Culture & Family RSS feed for this section
justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Are Children a Lifestyle Choice or a Social Necessity?

In a conversation about government-run schools’ use of taxpayer dollars to out-compete private schools, Mike678 asks:

Are not children these days a choice and a lifestyle? Why do taxpayers w/o children have to pay for other peoples choices?

Those questions rely on a pretty progressive premise that people are burdens to manage, not ends in themselves.  The implied point of view also skips over the fact that having children is pretty much the social and biological default for human beings (yes, still).  That is, for most couples, not having children is the more deliberate choice.

And it’s a choice with severe ramifications for the rest of us.  Very directly, for example, one might ask why somebody else’s children, as taxpayers, should have to carry a heavier burden to pay the Social Security of a childless senior’s choices.  Even without entitlement programs, though, the fact is that a society needs children.  Look to Japan:

… in the long run the fortunes of nations are determined by population trends. Japan is not only the world’s fastest-aging major economy (already every fourth person is older than 65, and by 2050 that share will be nearly 40 percent), its population is also declining. Today’s 127 million will shrink to 97 million by 2050, and forecasts show shortages of the young labor force needed in construction and health care. Who will maintain Japan’s extensive and admirably efficient transportation infrastructures? Who will take care of millions of old people? By 2050 people above the age of 80 will outnumber the children.

I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest new child tax credits or a directly paid government child allowance, as some do.  Social engineering is, after all, social engineering, and the government tends to plod along in a march of unintended consequences.  (It matters, for one thing, for whom in our society we create incentives to birth more children.)  However, when children are born, it behooves us to ensure that education is a priority, and alleviating that burden becomes quite a different thing than subsidizing the procreation.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Planned Parenthood’s Music to Kill By

Here’s an interesting tidbit from the Providence Journal coverage of the large anti-Planned Parenthood protest held on Saturday morning:

There was no counter-protest Saturday from those who support abortion rights.

But about 10 Planned Parenthood volunteers wearing pink T-shirts that said, “We’re here to stand for Planned Parenthood,” tried to clear a pathway from the parking lot to the clinic. They also played a radio in an unsuccessful attempt to drown out the amplified voices of the antiabortion protesters.

Apparently, Rhode Island satanists couldn’t pull together the counter-protest that their Michigan coreligionists managed, pretending to waterboard bound women with breast milk.  But the playing of loud music might be a Planned Parenthood thing.  In Illinois, the clinic blasted ghoulish horror-movie music at the pro-lifers.

A source tells me the music deployed in Rhode Island was Blind Melon, which means it was very probably the song “No Rain.”  Recalling the cover of the album on which that song appeared, the official video begins with a young girl being laughed off a stage for tap dancing in a bumblebee costume.  Toward the end of the video she finds her bliss with a troupe of bee-costumed dancers in a field.

Somehow that message doesn’t seem in accord with Planned Parenthood’s defining occupation.  Of course, it must be difficult to pick a soundtrack to rebut public testimony that your organization facilitates cutting open the faces of unborn fetuses (with beating hearts) to harvest their brains.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Cusack’s Masculine Move of Blocking Me on Twitter

Prefatory note: I post this out of fascination with human nature and a deep appreciation for the humor of it.

Saturday kicked off for me, this week, with my being blocked on Twitter by former Republican East Providence Assistant Mayor Robert Cusack.  He posted a map showing the relative balance of men and women around the world, and the conversation went thus:

Cusack: Notice that places where men outnumber women is where all the trouble is?

Katz: I guess if you ignore any of the places that it suits you to ignore.

Cusack: Blocked, for lack of sense of humor!

Katz: What a masculine response.

There are a number of interesting observations one could make with just a glance at the map.  For one, Russia — bleeding into the notoriously non-problem-free Caucuses and Ukraine — is dark blue, meaning heavily weighted toward women. Even North Korea is blue, as are other areas of the world that aren’t exactly paradise.

For another, where Cusack’s statement carries with it some truth, there is opportunity for interesting discussion.  Much of the man-heavy area is dominated by hard-line strains of Islam, where women exist in terrible subjugation (as do men who resist the hard line).  In both India and China, one could branch into discussions of the use of sex-selective abortion to follow strong cultural preferences for male offspring.

And that whole topic could return to the importance of the West’s waning formula for structuring families in a way that binds the two sexes together toward harmonious and productive ends.  It’s been fashionable for quite a while, now, to condemn the traditional Judeo-Christian vision for the family, but it does (or did) impede the development of a male underclass with no prospects or investment in their society, which (yes) can lead to trouble.

