Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Corporate Discontents

I just had someone say to me earnestly on a conference call:

"We can't just say that because all the people responsible for doing this work were laid off, the work doesn't get done."

There was silence for a nearly a minute and then one of us finally spoke up and said:

"Why not?"

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Story in Graphs

Once upon a time there was a country -- it had its problems as any nation does, but it did well enough. Its people prided themselves on working hard, and they were comparatively well off: less so than the UK, more so than Spain and Italy.

They'd had the good fortune to have none of their infrastructure destroyed during World War II, and after the war they experienced a boom as an exporter. Things slowed, however, in the late 60s and early 70s. Some said this was because the rest of the world got better at growing their own food and manufacturing their own goods. Others said it was because they allowed too much immigration. Some said it was because the welfare programs they created in the 60s ate away at the motivation to work hard.  Others said it was because unions became weak. Whatever the reason, their average income in inflation adjusted terms grew much more slowly than it had, and there was a good deal of discontentment and disagreement as to what to do about it all and who was at fault. Here's a graph of their average family income in inflation-adjusted US Dollars.

Now, many of you may already see quite clearly what I'm playing at. This country is ours -- to be precise it's part of ours. The graph above is a graph of the income of the 20th percentile of US families in constant dollar terms (inflation adjusted to 2008 dollars). And if you want to see why it is that people get angry about the graph, one need only add a second trend, the income of the 80th percentile of US families:

When you put these two next to each other, what gains the 20th percentile has seen look pretty paltry. For whatever reason, the people who inhabit the 80th percentile in regards to earnings are doing much better in terms of increasing their income than those in the 20th percentile.

There are plenty of theories as to why this could be: immigration, technology, less unionization, welfare, low taxes, businesses being eeeeeeevilllllll, etc.

One of the things I've been wondering about lately is whether the global marketplace affects different segments of the US population very differently. I was trying to think of a way to look for this, and what I came up with was looking at the percentage of the world GDP which is represented by the US GDP. Unfortunately, the data source I found for this (the World Bank, see sources below) only had data since 1960, which is unfortunate because the theory I wanted to look at was this:

The US emerged from WW2 as the premier industrial power, and the only first rank power without significant damage to its infrastructure from the war. Thus, the whole world was one big market for American goods (manufactured, agricultural, etc.) in the period right after the war and up through the 60s. However, as the rest of the world recovered/developed, working class Americans increasingly experienced competition from abroad. However, because the the continued global dominance of the US, more skilled and educated US workers continued to reap the benefits of overall world economic growth.

This struck me as interesting, in that at a visual level it did seem to show that back when the income of the 20th percentile was growing rapidly in the 60s, the US made up a larger percentage of World GDP, and yet the rest of the world was growing rapidly. That would seem to fit with a story my story very roughly. It also seems interesting that the US percent of world GDP stablizes right around the time that the 20th percentile's income hit its plataeu, around 1970.

I'd need data going back to 1947 and a better way of representing the degree to which the US was the engine of global post-war economic growth. I'd also need to come up with some clearer idea of what changed around 1970.

So I don't think there's a clear conclusion here, but I thought the visuals were at least interesting enough to share.

US income data:
World economic data:


In which Christopher finds himself cataloging a treasure trove of relics:
A friend inherited his father's religious items when he passed a few years ago. Boxes and boxes and boxes full of things. He kept them in storage and little by little opened and inventoried each one. Mostly there were books, some quite valuable, but also a very large collection of relics. He finally found and unpacked the bulk of them earlier this year. So when he called to ask for my help in identifying and organizing what he had, I practically tripped over myself getting over there.

When I arrived, my preconceived idea of a little museum of grace was turned on its head. My friend had told me it was disorganized. How right he was. There was almost nothing I could do to help while sitting in his living room with the big pile of holy mess on the table before me. Documents were missing or damaged or undecipherable. Bits of cotton wrapped in tape. Letters, unidentified pieces of cloth. Broken bits of glass and bent metal. Some of the relics were simply nailed to a piece of fiber-board. Some were damaged. Some were empty. Etc. Etc. Etc.

