Thursday, May 31, 2007
From the NYTimes today....
Injustice 5, Justice 4
Published: May 31, 2007
The Supreme Court struck a blow for discrimination this week by stripping a key civil rights law of much of its potency. The majority opinion, by Justice Samuel Alito, forced an unreasonable reading on the law, and tossed aside longstanding precedents to rule in favor of an Alabama employer that had underpaid a female employee for years. The ruling is the latest indication that a court that once proudly stood up for the disadvantaged is increasingly protective of the powerful.
Lilly Ledbetter, a supervisor at the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company in Gadsden, Ala., sued her employer for paying her less than its male supervisors. At first, her salary was in line with the men’s, but she got smaller raises, which created a significant pay gap. Late in her career, Ms. Ledbetter filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. A jury found that Goodyear violated her rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Goodyear argued that she filed her complaint too late and, by a 5-4 margin, the Supreme Court agreed. Title VII requires employees to file within 180 days of “the alleged unlawful employment practice.” The court calculated the deadline from the day Ms. Ledbetter received her last discriminatory raise. Bizarrely, the majority insisted it did not matter that Goodyear was still paying her far less than her male counterparts when she filed her complaint.
In dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted that there were strong precedents supporting Ms. Ledbetter. The Supreme Court ruled in a similar race discrimination case that each paycheck calculated on the basis of past discrimination is unlawful under Title VII. The courts of appeals have overwhelmingly agreed. So did the E.E.O.C., the agency charged with enforcing Title VII.
In addition to interpreting the statute unreasonably and ignoring the relevant precedents, the majority blinded itself to the realities of the workplace. Employees generally do not know enough about what their co-workers earn, or how pay decisions are made, to file a complaint precisely when discrimination occurs. At Goodyear, as at many companies, salaries were confidential. The court’s new rules will make it extraordinarily difficult for victims of pay discrimination to sue under Title VII. That is not how Congress intended the law to be enforced, merely how five justices would like it to be.
It is disturbing that Anthony Kennedy, the court’s swing justice, cast the deciding vote in favor of gutting a key part of the Civil Rights Act. Fortunately, Congress can amend the law to undo this damaging decision. It should do so without delay.
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
A few prayers are in order for me and my kids as I work to undo a "chicken finger and macaroni and cheese diet" this summer. If my kids start to look gaunt, it's not that I'm not regularly presenting them good food on their plates...
This article, from today's New York Times speaks to me (and my kids)!
Don’t Point That Menu at My Child, Please
By DAVID KAMP
Published: May 30, 2007
IT seems like such a wonderful concept when you encounter it for the first time as a parent. You go to a restaurant as a family, are seated and given menus, and the waitress cheerfully turns to your children and exclaims, “And these are for you!” Their own special menus — kids’ menus! Sometimes these are little laminated things, peewee facsimiles of what Mom and Dad are holding. Sometimes these are placemats that not only tell you what foods are available but also contain mazes and word-search puzzles.
No matter what, the menu offers chicken fingers with French fries. And typically, as you go down the list, macaroni and cheese, a hot dog, a hamburger, grilled cheese and some kind of pizza.
Early in my tenure as a parent, I thought children’s menus were the greatest thing, a quantum leap forward in the human condition. We didn’t have them when I was a child, at least not at restaurants where adults would be happy to dine. (There were always “family” restaurants in the Friendly’s-HoJo’s idiom that offered junior sundaes and burgers.) I was thrilled that someone had come up with this innovation, that civilization had advanced to the point where children at good restaurants were now immediately placated with children’s food, so we adults could plunge worry-free into our adult business of drinking alcohol and eating things with tentacles.
For restaurateurs there are advantages, too. Marc Murphy, the chef and an owner of Landmarc in TriBeCa (and its new sister operation in the Time Warner Center), says doing a children’s menu has helped the bottom line at his bistro, which is known for its neighborhood clientele and value-priced wines.
“It totally drives that early seating for us,” he said. “The kids eat what they eat, and with our wine program, the parents can have fun.” Landmarc serves up the requisite greatest hits — the fingers, the burger, the grilled cheese — and throws in some curveballs, like “green eggs and ham,” flavored and colored with pesto sauce.
As for me, my outlook on children’s menus started to change at some point — probably around the 102nd or 103rd time my children ordered chicken fingers with French fries. Even if the chicken fingers were good ones, made from real breast meat rather than pulverized and remolded chik-a-bits, I was disturbed by their ubiquity and their hold on my kids, who are 11 and 8 years old.
I noticed that accommodationist chefs were making chicken fingers available in Italian, Chinese and Japanese restaurants, where chicken fingers aren’t even culinarily justifiable. I perceived that my children’s chicken-finger meals outside the home were informing their eating habits inside the home, where they were getting more finicky. I heard from other parents that they were experiencing the same thing.
In short, I came to the realization that America is in the grips of a nefarious chicken-finger pandemic, in which a blandly tasty foodstuff has somehow become the de facto official nibble of our young.
For all the fretfulness I’m obligated to express over the health implications of this pandemic — chicken fingers are often fried, and are often accompanied by fries — I’m much more rankled by its palate-deadening potential. Far from being an advance, I’ve concluded, the standard children’s menu is regressive, encouraging children (and their misguided parents) to believe that there is a rigidly delineated “kids’ cuisine” that exists entirely apart from grown-up cuisine.
I grew up eating what my parents ate, at home and at restaurants. Sometimes, the experience could be revelatory, as when I tried fish chowder for the first time on a trip to Boston, or when my mother attempted Julia Child’s Soupe au Pistou.
Other times, dinner was merely dinner, not transcendent but comfortingly routine. And then there were those bummer meals that I just didn’t care for, like stuffed cabbage, but that I endured because my parents offered no other choice. It was all experiential grist for the mill, and it made me — like millions of other Americans of my generation who were raised the same way — a fairly adventurous eater with a built-in sense of dietary balance.
It pains me that many children now grow up eating little besides golden-brown logs of kid food, especially in a time when the quality, variety and availability of good ingredients is better than ever.
We accept that it’s bad not to read to young children lest it affect their “wiring,” and that it’s bad to let them slack off on exercise lest their muscles not develop, but we’re kind of lazy on the palate front. And really, discovering new foods and flavors is one of the most delightful experiences that childhood can offer. Personally, I far preferred it to reading and exercising.
There’s no single seismic jolt that created the adult-child food divide, but we can’t underestimate the influence of the McDonald’s Corporation’s introductions, in 1979 and 1983, respectively, of the Happy Meal and Chicken McNuggets. The instant popularity of these products signaled that there was a ton of money to be made in marketing foods explicitly to kids (even at fast-food restaurants, where kids were already psyched to be).
Since then, the food industry has developed a whole new segment predicated on what the nutritionist Marion Nestle, in her book “What to Eat,” calls the “ ‘kids are only supposed to eat kids’ food’ strategy.”
Ms. Nestle notes that ConAgra manufactures a product line called Kid Cuisine: prepackaged meals in compartmented, TV-dinner-style trays. If you visit the company’s Web site, you’ll find that all 14 Kid Cuisine meals are beige-yellow-ocher in color — a grim hallmark of the genre — and 5 of them are built around an entree in the breaded-chicken-nubbin family.
Realistically, there’s nothing to be gained by pining for that halcyon world where kids weren’t constantly being hustled; the genie is out of the bottle. But if we’re stuck with the children’s menu, there’s no reason it can’t be improved upon and made less of a sop to cosseted little fried-food addicts. And it’s encouraging that some important players in the hospitality industry, like the Walt Disney Company and the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, are taking action on this front.
Both companies were motivated primarily by the new national concern over poor nutrition and childhood obesity, but each has produced a response that also addresses the dead-palate issue. Effective last fall, Disney stopped serving French fries automatically with kids’ entrees at its theme parks, “providing equal choice of fries, baby carrots, or grapes, not really pushing one or the other,” said Mary Niven, the vice president of food and beverage operations at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif.
Ms. Niven is leading her company’s “Well-Balanced Foods Initiative,” which also entails experimenting with new meals outside of the chicken-finger paradigm, such as arroz con pollo, the traditional Latin American dish of chicken and rice, and a baked chicken leg in an Asian-style citrus marinade, served with rice noodles.
Likewise, Ritz-Carlton launched a “Healthy Kids” program for children four years ago. The program not only de-emphasizes fried foods but also gives its chefs a freer hand to create their own kids’ menus. Vivian Deuschl, the vice president for public relations at Ritz-Carlton, who oversees the program, said it was set up in response to changing customer tastes.
A 20-year veteran of the company, Ms. Deuschl said that kids’ menus “started out on a limited basis in the ’80s and picked up in the ’90s as our demographics started to shift, especially at our resorts. We were getting more families, usually ones where both parents worked, so they didn’t want to leave their kids behind on vacation.”
