In "Marci Hamilton on the Ten Commandments case before SCOTUS."

arch1: try SCOTUSblog, if you scroll down the page you will find quite a lot of links to news reports and opinion pieces.

In "Wal-Mart and Gnosticism."

Gnosticism failed because it was elitist. A religion that claims to offer secret knowledge to a small group of privileged insiders is never going to conquer the world. The essence of gnosticism is its belief that most people are idiots. Our modern-day gnostics are the tinfoil-hat brigade who believe in a secret conspiracy that ordinary people are too stupid to perceive.

In "In 1991 a new species was named."

I first learned about Henrietta Lacks from this article by Anne Enright, What's left of Henrietta Lacks? Well worth reading.

In "Curious George: Office Politics for Dummies"

This sounds eerily familiar. I was in a very similar situation myself, several years ago. It ended badly -- but that was at least partly my own fault. Your friend should NOT do anything that could be interpreted as 'going over her boss's head'. (That was exactly what I did, and it was disastrous. My boss felt that his authority was being challenged -- the higher-ups were annoyed at having to waste their time clearing the whole matter up -- and I got blamed.) She should resist the temptation to fire off self-justifying e-mails in all directions. She should stay calm, and wait for the meeting tomorrow to find out which way the wind is blowing. In the meantime, she should try not to lose any sleep over it. As the new person in the department, she can reasonably claim that any mistake she made was the result of inexperience. Fes's advice is exactly right -- fix it, apologise and move on. A week is a long time in (office) politics, and she may find that this crisis is resolved and forgotten surprisingly quickly. "Worse things happen at sea", as my granny used to say.

In "Princess Michael of Kent"

I guess as a question to the British and others, do you ever feel like the top spots on the ladder are taken? Yes and no. Yes, in that there is a lot of social inequality in Britain, and the odds are heavily stacked against the poor and underprivileged. No, in that this doesn't have much to do with the Royal Family. Abolishing the monarchy, and turning Britain into a republic, would not go far towards abolishing social inequality. Raising the higher rate of income tax, and introducing a genuinely comprehensive system of education, would go a great deal further. I once met a very intelligent American PhD student who questioned me very closely about the role of the monarchy in British society. "If you met the Queen, you'd have to kneel down to her, right? And if she said to you, 'give me all your money', you'd have to give her all your money, right? And if she said to you, 'take this gun and shoot yourself', you'd have to shoot yourself, right?" I tried to explain that this wasn't really the way things worked in Britain, but I don't think he was convinced. As for Princess Michael of Kent .. in my experience, the people who really loathe her are the diehard monarchists, because they perceive her as a "stuck-up foreigner" who lowers the tone of the "real" Royal Family. All nonsense of course, but it makes the point that attitudes to the Royal Family are a good deal more complex than you might think. It isn't just a simple division between conservative supporters and radical opponents of the Royal Family. In many ways, the proposal to abolish the monarchy is not particularly radical at all -- and a Marxist might well say that it was a classic ruse to distract public attention away from where the real power and influence lies.

In "Holy Monkey:"

I like the Ash Wednesday service because, at one level, it has very little to do with Christianity at all. It's about dirt and death, expressed through the primitive symbolism of the ash mark on the forehead. To have this -- as I did tonight -- against a background of Bach, Byrd and Tallis is a profoundly unsettling experience .. webs of polyphony spun over an abyss .. I don't have the words to describe it. I don't think it is a bad thing to contemplate one's own mortality once in a while.