I "selflessly" volunteered (you believe that, right?) to take the whole collection home with me and do it justice. My friend was very happy with the offer as he runs his own business and has a lot on his plate. As we carried the boxes out to my car, he told me that if I found myself drawn to anything in the collection, to take what I wanted... Yes, you read that right LOL So I spent about three weeks researching not only the lives of the saints whose bodies and posessions were destined to be cut up into little bits and placed in thecas and reliquaries and little hand-sewn purses, but also the science, terminology, and phenomenon of relics.
Read the rest.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Hobbesian Gun Control

I was struck by a passage out of this recent National Review piece by Keven D. Williamson in reference to gun control:
People have a visceral reaction to guns, which is why the reactions to the Supreme Court’s recent decision in McDonald v. City of Chicago have been so emotional. One extraordinarily telling reaction came from David Ignatius of the Washington Post, whose response was headlined: “The Supreme Court Gun Decision Moves Us Toward Anarchy.” Mr. Ignatius wrote: “My biggest worry with Monday’s Supreme Court decision is that by ruling, in effect, that every American can apply for a gun license, the justices will make gun ownership much more pervasive in a society that already has too many guns. After all, if I know that my neighbor is armed and preparing for Armageddon situations where law and order break down (as so many are — just read the right-wing blogs) then I have to think about protecting my family, too. That’s the state-of-nature, everyone for himself logic that prevails in places such as Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Mr. Ignatius here is remarkably forthcoming: He is not worried about guns in the hands of criminals, but about guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens, people who are willing to apply for a permit and jump through the bureaucratic hoops re­quired of gun buyers. His nightmare is not an America in which criminals run amok with Glocks, or even an America in which gun permits are handed out liberally, but an America in which “every American can apply for a gun license.” Never mind the approval of licenses, the mere application gives Mr. Ignatius the howling fantods. It is wonderfully apt that he references the “state of nature” in his criticism, imagining a Hobbesian version of life in these United States: solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short, permeated by the aroma of cordite. Mr. Ignatius, like Thomas Hobbes, is casting his lot with Leviathan and makes no apology for it.

That is the essence of 21st-century progressivism: In matters ranging from financial derivatives to education to gun control, the Left believes that we face a choice between a masterful state and a Hobbesian war of all against all. For all of the smart set’s vaunted and self-congratulatory nu­ance, it is this absolutist vision, this Manichean horror, that forms the foun­dation of progressivism.
This strikes me as getting rather directly at the divergence of views in regards to gun control. Conservatives, in favor of legal gun possession by citizens, are often accused of endorsing a Hobbesian worldview in which they are at war with the world and need to arm themselves in order to protect themselves. This does not, however, tie well with my experiences as a gun owner and knowing other gun owners. Far from a bunch of angry loners out for themselves against everybody, you'll seldom run into a more friendly and outgoing bunch of guys and those down at the shooting range -- eager to show you their guns, help teach beginners, offer advice, etc. Sure, there are doubtless some bozos out there who have managed to legally get hold of guns and aren't to be trusted, but generally speaking I really don't find myself worried about the legal gun owners of the world, least of all those who have gone through the lengthy and highly regulated process of applying for things like concealed carry permits. You are unlikely to find a group of people less likely to commit crimes than legal concealed carry permit holders.

And yet, the reaction among anti-gun advocates is entirely the opposite. To them, the ownership of a gun makes you more likely to turn violent, and nothing seems more terrifying to them than that someone might (after background checks, training and licensing by the state) be carrying a concealed handgun. It does seem very much as if they are convinced that if only people are given the means of violence, a weapon, then they will revert to some sort of savage natural state and become violent. That it is only the strong arm of the state making sure that no one possesses weapons that keeps us from all being at each other's throats.

Three Weeks Wonderful

Baby has a perpetual expression of suspicion or concern. This is the result of having four loving older siblings.

Having a three-week-old baby is just perfect. I love babies -- I just don't love the work and time it takes to get them to this state of infant gorgeousness. If the stork really did drop off children fully gestated, I'd have one every year. Too bad biology don't play that way...

Baby is at her best in pastels -- even this pink outfit is a bit livid for her complexion. We call her the Peach because 1) she looks like a peach, and 2) she's got hair.

And just for kicks, here's a three week postpartum picture:

Monday, July 26, 2010

Real Sex vs. the Contraceptive Mentality (Part 4 & Conclusion)

[Continued from Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3]

NFP and the Contraceptive Mentality

In concluding this series, I'd like to address the question which originally set me on on this overly extended journey: Is it possible for users of Natural Family Planning to have a "contraceptive mentality" and if so what does that mean in the context of NFP?

I've described the contraceptive mentality as: The idea that having sex and reproducing are two activities with no necessary connection, that having sex in no way suggests a desire or willingness to have children with the person you are having sex with.

At root, I think that NFP is formulated in such a way as to be in direct opposition to the contraceptive mentality. According to an understanding of sexuality rooted in human instinct and biological reality, the way to avoid conceiving children is to not have sex. This is also the means of avoiding conception which is considered acceptable by the Church in the context of its understanding of the moral nature of sexuality. NFP is considered morally acceptable by the Church for the reason that it consists of avoiding pregnancy by not having sex, with the modern refinement of allowing the married couple to understand with a certain degree of confidence when it is that they need to avoid having sex in order to avoid conception. Rather than abstaining all the time in order to avoid pregnancy, the couple can abstain for between a quarter and half out of the woman's cycle, and achieve the same result with relative certainty.

