July 31, 2006
As a childless twenty-something, I've been really enjoying the Corner's weeks-long debate over whether or not parenting matters. In the "cranky bugger" corner, with the impressively hiked-up grandpa shorts, has been John Derbyshire, who's argued that parenting matters very, very little, and peer influences, genetics, and culture are the real determinants. His primary assailant has been Jonah Goldberg, a proud parent determined to prove he matters. And occasionally ducking into the ring to slam either Derbyshire or Jonah with a folding chair has been Charles Murray, the wise old man of strange rightwing social science arguments.
Despite a lot of harping over the evidence, none of the participants seems particularly quick with the social science data. Partially, that's because there's depressingly little on the role of fathers, which seems to be the obsession of all the participants. Derbyshire has wildly overstated the consensus of the scientific community on any number of points, and is tangled deep in the weeds of correlation/causation failures. What the datam at this point, actually seems to imply is that parenting is a sadly unpredictable process and it remains unclear what "good parenting" actually is -- in the last couple of decades the experts have advised everything from sparing the rod to spoiling the child to unleashing the belt. Even worse, genetic differences in temperament make it likely that various kids will need different types of parenting to thrive. So a good parent for Jane may be harmful to Joe. We all know, after all, a stable family with one high achiever and one ne'er-do-well. Actually, we probably know more than one.
But largely, the Cornerites are talking about the margins -- how closely can they make their children fit their ideal. Emotionally, Jonah's right there with 20th-century behaviorist John Watson who said, "Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I'll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select." Derbyshire is more a Francis Galton type -- "There is no doubt that nature prevails enormously over nurture." The question is excellent parenting, not good parenting.
That's because good parenting is well understood to make a difference. Language skills are formed early, and children exposed to a large vocabulary, a lot of verbal interaction, and frequent stimulation do far better on later testing. In 1995, two social scientists recorded the number of utterances children were exposed to during the day -- the average was 325, but the range was from 100 to 800. The greater their exposure, the better the child did.
Of course, what largely determines that is not merely the parent's tendency to chatter, but the amount of time they -- or some other caregiver -- spends with a child per day. That's the real dividing line: time. The well-off can either spend it with the children themselves or hire someone else to fill the gap. Single mothers and working families all too often can't. For that reason, the Corner's discussion has been a rather upper-class discourse conducted by folks who're worried that all their advantages will eventually produce diminishing returns. That so many lower on the income ladder can hardly hope to be good, much less excellent, parents has scarcely entered the conversation.
A good example is that flextime -- that dream of being able to schedule work around family -- is available to 62 percent of workers making more than $72,000, while only 31 percent of those making less than $28,000 enjoy similar options. Daily flextime, the more useful variety, is available to only 13 percent of workers making less than $28,000.
Meanwhile, the Family and Medical Leave Act covers only half the private sector workforce and offers unpaid leave only. So not only do many parents lack the option, many others can't afford it. As for paid leave, only 30 percent of workers below the poverty line get more than a week a year. At 200 percent above the poverty line, that number swells to 76 percent. So insofar as you believe parents matter at all, a fair number of them lack the time to actually do much parenting (and let's not even get into those working double shifts to support a family). And this policy, let's not forget, is literally killing children. All the data suggests a stay-at-home parent during the first year of life is incredibly important. A massive study by the Organisation for Economic Development and Cooperation found that extending paid job-protected maternity leave to 10 weeks, as many European countries have done, reduces post-neonatal child mortality by 3.7 to 4.5 percent. Another study, this one localized to America, confirmed the positive impacts of paid family leave, but found unpaid leave laws lacked the same effects, presumably because many can't, or don't, use them.
