Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas to One and All

The Gruntled Center will take a vacation until the New Year.

I am looking forward to an excellent 2012, and I hope you have the same.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Dylan Thomas Trip to Shakertown

We had a delightful bit of providential timing last night.

Near Danville is Pleasant Hill, a restored Shaker community now known as Shakertown. It is, in my opinion, the most beautiful human-made place in Kentucky. I took the family there for Christmas Eve-eve dinner.

My mother-in-law brought a recording of Dylan Thomas reading "A Child's Christmas in Wales," a favorite family poem that I used to read to the kids when they were small. We started listening as we pulled out of the driveway. "I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six," and all that follows, carried us through the misty December twilight in the lovely Kentucky countryside.

As we came in sight of the entrance to Shakertown, Dylan Thomas was winding down Christmas day.

Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow, I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steady falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.
And he spoke the last word as we pulled up to the stop sign opposite the Pleasant Hill gate.

So now we know: the distance from Danville to Shakertown can be measured in the scientific unit of one Child's Christmas in Wales.

Friday, December 23, 2011

China's Surprising Christian Distribution

The Pew Research Center has taken on the difficult task of estimating the numbers of Christians all over the world.  Yesterday I reported that the country with the third largest number of Protestants is China - many in underground churches. 

I was surprised, though, to see the ratio of Protestant to Catholic Christians in China

Using the same methods to estimate both groups, Pew came up with these totals for Chinese Christians:

Protestants: 58 million

Catholics:     9 million

I hope that some day, when China is democratic, these churches will be able to operate openly.  I expect that, when that day comes, there will be an evangelical boom in China - as is already happening covertly.

And, incidentally, sociologists will be able to get more definite numbers.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Which Countries Have the Most Protestants?

Which country has the most Protestants?  The United States - that one was not so hard.

But which countries have the second and third largest Protestant populations?  Not the largest percentage, but the largest number - a question that obviously favors the countries with the largest populations?

The answer?  China and Nigeria.

A new world Christianity is being built.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

"Keeping Her Maiden Name" on the Decline

A young friend, recently engaged, passed on this story of the decline in married women keeping their maiden names.

The interesting statistics on American brides keeping their maiden names:

1980s: 9%
1990s: 23%
2000s: 18%

They also report a large, but probably not scientific, survey by, which found that only 8% did in 2010.

The article suggests, by anecdote, that more women are using their maiden names as middle names for professional purposes, as Mrs. G. does.

I do remember noticing that among people we know, the trend seemed to peak with the late Baby Boomers of the college class of '77, but had was less common in our early Gen X cohort marrying in the early 1980s, even at a very politically correct college.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Marry Before Kids: An Answer to Tracy McMillan

Tracy McMillan has written very popular piece at The Huffington Post that is funny, insightful, and deliberately over the top, explaining to aging single women, like herself, "Why You Are Not Married." McMillan's politically incorrect advice has drawn some criticism, including Lisa Wade's piece at Sociological Images that I addressed yesterday.

I did want to take issue with one point that McMillan, a thrice-divorced single mother, makes:

if what you really want is a baby, go get you one. Your husband will be along shortly. Motherhood has a way of weeding out the lotharios.

 McMillan's advice is not completely wrong, but it is very risky.

On the one hand, it is true many women who have children out of wedlock do eventually marry someone, including most teen welfare moms (see Edin and Kefalas' Promises I Can Keep).

On the other hand, it is much harder to court with children.  It is less likely that step-fathers will be as good for kids as would natural fathers married to natural mothers. Most of all, McMillan's strategy discounts the bad effects on the children of their single-parent years. Things may work out OK eventually, but there are usually costs from the tough years.  And if things do not work out eventually, all the years are likely to be tough.

I think Tracy McMillan does offer a helpful reality check to single women who do want to marry, though she offers it in an almost brutal way.   But I think she errs in her advice about the relationship between marriage and children.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Marriage is so Normal: an Answer to Lisa Wade

The other day I posted about the scary report that only a bare majority of American adults are married. I argued that the alarm over this report is overblown. Marriage is not becoming a minority taste.

Another sociologist has argued that marriage could become a minority taste, but so what? Lisa Wade, at the always-interesting Sociological Images, defended her own unmarried pairing with a general critique of marriage. She distinguishes, rightly, between the idea that marriage is normative - that is, thought to be good and desirable - and the factual question of whether or not marriage is normal - that is, what most people actually do.