For us as human persons, this requires a degree of self mastery over our natural instincts. The modern NFP-using married couple finds itself in a situation (well housed and fed by historical standards, healthy, and lying in bed with a member of the opposite sex with whom one would certainly not object to having conjugal relations) which would seem to scream: Have sex! Reproduce! But for various prudent reasons arrived at by human reason, they may well consider it important at a given time to overcome that instinct and abstain for a portion out of each month in order to avoid having children for a time.

However, while this use of periodic abstinence to avoid pregnancy does not necessarily involve the contraceptive mentality, indeed emphasizes quite the opposite, I think that as NFP-using couples we do find ourselves subject to the temptations of the wider culture in this regard.

The assumption which has, over the last 80+ years since the use of artificial birth control became widespread, become so basic to our culture as to be completely unspoken and unconscious, even among those of us who see ourselves as standing in opposition to it, is that a happily married husband and wife will have a "good sex life" consisting of regular marital relations, sometimes passionate or creative, sometimes comfortable and familiar, which expresses the couples love and affection for one another. Even for those of us who see fertility as a part of our marriage equal to and related to conjugal bliss, it's nearly impossible to shake the feeling of, "We're married; we should be able to do this."

Some NFP guides try to soften and direct this frustration: During the fertile part of the cycle, if you are delaying pregnancy, is a great time for date nights and cuddling and other non-sexual expressions of affection.

The message seems to be that one should somehow be able to channel all of one's desire for sex into the non-fertile periods of the cycle. You, as an NFP user can have sex whenever you want, if only you can first have the first have the self control to only want it when you can have it! And you should be able to do this, because marriage isn't just about sex. Just be organized enough to schedule the non-sexual parts of your marital relationship for the fertile parts of the wife's cycle.

I think this overly optimistic view of NFP misses a basic understanding of human nature which we ignore to our own confusion and frustration: We are as creatures designed to "want" to reproduce a good deal more than we as thinking human beings desire to, and going against our instincts in this realm requires a degree of self denial which is often experienced as frustration or unhappiness. We are unlikely to feel entirely satisfied while practicing NFP because practicing it means denying our instincts.

This is particularly hard for us in the modern world because the understanding of sex which existed before the 20th century is remote and nearly irrecoverable for us -- the understanding which saw it as something of a double-edged sword, intensely pleasurable but at the same time as potentially high in cost. If the relationships of prior centuries often seem to our modern eyes a bit distant or dour, it is in part because it is impossible for us to recover the real sense of potential cost which applied to sexual intercourse -- both because pregnancy is less risky now and because even for those who have never in their lives used contraception the idea that "we should be able to have sex" is inescapable.

I don't think that this is in any way a strike against NFP. Certainly, it makes the spacing of children easier upon a couple than not having the ability to read the signs of fertility, and I think that the reduced sense of risk or fear surrounding sex is indeed a good thing for marital relationships. However, we must at the same time understand that in seeking to apply prudence to our reproduction, and do so without use of artificial means which separate sex and reproduction, we necessarily will have to exert a degree of self control which will result in some degree of difficulty and frustration. If we deceive ourselves that such things can be achieved without difficulty, we set ourselves up for nothing but frustration and disappointment.

For those of us who reject artificial contraception, not getting pregnant requires not having sex, and not having sex means denying one's natural desires, which, as any dieter can tell you, requires self denial which is not always pleasant.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Socialization Problems

I was reminded the other day, at a large social function, of the frequently expressed worry that homeschooling one's children would result in "socialization problems".

To be sure, the kids, homeschooled and otherwise, were getting along famously. However one of the mothers, a new and enthusiastic convert to homeschooling, was pursuing with dedication another woman, determined in explaining to her in detail how the influences of John Dewey and the Prussian School System clearly proved that to send one's children to public school would be to turn them into automatons rather than to educate them.

What she seemed not to notice, in her dedication to her topic, was that the woman she was addressing kept moving away from her. Nor did she appear to connect this with the fact that the woman she had chosen as her audience is a public school teacher.

Chap Hop: Mr B, the Gentleman Rhymer

I'm a married woman, but: Where has Mr. B been all my life?

This is dedicated to Jennifer Fulwiler. She knows why.

(Note to our dedicated readers: We are sorry for the lack of posting lately. Sometimes life is funny, eventful, suspenseful, and unpostable. We hope to resume some sort of schedule soon.)

