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Evan Hughes for WORLD

(Evan Hughes for WORLD)

Lifestyle

Loosening knot

Outside the ranks of the highly educated, the institution of marriage is weakening

In middle America, marriage is in trouble." That's how the National Marriage Project (NMP) began its new report on the state of marriage in the country. Based on extensive polling, the NMP found that marriage among the best-educated Americans (those with a college degree or better) is "stable and appears to be getting stronger." The NMP argued that among the educational middle (a high school diploma and maybe some college or trade school but no four-year degree) marriage is "foundering," and among the least-educated (no high school diploma) marriage is "fragile and weak."

The NMP reported some good news: Americans of every level still largely aspire to marriage, as 75 percent believe "being married is an important ideal." Evidence indicates a small uptick in marriage among the most well-educated. Although they marry later than previous generations, they are less likely to divorce or bear children out of wedlock. They are also more likely to pass on marriage-minded attitudes to their children.

But the report contains mostly bad news. Those with middling levels of education-58 percent of the adult population from age 25 to 60-used to be more similar to the highly-educated in behavior and attitudes about marriage. Over the past 20 years, they have come to resemble more the least-educated, leaving a marriage gap between the highly-educated and the rest of the population. Americans whether liberal or conservative, religious or not, should care about this because, as the NMP notes, marriage "helps to ensure the economic, social, and emotional welfare of countless children, women, and men in this nation."

The well-educated understand this in practice if not always in politics. They embrace what the report calls the "success sequence," where education leads to work, which leads to marriage, which leads to childbearing-in that order. Other Americans, though, are increasingly less likely to embrace the "bourgeois values and virtues" that are crucial to marital success, things like delaying gratification and having temperance. People in the middle have also become more accepting of divorce and premarital sex. They are engaging in more marital infidelity and having more sexual partners, making it less likely that their marriages will last and more likely that they will conceive children outside of marriage.

The NMP cites another factor affecting marriage among those in the middle: the rise in the "soulmate" model of marriage. A generation ago getting married was a step to adulthood. Marriage was the institution that made possible sexual intimacy, childbearing, companionship, and economic stability. Couples hoped for happiness, but they were often willing to endure unhappy marriages for the sake of its other benefits. In contrast, the "soulmate" model makes happiness and personal satisfaction the goal of marriage.

According to the report, the well-educated are more likely to have jobs and no out-of-wedlock children, so their marriages tend to be happier. Other Americans, though, increasingly experience a gap between the ideal of soulmate marriage and the reality of their own lives. They have been hard hit by the recent recession and the loss of many high-wage, lower-skilled jobs. Marriage may be an ideal, but more than half of the least educated Americans aged 25-44 say that "marriage has not worked out for most people [they] know." Forty-three percent of those in the middle agree, but only 17 percent who are highly educated hold that view.

What can Christians do to help? The NMP points out an area of concern: People across all education levels are less connected to churches or other houses of worship than they were a generation ago, but the decline is most marked in the middle. Folks who are struggling are less likely to belong to or attend church, and less likely to get the support, encouragement, and teaching that would help them marry and stay married.

What's at stake if marriage continues to falter among those in the middle? The NMP found that "if marriage becomes unachievable for all but the highly educated, then the American experiment itself will be at risk. The disappearance of marriage in Middle America would endanger the American Dream, the emotional and social welfare of children, and the stability of the social fabric in thousands of communities across the country." (The complete report and supporting statistics are at virginia.edu/marriageproject.)

For music lovers

The digital archives of the Beethoven-Haus in Bonn have a treasure trove of documents, pictures, and all things Beethoven-related. The archives include listening samples along with information about each piece. You can even send email greeting cards containing a bit of Beethoven (beethoven-haus-bonn.de/sixcms/detail.php?template=startseite_digitales_archiv_en).

Keeping Score (keepingscore.org) is another music-related website, with materials drawn from a public television and radio program featuring the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. Music samples, photographs, narration, and snippets of PBS video tell about the lives of significant composers and analyze one of their works. The website has in-depth materials on Hector Berlioz, Charles Ives, and Dmitri Shostakovich, and interactive features on Beethoven, Stravinsky, Copland, and Tchaikovsky.