So important as parents may or may not be when it comes to getting their kids interested in classical music, I'd think we could all agree that their presence in the home is something worth supporting. Except that "we," by which I mean the right, does not support laws that would allow for precisely that. While some thinkers are moving towards a more pro-family, progressive-style conception of conservatism -- and conversations with Jonah make me think he's one of them -- it's nevertheless a bit self-indulgent to spend weeks agonizing over your impact on the margins without mentioning how constrained many parents -- particularly single parents -- are from having any impact at all. But hey, if the National Review wants to make amends and start championing real paid leave, wage subsidies, and flextime laws, I'm happy to make common cause.
If folks are interested, we can wonk out more on some of this, and I may have some related articles in the coming weeks. For now, those who want to do some solo study could do worse than to start with Jane Waldfogel's overview of the social science research, What Children Need.
Crossposted at Tapped
Via Jonah, this is a fascinating interview with Bush's outgoing speechwriter Michael Gerson. I've long believed that evangelical Christianity is antithetical to the small government tradition of the Reaganites, but rarely has such a prominent member of the GOP admitted the tension so frankly. I'll have a lot more to say about this in the next issue of The American Prospect, but suffice to say I think Gerson, not Grover, represent the future of the Republican Party:
Until recently, the Republican Party and Christian conservatives have complained that government is the problem. Is that a view they will likely return to?
I think it's a temptation, but I don't think it's going to happen. One reason is because of what's changed in evangelical political involvement.
I think there are lots and lots of young people, in their 20s to 40s, who are very impatient with older models of social engagement like those used by the Religious Right. They understand the importance of the life issues and the family issues, but they know the concern for justice has to be broader and global. At least a good portion of the evangelical movement is looking for leaders who have a broader conception of social justice. President Bush has provided that in many ways. He ran his initial campaign on education and on faith-based answers to poverty and addiction. And then he's led the international efforts we've undertaken, both on the development and disease side, but also on the spread of human liberty.[...]
Where specifically do you think the Religious Right has gone off track?
Some of it is what I would call baptizing policy recommendations, as if there were a Christian view on tax policy or missile defense. These are questions of prudence and judgment on which reasonable people disagree.
Sometimes the agenda has been important but too limited. The goal is to have a Christian worldview that encompasses domestic and foreign policy, that speaks broadly without essentially trying to claim there's only one Christian view on a variety of issues.
I think there are informed and correct views on tax policy. I don't think there's necessarily a Christian view. But there is a Christian view on human dignity and on the responsibility of government to protect the weak and on making sure societies are not just organized for the benefit of the strong. Those are consistent teachings that have relevance in every time, and they motivate people across the spectrum. (Italics mine)
Eating well and exercising are good for you!
The Political Is Personal
Like Digby, I'm fascinated by the segment of the punditocracy that is less pro-Lieberman than anti-anti-Lieberman, less interested in the issues at hand than whether their coalition is sufficiently free from peaceniks and bloggers. It's the Iraq War debate transposed to the domestic realm. You'd think patchouli was some sort of terminal, communicable illness by the way these folks flee from anything with the faintest whiff of hippy.
I tried to get some of this across last week, but it should be stated clearer: Politics is identity. That's true everywhere, but no more so than Washington, DC, where in addition to identity, it's life. It's a comforting fiction that the mandarins in this town sit down with the issues, or at least the poll numbers, and honestly struggle towards their eventual conclusions, but in the end, they're no less instinctual or self-obsessed than anyone else. Quite the opposite, in fact. When you define yourself by your actions and position in the political realm, the choices become much weightier, much more about who you are than what the issues are. And the Lamont challenge has awoken this sort of tribalism more so than most. Those who fear or hate the barbarians at the gates have stuck with Lieberman, seeing in his defeat portents of coming change they'd rather stem. Those who condemn the gatekeepers have thrown in with Lamont, seeing in his victory currents that could lead to their own eventual ascendence. It's a wonder either side can even recall who's running.