Friday, July 23, 2010

Thanks, man

I've given my children many good reasons never to get a tattoo, beginning with the most obvious: what will it look like when you're old? Now David Malki! has to go and undercut all my reasoning.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Greg Belmont, Emo Vampire Hunter

Who needs to read Twilight? This video tells me all I need to know:

The hawt vampire hunter with the hair is my cousin Jeff, BTW.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

When Focus is a Problem

As I've been getting back into the work routine, after the distance which taking two weeks off and watching a new life come into the world provides, one of the things that has been striking me is that my tendency to focus, something I've often prided myself on, is something of a double-edged sword.

On the bright side, when I really make a problem my own, I'm pretty good at gnawing away on it until it's solved -- even if this involves a few sheepish calls home that, "Uh, hon, I said I thought I'd be home by six o'clock, but it's starting to look more like seven to eight." And on small problems, I can usually finish things off pretty quickly and then devote my time to searching around for that illusive, "Something interesting on the net" or writing.

However, when a problem comes along which actually requires waiting on other people to get back to me, rather than just pounding away at things on my own until they're solved to my satisfaction, I tend to either lose focus entirely and move on to something else, or else obsessively check to see if Anyone Is Doing Anything Yet, even when I know this is highly unlikely. And find it very hard to focus on anything else.

The which is not at all a professional virtue, and indeed is at times well neigh crippling if one can't go off and find some detachment very quickly.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

In Which I Attempt To Read Faulkner

Every so often I'll get to feeling guilty about some gap in my literary education and set out to fill it. One of these persistent gaps relates to Southern writers, and so some time ago, an interminable time ago, indeed, a time that stretches back, it seems, even to 1864 and before, to those long hot afternoons filled with the scent of wisterias and endless resentments of the sort like unto those between Cain and Abel, except that in that case it was at least clear from whence the resentment sprang, whereas the resentments of Yoknapatawpha County are shrouded in grime and darkness as the globe of a front porch light, encrusted with the bodies of insects and the dust and detritus of the years since some man, or woman even, attempted to dispel the hot darkness of the southern night be installing electricity in the house which was never designed for such a thing, which indeed rejected the very idea of such an illumination with all the strength of its soul, if it had a soul, and seemed with active malice to darken and engrime those objects of unnatural light which had been so futily imposed upon it, at such a time, that is, I began to read Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!.

I would not want, of course, to scare other readers away from such a course. Absalom, Absalom! does move along in its way -- which is to say that that the underlying plot is interesting, and if you can manage to get through the first 170 pages of this 300 page book, it starts to pick up the pace a bit and give you some promise that you will actually find out what exactly it is that happened forty and sixty and seventy years before the primary frame of 1910 that has everyone feeling so Gothic.

I did finish, and I'm more or less glad that I did, though I don't think I'll be attempting any more Faulkner or other writers of the South for a while -- and even finishing this one eventually required that I take the extreme measure of not starting any other books until I finished it, since I knew that if I did it would all be over.


Friday, July 16, 2010

Brother Can You Spare a Sign?

From the "you can't make this stuff up" files, comes a story of those great champions of the American working man, unions. It can be tough to ask union workers to take time out of their busy days to picket businesses who hire non-union workers, but not to be deterred some unions have followed their arch nemeses in the business world into the realm of outsourcing: hiring non-union low-wage workers to do the protesting union members won't do.
Billy Raye, a 51-year-old unemployed bike courier, is looking for work.

Fortunately for him, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council of Carpenters is seeking paid demonstrators to march and chant in its current picket line outside the McPherson Building, an office complex here where the council says work is being done with nonunion labor.

"For a lot of our members, it's really difficult to have them come out, either because of parking or something else," explains Vincente Garcia, a union representative who is supervising the picketing.

So instead, the union hires unemployed people at the minimum wage—$8.25 an hour—to walk picket lines. Mr. Raye says he's grateful for the work, even though he's not sure why he's doing it. "I could care less," he says. "I am being paid to march around and sound off."
As it turns out, unions are just the most ironic example of a wider trend -- long term joblessness allows well-funded political action groups to stage visible protests by hiring picketers where the enthusiasm of their supporters doesn't extend to spending time holding signs.
Protest organizers and advocacy groups are reaping an unexpected benefit from continued high joblessness. With the national unemployment rate currently at 9.5%, an "endless supply" of the out-of-work, as well as retirees seeking extra income, are lining up to be paid demonstrators, says George Eisner, the union's director of organization. Extra feet help the union staff about 150 picket lines in the District of Columbia and Baltimore each day.