In "Curious frustrated George"

According to some theories of child development, seven is the age when children are just beginning to figure out logical thinking. (Piaget calls this 'the period of concrete operations'.) So it's not too surprising to find your seven-year-old nephew trying to solve some of the logical problems created by his religious upbringing. From what you say, it sounds as though he is genuinely concerned for your welfare. He knows that you are a decent and kind person, but he is aware that you don't go to church, and he has noticed that you get uncomfortable when asked about your religious beliefs. He is afraid that God will be angry with you. He doesn't want anything bad to happen to you, and he is trying to protect you. (But of course, being a seven-year-old, he is expressing all this in a very immature way, without fully understanding your own feelings and emotions.) Here are a few things that it may be helpful to bear in mind: 1. Don't assume that this is all about you. It may be a very indirect way of asking you for guidance about a problem that is worrying him. 2. Don't think of this as 'misbehaviour'. It is the normal behaviour of a bright seven-year-old trying to figure things out for himself. 3. Try to take him seriously, and answer his questions as honestly and thoughtfully as you can. There is a huge literature on the psychology of religious development in children, some of which can be Googled quite easily and might be of help to you. One theory holds that children go through the following stages: (1) thinking that God is all-powerful, (2) thinking that God can be bargained with, (3) thinking that God is 'up there' and doesn't interfere in day-to-day affairs, (4) thinking of God in more metaphysical terms. See this article for a few more details. You may not agree with any of these theories, but the basic point is important:-- a seven-year-old's idea of God is not, by any means, the same thing as an adult's idea of God. One further piece of advice: 4. Try not to treat this as a disciplinary matter. Do you really want him to get the idea that he will be punished or disciplined if he shows any inquisitiveness about religion? Do you really want him to associate religion with silence and repression?

In "Domina mea exstat a tergo!"

flashboy: fear not, languagehat has already bestowed his seal of approval.

In "The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience. "

To all you people claiming that religion is better than its adherents, I ask: how else can we find out what a religion is about except by studying what its adherents say and do? But surely a religion should stand or fall by the credibility of its truth-claims, not by the behaviour of its adherents?

In "People need to know more historical demography."

Okay, jb, I'll bite. I agree with you that Western European society has, historically, been characterised by late marriage and low fertility rates. However, I am not so sure I agree with you when you say that it's all about "a long-term shifting pattern in age of marriage, which goes up slightly when the economy is not easy to establish a household in, and then drops slightly when it is". You are suggesting that, in this respect, there is a basic continuity in Western society stretching back for at least the last five hundred years. I'm not so sure -- and I think that a glance at the social and cultural factors affecting the age of marriage will very soon show that there are profound discontinuities running across this period. To put the matter in a nutshell -- the reasons why young people in (say) 1550 or 1650 tended to delay marriage until their mid-to-late twenties, and the reasons why young people today often delay marriage until their mid-to-late twenties, are so profoundly different that it hardly makes sense to consider them as part of the same phenomenon. Some examples: (i) In early modern England, the poor relief system meant that if couples got married before they could support an independent household, their children were likely to represent a direct financial burden on their neighbours. The result was that there were very strong social pressures discouraging young men from marrying, cohabiting or having sex until they were financially capable of supporting themselves and their offspring. (ii) In early modern France, the system of primogeniture gave fathers a great deal of economic leverage over their children. In other words, it was extremely difficult for young men to get married without their fathers' permission. The result was that they often continued to live in their parents' house after they reached adulthood and even, in many cases, after they got married. Clearly, these conditions no longer apply today. One might generalise as follows: -- that in early modern Europe, young people may have wanted to get married early, but social and economic pressures compelled them to wait; whereas today, young people often don't want to get married early, even if they have the freedom to do so. (Yes, I know this is an enormous over-simplification, but I think there is some truth in it.) The end result is the same -- and hence the headline figures for average age of marriage may seem to present a deceptive continuity -- but the underlying causes are totally different. You are absolutely right that the Time Magazine article is massively lacking in historical awareness. All the same, I am prepared to argue that they have identified a significant contemporary trend, even if they have no idea how to interpret it.

In "Victor Yushchenko was NOT poisoned"

Nostrildamus, some doubts have been cast on the credentials of the site you linked to: was not a leftwing site opposing the Kosovo war. it was a rightwing site set up to oppose the Kosovo intervention in 1999. Its 'editorial director' was a man called Justin Raimondo who was active in the small US Libertarian party before joining the Republican party. In the 1992, 1996 and 2000 elections he supported the campaigns of Pat Buchanan, the far-right isolationist candidate.