That’s not a one-sided coin, either.  I’d be curious what might come of an analysis of the differing nature of problems in areas with many more females.  Maybe totalitarians take a different approach there.

Yet another interesting topic would be whether the cliché about women’s more-peaceful nature is actually true.  It certainly doesn’t jibe with my personal experience or with my reading of modern society or of history.  These are rich topics that leave much room for insights and friendly humor. Cusack went with the banal and humorless direction of anti-male sexism.

Even just within the same wave of my morning reading, I came across this gem from Northeastern University in Boston, where residential assistants — students tasked with helping young adults along with their college experience — are apparently being instructed that it simply isn’t possible to be oppressed if you’re a straight, white male, even (one supposes) in an environment that sets up kangaroo courts for sexual assault and that have 100% female “offices of equity and diversity.”

Contrary to what Robert Cusack may believe, discussion of these matters doesn’t have to be humorless, if we’re mature.  Unfortunately, our culture doesn’t seem inclined to cultivate mature men anymore.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

The Brookings Activity Guide for the RhodeMap

Among those who don’t tend to think that the state government of Rhode Island should be tasked with completely ordering the lives of the people who live within its borders, the conversation about the relationship of the recently announced Brookings Institution study and RhodeMap RI has already begun.  Some think that RhodeMap was the framework to which Brookings will add specifics.  I don’t think that’s quite right.

Consider these two disconcerting paragraphs from Ted Nesi’s WPRI article, yesterday, drawing out some details of the intentions:

“This is an opportunity that you don’t get that often, to take a shot at putting the state on a different trajectory,” [Mark Muro, director of policy for Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program] added. “It’s been a rough decade.” …

“I think in most parts of the U.S. it’s still, the government does this, the corporations do that, the universities are somewhere else,” [Bruce Katz, the nationally-known head of the Metropolitan Policy Program] said. “In the successful places around the world there’s a seamless interaction between all these different sectors, and if they’re all on the same page – then that’s when you get the bigger returns. So it’s not just the policy … it’s this foundation of collaboration.”

This study will be part of the same ideological program as RhodeMap, but they’re distinct pieces.  RhodeMap is concerned with controlling where people live and how they structure their lives.  Brookings is going to instruct the state government about what professional activities Rhode Islanders should be engaged in while they live here and how to bring the private sector into alignment with the central plan.  (Whether they’ll go into detail about what laws to pass to force compliance, or just make friendly-sounding suggestions about how to create incentives to benefit special interests that are aligned with the program or are willing to adjust, we’ll have to wait and see.)

Consider this carefully, Rhode Island.  Even in a small state of about one million people, you can’t have “seamless interaction.”  Our entire government system is (or was) set up so that we can interact in a way to ensure the maximum freedom while allowing us to work together peacefully.  That’s the central challenge of a free society; progressives can’t just ignore it away.

When they skip over that challenge, what they’re really assuming is that they will be able to pick people in non-government sectors — in business, in academia, and in cultural institutions — who will stand in as if they speak for their whole sector and who will agree to follow the plan.  You may be able to live your life your own way, but it will become progressively more difficult to the extent that you want to do something of which the pointy heads at Brookings and the control fanatics who invited them in disapprove… or even that they don’t quite understand.

If what you want to do conflicts with the powerful people, well then, you’ll have to be banned.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

About That “Inspiring Environment”

As Anchor Rising-Ocean State Current readers know, Governor Gina Raimondo’s budget for the upcoming year refinanced a bunch of state debt.  Simply refinancing would have save taxpayers millions upon millions of dollars; instead, the governor took the money up front (ultimately costing taxpayers additional money in financing costs) in order to plug it into big spending projects, mostly having to do with top-down economic development.

Whatever else these projects accomplish, they’ll give her opportunity for many positive-sounding announcements, with the first being the money going toward school buildings.  One line in a related Providence Journal article gets to the heart of the philosophical difference:

“We know our kids can’t learn in crumbling school buildings and that they must have access to a learning environment that inspires them to do their best,” Raimondo said in a news release announcing the authority’s launch.

Upon just a little bit of thought, I’m sure, most people would readily admit that there’s more to an inspiring learning environment than the condition of the surrounding building.  Many might go as far as to say that’s among the least important factors.

One, of course, is family structure.  And in this area, progressives like Raimondo tend to support anti-family policies, like welfare programs that replace stable homes with government checks, easy divorce, and the redefinition of marriage to remove the centrality of raising children.

