Saturday, February 19, 2011

Financing the Ring

We had our first guest couple visit the "Family Life" class yesterday - the Newlyweds.

The piquant detail that the students most enjoyed: he paid for the engagement ring by selling his video games.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Semi-Coercive Medical Care for the Self-Destructive

I was talking to a doctor friend today. She treats many alcoholics, drug addicts, and heavy-eating diabetics who come to the hospital regularly to be cleaned up - only to go right back to their self-destruction.

Medical ethics and the law mean that these very sick patients can't simply be turned away, even if they have been treated and taught better many times before.

This is a "moral hazard" problem - when we subsidize help for people's problems, some of them will produce more of that problem than they would if they were on their own. That is the hazard of helping. Yet it is a great moral good when the able help the hurting.

I do not think there is an excellent solution to this problem.

The best solution I can think of is that the persistently self-destructive can have the free or subsidized care that they get now - at the cost of losing some freedom to damage themselves. For example, after the nth detoxification for an alcoholic, they have to take Antabuse, either implanted (if such a thing exists) or show up at a location for to be observed and certified while taking it. Accepting the detoxification would legally constitute voluntary acceptance of this restriction for a time - say, a year.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Great Black Return Migration

A century ago the Great Migration of African Americans out of the rural South to the northern cities began. They left to escape caste oppression, racism, lynching, and massive economic discrimination. Fifty years later, half of African Americans lived outside the South. Moreover, black Americans had changed from overwhelmingly rural peasants to overwhelmingly urban proletariat.

Now, fifty years further on, there is a significant move of African Americans back to the South. This great migration, though, is led by the middle class and professional class. They are heading to Sunbelt cities, not the "black belt" farm country their great grandparents left. Georgia has displaced New York as the state with the most African Americans. Atlanta has displaced Chicago as the city with the second most African Americans, after New York City.

I take it as a great thing, a measure of the huge progress that the United States has made in overcoming our original sin - anti-black racism. Fifty years ago, the American South was the last place black Americans would want to move to. Today, the South is as appealing to black Americans as it is to everyone else - which is quite a bit.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Facebook Versus the Church

Richard Beck, a psychology professor at Abilene Christian University, makes a strong argument that "Facebook killed the church." His conclusion is this:

Why are Millennials leaving the church? It's simple. Mobile social computing has replaced the main draw of the traditional church: Social connection and affiliation.
I think Beck's insight is sound. The main appeal of any voluntary organization is the social connection with the people there. If it is to serve a function beyond social connection, then the activity that people do together has to be worthwhile in itself. Facebook can't replace, for example, playing sports together, no matter how much you like the camaraderie of the team - playing the sport requires others, and playing has a value to you beyond the social connection.

So what is the value of the activity of church? The stated goal is to worship God. I think it is a well attested sociological fact that collective worship can be more powerful than individual devotion - perhaps the most powerful of all human activities. But emotionally powerful worship is rare in ordinary church life, especially for young people.

My church is the kind of church that builds powerful social connections from regular, face-to-face interaction. Ours is a small-town church that plays a significant role in our town. It makes sense for us to get together regularly at church.

Most millennials are more likely to go to large, self-contained churches that could be located anywhere. The social space of a megachurch is not that much different from the social space of Facebook. They do not need church to make their social connections, which they then nurture daily by virtual means.

Of course, it helps that the people in my church are so old that most of them have not adapted to Facebook. But that will gradually change.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Free Public Radio From Federal Funding

There are few bigger fans of public radio than the Gruntleds. We start our day with "Morning Edition" each day. We are donors every year. Local public radio stations are the best network of local political reporting. Our local station, WUKY, has the best mix of music during the day. I have long advised students to begin each day with "National Professors Radio," just as most of their teachers do.

I think public radio would be better off if it were freed from federal funding.

Members like me can and should support the best news network on American radio. Rich people who like depth reporting should endow their local station and the whole network for everyone.

Moreover, National Public Radio would be better off if it were free from the endless threats from its opponents.

The time has come. Free Public Radio from Federal Fetters.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Right-Sizing a Family House

Yesterday I wrote about a family who found that their big dream house was separating them as a family. This led to some interesting personal replies and links about what is a good size for a family house.

We used to live in a lovely small house of about 1100 square feet. Facing the prospect of three growing kids and one bathroom, we moved down the street to a house of about 1800 square feet with two more half baths. It is hard to know how exactly to measure the space - we have an attic which makes a wonderful teen bedroom, despite the 4-foot ceilings in most of it. Likewise, the dry basement is good for storing things, though it is not living area.

In any case, I find the size of our house to be ample for our family. I am delighted that our house has long been the place that teenagers hang out and sleep over. Last Christmas we had our college girls back with their friends and a horde of teens in the attic - all at the same time. Mrs. G. and I sat by the fire, reveling in the life of the house.

As I look at the websites offering advice on a good square footage for families, the modest consensus seems to be about 200 per person. We are well over that. I have been trying to figure out how a smaller space would work for us. None of the kids share a room. We also have an old outside porch that has been enclosed, which is additional space, though a bit awkward. Still, we seem to be over the recommended family-sized house, without feeling too spread out. Hmm; perhaps I shouldn't count the attic and basement.

As I think about how we use the house, we do seem cozier. We tend to gather together when we are all home. Still, as I imagine what we would have to do with a room lopped off of each floor, we could adjust well.

I think one of the things that makes McMansions so hard on families is that each room tends to be large, larger than the family needs even if they were all together at once. That may be the next frontier in thinking about family-sizing a house.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Power of Half of Our Too-Big House

The Salwen family were living a comfortable upper-middle class life. Hannah, a tender-hearted fourteen year old, was moved by the plight of the have-nots when her family had so much. This story is probably repeated in most upper-middle families.

What made the Salwens notable is that Hannah's parents were moved by her argument. The family cut their expenditures in half, so they could give to others more. They have written about their new life in The Power of Half: One Family's Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving Back.

What particularly struck me in their story is that the family's biggest move was to sell their "dream house" in suburban Atlanta and move into a house half that size. I don't know the exact sizes of these houses, but I have seen suburban Atlanta upper-middle class neighborhoods, and they can run to quite large. Kevin Salwen, the father in the family, reported the unexpected effect of living in their large dream house:

In our big house, we stopped communicating. We'd scatter to different rooms, far from one another physically and spiritually. The house actually began to weaken our love, or at least our ability to express that love.

I think the richer classes in America are often afflicted with this unexpected problem: their houses are too big for their families to live in as families. The much-desired structure actually undermines family life.

Perhaps a silver lining of the bursting of the housing bubble is that more people will want more modest houses, with manageable mortgages. And the unexpected benefit will be greater intimacy in their families.