Thursday, December 24, 2009

A white Christmas...

The big snowstorm gave Speck a chance to bundle up and play -- could be the only accumulation she'll encounter, so nice it came in time for Christmas week. (22 months) Have a merry one, all!

snow 2

snowfall 3

Monday, December 21, 2009

Holiday week bits

  • Top 25 Censored Stories for 2009/2010 -- includes "US schools more segregated than in the 1950s" and "Katrina's hidden race war" among other things we'd probably rather forget.

  • A great send-up of the whole "best of" list tradition, from the Onion, of course: The Top 10 Stories of the Last 4.5 Billion Years, including such classics as "Rat-Shit-Covered Physicians Baffled By Spread Of Black Plague" and "Evolution going great, reports trilobite"

  • Everybody's heard the phrase "harder than herding cats," but I have to say that I forgive the fact that the following video is really an advertisement because it's such a detail-perfect embodiment of that concept. Right down to the guy using a tape roller to get cat hair off his shirt . . .
    (via Hotstuff on the KoL forums)

    holly sprig

  • This year is too soon for Santa stories, and I'm not sure whether we ever really want those to compete with, you know, Jesus stories, but anyway, this is a fabulous way to tell your kid about Santa when the time for reality arrives, and a good example of treating your kid with respect in just about any context.
    (via A Mindful Life)

  • Also, for those anticipating a rash of (possibly dull) holiday parties, here are 10 Science Party Tricks to amaze your friends (and maybe yourself as well). I can't wait to get home and try the candle/match one!!

  • Finally, just for fun, here's a pic of people having a snowball fight in Times Square to celbrate the epic snowfall of the weekend (memorably linked by the Twitter tag #snOMG). w00t!

Today's Twitter funny

Breaking news: Sun coming back gets 60 votes in Senate. Republicans unified in opposition.
- Medley (retweeted from pnh)

Friday, December 18, 2009

I can't wait for Part II

A hilarious tidbit for your Friday/weekend: Why the Phantom Menace Sucks. Very gratifying. That was some sad, soul-less movie-making there, and the skewering is skillful.


More news (previous here) on what things are and aren't worth buying organic (or some equivalent): 7 Foods that Experts Won't Eat includes some surprises, to me at least.
I've talked with potato growers who say point-blank they would never eat the potatoes they sell. They have separate plots where they grow potatoes for themselves without all the chemicals.
(via Rebecca's Pocket)

Art fun with baby

Finally uploaded a couple of photos of Speck's other art projects (only the first one has been made public previously) -- the camera has been clogged up with big movies, also just offloaded so that some day we can have more photos of the kid herself (and so that I will eventually process those videos to share speaking/playing Speck with the larger world). Meantime, these are cute enough to be worth posting for your weekend enjoyment . . .

pumpkin made of glued-down colored seeds
Second craft project, featuring seeds from our Halloween pumpkin

Speck's first watercolor -- abstract swirls, of course
Culmination of our exploration of watercolors

streetlight craft, from torn paper
Even though this one involved no paint (a disappointment to Speck), the fact that it featured a stoplight was considered nearly adequate compensation; she loves to narrate the state of the lights when we approach an intersection on foot...
[No real holiday theme, but it looks festive on Gammy's fridge!]

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Maybe it's not all bad news

All the details of crumbling Senate negotiations and selling out of varous provisions have gotten me down about the prospects for healthcare reform worth caring about. Rafe (at offers some helpful alternative viewpoints. In particular, this from Kevin Drum:
Ten years ago this bill would have seemed a godsend. The fact that it doesn't now is a reflection of higher aspirations from the left, and that's great. It demonstrates a resurgence of liberalism that's long overdue. But this is still a huge achievement that will benefits tens of millions of people in very concrete ways and will do it without expanding our long-term deficit. Either with or without a public option, this is more than Bill Clinton ever did, more than Teddy Kennedy did, more than LBJ did, more than Truman did, and more than FDR did. There won't be many other times in our lives any of us will be able to say that. So pass the bill. The longer we wait, the worse it will get. Pass it now.
I hope he's right, and I hope we can!

Peck, peck, peck

Are we there yet? Closer every day . . .

(tweeted by Medley via Genehack)

Is this the vanishing heyday of the Internet?

line drawing of a computerMan, do I love living in the Internet age -- from figuring out What Show That Guy Is Familar From while I'm still watching it, to easily looking up a fact that you're curious about, to doing all my Christmas shopping on lunch and coffee breaks without having to fight the madding crowds. But I'll admit that some of my Google search results have become perplexing lately. Sometimes you get 25 sites recycling the same low-expertise article, and sometimes sites that seem to be filled only with ads, sort of clustered around word salad -- both of these are common for parenting questions, as well as attempts to research options for home projects. Apparently others have noticed, and the phenomenon is more widespread than I'd realized; as the author at the above link notes, "To a first approximation, the entire web is spam when it comes to appliance reviews."

Perhaps this is something that Google will be able to overcome algorithmically. But I suspect that what we're looking at is another arms race, in the mode of the ever-escalating battle between email spammers and filters. Most of us have learned to just shrug and sigh about the fact that 10-90% of our email is crap (depending on the recency of the account and the vigilance of your network provider), but it sucks, and I'm sad to think that someday a quick Google search may feel the same way.


Twitter quote of the day

Breaking News: Senate agrees to drop healthcare reform from HCR bill. Will be replaced with picture of Calvin peeing on you.
- HunterDK

Monday, December 14, 2009

The volcano demands a sacrifice!

erupting volcanoMan, Lieberman's antics just never stop -- he's getting close to Arlen Specter for making the most personal publicity out of every piece of public policy, while never actually helping anything (good) happen. Let's just stipulate that he's a giant putz.

Still, I'm sort of amazed that people are continually surprised by his behavior on healthcare reform. What seems obvious is that (1) he's more popular with Republicans than Democrats in his home state, so he has no pressure to play along with the caucus, and, more importantly, (2) he comes from the heartland of the insurance industry, and could make a legitimate claim to be serving his state by serving insurance company interests, even if he weren't already their bought man. I don't believe that there is any reform proposal or compromise that actually improves things for the average citizen that Lieberman will be able to support. Congress needs to find a way to make things happen without him.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Staying power

I guess this is an illustration of the difference between holding an office and being an institution. Not advocating for monarchy, but it gives one a crazy sense of how a single individual might have historical perspective!

