Closing thoughts

by Kimberly on April 2, 2005

First off, thanks to Crooked Timber for letting me guest-blog this week on work-and-family issues. In this last blog, I’d like to offer some reflections about what Americans might learn about the way other countries are addressing child care, parental leave, and working time. In the much-talked about book by Judith Warner, Perfect Madness, she argues we should look at the French model of child care and family support. I do not suggest we try to wholly transport the Swedish or Dutch or French model of public policy to the United States, as each model has distinct historical and cultural roots that would defy replication elsewhere. Moreover, it seems that the quickest way to doom an idea in American politics is to point out that this is how it is done in some other country.

No, instead I suggest we might learn from the way some European countries go about dealing with what is often a controversial issue – whether or not mothers should work when their children are young, and what the role of the state should be in subsidizing these decisions — and then figure out our own homegrown solutions. While conservative observers hold that official European policy increasingly favors the imposition of “radical feminism” – meaning the elimination of the full-time homemaker – the reality is considerably more complex. In countries such as Germany or Austria, the attachment to parental care is so strong that state policy has long sought to subsidize mothers (or the very few fathers) who stay home with young children. In France, because people have different views on this question – much as in the United States – government policy subsidizes both child care and parents at home, rather than impose one model on everyone. France’s free, universal preschool system appeals as much to stay-at-home-moms as it does to working mothers. Even in Sweden, one conservative commentator has to admit, the very long parental leave time is indicative of a strong commitment to parental care. As a result, many more babies are breast-fed for six months in Sweden than in the United States.

In addition, publicly-subsidized child care is not the Leviathan envisioned by many conservatives, by which the state uses its power to manipulate the hearts and minds of young children. In Germany and the Netherlands, the state subsidizes voluntary organizations – many of which are religiously-based – who then provide kindergartens, day care, and other family-related services. While services for families are subsidized, parental choice is maintained. This is very much in line with the church-run day care favored by social conservatives as a last resort.

In short, a commitment to the material well-being of families does not imply a one-size-fits-all solution, whereby one set of values gets imposed on everyone else. What is needed is first some agreement that subsidizing families with children is a worthy goal – something we have long done through both the tax code and publicly-supported education. Then, a pluralistic vision of family needs could bring together liberals and social conservatives, if the latter are willing to shed their alliance with economic libertarians, and the former relent in their focus on abortion and the strict separation of church and state (which complicates state subsidies to church-run day care). But first, we need to start having that sensible national conversation about work and family.


How to Write a Newspaper Article

by Brian on April 2, 2005

From the “New York Times article on the Pope’s Death”: as of 3.25pm East Coast time.

Even as his own voice faded away, his views on the sanctity of all human life echoed unambiguously among Catholics and Christian evangelicals in the United States on issues from abortion to the end of life.

need some quote from supporter

John Paul II’s admirers were as passionate as his detractors, for whom his long illness served as a symbol for what they said was a decrepit, tradition-bound papacy in need of rejuvenation and a bolder connection with modern life.

p. Somehow I don’t think the middle paragraph was meant to be there. And I would like to see those masses of Christian Evangelicals among whom the Pope’s views on the death penalty were echoing. I thought some of them were arguing we were “too restrictive in our killing practices”:

What’s so crunchy in your snack?

by Eszter Hargittai on April 2, 2005

Reading up on hometown blogs I came across the unfortunate news that rat poopie was found in a warehouse holding airplane snacks at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport (and you don’t have to live in Chicagoland to use that airport during your U.S. airtravel given how many transfers occur there). The article states that “inspectors discovered more than 1,000 rat droppings where pretzels, beer and other airline snacks and beverages are stored”. To this a Chicagoist reader responded with the following astute question: “who got stuck with that counting job?”.

Wagner’s antisemitism

by Chris Bertram on April 2, 2005

From “a piece by Andrew Clark”: in today’s Financial Times:

bq. Until the final scene, the Hamburg State Opera’s November 2002 production of Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg had proceeded without comment. Everyone was primed to applaud the hymn to “holy German art” that brings Richard Wagner’s four-hour pageant to a climax. Then came the bombshell. Midway through Hans Sachs’s monologue about honouring German masters over “foreign vanities”, the music came to an abrupt halt. Suddenly one of the mastersingers started speaking: “Have you actually thought about what you are singing?” he asked. No one had experienced anything like it in an opera house. There followed a lively stage discussion – some of it shouted down by outraged members of the audience – about Wagner’s anti-Semitism in the context of 19th and 20th century German nationalism.