Marriage is normative. Most Americans favor marriage, and do marry. They think it is good for society, even if they are not married themselves. They think marriage is good for children, even if they are not married or parents themselves. Wade dances around this fact, but she does not (and cannot) actually deny it.

She does, though, make this claim: "In actual reality, though, the state of being married is not any more normal than the state of being unmarried."

This is not true, for reasons I outlined in my earlier post. The proportion of people who marry for life is closer to two-thirds than to one-half. We are dealing with estimates of what people will do in the future, so it is hard to be more precise than that.

My more important critique of Wade's position, though, is that the conception of marriage she defends is entirely about her relationship.

The greatest value of marriage to society as a whole, and to the members of most families, is that marriage is the best environment for raising children. Once you have kids, your life is not all about you any more. Since the great majority of adults do have children, we all have an interest - first-hand or second-hand - in the social arrangements that are best for children.

Marriage is both normal and normative primarily because it is best for children, and secondarily because, on the whole, most people are happier married than as cohabitors or as single parents.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The World's Worst Tyrant Dies

Kim Jong-Il, the brutal dictator of North Korea, has died. It would take someone at a higher paygrade than mine to explain why this is a bad thing.

I hope the North Koreans can escape the whole apparatus of their police state. In fact, I think it is realistic to think that if they can upgrade to even a merely bad government, the long hoped-for reunification of the Koreas might become real.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Honesty is Common. Kudos to Coke for Demonstrating and Rewarding This

Coke planted a wallet with the equivalent of $200 and a much-coveted ticket to a big soccer match on the walkway in the middle of a mall in Portugal. They filmed what happened.

95% of the people who picked up the wallet turned it in to the nearby soccer store.

The crowd of shoppers cheered. The honest citizen was given a Coke (of course). And a ticket to the soccer match, where they were seated with the other wallet-returners. During the match, Coke ran the hidden-camera film of all the wallets being returned on the big screen, then panned to the section of the stadium where these honest citizens were seated. Huge cheers from the crowd.

Most people are honest. Most people like to help others. Most people do ordinary things to build up society.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Wanted: Domestic Men for High-Achieving Women

High-achieving women have a hard time finding even higher-achieving men to marry. There are more high-achieving women than ever - my students and my daughters among them.

I think it is a deep and natural desire in most women to marry up if they can. This is prudent in class and status terms. More importantly, it makes sense as young women prepare, consciously or not, for the great risk of having children, to find the most securely attached and resource-laden spouse they can.

However, human beings are reasoning creatures, who can understand trade-offs, changed social conditions, and priorities. High-achieving women are probably the best people of all to understand and weigh such factors. And every woman and man is not looking to marry an entire sex or the average of an entire sex, but one particular person with a very specific set of qualities.

SO the good news for high-achieving women is that there are more men who want to be part of a family that shares the achievements, the status, and, of course, the work. Just as women have always done when the shoe is on other foot.

So one could lament the hard time high-achieving women have of making a traditional pairing. I prefer, though, this response:

A feminist leader, Siobhan (Sam) Bennett, president of the nonpartisan Women’s Campaign Fund, does not see conflicts for high-earning women in dating, marriage and domestic life. On the contrary, she told me, “I see great opportunity that these high-value women will ask and gain the flexibility they need to have marriages and families — their lives will probably look different than what we’ve seen — but they will work for them.”

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Marriage is Not About the Become a Minority Lifestyle

A scary Pew Research Center report, based on the latest census, calculates that only 51% of American adults are married.  Some have leaped to the conclusion that marriage is declining, and about to tip into a minority taste.

This alarmist talk is overblown. 

First, most adults are married, as they always have been in this country.

Second, a significant fraction were married until death did them part.  As we live longer, the fraction of the population composed of widows and widowers is growing.  They are not evidence that marriage is passé - quite the opposite.  They made the ultimate commitment to marriage, and we should never forget it.

Third, as the Pew report notes, the average age of first marriage is the highest it has been in this country - 26 for women, 29 for men.  We can be confident from past trends that the most of those unmarried twenty-somethings will marry.  We know from current survey research that they want to marry.

The actually scary trend is that the poorest and least educated people - the families that could most benefit from the material side of marriage - are the least likely to marry.