(via a tweet from BagNewsNotes)

When science tells us what we don't want to hear

The reaction to the proposed change in mammogram guidelines (see, e.g., here if you've slept through it) is symptomatic of what's wrong with much of our medical system -- people want more of everything (tests, procedures, drugs), feeling that interventions protect them with a magical shield of Technology. In fact, every test risks a false positive or uncovering something that never would have been a problem; every procedure risks complications more serious than what's being treated; every prescription risks being needless or even harmful. But all we can see is that "wait and see" might mean that things get worse. Thus it can be hard to go along with evidence-based recommendations that argue that in many instances less is more. We need to learn to take scientific consensus as the "right" guideline, rather than hunches and instinctive insecurity, even if it means changing our mental model of good medical care.

(via a Medley tweet)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Excellent things

Am accepting the challenge from NowThis to blog things that we find excellent in one way or another. The main thing that I want to highlight is Adagio Teas, an online tea vender that earns its claim to be the friendliest/easiest place on the web to buy tea. What qualifies them for my recommendation is threefold:
  1. Some totally fantastic teas. Their Keemun Concerto has completely revolutionized my view of tea, with its gentle carmel and smoky tastes -- I sometimes spike other teas with a pinch of this, especially if drinking decaf -- and their Yunan Jig (more balanced, but a pleasant surprise every time) and Pu Erh Dante (more earthy and leathery; I love it, but some wouldn't) also rock my world. I have a bunch of other varieties too (Dragonwell green and Jasmine #12, which is pearls, round out my regulars, with ChaCha for days when my throat needs herbal goodness), and the best part is that they're happy to sell you small sample tins for a couple of bucks, so you can try out new varieties or slight variants without committing big bucks.

  2. Adagio's elegant and useful brewing gadgetA great gizmo for brewing loose teas -- it's like a big mug, and you put in the tea and water, and then drain the brewed tea into your cup by setting it on top. As easy as could possibly be, especially for use in places like the office, where you don't want tea balls or other paraphenalia lying around. The latest generation has a removable filter, which eliminates the only problem I ever had with the first one (which lasted nearly 10 years of daily use at work), which was a little dust getting stuck under the filter and affecting other teas.

  3. They not only provide very clear recommendations for brewing their tea (in terms of both time and water temperature), but also offer a downloadable timer widget that lets you keep track of the brewing on your computer (using their times or your own tweaked ones) for a perfect cup every time. Totally spiff!
Plus, their site is easy to use, includes reviews, and stores your preferences, order history, and "frequent buyer points" for future visits. Altogether user-friendly and... excellent!

A couple unrelated things that are great:
  • Any food from Tiffin, who amazingly deliver their Indian delights anywhere in Philadelphia. You can even phone ahead and get on the list for their lunchtime tiffins (sort of Indian bentos). We always order a ridiculous amount of papadum.

  • My digital camera, the Canon PowerShot SD1200 (actually, mine's the 1100, but this is its closest kin), which is very easy to use, takes great photos (without limits on proximity!) and better video than our dedicated video camera (plus being uploadable via USB), while taking up almost no space and rarely needing recharging. My Christmas present last year, and couldn't be happier, which is saying a lot for a parent of a toddler.

  • These five books, that I read in about a one-year period and have been meaning to blog ever since: Ender's Game (Card), The Things They Carried (O'Brien), Doomsday Book (Willis), My Name is Asher Lev (Potok), and Feast of All Saints (Rice). Each deeply evocative, very difficult in spots (or throughout), moving and thoughtful. Each leaves me with a vivid stab of emotion when I think about it . . .
Thanks to Steve for making me think about all these things and send a little appreciation out into the universe!

Quote of the day

At times I also hear the wind blow by
And find that merely to hear the wind blow makes
it worth having been born.
- Fernando Pessoa
(via whiskey river)

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

One man's sniper is another man's efficiency expert

Thinking about buying something on eBay? How to do it right, from both efficiency and sanity points of view. Plus a little snark, why not.

(via kottke)

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Strategic note

donkeys head to headThe gamesmanship in the Senate right now is infuriating, but I found this analysis illuminating. That is, while Lieberman is a putz, in this instance he's just cover for a lot of unhappy moderates and conservatives in the Democratic caucus. To me, the key bit is in the comments, about what it means to really have a majority:
What this whole debacle has clearly settled once and for all is that after you pass the 50 Senators needed to win a majority (and all the benefits that come with that), having more Democrats is far less important than having better Democrats, because simply expanding our caucus in the Senate is utterly meaningless if we do not have 60 of them who are willing to support procedural votes on legislation they intend to vote against.
Indeed, and that latter is what it really means to be on a team. Lieberman is definitely not, but he's not really alone. There's also some interesting discussion about the historical (obstructionist) purpose of the Senate itself...

Snark of the day

I'm so old I can remember before we elected Olympia Snowe king.
-- Josh Marshall

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss

Obama administration approves arctic drilling. Remind me how this is good for the environment/nation/climate/anything non-corporate?
(via a Medley tweet)

Edit: I guess it's worth pairing this depressing news with other data making clear that this administration is different from its predecessor in many ways...

Monday, December 07, 2009

To Speck at 21 months (or so)...

giant flower -- crop2It seems that every 3-month interval brings an almost unconveyable rush of change, and this one is no different. I've already summarized some of the flurry of language that you took on in the middle of this stretch, which has continued with an ever-expanding ability to repeat new words with comprehension and to throw them together into short phrases -- although not the stereotypical "me go" and "want milk" sort, but rather "throw away" and "fell off" and a host of other directions and descriptions of what's going on. (The biggest logistical improvement to your parents was your ability to answer either/or questions, a relatively late development in this vein.) You also got intonation very quickly (before words), so that you could convey a lot with a few syllables: gee-hah was clearly bye-bye, uh (upward inflection)/dah (downward inflection) was clearly a game of up and down, and naaah expressed an eye-rolling disavowal of your parents' latest crazy suggestion ("are we having turtle food?")... It is fun to watch your confidence with language grow, as well as the variety of conversations that it allows us to share.

