Saturday, November 28, 2009

Socialization gone too far?

As a parent, I spend time thinking about how to socialize my boys--teaching and training them. As part of that, I try to instill my own values in them, but, I think that I may have gone too far with Floyd, my third grader.

The other day, we were talking about his friends in class, and with one friend, Floyd declared that he like this friend, but he complained that his friend "just doesn't understand sarcasm." Yep, the apple didn't fall too far from the tree there.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Scientists' belief in God

Often critics of Christianity (and other religions) frame the issue as one of science vs. religion. However, it appears that about half of scientists belief in God. From an article in today's LA Times by a researcher at the Pew Foundation.

"According to a survey of members of the American Assn. for the Advancement of Science, conducted by the Pew Research Center in May and June this year, a majority of scientists (51%) say they believe in God or a higher power, while 41% say they do not.

Furthermore, scientists today are no less likely to believe in God than they were almost 100 years ago, when the scientific community was first polled on this issue."

To read the rest of it...

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Gold leaves reflected in water (pic)

I love photos of cool reflections in the water. This is a beaver dam in fall, with the sun hitting some maples-turning-yellow on the other bank. I think that I should have used a longer exposure, not sure...

Friday, November 20, 2009

Irv Piliavin

My graduate school advisor, Irv Piliavin, passed away on Thursday.

Irv shaped me as a sociologist in many ways. He had a mad-capped approach to the study of crime, poverty, and social psychology, and he was fearlessly creative in studying each topic. He's well known for conducting subway studies of altruism in which he (and his wife Jane) had a confederate fall down in need of assistance, and they recorded how many other passengers helped as a function of whether the confederate acted drunk as well. This helped us to understand the roll of deservingness in altruism.

Irv was also the first researcher to conduct a longitudinal study of homeless people. He designed a survey in which homeless people were interviewed at one point in time and then reinterviewed six months to a year later, allowing the researcher to use wave 1 measures to predict what happened to the homeless respondents by wave 2. This helped us to understand homelessness.

Irv also published various articles on control theories and rational choice analysis of crime, published in the best journals. This helped us to understand criminal behavior.

I did my Masters and Ph.D. with Irv on his homelessness research, and he was such a joy to work with and for. He has a mockingly-abrasive style with students that scared off some, but once you saw past it to the deeply caring man that he was, it was no problem. He held very high standards for his students, something that helped me greatly. I joined the sociology program as perhaps the most clueless student in Wisconsin's history, for I had never even had a sociology class or read a sociology book before enrolling in the Ph.D. program. (Don't ask what I was thinking.) Irv, over the years, moved me to being a real sociologist, for which I am so deeply grateful.

Some stories about Irv (and there are a lot of them):

When I turned in the first draft of my master's thesis, he returned it with a single comment on the front page--"This is neither accurate nor interesting." Though crushing at the time, the comment was right on, and that's been my research mantra since: Is this mostly accurate and interesting.

Another student, a year or two behind me in the program, started working with Irv, and during one research meeting, the new student admitted that he had not finished he work that Irv had given him. Irv just stared at him, then picked up the phone, and dialed the receptionist (actually pretended to dial), and said, "hello [administrator's name], cancel [this student's] funding." I was behind the student, chortling, but the student was panick stricken, until he heard me laughing.

After I finished my Ph.D., Irv and his wife Jane took Cathy and me out to dinner, and at the end of the meal, Irv announced that he would pay for me to to get a tattoo and so we went down the street and looked around a tattoo parlor. Thankfully I didn't, but he was ready.

I got to have breakfast with Irv and Jane last year at a conference, and it delighted my heart to see him again.

I, and many others, will miss him, and we're so much better off for having known him.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What? Another mean-spirited New Atheist?!

Richard Dawkins, apparently not wanting to be left behind by Christopher Hitchens hyperbole, takes his own shots at the Catholic Church:

"Rome is possibly "the greatest force for evil in the world," Dawkins announces, "a disgusting institution" that is "dragging its flowing skirts in the dirt and touting for business like a common pimp."

Ah, the sweet smell of religious bigotry.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Red leaves, curved trees (pic)

I happened to notice some very bright red leaves along the roadside, and so I lined it up with shapes and colors in the background (that are actually 40-50 feet back). I think that it works.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A remarkably mean-spirited comment by a New Atheist

Christopher Hitchens is one of the more prominent "New Atheists," and in a recent interview, here is his view on Mother Teresa:

"The woman was a fanatic and a fundamentalist and a fraud, and millions of people are much worse off because of her life, and it's a shame there is no hell for your bitch to go to."


Two thoughts about this.

1) I don't know Mr. Hitchens at all, but I'd be willing to bet that he himself does little-to-nothing to help the poor. Not because he's an atheist, but because our condemnations of others often reflect our own insecurities.

2) The New Atheists, as a group, face a dilemma. They've already gotten lots of mileage about saying that they don't believe in religion and that God doesn't exist, but that message is getting stale. If they are to be widely featured in the media, they need a new message. This provides incentive to become more and more inflammatory. Maybe denouncing Mother Teresa is becoming the atheists' version of Godwin's law of Nazi analogies?

Thanks Jeff!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Searching Gus' room

Well, I've had my suspicions, and so today, when Gus, my high school junior son, was at school, I searched his room, and sure enough I found it. He still has Halloween candy! Excellent (and I'm sure going to miss him when he goes off to college).

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Michael Hout on the religiously unaffiliated

Michael Hout has written some influential articles about the increase in the religiously unaffiliated in the 1990s. In particular, he's advanced an explanation that this increase resulted from conservative Christians' foray into partisan politics in the 1990s (e.g., Moral Majority, Christian Coalition). Here's an update of his work in this area, as summarized on the blog Immanent Frame.


Rethinking secularism:
Unchurched believers
posted by Michael Hout and Claude S. Fischer

In 2002 we reported that the fraction of American adults with no religious preference doubled from 7 to 14 percent during the 1990s. Data from this decade show that the trend away from organized religion continues, albeit at a slower pace. Our analysis of the entire time series, presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in 2009, led us to the conclusion that the trend probably started earlier than we had thought—probably around 1985, 1986, or 1987—and that our previous estimate of the rate of change was, consequently, too high.

Click here for the rest of the article

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Megachurch... the movie

My friend Scott Thumma is prominently featured in this movie about mega-churches. Though he's a humble research professor at Hartford Seminary by day, by night he's a movie star. Here's the trailer for it.