Because it's not, in fact, that the bloggers have a purer ideological critique than the Lieberman defender, many of whom loathe Joe with a specificity and historical memory few bloggers can even approach. It's just that many of his supporters know who they're not. They are not Ned Lamont supporters. They are not purgers. They are not hasty, or rash, or impulsive, or vituperative, or partisan. They do not see for themselves a place in the politics they assume Lamont's insurgency represents. This isn't about a mild-mannered cable executive and his surprisingly successful primary challenge. It's not about a mild-if-hawkish senator. Not on our side, not on theirs. If the personal is political, so too is the political personal, and an overwhelming number of the out-of-staters anxiously observing Lamont's race -- on both sides -- are scanning for the outcome that will validate their them, their friends, their movement. For Nutmeggers, this may be a battle over a Senate seat. For DC, however, it's about so much more.
Mike Pence: No "Fiscal Hawk"
"I want permanent death tax relief. But I cannot in good conscience vote for a bill that also contains an excessive minimum wage increase that will hurt small businesses and cost American jobs," said Rep. Mike Pence (R) of Indiana, a fiscal hawk.
Why is Pence being called a "fiscal hawk" for liking a tax cut that screws up American fiscal policy? (I doubt that this is a sly reference to the way that hawks have screwed up our foreign policy.) Pence likes spending cuts, but fiscal policy has two sides, and an estate tax cut would knock a $300,000,000,000 hole in the budget over ten years. While there is general media awareness that spending more increases deficits, the equally obvious fact that tax cuts increase deficits seems to be beyond their ken.
July 30, 2006
(Posted by John.)
Before you go to bed tonight, or maybe when you wake up Monday, this article in the NYT Sunday magazine is worth checking out - the promise, and reality, of carbon trading as a way of reducing global CO2 emissions.
Probably the most telling thing about the article is that the current US trading regime is entirely voluntary, and only requires a 1% reduction in CO2, and the big players still refuse to sign on.
By Neil the Ethical Werewolf
Hey, did you know that Iran's Parliament has a seat reserved for Jews? And by "seat" I mean an actual government position, not some kind of chair that blows up. You can read a little about Iranian Jews here. Their situation is better than I would've thought it'd be, though certainly not great.
Stuff like that, and Matt Yglesias' post on the weird structure of the Lebanese government, point out to me how little I know about forms of government worldwide. Lebanon has spaces in its Parliament allocated to each ethnoreligious group, as a result of compromises to prevent civil war.
A Stupid Way to Lose 11,000 Soldiers
I'd heard before that some Arabic language specialists were being fired from the military for being gay. What had somehow slipped my attention was that we had lost 55 of them this way. In fact, the gay ban has been quite destructive to our military: "Since 1993, more than 11,000 service members have been dismissed under the gay ban, according to the Department of Defense." This isn't just a nondiscrimination issue -- it's a national security issue. I'm happy to see that John Edwards has pitched it that way: "As the recent discharge of Arabic language specialists demonstrates, the current policy does not serve our national interests and should be changed."
Fortunately, American voters have come around on this issue. According to the most recent Pew Poll, Americans support allowing gays to serve openly in the military by a 60-32 margin.
The Separation of Church and Hate
The NY Times profiles a conservative evangelical preacher, the Reverend Gregory A. Boyd, who's getting fed up with the unholy alliance between conservative Christianity and conservative politics. He’s written a book called The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church, which is based on a series of six sermons entitled "The Cross and the Sword." The sermons, which he gave before the last presidential election, "said the church should steer clear of politics, give up moralizing on sexual issues, stop claiming the United States as a 'Christian nation' and stop glorifying American military campaigns."
His megachurch congregation was not totally pleased.
By the time the dust had settled, Woodland Hills, which Mr. Boyd founded in 1992, had lost about 1,000 of its 5,000 members.
But there were also congregants who thanked him—those who feel relief from the burden of expectation that being a Christian necessarily means being a Bush supporter, and those who are increasingly concerned that the conflation of religion and politics is doing a disservice to both.