The good news is that the marriage rate among educated and dual-career couples is rising, and constitutes the great majority of the top half of the class and status structure.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

They Are Stopping My Gold Dollar

I like the gold dollar coin.  I get my coffee with them every day.  I started doing that with the Sacagewea dollar, one of my favorite coins ever.  Now the Mint is making dollar coins for each president, a new one per month.  We are still in the Reign of Beards in the 19th century.

Alas, the Treasury has decided to cut back on making new dollar coins to just the minimum that the numismatists want.  They claim that too few people actually spend them.  As a result, they already have a ten-year backlog in storage. 

So I will do my bit for the dollar coin.  Fewer for America, but more for me.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Parenthood is Hard, But Married Parents Are the Least Likely to be Depressed

This is the second post on Marquardt and Wilcox' State of Our Unions 2011.

In the 1970s, Jesse Bernard became famous among feminists for arguing that marriage was good for men, but bad for women.  The main empirical foundation of her book was a study that purported to show that married women (but not men) were more prone to depression than single women were.

Bernard's study has long been discredited.  What the study she cited actually showed was that women who had recently left careers for motherhood were somewhat more prone to depression than were childless working women.

Marquardt and Wilcox now offer current data, which goes further into parental life.  They find that single parents are more prone to depression.  Married parents, on the other hand, are not. In fact, married women, with or without children, were the least likely to be depressed.  Cohabiting parents were also not likely to be depressed.  Single women were more likely to be depressed, and most likely of all were single parents - 37% of single mothers, vs. only 22% of married women.  This figure controls for age, education, income, and race/ethnicity.

Marquardt and Wilcox's overall conclusion about the affect of parenthood on depression, and on overall happiness, is

the sense of support, solidarity, and meaning afforded by a co-parenting relationship more than makes up for any challenges associated with parenthood when it comes to global happiness and depression.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

New Reformed Body - Polity Statement

Occasionally on a Sunday I write about a painfully specific Presbyterian Church (USA) topic. If this is not your cup of tea, xkcd is always good.

The Fellowship of Presbyterians is proposing a New Reformed Body.  At this point they are navigating between the Charybdis of creating a counter-polity within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Scylla of outright schism.  This week they released draft documents on polity and theology for comment, prior to next month's national meeting to Take the Next Step, whatever that might turn out to be.  Today I will talk about the polity document.

The document looks to me like a very good constitutional framework for a Reformed denomination. They dissolve regional synods, a move that I favor.  They strengthen the collegial accountability of the presbytery, which I think is an excellent professional and pastoral idea.  They put congregations, rather than presbyteries, in charge of their property.  This is a giant step toward congregationalism, but in practice would not be very different from what we are devolving into now.

The document is deliberately lean, leaving to each presbytery and congregation the responsibility for adopting the normal rules recommend in this polity document, and/or developing their own.

My favorite innovation is this:

The session shall evaluate the congregation’s ministry and mission annually and report to the presbytery for reasons of mutual accountability and the sharing of best practices.

This sounds like an excellent idea for any congregation.  If congregations really did this seriously then the presbytery would, of necessity, develop knowledge and skill in sharing and assessing best practices.  That would be a huge benefit to the whole denomination.

What really makes a denomination work are not the official rules, but trust among the members and constituent congregations, and respect for the authority of established leaders. If the New Reformed Body can achieve that kind of trust and respect, it will succeed no matter what its official relationship to the PC (USA).

Saturday, December 10, 2011


This is hilarious.

"Law and Order" recreated the Occupy Wall Street site to film a segment of the show.

The real Occupy Wall Street people heard about the fake.

The real Occupy Wall Street occupied the fake Occupy Wall Street on fake Wall Street.

At the behest of the fake cops, the real cops drove out the real OWS so the fake OWS could occupy the fake OWS.

Life is full of wonders.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Married Parents Are More Likely to Think That Their Lives Have an Important Purpose

The 2011 edition of The State of Our Unions has just been released by the National Marriage Project and the Institute for American Values. This year's report, by Brad Wilcox and Elizabeth Marquardt, has the wonderful subtitle "And Baby Makes Three: How Parenthood Makes Life Meaningful and How Marriage Makes Parenthood Bearable."