At first, these guests were only too happy to indulge their children with a nonstop fingers-and-fries diet while on vacation. But in the last few years, Ms. Deuschl said: “We sensed a lot of tension. Parents were ordering things off the adult menu for their kids: crab cakes, pastas, stir-fries of vegetables.”
Perhaps no chef has taken the mission more to heart than Tony Miller of Latitude 41, the restaurant of the Renaissance Columbus in Ohio. (Renaissance, like Ritz-Carlton, falls under the Marriott International corporate umbrella.) “We do not have a chicken finger in this restaurant,” Mr. Miller said. The father of a 4-year-old girl, he constructed his “Fun Menu” to appeal to children without pandering to them.
“It features zero fried foods on it,” he said. “We do grilled organic chicken teriyaki, a seared fillet of whatever fish is in season, and a four-once fillet of natural beef with smashed potatoes. I have not received a single negative reaction from adults or kids. Not one. The kids say ‘Man, that’s the best steak I’ve ever eaten!’ ”
Mr. Miller is also shrewd in recognizing that parents are after not dumbed-down or deflavorized food for their kids, but rather smaller portions and prices. At the rates he’s charging — from $5 for the teriyaki to $8 for the small fillet, including beverage — he’s in the ballpark with lots of diners and chain places.
Marc Murphy, the Landmarc chef, said that it’s simply a matter of “not making a big deal of out of it” when it comes to your kids’ food preferences. His own 3-year-old daughter usually skips the children’s menu at his restaurant, he said, and “eats the linguine alla vongole, with baby clams, when we run it on Fridays.” But it’s harder as your children get older and more exposed to the wider world; that’s when the pandemic claims them. In my family, it’s been a matter of getting back to that simple idea — the kids eat what the parents eat — and cutting off those little fingers.
We need a new ERA (and a new president and a couple new Supreme Court justices while we are at it)!
All women and men who have hard-working wives, siblings, and daughters ought to be outraged by this decision from "the new conservative court".
Justices’ Ruling Limits Suits on Pay Disparity
By LINDA GREENHOUSE
Published: May 30, 2007
WASHINGTON, May 29 — The Supreme Court on Tuesday made it harder for many workers to sue their employers for discrimination in pay, insisting in a 5-to-4 decision on a tight time frame to file such cases. The dissenters said the ruling ignored workplace realities.
The decision came in a case involving a supervisor at a Goodyear Tire plant in Gadsden, Ala., the only woman among 16 men at the same management level, who was paid less than any of her colleagues, including those with less seniority. She learned that fact late in a career of nearly 20 years — too late, according to the Supreme Court’s majority.
The court held on Tuesday that employees may not bring suit under the principal federal anti-discrimination law unless they have filed a formal complaint with a federal agency within 180 days after their pay was set. The timeline applies, according to the decision, even if the effects of the initial discriminatory act were not immediately apparent to the worker and even if they continue to the present day.
From 2001 to 2006, workers brought nearly 40,000 pay discrimination cases. Many such cases are likely to be barred by the court’s interpretation of the requirement in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that employees make their charge within 180 days “after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred.”
Workplace experts said the ruling would have broad ramifications and would narrow the legal options of many employees.
In an opinion by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., the majority rejected the view of the federal agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, that each paycheck that reflects the initial discrimination is itself a discriminatory act that resets the clock on the 180-day period, under a rule known as “paycheck accrual.”
“Current effects alone cannot breathe life into prior, uncharged discrimination,” Justice Alito said in an opinion joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas. Justice Thomas once headed the employment commission, the chief enforcer of workers’ rights under the statute at issue in this case, usually referred to simply as Title VII.
Under its longstanding interpretation of the statute, the commission actively supported the plaintiff, Lilly M. Ledbetter, in the lower courts. But after the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case last June, the Bush administration disavowed the agency’s position and filed a brief on the side of the employer.
In a vigorous dissenting opinion that she read from the bench, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the majority opinion “overlooks common characteristics of pay discrimination.” She said that given the secrecy in most workplaces about salaries, many employees would have no idea within 180 days that they had received a lower raise than others.
An initial disparity, even if known to the employee, might be small, Justice Ginsburg said, leading an employee, particularly a woman or a member of a minority group “trying to succeed in a nontraditional environment” to avoid “making waves.” Justice Ginsburg noted that even a small differential “will expand exponentially over an employee’s working life if raises are set as a percentage of prior pay.”
Justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter and Stephen G. Breyer joined the dissent.
Ms. Ledbetter’s salary was initially the same as that of her male colleagues. But over time, as she received smaller raises, a substantial disparity grew. By the time she brought suit in 1998, her salary fell short by as much as 40 percent; she was making $3,727 a month, while the lowest-paid man was making $4,286.
A jury in Federal District Court in Birmingham, Ala., awarded her more than $3 million in back pay and compensatory and punitive damages, which the trial judge reduced to $360,000. But the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, in Atlanta, erased the verdict entirely, ruling that because Ms. Ledbetter could not show that she was the victim of intentional discrimination during the 180 days before she filed her complaint, she had not suffered an “unlawful employment practice” to which Title VII applied.
Several other federal appeals courts had accepted the employment commission’s more relaxed view of the 180-day requirement. The justices accepted Ms. Ledbetter’s appeal, Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, No. 05-1074, to resolve the conflict.
Title VII’s prohibition of workplace discrimination applies not just to pay but also to specific actions like refusal to hire or promote, denial of a desired transfer and dismissal. Justice Ginsburg argued in her dissenting opinion that while these “singular discrete acts” are readily apparent to an employee who can then make a timely complaint, pay discrimination often presents a more ambiguous picture. She said the court should treat a pay claim as it treated a claim for a “hostile work environment” in a 2002 decision, permitting a charge to be filed “based on the cumulative effect of individual acts.”
In response, Justice Alito dismissed this as a “policy argument” with “no support in the statute.”
As with an abortion ruling last month, this decision showed the impact of Justice Alito’s presence on the court. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, whom he succeeded, would almost certainly have voted the other way, bringing the opposite outcome.
The impact of the decision on women may be somewhat limited by the availability of another federal law against sex discrimination in the workplace, the Equal Pay Act, which does not contain the 180-day requirement. Ms. Ledbetter initially included an Equal Pay Act complaint, but did not pursue it. That law has additional procedural hurdles and a low damage cap that excludes punitive damages. It does not cover discrimination on the basis of race or Title VII’s other protected categories.
In her opinion, Justice Ginsburg invited Congress to overturn the decision, as it did 15 years ago with a series of Supreme Court rulings on civil rights. “Once again, the ball is in Congress’s court,” she said. Within hours, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, who is seeking the Democratic nomination, announced her intention to submit such a bill.
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Science editor, Natalie Angier, writes in the New York Times today about the "gas of spring"--nitrogen.
The Redolence of Spring? Call It Essence of Nitrogen
By NATALIE ANGIER
Published: May 29, 2007
Right now, my kitchen is suffused with that vivid fragrance familiar to suburban homeowners everywhere, and to any apartment dwellers who have ever played inadvertent hosts to rodents — the smell of an animal corpse busily decomposing somewhere out of reach.
Judging by the strength and approximate location of the odor, I would say the deceased is under the porch and smaller than the neighbor’s cat that once decided to expire there. But I can also attest that I will not be the one to narrow matters of taxonomy and position any further.
Besides, when I step outdoors, I almost choke on the similarly sickly sweet aroma of weekend gardeners slathering their backyard plots with what seems like enough fertilizer for Nebraska, Iowa and the San Joaquin Valley combined.
It’s everywhere in the air, all right, including as the metaphoric whiff of an ongoing global scandal, the spiking of pet food, and our food, with particles of a potentially toxic industrial chemical called melamine.
Joining together the humus, the posthumous and the devious is nitrogen, a chemical element that is essential to our survival, that is a fundamental part of just about every piece of us, but that is all too often overshadowed by other, trendier members of the periodic table like carbon and oxygen.
Yes, we are famously “carbon-based life forms,” and maybe 60 percent of the body’s dry weight consists of carbon. We must breathe in atmospheric oxygen at least 3,000 times a day, and our cells must be perpetually bathed in those lovely liquid ménages à trois of oxygen and hydrogen we call water. String together atoms of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen and you get sugars and carbohydrates, the fast fuel that feeds us for short bursts at a time.
But there’s a reason we shovel nitrogen compounds onto our fields in springtime, and why the smells we associate with earthiness, meatiness, bloom and decay are rich in volatile nitrogenous molecules like amines and indoles.
There’s a reason the manufacturers of pet-food ingredients in Asia spiked their product with melamine, a small synthetic molecule displaying a relatively high number of nitrogen atoms, when they wanted to make it look as though the foodstuff was sufficiently rich in protein to pass inspection.
Bodies grow and reproduce by taking in protein parts to make potent new proteins of their own, and by stitching gene pieces into fresh strands of DNA and RNA; those subunits of proteins and genes, those amino acids and nucleic acids, are notable for containing nitrogen.
