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The Home Front

Politics, culture, and American life — from the family perspective.

Not Letting Garbage into Your Own Home or onto Your Barley Field



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There’s been a lot of talk about not letting people say and do things on television that you wouldn’t let them say or do if they were real people walking into your home. Why let the profanity and vulgarity into your living room through The X Factor, for example, if you don’t normally allow your children to be exposed to it at school or in the community?

Well, a farmer named Alan Graham had a chance to take a stand against the indecency of the entertainment industry on his own property. After agreeing to let the singer Rihanna use his muddy barley field for a video shoot, he realized it had gotten out of hand.

Mr. Graham, 61, was riding his tractor when he realized the singer had taken off her dress to reveal a bikini. The Examiner said that “the sight became too much for Mr Graham’s Christian beliefs and he politely asked the filming to stop.”  

Mr. Graham, who hadn’t heard of the singer before being approached for use of his property, calmly dealt with the situation which could have been very awkward. “I don’t want to say what I said to Rihanna or what she said to me. We had a conversation. We shook hands and parted company on good terms.”

Do Blue States Have Higher Divorce Rates?



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Why I Watch Reality Television with My Kids



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After “Putting the X in the X Factor,” I got some mail suggesting that I just turn the television off instead of watching these reality-television shows with my kids. But there I sat on Monday night, watching The Sing Off, and we witnessed a touching, redemptive moment.

My oldest two kids — who are all about-Africa ever since we traveled there to adopt a little girl — were excited to see a group of singers called Messiah’s Men from Liberia.  I guess you can tell by their name that they are a gospel group, specifically an “Afro-centric” gospel group.  Following a group that sang Katy Perry’s “Extraterrestrial,” they sang about faith –  a topic they knew a great deal about. These men met in Liberia and left Africa to make a better life for themselves in America. They’ve been together for eight years, made two albums, toured the United States, and received numerous awards in the gospel world.

Of course, they got voted off.

However, this is just one of many great moments on these shows that I’m not ready to give up. They are stories I want my children to see.

We’re moved by their tear-jerking stories and jaw-dropping talent. They are just normal people who are able to touch us with their melodies and inspire us with their stories. As Rebecca Cusey wrote, describing last season’s auditioners on American Idol, these are “people who make us realize that although Hollywood makes great stories, fiction can never match the beauty and heroism of reality.”

For example:

Adrienne Beasley is an African-American child of white parents growing up in Kentucky. It wasn’t easy. But, as her mom says, “I just see Adrienne as Adrienne. She’s just ours.” Dad? Well, he’s “tickled.”

When Paris Tassin got pregnant at 18, her doctor told her the child might not survive and recommended she terminate the pregnancy. She kept forward with the pregnancy. Kiera, her daughter, has some problems with hearing, but is the reason she sings and “is the best thing that has ever happened to me in my life.”

James Durbin’s dad was a musician who died of a drug overdose when he was nine. He’s been diagnosed with Tourette’s and Asperger’s, but when he sings “it all just goes away. I don’t have a care in the world.”

Chris Medina promised to marry the love of his life, but she was hurt in an accident. He stays by her side even though her injuries are devastating.

And don’t get even get me started on The Biggest Loser. Sometimes reality television shows us Americans at their best. And as long as I’ve got DVR and the ability to fast forward through most of the filth, we’re going to be right here with a Kleenex box at our side.

Chemical Warfare



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Last week, an advocacy organization called the Breast Cancer Fund released a report claiming that “there is a toxic chemical lurking in your child’s Campbell’s Disney Princess soup, in her Chef Boyardee pasta with meatballs, even in her organic Annie’s cheesy ravioli.”

Oh brother!

#more#These alarming claims seem commonplace now. Earlier this month, Oprah protégée Dr. Oz dedicated an entire show to scaring the heck out of parents by claiming there are dangerous levels of arsenic in apple juice. Of course, what Dr. Oz failed to mention is that there are two kinds of arsenic — the bad one (you know, the Cary-Grant-Arsenic-and-Old-Lace-smells-like-almonds-you’re-being-poisoned-type arsenic) and the perfectly harmless, naturally occurring arsenic, which is found in many foods and is perfectly fine for human consumption. Of course, the truth really can be a bummer — particularly when a daytime talk-show host is trying to get higher ratings.

The Breast Cancer Fund’s report is similarly dramatic, playing fast and loose with the facts. The report states that the “toxic chemical” Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical used in the lining of canned foods “leaches into the food and is then consumed by adults and children alike.” To illustrate this leaching, the Breast Cancer Fund sent a selection of canned goods to a laboratory for analysis. Sure enough, the results came back showing BPA had indeed leached into the food. The amount of BPA in the tested foods ranged from a high of 148 to just 10 parts per billion (ppb).