Among their findings, drawn from a new Survey of Marital Generosity, is that married people are more likely to think that their lives are meaningful than are unmarried people.  Even more interesting, as this table shows, is that among married people, parents are more likely to think that their "life has an important purpose" than are childless husbands and wives.  In fact, a majority of married mothers, and a near majority of married fathers strongly agree that their lives have an important purpose.

Believing that your life has an important purpose is one of the strongest components of a happy life.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

The Civil War Was the Heroic Birth of Black America

Ta-Nehisi Coates has an excellent essay in the Atlantic Monthly special issue on the Civil War. His main point is to call on African-Americans to know and own and cherish their role in the Civil War in winning their freedom and making democracy real in America.

More than that, Coates calls on all Americans to see the Civil War as a "good war," in the sense that we see the Second World War as a "good war" - a just struggle that defeated a manifest evil. He argues that to see the Civil War as a tragedy that divided brother against brother is to collude in the exclusion of the "darker brother" from existence in America.

I think Coates is quite right. The collusion of northern and southern whites in the myth of the Lost Cause after the war may have seemed worth it to foster national white reconciliation. But it came at the high cost of racial apartheid, terrorism, and oppression for another hundred years.

Only now, on the 150th anniversary of the start of the war, can we start to appreciate the Civil War as a heroic war for the American ideals of liberty and equality for all Americans. And no matter which side, if any, your ancestors were on (and I have ancestors on both sides), all Americans can come to see the Civil War as the heroic birth of the whole nation.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Daily Show vs. Swamp Loggers

Entertainment Weekly commissioned a survey of the favorite television shows of liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans.

At the top of the liberal Democratic list: "The Daily Show."

At the top of the conservative Republican list: "Swamp Loggers."

Democrats favor snark and literate humor. Republicans favor work and literal reality.

I don't see a deep lesson in this difference. But I do think it reinforces the notion that there is some cultural polarization in America. This is not just a matter of official partisan positions, either. Pop culture shows a party, if not partisan, divide.

So now I have to go find out what "Swamp Loggers" is about. :-)

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Pinker's Main Point About Why Violence Has Declined

Steven Pinker's main point in The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined is this:

The “Kantian triangle of democracy, open economies, and engagement in the international community” (310) is his main causal theory of the decline of violence. Each of these institutions justifies itself by the reasonable gains that people get from them, and from the spread of Enlightenment culture as a whole.

The spread of competent states with somewhat open economies has reduced violence because
a) violence by citizens is bad for states;
b) violence by the state against citizens is bad for states, unless it is necessary for a);
c) violence is bad for commerce;
d) interstate institutions have been somewhat successful in preventing interstate violence (wars).

The places that we see violence in the world today are in failed states, weak states, and relatively lawless corners of otherwise competent states. And these places are shrinking as states and globalized commerce fill the remaining lawless corners of the world.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Facing Up to Bullies as a Class Exercise

Steven Pinker, in The Better Angels of Our Nature, emphasizes that there has been a massive reduction in violence in the world because, in part, we have developed skills and habits such as self-control and sympathetic compassion.

One of the sources of collective violent acts come when groups do bad things together even though the members of the group individually think it is wrong. This comes about from what positive psychologists call "pluralistic ignorance" - each thinks the others all agree. Moreover, the effect of pluralistic ignorance is multiplied if there are a few enforcers in the group, insisting that everyone follow the group line. And the irony of enforcers is that they themselves often don't really believe in the bad action the group is doing. Instead, they are trying to convince other people of their sincerity.

This circle of ignorance and evil can be pierced by a few people willing to stand against the group. Sometimes this means standing against individual bullies. It is probably harder to stand against the group when it does not have an obvious bully in it.

So this is my idea, and also my question to you. I want to develop a class exercise in my "Happy Society" class to help students practice speaking up for conscience, even in a group of friends. This kind of practice is especially important because most of their friends probably have the same pangs of conscience, but are held back by the pluralistic ignorance of what the others really feel.

One example Pinker cites is that most students actually do not think binge drinking is good or fun or what they really want to do. Some students in the class are likely to find themselves in a situation where they can speak up against an impending binge drinking game. And, no doubt, there are other, similar situations that arise in ordinary life.

I would welcome ideas on how, exactly, to help students develop the capacity to pierce pluralistic ignorance.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Our Less-Violent World Depends on Great Leaders

The great genocides and wars of the early twentieth century were made much worse by the specific individual leaders Hitler, Stalin, and Mao.  The movements toward fascism and communism might have happened without them, but these movements would surely have been less bloody.