The quick-hit carbohydrates may see no need for the element, and neither do complacent fats, but the molecules in charge of long-term growth and muscular productivity, our genes and proteins, have knobs and nodes of nitrogen scattered throughout their carbon-based frames.
And because cells contain much more protein than DNA, a nitrogen check of a food product is seen as a shorthand reading of total protein count. Unless, as occurred in the pet-food debacle that has killed an unknown number of dogs and cats, the nitrogen counts were a result of a cheap, non-nutritious additive rather than real protein.
What is it about nitrogen that makes it so eminently employable, so readily and indispensably incorporated into the cell’s premier laboring masses? Nitrogen is the seventh character on the periodic table of the 100-plus elements, or atoms, of which the known universe is constructed.
It sits right between smug, know-it-all, be-it-all carbon, with its nucleus of six charged particles, and restless hot-headed oxygen, with eight protons to its name. That midway position allows nitrogen to bond with other atoms in either stable or provisional partnerships, combining some of the architectural rigidity of carbon with the supple reactivity of oxygen.
“Carbon is like a chair, and nitrogen is like a three-legged stool,” said Dr. Geraldine Richmond, professor of chemistry at the University of Oregon in Eugene. That stool doesn’t need a fourth leg to hold its ground, but it has the room and the mild inclination, in its three-legged state, to seek another chemical liaison, another peg of chemical stability.
Nitrogen’s atomic and chemical quirks make it the ideal element to install in places where one wants something shapely, bendable and reasonably soluble, too. for example, at folding points in proteins.
“Nitrogen is so fundamental to the way proteins are put together with peptide bonds,” said Dr. Charles S. Craik, a professor of pharmaceutical chemistry at the University of California, San Francisco. “Without this peptide bond, there would be no alpha helices, no beta sheets, no protein folding, no us.”
Nitrogen linked to oxygen as nitric oxide is also a vital signaling molecule, allowing blood vessels to dilate, the genitals to become erect, hair to grow and brain cells to connect.
The body, any body, needs nitrogen to grow, but obtaining it isn’t always easy. You might think it would be, given that 78 percent of our atmosphere consists of nitrogen, with most of the rest being oxygen.
But while atmospheric oxygen is biochemically priceless to us as is, gaseous nitrogen is nearly inert and of no use to our cells. Before we can absorb it, the ambient nitrogen must be chemically transformed or “fixed.” A lightning bolt can do it, which is why a lawn after a thunderstorm turns green and bushy virtually overnight. The electrified rain delivered a shot of properly fixed nitrogen right into the soil.
More often, plants rely for their nitrogen on the generous efforts of root-dwelling bacteria that absorb atmospheric nitrogen and excrete a fixed form of it as waste. Plants are also receptive to incidental animal droppings and on seasonal store-bought toppings from gardeners.
Please, be sparing. Nitrogen is necessary and nimble and deserves its moment in the sun, but, as I’m reminded with each foray into the kitchen, a little bit goes a very long way.
Sunday, May 27, 2007
Mr. Ashley Judd drank the victory cup of milk after winning the Indy. I like Ashley--she makes awesome film choices with her roles and also happens to be "in remission" from depression. What a great reason to celebrate on your spouse's success!
If someone had told me that I'd see an Indy live when I was a child, I'd have told them they were nuts. I'm not all that fond of fast cars--unless I happen to be the driver. But when my brother-in-law and sister-in-law were living in suburban IN, we all went together one year about 13-14 years ago. The Indy 500 was about what I'd expected--it's oh so much better to watch it on t.v. (even when it's not pouring rain like this year)! I liked the museum tho.
Saturday, May 26, 2007
Some of the nation's leading journalists gathered in Key West, Fla., in May 2007 for the Pew Forum's biannual Faith Angle Conference on religion, politics and public life.Update: The original post from the Pew Forum is here. The question and answer session is also excellent.
Philip Jenkins, a Penn State University professor and one of the first scholars to call attention to the rising demographic power of Christians in the southern hemisphere, analyzed the ongoing schism in the worldwide Anglican church. While the dispute concerns attitudes toward homosexuality, Jenkins argues the core of the conflict lies in how biblical authority is defined.
Will the current alliances between conservative Western and African leaders endure? Will African leaders begin to press an ultra-liberal economic agenda? Are other mainline denominations in the U.S. headed for similar splits? Jenkins answered these and others questions, while offering a fascinating glimpse into the life of African Christianity.
Speaker: Philip Jenkins, Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies and History, Pennsylvania State University
Moderator: Michael Cromartie, Vice President, Ethics & Public Policy Center; Senior Advisor, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life Event Transcript
MICHAEL CROMARTIE: Welcome. There are about eight journalists who are advisors to this Key West project. We meet twice a year at lunch to talk about future subjects for this conference. One of the topics we talked about several months ago was the divide going on in the American Episcopal Church, but also in worldwide Anglicanism. Everyone in the room unanimously said Philip Jenkins would be the best person in the country to address the topic. I was delighted that, as busy as Philip Jenkins is - he writes a new book about every three months - he was able to fit us into his schedule. His new book is God's Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe's Religious Crisis He is distinguished professor of history and religious studies at Penn State University, and Professor Jenkins is going to address our topic this morning on global schism. Professor Jenkins, thank you so much.
PHILIP JENKINS: The word schism means a split, and the great historical example is what happened in 1054, when the Eastern and Western churches had a tiff over such crucial theological issues as whether priests should wear beards. Everyone knew this was going to be resolved in just a couple of years; 950 years or so later, and counting, they're still divided into the Catholic and Orthodox churches, and it's not likely to be resolved any time soon.
Today I'm going to talk about the Anglican schism, but I want to look at the question of whether this is the first shot in a much larger war and whether instead of an East-West schism, we'll be looking at a North-South schism. I want to start this off with a quote you will find shocking or at the very least surprising. As you're aware, a number of Episcopal churches in the United States have placed themselves under the authority of African and Asian clergy because, basically, they don't trust the leadership of the Episcopal Church.
One of the African clerics they've turned to is a man called Emmanuel Kolini, who is the primate of Rwanda. When Kolini is asked why he is interfering in American affairs, he has a very simple answer: "Back in my country back in 1994, we had the genocide and the world stood idly by, nobody came to help us; we are not going to let that happen to you. We will not stand idly by while this dreadful thing happens to the Episcopal Church." Most of us, of course, look at that and think, "You're seriously comparing the 1994 genocide with the split in the Episcopal Church?" That seems astonishing. But I hope to suggest why some of the issues involved here are so very important for Global South churches.
Quick narrative: The U.S. Episcopal Church is not a huge body, but it's a very influential body. Realistically it has maybe two, two-and-a-half million members, yet its influence is far beyond those numbers. It's a very liberal body on issues of gender, sexuality; it's been semi-overtly ordaining gay clergy and carrying out gay marriages for a number of years. The turning point came in 2003 when an openly gay cleric, Bishop Robinson, was ordained. For some years before that, conservatives within the Episcopal Church had been looking to the wider Anglican world, and they'd had a lot of support from those Global South churches. Global South means, in this context, Africa and Asia.
In 2003, the skies fell in. Global South primates from countries like Nigeria and Uganda started using ferociously critical language about the ordination of Robinson. They called it a satanic attack on God's church. The U.S. Episcopal response here was, "Who are you to tell us this?" Then the primates in countries like Nigeria said, "Let us tell you who we are to be telling you this. There's two, two-and-a-half million members of you; the Nigerian church had, back in 1975, five million members, we're currently up to 19 million members; by 2025, we'll be at 35 million members. We're doubling every 25 years or so; what can you say to that?"
But of course, the Anglican Church is not just Nigeria; it's Uganda and Tanzania and Rwanda and all these other countries. Since that point in 2003 the Anglican Communion has developed an ever wider split. Most recently, of course, conservative churches within the U.S. Episcopal Church have placed themselves under the Episcopal authority of Global South churches. The most recent, of course, affected a number of very large, prosperous churches in Virginia, which are now part of a missionary diocese of the Nigerian church under its primate Peter Akinola.
The language, the sentiment and the depth of hatred in these events has been quite striking. We could have a competition as to which remark is the least conducive to Christian charity. (Laughter.) I have a couple of candidates. Candidate one is Akinola's remark that the U.S. Episcopal Church is like a cancerous lump that has defied all treatment, and the time has come for it to be excised altogether. Candidate two is from one of the gay pressure groups within the Episcopal Church, when someone said: "All I can say to you African bishops, is why can't you go back to the jungle you came from and stop monkeying around with the church?" We'll have a vote afterwards as to which is the more offensive remark. (Laughter.)
The big turning point is next year when we have what's called the Lambeth Conference, which is the Anglican Church's grand convention that brings all the primates together every ten years. The odds are at the moment that either the U.S. Episcopal Church will not be allowed to participate or that some of the American clergy under African churches will claim the seat of the U.S. Episcopal Church or maybe that the event will not happen, and that instead of Lambeth there will be a separate Anglican convention run by the African and Asian clergy.
