April 18, 2007

Muslim Integration in Britain

Filed under: culture, education, religion, research — ted @ 11:51 am

On the Foreign Policy website, you can read a fascinating collection of survey data about the attitudes of London Muslims compared to the British public at large. As the commentary notes,

A 2006 Pew poll of the British public found that British Muslims, when asked to cite the source of their primary identity, overwhelmingly chose their faith, while the majority of the British public chose their country. The finding set off alarm bells in a nervous Britain still reeling from the 7/7 attacks and was widely cited as proof that the country suffers from a crisis of integration.

The chart looks like this:

This comes as no surprise: the British public, largely secular and post-Christian, does not suffer from the conflict of interest between religion and state (God and Caesar, as Christ put it). What is surprising is that this does not prevent British Muslims from identifying themselves as Brits and as Muslims:

This is most fascinating, and, from my perspective, a cause for optimism, especially when coupled with this chart:

British Muslims strongly believe that getting a good education and becoming involved in public life are the most important aspects of integrating. Presumably, following survey data with which we’re all familiar, as the Muslim public becomes better educated and more fully integrated into a post-religious society, they will become less attached to their faith, and perhaps even just as tolerant and cosmopolitan as those 78% of Brits who don’t think becoming less religious is important…


March 14, 2007

Now everyone knows

Filed under: culture, education, music — ted @ 1:12 pm

In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Washington College dean Christopher Ames takes a higher view of American Idol:

We might think that Americans are eager to celebrate talented young people who can thumb their noses at the older generation and thus exorcise the lingering resentment so many harbor from being graded and evaluated in the classroom. But what American Idol reveals instead is a veritable hunger for realistic evaluation. Time and time again, contestants in the early episodes of this year’s season whine obviously off key and then insist they are highly talented — in spite of the judges’ protestations. Most of those kids have not learned how to sing, but they have mastered the self-esteem and “attitude” so valued in our culture. The persistent dynamic of these episodes is expertise putting down untalented braggadocio.

March 5, 2007

On Oprah

Filed under: criticism, culture, education — ted @ 1:08 pm

Essential reading in Salon: Peter Birkenhead on Oprah’s ugly secret

Has Oprah ever done anything that didn’t leave people with mixed feelings?

And at what point do we stop feeling like we have to take the good with the craven when it comes to Oprah, and the culture she’s helped to create? I get nauseated when I think of people in South Africa being taught they don’t have enough money because they’re “blocking it with their thoughts.” I’m already sickened by an American culture that teaches people, as “The Secret” does, that they “create the circumstances of their lives with the choices they make every day,” a culture that elected a president who cried tears of self-congratulation at his inauguration, rejects intellectualism, and believes he can intuit the trustworthiness of world leaders by looking into their eyes. I’m sickened by a culture in which the tenets of the Oprah philosophy have become conventional wisdom, in which genuine self-actualization has been confused with self-aggrandizement, reality is whatever you want it to be, and mammon is queen.

There’s no doubt that Oprah’s doing a lot of good with her South African project, and with many other charitable works. And yeah, I know, her book club “gets people to read,” and yadda yadda yadda. But there’s also no doubt that a lot of us have been making forgiving disclaimers like that about Oprah for years. And that maybe they amount to trains-running-on-time arguments. Maybe it’s time to stop. After reading “The Secret,” it seemed to me that there were basically three possibilities: 1) Oprah really believes this stuff, and we should be very worried about her opening a school for anyone. 2) Oprah doesn’t believe this stuff and we should be very, very worried about her opening a school for anyone. 3) Oprah doesn’t know that any of this stuff is in the book or on her Web site and in a perfect world she wouldn’t be allowed to open a school for anyone.

February 23, 2007

Thou Shalt Not Meddle

Filed under: culture, politics, religion, research — ted @ 4:52 pm

A new Gallup poll indicates that most Americans who identify themselves as “religious” are “content to be personally religious or do individual conversion attempts.”

Recently collected Gallup Poll data suggest that most highly religious Americans either believe that they can be personally religious without needing to spread their beliefs, or that they can best spread their beliefs by converting others to their religion. Only a small percentage of highly religious Americans — 15% — believe the best way to spread their religion is to change society to conform to their religious beliefs.

Bottom Line

The majority of highly religious Americans believe that they do not need to change the society around them to conform to their religious beliefs, but instead can live the best possible personal religious life, or focus on one-on-one conversion.

This is Helpful (?)

Filed under: culture, politics — ted @ 11:37 am

A Politically Correct Lexicon

GLBT: Shorthand for GLBTQ2IA.

GLBTQ2IA: The acronym for Gay, Lesbian, Bi, Transgendered, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Allies. “This is coming from the youth movement, the college campuses, it has not seeped into the whole community at this point,” says Baim, who at the Windy City Times uses GLBT, an acronym the New York Times has not yet seen fit to print.

Guys: Very controversial. Used, especially in the Midwest, when referring to a group of people. “In Chicago that word gets used a lot,” says Hill. And Baim says, “I use it all of the time.” Some feminists, like Andi Zeisler, the editor of Bitch, find “guys” problematic. “We assume the descriptor ‘guys’ denotes a quality of universality,” she says. “It would be hard to imagine a group of men being addressed by their server as ‘hey you gals’ and not taking offense, but the reverse happens all the time.”

Hir (hirs): Gender neutral for him and her. At Wesleyan University, incoming freshmen are instructed to use gender-neutral pronouns in campus correspondence. As one person wrote on the university’s online Anonymous Confession Board, “I am usually attracted only to people of hir original gender, rather than hir intended gender. As such, I’m afraid that I’m, like, viewing hir wrong, or not respecting hir wishes or something.”