LifestyleBasic training

Are your parents computer illiterates? Teach Parents Tech (teachparentstech.org) features short "how-to" videos that explain how to do simple things-cut and paste, enlarge on-screen text, change the wallpaper-and also things that those who just use computers as word processors may not know: making calls from computers, shortening a url, or uploading a video. The website's home page resembles a memo pad, complete with boxes to check off indicating recipient, a greeting, the selected video, a closing, and your name. After previewing the completed message, you just type in your email address and the email address of the recipient, and click send.

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©2010 David Kadlubowski/Genesis Photos

(©2010 David Kadlubowski/Genesis Photos)

Lifestyle

Justice suspended

A small businessman learns the hard way about predatory "patrollers"

SOUTHFIELD, Mich.-Twenty years ago Sal Herman, an immigrant to the United States from Israel with a high-school education, figured out how to make a suspender clip that wouldn't slip off the pants it was supposed to hold up. Herman, now 64, received patent 4,901,408 in February 1990. He then founded the Holdup Suspender Company in a Detroit suburb, Southfield.

The company has grown because its website boast is apparently accurate: "The Holdup Suspender Company has the cure for frustrated suspender wearers all over the world. . . . Our exclusive no-slip clip is guaranteed to never slip-slide or pop off your pants." Herman's invention led to jobs for himself, his wife, and three other people, and for employees of his supplier in Taiwan, where the clips are manufactured and etched with his patent number.

In June 2008 the patent expired, but Herman never bothered to remove the expired number from the clips: "Why should I take it off? . . . It didn't hurt anybody." True-but it provided opportunity to a company known as Unique Product Solutions of Dayton, Ohio. Unique on Sept. 1 sued the Holdup Suspender Company for using "invalid and unenforceable patent rights in advertising with the purpose of deceiving the public."

Unique filed similar suits against 13 companies in July alone. Its lawyers are seizing the opportunity created by a D.C. circuit court ruling in December 2009-Forest Group v. Bon Tool Company-that changed the fine for using an expired patent number from $500 per incident to $500 per unit. It also said anyone could sue without having to prove competitive injury. It gave a financial incentive to sue because plaintiffs split the fines with the federal government.

That ruling jumped the potential fine for Herman's violation from $500 to $40 million: In the past two years his company produced approximately 80,000 clips etched with the expired number, and each one could carry a fine of $500. Unique's potential windfall is $20 million, and Unique is only one of the companies that have become "patrollers," searching for expired patent numbers (those below 5,500,000). When they find them they sue: Since the ruling, 675 false patent marking lawsuits have added to the U.S. litigation load-compared to 37 in the previous two years.

Herman says he could probably settle his lawsuit for $100,000. That's on top of the $30,000 he spent to hire a half dozen people at $10/hour to unbag every suspender in his inventory, grind off the offending number, and rebag them-a process that took seven weeks. But he doesn't want to pay what his lawyer calls a "shakedown" and his wife calls "extortion." Herman prefers to talk about "a travesty of justice." I called Unique to get its perspective, but no one returned my call.

Herman complains that no one ever told him he had to take the numbers off: "It's not the American way. The government just changed the rule 10 months ago." He argues that the patent system, dating from the time Abraham Lincoln was president, is outdated. Having the patent number on his suspender clip didn't keep anyone from innovating, he says. It could actually help competition because Google allows an inventor an easy way to look up the number, see what it covers, and potentially design an improvement-just as Herman did back in the pre-Google 1980s.

In October Rep. Bob Latta, R-Ohio, introduced H.R. 6352, the Patent Lawsuit Reform Act of 2010, to return the situation to the way it was before the circuit court ruling. Latta notes that "during this time of economic uncertainty, companies should not have to worry about expending additional resources on lawsuits based on one court's interpretation of current law."

In the meantime, Herman keeps innovating. On May 4 he received a new patent, D614,946 S, for an improvement to his suspender clips.

