Friday, September 11, 2015

Colbert Might Bring Serious Discussion of Faith to Network Television

I was disappointed when Stephen Colbert succeeded David Letterman on the "Late Night" show.  I thought the conceit of "The Colbert Report" - that he was an obtuse conservative blowhard - was a brilliant idea for a political satire show.  I thought it was a real loss to political snark when the Report ended, because I don't see how anyone could take up that idea again.

However, this first week of "Late Night with" with Colbert at the helm had a moment that gives promise of something really good:  a serious discussion with Vice-President Biden about his religious faith, and how it shapes his actions.  The network late-night hosts have, to my knowledge, never tried to touch this subject in a sustained or serious manner.

I hope that Colbert's new gig may bring something beneficial to the national discussion.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Child Mortality Has Been Cut in Half in the Past 25 Years

Some of the very best news in the world-is-getting-better watch is about our continuing success in reducing child mortality.

In the last quarter century, we have cut child mortality in half.

Moreover, the fastest gains come in the worst places, where sanitation practices which are common in developed countries make immediate improvements when brought to developing countries.  We can expect more good news like this in the next twenty five years.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

The Most Likely Explanation for Similar Cultural Practices is Cultural Diffusion

I think the most likely explanation for similar cultural practices is cultural diffusion.

Multiple origins of cultural ideas are possible, of course.  I would yield to every well-documented case.

Still, after years of being impressed with similar practices in many places, I have been drawn to the ultimate lumper idea: cultural diffusion is the most likely explanation of similar cultural practices.

[RE: Lumper - There are two kinds of people: lumpers, and splitters.  I am a lumper.  I am interested in connections among people and cultures.]

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Perhaps Political Scientists Just Don't Like Kids

The American Political Science Association has bannedchildren from the exhibit hall at their annual meeting.  They cite “liability”.

This is clearly nonsense, as the other academic associations, including the American Sociological Association, do not ban children from their exhibit halls.  These conferences are held in the same hotels as the APSA meets in.

In the late ‘80s, Mrs. Gruntled and I lived in Washington, DC.  For fun, we would put the kids in the stroller and walk up to the Washington Hilton to crash academic association meetings.  We particularly liked to go to the exhibit hall, to see the nifty new books.

We learned that different associations reacted differently to children.  Sociologists would smile.  Anthropologists were come over (often with their kids) to talk babies. 

And the political scientists?  They turned their backs, pretending they had not seen children.

Monday, September 07, 2015

The Hopeful Aspect of Intense Asian-American College Competition

The intense competition among Asian-American students in college admissions is now creating  an Asian disadvantage at the top colleges and universities.  The disadvantage, though, is not simply because they are Asians, but because they actually do lead similar lives. As one of the prep academy advisors told the students (and their parents) “Everyone is in orchestra and plays piano, everyone plays tennis. Everyone wants to be a doctor, and write about immigrating to America.”

These kids lead similar lives because their immigrant parents shaped their children’s lives to match what elite colleges want.  This is hopeful because if the elite colleges actually reward different kinds of experiences for these ambitious families, the parents will change what they encourage their children to do. Diversity of experience and character is, after all, the kind of diversity that colleges should be seeking. 

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Wendell Berry is Right: Total Opposition to Obama is a Revival of Racist Politics.

Wendell Berry,  Kentucky's Leading intellectual, had a fine editorial today in the state's leading paper, the Louisville Courier-Journal, about the revival of racism as a political strategy.

"A good many people hoped and even believed that Barack Obama’s election to the presidency signified the end of racism in the United States. It seems arguable to me that the result has been virtually the opposite: Obama’s election has brought about a revival of racism.

Like nothing since the Southern Strategy, it has solidified the racist vote as a political quantity recognizable to politicians and apparently large enough in some places to decide an election."