Another is has been more on my mind in the past week or so, though.  Between welfare cliffs and tax-and-regulatory policies that make the ladder to success difficult to climb, there isn’t much to which to aspire.  Whatever a student’s grades, the government will take care of him or her, and the odds of success are getting smaller.  The vision of “making it if you try” that President Obama articulated in 2012 was a modest living with “a little vacation with your family once in a while — nothing fancy, but just time to spend with those you love.”

Add in progressives’ reflexive condemnation of successful people (as if success indicates cheating or theft), the cult of self esteem, and high-profile battles over whether it’s fair to have objective graduation standards, and the message we send to children is crystal clear.  Fortunate children have parents or other adult confidants who hold them to high standards and push them along, but that just brings us back around to progressive attacks on the family.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Generational Dads

As a angst-ridden GenXer, my first instinct in response to an article titled “Millennial ‘Mr. Moms’ turn out to be all talk” is to scoff, but to a large extent, their plight is mine, too.

According to Naomi Schaefer Riley’s article, the picture comes through in  opinion polls:

  • 70% of Millennial men say they’d stay home to watch the children if it helped the career of their significant others.
  • 78% feel childcare should be divided into equal shares.
  • But only 5% of Millennial fathers do the stay-at-home thing, with 85% working full time, 6% working part time, and 4% unemployed.
  • They also still tend to be the leading breadwinners in their families, with 60% bringing home at least 59% of household income.
  • And their attitude aligns with their realities, with 67% of Millennial men and women thinking it’s “very important” for them to support their families, while only 40% say the same for women.

In summary, Millennial men feel obligated to work (indeed, the economy that the Baby Boomers left us leaves most families little choice), they feel responsibility to work hard enough that they could be the sole source of income, if they had to be, but they still feel like they have to pick up an equal share of home workloads.  The whole picture certainly describes my circumstances — working from home for my family’s primary income while watching our toddler and picking up an equal amount of housework.

Given all this, contrary to Danielle Paquette and Peyton Craighill’s recent article in the Washington Post, it isn’t surprising at all that “three-quarters of mothers and half of fathers in the United States say they’ve passed up work opportunities, switched jobs or quit to tend to their kids.”  Child care is expensive, meaning that extra work must really pay well in order to make up for it, and parents tend to want to be involved in their children’s lives.

Naturally, the article in the Washington Post presents this as a problem for government to solve, but government involvement would be about the worst thing that our society could do.  Government incentives have played a large role in changing the decision making of families to get us to the point that families can’t live on a single income, in large part by pushing trends toward a more-egalitarian attitude more quickly than the culture was ready to do.

Perhaps we’re now seeing the culture absorb this change, with families reasserting the value of home life.  Subsidizing that trend might make it marginally easier for some families, but if history is any guide, it would make it more difficult for many more.  Somebody has to pay to subsidize child care, after all, and changing the financial calculation in favor of child care will make it more difficult for those families that would rather spend more time with their families to do so.

Of course, subsidizing child care leads families to rely on government and makes a special interest out of child care providers, which ensures votes and power.

 

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

After All, Theme Parks Are Places to Visit, Not to Live

Something sounds familiar about this description of Rome, doesn’t it?

A survey by the European Commission two years ago placed Rome last out of 28 EU capitals in a ranking for the efficiency of city services. Despite great food, superb coffee and an enviable climate, on an index of quality of life, the capital came second to last, with Athens at the bottom. Its Renaissance churches, cobbled streets and vibrant piazzas still wow tourists from around the world, but beyond the historic centre, the city is a mess and life is a struggle for locals.

As I’ve said before about Rhode Island, if you’re having to work too hard to go to the beach, don’t have the disposable income to go out for dinner, and have to cut corners on your grocery bill, living in a place with such attractions doesn’t do you much good.  In fact, when the local establishment leverages the premium that people are willing to pay to live in such a place in order to confiscate high levels of taxes and return low levels of service, living in such a place can do you harm.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Making Millennials Hear the Confidence of Millennia

Father John Kiley’s “Quiet Corner” column in the June 25 issue of Rhode Island Catholic helped me bring together a few thoughts that have been drifting in and out of my mind lately.

As somebody who works to develop and research public policy for a living — proposals like eliminating the sales tax and implementing school choice programs that bring private school within reach for all families — I’ve found my observations of the younger generation, the “Millennials,” discouraging.

On one hand, they seem to have replaced a full sense of pluralistic freedom with intolerance for views that differ substantively with their own. They insist on redefining marriage to include same-sex couples, for example, but think that business owners who do not wish to provide services for such ceremonies should have no choice — not just in their own communities, but anywhere across the country.