One of your favorite types of conversation is the Epic Tale of You. This involves some striking experience that you've had, and then retell/elicit from us by way of a few words and gestures, insisting that all the highlights be told again and again until many of them are seared into our memory. You took Yogi to the vet, they walked away down the hall with her, you said "hey, bring her back!", eventually they brought her back, you and Dad came home and let her out of the carrier. You rode on the bus with Mom, you waited for a while first, then you sat in your own seat; Tsah (Golden Bear) sat on the seat too. Mom has a stroller, and I have a popper -- we both are pushing things. I dropped a cracker at the playground, we threw it away, and then a squirrel went into the trash can and came out holding my cracker! And, more recently, the perpetual thrills of full and empty: all of those swings are empty ("noi!" = nobody), and I'm in this one; before, that kid was in that swing, but now it's empty; now there are kids in this and that one, and the others are empty; now they are all full! My verbalization of this particular stream of narration makes other parents look askance, as they seem to think I'm entertaining myself rather than responding to your insistance, but you thrill to your awareness of these matters.

swinging 2 (crop2)

What else is big these days?
  • You very much love all things bus -- riding, pointing them out when walking, sending your toy monkeys on trips on the bus slot of your wooden puzzle, etc.

  • The color blue has come back into ascendance (see previous here, Point 1), especially when there's any choice of what to wear, from bibs to pants (and despite the difficulty in making any of your 100 shades of pink sweaters match your 1-2 pairs of blue pants).

  • autumn treeCraft projects, especially those involving paints, have really engaged you. Mom got some inspiration from A Mindful Life and seeks out specific seasonal ideas from this site -- have only done a handful so far, but you were quite revved up, curious about the steps, careful with your messy hands, proud to see your results displayed on wall, fridge, or at Gammy's. We recently did some watercolor painting (after seeing a picture of a set of paints in a Richard Scarey book), and you really got into it, chanting "dip... and paint... dip... and paint..." while swooping color over the page. There will be more of this!

  • Counting -- you seem to have learned the sequence of numbers organically from the various library books and so forth that feature numbers and counting, and you've made it into a playful game. Anytime that either parent mentions a number of something, you immediately "up the ante" -- "I'm going to button two buttons on your coat" "3!... 4!..." "4??" "5!... 6!..." and so forth. Quite cute. Books that feature counting backwards seem to put you off a bit, as they undermine your security about what numbers follow each other, but otherwise, you're quick to jump to the number on any page, however it may fall in the rhythm or rhyme...

  • You've started wanting to Do Things For Yourself. Much of this is helpful -- adding food to the cat dishes, washing your hands (with some assistance and a pair of new stepstools), carrying things, picking up the mail, or most recently putting on your tennies -- but some of it is pesky and/or boundary-testing (wanting to cross the street without holding hands, say). I'm sure that the latter category will expand greatly with time, but for the most part so far it's all pretty cute.
There are also a few lesser things that have changed: for example, you now sleep on your stomach, curled on top of or around 4 stuffed animals (Golden Bear=Tsah, elephant, mouse, oscelot=Oss), with an occasional book joining the menagerie in the crib; more amazingly, you often wake up in the same quadrant of the crib that you fell asleep in! You sometimes sing to yourself in the car seat, mostly tuneless little hums of contentment. You also narrate long solo games involving little figures of various sorts, whether they're monkeys on the ends of your fingers or characters in a castle or cars going down the slide. Finally, you have invested some magic into Scotch tape, which not only can mend a torn book page, but is suggested for holes in the ground and mom's aching arm muscles; there's a "booboo juice" that's more specific to your skinned knees or head bumps, but I sense that the tape represents a sort of fixing of abstract things gone wrong . . .


Well, that captures about all of it, except how fun it is to be around you, and how much your parents fall more in love with you every day. Uppy up up!

Beyond mere organization -- attitude?

This approach to deleting email just blew my mind. This guy clears his box every day or two, by just being ruthless -- either it's worth dealing with now, should be moved into a projects folder outside the email realm, or is just not going to happen. I don't know whether I could be that hardcore, but I find myself inspired...

Huh, wha?

Oog, Monday. Spouse and I took advantage of a Speck visit with Gammy to (1) see a movie on Saturday night (! in a theater!), and (2) buy a Christmas tree (and some poinsettas, etc.) on Sunday morning. I then spent a good portion of the middle of Sunday making the house festive and cozy, at the price of feeling like this this morning... Feh.

cozy house in snowWill decorate tree this evening, our first family tree. Hopefully it's prickly enough to deter cats, skinny enough to live with/around all month, but nice enough to make a really happy tree. To Speck, it's just another thrilling craft project (frustratingly deferred), but I suspect that the magic will strike her, once the lights are on and she has some ownership of the whole thing. Who knows. Quite fun already from our vantage... (Will post photos when it's done.)

Friday, December 04, 2009

Friday bits

A few entertainments for your weekend enjoyment...
  • A very amusing newspaper ad that presents itself as a handy sort of new media. (Not sure it's really an Apple parody, but the feeling is similar.)

  • The Obameter: keeping track of how many of his campaign promises Obama is keeping (or at least trying to). Actually a pretty positive showing this far.

  • Simultaneously grim and amusing: a hand-crank machine that lets anybody earn minimum wage. Just keep cranking!!

Where's the blogger?

playground iconSeem to have no time right now -- maybe I never did, and I just wasted more of it, who knows. But one thing that has been taking a portion of time (real-life + online) is an attempt to figure out where the playgrounds in Philadelphia are and which are worth visiting. Useful to other parents, anyway...

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Tuesday bits

  • We could fund universal healthcare and more just from what the Pentagon has misplaced in its budget.

  • Wikipedia is losing its most valuable volunteers. Does this spell the end of user-participation-driven... anything?
    (via Follow Me Here)

  • Local kerfluffle: nicer bike lanes means more bikes on city roads. Local politicians hyperventilate; they and local journalists miss the point. Those people on bikes are shopping locally. Learn to live with them.
    (via a comment at Young Philly Politics)

  • In the wake of Thanksgiving: Does counting your blessings really help? The answer seems to be pretty clearly yes.

  • A funny to get you through hump day: The world according to Americans, in cartoon form. Too, too, true!!
    (via boing boing)

Monday, November 30, 2009

More fun with science

Don't say I never pointed you to anything fun/strange: the alphabet formed from glands (as viewed under a microscope). A font for venting spleen?

(via boing boing)

In simple terms

Just happened to catch a smidge of Science Friday the day after Thanksgiving, when they were covering the IgNobel prizes, to much hilarity. Also included was a couple of "24/7" speeches, in which world experts summarize their fields, first giving a "complete technical description" in 24 seconds, and then following that with a "clear summary than anyone can understand" in 7 words. Great people, entertaining exercise. My favorite was from Paul Krugman. From the NPR transcript, his summary of economics:
Decentralized constrained optimization by maximizing agents with well-defined convex objective functions and/or convex production functions, engaging in exchange and production with free disposal, leads, in the absence of externalities, market power, and other distortions, to convergence on equilibrium characterized by Pareto optimality.
Greedy people, competing, make the world go round.
Even granting the extra word in part II, hilarious, and a bit telling on why experts can get so deep into their heads that they lose track of reality. . .

