Go Francis!

There’s no official policy change here, but changes in tone matter.  A lot.  I honestly figured that even a liberal, tolerant Pope could not change things much because JPII and Benedict had elevated so many profoundly conservative bishops, but this latest pronouncement comes not just from the Pope himself, but a gathering of bishops:

VATICAN CITY — An important meeting of bishops at the Vatican used remarkably conciliatory language on Monday toward gay and divorced Catholics, signaling a possible easing of the church’s rigid attitudes on homosexuality and the sanctity of marriage.

The gathering of bishops from around the world called on pastors to recognize, among other things, the “positive aspects of civil unions and cohabitation.”

The meeting, or synod, was called by Pope Francis to discuss issues related to the family in contemporary society. A report was given on Monday of the main considerations under debate in the first week of the two-week gathering.

The report appeared to reflect the more tolerant and inclusive direction Francis has sought to take the church since he was chosen to succeed the far more doctrinaire Benedict XVI more than 18 months ago…

Signaling the direction they are heading, the bishops called for a more merciful approach toward the faithful who stray from the Catholic ideal, citing the need for “courageous pastoral choices” to reflect the current plurality of relationships outside the traditional family model.

They urged pastors, for instance, to be more welcoming to gays, who have “gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community.” And it called on pastors to treat divorced Catholics who have remarried civilly with respect, “avoiding any language or behavior that might make them feel discriminated against.”

Really interesting take on all this in the New Yorker:

The Catholic Church has survived for more than two thousand years by adapting shrewdly to the world’s changes while insisting that its message has remained the same. It has done so with great theological finesse, insisting, for example, on the difference between essential Church doctrine and doctrinal positions that are merely well-established traditions. Priestly celibacy, for example, was only clearly established in the Middle Ages—before that, and for centuries afterward, there were many married priests. Showing considerably less prudence, the current Pope’s predecessors tried to bind the Church tightly to a series of doctrinal prohibitions designed to be difficult, if not impossible, to undo. Pope John Paul II pronounced that the non-ordination of women was “definitive” and “irrevocable.” Traditions can become dogma, and breaking free of these strictures would be the doctrinal equivalent of one of Harry Houdini’s famous escape acts. Francis, if he wants to change them, must do so without actually appearing to have done so…

Pius IX, in his infamous “Syllabus of Errors,” published in 1864, listed a series of mistaken ideas held by the contemporary Church, ending with what he considered the greatest error of them all: “The Roman Pontiff can, and ought to, reconcile himself, and come to terms with progress, liberalism, and modern civilization.” The principles he held onto included a defense of the institution of slavery and a rejection of democracy and freedom of speech. When the Church eventually abandoned those positions, was it because it was fashionable or because it was right? In a very different spirit, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, the secretary general of the synod, said last week, “The Christian religion is a history, not an ideology … And there is theological development, all theologians say this. All is not static; we walk in history. There is a door that has been closed up to now, but Pope Francis wants to open it.”

Not an easy task, and it’s not entirely clear exactly how far Francis intends to go, but however far it is from the status quo, more power to him.

Today in Ebola

Very interesting perspective on over-reaction to Ebola from a physician in Slate:

So what’s the problem with a little overvigilance? The answer lies in systemic capacity.

Every day, well more than 50,000 transatlantic passengers arrive at the New York metropolitan area’s airports. If any of these passengers become sick, they appear to be fair game for the spectacle we saw in Newark and Los Angeles.

Moreover, we are entering flu season. The previous three months have been the lowest of the year for emergency department visits for flu-like illnesses, as is usual during the summer months. Last year the number of ER visits for flu-like illnesses in New York City swelled sixfold during the height of the flu season, from a low of fewer than 80 visits per day to a zenith of nearly 500 visits per day.

If the Ebola detection system continues to widen its net during flu season and to provide airborne isolation precautions for suspected Ebola patients following the spectacular example the CDC has set in public, we will quickly fill the approximately 200 negative-pressure airborne isolation rooms in New York City emergency departments. This will make it harder to isolate patients who truly require these facilities—including the hundreds of laboratory-confirmed cases of airborne diseases tuberculosis, varicella, and measles we treat annually.

The new case in Texas underscores this point: We need to focus on properly adhering to prevention techniques that we know decrease the spread of this disease. We should not add burdensome extras that look good for the media, do nothing for safety, and scare other patients away who need immediate medical evaluation…

Currently, many of your top doctors and health care policy leaders are doing a poor job of distinguishing between systemic readiness and panic. I invite laypeople to encourage their health care providers and government agency leaders to remember this crucial distinction, both for this current epidemic as well as the inevitable next one.

I gotta say, it’s pretty scary that a health care worker in Dallas who was using all the proper equipment still got sick.  But we sure cannot afford to treat everyone who comes into the hospital with a fever or flu-like symptoms as if they have Ebola.

Would we have an Ebola vaccine

if NIH funding hadn’t been cut?  The Director thinks so.  First, the chart:

francis collins

Dr. Francis Collins, the head of the National Institutes of Health, said that a decade of stagnant spending has “slowed down” research on all items, including vaccinations for infectious diseases. As a result, he said, the international community has been left playing catch-up on a potentially avoidable humanitarian catastrophe.

“NIH has been working on Ebola vaccines since 2001. It’s not like we suddenly woke up and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we should have something ready here,'” Collins told The Huffington Post on Friday. “Frankly, if we had not gone through our 10-year slide in research support, we probably would have had a vaccine in time for this that would’ve gone through clinical trials and would have been ready.”

It’s not just the production of a vaccine that has been hampered by money shortfalls. Collins also said that some therapeutics to fight Ebola “were on a slower track than would’ve been ideal, or that would have happened if we had been on a stable research support trajectory.”