In reading Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, I was struck by a parallel thought: the great reduction in violence of the late twentieth century was made much better by the specific individual leaders Gandhi and King.  The movements toward independence and civil rights might have happened without them, but these movements would surely have been more bloody.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

The "New Peace" of the Past Generation is a New Blessing

Yesterday I wrote about Steven Pinker's account of the long peace we have enjoyed for the two generations without a major great power war, in his new book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined .

Pinker goes on to what he calls the "new peace" - the decline in the past one generation of civil wars, low-intensity conflicts (warlords, raiders, gangs), terrorism, and, most importantly, genocide.

What reduces all of these intrastate forms of violence are effective states. The effectiveness of states is increased by democracy, open markets, and involvement in international organizations, including peacekeeping.

Effective democratic states are the best at reducing all of these forms of violence.  Effective autocratic states are somewhat effective in preventing these forms of violence - unless the state itself is the cause of the violence, as it usually is in genocide. The biggest danger arises from failed or ineffective states, which become power vacuums and safe harbors for civil war, warlords, and terrorists.

It may seem that terrorism has obviously risen in the last generation, which includes the 9/11 attack.  That one attack was indeed the single biggest act of terrorism in generations.  But the incidence of terrorist attacks has gone down since the '60s and '70s. Terrorism is very hard to do effectively, almost never achieves its objectives, and usually undermines whatever support it starts out with the more terrifying it is.

It is too soon to tell if the new peace will also be a long peace.  But the new forms of conflict do not come close to producing the same quantity of violence that the great-power wars used to create.

Things are getting better. We may rejoice in that.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Today's "Long Peace" Is A Nearly Unprecedented Blessing

As I study what makes for a happy society, I am struck again and again by two related points:

Many many conditions of life are much better now than they ever have been, and are getting better; and

Most people, and especially most intellectuals, are unwilling to believe that this is so.

The Long Peace that the world has enjoyed since the end of the Second World War is one of the greatest blessings in the world.  Indeed, it is one of the greatest blessings in human history. 

To be sure, there have been and are smaller wars, and even a few medium sized ones.  But the Great Powers have not fought a war with one another since the Korean War, and arguably not since World War II.

Steven Pinker, in The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, makes this remarkable point:

As of May 15, 1984, the major powers of the world had remained at peace with one another for the longest stretch of time since the Roman Empire. Not since the second century BCE, when Teutonic tribes challenged the Romans, has a comparable interval passed without an army crossing the Rhine.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Trying to Manipulate Women is Wrong. And Dumb.

I don't usually fuss about things, but I think this is evil for what it means to say about women.

The Molson company should be ashamed of itself.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Most Young Japanese Adults Are Single

Almost two thirds of Japanese men in the prime marriage years, 18 - 34, are single.  Almost half of women in the same age are single, too. A quarter of them say they are not looking.

Japan is the oldest population in the world.  If they don't have a significant increase in the birth rate, their population will start to shrink. They will run out of workers to pay for their old people. They will run out of workers to make people.

Things don't look great for Japan's future production of Japanese.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving is a Holiday of the Civil Religion

Thanksgiving is derived from the Christian religion, but is not a Christian holiday.  Nor is it a Judeo-Christian, or Biblical, or Abrahamic, or holiday.  It is a holiday of giving thanks to God, so it is, in the very broadest sense, theistic.  Mostly, though, it is a National holiday, a holiday of the American civil religion.

I think it is normal for people to want all their religions to line up and support one another - our spiritual faith, our civil faith, our community faith, our family faith.  But I think it is safe to say that for everyone, they do not line up with one another all the time.  For Americans, living in an increasingly diverse society, the opportunities for conflict between our several religions - especially that devoted to God and that devoted to nation - become increasingly likely.

Thanksgiving is the closest point of connection between the theistic faith of nearly all Americans and the civil faith of nearly all Americans.  But they remain different.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Believing in the "Grand Design" Can Sustain Hope in Marriage for the Unmarried

Most women want to marry.  More women find themselves at 40 not having married, for one reason and another.  Kate Bolick wrote a heart-wrenching article about her own missed chances in The Atlantic, "All the Single Ladies." Jennifer Marshall, interviewed in the The National Review Online, sympathizes with Bolick, but rejects her conclusion - that the ideal of marriage is unrealistic and should be given up.

