Man of the Year

Time Magazine has announced that its Person of the Year for 2010 is Mark Zuckerberg , the founder of Facebook.  And why not?  He had a good year, as his online nation reached 500 million members and he had an movie made about him that is getting Oscar buzz.

Do you think he deserves the honor?  Who would you nominate for Person of the Year?

Civil unions replacing marriage

Gays want to get married while straight couples want to have civil unions.   In France, the latter newly-invented institution has become a sort of marriage-lite, a temporary marriage without the threat of alimony or child support.  Though designed to accommodate gays, most civil unions in France are being entered into by heterosexual couples.  From the New York Times:

Some are divorced and disenchanted with marriage; others are young couples ideologically opposed to marriage, but eager to lighten their tax burdens. Many are lovers not quite ready for old-fashioned matrimony.

Whatever their reasons, and they vary widely, French couples are increasingly shunning traditional marriages and opting instead for civil unions, to the point that there are now two civil unions for every three marriages.

When France created its system of civil unions in 1999, it was heralded as a revolution in gay rights, a relationship almost like marriage, but not quite. No one, though, anticipated how many couples would make use of the new law. Nor was it predicted that by 2009, the overwhelming majority of civil unions would be between straight couples.

It remains unclear whether the idea of a civil union, called a pacte civil de solidarité, or PACS, has responded to a shift in social attitudes or caused one. But it has proved remarkably well suited to France and its particularities about marriage, divorce, religion and taxes — and it can be dissolved with just a registered letter.

“We’re the generation of divorced parents,” explained Maud Hugot, 32, an aide at the Health Ministry who signed a PACS with her girlfriend, Nathalie Mondot, 33, this year. Expressing a view that researchers say is becoming commonplace among same-sex couples and heterosexuals alike, she added, “The notion of eternal marriage has grown obsolete.”

via In France, Civil Unions Gain Favor Over Marriage – NYTimes.com.

How words are invented

We had an interesting discussion about the post a few days ago about how the blind Puritan poet John Milton contributed more new words to the English language than anyone else.  Some people asked questions along the line of “how come he can make up new words and I can’t?”  Or “how come he can use words as different parts of speech and my mean old English teacher marked me down every time I tried it?”  It was also observed that new words are entering the English language all the time.  I realized that the process of coming up with new words is not generally understood.  So I will put on my English professor hat and explain. . . .

First of all, there needs to be a need for a new word, a “semantic space” in the language that needs to be filled.  Let’s use some of Milton’s words as examples.  His day, like ours, had a lot of “worship wars” in the Church of England.  The word “liturgy” existed.  But, earlier, that was pretty much the only kind of worship there was.  There was a need for an adjectival form of that word to distinguish that type of worship from the alternatives.  So Milton turned the existing noun into an adjective by adding a Latin adjectival ending.  Hence a new word that we use today in our own worship wars:  “liturgical.”

An even better, because more poetic, example:  The new Copernican cosmology meant that the earth and the planets spin around in a vast void.  In Paradise Lost, Milton needed to write about Satan flying to earth.  Dante in the Middle Ages had imagined Hell as existing in the center of the earth.  Milton imagines it more like another planet.  The word “space” existed to refer to expanse, area, extent.  Milton took that word and made it refer to the realm beyond earth’s atmosphere.  Satan flew through “space.”  What great poetry!  Imagine hearing that poetic image for the first time.  But now we have a new word, one that names something that was nameless before.

This process still continues.  New inventions require new words.  Like Milton, we to this day tend to go back to the classical languages for help in coining them.   “Computer” is from the Latin.  “Telephone” and “Television” are from the Greek.  (This is why it is so helpful to learn Latin.  You can decode just about any English “hard word.”) “Internet” combines a venerable English word “net,” associated with the already metaphorical “network,” to describe poetically a complex set of interconnections.   Then was added the Latin preposition “inter.”  Voila.  We have a new word.  “Facebook” combines two existing words into a new one.  “Google” takes a whimsical name for a really big number for a company, and then it was morphed into a verb.

It isn’t always clear who the mute inglorious Miltons were (name that allusion) who first came up with the new words that come into existence today.  But the process goes back to Adam:  God brought creatures to Adam, whereupon he named them.

Raising children so they will go to church as adults

This has been out for awhile, but I just came across it in the course of some research.   Basically, if fathers go to church, their children will when they grow up.  If fathers don’t, even if the mothers do, the children won’t.

In 1994 the Swiss carried out an extra survey that the researchers for our masters in Europe (I write from England) were happy to record. The question was asked to determine whether a person’s religion carried through to the next generation, and if so, why, or if not, why not. The result is dynamite. There is one critical factor. It is overwhelming, and it is this: It is the religious practice of the father of the family that, above all, determines the future attendance at or absence from church of the children.

If both father and mother attend regularly, 33 percent of their children will end up as regular churchgoers, and 41 percent will end up attending irregularly. Only a quarter of their children will end up not practicing at all. If the father is irregular and mother regular, only 3 percent of the children will subsequently become regulars themselves, while a further 59 percent will become irregulars. Thirty-eight percent will be lost.

If the father is non-practicing and mother regular, only 2 percent of children will become regular worshippers, and 37 percent will attend irregularly. Over 60 percent of their children will be lost completely to the church.