There’s much to disagree with in Clark’s piece, both in terms of particular judgements about the relationship between ideology and music and over the claims he makes for the extent of Wagner’s influence. Still, worth a look.

Sociologically Improbable Phrases

by Kieran Healy on April 2, 2005

Amazon has a new feature: Statistically Improbable Phrases_:’s Statistically Improbable Phrases, or “SIPs”, show you the interesting, distinctive, or unlikely phrases that occur in the text of books in Search Inside the Book. Our computers scan the text of all books in the Search Inside program. If they find a phrase that occurs a large number of times in a particular book relative to how many times it occurs across all Search Inside books, that phrase is a SIP in that book.

Experimenting with this, I find that SIPs effectively convey the essence of an author’s ideas, provided that the author is a phrase-maker. Very useful for cocktail parties. Here, by way of example, is the condensed essence of a number of sociological theorists.

[click to continue…]

25 years since the St Pauls riots

by Chris Bertram on April 2, 2005

Today is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the St Pauls in Bristol riots that initiated a period of urban unrest in Britain which ultimately led to the “Scarman”: report. The riots followed a police raid on the Black and White cafe on 2nd April 1980. The Bristol Evening Post has “some”: “coverage”: , but I’ve not managed to find much on the web (the BBC’s “On This Day”: page ignores the events entirely). The following day’s Daily Telegraph headlined with:

bq. 19 Police Hurt in Black Riot

and editorialized thus:

bq. Lacking parental care many (black youths) ran wild. Incited by race-relations witchfinders and left-wing teachers and social workers to blame British society for their own shortcomings, lacking the work-ethic and perseverance, lost in a society itself demoralized by socialism, they all too easily sink into a criminal sub-culture. (Quotes from “an academic paper”: .)

I doubt that even the Telegraph would dare to cover such events in these terms today. Contrary to the Telegraph’s fantasy version, neither these riots nor the ones of the following year in Brixton, Handsworth, Toxteth and elsewhere were race riots — black and white youths were involved together, though systematic racial harrassment by the police (throught the “Sus” law) and pervasive racial discrimination undoubtedly underlay the events. This was an important moment in postwar British history, now all but forgotten.

The poverty of musical historicism

by John Q on April 2, 2005

In the April edition of Prospect (subscription required), Roderick Swanston has an interesting review of The Oxford History of Western Music by Richard Taruskin. Swanston attributes to Taruskin an agenda that

is conservative, even Hegelian, and implies an evolution of music from the 6th century AD to the present. Key works and composers are included that have in some way contributed to music’s progression.

I haven’t read the book, and at 280stg, I’m not likely to, but the raw numbers are pretty convincing. Of five volumes covering the last 1500 years, Taruskin devotes two to the 20th century, and, according to Swanston, his focus is almost exclusively confined to art music derived from the classical tradition.

This allocation of attention states a doctrine of historical progress in music in a way that is so extreme as to be self-refuting. The 20th century was saturated in music, as is the early 21st, but 20th century[1] art music plays a tiny role on any objective criterion, from popularity to durability to impact on our culture as a whole. If you covered the entire field, from ABBA to zydeco, on any of these criteria, contemporary art music would merit an entry comparable in length and reverence to that on progressive rock (another sub-genre inspired by historicism). Speaking personally, I couldn’t name more than a handful of living writers of art music, and even if I stretched it to include people who’d been active during my lifetime, I doubt that I could name ten. No doubt there are readers here who could do better, but we’re still talking about a marginal phenomenon, unless you assume that cultural significance is heritable property, passed on by classical music to its institutional successors.

Nor could it be said that art music has handed on the baton of progress to other forms of music. The 20th century saw a profusion of musical forms and styles, and these have developed over time, faded away, crossed over and intermingled, but there’s been no obvious movement for the better (or, for that matter, for the worse).

If you want a grand-historical theory for music, Giovanni Battista Vico is your only man. The wheel turns.

fn1. As always, the term “20th century” can’t be used in a strictly chronological sense. For most purposes, as Hobsbawm says, the 20th century began in 1914, and composers with an essentially 19th century approach were still writing well after that. On the other hand, the view that progress manifested itself through formal innovation was around much earlier. A reasonable starting point for the 20th century proper would be Schoenberg’s atonalism.