I agree with Marshall's conclusion about how to hold on to the ideal of marriage in general, and to our hopes for our own marriage, while nonetheless being happy if we are not now married (at any age):

If we want to find joy and satisfaction now even as we long for something more in the future, we need the confidence that there is a grand design to our lives, and that there is a purpose that transcends any particular circumstances.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Local Friday

The Gruntleds are among those who avoid shopping on Black Friday.  We went to the Hub, our local independent coffee house.  The ladies got their hair cut from a local, non-chain beauty salon. We walked to the public library. And mostly we sat together, reading and writing

This year the Small Business Administration, fearing that it cannot fight the chain-store-driven Black Friday today, is promoting a Small Business Saturday tomorrow.  I support their efforts.

But as for me and my house, Black Friday means Buy Local, and Stay Home.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving to All

I hope you enjoy the blessings of our wonderfully varied world.

For my part, I will read a Trollope novel by the fire, eat leftovers (we had the feast yesterday), and enjoy having family around.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Most Republican Evangelical Christians Think Mormonism is Not Christian.

33% of all Republicans think that Mormonism is not Christian.

Only 1/5th of white Republicans who are Catholic or mainline Protestant think Mormonism is not Christian.

However, most white Republicans who are evangelical Christians - 53% - think Mormonism is not Christian.

Since Mormons are strongly Republican, including the leading Republican contender for president of the United States, this conflict within the Republican party could be a problem of religious amity.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The "Super Committee" Shows That the Government is Actually Working

I think the Congressional Super Committee was always intended to fail. The rules that set it up already included massive cuts to social services and defense. The president has already said he will let the Bush tax cuts run out. Together, these cuts and new taxes will take a big hunk out of the deficit soon, and will gradually bring it under control.

This strategy was how the Clinton administration worked with the Congress (both parties) to get the Reagan/Bush deficit under control. This strategy is how the Obama administration will work with the Congress (both parties) to get the Bush II deficit under control.

I believe the Republican leadership wants to work with the Democratic leadership and the president to actually govern. The Republicans are hampered by a very foolish pledge most of them made to never raise taxes, even when we need to. Since that pledge is an impossible governing standard, and most of the Republican leadership actually does want to govern, they needed an end-run like this Super Committee drama to give them political cover for actually acting responsibly.

I find it encouraging that, despite the bluster, our government leaders are, in fact, finding ways to act responsibly.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Happy Colonels

I will take a break from the broad brush of the Happy Society to note a specific happy thing in our little world:  the Centre College football team has been invited to play in the NCAA playoffs in Division III (the most sensible division, I think).  This is the first time the team has ever been in the NCAA playoffs, since the last time we were invited to post-season play - the 1955 Tangerine Bowl - came before the NCAA division system was in place.

Kickoff is at noon in our own stadium against Hampden-Sydney.  I will give an update after the game.

Go Colonels!  Play with dignity!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Hopeful News from Burma

Burma is ruled by the world's weirdest military dictatorship. They have been isolated, oppressive, and just odd for decades.

The democracy movement in Burma is led by one of the world's great moral leaders, Aung San Suu Kyi. She was given the Nobel Peace Prize to recognize her party's work for peaceful change, and to encourage the military junta to let democracy happen. Her party did win elections in 1990, but the junta ignored them.

ASEAN, the development partnership of several Southeast Asian countries, is one of the few outside ties that the Burmese government has cared about. Burma was to have taken over the rotating chairmanship in 2006, but protests by the other governments made them decline.

Lately, the government seems to want to join the world. They released some political prisoners last month. They lifted a ban on "convicts" - former political prisoners such as Aung San Suu Kyi and most of her party's leadership - from participating in elections.

The thaw is so hopeful that the opposition has said it will try again to register as a party and take part in local elections, which it is expected to win. ASEAN, for its part, voted to allow Burma to accept the chairmanship when its turn comes again.

President Obama, who is at the ASEAN summit, announced that he will send Secretary of State Clinton to Burma to help encourage democracy and normalization.

And if, at the end of this long process, President Aung San Suu Kyi says that the country really should be called Myanmar, as the military government named it, I, for one, will accept that Burma has really been freed.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Republican Split in Boyle County

I wish to call attention to an interesting exit poll conducted by my colleague Ben Knoll. During the recent election, his students stood outside every polling place in Boyle County, Kentucky, where Danville is located. Boyle County is a very centrist place - it has a Democratic registration edge, but often votes Republican in national elections.