Online postings recruit paid activists for everything from stopping offshore drilling to defending the Constitution.
The union's rationalization for taking part in this trend is fascinating:
While many big unions, including the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, frown on using nonmembers in picket lines, "we're not at all ashamed," says Jimmy Gibbs, director of special projects for the Southeastern Council. "We're helping people who are in a difficult situation."
"Low Pay! Go away!" and "That Rat Gotta Go!" the union stand-ins chanted as other workers banged cow-bells and beat on a trio of empty plastic buckets. Eric Williams, a 70-year-old retiree who said he needs extra cash to buy groceries, wore a sign saying that Can-Am Contractors, a nonunion Maryland drywall and ceiling concern, "does not pay area standard wages & benefits."

The target of the campaign is the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, which is opening new classrooms on the second floor of the McPherson Building, and is having renovations done, including dry-walling by Can-Am.

"It is bizarre," says Lynne Baker, a school spokeswoman, about the union's hiring of nonunion picketers.
The union's Mr. Garcia sees no conflict in a union that insists on union labor hiring nonunion people to protest the hiring of nonunion labor.

He says the pickets are not only about "union issues" but also about fair wages and benefits for American workers. By hiring the unemployed, "we are also giving back to the community a bit," he says.
Which, of course, is exactly what his protest's targets are doing when they hire non-union labor.

I do?

Thought I'd get in on the "I write like..." fun that's going around, and here's what I find.

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

I've never read any David Foster Wallace, so I can't say whether I think the comparison is apt. But I used several writing samples, and they all returned the same answer.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Fifth time's a charm

When one does a hard thing, such as running a marathon or climbing Mt. Everest, one prepares for the worst and forms contingency plans around the worst happening. When one proceeds to run the marathon again or retackle Mt. Everest (presumably off the proceeds of the book one wrote about doing it the first time), the valuable experience gained the first time around informs the second venture, but the contingency plan is not discarded. One still must assume the worst.

Forget the third person here. In my previous four labors, I followed a recognizable pattern: labor started, it got progressively harder, and then I had a baby. I assumed this pattern would repeat itself, and if there were any deviations, it would be because something had gone wrong. But the pattern didn't repeat itself this time. And it didn't get worse.

It got easier. Not easier as in, "I know what to expect, so I can knuckle through it." Easier as in for three hours after the midwives arrived, I laid in bed and read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and enjoyed it. Easier as in I would have thought that labor had stalled out entirely except that I kept dilating. Easier as in twenty minutes before baby was born, I was standing around with my hands on my hips saying, "I know something has to happen here sometime." (The midwife was still laughing about that the next day.)

I laid in bed. I looked at the tomatoes in the garden. I ate breakfast and lunch. I quick-stepped up and down the stairs in an effort to get up a contraction that the student midwife could monitor. Low-key doesn't even begin to describe it. There was no hard labor. There were almost no painful contractions. I was in no hurry, but once Jack went down for his nap and the girls went for a walk with Grandma we decided to have the midwife strip the bag of waters so that we could have the baby before Jack woke up. And then I braced for the transition that never really came (I think maybe my legs felt a bit shaky) and the three-minute contractions that didn't show up. Sure, there were a few hard contractions that let me know things were moving, but nothing like in the past. And then I was bored with waiting around and decided to push (in the absence of any pushing contractions), and baby finally shook a leg and made her appearance.

Was it orgasmic? No. She got a little stuck and they had to give her shoulder a nudge, and nothing could be further from orgasmic than having a body wedged in your birth canal. That was pretty uncomfortable. And then there she was, and eventually she stopped yelling long enough to nurse. Then the afterbirth pains hit, and they were definitely the worse than any contraction I'd had that day.

I've tried in the past to be honest about my labors (pretty painful) and I guess this is the flip side of the coin -- sometimes it isn't that bad? Maybe it makes a difference that this was my fifth jaunt around the block? I do want to say that I don't think I could have had such an easy labor if I wasn't at home, where I was completely comfortable, and with midwives I trusted who never pushed me to rush things along. I would take this almost-fourteen-hour labor over any of my previous, including the less-than-two-hours I spent on #3.

So there you have it, and if all you mothers out there never speak to me again, I'll understand.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


My friends, you know I love you one and all, but I have been enjoying the most delectable babymoon, which has left me with less than no desire to sit at the computer and compose. The immediate reality of baby's presence transcends the secondary reality of writing about it. I want to be with her, not analyze and analogize (I say it's a word, so there). As we all know, comparisons are odious.

Also, my back and sides ache, and this computer chair doesn't really do anything for that.

But rest assured (and I'm doing just that this week) that I shall write you up a full account of baby's birth soon enough. The only problem is that no one will believe me...