Quote of the day

ladybug on a leaf
Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.
-- Robert Brault
(via a Simple Truths powerpoint show)

Friday, November 27, 2009

Belated post on language acquisition

Well, as noted in my 18-month letter, Speck took her time with starting to talk, holding at some half-dozen words and signs for several months, and then adding just about that many more for the next few. But in mid-October (about 6 weeks after that last missive), everything changed. In a four-week period starting with our trip to Delaware, she added almost a hundred words, in addition to several numbers and about half of the alphabet!

It started slowly enough that we thought we could keep track on paper, but the second side already had twice as many words as the first side -- this included some words being used correctly when we couldn't remember the last time she might have heard them -- and by mid-November we had more or less given up on keeping track, as she started using some in conversation as soon as you offered them.

Anyway, for our own recall and for the interest of a few of our relatives, a little record here:
  • more (first mwa, then moi, then gradually mo, and now mor) -- this has been used as a request and as a statement, almost as soon as added
  • moo
  • blue (boo), followed quickly by pink (pi) and purple (pu, pur)
  • sack (esp. offered at the correct moment in Hippos Go Beserk)
  • socks (sah)
  • bump (in response to speed bumps) -- bup?
  • meow (meeew meeeew)
  • hi (after long absence) -- esp. between two toys
  • eek eek for a mouse
  • whee (clee) for being swung in the air
  • O (favorite letter), followed quickly by Q (coo), B, G, then P,E,I,A,C,D,S...
  • me (but often misapplied to Mom or Dad, as in response to "you want ME to do it?")
  • 8,9,10 (in order, in right place in a sequence)
  • kitty
  • choo choo
Then the headlong rush...

boot, strollertree, dirtsky (ky)
towel, tapeup, downleaves, rice
peanut butter (peeba)hand, forthome, hot
chalk, balleye, hugpast, flip
hotpop, kneewatch, read
on, offPooh, rainseeds (correctly)
hat, slidemoon, yessbye-bye (from gee-gah)
bath, shoestool, seePasha (Pash)
cheese, turtledone, bagbowl, foot
hole, buttonpuzzle (puhh)pig, side
black, hoopwash, fullrun, stop
dark (doh)ride, eatgnaw
roll, foldfingers (a foog)clock (tla, clah)
no, coldjeans, turnJosh, Harry (hay)
bottle (bahbee)neigh, rock (vb.)away (way)
hang (hah), Flopet, flynaaah
circus (sirsah)banana (very unclear)#'s 1-10, except 7
sit, doorpile, wetear, nose, etc.

Still mostly single words but on 11/12 there were two distinct two-word phrases, one being "miss Tsah" (Tsah being the new name for Golden Bear) and the other being a prepositional phrase that I didn't write down in time (maybe "back up"). She also started saying "bye-bye" or just "bye" to people and things being left behind, although just as aggressively as she used to say "gee-gah" to get us out the door when planning fun at Gammy's, etc.... There's plenty more to say about games and personality emerging from all this language, but that's another post. For now, just wow!!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving, all!

Hoping all my readers (and passers-by) are having a little respite from the everyday world, without too much family stress along the way. Remember, both good and bad times are finite, so wallow in the former and let the latter slide on by . . .

hand turkey

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tough luck, poor people

Bigger entities continue to protect the interests of the wealthy while letting the poor pick up the tab (or sniff the fumes):
  • State tax systems contribute to differential tax burdens, with the top brackets paying the lowest percentage of their total incomes when the math is done.

  • Big corporate entities like Comcast aren't happy with their near-monopolies, deregulation, and general ability to screw their customers; now they want to prevent local governments from acting to overcome the digital divide (i.e., making the wired world more accessible to lower-income folks). "Their argument is that in areas where they serve, there are no unserved or underserved communities." Surely you jest!!
I don't think you have to be paranoid to think that some of these things need rectifying. Government-industrial complex, be gone!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Baby silliness

Hate to keep this one to myself: Speck demonstrates her somersault (requiring slight parental assistance) -- very cute. Apologies that we felt the need to film this in a diaper. Sigh.

19 months here, which means I'm a bit behind...

Crazy notions

Wait, now people think we should start paying for our wars?!?!? What next, responsibility for our own decisions? Rationality in the face of evidence? The mind reels...

(via Alas, a blog)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday link-dump

Have been piling up things I want to blog, while simultaneously running a time debt at work and at home. A couple of personal posts will be forthcoming, but meantime here are a bunch of things that each deserve a whole blog post but aren't going to get them...
  • Here's a short and sobering video of ACLU interviews with Gitmo detainees who were held for several years and then released without charges or explanations. Oh, our lost national purpose!

  • Three things about football helmets (from the lighthearted to the serious):
    1. Some of the helmets need some serious redesign from the graphical effectiveness point of view.
    2. This New Yorker article has sapped much of my enjoyment of Sunday afternoon football games: Offensive Play tracks the degree of lasting injury and brain-damage done to the average player (especially lineman) and wonders how we justify our acceptance of this gladiatorial combat (which the author compares to dogfighting in its brutality).
    3. Following on those revelations, another author asks whether we should do away with helmets in order to make players more cautious and remove some of the daily battering that their heads are subjected to.

  • More on how great it is to be a woman today:
    1. A writer and editor notes that popular fiction about women tends to be dismissed as "chick lit," while similar stories with male protagonists (and authors) tend to be seen as universal in their lessons and appeal. Women are just so... different. (via Medley)
    2. Katha Pollitt at the Nation asks the Democrats we all worked so hard to elect, Whose Team Is It, Anyway? when they say that the only way to pass healthcare reform is to abandon the health and freedoms of women. Time for somebody else to "take one for the team."

  • For fans of The Wire, a little trip through some great moments and characters: The 100 best quotes from The Wire.

  • A ten-year-old takes a principled stand, refusing to recite the Pledge of Allegiance until gays really share the liberties and justices of the rest of us... (and no, neither he nor any family members have a direct personal stake in the issue)

  • Science blows my mind: slow-motion video of water drops show that they bounce on the water surface (often several times) before being absorbed. Very cool.
    wireless ginko
  • Finally, a little lightness in honor of fall: many clever concepts illustrated with leaves. Kicks and giggles.
    (via kottke)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Holy crap!

News in my day that may change the shape of plans for the next year or two. Hard to know how to take it in. I refer you to this chick for best approximation...