Yet, what the Breast Cancer Fund failed to do in its shiny new eight-page report, replete with pictures of smiling children eating canned food, is explain what these levels actually mean. While a number like 148 ppb might sound like a lot of BPA, it really isn’t when you consider that currently, the European Union sets 600 ppb as the daily limit of safe consumption for BPA and that the European Food Safety Agency has proposed to increase that level to 3,000 ppb per day.

In fact, the safety of BPA has been known for some time. In 2002, the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Food (SCF) examined the average person’s dietary intake of BPA and found the total intake from all food sources (including the lining in canned foods), was in the range of 0.00048 to 0.0016 milligrams per kilogram body weight per day, far below the Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) set by the SCF of 0.01 milligrams per kilogram body weight per day.

Yet, somehow this reassuring study didn’t make it into the Breast Cancer Fund’s report. In fact, the report doesn’t even mention “tolerable daily intake” which shows that this report has an agenda other than just informing the public. 

The report then goes on to say that because their lab results show these foods did contain some amount of BPA, that eating canned foods “beyond a single serving on a regular basis could lead to exposure to levels of BPA that have been associated with abnormalities in breast development and increased risk of developing breast cancer, and adverse effects on brain development, reproductive development, prostate weight, testis weight, puberty onset, body weight, metabolic immune system functions, and gender-related behaviors including aggression and some social behaviors.”

Yikes! Cancer, brain development, and reproductive problems. Geez, these sound really scary. And they are . . . if you’re a rat residing in a cage in a laboratory.

The “studies” cited in this irresponsible report were conducted on rats who were injected with BPA and received much higher doses than are consumed by eating a few servings of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup.

In fact, of the seven studies the report cites, only one was done on humans, and was conducted on cells extracted from women at high risk of developing cancer. In this study, the researchers actually “introduced” the donor’s “high-risk . . . breast epithelial cells to BPA in concentrations that are detectable in human blood, placenta and milk.” In other words, the cells were directly injected with a massive dose of BPA. Luckily for us, the canned food industry isn’t stabbing us in the arm with a syringe-full of BPA.

Of course, the handwringers at the Breast Cancer Fund missed another study released just this year by a team of scientists from U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. In this study, actual humans volunteered to eat a diet with higher levels of BPA than is normally consumed by the average American. The volunteers’ blood and urine was then collected and analyzed. The results showed that in the majority of samples, no BPA was detected.

FDA scientists Ronald J. Lorentzen and David G. Hattan recently wrote about the tendency of these organizations to ignore the important issue of “dose” in order to drive home their scientifically inaccurate point. In the online journal Nature, the scientists explained that “[V]irtually every situation or substance is hazardous under some conditions, or at some dose, and to refer to hazard (detection) alone paints a profoundly deficient portrait of risk to the public.” In other words, even your sweet grandmother’s homemade rice pudding will also kill you…if you eat two tons of it.

Not surprising, the Breast Cancer Fund report failed to mention the many other studies that have shown that BPA poses no risk to humans (h/t Michael Fumento at Openmarkets.org). In the United States, the FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency have consistently stated that BPA is safe as used. A 2006 review by the European Union’s Food Safety Authority has declared PBA safe, as did a 2007 review by Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology. In 2008, the Norwegian Scientific Committee for Food Safety examined claims of neurotoxicity in BPA but found the chemical to be safe. That same year, an evaluation by the French Food Safety Agency, a risk assessment by NSF International, and a study by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment each declared BPA to be safe. In 2009, BPA was deemed safe by a survey of canned drink products by Health Canada, a risk assessment by Food Standards Australia/New Zealand, and a modeling study of BPA in humans by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment.

BPA has been blamed for everything from obesity to autism to erectile dysfunction in Chinese men. It’s also now being accused of poisoning our children.

The Breast Cancer Fund claims it “works to connect the dots between breast cancer and exposures to chemicals and radiation in our everyday environments.” This study fails miserably to connect cancer or any other disease to BPA. But looking at the headlines that have accompanied this report (“More Worries About BPA” and “BPA Found In Kid-Friendly Canned Food”), they’ve succeeded in one small area: scaring the holy heck out of parents doing their best in tough times to nourish their families.

— Julie Gunlock is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.

America’s Got Transvestites: Putting the X in X Factor



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What can families watch together anymore?

If you judge by the commercials, there are a number of good talent-based options. America’s Got Talent indicates that it’s a family-friendly show geared toward finding diamonds in the rough. The new X Factor is advertised as a place where the under-employed and under-appreciated can finally get a chance to shine. The Sing Off is just like the others, but without instruments.