Saturday, July 10, 2010

This Little Sister Thing

Hey there, guys. Jack here. You've probably heard of me, but if you haven't, let's just say my dad calls me "Mr. Dude" most of the time and "crazy" the rest. 'Nuff said.

I had the feeling you were tired of all this way high and serious grown-up talk blogging, so I'm here to bring you the low down on this little sister thing.

First off, we're talking a lot of fuss here. I mean, I've been holding down the "baby" slot in this family for a while, and let me tell you, I've got it covered. Opening doors, dumping out pantry bins, stealing bananas, climbing into Mom and Dad's bed in the middle of the night; I've got the territory covered and -- if I may say so myself -- I'm so dang cute doing it that it's hard to be mad at me.

Now, I'm not selfish or anything, and so if they want to bring in another baby, I'm willing to show him (or even her) the ropes. But pleeeease!. This little sister thing they've brought in is no good for anything. I try to give her a toy truck, and there someone is saying, "No! Jack!" Give her some lessons on getting off the bed? No dice. Even giving her a solid, brotherly pat on the head and everyone's like, "Jack! Not so rough! She's tiny."

Yeah, no kidding. Tiny.

I mean, don't get me wrong. The small ones can be fun. Look at me. But honestly, this Diana chick looks a lot more like a doll than anything else so far as I can tell. All she does is lie around and do something or other in mommy's arms which looks vaguely familiar -- I'm sure I could remember something about it if I tried, but seriously, who has the time? I mean, I've got toy cars and dinosaurs and knights to sort out.

I tried to give some of the dinosaurs to this sister thing, because hey, I'm a generous guy. But no. She's all sobs and everyone runs in and says, "No! Jack!" Sheesh. Last time I help a girl out if that's the reaction. I mean, really, I think this girl has promise, but every time we really start to get some good brother sister activities going, some adult comes in shouting and carrying me off by one arm. Which is fun, but come on guys. It's not like you're dealing with some 18-month-old here who doesn't know the territory.

You want to know how far I've gone to try to make this work? I even gave the sister thing a banana. Yeah, that's right. A banana. Does it get better than that? I mean, I could eat bananas all day. (And I do until we run out each week.) But she just tried to suck on it a bit and then dropped it.

What. Is. That?

So, I dunno, guys. I'm going to try to keep up my end here. But meantime this girls doesn't seem to have much going on. And Mom and Dad keep trying to make me sleep in the crib rather than in what I know is the true domain of all dudes who know how to open doors and pad around the house on their own: their bed. So we'll see how that one goes, but I'm confident they'll swerve first.

Well, I gotta go, but you stay cool, y'all. And if you have any ideas for getting some activity out of this sister thing, let me know.

One Last Humanities Program Post

I know this is probably only of interest to a subset of readers, and I'll doubtless get busy and move on to other topics soon (I've had the luxury of time over the last week since my mother-in-law has been here to help with Her Tiny Cuteness) but I've just finished putting together rough cuts of the lists for the 3rd and 4th years of the high school level Humanities Program, and I'd like to solicit feedback from them that's interested in such things.

Year Three: From the Rise of Islam to the Protestant Reformation

Year Four: The Modern World

In Year 4 especially I have the feeling that the list is both too long and incomplete, as is perhaps necessary in such an attempt.

The goal here is to lean more towards cultural literacy and having a feel for the flow of history than hitting all the Great Ideas type works, so a lot of the heavy duty philosophy that you'd find in a traditional Great Books list is not here. Suggestions and comments very much welcome.

You are welcome comment there as well as here if that's easier, but if I proceed to make a bunch of changes to the lists I may eventually clear out the comments on the Human. Prog site for the sake of cleanliness and relevance. That, and I'm thinking I need to come up with a more actionable format broken into weeks, not to mention links to editions and brief framing commentary on some of the works.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Religious History Bleg

One of my goals over this baby-cation is to revise and post at least rough reading lists for years 3 and 4 of the High School Humanities Program. I'm working off the three versions that each of us kids in my family used (Dad would revise the reading list each time, trying to fit everything in) and trying to trim to down to a reasonable length and deal with the occasional blind spots and ommissions.

One of the main areas where I'd like to add or change selections is in Year 3, which is supposed to cover from Muhammad to the Protestant Reformation. We tried various attempts at covering the rise of Islam, from the basic (reading the Catholic Encyclopedia and Britanica articles on Islam and Muhammad) to actual primary source (reading the first three books of the Koran: Al-Baqarah, Al-Imran and Al-Nisa). I'm not really sure what the right approach is here, especially as Islam is much more talked about now than it was in the mid 90s, and so a student is likely to be coming to the program with a certain amount of perception already in place. I've got 1-2 weeks of a bright high schoolers history/literature reading time available -- perhaps 100-200 pages depending on the difficulty of a source. What suggestions do people have as to the best intro to Islam and/or Muhammad? I've got separate selections for covering the Crusades, etc. Here we're pretty much looking for Islam in the 700-800 range and introducing it as a religion. Reading level is bright high schooler/entry level college.