Friday, November 13, 2009

Quote of the day

stacked stonesThe cardinal can sing; the wind can move the ironwood trees delicately; a child can ask a wise question -- and where is your center? How can you respond?
- Robert Aitken
Encouraging Words
(via whiskey river)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I've rather been wondering this

Rather than allowing the [health care] debate to center around what features of women's health we care about enough to fund, why not address male vanity treatments like viagra and hair replacement? Put your money where your mouths are, boys.

Edit: more here (via Atrios).

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Don't say I didn't warn you

Totally addictive: Cloud of Atlases is a bunch of maps with the legends removed, so that you have to figure out what kind of feature (natural, sociological, etc.) is being represented. Just kept getting drawn along . . .

(via kottke)

Fall color

What could be more fun than introducing a toddler to her first pile of leaves? Run, dig, throw, burrow, dive -- a total hoot for all concerned. I think this one afternoon might cancel out the entire first month of desperate exhaustion . . .

leaves2 = Speck in a dotty coat, happily seated in a pile of leaves
One happy kid, just over 20 months old.

Monday, November 09, 2009

The taste of sight

Back in my days as a neuroscientist, I used to particularly love the studies (usually in ferrets) that involved rerouting input from one modality to another -- i.e., directing auditory nerve fibers into the visual cortex to see whether the structures and maps that they made would look more like a visual map or a usual auditory map (see, e.g., this). The experiments told us something about what parts of brain structure are "inherent" versus "induced" (and thus what sorts of cues to look for) -- but we knew nothing about what the ferrets experienced when they were exposed to sound or light stimuli, which is clearly where the visceral interest of such experiments comes from.

thoughtsWas thus very primed to appreciate these new studies with crossing the sensory map, as by giving visual data to an electrode array on the tongue, or allowing novel information (say, the location of magnetic north) to be sensed by the body. Here we get some report of what the experience was like for the subjects, and it's pretty fascinating -- gives one a sense of the plasticity of the human brain and of our experience. I imagine that much of the motivation for the scientists involves coming up with "workarounds" for people with sensory deficits, but I look forward to explorations of the basic science as well, especially for information about where in the brain the new information is processed (e.g., is visual-to-tongue information processed by visual cortex, or by the physical sensation map of the tongue, or somewhere else?)... [I may be an ex-neuroscientist by job description, but never by interest!!]

(via kottke)

Not pulling punches

From Wired: An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All. I hate to be judgemental, but, um, yeah.

(via Medley)

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Baby bits

You know, I started to post some obligatory Halloween pics, but then I just didn't really want to. Speck was a dinosaur this year, with green stegosaurus spines down her back, but the photos feel more documentary than actually cute. Meh. Perhaps more fun, she got to decorate a pumpkin with all kinds of spooky stickers at a local playground's Halloween party (which made up well for the fact that our carved jack-o-lantern succumbed to mold and other disgusting decay several days before the holiday itself). But, you know, cuteness is what we need, not topicality!

So here are some cute baby pics to cure your post-election blahs (all from around 20 months). I'll start with one dinosaur-themed one just as a token gesture toward the costume of the year...

baby looking out from a fake dinosaur egg (dino_egg_crop)
A sober face in dramatic lighting, but it's all crawling and play...

Speck in a skirt, looking into teh distance (bus_stop_lean2)
This one has a sort of classical feel (1920's curls?). It's Speck's imitation/embodiment of how a commuter leans against the bus stop while waiting.

Speck's head on Daddy's shoulder, flirting with the camera over top of a book (reading2)
Blurry but cute, Speck leaning on Daddy as they read a book...
(She's become a little bit of a snuggler in the last month or so. yay!)

Hometown news

I grew up in a Midwestern city that was a mix of liberal intellectuals -- generally involved with either the many colleges there or the pharmaceutical industry -- and pretty conservative types of Christians. I haven't lived there in a long time, so I don't have an adult perspective on which strain tends to win out politically, but I was certainly heartened to see that they struck a blow for equality yesterday (in a clearly low-turnout election, but still). Go, team!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Things that amaze me

  • That we continue to spend so much on defense, and that nobody really even discusses it anymore. Why this war, how many troops there, but not Do We Need This Much? A crime.

  • Similarly, how much medicine costs in the US -- not country-wide insurance, but per visit, procedure, test, pill, etc. Another thing we tend not to talk about (because the market cures all ills!)...

  • The prevalence of poverty, especially the statistic that half of all children will be on food stamps at some point -- and 90% of black children!!! I... we... the mind reels.

  • Wacky news from science: a new ocean being born in real time! (As Medley says, Are they allowed to do that?!)

Still an hour left

Election Day today! Races are big in some places, small in others, but part of the job of Citizen wherever you are!

Love-style reminder to vote

Twitter silly of the day

I hate paying bills... Son, don't say "me too." I didn't say that looking to relate to you. I said it instead of "go away".
- shitmydadsays

Monday, November 02, 2009

Poem of the day

Choosing to Think of It

Today, ten thousand people will die
and their small replacements will bring joy
and this will make sense to someone
removed from any sense of loss.
I, too, will die a little and carry on,
doing some paperwork, driving myself
home. The sky is simply overcast,
nothing is any less than it was
yesterday or the day before. In short,
there's no reason or every reason
why I'm choosing to think of this now.
dried weedsThe short-lived holiness
true lovers know, making them unaccountable
except to spirit and themselves - suddenly
I want to be that insufferable and selfish,
that sharpened and tuned.
I'm going to think of what it means
to be an animal crossing a highway,
to be a human without a useful prayer
setting off on one of those journeys
we humans take. I don't expect anything
to change. I just want to be filled up
a little more with what exists,
tipped toward the laughter which understands
I'm nothing and all there is.
By evening, the promised storm
will arrive. A few in small boats
will be taken by surprise.
There will be survivors, and even they will die.
- Stephen Dunn
(via whiskey river)

What is and isn't news

Many journalists seem consternated by the White House's challenging Fox for the bias in its news coverage, as though They Could Be Next. I'm sorry, but Fox is more than quantitatively different from other network and cable organizations -- it isn't just biased, it (1) fakes its own news events (funding the "Tea Partyers," for example), (2) circulates GOP talking points without critique or context, and (3) reports the crazed ideas of its commentators as things that "are being said," as though any sane person elsewhere might be discussing such notions. Analogies with MSNBC just don't fly.