“We would have been a year or two ahead of where we are, which would have made all the difference,” he said.

But, hey, why worry about funding something as trifling as public health when there are millionaires who need to pay less in taxes and battleships to be built.

Cable News is for old people

I already knew this was true, especially among Fox viewers, but this bit in this NYT story on the declining fortunes of MSNBC really is something:

The median age of the MSNBC viewer has also ticked upward. Five years ago it was 58; now it is 61. CNN has edged down a bit, from 62 five years ago to 59. Fox News has aged from 65 to 68.

Yowza.  Do they ever run ads for anything that’s not prescription drugs?  (I wouldn’t know, I never watch cable news– and I’m not going to when I’m 60 damnit).  As for MSNBC, lots of interesting reasons offered for their decline, but speaking for this particular liberal, I’m just not interested in “news” that seems more interested in making me feel good about my “team” than in actually informing me.

Photo of the day

From an In Focus photos of the week gallery:

Cows stand in a meadow on a mountain in front of Mount Saentis (2,502 meters/8,209 feet above sea level) during sunny autumn weather near the eastern Swiss town of Wattwill on October 9, 2014. (Reuters/Arnd Wiegmann)

Chart of the day

I love that David Goldenberg at 538 analyzed the most popular animals for each letter in children’s books (e.g., d is for dog).  And the winner, Z is for Zebra over 90% of the time.


This was particularly noteworthy for me as Dr. Seuss’ ABC has always been one of my favorites “Rosie’s Red Rhinoceros” “Ten Tired Turtles” “Camels on the Ceiling” etc., but I hate how it ends… “What begins with Z… I do.  I am a Zizzer Zazzer Zuzz as you can plainly see.”  The whole rest of the book is pretty much real, but silly things (e.g,. the quacking quackeroo is a duck) and then we get this fantastical creature when we should have had a zebra!  Maybe Dr. Seuss just wanted to be different given the dominance of Zebras.


The economics of parenting style

Thanks to Jeff D. for sending me this economic analysis of parenting style by country, certainly knowing it would be catnip for me.  And, indeed it is.  Basically, the authors compare beliefs about child-rearing with the amount of inequality as measured in a country.

First, the parenting styles:

In developmental psychology, the broad strategies that parents employ in raising their children are known as ‘parenting styles’. Starting with a seminal contribution by Baumrind (1967), a distinction between three main parenting styles has taken hold: Authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive. As the name suggests, the authoritarian style is one where parents demand obedience from their children and exercise strict control; this style is often associated with corporal punishment. Permissive parents, in contrast, follow a laissez-faire approach and let children make their own choices. The authoritative style is one where parents attempt to influence their children’s choices, but they do so by reasoning with them and by shaping their values, rather than through command and discipline.

I’ve actually written before about research that shows that authoritative parenting led to the best results with teens’ drinking behavior.  Most of this analysis, though, groups authoritarian and authoritative together as “coercive” parenting styles. There are some pretty interesting, though not all that surprising results.  The relationship with the value of children valuing “hard work” is easily the most clear:


And here’s the key summary:

In our research, we show that cross-country data on parenting styles are consistent with the prediction of a link between parenting and income inequality. Parenting style can be measured using the World Value Survey, where people are asked which attitudes or values they find most important in child rearing. Here, emphasising the values of ‘imagination’ and ‘independence’ in rearing children would correspond to a more permissive parenting style, whereas authoritarian and authoritative parents would be more likely to insist on the importance of ‘working hard’. Figures 1 to 3 show the association of these values (i.e., the fraction of parents in a given country that consider the value important) with a measure of income inequality, namely the Gini index (higher values correspond to more inequality). As predicted by the theory, across OECD economies parents in more unequal countries place more emphasis on hard work, and consider imagination and independence to be less important. Conversely, Scandinavian parents emphasise the value of imagination and independence, consistent with the casual observation that in these countries children enjoy more leeway than their peers in Southern Europe and the US. The pattern also holds up for developing countries. As an example, Figure 4 adds China to the picture – a country with pronounced economic inequality. As predicted by the theory, in China emphasising the importance of hard work is almost universal among parents.

There’s a fairly thorough economics discussion of all this, too, but I’m going to cut to this particular chase:

A final question is why among the intensive parenting strategies, modern parents increasingly rely on the subtle indoctrination methods of the authoritative style, rather than the command-and-control approach of an authoritarian parent. The methods of the ‘Tiger Mom’ notwithstanding (which have both authoritarian and authoritative elements), traditional authoritarian parenting with its ample use of corporal punishment is becoming less common in many countries. From the economic perspective, the advantage of the authoritative approach is that the children, once successfully indoctrinated, no longer need to be monitored to do the right thing – they will implement the parent’s preferred choices on their own accord. Hence, authoritative parenting is more attractive than the authoritarian style when monitoring is difficult or impossible. We believe that the authoritarian style is declining because the economic returns to the independence of children have risen. [emphasis mine] The crucial phase of education is now often the college or post-graduate level rather than elementary or secondary school. Once off to university, children are no longer under the direct control of their parents, and they will succeed only if the appropriate values (such as valuing hard work and academic success) have already been instilled in them.

That’s a reasonable economic argument and it may explain some of the change, but I think the authoritarian style is in decline because our values have “evolved,” if you will.  I don’t think this is so much about the economics of independent children as a change in societal values.  Just as social values towards other races, gays, women, domestic violence, etc., have gotten better, our attitudes towards children and how they should be raised have also changed for the better.  Economics is good stuff and these relationships are interesting, but when it comes to authoritarian vs. authoritative, I would go with a sociological, rather than economic, explanation.

And as for me, I definitely aim for authoritative but probably too often fall into permissive.  That said, most authoritarian and authoritative parents are simply trying too hard.  Not me.

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