On the other hand, they find justification for this dogmatism in the narrative that they are at war with powerful, oppressive forces. As Father Kiley suggests, they have been enculturated with “an anti-establishment mood.” It’s what they were taught, and it’s been reinforced in countless television shows and movies.

These two hands fold together neatly. Without a full sense of history and the value of intellectual diversity, “the oppressor” is just a character in the latest HBO series. He is defined not by his actions — by actually oppressing people — but by certain political views that he might hold.

Continue reading on the Rhode Island Catholic.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Planned Parenthood’s Annual $100k from Taxpayers of Rhode Island

With Planned Parenthood baby-organ harvesting in the news (everywhere except Rhode Island), it’s worth turning to the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s handy dandy RI Open Gov vendor payments module.  And, yes, there they are, separate annual payments to Planned Parenthood RI and Planned Parenthood of Southern New England totaling $516,755 over the past five years of available data.

Those two subgroups of the abortion giant go back and forth in the amount that they receive, but the total has typically been around $100,000, as follows:

  • 2010: $128,999
  • 2011: $87,058
  • 2012: $106,005
  • 2013: $87,356
  • 2014: $107,338

The better part of the money is given under the heading of “perinatal and early childhood.”  For those without a dictionary handy, “perinatal” means “occurring during or pertaining to the phase surrounding the time of birth, from the twentieth week of gestation to the twenty-eighth day of newborn life.”

According to the videos making the rounds (another of which I hear is expected tomorrow), the pre-birth part of that range can be a particularly valuable one for abortion providers.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Local Silence on Baby Organ Harvesting

If you don’t get your news only from local Rhode Island sources, you’ve probably heard that the Center for Medical Progress released a second undercover video showing a Planned Parenthood official negotiating prices for the sale of bodily organs from aborted babies.  This one is much more explicitly negotiating and jokes that she wants a Lamborghini.

A former Planned Parenthood clinic director (now pro-life) indicates that these aren’t just localized practices:

Abby Johnson wasn’t horrified by last week’s undercover video showing aPlanned Parenthood doctor describing over lunch and wine how to “crush” a fetus during an abortion to preserve the organs because she’s been there.

In her previous role as clinic director for a Planned Parenthood facility in East Texas, Ms. Johnson said part of her job was to sift through the aborted fetal tissue and organs, pack them in a container with dry ice, check the consent form and “ship them off.”

Johnson doesn’t believe that anything in the videos is technically illegal, given what she calls “loopholes.”  But that’s not really the point.  As Roman Catholic Bishop of Providence Thomas Tobin put it in a statement, it’s a “disgusting and depraved practice [that] should be condemned by everyone with a conscience.”  Legality does not determine morality, and Planned Parenthood’s activities are shocking.

On July 3, the Providence Journal had a front page story by Jennifer Bogdan on the politics of legislation that would have required more spacious coops for chickens.  I’m told WPRI did a TV report on the Planned Parenthood controversy, but site searches of every major news organization in Rhode Island (keyword “Planned Parenthood”) turn up no local stories.  I guess literally carving up pre-born children (some of them partially delivered using sonogram in order not to preserve the parts of them that are actually of value) doesn’t make the grade for the local media’s conscience.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

A Cost to the Pope’s Polls

At this year’s Portsmouth Institute conference, with the topic of Pope Francis, both Ross Douthat and John Carr mentioned the very strong, across-the-board favorability of Pope Francis in the United States.  As a central premise, of course, the leader of an organization driven by revelation and founded in the Word of God shouldn’t pay much attention to favorability polls, which are more appropriate to politics.  Still, with an eye toward being effective, no leader of any sort should dismiss the information if it’s available; the question is one of the weight it’s given on the decision-making scale.

In Douthat’s case, the New York Times columnist raised polling mainly by way of minimizing the significance of three groups of Catholics who were “unsettled” by the pope: Catholic traditionalists, politically and economically conservative Catholics, and socially conservative Catholics.  Carr raised the pope’s poll numbers to emphasize the huge potential for good could accompany Francis’s visit to the United States this autumn.  With such vast support, the pope would be better able to get across his message, and Catholics across the spectrum would presumably promote, reinforce, or at least not distract from it.

So what might it mean that Pope Francis’s approval ratings have taken a major hit in the past month?  According to Gallup, he’s still very popular in the United States, although his favorability among people who identify as conservatives has dropped from 72% last year to 45% now, and the drop was almost as substantial among Catholics as among non-Catholic Christians.

That said, in my running series of essays about the Portsmouth Institute presentations, I’m tracing what appears to be a subconscious concern that the pope might not be accurately assessing our point in history or his role in it.  Two problems that stand out, if such concerns are justified, are that the pope might play a role in hastening, rather than forestalling, a global crisis and that his intended message will be lost.