"More and more people are saying this has gone too far — the dominance of the evangelical identity by the religious right," Mr. McLaren said. "You cannot say the word ‘Jesus’ in 2006 without having an awful lot of baggage going along with it. You can’t say the word ‘Christian,’ and you certainly can’t say the word ‘evangelical’ without it now raising connotations and a certain cringe factor in people. Because people think, ‘Oh no, what is going to come next is homosexual bashing, or pro-war rhetoric, or complaining about ‘activist judges.’"
Spot-on. Jesus has been hijacked as a political operative by people who have forgotten that the separation of church and state was designed to protect the church as much as the state. Christianity’s central figure cannot be redesigned as a gun-toting, gay-bashing, flag-draped ideological icon without fundamentally and inexorably altering the religion itself—particularly how it is regarded by those outwith its margins. Christians who don’t want to be associated with the reimagined Jesus have a right—and an obligation—to denounce his being co-opted into the spokesman for Überpatriot Dominionism. Christian Supremacists are rebranding Christ, and hence Christianity. This is nothing if not a marketing war.
Understandably, it’s a game that Christians who don’t regard Jesus as a mascot don’t want to play, but the Christian Supremacy movement in America is a business. Millions and millions of dollars are raised every year by people professing to preach The Word in exchange for a few dollars (and a few more, and a few more) in the collection baskets, but all they’re really doing is selling a product—a way to cope with a changing world that robs bigots of their undeserved dominion, that tells them they really, at long last, must share equality with non-Christians, the LGBT community, strong women, minorities, and immigrants in the public sphere. They are losing control they were never meant to have, and Christianity 2.0 sells them the righteous anger and victimhood they need.
In these desperate people, the hate peddlers have found a ripe market for their wares. The hungry buyers come to the churches and the political rallies with money burning holes in the pockets of their sensible trousers, and they leave satiated, their bellies full of (self-)righteous indignation, with a determination to spread the word about the radical homosexual and feminist agendas, and a keen eye for the slightest proof that their suspicions about the dastardly fags and feminazis and liberals and brown people who threaten their way of life are all true. This is a booming business, and Falwell, Dobson, and Robertson have learned to roll out their product as efficiently as Ford and his Model-Ts.
And when a minister like Boyd fails to deliver, 20% of his congregation goes elsewhere in search of their fix.
Hate, like anything else in the American capitalist utopia, can be a splendid business, as long as there are enough interested buyers with cash in hand—and hate flogged under the auspices of religion has the added bonus of being a tax-free enterprise. It’s no surprise that Christ-cloaked bigotry is a booming industry. To Christian Supremacists, Jesus is just a logo; he doesn’t define their message any more than the Swoosh writes Nike’s mission statement. But, like any recognizable symbol to clamoring consumers, he confers upon the brand a status with which generic models just can’t compete. Your athletic skills are infinitely better with a famous insignia on your shoes, and your intolerance is remade as virtue with a savior lending his name for the dropping.
Christians who refuse to let Christ be claimed for such purposes are, whether willfully or not, the competition. (Something men like Boyd, who’s turned his views into a book for purchase, surely are beginning to recognize.) And all the rest of us, who have a vested interest in protecting our country against the ascendancy of Christian Supremacists, are consumer advocates, tasked with pointing out the flaws in their product—and questioning the existence of truth in their advertising.
Jonah "Da Pretzel"
(Posted by John.)
On the news that, unsurprisingly, Mel Gibson is a nasty anti-semite:
Even the most favorable interpretation of events possible — which would include a theory that he was never anti-Semitic until he was villified for making the Passion — still leaves Gibson looking like a man with some very sad demons.
It's so very satisfying to watch the right twist itself nine different ways to yell at the left for being anti-semitic over Israel and Lebanon, while working to excuse actually-existing anti-semites like Gibson. See, he never would've said nasty things if the Anti-Defamation League hadn't "vilified" him by pointing out that he was, y'know, anti-semitic.
Moral clarity at work. Mind your feet, the BS is ankle-deep.
Thanks, I'll skip Apocalypto.