Anyway, I think that Rafe is onto something when he says that the Whitehouse is bothering to make statements about Fox's problems to put the other networks on notice that they shouldn't view such Fox-generated fluff as real news.
That’s the reason behind the White House is calling Fox News out — they can afford for Fox News to be what it is, but they don’t want the New York Times or CNN to factor the priorities of Fox News into their own editorial judgement.
Indeed. The insider-driven nature of contemporary news coverage is bad enough just because of the goldfish-bowl culture of DC journalists, without their getting sucked into the fake news business by the bottom feeders among them.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Friday foot-fethish-I-mean baby photo

Speck's and Dad's shoes @ 19 months

I'm way overdue for uploading new photos, not least current Halloween costumey goodness, but life has just been beyond me lately. Hopefully some recent ones will trickle into the electrons soon, but meantime, a little sentimental out-take...

It's fun to be a woman today

  • Female boomers may be the driving force for fundamental reform in the healthcare system, demanding support for all of the informal caregiving that they do at home -- and the country may be best served by "upping their game" rather than trying to substitute professional services for such a large sector of unpaid care.
    (via a Medley tweet)

  • On the other hand, insurers find women pesky, and routinely charge them more for insurance -- you know, either they want birth control or they need maternity care; either way it's just more bother for the corporate guys. (And that's not even considering whether they have the "pre-existing condition" of having had a C-section at some point in the past!)
    (via Atrios?)

  • Here's a point that can't be made too often: Stop Talking About Work+Life Flex Solely in the Context of Women -- not just because there are men who would like to take care of their families (or already are), but because it ghettoizes these issues as outside the mainstream, which they clearly are not. Lots of people benefit from increased workplace flexibility.
    (via a Medley tweet)

  • We fancy ourselves enlightened, but comedy is no place for women, writers at least. Part of the way that insider cultures serve to exclude without the need for overt biased intention, and that societal sexualization of women makes it impossible for colleagues to think of them in any other way. Among other things.
    (via a Medley tweet)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Strategic randomness

For anybody who likes to think about strategy, game design, and/or what makes things fun, I recommend this long but fascinating exploration of randomness and how it interacts with cleverness and strategy to make games fun and varied. Lot of interesting insights there on games you know, some you don't, and how similar problems can be approached in very different ways. And so forth.

(via some discussion or Tweet from the Asymmetric staff)

Jammin' babies

Inspired: techno-pop tunes made from baby videos. I especially liked the percussive sneezing... (and really, all that baby spam should be serving *some* artistic end! hah!)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Friday baby-blogging

Has been a long time since I uploaded new Speck pics, let alone posted any. So, photos from about a month ago (thus 19 months old), when Mom managed to get her for an end-of-season visit to the Smith Playhouse playground again. Lots of colorful goodness there...

Speck climbs through a circular doorway
Climbing through a circular doorway

look of concentration as Speck plays with an abacus-style toy
Deep in concentration on an abacus-type toy

Close-up of Speck checking out the options for where to go next
Just like this face, scoping the options for where to go next...

Happy fall weekend, all!

Twitter quote of the day

The baby will talk when he talks, relax. It ain't like he knows the cure for cancer and he just ain't spitting it out.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Random Tuesday linkage

Monday, October 19, 2009

Hilarious bit for Monday

For it's own sake, but even more because of all the parental paranoia and development-tracking that I and all my fellows wallow in, I love this McSweeney's edition of What to Expect. That is to say, I nearly snorted my morning tea.

(via kottke)

Quote of the day

zen circleThere is so much baggage we burden ourselves with over the years that keeps us from seeing things the way they are. Some baggage we carry with us for a single thought, some for years, and some for lifetimes. But there isn't one piece that isn't our own creation.
- Bill Porter (Red Pine)
Zen Baggage
(via whiskey river)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Going shampoo-free

Just wanted to take a moment to confess/proclaim that I've joined the "no-poo" movement. That is, I no longer use shampoo to wash my hair. There are a lot of reasons one might do this, from the environmental to the economic, but I did it because some combination of middle age and parenthood had left my hair so dry and lifeless that I was thinking about cutting it all off. I'd bumped into some discussion of giving up shampoo (using either all-conditioner, or a combination of baking soda wash and vinegar rinse, instead) and finding that one's hair was healthier, fuller, and altogether easier to deal with, so I figured I had nothing to lose by trying.

If anybody's curious, here are two decent links to explain the reasoning behind giving up shampoo, as well as how to go about it and what to expect: Ditching shampoo a dirty little beauty secret and The No-’Poo Do. Until the 1970s, the idea of washing your hair every day (and then conditioning, to partly make up for the harshness of shampoo's stripping effects) was unheard of -- this is an American norm that marketing folks created, so we shouldn't just accept it without examination, even if we like all the smells in the morning...

Well, it's been a couple of months now -- I slipped once and tried the medicated shampoo when my allergies had my scalp really bothering me, and I immediately repented, seeing how slaughtered everything looked as a result. Still tweaking some details, like how much soda/vinegar should be in those solutions, how best to keep it convenient in the shower (let alone for travel), etc. -- but my hair has been so much fuller and happier that people have actually asked me about it. It took a couple of weeks for my hair to adjust to not having all of its oils stripped again and again, and I've added a boar-bristle brush to my evening regimen, but otherwise it's just basically the same old me, clean but unscented, and healthier than before. There may still be a haircut in my future, but it won't be because it's all about to fall off!

flowing red hair

Monday, October 12, 2009

Twitter funny of the day

Politics doesn't stop at the water's edge. It just pauses there for a moment because of surface tension.
- HunterDK

Friday, October 09, 2009

Friday link-dump

Things I appear not to be blogging, but want to:
  • Expand transit, and all the housing nearby becomes very popular -- couldn't this become a positive feedback loop, beneficial to all concerned???
    Edit: ah, it can lead to displacing the poor and elderly. Bummer.
    (via Atrios)

  • Imagine a composite photograph you wish you could see? Just make a sketch and the Internets can work their magic. Mind-blowing.

  • Gradual evolution of the angry right-wing: conservatives rewrite the Bible so that, of course, it supports their views. Parody dies, violence and hatred continue to grow. Creep-tastic.
    (first link via Medley's twitter feed; second from Atrios)

  • More environmental arguments against beef -- putting it in terms understandable by those of use who choose transit, turn off lights, and generally try to Make Things Better. Sigh.
    (via Atrios)

  • Was more than surprised to hear about the Nobel Peace Prize -- some sense is made of it here, as well as telling contrasts between the reactions at home and abroad.
    (via Medley's twitter feed)
Have a good weekend, all!