Indeed, families who sit down with a bowl of popcorn around the television will get the feel-good stories Americans have always loved. On the season premiere of X Factor, a 28-year-old garbage man took the stage after the audience heard his terrible story of drug addiction. He’d only been sober 70 days when he confessed that he wanted to be the type of man of whom his son could be proud. When he launched into his own original song called “Young Homie,” it seemed as if it could be an immediate hit — touching, poignant, and inspirational. He and other contestants fulfilled all of the categories necessary to tug at the heartstrings: bad childhood, single parent, drug addiction, cruddy job, jaw-dropping talent.

But amidst all of these Susan Boyle–type stories are moments that make you wish your kids weren’t in the room.  For example, Seattle contestant Geo Godley dropped his pants during his terrible song (about emulating Bill Clinton?) with a big “X” blocking out his private parts. Paula Abdul left the stage and vomited, Nicole Scherzinger looked horrified, the awesome L.A. Reid said it was “disgusting, upsetting, and offensive,” and Simon asked him “what the bloody hell” that was. The Parents Television Council agreed with their sentiments. PTC President Tim Winter wrote, “If Godley performed his act in public, he would have been arrested. But if he performs it in front of a Fox camera, his act is beamed via the public airwaves into every home in the nation.”

In fact, the cameras did show at least one mother pulling her two daughters out of the theater. 

Is that mother the most sane person in America?

But strange sexual moments on shows rated “TV-PG” for families are very common. On the last season of the a cappella show The Sing Off, one judge demonstrated that she liked a performance by exclaiming, “Shawn over here was having a musical orgasm.” And after watching a few episodes of America’s Got Talent with the kids, I renamed it “America’s Got Transvestites” because of their constant parade of homosexual cross dressers. A bunch of friends came over after Wednesday-night church service to watch the last season of American Idol, and we agreed to fast-forwarding through the raunchy parts. Not only did it make the show considerably shorter, it allowed us to skip the Victoria’s Secret commercials, and Lady Gaga’s risqué rendition of “Edge of Glory” where she writhed in sexually suggestive moves atop a fake cliff on top of a half-naked man.

Are gay men wearing high heels pole-dancing onstage the worst thing in the world? Hardly. But when it happened on America’s Got Talent, it didn’t feel related to any particular talent or American quality we should celebrate.

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In Sickness and in Health



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A wife writes tenderly about marriage and cancer

I knew he loved me before all the surgeries. Fourteen happy years and three children assured me of that. But we had never really, really been tested by the experience of heartache, loss and fear that a cancer diagnosis brings.

Homeschooling Blindspots



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Kathryn, I enjoyed your post below about how homeschooling allows parents to teach children through problems.

On a related note, Reb Bradley has a heartbreaking, wonderful reflection on homeschooling, which will challenge all parents to examine their strategies, techniques, and hearts toward their children. 

In the article, he talks about some of the errors homeschooling parents make, including an honest confession of some of his own:

I believe that a primary reason we over-rely on sheltering is because it is easy. It requires no planning or expenditure of energy. It takes minimal immediate brainpower. We simply assess that something might be harmful and say to our children, “No.” 

The entire article is worth a read as we try to figure out this parenting thing, before all our kids have gone to college.

How Much Sleep Does a Parent Need?



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Are We More Like the Over-Spending President Than We Care to Admit?



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When I met my husband at 20, I didn’t know how to balance a checkbook. 

For the first seven years of marriage, David and I didn’t keep track of our checks or ATM withdrawals. Whatever financial penalty we suffered due to unnoticed bank errors, we just counted as the cost of freedom. After one too many bounced checks, however, David bought a computer checkbook to bring some organization to our lives. But when the technological novelty wore off, he turned over the responsibility to me, which was like giving a toddler a chess board and being surprised when he gnaws on it. My jaunt as financial planner lasted until I got the phones disconnected, while David’s lasted until he realized he couldn’t mail the bills due to a lack of stamps. The pendulum of financial responsibility has swung back and forth so many times, it’s hard to know who’s more inept. (Although David is certain the distinction belongs to me after I bounced our tithe check at church.) 

Our laziness extended to other areas of life as well. When a light bulb went out, we sat in the dark for months, wearing mismatched socks and putting Preparation H on our toothbrushes until one of us caved in. Additionally, David would drive by Blockbuster with a due video sitting on the passenger seat just to avoid making a left turn. He’d think, “Would I pay three dollars to not have to return this video right at this moment?” Of course, it never was just three dollars. In fact, we’re the reason the company got rid of late fees. They got so rich off David, they decided to let the rest of America slide. Even once, David sold his Honda Accord only to have the new owner call us a week later saying she’d found a never-watched Reversal of Fortune in the trunk.

But after 9/11, we grew up a little.

David joined the Army and was deployed to Iraq. He left me with complete financial responsibility over our family. (And we were $70,000 in debt, in spite of my husband’s Ivy League degree, living paycheck to paycheck.)