Let us look at the figures the other way round. What happens if the father is regular but the mother irregular or non-practicing? Extraordinarily, the percentage of children becoming regular goes up from 33 percent to 38 percent with the irregular mother and to 44 percent with the non-practicing, as if loyalty to father’s commitment grows in proportion to mother’s laxity, indifference, or hostility.

Before mothers despair, there is some consolation for faithful moms. Where the mother is less regular than the father but attends occasionally, her presence ensures that only a quarter of her children will never attend at all.

Even when the father is an irregular attender there are some extraordinary effects. An irregular father and a non-practicing mother will yield 25 percent of their children as regular attenders in their future life and a further 23 percent as irregulars. This is twelve times the yield where the roles are reversed.

Where neither parent practices, to nobody’s very great surprise, only 4 percent of children will become regular attenders and 15 percent irregulars. Eighty percent will be lost to the faith.

While mother’s regularity, on its own, has scarcely any long-term effect on children’s regularity (except the marginally negative one it has in some circumstances), it does help prevent children from drifting away entirely. Faithful mothers produce irregular attenders. Non-practicing mothers change the irregulars into non-attenders. But mothers have even their beneficial influence only in complementarity with the practice of the father.

In short, if a father does not go to church, no matter how faithful his wife’s devotions, only one child in 50 will become a regular worshipper. If a father does go regularly, regardless of the practice of the mother, between two-thirds and three-quarters of their children will become churchgoers (regular and irregular). If a father goes but irregularly to church, regardless of his wife’s devotion, between a half and two-thirds of their offspring will find themselves coming to church regularly or occasionally.

A non-practicing mother with a regular father will see a minimum of two-thirds of her children ending up at church. In contrast, a non-practicing father with a regular mother will see two-thirds of his children never darken the church door. If his wife is similarly negligent that figure rises to 80 percent!

via Touchstone Archives: The Truth About Men & Church.

Yes, this is a study of Switzerland, which has many cultural differences from the United States.  In Europe, women have been taking the lead in church-going, and this may explain the relatively sudden secularization of that once-Christian continent.  The study is from 1994.  Still, the results are fascinating.  In your experience, do you think the study applies here?

It may be that the Lord has made it easy for fathers to carry out their calling to bring their children up in the instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).  All you’ve got to do, dads, is take your kids to church.  Can you do that?

Laws that expire

Philip K. Howard argues that many of our national problems are the result of too many laws, which go back for generations and that gum up our ability to respond to current conditions.  He argues that we need a “sunset provision” that makes all laws expire eventually, requiring that the legislature periodically revisit them:

Once a law is in place in the United States, it’s almost impossible to dislodge. Our political class assumes that, after a law is forged in the crucible of democracy, it should be honored as if it’s one of the Ten Commandments – except it’s more like one of 10 million.

We even have a hard time modifying laws that were explicitly designed to be temporary. Just look at the current battle over the Bush-era tax cuts.

Having that debate at all is unusual. Once enacted, most laws are ignored for generations, allowed to take on a life of their own without meaningful review. Decade after decade, they pile up like sediment in a harbor, bogging the country down – in dense regulation, unaffordable health care, and higher taxes and public debt.

A healthy democracy must make fresh choices. This requires not mindless deregulation but continual adjustment of laws. Congress could take on this responsibility if it followed a simple proposal: Every law should automatically expire after 10 or 15 years. Such a universal sunset provision would force Congress and the president to justify the status quo and give political reformers an opening to reexamine trade-offs and public priorities.

via To cut the deficit, get rid of our surplus of laws.

He goes on to show how outdated laws contribute to the deficit, complicate health care, and hurt business.

The idea seems to have merit, and yet what legislature would have time to reconsider the whole record of national legislation every ten years or so?

Court strikes down Obamacare

A federal judge ruled that the government cannot compel citizens to buy a particular product, striking down the key feature of the health care reform bill, which forces everyone to buy insurance.

The Obama administration’s requirement that most citizens maintain minimum health coverage as part of a broad overhaul of the industry is unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled, striking down the linchpin of the plan.

U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson in Richmond, Virginia, today said that the requirement in President Barack Obama’s health-care legislation goes beyond Congress’s powers to regulate interstate commerce. While severing the coverage mandate, which is set to become effective in 2014, Hudson didn’t address other provisions such as expanding Medicaid.

“At its core, this dispute is not simply about regulating the business of insurance — or crafting a scheme of universal health insurance coverage — it’s about an individual’s right to choose to participate,” wrote Hudson, who was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2002.

The ruling is the government’s first loss in a series of challenges to the law mounted in federal courts in Virginia, Michigan and Florida, where 20 states have joined an effort to have the statute thrown out.

Constitutional scholars said unless Congress changes the law, its fate on appeal will probably be determined by the U.S. Supreme Court.

via U.S. Health-Care Law Requirement Thrown Out by Judge Update4 – Bloomberg.

You may recall that we talked about this on this blog, the difficulty of  the health care reform bill passing constitutional muster.  As someone said, it may have been in the national interest to preserve the U.S. auto industry, but that doesn’t mean the government has the authority to make every American buy a Chevy.


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