February 20, 2007

Good Thing No Atheists Are Running for President

Filed under: culture, politics, religion, research — ted @ 5:21 pm

Because they wouldn’t have a chance.

The results of this Gallup poll indicate that Americans would be more willing to vote for a homosexual president than an atheist.

The poll was mainly meant to feel out the stigmas attached to Presidential hopefuls: Hilary the woman, Obama the black man, Giuliani the divorcee, McCain the old man, etc. As far as I know, no heretics or gays are serious candidates.

February 13, 2007

You’re Actually Not That Smart

Filed under: culture — ted @ 2:13 pm

An interesting article in New York magazine suggests that persistently telling kids that they’re smart — even when they clearly are — could actually have a negative effect on their schoolwork and intellectual growth. Citing the studies of psychologist Carol Dweck, the article explains how students who were told they “must have worked hard” to do well on a test scored better on subsequent tests that students who were told their success was due to their being “smart”

Dweck had suspected that praise could backfire, but even she was surprised by the magnitude of the effect. “Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable that they can control,” she explains. “They come to see themselves as in control of their success. Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child’s control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure.”

In follow-up interviews, Dweck discovered that those who think that innate intelligence is the key to success begin to discount the importance of effort. I am smart, the kids’ reasoning goes; I don’t need to put out effort. Expending effort becomes stigmatized — it’s public proof that you can’t cut it on your natural gifts.

November 21, 2006


Filed under: culture, photos — ted @ 12:08 pm

This collection of “The Most Famous Photographs” is a wealthy resource. Incredible how much force many of them have, despite their familiarity.

November 14, 2006

Ben Franklin was Wrong

Filed under: culture, religion — ted @ 10:24 pm

A firecracker of an article in Skeptic magazine puts forth the possibility that religion, far from being a positive factor in the health of a society, may actually be detrimental. This is, of course, contrary to popular wisdom — especially here in America, as expressed by Benjamin Franklin: “religion will be a powerful regulator of our actions, give us peace and tranquility within our minds, and render us benevolent, useful and beneficial to others.”

The piece summarizes a recent study in the Journal of Religion & Society, which revealed the following:

“The most theistic prosperous democracy, the U.S., is exceptional, but not in the manner Franklin predicted. The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developed democracies, sometimes spectacularly so, and almost always scores poorly.” This deviates immensely from what most Americans consider to be common wisdom: that religion is beneficial. “But in the other developed democracies religiosity continues to decline precipitously and avowed atheists often win high office, even as clergies warn about adverse societal consequences if a revival of creator belief does not occur.”

Proving that religion does not have an overall positive effect on societal health is not likely to convince a believer that religion is a detriment, since it is a matter of personal belief and meaning (etc) not a social program. The data are impressive, but drawing a conclusion is not really possible:

The question is one of causation, and there is no clear answer. Whether religion leads directly to dysfunctionality, or religions merely flourish in dysfunctional societies, neither conclusion from this study flatters religion. The first tells us that religion is a hindrance to the development of moral character, and the second that religion hinders progress by distracting us from our troubles (with imaginary solutions to real problems). This study is complicated enough that I do not think that we can draw definitive negative conclusions about religion. But we can at least conclude, contrary to popular belief in this country, that it is not a given that religious societies are better, healthier, or more moral. What we can be clear about from this study is that highly religious societies can be dysfunctional, whereas by comparison secular societies in which evolution is largely accepted display real social cohesion and societal well-being. As is always the case in science, more data and additional research will help clarify our conclusions.

November 9, 2006

Mass Criticism

Filed under: culture — ted @ 10:51 am

An article in this week’s New Yorker, “Holy Rollers,” concerns the plight of the New York city bicycler. The article focuses mainly on the Critical Mass meetings which occur on the last Friday of every month.

The article was rather condescending, but true to reality in its depiction of the “typical” Critical Mass rider. Anarchists are not typically treated with impartiality in the mainstream press, and I’m sure they like it that way. The author, Ben McGrath, seemed to relish the conflicts between policeman and cyclers that Critical Mass creates. Here’s a fun snippet:

I introduced myself to the masked man and asked his name. “NYMAAN,” he said, pointing to his cape, which was adorned with the words “New York Metro Anarchist Alliance.” He added, “I am an idea, not a person.” (His outfit advertised a Web site that features the heading “Notes from the global intifada.”) He rang the bell on his handlebar a couple of times, and began rolling his front tire back and forth. “You know what this means, right? I’m starting to get itchy.”

A tall, middle-aged man with a striking blond mane approached on foot. “Hallelujah, the Devil!” he said, pointing at the caped biker. “I knew I’d meet the Devil eventually.”

“No, I’m NYMAAN,” the biker said.

The blond man was Bill Talen, a performance artist who goes by the name Reverend Billy and calls his congregation the Church of Stop Shopping. “One time, I was arrested at a Buy Nothing Day Parade,” he said, recalling a distant Friday evening. “We went in and exorcised a Starbucks cash register, and, sure enough, I got thrown in the holding tank at Fifty-fourth Street. And the cops that arrested me were really upset that they were missing this.” He opened his arms and turned, as though surveying his parish. “And I felt their erotic love of harassing the bicyclists. It was like they couldn’t date their favorite girl.”

The piece veers at the end, chronicling the efforts of a (very grumpy) man, Tom Bernardin, who is concerned with pedestrian safety and keeping bikes on the road rather than the sidewalk. I am in complete agreement with Mr. Bernardin, but I’m not sure why McGrath shifted his focus at the end of an otherwise fairly informative — if rather tepid — piece of reporting.

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