Here’s the story of what I did while my husband was in Iraq. Hint: It didn’t include the lottery or any other get-rich-quick schemes. It required a J-O-B. In fact, I got two. I followed Dave Ramsey’s advice, though he describes his plan as the same advice “your grandmother gave you, but we keep our teeth in.”

If we are outraged at how Congress and the president have out-of-control spending, maybe it’s time to bring the same level of criticism to our own behavior.

In fact, Ramsey recently told the Christian Post, “There is a lot of fear in our country right now. People are fearful about their financial situation and the financial situation in Washington. When people stop fearing what is going to happen and take control of their situation, only then will our economy begin to recover.”

Read the details of our story here. (And don’t judge me for selling my husband’s Landrover while he was in Iraq!)

‘Homeschooling Magnifies Family Problems (and That’s a Good Thing)’



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Watching the Debate with Your Kids



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Last night’s debate was exciting for people who awaited it as anxiously as some anticipate the next episode of The Bachelor. As my husband and I watched the candidates spar, we shushed the children so we could hear every retort.

My twelve-year-old asked, “What is Michele Bachmann accusing Rick Perry of?” when she saw my husband and I ferociously tweeting, blogging, and analyzing every second of their exchange.

Afterward, I realized that it might be better parenting to actually speak to my kids about what’s going on instead of referring them to our crisply written blog posts and asking them to sign up for our Twitter feeds. After the debate ended, I let them analyze the debate exchange among Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Santorum — without telling them what I thought about Perry’s controversial attempt to mandate the HPV vaccine for young girls. (I chose this segment because my daughter is twelve, right in the age range of the mandatory injection.)

What I discovered is that it is great fun to hear the kids’ responses to each candidate’s statements and to hear who they believed answered well. 

However, I made my husband explain to them what an HPV vaccine was first. After all, I wasn’t going to be the one to explain what Rick Santorum was referring to when he said, (paraphrasing) “Unless you guys in Texas have a really progressive way of learning, you can’t catch cervical cancer at school.”

Do you guys watch the debates with your kids? Do you tell them in advance who you support? Do they ever disagree with you or have interesting ideas that don’t reflect yours?

If you don’t typically watch the debates with your kids, think about making the next one a family affair!

Marriage, Biology, & The Civilization of Men



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In his book, Marriage in Men’s Lives, the late sociologist Steven Nock found that after men marry and become fathers (in that order), they work longer hours, they earn more money, they spend less time in bars, and they spend more time in church, compared to similar peers who did not marry and have children. 

Likewise, after noting that young men who are not married with children are more likely to fall prey to criminal activity and drug use, the Nobel Prize-winning economist George Akerlof concluded that “men settle down when they get married: if they fail to get married they fail to settle down.”

The work of Nock, Akerlof, and countless other social scientists suggests that marriage and fatherhood (in that order) play a crucial role in civilizing men. From their perspective, the institutions of marriage and fatherhood rely on a multiplicity of rituals, norms, and roles to steer men in positive directions.

But now we have compelling evidence that it is not simply the rituals, norms, and roles of marriage and fatherhood that foster responsibility on the part of men. Biology also appears to play a role.

A new study featured in the New York Times indicates that men who become fathers experience a drop in their testosterone and that this testosterone drop is especially marked among men who are involved fathers. 

So, here we have evidence that marriage and fatherhood have a biological impact on men’s physiology that, in turn, may help account for the behavioral shifts that mark men after they become family men.

But why mention marriage here? What does marriage have to do with the study featured in today’s Times? Doesn’t an engaged style of fatherhood affect men regardless of marital status?

Of course. 

But we also know that men are much less likely to maintain an active, day-in-day-out role in the lives of their children if they are not married to the mothers of their children. In the United States, fathers who are cohabiting at their child’s birth are more than twice as likely to break up with the mother of their children, compared to fathers who are married at their child’s birth. And even in Sweden, where cohabitation has an unparalleled level of cultural and legal support from the society at large, fathers who are cohabiting at their child’s birth are 75 percent more likely to break up with the mother of their children, compared to fathers who are married at their child’s birth.

So the biological power of fatherhood seems most likely to stick with men who get and stay married to the mother of their children.

– W. Bradford Wilcox is the director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia.

I Suspect She Is Not Alone



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Stay-at-home Ohio mom of three e-mails that she missed the debate tonight due to homework with her fourth grader. 

Will SpongeBob Make You Gay? No, But He Might Make You Stupid



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In November 2004, the We Are Family Foundation released a kids’ music video featuring over 100 characters from children’s television programs, such as SpongeBob and Barney. The DVDs were sent to over 61,000 elementary schools, along with teacher’s guides for after-viewing discussions to promote “diversity and tolerance in classrooms.”