The second area I want to add some texts is at the opposite end of that year. Somehow, we never covered any Reformation texts. This is probably for roughly the same reason we didn't actually include the Bible in the list back in the first two years -- we assumed that we knew a bit about that. But I'm thinking that it's a good idea to have something here. One can, of course, read the 95 Theses, and that's probably a good idea. They're short, after all. But it seems to me that we need some better examples of the thought of the early Protestants. Any suggestions on good selections from Luther, Calvin or other early Protestants which would provide a good feel for early Protestantism? (Pilgrim's Progress and Paradise Lost to be covered later.)

Humanities Program site update

As I posted a while back, I've been working at moving the Humanities Program site over to a new, Blogger-based website. (I'll do a post in a few days on some of the techniques I picked up for designing a "real webpage" looking site with Blogger.) I've not re-pointed the Humanities Program domain, so that the new Humanities Program site is live.

Overall, I'd rate the custom domain process for Blogger as pretty pain-free. And I'm pretty pleased with the new site. Also trying out the site metering from StatCounter after long years of being a SiteMeter kind of guy. We'll see how that goes.

For those who haven't been over there in a while, there are some newer stories such as Alexander the Great and Philip of Macedon in the Elementary Humanities Program. There are also some cool new illustrations up, such as the one of Romulus and Remus with a somewhat quizzical looking mother wolf.

On the High School side of things, the reading lists for Year One: The Rise of Civilization through the Hellenistic Period and Year Two: From the Rise of Rome to Beowulf. One of my projects over the next week and a half while I'm at home is going to be to reconcile the various versions of years 3 and 4 which existed and my own thinking on the topic and get some reading lists for those two years up.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Old Baby, New Baby

Serious blogging to return soon, but in the meantime, here's a study in contrasts.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Enter Diana Darwin

Diana Mary arrived yesterday, weighing in at 7lb, 7oz and measuring 20.5 inches long. Hobbies include: eating, peeing, pooping and sleeping.

Big brother is not sure yet if she is as much fun as a lightsaber.

Mommy and baby are doing well.

Friday, July 02, 2010

In which my life is lame because no one is doing anything interesting

OMG, Internets, do you not owe me entertainment? Then why so dull? Here I am, sitting in front of my computer, looking for an excuse to waste time so I don't have to get out of my chair and clean my kitchen, and nothing is happening. No controversial blog posts, no new humor, no big news (that I'm interested in reading). I am not being instantly gratified, and I demand a refund.

Danone Builds Market in Developing World

This struck me as an interesting article about the French food company Danone working to build product markets in the developing world, among people whose food budgets amount to around $2/day. In the US, Danone brings us products such as Dannon Yogurt, but in trying to reach those in the bottom 30% of world incomes, they've started pilot programs with products designed for poorer customers, often made in local factories from local ingredients.
Twice a week after work, Senegalese webmaster Demba Gueye treats himself to a snack: a 10-cent tube of Dolima drinkable yogurt. It's a splurge considering his two-dollar-a-day food budget, and the 50-gram sachets are "teeny."

But the 25 year-old says they're delicious. "I'm crazy about it," he says.


In fall 2008, Mr. Riboud had dispatched Danone senior product manager Isabelle Sultan to Senegal to help Mr. Bathily put La Laiterie's products within reach of low-income Senegalese. Ms. Sultan, who worked on the marketing team for the premium Activia line, had been involved in the Bangladesh yogurt project.

Ms. Sultan proposed selling yogurt in a new way: a small 50-gram pouch that consumers could tear open to squeeze out the yogurt. Mr. Bathily set the price at 50 CFA, or 10 cents, a common coin denomination. A coin logo advertises the price on the bright green pouch, which bears no Danone branding.

Next, they gave La Laiterie's yogurts a local image, naming them "Dolima," or "Give me more" in Wolof, the local language. They splashed the red, yellow and green of Senegal's flag on the packaging to help illiterate customers identify it.

Finally, Dolima got a new recipe. Consumers had said La Laiterie's old formula was too acidic, too liquid and not sweet enough. So La Laterie added vanilla flavor to the existing "plain" and "sugar" lineup and thickened the yogurt for a creamier consistency.

