Marrying Out (A Story Goes With It)

July 29, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

Brad Wright posts this chart from a Pew report on marrying outside the faith.

(Click on the chart for a larger, more legible view.)

There’s much to be said, but one thing struck me: for people who marry outside the faith, the most popular other faith is
  • either the religion that’s similar (e.g., Orthodox and Catholic, Buddhist and unaffiliated) or
  • the religion that has the most people – i.e., Protestant.
With one exception: Jews. Jews who marry outside the faith are much more likely to marry a Catholic.

I chalk this up to opportunity and proximity. Jews tend to live in places where there are also a high proportion of Catholics. In New York City, for example, where Jews are about 18% of the population, they are far more likely to meet a Catholic (50%) than a Protestant (10%).

That’s my explanation. Here’s the story.

My friend Robert, who takes his Judaism fairly seriously, sent his son Peter to Trinity, one of the top private schools in the city. (Despite its name, it’s nondenominational, with a strong ethical, though not religious, orientation. It also had the advantage of being only a few blocks from his house.)

One Saturday morning, Robert took Peter, then about seven, to shul. After the service, one of the older men from the congregation was talking with them, pinching the kid’s cheek, saying what a cute boy he was, asking what grade he was in. “First.” And where did he go to school. “Trinity,” said Peter.

“Oy gevalt.”

For the next couple of weeks, little Peter walked around saying, “Oy gevalt, oy gevalt” in a pretty fair imitation of the alte kocker.

I knew that Peter wasn’t the only Jewish kid at Trinity. And when Robert told me this story, I asked him what the Jewish proportion at Trinity was.

“Fifty percent,” he said. “Every kid has one Jewish parent.”

And most likely, the other parent was Catholic.

Fast forward twenty years or so. At the end of next month, Peter is getting married. To a nice Jewish girl.

Arlo and Nostalgia - But For What?

July 26, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

The New York Times Magazine brief interview with Arlo Guthrie today opens with questions about “the fuss that is being made over the 40th anniversary” of Woodstock. But the picture of Arlo that accompanies the interview took me back not to 1969 (or even 1967, the year of Arlo’s recorded performance of Alice’s Restaurant at the Newport Folk Festival), but to another performance thirty years before Woodstock.



(Note: this post has no sociological content or import that I can see. If anybody finds some, please let me know.)9

I Wonder Who's Dissing Who Now?

July 25, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

If Gates had been white . . . . That’s the refrain you keep hearing from the left side of the street. There’s nothing else to suggest that racism was involved. Gates himself says as much:
If I had been white this incident never would have happened. . . .Whether he’s an individual racist? I don’t know—I don’t know him.
I’m not so sure. If Gates and the cab driver who helped force the door had been white, it’s much less likely the neighbor would have called the cops. But once the cop is there, and someone is challenging his authority, the scene may end in handcuffs, disorderly conduct charges, and artful police reports. Even for whites.

The trouble is that these two men managed to turn a misunderstanding into a contest of egos, or as Steve Teles puts it, a matter of “honor.” Honor, respect, dissing, messing with. “You don’t know who you’re messing with,” Gates allegedly yelled at the cop. And Sgt. Crowley showed Gates that he didn’t know who he was messing with – a cop. Each felt that the other was not according him Respect. Rodney Dangerfield as tragedy.

I’m asking a different question – not what if Gates had been white, but what if Gates and Crowley had been women? I think the tendency to turn misunderstandings or disagreements into character contests is largely a guy thing.* And I like to think that women would have behaved far more sensibly.

That’s why I was so impressed with Obama’s impromptu appearance at the daily press briefing. It wasn’t just that he broke protocol – instead of letting the press secretary handle it, he came to the press room himself and addressed the reporters directly (“you guys,” as he calls them). And it wasn’t just that he said he’d made a mistake (though that is a refreshing contrast to his predecessor). It’s that he had phoned Sgt. Crowley and tried to resolve the problem.

Here, and this wasn’t the first time, Obama frames things as “This is a problem; let’s find a solution,” when others (like Gates and Crowley) frame it as “Let’s have a contest – fight, debate, law suit, etc. – to determine who’s right (i.e., who’s morally superior.)”

No doubt, the boys in the blogs and elsewhere will continue to frame this as a zero-sum game. This morning’s New York Post declares, “Obama’s Cop Backdown.” What I see as problem-solving, the Post sees as a fight, a contest, a challenge, with Obama backing down.


* Yes, I’m well aware that the best-known statement on respect, clearly spelling out the concept and its importance, is by a woman. And yes, elsewhere in the culture, Ann Coulter is, as far as I know, a woman. But few generalizations about gender differences apply to all cases.

Tumult in Harvard Square

July 24, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

“Tumultuous” was the part of the Henry Louis Gates story that seemed most unusual. White cop arrests a black man who has committed no crime except to challenge the cop’s authority – nothing much new here. But I don’t usually think of tumultuous as a word that comes quickly to the tongues of cops on the street, even around Harvard Square. But there it was in the report: Gates had been “exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior.”

I’d forgotten that a police department is a bureaucracy, part of the larger bureaucratic structure of the law. The cop on the street may be just an ordinary male responding to a challenge to his authority. But the cop in the precinct writing up the report is a bureaucrat. And part of bureaucratic work is making cases conform to the regulations as written.*

Here’s one relevant passage from the ruling case in Massachusetts law on disorderly conduct:
to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof, he: (a) engages in fighting or threatening, or in violent or tumultuous behavior;
OK, that accounts for tumultuous. But why did Officer Crowley ask Gates to come out of his own house?
Explaining for the first time why he lured Gates out of his home, Crowley said he sought to protect himself and Gates from a potential intruder as he responded to a call for breaking and entering. (Boston Herald)
The explanation comes a day or two after the fact, or rather, after the facts, including the fact that Gates is a man in his late fifties who walks with a cane, and the fact that he showed the cop his ID.

This post-facto pretext went down well in the conservative press. The Wall Street Journal used it as what it called a “teaching moment”:
one lesson is that it’s usually better to cooperate during encounters with law enforcement so that matters don’t escalate needlessly. And if a cop asks you to step out on the porch, or away from your car, it’s probably because he’s concerned for his own safety.
Maybe he’s thinking about his own safety. But maybe he’s also thinking about the law on disorderly conduct, which requires that the behavior be public.
`Public' means affecting or likely to affect persons in a place to which the public or a substantial group has access.'. . .
Inside your own house is not “public.” So if you want my name and badge number, step outside here where there are other people, and . . . . you’re under arrest for disorderly conduct.


*According to one analysis, it was not the arresting officer who wrote up the report. Instead it was left to two officers who were perhaps more versed in the language of the law.

(Note: Much of what I’ve said here, it turns out, was already said by Mark Kleiman on his blog. Mark’s post is more detailed, somewhat more technical, and just generally better.)