state courts rule on. But the discussion led in interesting directions afterwards.

On the one hand, I think that suspending habeas corpus is about the most dangerous habit any government could get in to. If the government can imprison anyone without even a chance to establish their right to a charge and a trial, the rule of law is destroyed. On the other hand, I am reluctant to declare that there is such a thing as a fundamental human right, absent an authoritative body to make it stick. Rights are rights against the state, and ultimately the state or a state-like body (like the International Criminal Court in the Hague) has to enforce rights to make them real.

Mrs. G., who is a lawyer, suggested a helpful middle position: habeas corpus has been a state-made right that applies to all English-descended states since Magna Carta, which applies to all people within that state. This means all the people under the hand of American law, whether citizens or not, have a right to habeas corpus. This seems to me a sensible position - not simply at the whim of the current government, but not unrealistically universal.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The Search for a Non-Country Song That Covers the Whole Life Cycle

I posted this query on Facebook recently:
Beau Weston is showing music videos about married life in class. There are many good country videos on the married life course. I am having trouble finding non-country songs about the married life course. Suggestions?

This has proven a rich and interesting discussion.

The main thing I have found is that country, and its cousins folk and bluegrass, are the popular music genres richest in songs in which people court, marry, raise their kids, help with their grandchildren, grow old, and die.

In the other popular genres - pop, rock, rap, hip-hop, rhythm and blues - it is hard find examples of songs that cover the full life cycle.

I think the main reason for the paucity of songs about marriage and the rest of your life in popular music is that popular music is mostly for young people. The audience for country music is a little older, and is more likely to be married with children, than is the population as a whole. Nonetheless, this small difference in the demographics of the audience is not enough, I think, to explain the wide disparity in content among the genres.

I note that when men write songs in which they imagine a future life together, they say something about how the family life they imagine will be paid for. This is less often the case in women's "imagining a family" songs.

The main point of this post: Country music is the place to look for songs about the full cycle of happy family life.

Below I reproduce the whole long dialogue with dialogue with friends, neighbors, students, and some professional colleagues, FYI. I would welcome additions and suggestions. I have interspersed comments and suggestions from others with my replies.

“Always” by Atlantic Starr

"Always" only gets as far as "let's make a family" - I don't think they are even married yet by the end of the song.

I can think of a bunch, but they're not universally positive about marriage. Of course, there are lots of country songs about d-i-v-o-r-c-e.

Oh, yeah - lots of good divorce songs. I have more songs for that week than I have days.

“Just the Two of Us” -Will Smith but that’s more about parenthood.

"Just the Two of Us" is a fine daddy song (a genre I particularly like). However, the kid doesn't get past early elementary school, and "it didn't work out for me and your mom."

Yea its a tough assignment. Most r&b love songs are about the chase or the wedding not the marriage.... I can think of songs about weddings but not marriages...go figure. I like "100 Years" but it's more about one man's journey through life than a couple's-- I suck at this...

I don't think it is you, I think it is a limitation of the target demographic for pop, rock, rap, and r&b.

Try April Barrows - " burning the toast for you" "my dream is you" & "an old stuffed sofa". Marc Cohn - "True Companion"

Thank you for April Barrows - I did not know her work. And you have me wondering whether there might be more life-cycle songs in jazz. However, she is just too obscure. YouTube only has a cover of "Burning the Toast for You" - a funny song, but it only gets as far as the honeymoon. The other two are not available. I found a version of "True Companion," but they aren't even married yet, and Cohn only refers to when the couple will be old. And none of them have kids.

Crosby Stills Nash, "Our House"

"Our House," while a gorgeous song, is a moment somewhere in the life of a couple. And two cats in the yard are just not enough of a stand-in for children to cover most marriage's life cycle. :-)

There are many Christian songs on that theme...don't know, but wouldn't be surprised if they had a C-VH1.

I think you are right, but I don't know the genre well enough to generate examples.

"Lady in Red"? (I know, it doesn't specify in the song that they're married. But I heard an interview with the songwriter, in which he specified it was about catching a glimpse of his wife at a party and seeing her with fresh eyes.) "Wonderful Tonight," maybe? Presumably they're married or she'd leave his drunk ass at the party. And of course there's "Secret Lovers," "Part Time Lover," and "Saving All My Love." For the 7 yr itch stage of marriage.

While "Wonderful Tonight" is a lovely song about a man appreciating his wife (?), it is a tiny moment - no kids, not long-shared life, no growing old. The others in that first set are really just love songs possibly set within marriage.

Oh, how about "Whatta Man" by Salt n Pepa?

"Whatta Man" is a courtship song. It has the abysmally low standards of good family life common in hip-hop songs. He is a good man because he spends quality time with his kids "when he can." The singer is going to have his baby. No mention of marriage. Sigh.

Paul McCartney's "When I'm 64", is, if you read the lyric, a proposal of marriage. Don't know if its available as a video, but it, and Paul and Linda's marriage, certainly speak well of the institution.

"When I'm 64" is more like it. I'd never noticed before that, while they imagine having grandchildren (Vera, Chuck, and Dave), they make no mention of their hypothetical children.

My student friend Katie made this excellent suggestion: July For Kings--"Normal Life."