To oversimplify the first count, if the West is holding the world together by some remaining threads of actual economic and civic freedom, then attacking crony capitalism might advance the cause of corrupting socialism.  Thus a message that would be appropriate after a socialism-driven crash and shuffling of resources to a government-and-crony elite might push the world over the edge if what’s really happening is that the elite is using the pretense of solidarity in order to undermine its more-libertarian opposition.

On the second count, the more divided people are about the pope and his intentions, the less likely they will be to harken to his message of solidarity.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Assuming a Motivation for Vandalism

Why would somebody vandalize a Catholic church?  There are any number of reasons, from the political to the highly personal.  Be that as it may, for his Providence Journal article on an incident at Our Lady of the Rosary in Providence, Richard Salit has his answer scoped out, as summed up by whoever wrote the story’s lede: “Destruction in the heavily ethnic parish comes amid recent violence at other minority churches around the country.”

By ethnic, they mean Portuguese, which somehow leads Salit to make this part of a national mainstream media narrative about — what else? — racism:

The vandalism at the heavily ethnic congregation comes amid recent violence at other minority churches around the country, including the fatal shootings at the predominantly black Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and suspicious fires at other churches in the South since then.

It’s possible, of course, that some deluded racist cast his net of bigotry so wide as to catch ethnically European Catholics.  The fact that things were stolen, including a golden Rosary, also raises the possibility of an angry and desperate person just taking advantage of unlocked doors to get some cash.

Or, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s declaration that marriage must be redefined in a way conflicting with Catholic beliefs and the Providence bishop’s public stance encouraging conscientious objectors, the attack could have been part of the blossoming movement that has attempted to close down an Indiana pizza parlor for speculating about a hypothetical situation and to ruin the lives of a small bakery’s mom and pop in Oregon, among other things.

The perpetrator might have mixed all three — taking the ethnicity and the Catholicism as excuses to target the church for a theft at the core of his or her motivation.  Or perhaps there was something much more personal involved.

It will be interesting to see the path of the coverage as information comes in (if it does).  If racism was involved, we’ll be looking at another front page story, or more.  But what if the person who did this was a social justice warrior in the “civil rights struggle of our time” — namely, ensuring that nobody anywhere ever expresses doubts about the gay lifestyle?

rossdouthat-061915-featured

Thoughts on Ross Douthat’s Portsmouth Institute Speech and Pope Francis’s Role in a Divided Church (With Video)

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat expects divisions within the Roman Catholic Church to avoid coming to a head for many decades, but it will depend on Pope Francis’s understanding of his own role in the world and on whether Catholic progressives follow the path of American progressives in pushing fundamental transformation.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

U.S.A. Now the U.S.S.A.

The United States of America is no more.  Our experiment with representative democracy in a constitutional and federalist republic is finished, and it failed.  We are now the United States of Social Acceptance.

You are not free.  Everything you do must be explicitly or implicitly be approved by the government.  We’ve gone from the idea that the laws of the land draw narrow boundaries for government to the reality that laws and regulations draw the increasingly restrictive boundaries of what you are permitted to do.

The examples are everywhere proving that those who dominate our government see themselves as an authority over every personal interaction in the country.  One I spotted over the weekend while reading legislation from the General Assembly’s last week, and that was featured in the Providence Journal on Sunday, gives the government authority to judge whether employers are making reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees (and those who recently gave birth).  In the Senate, the bill is S0276 from Hannah Gallo (D, Cranston); in the House, it’s H5674 from Shelby Maldonado (D, Central Falls).

As it happens, I agree — as I’m sure most of us do — that an employer should make accommodations for such employees unless doing so causes “undue hardship.”  In such decisions, I agree that some of the relevant factors are “the nature and cost of the accommodation,” “the overall financial resources of the employer,” “the overall size of the business,” and “the effect on expenses and resources or the impact otherwise of such accommodation upon the operation of the employer.”

But in most cases, both the employee and the employer are adults.  It shouldn’t be up to me to decide whether the inconveniences to the employee outweigh the business needs of the employer, and it shouldn’t be up to the government, whether legislators, judges, or bureaucrats.

In the progressive mindset that dominates in Rhode Island and, increasingly, at the federal level, we are not adults.  We’re children who need some superauthority over our lives to whom we can run when we’re not happy with each other.  Whining ten-year-olds run to their parents when they think their peers have done something that isn’t “fair.”  Adults shouldn’t require the same condescension.