At the time, James Dobson, then president of Focus on Family, criticized the foundation’s “tolerance pledge” that encouraged kids to be “understanding” toward those of different cultures, races, or sexual identities.

Because my daughter attended one of the participating schools, I investigated the program and concluded that it did, in fact, promote more than “understanding” and crossed over into advocating moral equivalence between heterosexual and homosexual parents. Although I wanted my daughter to be around people of all faiths and belief systems, I didn’t want the schools to undermine our own. That’s when I stopped letting my kids watch the show at our house. (I didn’t think the show was “gay” or even morally damaging. But, if SpongeBob was going to be a pawn of the Left, he could stay in “Bikini Bottom” and out of my living room.) Seven years later, my kids still watch other shows — such as the fantastic Phineas and Ferb — even though their friends still watch the little sponge who lives under the sea.

Today, however, FoxNews reports on a new study that says parents have other reasons to resist the show:

Fast-paced, fantastical television shows such as “SpongeBob SquarePants” may harm children’s ability to pay attention, solve problems and moderate behavior, according to a U.S. study published Monday.

Researchers from the University of Virginia found that the learning ability of 4-year-olds who watched nine minutes of “SpongeBob SquarePants” was severely compromised compared to 4-year-olds who either watched the slower-paced TV show “Caillou” or spent time drawing.

Psychology professor Angeline Lillard conducted the research and said, “It is possible that the fast pacing, where characters are constantly in motion from one thing to the next, and extreme fantasy, where the characters do things that make no sense in the real world, may disrupt the child’s ability to concentrate immediately afterward.”

Will watching SpongeBob make your kids gay? Of course not.

But, forgive me if I smiled when I saw this research claiming it just might make them stupid.

Lily Allen’s Transformation



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Not many rock-star party girls go on to a life of ’50s-style housewifery reminiscent of June Cleaver and Donna Reed. 

Yet that’s precisely what’s happened to British pop singer Lily Allen — the one-time hard-partying, coke-snorting, wild-child singer of such hits as Smile and It’s Not Me, It’s You. She partied on par with the late Amy Winehouse, but she was often criticized in the press for her more embarrassing exhibits of excess — falling out of nightclubs, showing up drunk to awards shows, defending recreational cocaine use — just to name a few. 

But now we see a whole new Lily Allen — a fresh-faced young bride about to give birth to her first child (after she suffered a heartbreaking miscarriage in 2008 and a stillbirth just last year). Pregnant now for the third time, she has turned her back on the gritty temptations in London to retire to a simple farm in Cotswold, England where she makes dinner for her husband, bakes cakes on the weekends, and enjoys scrapbooking, sewing, and taking care of her home. 

Think this is a gimmick a la Madonna’s many “reinventions”? Nope. She loves this new life. In a recent Daily Mail interview, she talks about her decision to settle down and have a family, and she offers a description of domestic life so different from the typical put-upon and bored-housewife narrative feminists, Hollywood, and the mainstream media promote: 

The thing is, this is the life I always wanted. I always wanted to get married, I always wanted to have kids. I have always wanted to set up a home. It’s not promoting drudgery. . . . It’s about saying being at home, looking after your family, taking pleasure in cooking and being house proud, are all valid and valuable.

These types of transformations are important for young girls out there. In a world filled with famous and morally dubious dimwits (the Kardashians, Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan), it’s nice to see a young girl, touched by stardom and the temptations of a libertine lifestyle, appreciate the adult pursuits of creating and nurturing a family.

My thoughts are with Lily Allen for a safe birth and happy future. As she shuns the spotlight, she serves as an even more important influence for young girls today.

— Julie Gunlock is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.

Re: You Can’t Keep My Child Down



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Jennifer, I also think there’s a political angle to the idea of self-importance and raising children. I live in Tennessee, and if my daughter came home from school and said, “I am the smartest kid in my whole class,” I would probably answer by saying something like, “There’s no need to put down your friends.”

My liberal Philadelphia friend Rene would take a very difference approach. If her son came home bragging about his grades, she’d tell her son, “Yes, Ethan, you’re a very smart boy, and you can do anything you set your mind to.” 

David Brooks noticed this phenomenon once and wrote, “If I had to describe the differences between the two sensibilities in a single phrase, it would be conception of the self. In Red America the self is small. People declare in a million ways, ‘I am normal. Nobody is better, nobody is worse. I am humble before God.’ In Blue America the self is more commonly large. People say in a million ways, ‘I am special. I have carved out my own unique way of life. I am independent. I make up my own mind.’”