The reason all this is so important is how the numbers are proceeding: Christianity is going south very rapidly in terms of numbers. I've give you a quick overview, and I'm going to talk about Africa a lot. Simple reason: back in 1900, Africa had 10 million Christians representing 10 percent of the population; by 2000, that was up 360 million, to 46 percent of the population. That is the largest quantitative change that has ever occurred in the history of religion. A rising tide lifts all boats, and all denominations have been booming. The Anglicans have done very well, and the Anglican Church is going to be overwhelmingly an African body in the near future.
Why are African churches so conservative?
First, I want to stress a couple of things. Some American media have made a mistake in focusing personally on Archbishop Akinola. Archbishop Akinola has got very definite opinions, but if he walked in front of a bus tomorrow, it would not change the equation within the Anglican Communion at all.
Among conservative Episcopalian congregations in the United States, it's almost as if each group has its own pet overseas bishop or primate. For instance, Pittsburgh is a big center of conservative Anglicans; they look to a man called Henry Orombi, who is the archbishop of Uganda. Some people look to the province of Rwanda. And others look to Singapore where you have, again, very conservative Anglicans. It is not a personal Akinola thing.
Fundamentally it's about authority, and this issue runs across different churches and denominations. Another important thing to remember is that most Global North categories do not work in the Global South. A classic example: if you talk to a Nigerian Anglican and you try to pin him down, saying, "I cannot figure you out, are you evangelical, are you Catholic, are you charismatic?" The immediate answer is yes. And they mean it.
The more fundamental division is about the authority of the Bible, and there are a lot of reasons for this. If you have ever read Akinola's statements, he makes clear throughout: "I know all this biblical criticism stuff; I know all these arguments made about homosexuality." But there's a more basic thing: if you're in a new church in Africa or Asia, the Bible speaks to you as a more immediately relevant, more direct text, than it does for many Global North people for whom the Bible is basically part of the wallpaper.
One big reason for that is the biblical world makes sense [if you're in the Global South]; the Bible reads like it is describing the world you know immediately. But for most Americans and Europeans, if somebody cites the prohibitions on homosexuality in Leviticus, the immediate answer is: "Leviticus also says you can own slaves from neighboring countries; why can't you own Canadians?" It's a good question. If you're reading a text like Leviticus in the Global South, the bigger problem is this: you have to be warned constantly not to take the Old Testament as more important than the New.
You're dealing with people who live in, in many ways, an Old Testament world. Many Africans may not know themselves a world that practices nomadism and polygamy and blood sacrifice, but their parents did. You don't have to go far down the road to see people who are still doing these things.
Just one example out of a great many: I was once talking to some West Africans about the bits of the Bible that made sense to them in ways that could not make sense to Westerners. They said, "We live in agricultural societies, so things like the Parable of the Sower made great sense." Just talking about it, they started getting teary eyed. Then they mentioned Psalm 126. Psalm 126 is a psalm that is widely quoted, and it goes like this: "The man who goes forth into the fields in tears weeping to sow the seed will bring the sheaves again in joy." You understand perfectly well why a farmer would bring the sheaves again in joy; he's celebrating harvest time.
But why do you weep while you're sowing? "It's obvious," they said to me. "Whoever wrote this psalm was writing at a time of famine, like we had a couple of years ago. You've got the corn that's left, and you can do one of two things with it. You can feed your family with it, but if you do that, you're not a farmer anymore [because you have no seeds left] and you have to migrate to the city and become a beggar, and what's going to happen to your children and so on. Or you can take the corn literally out of the hands of your hungry children and use it as seed corn and sow it. That's why a farmer weeps while sowing the corn. It's obvious."
As I said, it wasn't obvious to me, but there are any number of examples like that where the Bible describes a world that makes immediate, intuitive, documentary sense in a way it can't for us. It's almost as if every passage comes with - (unintelligible) - at the end. You have texts like the Book of Ruth, for example. The Book of Ruth is all about a society destroyed by famine where the men have left because they can, and the women are left behind with the children, and the world is held together by people being loyal to clan ties. Can't think of why that would be relevant in large chunks of Africa.
Point is, people [in the Global South] take the Bible very seriously as a source of authority. Yes, the Bible accepts the existence of slavery - this is true - but it doesn't order it or command it. And the Bible, as far as they can tell by superficial reading, does describe homosexuality as an evil, therefore it is wrong and therefore if you want to ordain gay clergy, you are running directly against the authority of the Bible. That's the reason for the Anglican split.
One other big issue people failed to pick up is there are lots of different countries in the Anglican Communion in Africa, but the ones who are most militant on the gay issue are the ones who were evangelized by the very evangelical wing of the Church of England, the Church Mission Society. The Church of England traditionally had two wings, high and low, usually called "high and crazy" versus "low and lazy" - (laughter) - there's also "broad and hazy," we can discuss that. Low-church evangelicals, who were very biblically oriented, took certain countries like Nigeria and Uganda. Those are the countries for which not only does the Bible makes sense to them, but they also have these strong evangelical biblical roots. This is one reason why the Anglican split is so intense.
My guess is that in 10 or 20 years, the Episcopal Church in the United States will be a fairly miniscule body. The Anglican Communion, however, will be flourishing. It will continue to be what it is today: the third-largest religious organization within Christianity, and probably pretty soon the second largest, because the Orthodox Church is in such steep decline. If you look at the Orthodox world, it meshes exactly with the countries with the lowest birth rates. So the Anglican Communion might well be the second-biggest organization within Christianity. It will also be overwhelmingly, overwhelmingly a black and brown organization.
Many people have paid attention to the split within the Anglican Communion. I want to suggest another important angle that is about to hit other denominations. In fact, it is going to hit most other denominations, certainly most liberal denominations, within the United States very soon. How soon? 2008. That is going to be the next Lambeth Conference within the Anglican world. It is also going to be the next meeting of the World Conference of the United Methodist Church. Over the last few years, most of the other denominations have had their heads up over the parapet watching what's happening in the Anglican Church and feeling increasingly nervous. They know it's going to happen within their own bodies.
The prize example of this is the Methodists. The Methodists, in numbers, are the second largest Protestant denomination in the United States, behind the Baptists. Stop me if this story sounds familiar, but the Methodists have stable or declining membership in the United States but they are booming like crazy around the world, especially in Africa. When they next have the United Methodist World Congress in 2008, Africans alone will comprise about 25 percent of the delegates and a lot of others will be from Asia and Latin America. The Africans are extremely conservative on, and very concerned about, what American Methodists are doing about homosexuality. So that's going to be a major issue.
It will hit the Lutherans probably as well. It is hitting to some extent in Europe right now, where a lot of conservative Lutherans in Germany and Scandinavia have placed themselves under the protection of a Tanzanian Lutheran bishop. Once again, so many of the labels that work in the Global North do not work in the Global South. One of the most important religious figures in Tanzania is a Lutheran bishop who is also a famous prophet and healer and charismatic figure. Obvious point, this is not the world of Garrison Keillor; this is a different kind of Lutheranism.
You're getting some of these splits within the Presbyterian Church. They're looking at what's happening in the Anglican world partly to see what kind of precedent is being set but also to watch for very specific legal issues. The only reason why the Episcopal Church is surviving at the moment is the Episcopal Church has a set-up, which they erected in the late 1970s after a lot of splits over women's ordination, whereby the dioceses own the property, so that if, for example, a particular church wants to secede and place itself under the archbishop of Uganda, you're very welcome to do it, but you can't take any of the property with you.
Philip Jenkins: That is a much bigger issue for Episcopalians than it would be for some other denominations. If you're an Episcopalian, particularly in the [American] South, if you've got eight generations of your family buried in the local churchyard, you are not going to go off and worship in a high school gym while you build a new church. That's a critical point. The control of property becomes very important. Different denominations have got different attitudes to church property and to the store they set on historic church buildings. The Episcopalians are at the extreme end of that scale.
There are lots of indicators pointing to different schisms, but let me look at a number of factors that haven't got as much attention as they might have done in the media coverage. One is, it's very hard to talk about a straight North/South division. The North is in the South in the forms of media, soft power, culture, education; the South is in the North in the form of people, through immigration. There is a lot of to-ing and fro-ing.
It's been interesting over the last few years as I walk around big American cities to see how many Episcopal churches have taken down their signs saying "Episcopal" and put instead "Episcopal (Anglican.)" Why? Because you have all these African and Caribbean people wandering around looking for a home church. "Episcopal, what's that? Oh, Anglican, that's home."
That is even more true in Europe where the case can be made that African and Asian churches are laying a new foundation for Christianity. There is all sorts of evidence of that. The four largest mega-churches in Britain are pastored by Africans. You also have a lot of evangelical "low and lazy" folks in the Anglican Church in the U.K. who are white English people, but who are inspired entirely by ideas they picked up from Africa, from Latin America, from the Chilean pentecostal movement, and so on. So North and South is not a neat divide.