In "Enclosures"

This is a great idea, though the exhibits posted so far are (dare I say it) slightly boring. It'll be more fun when he's found more things to add. When I lived in London and used to go to secondhand book fairs, there was a man who used to go round the stalls asking all the dealers if they'd found any bus tickets inside their books. Eventually he gave up asking everyone individually, and just marched up and down the aisles chanting "buuustickets, buuustickets, buuustickets". I never saw anyone give him any bus tickets. Once I actually did find a bus ticket inside a book, and the thought crossed my mind: "shall I bring it along to the next book fair and give it to that bus-tickets guy?" Then I thought "no" and threw the bus ticket in the bin. And now I've confessed it, and now Bus Tickets Guy will probably come to my house and strangle me with a long roll of bus-ticket tape.

In "Antony Flew, "negative atheist," responds to Internet rumors that he's found God."

My question now is who the hell cares so much Well, you posted the link. Nobody gives a good rat's ass about this aging philosopher Yeah, right, cos Antony Flew is, like, 81 or something, and that's like, really really old, and being old is, like, soooo uncool. Flew says his whole life has been guided by the Socratic principle, 'follow the evidence wherever it leads'. That sounds like a pretty good motto to me, but I can see why some people might feel threatened by it.

In "Ooops I Forgot to Have a Baby!"

Dear beeza, I'm not trying to pick a quarrel with you, I just wish you would read what I actually wrote, instead of taking issue with things I never said. To have someone with a child tell me I am somehow less of a human for not wanting/having a child is insulting. I agree, it is deeply insulting. But I never said it. To argue that is the only way to learn about nature vs nurture, evolution of language, behaviour, is absurd. I agree, it is absurd. But I never said it. Your further elaboration didn't convince me about what you meant vs what you wrote. Please pay me the compliment of believing that I do actually mean what I say. I will pay you the same compliment in return. I'm afraid this illustrates what I find most frustrating about Internet discussions: that there are, apparently, many highly intelligent, articulate and eloquent people who are wholly incapable of careful reading or logical reasoning. SideDish: I'm glad you find this a well-reasoned and kind-hearted thread, but having been told that I'm a rude and arrogant asshole, and that my opinions are horseshit, I must beg to differ. (Yes, I know, this is mild by Internet standards, but I still think it is uncharitable, and it will certainly make me hesitate before participating in a MoFi discussion again.) This thread has been an eye-opener for me. There are clearly many people for whom this is a deeply painful and emotive subject -- and who simply cannot believe that it is possible for me to affirm the value of childraising without seeking to relegate childless people to the status of second-class citizens. I find this attitude almost incomprehensible, but I have to accept that it exists. I can only repeat what I said before, that the 'two tribes' mentality -- which draws a clear line of demarcation between people with children and people without -- is a deeply unhealthy one, no matter which side of the divide you happen to be standing on.

(kmellis: thanks for seeing the point. Is there a name for this particular fallacy? -- I mean, the "a implies b, therefore not-a implies not-b" fallacy? I suppose the classic example would be "having a lot of money makes people happy, therefore people can't be happy unless they have a lot of money". But the fallacy here is the same: "having a baby teaches you what it is to be human, therefore you can't know what it is to be human unless you have a baby". It's not the fallacy of the undistributed middle, is it? -- or is it?)