Barely half of conservatives describe themselves to be an “intellectual,” but 75 percent of liberals do. Brooks pointed out that people in red states “don’t complain that Woody Allen isn’t as funny as he used to be, because they never thought he was funny.” Our close friends in Kentucky were well-educated, practiced law, owned hotels, and could pick a winning horse at Keeneland based on how it bucks in the starting gate. However, we’ve never had a conversation about the latest piece in The New Yorker. It’s not that these people were less intelligent than their blue-state counterparts, but wearing intelligence on your sleeve is just not done.

This reticence is not present in the North, where people regale you with a Reader’s Digest version of their resumes within minutes of introduction — the unabridged version if you’re not adept at excusing yourself for a cocktail. One woman — who was wearing the shirt equivalent of a bikini top while picking up her kindergartner from school — told me other women didn’t like her because she was gorgeous, intelligent, and confident in her sexuality.  We also noticed that if anyone’s opinion was questioned in New York, they’d recite their list of accomplishments instead of discuss the issue at hand.  “How can you question me? I am the son of Latvian immigrants and have written three articles about this very subject for . . .”

This southern refusal to elevate oneself above others may help exacerbate the stereotype that conservatives are idiots. (Remember when some pranksters issued a fake press release claiming President Bush had the lowest presidential IQ in the past 50 years and reputable news organizations bought it? They believe conservatives must be morons. Otherwise, why would we disagree with them?)

My husband David is a southern, conservative Iraq War vet who also graduated from Harvard Law School and taught at Cornell Law School. I noticed that his colleagues talked constantly about their latest intellectual endeavors and frequently referred to their credentials. When I asked David about why he didn’t seem to care as much about mentioning his successes, he said, “I’m ‘intellectual’ only by profession, not entertainment.”

Then, he went back to the movie he was watching: Terminator.

After all, Woody Allen just isn’t funny anymore.

You Can’t Keep My Child Down, No Matter How Hard I Try!



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Well, it’s over. Summer vacation, that glorious time of year when parents don’t fret about their children’s I.Q, is over. The beginning of a new school year means the beginning of a new race, and though Vicki Abeles was quite right in her assessment that we are racing to nowhere, it seems most people still want to get there first. In an effort to reassure themselves, parents will soon be bragging about the academic achievements and sporting conquests of their offspring. Everyone’s self-esteem will be exceedingly high. Except mine. And my kids’. I’m not sure which came first, my distaste of high self-esteem, or my lack of anything to warrant it. Either way, in the Kaczor family, we’ve taken to bragging about our humility.

Training starts early with the intention of developing a child who is astonished by the smallest compliment. Toddlers are told to “put a sock in it.” “Not everything that passes through your little mind needs to be verbalized,” I explain. Later, when the kids start school and are told by well-meaning teachers that “there are no stupid questions,” I take them aside and inform them that, in fact, most questions are stupid. “Don’t just raise your hand to raise your hand,” I warn, “any dolt can do that.” “And for God’s sake, if you don’t know the answer, don’t raise it at all.” And when visiting other people’s homes, I instruct them to “make yourself scarce.” “Don’t stand around waiting to be entertained: the less the hostess sees of you, the better she’ll like you.”

#more#You might think that my kids are emotional wrecks. Ha! The truth is, it’s not easy to keep a child down. My kids are very nearly as full of themselves as their peers are. In addition to occasionally telling them that we love them, my husband and I made the mistake of telling them how much God loves them. Once that cat was out of the bag, there was no stopping them. Had we added to that arsenal, praise for every half-witted comment or slapped-together art project, we’d have raised children who were Disney Channel parodies of themselves.

Still, it’s a battle. The other day my nine-year-old, who fancies himself a young Johnny Carson, was going through his entire repertoire of voices during the bitter end of a road trip. “George!” I screamed. “Put a sock in it!” My husband, worried that I might be stifling a lucrative career, asked me if I thought I might be doing just that. Before I could answer, George announced his intention to become a squirrel when he grows up. “No dear,” I replied, “I don’t think so.”

George is irrepressible. But my other children have taken my training more seriously. William, a tall boy of eleven who resembles Huck Finn in taste and temperament, is used to teachers and coaches’ being disappointed in him. His homework, when completed, is forgotten. His calisthenics are lazy, and his running is lackadaisical. Other than his shy smile and intermittent kindness, he’s earned no real self-esteem and, consequently, has no real self-esteem. In short, he’s my kind of kid.

Years ago, when my oldest daughter was twelve and I was watching her bat a volleyball around a gym, I found myself having two very strange conversations that solidified my parenting philosophy and produced my William. I began these conversations, as I often do, with a compliment. One of my daughter’s classmates was better at coaxing the ball over the net than her peers, and so I turned to her mother and said: “Penelope is very good at volleyball.” That, of course, was her cue to say “Thank you.” What I got was rather more, and less, than I expected. “Oh, yes!” said the mother. “Penelope is an athlete. She’s a known entity.” I leave the “known entity” up to you to dissect and enjoy: Its absurdity is too rich. But even the more subtle “Penelope is an athlete” was silly.