Here's one other big issue: just suppose for the sake of argument the churches do split over the issue of homosexuality. What happens next? People [from the Global South] who are conservative on sexual issues and gender and family issues are not necessarily conservative on other stuff. A lot of conservative [Northern] Anglicans and evangelicals are making the discovery right now that they're dealing with [Southern] people who are rock solid on morality issues, homosexuality issues, but who are way to the left of the Democratic Party on economic issues.
Here's another interesting thought: if you look at the growing centers of global Christianity, most of them lie between the Tropics. They are close to the equator. Why does that matter? If global warming is going to happen as rapidly as [is being predicted,] the closer you are to the equator, the more dramatically and the more rapidly you're going to be affected and the more of a vested interest you have in United Nations action and liberal socialist interventions. In some ways, global Christianity stands an interesting chance of being at the forefront of a clamor for globalized United Nations action. The religion which is most directly affected in the short term by global climate change is Christianity.
The global Christian churches that are very conservative on morality could be alarmingly left wing on some other issues, including economic issues. If you hang out in the office of an African bishop, it's very hard to tell the difference between them as spiritual figures and them as the local minister of development because they deal with all these economic issues in a very statist, interventionist way.
One reason these churches are so ferocious on sexuality issues is they are new, or at least newish, churches. They're still in that initial love affair with the Bible. What happens after a generation or two? Do they liberalize? How rapidly do they liberalize? And there are also a couple of significant Trojan horses in African Christianity, and the most important is South Africa. The leadership of the South African churches - I stress the distinction -- for instance, of the Anglican Church and the Methodist Church, tends to be progressive and left wing. The South African Constitution is, I believe, the most liberal in the world on homosexuality issues; the South African Anglican hierarchy is very liberal. That's important because South Africa is a vast center for publication and for the academic world; much of the theology done in Africa is done in South Africa and then re-exported to the rest of the continent. These are important factors.
That pushes towards the idea of a liberalizing [influence.] In the next 30, 40 years in Africa, Christian numbers are going to carry on growing in absolute terms; Africa is going to be the only continent with a very significantly growing population. It will be not so much liberalizing in a straight line as diversifying. In other words, some churches will become more liberal on, for instance, gay issues, morality issues; they in turn will spin off more conservative branches or rivals. Increasingly, African churches will look more like American churches in their diversity.
There are a couple of facts that will keep ordinary [African] believers on the conservative side. One is poverty. Barring some epochal change, Africa is going to continue to be at the bottom of the development tables for the foreseeable future. What that means in practice is most African Christian believers are going to be Christian because they are deeply invested in literal and charismatic interpretations of Christianity. They are deeply vested in ideas of the church as a healing authority. They have a great belief in a conservative interpretation of the Bible in that sense.
There's one other big thing that will help keep ordinary believers, and maybe many of the churches, on the conservative side, and that is the presence of Islam. Muslim-Christian conflict is going to be a leading factor in Africa for the foreseeable future. If you get your atlas and you trace the latitude 10 degrees north, you have a very nice, easy line of conflict between Christianity and Islam; if you like, the main battlefront.
If you're living in a society that is divided between Christianity and Islam, Christians are going to find it very tough to give ground on homosexuality. Why? Because one of the primary recruiting tools for Islam in Africa is Hollywood, American decadence, and "do you want your daughters to end up like those people you see on TV?" Christians have a vested interest not to give ground to Muslims on this issue; they must not be seen to be accepting Western decadence or Western promiscuity.
This also encourages African Christians to have a very rigid interpretation of the Bible, because after all they're competing with the Koran. "Our Koran was dictated directly by God; what can you say about your Bible?" "Our Bible's absolutely literally dependable, too." That kind of competition is going to be a big factor.
To pull this together: In the next few years, the very rapid growth of numbers of Christians in the Global South is going to be a significant factor in the affairs of global churches. That will be a powerful fact, particularly for conservatives in the Global North who increasingly are treating people like Akinola and Martin Minns, in Virginia, as near-messianic heroes of conservative Christianity. There's a very interesting book to be written on that.
African churches look like they're very conservative, but if you've idealized these churches that way, you'll find what you've actually got are very pro-state intervention, pro-United Nations groups. That poses some interesting dilemmas. That might be one reason why groups like the National Association of Evangelicals have recently become so relatively liberal on climate change and so interventionist, because they realize that is a key issue for a large part of the world.
It is quite likely that by 2050 or so there will be three billion Christians in the world; the proportion of those who will be non-Latino whites, people like myself, will be somewhere between 15 and 20 percent. Imagine a map of the Christian world as of 2050: Where are the largest Christian populations? It's an interesting list. Heading the list is the United States, though, of course, a lot of the Christians will be of Latino and Asian and African descent. Where next? Brazil, Mexico, the Philippines, Nigeria, Congo, Ethiopia and China. What are the names that are not on the list? Oh, Germany, France, Italy, Spain - maybe the people in this room are old enough to remember something called Western Christianity - (laughter) - well, it died in our lifetime.
Specific examples are given in the post of this use of moderating language. This interpretation presents an interesting response to those on the religious right who claim that Americas founders were profoundly religious people who regularly brought God into the public sphere. It is true; they did. But they did it to promote a benign and enlightened view of a God who endorsed toleration.
This is a book I am going to try to read this summer. Check out Bruce Bawer, one of the finest essayists of the modern era, discussing Europe and Islam on Bill Moyers’ show. The book is about how tolerant Europe has become too tolerant of intolerant Muslims, and how they, in turn, threaten Europe’s live and let live lifestyle.
Moyers seemed to stress over and over again — but this isn’t the way most Muslims are, right? In my community college classes, I usually have at least one (sometimes more) Muslim in a class of 25+. I also have plenty of traditional Christians, liberal Christians, Jewish students, atheists, agnostics, and so on and so forth. Whenever I criticize the more extreme elements of Islam, I always stress that most Muslims say this doesn’t represent the authentic version of their faith. Now, in truth, I have no idea whether I’m right and may well be engaging in a Straussian lie. But, if Islam, as a faith, isn’t going away — and I don’t think it is — Muslims must be convinced that a more liberal, sober and rational understanding of their faith is the authentic one. This is exactly what Madison tried to do with Christians in his Memorial and Remonstrance.
Indeed, how we deal with intolerant religions reflects a paradox in Founding thought. Rick Garnett discussed it here and I responded with my thoughts. The paradox is, the rights of conscience are so profound government has no business saying what is true or false religion. Yet, government indeed does have an interest in promoting the “right” kind of religion, that is religion compatible with liberal democratic, secular, pluralistic norms.
Our Founders did to Christianity what the modern liberal governments and institutions, are, or ought to be doing to Islam (like telling folks extreme Islam doesn’t represent authentic Islam).
Almost all of the most notable Christian thinkers from the pre-Founding era differed with our Founders on tolerance and the freedom to worship. John Calvin knew the Bible as well as anyone but thought it entirely proper to see see Servetus burned at the stake simply for publicly denying the Trinity. Likewise, Calvinist Samuel Rutherford, who purportedly influenced our revolution, too thought it just for Servetus to be executed in that manner. All of the early colonies except Rhode Island didn’t grant freedom to worship and often imposed brutal punishments sometimes executions, for worshipping the “wrong” way. And they all justified such with textual appeals to the Bible.To our Founders (the most notable of whom, like Servetus, weren’t even “real Christians” but unitarians) this was not authentic Christianity, or Christianity properly understood. Our Founders had a vested interest in convincing Christians that most notable past Christian thinkers from Augustine to Aquinas to Luther to Calvin to John Winthrop erred on tolerance and religious liberty. And though the government ultimately granted (and still grants) free exercise of religion to any religious thought, no matter how extreme, the Founders still endorsed, mainly through their supplications to God, a version of religion that was kinder and gentler than what came before...
The early Presidents did do a lot of “God talk,” and most of it was not even particularly Christian, but spoken in generic or philosophical language, purposefully worded to include religions outside of Christianity. Sometimes though, they did speak of Christianity or revelation and they often used particular adjectives and qualifiers to describe such: “Benevolent”, “benign” and even “liberal” and “enlightened.”
We can hope that more and more Muslims have this kind of moderating experience. And some on the religious right could also use a refresher course.
The Bush administration is developing what are described as concepts for reducing American combat forces in Iraq by as much as half next year, according to senior administration officials in the midst of the internal debate.
It is the first indication that growing political pressure is forcing the White House to turn its attention to what happens after the current troop increase runs its course.
The concepts call for a reduction in forces that could lower troop levels by the midst of the 2008 presidential election to roughly 100,000, from about 146,000, the latest available figure, which the military reported on May 1. They would also greatly scale back the mission that President Bush set for the American military when he ordered it in January to win back control of Baghdad and Anbar Province.