With the smaller packages, Mr. Bathily was able to get his yogurt into corner shops for the first time. These cramped stores are often no bigger than a closet and stock the yogurt in a cooler behind the counter. He expanded his distribution from 500 stores in June 2009 to 3,500 stores by the end of the year. Every morning, dozens of women stop by La Laiterie's Dakar office to fill their portable coolers with yogurts to sell in school yards during morning recess.

Sales of La Laiterie's yogurts and milk doubled to more than 105 tons in December from 47 tons in July. Mr. Bathily and Danone expect the company to break even within two years.

Clearly, this is not an area where they'll be making record profits, but especially with many of these products being made locally, they probably do aid the growth of the region, and they provide Danone with a revenue stream and a foothold in what will hopefully be a growing market in the future as these countries emerge into better economic conditions.

I find this kind of thing just fascinating.

On a side note, one thing that struck me as odd glancing over the comments on this article was the number of readers who were indignat that Danone was encouraging poor people to "waste their money on packaged yogurt". There's some puritan impulse that sets people off, at times, at the idea that those with less money might "waste" their money on some tiny luxury.

39 weeks

39 weeks today... As a comparison, I'm going to start with the 37 week picture (these are not pregnancy clothes, by the way -- they were my pajamas, actually):

Now here's 39 weeks. Notice that this time I didn't wipe down the mirror...

One thing I've been struck by is how much posture makes a difference in how I carry. Here's a shot of me slumping:
Suddenly baby looks much bigger. The moral? Stand up straight.

As I strolled the other evening, I indulged in a pretty little fantasy that this might be the last time I'd be nine months pregnant. I have other mind games I play: I've predicted the day baby will be born based on the steady patterns of the last four. This is a dangerous frame of mind to be locked into, as if there's one thing that can't be predicted it's a birth, and yet it's always worked this way in the past... But once I start questioning my scheduling predictions, everything is up for grabs. What if baby has six fingers on one hand? What if she's deaf? What if she's born with Down's Syndrome or Tay-Sachs disease or a tooth? This is the dumb stuff that keeps me up at night.

And then, on the night of the full moon I laid in bed and watched the moon glowing behind the clouds that blew in wisps and masses across the sky. Every now and then a pair of bats would swoop past my window, darting and twining. How appropriate it would be for baby to come tonight, I thought, especially since her name is connected with the moon. But the hours passed and baby slept resolutely, and finally I did the same.

The Experts

Been watching this all week, and wishing I had some experts of my own to consult:

If I ever ran for Senate, here's what my ads would look like.

Of course, MrsDarwin is way hotter than this guy's wife.

(H/T: reader Anthony)

Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Romance of the Press

It's been interesting, though a bit odd, for me, watching the hand-wringing over the "death of the press" as some of the major newspapers struggle to figure out how to make their budgets work in a world in which fewer people read "dead tree" editions and advertisers can take advantage of more targetted advertising online and in specialty publications. There is, it seems, a level of reverence which many people seem to attach to "the press", which does not seem well born out what it actually is.

Looked at historically and economically -- newspapers exist as a delivery system for ads. They seek to provide stories that people want to read (whether "news", human interest, comics, crosswords or recipes) in order to persuade people it's worth parting with the artificially low newstand or subscription price. Based on the number of people who can be persuaded to buy the paper, the newspaper then turns around and charges advertisers for the privilege of advertising to those readers.

Because people will sometimes stop reading a paper if it's flagrantly biased or routinely prints false information, it is sometimes in the interests of papers to print the truth to the best of their ability. On the other hand, examples throughout the history of our press can be found in which it was found to their advantage to print something other than the truth, or simply allowed themselves to be deceived.

Our constitution protects freedom of the press, but this is not in the sense that the press is some sacred part of the civic order. Rather, this is a matter of simple freedom: our freedom to print what we want (whether or not people are actually interested in reading it is another matter) is protected.

At a practical level, the press can serve as a useful check on political power, in that given our political dispositions and culture stories about how those in power are abusing it sell well. Thus, it is often in the interest of news venues to be critical of power. However, in other cases, the incentives run the other way. Most news outlets also have a necessary bias towards whatever story is most exciting -- even if that means supporting political authorities rather than critiquing them. (Any progressives who doubt this should do a little critical thinking about the enthusiastic reporting which almost invariably issues forth when a national move towards war is being considered.) And, of course, since selling news is the true reason for being for news -- news venues also have a necessary bias towards whatever they think their readers will want to hear.

Freedom of expression is certainly essential to our republic, but the preservation of specific news organs is not. Nor should we allow the self-serving myths which newspapers built around themselves in the 50s through the Watergate era about how they are the selfless bastions of objectivity and truth to be confused with anything like reality. It was, in the end, just another way to sell papers.