While I will admit that in the English language we bestow the term “athlete” more generously than “lawyer” or “doctor,” there is still some understanding that a real “athlete” is someone who earns a living off their athletic skills — or is headed to the Olympics. By contrast, someone who is good at sports is called “athletic.” It’s a subtle distinction, I suppose, but one that bears out my complaint. We have gone too far in praising kids and giving them seriously inflated ideas of themselves. This, I guess, could be dismissed as relatively benign, except that science has shown that the higher a person’s self-esteem, the less moral they tend to be (see Dr. Baumeister’s research). In other words, the more they think of themselves, the less they think of others. The second conversation happened in the same way, but this time, the daughter didn’t just enjoy dancing, she was, according to her dear mama, “a dancer.” Yes, and my 15-year-old daughter who contrives excellent excuses for not cleaning her room is not just argumentative, she’s “a lawyer.”

I have never told my children that they are “athletes.” I have told them to be good sports, to encourage their teammates, to listen to their coach, and to play hard. This summer, William began playing basketball, and I issued the usual instructions. Because of his height, I told him to get as many rebounds as possible. But William is an erratic player. For the time being, you get what you get with William. Following one game in which he did not play particularly well, he turned to me and said, “That’s it. The coach hates me. And, by the way, I’m flunking basketball.”

“Flunking basketball?” I repeated. “You can’t flunk basketball. It’s not even a class! You are not flunking basketball.” I assured him. “Wanna bet?” he countered. “The coach hates me, he thinks I’m horrible, and he’s flunking me.” Confused by this sudden outburst, I demanded to know why William was taking such a hard view of things. “I saw his clipboard, Mom, and there is an F next to my name! Explain that!” he challenged.

In case you aren’t a big basketball fan, I’ll explain it to you as I explained it to William. “The ‘F,’ you nut, stands for “‘Forward.’” It took a second to register, and then William looked at me with his shy smile. “That makes sense,” he concluded, “because Gordie has a ‘G’ next to his name and he’s not just good, he’s really good.” “And Alex has a ‘C,’” William continued, “and he definitely deserves an A.” I put my arm around William’s waist and pulled him toward my chest. “And you, my little friend, don’t deserve an F.” I insisted. William just shrugged and smiled. If he keeps this up, I’ll soon be as insufferable as the other mothers; bragging about my son, “the martyr.”

— Jennifer Kaczor lives in Los Angeles with her husband and seven children.

Sex, Gender, and Gravity



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One afternoon in Ithaca, N.Y., my kids were playing on the swing sets in the park when a little tike wearing a football jersey ran into my daughter’s path. I lunged for the swing — I jerked the chain so abruptly that I feared whiplash — and shared a “wow, that was close” exchange with the kid’s mom.

“How old is he?” I asked. The lady looked at me with no trace of irony as she placed her kid on the swing and said, “His name is Jill, and she’s three.” 

As I tried to match the pronouns and antecedents, she explained that she belonged to a group of parents who rebelled against gender stereotypes, allowing their children to decide their genders after they’d been exposed to both options. I’d learned of this in a philosophy class at NYU. My professor argued that children are born with “sex” but taught “gender.” They claimed children unwittingly learn certain gender signifiers that dictate their behavior. Little boys, they claim, don’t naturally want to play with trucks, and little girls aren’t naturally drawn to dolls, if unsullied by eager parents who try to indoctrinate their children with heterosexist ideas about “gender.” According to my professor, gender roles cause people to live according to the very limited ideas of others. The ultimate goal, of course, is androgyny, where no differences between males and females exist.         

“I’m going to raise her as gender-neutrally as possible and let him decide which gender she prefers at the age of eight.”  (Oh, eight . . . that’s when my son dug up our yard one square foot at a time, because he was convinced he’d find buried treasure.)

The pronoun confusion alone is enough to cause rational parents to abandon this gender neutrality. However, the Swedes have come up with an original solution. At the taxpayer-funded school called Egalia, the teachers encourage little boys to play with kitchen sets and the little girls to play with trucks.  But they have taken it even a step further, by eliminating the words “he” and “she,” replacing those words with “friend.”

Why worry about the deviant sexual philosophies of liberals in New York and Sweden? Because it’s also coming to a neighborhood near you. This Good Morning America segment, for example, about an Ohio boy named Jack, who preferred to be called Jackie:

When Jackie was just ten years old, she went to her mom, crying. “I’m a girl and I can’t do this anymore,” Jackie said. Without hesitation, Jennifer said, “It’s gonna be okay.” There was no judgment or disappointment. Jackie’s family abandoned the pronoun “he.” At first, they only let her wear girls clothing at home, but eventually allowed her to live as a girl full-time, at school and elsewhere. When asked, Jackie’s father John says he has two daughters.