The article notes that this does not jive with the strategy of the generals in charge. But it's all politics for these people. Whatever it takes to win and remain in power they will do. It doesn't matter whether its legal, ethical, smart, or right. Winning is everything.
In fact, if you really wanted to supercharge the nation, you’d fill it with college students who constantly attend church, but who are skeptical of everything they hear there. For there are at least two things we know about flourishing in a modern society.
First, college students who attend religious services regularly do better than those that don’t. As Margarita Mooney, a Princeton sociologist, has demonstrated in her research, they work harder and are more engaged with campus life. Second, students who come from denominations that encourage dissent are more successful, on average, than students from denominations that don’t.
This embodies the social gospel annex to the quasi-religious creed: Always try to be the least believing member of one of the more observant sects. Participate in organized religion, but be a friendly dissident inside. Ensconce yourself in traditional moral practice, but champion piecemeal modernization. Submit to the wisdom of the ages, but with one eye open.
This is based on a study by a Duke sociologist of non-Hispanic Catholics; they attend church regularly, don't take their church's teachings too seriously, and they are doing remarkably well economically.
Friday, May 25, 2007
Congress sent President Bush a new Iraq funding bill yesterday that lacked troop withdrawal deadlines demanded by liberal Democrats, but party leaders vowed it was only a temporary setback in their efforts to bring home American troops.
War opponents dismissed the bill as a capitulation to Bush and said they would seek to hold supporters in both parties accountable. But backers said the bill's provisions -- including benchmarks for progress that the Iraqi government must meet to continue receiving reconstruction aid -- represented an assertion of congressional authority over the war that was unthinkable a few months ago.
Democratic leaders listened to the wrong lesson. They listened to the Vietnam lesson, which taught them that if they didn't support the war they would be tarred by Republicans as weak on national security. They should have listened to the lesson on principles, learned the hard way by John Kerry in the last election and still being learned by Democratic presidential candidates trying to explain why they didn't stand up to Bush on the war before the whole travesty got underway.
In a blistering attack that won a standing ovation from more than 200 members of the Hennepin County Bar Association, former U.S. Attorney Thomas Heffelfinger on Thursday defended his work on Indian issues and accused Justice Department officials of firing people without knowing the most basic information about their qualifications.Heffelfinger joins the list of former US Attorneys, loyal Republicans all, who went quietly in the night until they discovered that the hacks at Justice Department had targeted them for failing to be sufficiently partisan and publicly questioned their competence as US Attorneys. Turning friends into enemies. Not a good governing strategy.
Words That Wound the Working Mother
The story of Madeleine McCann, the British three-year-old kidnapped from her resort apartment during a family vacation in Portugal, has obsessed the British public and media for the past three weeks. “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling, Simon Cowell from “American Idol” and Virgin founder Richard Branson have offered rewards for her return; a findmadeleine.com Web site has received over 65 million hits; Madeleine’s aunt, Philomena McCann, has reported more than 2,000 responses to a chain e-mail appeal she sent out internationally in the hopes of increasing the odds of a chance sighting of her niece.
The initial wave of press coverage in Britain – a mixture of empathy, despair and blame (by some) of Madeleine’s parents, Gerry and Kate, for having gone out to dinner, leaving Madeleine and her twin siblings alone in a ground-floor apartment – has now given way to a secondary shock wave of self-questioning: Why, pundits ask, has the public turned itself inside out to find this one child? Isn’t there something awful about the degree of attention she has inspired while children in Darfur and Iraq – or in Britain’s public housing – die or disappear unnoticed?
Comparisons to the paroxysm of national mourning that followed the death of Princess Diana have been made. And, again, the whole issue of Britain’s new penchant for public displays of emotion has been dissected and, by some, found inappropriate. “The spasm of national grief that followed her abduction, the generous donations to the Madeleine fund, the lighting of candles, the celebrity appeals, the brimming lakes of sympathy: all this is of a piece with the way we deal with vicarious tragedy in these 24-hour, rolling media, emotive times,” Jan Moir wrote this week in The Daily Telegraph. “As in the aftermath of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, people are no longer content to merely sympathise or empathise; they need to feel a part of things, too.”
In the United States, only People magazine has so far given Madeleine’s abduction the kind of front-page play it has garnered in Britain. And, as did the British press, People anchored its coverage around a “there-but-for-the-grace-of-God” kind of emotion; what happened to Madeleine, the magazine’s cover copy read, was “every parent’s nightmare.”
But then People went on to do something very American. The writer, Bill Hewitt, said: “Those closest to the McCanns described Kate as a devoted mother who had scaled back to working only a day and a half a week as a general practitioner (Gerry is a cardiologist) so that she could be with her children.” He went on to quote Aunt Philomena: “She’s working to keep her career up but spends the majority of her time with the kids.”
Message: Kate McCann is a Good Mother. Hence – unlike some other mothers – she didn’t even remotely deserve to have terrible things happen to her.
It’s at times like this that I just hate being a mother in America.
I did a pretty thorough article search through the British press this week. I searched “Madeleine McCann” and “mother” and “career” and “doctor” and “part-time” and countless other permutations. I found many, many mentions of Kate and Gerry as doctors. I found a description of how, by working hard, they’d raised themselves up from their modest roots to a solidly comfortable middle class (we would, I think, say upper middle class) lifestyle. These aspects of the McCanns’ life were evoked to spur sympathy and identification; to identify the McCanns as good, solid, striving Everypeople. Nowhere did I find Kate McCann’s Mommy Track work status exploited as a sign of personal virtue.
Only in America can you count on such drivel. Only in the country that, in 1997, attacked the working mother of eight-month-old Matthew Eappen (the infant who was shaken to death by the 19-year-old British au pair Louise Woodward) as “self-absorbed,” “materialistic” and “negligent,” would the push/pull of self-distancing and self-mirroring that binds the reading public to the Madeleine McCann case be framed, so unquestioningly, around the issue of her mother’s working status.
You may wonder why I feel so strongly about this matter of wording, which pales in importance next to the horrific tragedy of a child’s abduction. The epidermal ill-temper and sense of besiegement that fills me at the end of the school year (more on this next week) is undoubtedly part of it. But there is more. And it is this: I fear that, at this point, there may well be nothing that you or I or any other journalist or reader or celebrity or politician can do to help poor Madeleine and her family. But there’s much we can do to cut down on the level of insulting and idiotic verbal pollution that creeps into the discourse of our everyday lives. The vile discrimination against working mothers in our country is now so ingrained and so poisonous and so taken for granted that it seeps, all but unnoticed, into the oddest of places, like an otherwise unrelated People story about a distant and heart-rending crime.
The foul poison of working-mother-hate is not, of course, absent in Britain, nor is the maternal guilt and self-doubt, the hand-wringing and the agonizing over other-than-mother care that generally accompany it. Clearly, the McCanns were susceptible to some of this cultural noise. They reportedly left their children in an apartment unattended, even though their resort offered both drop-in child care and babysitting. The reason: they didn’t want to hand their children over to “strangers.”
Had they not fallen victim to this fear of babysitters – this grossly over-generalized terror that is a corollary of the cultural hysteria over working motherhood – Madeleine might be with them today.
Or perhaps that’s wishful thinking on my part, an attempt to find rhyme or reason – and a blueprint for safety – in an incident of random horror.
The transportation bill got 137 votes in the Legislature this session. That's a solid 70 percent majority and, if you believe in representative government, pretty good evidence that Minnesotans are willing to pay for fixing their crumbling roads and expanding their skimpy transit systems.
But Tim Pawlenty isn't willing. And so, for the second time in three years, a veto, wielded by a governor who has never been elected by a majority of Minnesotans, has prevented substantial progress against the state's most gnawing problem: the 20-year failure to adequately build and maintain its transportation system...Pawlenty will be blamed for leaving Minnesota behind on all of these fronts. He has placed ideology and national political ambition ahead of his state's best interest.
Rather than raise the taxes and fees required to face head-on the annual $1.7 billion transportation shortfall, the governor has stuck to his incrementalist policy: Borrow about one-tenth of that amount, force our children to pay it back and nibble away at the edges. That's like attacking an iceberg with an icepick.
Business is also to blame. While the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce supported a nickel gas tax increase for roads, it opposed giving counties the authority to raise sales taxes for transit, the financial tool that has allowed other markets to push far ahead of the Twin Cities. It's a mystery why a sales tax for transit can be acceptable to business leaders in Denver, Dallas, Phoenix and San Diego, but not here. All of those cities have considerably higher rates than Minneapolis-St. Paul yet seem to be flourishing.