beeza, goofyfoot, Alnedra: I'm afraid you've misunderstood my meaning. Is it really so hard to understand? Let me try again. What I said was that having a baby teaches you what it is to be human. Of course that does not mean that childless people are necessarily less than human; that would be absurd. (You may have noticed, if you bothered to read my comment through to the end, that I singled out a childless gay man, Daniel Mendelsohn, for particular praise.) But this I do believe: that if you have never spent much time in the company of small children -- whether your own children, or your siblings, or other people's children -- then your understanding of humanity will be incomplete. If you find that upsetting, then I'm sorry, but I can't help it; I believe it with all my heart. I am not suggesting that having children makes you a morally superior being; again, that would be absurd. But I don't think it is possible to remain untouched by the experience of watching a small child learning to express emotion, learning to talk, learning to read. It forces you to reconsider many of your deepest assumptions -- about language, about character, about behaviour, about the nature/nurture debate. And that reconsideration can -- if you allow it to -- flow into your moral life, and affect your moral judgements. It could be argued that in modern Western society, having children has replaced marriage/cohabitation as the principal rite de passage marking the transition from youth to adulthood (or, if you prefer, from youth to middle age). This has a number of unfortunate consequences. One consequence can be seen in discussions like this -- where people tend to feel that there is a vast gulf separating those with children from those without, almost as if they belonged to two separate tribes. Another consequence is that childless people often have very little contact with children; it is possible, to an extent which would have astonished people in earlier centuries, to live your adult life and hardly ever meet a child. That is a loss; and perhaps we, as a society, need to be more aware of it.

SideDish, please can we be friends? I don't think I assume or presume any of the things you think I assume or presume. In fact I don't think we really disagree. It wasn't you I was aiming at; it was Medusa and Debaser whose comments seemed to me to be lacking in the milk of human kindness. But now that I have read my daughter a bedtime story, tucked her up in bed, gone downstairs and poured myself a gin-and-tonic, I feel at peace with the entire world. *flings arms round SideDish, spills gin-and-tonic on carpet*

Sorry, my last comment was accidentally truncated. It should begin: 'SideDish, I'm sorry if I infuriated you ..'

5{m sorry if I infuriated you, but I stand by my previous comment. It's not a question of having children vs. not having children -- but if you have never spent much time in the company of the very young, then a whole dimension of human experience will be closed to you. If you have never spent much time in the company of the very old, then I would say exactly the same.

I personally find the desire to have children UTTERLY foreign, incomprehensible and sickening, but I keep my big mouth shut around my friends/family who have kids or plan to spawn. by no means do I think that people who want/have children are evil or misguided or anything like that. Just keep 'em away from me as much as possible Comfortable with those comments? Well, let's try a little substitution, shall we? I personally find the thought of two men having sex with each other UTTERLY foreign, incomprehensible and sickening, but I keep my big mouth shut around any of my friends/family who might be shirt-lifters .. by no means do I think that gay men are evil or misguided or anything like that. Just keep 'em away from me as much as possible .. Happy with that? Let's face it, this is prejudice, and equally unacceptable whether directed against 'breeders' or gays or any other group that the speaker happens to dislike. What is particularly offensive is the assumption, on the part of the prejudiced person, that the rest of us should be grateful to them for their tolerance in not parading their prejudice in public. I don't want to prolong this ill-tempered discussion, but I think it's a pity that no one, so far, has tried to explain why having a child is worthwhile. It is worthwhile not simply because it contributes to the survival of the human race, or because it contributes another productive pair of hands to the economy. It is worthwhile because it deepens your capacity for love. Because it gives you the awesome responsibility of looking after an utterly helpless and dependent person, and somehow, miraculously, enables you to find new resources within yourself, resources you never knew you had, in order to bear that responsibility. Because it forces you to look -- really look -- at another human being, and pay them your full attention. Because it is astonishing to watch the development of language in a child. Because it is humbling to be the recipient of a child's unconditional love. Because it teaches you what it is to be human. Daniel Mendelsohn puts this better than I can in his remarkable book The Elusive Embrace, which I strongly recommend: Everything in the world is new to a baby, and because you have to explain everything to a child, it all becomes new to you, too. Babies force you to confront the most basic things -- things you're likely to have taken more or less for granted most of your adult life, things like the moon or a door -- and make you really see them again. In so doing, they also make you into authors: things only live and become real in your descriptions of them. This is a baby's gift to you. Even when I am at home, alone at night, in my apartment in New York, I find myself looking out the window, scanning the sky for the moon's familiar face. (I should add that Mendelsohn is a childless gay man, writing here about his godchild. I think he displays a sympathy and sensitivity which puts to shame some of the ignorant comments in this thread.)

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