The Huffington Post lauds the parents’ decision in its article about the child, which begins, “Turns out there are parents in the news who do the right thing.” In fact, only his grandfather showed concern about allowing the boy to indulge in his feminine side. “I can not accept that a nine- or ten-year-old can make decisions for himself that will be life lasting,” he told GMA.

When I was at the park in Ithaca, I made small talk with the mom and searched for clues to her child’s actual gender. But polite conversation was hard to come by, as I realized we’ve reached a point in society where we actually have to defend the immutability of gender and sex. With so much being challenged, I was a little surprised — when the kids kept swinging back and forth — that gravity still worked.

At least for now.

Y’all Want a Divorce? Blame the Church



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I met a man in Nashville when I was 20 years old and fell in love immediately. By the second date, I knew I’d marry him if he asked me.  Within a few short weeks, he did just that — so spontaneously he didn’t even have a ring. Three months later, we were in France, buying flowers off the street from a vendor and getting married in the upstairs room of a restaurant.  We barely knew each other, and some of the ceremony was in French. We either got married or agreed to be Amway sales reps.

Our spontaneity, of course, was a recipe for disaster.  And, according to a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau, I fit the mold. Southerners tend to get married — and divorced — more than their Northeastern counterparts. I even dropped out of college after getting married, which pretty much makes me a walking stereotype (though I am currently wearing shoes and not pregnant).

“There tend to be higher divorce rates in states where women marry young,” D’Vera Cohn, a senior writer for the Pew Research Center told CNN Living. “Education also may play a role. In general, less educated women marry at younger ages than college-educated women, and less educated couples have higher divorce rates.”

The report reveals:

Southern men and women had higher rates of divorce in 2009 than their counterparts in other parts of the country: 10.2 per 1,000 for men and 11.1 per 1,000 for women. . . . By comparison, men and women in the Northeast had the lowest rates of divorce, 7.2 and 7.5 per 1,000, which is also lower than the national divorce rate of 9.2 for men and 9.7 for women.

So, what is it about Southerners that makes us more likely to say both “I do” and “I quit”?

Christianity, of course.  At least that’s what Naomi Cahn, law professor at the George Washington University Law School, believes. Her reasoning goes like this: Christians stigmatize losing one’s virginity outside of marriage, which means people marry early before they succumb to pre-marital sex, attain a college education, and benefit from a good salary. 

“There’s a moral crisis in red states that’s produced by higher divorce rates and the disparity between parental values and behavior of young adults. There is enormous tension between moral values and actual practices,” she told CNN.

So, is she right? If the South could rid itself of that pesky “old time religion,” would we divorce less frequently?

Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, provides some helpful facts. He reports that “Americans who attend religious services several times a month were about 35 percent less likely to divorce than those with no religious affiliation.”

In other words, people who attend church regularly are less likely to get divorced. 

That means Christianity isn’t the problem; it’s the solution. In fact, Dr. Pat Fagan, director of the Center for Research on Marriage and Religion and senior fellow at the Marriage and Religion Research Institute in Washington, D.C., says that regular church attendance has many social benefits, including:

Lower divorce rates:

Lower cohabitation rates;

Lower rates of out-of-wedlock births;

Lower levels of teen sexual activity

But the question lingers. Why is there a higher rate of divorce in the South? Answers are speculative at best, but southerners are generally poorer and less educated; and they have a strong tradition of marrying young. All of these factors put strain on marriages.

Of course, I pretty much represent a culmination of all of the worst “marriage decisions” a Southerner could possibly make. So what happened after I married the guy my mother called a “rank stranger?” Well, fifteen years later, we’re still going strong. (He actually writes for NRO.) Although we’ve lived in the Northeast, we’re back in the rural South and raising three kids. 

And, yes, we drag them to church every Sunday morning and Wednesday night. 

— Nancy French lives in the mule capital of the world (Columbia, Tenn.) and wrote about northern perceptions of southerners in her book “Red State of Mind.”

Reviews Continue to Trickle In



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An e-mail: 

 

I think your new Home Front blog is simply terrific! I share the sentiments you posted of a reader a few days ago that the revival of family would go a long way towards addressing some of the problems we’re experiencing in our country today. It is also nice to see bloggers address reality — like today’s post by Suzanne Venker — on mothers’ work/life balance challenges. I’m a mother of two toddlers with a full-time job outside the home, too. Like a dog chasing its tail, I struggle daily for this elusive “balance” which I never seem capable of grasping. Nice to know that there are others out there who see through the fiction women have been spoon-fed for years. Calling awareness to such issues helps give others the courage to give voice to what they know in their hearts to be true. 

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