Wednesday, May 02, 2007

God is Great, God is Good...For Kids

Here's a newsflash that's right up my alley, as a social scientist and practicing Catholic. A group of researchers has conducted a study that tries to get at the connection, if any, between the religiosity of parents and the behavior of children. After studying about 16,000 first graders, these researchers have concluded that kids whose parents regularly attend religious services are better behaved and adjusted than other children. This result especially holds when both parents practice their religion together. In fact, in families where parents argue all the time about religion, kids were more likely to exhibit behavioral and emotional problems. So religion can apparently hurt in some contexts.

So what is driving this connection between religion and childhood behavior? And couldn't it be the other way around? That is, maybe it is parents with well-behaved children who tend to go to church together. Or let's put it the other way. Who wants to sit through a service with a child who can't stay still and who is constantly making one noise or another?

As a research methodologist, this chicken-and-egg question is absolutely something I would like to learn more about before coming to any firm conclusions about the true nature of the association in question. In fact, there are a number of measurement and research design questions that I would like to have answered. I guess I just need to go read the article, which is being published in a journal called Social Science Research.

In the meantime, here is my favorite quote about the article. It's from a professor who is unaffiliated with the study. He says that, for parents who are very religious, "getting their kids into Heaven is more important than getting their kids into Harvard."

Amen! (Although Harvard would be nice, and there is what looks to be a steeple of some sort in the background of this picture I recently snapped...)

~Steve

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

A Day on the B&A Trail

Biking on the B&A Trail is a great way to spend a good, old fashioned Saturday. Built on the right-of-way of what was once a rail line, the B&A Trail runs pretty much straight between Glen Burnie and Annapolis, with very little in the way of elevation change. For us, a day on the B&A Trail goes something like this:

Load the bikes onto the back of the minivan and get some snacks and drinks together (including Moroccan mint tea for the 40-minute ride over to the trail!).

Park at the southern end of the trail, unhitch the bikes...and go!

Ride about 14 miles to the northern end of the trail, with a quick stop at the ranger station along the way.

Take a nice break. For Desi and me, this entails sitting and chatting. For the kids, it's all about throwing rocks and sticks into a nearby creek and trying to build a dam.

Head back down the trail.

Stop at Yen's, a great Chinese buffet located right off the trail at about Mile Marker 10.

Ask for chopsticks in Mandarin (Xiaojie, qing gei women kuaizi.), much to the surprise and befuddlement of the staff and other customers.

Fully stuffed (hen bao le), pedal down to Mile Marker 5, where there is a school with a playground. During a game of hide-n-seek, Z finds a great spot...inside a sewer drain! (Desi loved that one!)

Bike the rest of the way back to the car, stow the bikes, and head home.

Mow the grass when we get back. (Talk about a pair of nut jobs!)

~Steve

Monday, April 30, 2007

Democracy on the Defensive

You probably heard that Boris Yeltsin died the other day. For me, Yeltsin's life and passing is emblematic of the dark feeling I (and many others) have been having lately about democracy as a sustainable form of government around the world. Here are some highlight's from Yeltsin's Russia:

1991 - Yeltsin famously stands on a tank during a failed coup attempt by hard-line communists. Several months later, the Soviet Union ceases to exist.

1991-1999 - Yeltsin serves as the Russian president during a time of newfound political freedoms...and great corruption, instability, and poverty. In general, Russia fades dramatically as a world power during Yeltsin's tenure.

1999 - Vladimir Putin takes over the presidency when Yeltsin suddenly resigns. Under Putin's leadership, democracy is widely seen as being on the decline, taking a back seat to law, order, economic prosperity, and the projection of global power.

This is, of course, a greatly oversimplified synopsis. But there is a general point that remains. Fifteen or so years ago, there was great hope that democracy would continue its march around the globe, to places where it had never been before. This would ultimately make the world a safer and more prosperous place than ever.

Fast forward to today. Many Russians view Yeltsin's democratic legacy quite skeptically. Some Iraqis who had little use for Saddam Hussein are now looking back fondly on certain elements of life under his dictatorship. All across China, there are citizens who are quite content trying to get rich, regardless of how repressive the political environment might be. The spread of democracy seems to have hit the skids. It is at least experiencing a significant bump in the road.

I want to posit that one reason for this discontent is advances in technology and communication. The march toward democracy, although punctuated by dramatic moments, was slow and steady throughout much of the Western world. Democracy was given the time it needed to mature and develop in places like the United States. This time is simply not available today, in an age when it is easier than ever for citizens to see the misery of others and to connect with their fellow malcontents. As a result, what might have been pockets of unhappiness in times past turn into general strife and unrest in today's electronic world. And it is such general movements that can lead to and prop up regimes that do a good job of maintaining safety and security, regardless of what happens with political freedoms.

Mind you, I am not endorsing the leadership and decision making of Boris Yeltsin. I am just suggesting that his job, and the jobs of all would-be democrats, is not as easy as we thought it was going to be back when the Berlin Wall came tumbling down.

~Steve