Science can be art

photo of the universeA lot of silliness is made by "autotuning" various speeches and clips, to varying effect. Thus far, I have been unmoved, but this montage of Carl Sagan really worked for me -- his philosophizing fits well with emotional music, and the net effect is sort of joyous....

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

DNC steps up

Running an ad for healthcare -- my favorite quote: "...when health care is treated as a privilege, only the privileged receive it." Amen. More please!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Quote of the day

It is a mistake to suppose that birth turns into death. Birth is a phase that is an entire period of itself, with its own past and future. In other words, every moment of living is full and complete. It's not leading to something else. It's not in the process of turning into something else. It's absolutely complete in and of itself, and all of time is included in that one moment of experience. If we were able to live it truly enough, we would feel the weight of it.
- Norman Fischer
Birth and Death
(via whiskey river)

Keeping up with a toddler

Recently Spouse and I are making a circuit of local playgrounds, trying to figure out where they are and which are worth visiting. And, obviously, Speck comes along on these outings, to provide her own perspective (and help us calibrate the equipment's age-appeal). And sometimes we tie in a local restaurant or other outing of interest to the parents involved, especially if it's one we don't otherwise get to.

So, up in the Fairmount neighborhood there's a restaurant we've managed to visit on maybe 2-3 (successful or rained-out) playground visits, the last one over a month ago. The last time, we sat outside in their side patio, and I threw some biscuit crumbs for a family of hungry sparrows, much to Speck's amazement and delight. This time (Sunday afternoon) we sit in front, almost inside the restaurant, totally different chairs and setting. But when I offer Speck some of the complementary corn muffins, she immediately indicates the ground, a tossing motion, and even points to the distant bend where the patio begins. Feed the sparrows, silly Parent!!

Nineteen months old, and hadn't been there in a month. I didn't even remember the sparrows. This stuff blows my mind every time.

Friday, October 02, 2009

So much to convey, so little time

The Mom Song.

Parenting in a nutshell, at least after the diaper age... (what does it mean that I got teary in the middle??)

(via a local parents' support group)

Twitter giggle of the day

You're like a tornado of bullshit right now. We'll talk again after your bullshit dies out over someone else's house.

Grim statistics

Total unemployment + underemployment is close to 17% this month. That's some ugly stuff...
But the recession is over! over!!

(via Atrios)

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Hard to imagine

...but this blog is 5 years old today! Who'd have thought I'd still consider it such a vital way to express/record my thoughts and discoveries, from Bush rage to parental photodeluge. Thanks to all who showed the way -- here's hoping I'll still be around in another 5!

slice of birthday cake

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Unexpected consequences, edition X + 1

honking car clip artWow, talk about things you'd never think of (but that sort of make sense in retrospect): hybrid cars hit more pedestrians and bikers because they're so silent! Reassuringly or hilariously, manufacturers are considering adding car sounds to their cars' electric modes (rather like a sulfer smell is added to household gas lines) so they're more easily perceived...


Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Just love this: More Americans Believe In UFOs Than Oppose A Public Option . . .

(via an email from MoveOn)

Life on (in?) the information superhighway

We hear lots about how texting ruins grammar, the Internet makes us dumber, the next generation is bound to be idiots. Or something like that. In the last couple of weeks, have encountered two articles making the opposite argument, that by writing more in a more public context, a larger percentage of the population is becoming comfortable with writing prose and with using it to make arguments and effect change.
  • The first looks at college Stanford student writing and finds that a huge percentage of it occurs outside of class assignments, meaning that this generation is writing more than any generation before them.
    Before the Internet came along, most Americans never wrote anything, ever, that wasn't a school assignment. Unless they got a job that required producing text (like in law, advertising, or media), they'd leave school and virtually never construct a paragraph again.

    But is this explosion of prose good, on a technical level? Yes. Lunsford's team found that the students were remarkably adept at what rhetoricians call kairos—-assessing their audience and adapting their tone and technique to best get their point across. The modern world of online writing, particularly in chat and on discussion threads, is conversational and public, which makes it closer to the Greek tradition of argument than the asynchronous letter and essay writing of 50 years ago.
    This may or may not generalize to all levels of education (I suspect that Stanford undergrads are not very representative), but I think it's true that even the less "literate" are jumping in and expressing themselves, which has to be good for their flexibility of thought. Only time will tell.

  • The second article traces the tendency of the public to decry any new technology as spelling the end of civilization...
    I start with Plato's critique of writing where he says that if we depend on writing, we will lose the ability to remember things. Our memory will become weak. And he also criticizes writing because the written text is not interactive in the way spoken communication is. He also says that written words are essentially shadows of the things they represent. They're not the thing itself. Of course we remember all this because Plato wrote it down -- the ultimate irony.
    This author notes that many technological innovations have given more people access to the means of "publication" and gradually reduced the gatekeeper function of scribes, then publishers, etc., until anybody can be an "author" to some kind of audience.
    Opening up writing to new voices can’t be a bad thing. We’re seeing this spiral. The more people use technology, the more people communicate, the more people in power become concerned with how to control that use. There are two forces pushing against each other. ... [I]t’s similar to what happened when printing presses became a major means of communication or when radio and TV became major communication players. How do you license, how do you control what gets said on the air?
    It's also worth noting that he talks explicitly about kids outgrowing their use of emoticons and becoming (rather rigid) users of standard grammar and punctuation, thus dismissing one of the standard arguments made against all that texting and chat. Various other interesting bits there too.
Apologies to whoever referred me to these articles -- I sort of think one was from Follow Me Here and the other from Atrios, but that's just a guess...

Tuesday baby fun

In the last month or so, Speck, who loves carousels, finally asked to move from the stationary seats (usually a bench) to the animals that move up and down. She watched the other kids intently for her last couple of stationary rides, weighing the move. Here are her first two such outings, recorded for posterity...

Speck on a carousel horse, waving at Papou
On the fancy horses at the historic carousel at the Please Touch Museum.

Speck on a leopard at the Zoo carousel
On a leopard at the Philadelphia Zoo's rainforest carousel.

Thanks to Papou for being there to catch the waves and take the pics! :)

Tuesday giggle

Legislators' amorous emails, as performance art. Good contrasts of style . . .

Friday, September 25, 2009

Occasional reminders never hurt

Sen. Al Franken reads the 4th Amendment of the Constitution to a Justice Department official giving testimony before his committee. Apparently the Constitution is rather passe these days...

(via a Medley tweet)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Who's looking out for the Big Guys?