Yep. This is a perfect example of the blinding force of ideology, in this case the ideology of "no new taxes." Being willing to pay for an adequate transportation infrastructure ought to be a no-brainer for pro-business people. Our transportation system is crippling businesses and slowing job growth. But they can't bring themselves to give up on their ideology. Meanwhile Republican business and political leaders in metropolitan areas with similar sizes have long since chosen jobs and economic growth over ideology.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
A New Silent Majority
By Mark Buchanan
Something seems a little out of whack between the mainstream media and the American people. Take the arguments of the past few days over former President Jimmy Carter’s remarks about the Bush administration and the consequences of its particular brand of foreign policy. Carter didn’t attack President Bush personally, but said that “as far as the adverse impact on the nation around the world, this administration has been the worst in history,” which can’t really be too far out of line with what many Americans think.
In coverage typical of much of the media, however, NBC Nightly News asked whether Carter had broken “an unwritten rule when commenting on the current president,” and portrayed Carter’s words — unfairly it seems — as a personal attack on President Bush. Fox News called it “unprecedented.” Yet as an article in this newspaper on Tuesday pointed out, “presidential scholars roll their eyes at the notion that former presidents do not speak ill of current ones.”
The pattern is familiar. Polls show that most Americans want our government to stop its unilateral swaggering, and to try to solve our differences with other nations through diplomacy. In early April, for example, when the speaker of the House, the Democrat Nancy Pelosi, visited Syria and met with President Bashar al-Assad, a poll had 64 percent of Americans in favor of negotiations with the Syrians. Yet this didn’t stop an outpouring of media alarm.
A number of CNN broadcasts — including one showing Pelosi with a head scarf beside the title “Talking with Terrorists?” — failed even to mention that several Republican congressmen had met with Assad two days before Pelosi did. The conventional wisdom on the principal television talk shows was that Pelosi had “messed up on this one” (in the words of NBC’s Matt Lauer), and that she and the Democrats would pay dearly for it.
So it must have been a great surprise when Pelosi’s approval ratings stayed basically the same after her visit, or actually went up a little.
Or take the matter of the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney. Most media figures seem to consider the very idea as issuing from the unhinged imaginations of a lunatic fringe. But according to a recent poll, 39 percent of Americans in fact support it, including 42 percent of independents.
A common explanation of this tendency toward distortion is that the beltway media has attended a few too many White House Correspondents’ Dinners and so cannot possibly cover the administration with anything approaching objectivity. No doubt the Republicans’ notoriously well-organized efforts in casting the media as having a “liberal bias” also have their intended effect in suppressing criticism.
But I wonder whether this media distortion also persists because it doesn’t meet with enough criticism, and if that’s partially because many Americans think that what they see in the major political media reflects what most other Americans really think – when actually it often doesn’t.
Psychologists coined the term “pluralistic ignorance” in the 1930s to refer to this type of misperception — more a social than an individual phenomenon — to which even smart people might fall victim. A study back then had surprisingly found that most kids in an all-white fraternity were privately in favor of admitting black members, though most assumed, wrongly, that their personal views were greatly in the minority. Natural temerity made each individual assume that he was the lone oddball.
A similar effect is common today on university campuses, where many students think that most other students are typically inclined to drink more than they themselves would wish to; researchers have found that many students indeed drink more to fit in with what they perceive to be the drinking norm, even though it really isn’t the norm. The result is an amplification of a minority view, which comes to seem like the majority view.
In pluralistic ignorance, as researchers described it in the 1970s, “moral principles with relatively little popular support may exert considerable influence because they are mistakenly thought to represent the views of the majority, while normative imperatives actually favored by the majority may carry less weight because they are erroneously attributed to a minority.”
What is especially disturbing about the process is that it lends itself to control by the noisiest and most visible. Psychologists have noted that students who are the heaviest drinkers, for example, tend to speak out most strongly against proposed measures to curb drinking, and act as “subculture custodians” in support of their own minority views. Their strong vocalization can produce “false consensus” against such measures, as others, who think they’re part of the minority, keep quiet. As a consequence, the extremists gain influence out of all proportion to their numbers, while the views of the silent majority end up being suppressed. (The United States Department of Education has a brief page on the main ideas here.)
Think of the proposal to put a timetable on the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, supported, the latest poll says, by 60 percent of Americans, but dropped Tuesday from the latest war funding bill.
Over the past couple months, Glenn Greenwald at Salon.com has done a superb job of documenting what certainly seems like it might be a case of pluralistic ignorance among the major political media, many (though certainly not all) of whom often seem to act as “subculture custodians” of their own amplified minority views. Routinely, it seems, views that get expressed and presented as majority views aren’t really that at all.
In a typical example in March, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reported that most Americans wanted to pardon Scooter Libby, saying that the polling “indicates that most people think, in fact, that he should be pardoned, Scooter Libby should be pardoned.” In fact, polls showed that only 18 percent then favored a pardon.
Mitchell committed a similar error in April, claiming that polling showed Nancy Pelosi to be unpopular with the American people, her approval rating being as low as the dismal numbers of former Republican Speaker Dennis Hastert just before the 2006 November elections. But in fact the polls showed Pelosi’s approval standing at about 50 percent, while Hastert’s had been 22 percent.
As most people get their news from the major outlets, these distortions – however they occur, whether intentionally or through some more innocuous process of filtering – almost certainly translate into a strongly distorted image in peoples’ minds of what most people across the country think. They contribute to making mainstream Americans feel as if they’re probably not mainstream, which in turn may make them less likely to voice their opinions.
One of the most common examples of pluralistic ignorance, of course, takes place in the classroom, where a teacher has just finished a dull and completely incomprehensible lecture, and asks if there are any questions. No hands go up, as everyone feels like the lone fool, even though no student actually understood a single word. It takes guts, of course, to admit total ignorance when you might just be the only one.
Last year, author Kristina Borjesson interviewed 21 prominent journalists for her book “Feet to the Fire,” about the run-up to the Iraq War. Her most notable impression was this:
“The thing that I found really profound was that there really was no consensus among this nation’s top messengers about why we went to war. [War is the] most extreme activity a nation can engage in, and if they weren’t clear about it, that means the public wasn’t necessarily clear about the real reasons. And I still don’t think the American people are clear about it.”
Yet in the classroom of our democracy, at least for many in the media, it still seems impolitic – or at least a little too risky – to raise one’s hand.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
I'm singin' in the rain,
Just singin' in the the rain,
What a glorious feeling,
I'm happy again...
(If you haven't seen the movie in awhile, I recommend watching it again!)
Grow plants, grow!
I'm glad I'm not a part of a denomination(s) checking to see who's worthy and who's not.
The Hollow Promise Reform Act
Published: May 23, 2007
The House’s new Democratic majority is flirting with disaster as it guts key provisions of the strict lobbying reform it promised voters last November. Rebellious lawmakers, worried about their own career path, fought their leaders to defeat tighter restrictions on the sleazy, revolving-door culture by which members of Congress move on from an apprenticeship of merely serving the people to real Washington money as insider lobbyists.
“What you are telling me is I cut off my profession,” one Democrat, Representative Michael Capuano of Massachusetts, complained in baldly defending the vox pop-to-riches scheme.
Such crass considerations defeated a proposal to make congressional alumni wait two years, not the current one year, before lobbying old colleagues. Now the rebels have even bigger game — the “bundling” proposal to make power lobbyists disclose the outsized campaign funds they raise from individual clients and package as one big donation.
This vital reform, like the revolving-door pledge, was a part of the “Honest Leadership and Open Government Act” fervidly promised by Democrats last year in denouncing the quid-pro-quo corruption that saw a few leading Republicans driven from office and on to prison.
For all the promises, the bundling disclosure mandate is in deep trouble as opposition mounts from Blue Dog, Hispanic and black caucus Democrats intent on protecting their re-election campaigns. The pity is that the proposal they are fighting doesn’t even stop this ethically indefensible practice — it merely puts the details on the record.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi knows failure to approve bundling disclosure will reduce the Democrats’ vaunted vows to political farce and shorten their chances of retaining the majority. Republicans are chortling, but the smarter moderates in their ranks better keep their eyes on the people’s agenda, not the lobbyists’ A.T.M.’s. A crucial vote over the lobby bill’s debating rule is about to determine whether reform dies at the hands of greedy incumbents. They might remember that next year’s voters will check for enactment of last year’s promises.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
By Sarah Lemagie, Star Tribune
Last update: May 22, 2007 – 10:45 AM
Crofut Family Winery & Vineyard opens this weekend at 21646 Langford Av. S. (Hwy. 13) in Jordan. The winery will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and from noon to 6 p.m. on Sundays through Oct. 1. The winery boasts nine kinds of wine that range from $12 to $15 a bottle. Grapes grown include such varieties as Frontenac, St. Croix, Marechal Foch and LaCrescent. For more information, call 952-492-3227 or go to www.crofutwinery.com.
One perk of helping Don Crofut bottle wine is that you get to drink your mistakes.
Or at least that's what his friends said one night last week as they worked on the last 50 cases of the 800 or so that Crofut has stockpiled in anticipation of his winery's grand opening this weekend.