Dinner and a movie

Actor and comedian Albin Sadar creates gag gifts like The Men's Underwear Repair Kit and Mistletoe on the Go: Stick it and Smooch ("portable mistletoe that attaches to the forehead with a suction cup, allowing you to 'accidentally' find yourself under the mistletoe with . . . anyone who strikes your fancy.") But he also has a serious side.

One Wednesday a month, he and a group of volunteers with Hope For New York host a Pizza and Movie Night at St. Paul's House, a mission to the homeless in the Manhattan West Side neighborhood officially dubbed "Clinton" but traditionally known as Hell's Kitchen. When the doors open, men and women file into the basement room, park their carts, stuff their backpacks under chairs, and pick up a bowl of popcorn and a cup of soda. Sadar, who has been doing movie night for 16 years, greets most of the men and women by name. Later, he and three to five other volunteers pass out pizza.

Sadar selects movies that he thinks the men and women will enjoy and that will lead to good discussions about meaning, purpose, and hope. Ultimately he wants to talk to them about Jesus. On the night I visited, Sadar showed The Astronaut Farmer, which stars Billy Bob Thornton as an amateur rocket builder who pursues his dream to be an astronaut despite the ridicule of neighbors and the opposition of NASA.

The homeless audience consumed 22 pizza pies (eight sausage, eight pepperoni, two mushroom, four plain) and 15 two-liter bottles of Coke, and at the end of the movie applauded-a rare response, Sadar says. Ratatouille was another movie that received an ovation.

Becoming branded

Does belief in God inoculate a person from being overly brand-conscious? That's the conclusion reached by Ron Shachar, a business professor in Israel. He and scientists from Duke University and NYU researched the connection between a person's religiosity and brand reliance. They found that non-religious folks tend to use stuff to express who they are to the outside world. The researchers found "more secular populations are more prone to define their self-worth through loyalty to corporate brands instead of religious denominations."

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Miguel Villagran/Getty Images

(Miguel Villagran/Getty Images)

Lifestyle

Adoption obstacles

Tough challenges face those addressing an international orphan crisis

November is National Adoption Month, so I asked Chuck Johnson, the new CEO and president of the National Committee for Adoption (NCFA), about adoption trends and challenges.

First the good news: "There's not a dime's worth of difference" between Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, in concern for adoption issues. "It's the only issue you can get agreement on." Just before Congress took off for the election break, it renewed for another year the adoption tax credit scheduled to expire in December. Johnson hopes they'll make the tax credit permanent.

That political unity can't overcome tough challenges, especially regarding inter-country and domestic infant adoptions. Johnson said that legitimate concerns about corruption in some countries and a series of missteps by a few adoption service providers have cast a shadow over all inter-country adoptions. Officials have a "duty and obligation" to make sure children are legitimate orphans or their parents have relinquished rights, he says, but he's worried about what happens when you let those concerns disrupt all adoptions: "You end up hurting many more children."

The numbers are revealing: Inter-country adoptions fell to a 13-year low in 2009, when fewer than 13,000 took place. Johnson fears the 2010 story will be even worse, with fewer than 11,000 occurring this year. Some formerly popular countries like Vietnam and Guatemala are now closed, and the State Department recently suspended adoptions from Nepal. Countries that are still open-China and Russia, for instance-have decreased the number of children they are letting out of the country.

Johnson says inter-country adoption is only a small part of the solution to the international orphan crisis. He notes that Americans adopt more children internationally than all other countries combined. With 50,000 international adoptions worldwide barely making a dent in the number of orphans needing adoption, the challenge is to turn adoption-hostile cultures into adoption-friendly ones.

As Americans have become more aware of the orphan crisis, they have been willing to adopt special-needs children. Johnson said 60 percent of the Chinese adoptions now involve special-needs kids: "People are lining up and waiting to adopt regardless of race, health, or culture of the child."