"Mushaboom" by Feist is about planning a home and children and sticking it out. Doesn't mention marriage, so may not fit your parameters. But relatively current.

"Mushaboom" is sweet, and does have a real vision of a full life.

Try Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice. It's all right."

Oh, all the popular music genres are full of songs about marriages and romances that did not work out. That seems to be something that songwriters have lots of experience with.

Ok trying again-- "Superwoman" by Karyn White

"Superwoman" does have a married couple a few years past the wedding, but they may not make it through the whole life course. And no kids.

"Something in Red"-Lorrie Morgan (I know its country but it seems to fit your parameters)

"Something in Red" is a wonderful song, and I admire its concision in taking us through at least the first three years of a courtship and marriage. It is, though, as you note, a country song.

Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne's version of Pete Seeger's "Kisses Sweeter than Wine." I don't consider this country.

That is doubly helpful. The song is a good example of what I am after. And folk is a genre I had not looked at enough. But I think folk is at least a close cousin to country.

What about "Faithfully" by Journey?

"Faithfully" does seem to be a faithful marriage, but, as he says, the road is no place to raise a family - so (I infer) they don't.

"Grandpa Was a Carpenter" by John Prine.

"Grandpa Was a Carpenter" is a good one; it implies a full life of marriage and children, though we see nothing of the in-between generation. I would call Prine at least half-country (Wikipedia does, too).

Students suggested "Cat's in the Cradle" today, which I think qualifies.

Isn't "Cat's in the Cradle" a depressing view of the life cycle, though? By the way, I know it's country, but I like the song "Remember When?" more than a lot of others.

"Cat's in the Cradle" is wry, at best, and not nearly as celebratory of the life cycle as "Remember When."

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Centrism and Alcohol

Today Danville, KY, is voting on whether go from "moist" to "wet."

UPDATE: Danville went wet, 57% to 43% in heavier-than-expected turnout (2,508 to 1,911).

For those outside the South this whole concept may be odd. When we moved to Danville twenty years ago it was dry, meaning that selling and serving alcohol was illegal. A few years ago we voted to go "moist." Restaurants that seat at least 100 and get at least 70% of their revenue from food were allowed to sell alcohol by the drink. What all this means is no bars, no liquor stores, no downtown cafes selling a glass of wine. This kind of minute regulation of alcohol distribution is fairly common in all the Baptist-majority counties of the South. I can tell you, though, it is a very difficult concept to explain to, for example, a traveling group of Irish actors or Russian musicians, as has happened at Centre.

Today we are voting on whether to go "wet." This would allow liquor stores, beer and wine sales in other stores, smaller restaurants and cafes, even bars. No town in Kentucky has gone from moist to wet before, and I really do not know how the election will turn out.

I have been torn about how to vote. I am a teetotaler, so I my own consumption is not the issue for me. But I do care about the health and well-being of my neighbors, and the economic health of the town. I also do not want to see bars in Danville. I think they are a danger anywhere, but are a menace in a small college town.

Nonetheless, in the end I voted yes.

What does this have to do with centrism? I believe that alcohol is an irreducible part of human society. I don't care for it myself, but I know that others enjoy it. I think alcohol in moderation is OK. Jesus made wine - it can't be all bad.

Instead, I believe that we should actively and persistently promote, teach, and model moderation in alcohol consumption. This is especially important for adults teaching young adults, such as the hundreds of college students in our charge. I have long favored drinking licenses for 18, 19, and 20 year olds. I think the adults of the community should teach the young how to drink moderately. Drinking is not the menace; drunkenness is.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Is Authoritarianism a Helpful Idea?

This is the last that I will be blogging on a very interesting new study, Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler's Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics.

Some readers have objected that "authoritarianism" is simply liberal prejudice against conservatives dressed up in academic language. A reader offered that "it is wrong-headed and morally offensive to 'psychologize' political and ideological differences." It clearly takes several rounds of talking about what Hetherington and Weiler mean by the term to begin to see what they are arguing.

The core of H & W's definition of authoritarians are those who see the world in black-and-white terms, who fear that the social order is being disrupted, and who want a muscular response to restore order. I think that position may be fairly characterized as "authoritarian."

It also makes sense to me that people who are fearful will act the way we all do when afraid. That includes asserting your view of the world as a dangerous place so forcefully that you ignore, don't seek, and don't know inconvenient contrary facts. We don't do our best thinking when we are afraid. I don't think it is right to call fear-driven politics "authoritarian." It does, though, make sense to me that the fearful are more likely to see the world in black and white and want a muscular response.

So, IF people who think social order is in danger from evil forces and want to fight forcefully for good are "authoritarians," then we would expect that ALL people could be authoritarian sometime, but SOME people are authoritarian all the time.

Hetherington and Weiler report that when they surveyed Americans on whether there is a struggle between good and evil in the world, on a seven-point scale 30% took the extreme "yes" position, while only 12% took the extreme "no" position. When they separated the High Authoritarians from the Low Authoritarians, 40% of the former said yes to the max, while 25% of the latter said no to the extreme. Authoritarianism is not the only important factor in American politics, but I think Hetherington and Weiler have clearly demonstrated that it is an important factor.

The main point of their book is this:
“Political elites are polarized on the issues, but ordinary Americans are only better sorted, not polarized.”