With a few minor but colorful spills, half a dozen friends and neighbors guided red wine from barrel to bottle on an assembly line set up inside the Quonset hut on his 53-acre Jordan farm. Crofut, edgy as a racehorse, wandered among them as they filled, corked and labelled, intervening to mop up when someone knocked over a bucket holding wine that had dripped from a filter.
A whirlwind of bottling and renovation has enveloped the farm for the past six weeks as Crofut has transformed the high-ceilinged hut, formerly a machine shed, into a warmly lit wine-tasting bar and prepared to release his first vintages for the opening of the Crofut Family Winery and Vineyard, the first commercial winery in Scott County.
County and state fair ribbons hung behind the wood-topped bar in the winery reflect the praise Crofut's efforts have already garnered, and family photographs on the wall speak to three generations of winemaking.
Half of Crofut's family left Oklahoma for California during the Great Depression, and the half that stayed became "ingenious in what they could do to save money," he said. Drinking homemade wine in the winter and home-brewed beer in the summer were cost-cutting measures that became family tradition, but one that Crofut, 48, had mostly left by the wayside for decades.
Then, in 1998, his father died, and Crofut started thinking hard about what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. "It was a big revelation of legacy," he said. He bought the Jordan dairy farm, whose main house dates back to 1872, and began attending meetings of Minnesota vintners to learn more about starting his own vineyard.
Yes, it is possible to grow wine grapes in Minnesota. Though it hasn't been that long since there were just four or five wineries in the state, the industry has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years. Today, there are 23 commercial wineries in the state and about 180 vineyards, most concentrated along the valleys of the Mississippi, Minnesota and St. Croix rivers.
The growing interest in winemaking has sprung largely from the work of University of Minnesota researchers charged with developing vines hardy enough to make it through northern winters. The university has released four varieties since 1996, all of which can survive temperatures as low as 36 below, "So we've got the corner on that," said Anna Katharine Mansfield, an oenologist (read: wine expert) at the university.
Minnesota grapes tend to be high in both sugar and acid, said Mansfield and Peter Hemstad, a university researcher who cultivates grape vines. "They're more sprightly than they would be in some areas, but they also have a nice, concentrated flavor," Hemstad said.
Seventy percent of Crofut's vines are U of M varieties, and he keeps tabs on a half-acre test plot for the university in addition to the six acres he's planted since 2003.
A winery and a day job
Running a vineyard requires careful planning and attention, but it's not quite as labor intensive as you might think. Crofut juggles the work with his day job as president of the South Metro Credit Union in Prior Lake and does much of it with the help of his sons, Sam and Jake.
The boys, ages 13 and 12, earn allowance money in the summer mowing the vineyard and making sure the grapes hang properly from the vines. In February, the trio spent several days pruning in the snow-crusted vineyard and came away with sunburns. And during the harvest last fall, the boys threw grapes at each other and drank grape juice after helping Crofut press the fruit.
For Crofut, his sons' enjoyment of the vineyard is the best part of winemaking. "I'm at the age where you kind of start looking forward and backward," he said. If all goes according to his vision, the vineyard may someday boast its own grape variety, but at the least, it's a place he hopes his family will take pleasure in for decades.
For now, there are the moments like the one last week, when Crofut finished laying stones on the winery patio. A light rain was falling, and he was already tired from a long day at work. He sat down in the sand to enjoy the view. He looked up. And he saw a rainbow, stretched just over the farm and the freshly budded vineyard.
May 21, 2007, 6:06 pm
The Golden Rule in the Human Jungle
By Mark Buchanan
News of the past few days and weeks suggests a rather dismal view of humanity. Israelis and Palestinians are again firing rockets at each other. On the streets of Karachi, just over a week ago, Pakistani security forces stood by while 42 people were killed and many more injured at a rally for Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, deposed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and opponent of President Pervez Musharraf. In the United States, a company compiling data on consumers is making money by helping criminals steal the savings of thousands of retired Americans.
Violence, corruption and greed. What kind of people are we?
But counter all of that with this – a young man in Cleveland has pledged $1 million of his own money to establish scholarships for disadvantaged children. His name is Braylon Edwards, and, O.K., he’s an emerging star for the Cleveland Browns who makes more money in a year than most of us will in a lifetime, but still. He could have bought a yacht and a fleet of sparkling Humvees. Instead, he invested in the future of hundreds of people he doesn’t even know.
“To secure a positive future for our country,” an ESPN article quoted Edwards as saying, “we have to start with these kids. We have to support them.”
So maybe the news is more dismal than it needs to be. But a glance at my previous columns shows that I’ve fallen into a similar pattern, writing on racial prejudice, genocide and entrenched political polarization, while not mentioning the more positive sides of the social atom. Cynicism can be pushed too far, because pure and untainted human altruism really exists – and it’s something to which we should learn to pay a lot more attention.
In a classic experiment of modern behavioral science – one that is now familiar to many people – an experimenter gives one of two people some cash, say $50, and asks them to offer some of it (any amount they choose) to another person, who can either accept or reject the offer. If the second person accepts, the cash is shared out accordingly; if he or she rejects it, no one gets to keep anything.
If we were all self-interested and greedy, then the second person would always accept the offer, as getting something is clearly better than getting nothing. And the first person, knowing this, would offer as little as possible. But that’s most certainly not what happens.
Experiments across many cultures show that people playing this “ultimatum game” typically offer anything from 25 to 50 percent of the money, and reject offers less than around 25 percent, often saying they wanted to punish the person for making an unfair offer.
An important point that people often overlook about these experiments (and others like them) is that they’ve been performed very carefully, with participants remaining completely anonymous, and playing only once. Everything is set up so no one can have any hope of building a good reputation or of getting any kind of payback in the future in kind for their actions today.
So this really does seem to be pure altruism, and we do care about fairness, at least most of us.
That’s not to say, of course, that we’re not often self-interested, or that human kindness isn’t frequently strategic and aimed at currying favor in the future. The point is that it’s not always like that. People give to charity, tip waiters in countries they’ll never again visit, dive into rivers to save other people or even animals – or set aside $1 million to send poor kids to school – not because they hope to get something but, sometimes, out of the goodness of their hearts.
Social researchers have begun referring to this human tendency with the technical term “strong reciprocity,” which refers to a willingness to cooperate, and also to punish those who don’t cooperate, even when no gain is possible. And there’s an interesting theory as to why we’re like this.
In theoretical studies, economists and anthropologists have been exploring how self-interest and cooperation might have played out in our ancestral groups of hunter-gatherers. In interactions among individuals, it’s natural to suppose that purely self-interested people would tend to come out ahead, as they’d never get caught out helping others without getting help in return and would also be able to cheat any naïve altruists that come along.
But it is also natural to suppose that when neighboring groups compete with one another, the group with more altruists would have an advantage, as it would be better able to manage collective tasks – things like farming and hunting, providing for defense or caring for the sick – than a group of more selfish people.
So you can imagine a basic tension in the ancient world between individual interactions that favor self-interest and personal preservation, and group interactions that favor individual altruism. Detailed simulations suggest that if the group competition is strong enough, cooperators will persist because of their intense value to group cohesion. But there’s slightly more to the story, too.
Further work shows that groups really thrive if the altruists are of a special sort – not just people who are willing to cooperate with others, but who are also willing to punish those who they see failing to cooperate.
This work is only suggestive, but it raises the interesting idea that it’s a long history of often brutal competition among groups that has turned most of us into willing cooperators, or, more accurately, strong reciprocators. We’re not Homo economicus, as Herbert Gintis of the University of Amherst puts it, but Homo reciprocans – an organism biologically prone to cooperative actions, and for good historical reasons.
No doubt this is what many people probably thought all along, without the aid of any theory or computer simulations. It just goes to show how theorists can labor for years to re-discover the obvious. Then again, re-discovery often casts the familiar in a not-so-familiar light, and leads us to reconsider what we thought we already knew.
We’ve been so busy over the past half century glorifying the power of markets driven by self-interest that we’ve overlooked how many of our most important institutions depended not on self-interest but on something more akin to a cooperative public spirit. If an impulse toward cooperation rather than self-interest alone is the “natural” human condition, then we’ve been poor stewards of a powerful social resource for the collective good. The United States health care system, to take one example, has by design been set up around the profit motive, based on the belief that only this narrow motivator of individual action can be counted on to produce anything good. It’s perhaps no surprise that it is among the most expensive in the world, and far from the most effective.
In a press conference at the Cannes Film Festival, following a screening of his new film “Sicko,” Michael Moore criticized how financial interests play such a foundational role in health care in the United States. “It’s wrong and it’s immoral,” he said. “We have to take the profit motive out of health care. It’s as simple as that.”
But it’s not quite that simple. It’s not that profits shouldn’t play any role, because we are indeed motivated in part by self-interest. It’s just that we have other motivations, too, and helping others is one of those. We need to be just as open to the better parts of human nature as we are protective against the narrowly materialistic ones, whether we’re considering health care or anything else, including education.
You don’t need a new breed of experimental economists to tell you that. Just ask Braylon Edwards.