Despite high rates of out-of-wedlock pregnancy and abortion, pregnant women are still not turning to domestic infant adoption: In 2007 only 22,000 domestic infant adoptions occurred. The federal government has tried to encourage adoption options, and NCFA has a grant-The Infant Adoption Training Initiative-to train family planning and healthcare workers to discuss adoption with pregnant clients. Pregnant women for the most part don't consider it a viable choice even though research shows that women who place their babies for adoption generally do well in life and are happy with their choice.

The one bright spot in adoption is a small increase in the number of children adopted out of foster care. According to the Administration for Children and Families, 52,000 children were adopted out of foster care in 2005. In 2009 that number had increased to 57,000. At the same time, the number of children waiting to be adopted from foster care declined from 131,000 to 115,000.

'Mercy and grace in action'

>>November is National Adoption Month, so I asked Chuck Johnson, the new CEO and president of the National Committee for Adoption (NCFA), about adoption trends and challenges.

First the good news: "There's not a dime's worth of difference" between Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, in concern for adoption issues. "It's the only issue you can get agreement on." Just before Congress took off for the election break, it renewed for another year the adoption tax credit scheduled to expire in December. Johnson hopes they'll make the tax credit permanent.

That political unity can't overcome tough challenges, especially regarding inter-country and domestic infant adoptions. Johnson said that legitimate concerns about corruption in some countries and a series of missteps by a few adoption service providers have cast a shadow over all inter-country adoptions. Officials have a "duty and obligation" to make sure children are legitimate orphans or their parents have relinquished rights, he says, but he's worried about what happens when you let those concerns disrupt all adoptions: "You end up hurting many more children."

The numbers are revealing: Inter-country adoptions fell to a 13-year low in 2009, when fewer than 13,000 took place. Johnson fears the 2010 story will be even worse, with fewer than 11,000 occurring this year. Some formerly popular countries like Vietnam and Guatemala are now closed, and the State Department recently suspended adoptions from Nepal. Countries that are still open-China and Russia, for instance-have decreased the number of children they are letting out of the country.

Johnson says inter-country adoption is only a small part of the solution to the international orphan crisis. He notes that Americans adopt more children internationally than all other countries combined. With 50,000 international adoptions worldwide barely making a dent in the number of orphans needing adoption, the challenge is to turn adoption-hostile cultures into adoption-friendly ones.

As Americans have become more aware of the orphan crisis, they have been willing to adopt special-needs children. Johnson said 60 percent of the Chinese adoptions now involve special-needs kids: "People are lining up and waiting to adopt regardless of race, health, or culture of the child."

Despite high rates of out-of-wedlock pregnancy and abortion, pregnant women are still not turning to domestic infant adoption: In 2007 only 22,000 domestic infant adoptions occurred. The federal government has tried to encourage adoption options, and NCFA has a grant-The Infant Adoption Training Initiative-to train family planning and healthcare workers to discuss adoption with pregnant clients. Pregnant women for the most part don't consider it a viable choice even though research shows that women who place their babies for adoption generally do well in life and are happy with their choice.

The one bright spot in adoption is a small increase in the number of children adopted out of foster care. According to the Administration for Children and Families, 52,000 children were adopted out of foster care in 2005. In 2009 that number had increased to 57,000. At the same time, the number of children waiting to be adopted from foster care declined from 131,000 to 115,000.

Family businesses

The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption published recently its list of the most adoption-friendly workplaces. The Wendy's/Arby's Group, founded by Thomas, placed first. It offers its employees a maximum $24,300 reimbursement for adoption expenses and six weeks of paid leave. Other companies in the top 10 include Citizen's Financial Group, Liquidnet, LSI Corporation, Putnam Investments, Vanguard Group, Subaru of America, BHP Billiton, The Timberland Company, and Barilla America.

Some companies provide benefits only to full-time employees, but more than half provide benefits to part-timers as well. The financial services industry is the most adoption friendly, with 20 companies making it into the top 100. Despite the availability of generous benefits, only half of 1 percent of eligible employees take advantage of them each year. Nonetheless, human services managers say the benefit helps create a family-friendly workplace. Even employees who don't take advantage of it like the fact that their companies offer it.

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