So Boyle County is a good place to ask about support for an establishment Republican, a Tea Party Republican, or neither. Specifically, voters were asked "Considering Kentucky's senators, which best represents your views?"

Mitch McConnell 20.6%
Rand Paul, 24.8%
Both equally, 7.8%
Neither, 42.8%

So, in a centrist county in a conservative state, we find about 25% establishment Republicans, 30% Tea Partiers, and over 40%, neither.

As Rand Paul himself demonstrates regularly, the Tea Party is almost as unhappy with the Republican establishment as it is with the Democratic Party. If the Tea Partiers are not enthusiastic about the Republican presidential nominee, they may not show up next year. And that does not bode well for establishment Republicans in Boyle County.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Are Any Presidents Acceptable to the Political Extremes?

My Tea Party friends object to President Obama as a socialist.

My left-wing friends object to president Obama for giving in to corporate interests. 

My questions to each group are parallel.

They are genuine questions - I really want to know, and I do not know the answers.

Is there any president who you think was not a socialist?

Is there any president who you think did not give in to corporate interests?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Centre's Investment in Renewable Energy.

This is the Mother Ann Lee hydroelectric plant near Shakertown (Ann Lee founded the Shakers).

This turbine is one of three that provides renewable power.

Centre students voted to tax themselves to help pay for this turbine. The plant produces the equivalent about about a quarter of Centre's power.

If you look closely, you can see the Centre stencil at the top of the turbine.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Social Inequality in Higher Ed vs. Lower Ed

David Brooks has another fine piece of pop sociology on the kinds of inequality that it is socially acceptable and unacceptable to wave about in America today.

One pairing that is particularly interesting to me is this:

Status inequality is acceptable for college teachers. Universities exist within a finely gradated status structure, with certain schools like Brown clearly more elite than other schools. University departments are carefully ranked and compete for superiority.

Status inequality is unacceptable for high school teachers. Teachers at this level strongly resist being ranked. It would be loathsome to have one’s department competing with other departments in nearby schools.

Brooks is only overstating a bit. Higher education does have many public rankings of schools, and even of the same discipline in different schools. However, disciplines within the same school generally adopt the polite fiction that they are on same level as one another, sharing the school's overall status. This is much like what Brooks says about high schools.

Nonetheless, I have noticed, comparing my life in higher education with my wife's work with elementary and secondary education (she is an education policy wonk) that the lower the age of students being taught, the more important it is to teachers to maintain that they are all at the same status level.

It is also true that the lower the age of students being taught, the more likely it is that the teachers are women.

And women, in general, are more likely to wish to treat all of their social relations as if everyone were on the same level, whereas men are more comfortable with the idea of hierarchy.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Penn State Story is About Pedophilia, Not Football

The horrifying scandal emerging from Pennsylvania State University is first and foremost about the repeated sexual abuse of boys by a man.  What makes it worse is that the man used his prominence as a coach to run a charity for boys, who he then took advantage of.  And that scandal, horrible as it already was, was made worse by two of his bosses lying and covering up for the coach, which let him keep abusing more boys for more years.

The best element of the story thus far is that the criminal is in jail and the liars have been fired.

A relatively minor element of the story is that two of the criminal's bosses, though they did further the investigation of the crimes, did not do so with enough diligence.  As a result, Penn State also fired these other two bosses.  It matters a bit that the university trustees were willing to fire the university president because he was not zealous enough in prosecuting sexual abuse of children by a university employee.  This is to the university's credit.

The least important part of this story is that the head football coach was also fired for not being zealous enough in furthering the prosecution of sexual abuse of children by one of his staff members.

So why was the lead element of the news story in many venues - including those that don't care about sports - that head coach football coach Joe Paterno was fired?  Why did Penn State students riot in the street about the firing of the head football coach - and not about the sexual abuse by the assistant football coach?

Because big-time sports are the religions of the masses.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The Tide Has Turned on the Tea Party

I have thought from the outset of the Tea Party movement that it would last three elections cycles. 

That is the usual length of Know-Nothing movements. This is because when they succeed in electing some anti-politicians who vow to completely change the government, one of two things happen.  Either the anti-politicians become normal politicians and compromise in order to accomplish a few things, or they become completely frustrated at their inability to change the entire government. 

The main reason they can't change the entire government is that nearly everyone needs the government, including the Know-Nothings in their role as citizens of an actually functioning country.

And what happens after that is that the Know-Nothings become disgusted with their turncoats, or disheartened at their failures.  Some of the movement diehards quit all politics in despair.  Some of the single-issue activists give up on changing the whole system and focus on their single issue.

The third cycle of my three-cycle prediction will not be completed until next November.  But yesterday's election was a portent of things to come.  The Tea Party, as detailed surveys have shown, are not small-government libertarians.  They are mostly traditional conservatives, fed up with the government subsidizing and encouraging people who they think undermine the nation.  These include those with loose sexual morals; expensive, featherbedding government unions; and disorganized, poor voters. The Tea-Party-inflected state governments elected in the last cycle made laws or ballot measures suppressing all these kinds of bad citizens (from a Tea Party perspective). 

But a majority of voters turned back all of these suppressive measures. 

To me, that suggests that the tide has turned.  The country has hit the rightward wall, and is beginning to turn back toward the center.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Great Night for Democrats in Kentucky

Democrats look like they are going to make a clean sweep of the statewide races, except one.

Governor Beshear was reelected handily.  Attorney General Conway was reelected handily. Rising stars Allison Grimes and Adam Edelen took Secretary of State and Auditor, respectively.

The one office Democrats lost was Agriculture Secretary. This was just - the Democrat, Farmer, really had no qualification for the office.  The Republican, Rep. Comer, won fair and square.

That said, I think the post of Agriculture Secretary is an anachronism, like the Railroad Commissioner.  Kentucky abolished the Railroad Commissioner's office in the past decade.  I believe it is time to abolish the Agriculture Secretary's office.

The turnout was very low.  I spoke to this yesterday.  I thank all those who voted.

To those Kentuckians who did not vote today but could have:  you have lost your right to complain about our statewide elected officials for the next four years.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Who Votes in a Low-Turnout Election?

People who pick up litter.

People who let others merge onto the highway.

People who wear seatbelts, all the time.

Who votes in low-turnout elections, like the one Kentucky will have tomorrow?

People who feel that being a dutiful member of the community is part of who they are.

Voting is not really about what's in it for you. 

Voting is not really about whether your vote will make a difference.

Voting is part of being a member of a democratic community.

I can't prove any of the above.  This is my opinion.  But it is my opinion that voting is more a matter of identity and loyalty and character than it is about any instrumental goal.

As for me and Mrs. G., we will be at the polls early.  As usual. I hope you will be too.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Centre Fights Above Its Weight - for the Liberal Arts

Dave Serchuk had a wonderful blog for Forbes on why liberal arts education is so necessary to national creativity. He took Steve Jobs' studies at Reed - taking classes in calligraphy even after he officially dropped out - as evidence of the unknowable future value of a broad arts education.

I totally agree.

Serchuk also electrified the Centre College world with this sentence:

There’s a reason schools like Reed, Evergreen, Wesleyan, Centre College, and Brown will continue to punch way above their weight when it comes to minting future generations of leaders and innovators.

Amen and amen. 

Friday, November 04, 2011

How to Keep Welfare from Undermining Poor Marriages

David Schramm, a University of Missouri researcher, compared two kinds of poor families (making less that $20,000 per year): those who took welfare, and those who did not.

Those who did not take welfare had happier marriages.

Schramm is not sure why.  He thinks it is because work is valuable in itself, and unemployment is undermining, especially for men.  He acknowledges, though, that the welfare recipients might be different - drug addicts or mentally ill, perhaps.

I can see how taking welfare would be undermining, especially for men.  It may be necessary in emergencies to keep your family afloat, but that doesn't mean it is without cost.

There is a wonderful scene in the movie "Cinderella Man," in which a boxer during the Depression is obliged to take relief to feed his family.  He is deeply ashamed of taking charity, but does what his family needs.  Later, when he is successful and famous as a boxer, he turns up in the relief line again. The people in the line know who he is, and are surprised to see him there.  Their faces show that they think he may be cheating the system, taking when he is not really in need.  However, when he gets to the head of the line, he delights the crowd: he pays back all the welfare he took.

That might be a good model for how to keep your self respect on welfare:  make a real plan to pay it back when you are on your feet again.