Monopoly millionaireAll this talk of protecting the little people, who's worrying about the Fat Cats? A touching tribute to insurance executives and... all they do.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Today's schadenfreude

Ah, legislators, the law of unintended consequences has kicked your butts. Let's start rewarding the well-behaving instead of the well-connected! Heck, let's make this take effect in my hometown! :)

(via Medley via Greenwald)

Imagine that!

When women opt out of their jobs to become full-time moms, their future prospects take a hit, not only in their derailed career paths, but in the lack of options when the economy tanks or their husbands take leave...
For the major media that romanticized opting out as the soothing solution to the stress of juggling work and family, the devastation that choice has left in its wake represents merely another story. But for the women who got sold a bill of goods and gambled their futures without understanding the risks they were taking, losing that bet turned out to be the biggest mistake of their lives.
I'd like to say that They Should Have Known Better, but in our "post-feminist era," the wealth of pressures from family and media, as well as the impression that women's woes have been fixed, mean that many young women aren't even aware of the real data, let alone prepared to apply it to their own lives. Nobody wins in that situation, not even the kids whose welfare os supposed to be at root of the decision.

(via Atrios)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Poem/quote of the day

We'll never get there,
Time is always ahead of us,blurred fall trunks
running down the beach, urging
us on faster, faster, but sometimes
we take off our watches,
sometimes we lie in the hammock,
caught between the mesh
of rope and the net of stars,
suspended, tangled up
in love, running out of time.
- Barbara Crooker
In The Middle
(via whiskey river)

More celebration of our post-racist society

Just don't bump into cranky cops. Because near-deadly force makes a great come-back.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Friday frolic: kid vids from summer fun

Finally got around to uploading a smattering of Speck videos from the summer. Thought these two would be fun for the general viewer and also capture some of her current personality...

Chasing bubbles at the wedding reception in Scotland (at 17 months)

Stomping puddles! oh, the joy!! (17.5 mo)

The status quo is not acceptable

A new study shows 45k people die from lack of decent health insurance every year in the US:
"We're losing more Americans every day because of inaction ... than drunk driving and homicide combined," Dr. David Himmelstein, a co-author of the study and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard, said in an interview with Reuters.
And yet homicide is an epidemic that we have to address, and lack of insurance... eh, they should have planned better. This is a moral issue, people!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Today's fun with science

Always wondered about the accelerating expansion of the universe? Perhaps it's really just that the progression of time is slowing . . . It's hard not to be curious about the point at which time ceases to advance. But, um, it makes my mind reel.

(via Follow Me Here)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Flying -- 100 reasons to avoid it

airplane in a red yield triangle Atrios is onto something here. I've been flying for some 35 years, and just in the last couple have I started taking the Hassle of Getting There into account when contemplating trips -- will I be there long enough to justify two degrading and frustrating security passes? Is the speed really preferable to, say, the comfort and cleanliness of a train? Could I go somewhere nearby and nearly as nice (see: Montreal for Paris, etc.)? And that is for somebody who doesn't strictly have to count pennies when planning a vacation. The airline industry might just have to start caring about its passengers again, lest it find itself freed from any need . . .

Paved with good intentions

What could sound more friendly than "dolphin-safe tuna"? Turns out it's actually a bit of an ecological disaster in practice...

(via kottke)

Monday, September 14, 2009

National blogger cares more than local politicians

Cory Doctorow excoriates the threatened closing of Philadelphia's library system. It's a wonderful tribute to what libraries represent to individual users and vast cultures...

(via a Medley tweet)

That so-called liberal media

newspapersJust trumpeting those crazy liberal ideas again... Sigh.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Suggestions to keep one up at night...


The more things change...

...the more the South continues to play the white master/subservient black man game. They've spent centuries building the layers of coded language so that even the mildest comment carries unmistakable resonances to its intended audience...

mmm, makes you feel good about America, don't it?

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Some things, what needs linked

  • Discussions about penalties for drunk driving need to take into account that bars are largely built into a car culture (like stadiums built in the middle of seas of parking lots) -- perhaps there is more than one way to reduce this problem!

  • In a similar vein (that is, Missing the Point), I hope that civic planners take note that Phoenix's new transit system is being used mostly by non-commuters, even though that's never what they plan around. Everyday life much? (Atrios doesn't even mention such inconceivables as closing down transit service on July 4 when you live in a region whose primary tourist draw is rooted in our national history, not to mention large celebrations thereof.)

  • Our military contractor system is screwed in a number of ways, from financial costs to oversight to moral problems to stealing our best military folk. But, um, what to make of there being more contractors than military personnel in Afghanistan?!?!?

  • Tomorrow night is a big Obama healthcare speech. I understand where this writer is coming from in claiming that Obama needs not just (or even) to win the policy war but to restore the hopes of his many onetime supporters that he can provide Leadership and Big Picture Inspiration to our national discourse.

  • Echidne notes livingroom elephants in our discussions of work and parenting -- note, for example, the lack of the term "working father" in common parlance.

  • Finally, while I'm at it, somebody go read this extensive review of Mac OS snow leopoard and tell me whether I should upgrade. I mean, that's a lot of research for a $29 piece of software that offers no front-end benefits!

Quote of the day

Let me keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be
- Mary Oliver
Twi Chi
(via whiskey river)

Holiday baby-blogging: forms of play

Not pictures from this weekend, but a wash of color and fun in which Speck demonstrates high points of a toddler's forms of summer play:

Speck in her UV-proof bathing suit and water shoes, enjoying the little sprayers at a fantastic local "sprayground" designed to cool the city's kids.


Here Speck enjoys a little finger-puppet book on the train with Dad.

puddle stomper 2
This is an understated photo that captures a high level of fun: stomping puddles. Speck, in water shoes, surveys the wealth of puddles beckoning from our (dead-end) street...

blue tube crop2
A colorful finish: Speck climbs through a series of elevated blue tubes, one feature among many fantastical climbing structures at a refurbished Tot Lot in Philly.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Conduit for "facts"

It's great that the media isn't our only source of facts about the healthcare debate -- oh wait, crap. I guess it's stuff like this that keeps the debate so elevated...

(via Atrios)

Twitter giggle of the day

donkey with an elephant on his backAt some point this will sink in: "bipartisanship" does not mean saying thank you when someone pees on your shoes.
- HunterDK

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

What are we doing to our country?

Sort of horrifying stories:
  1. A third of young workers (under 35) are living with their parents because of low wages and/or lots of debt. Almost that many are living without insurance, and not by choice. These are people putting their lives on hold because of forces larger than themselves... (via Atrios)

  2. Meanwhile, many LAX employees -- from pilots to baggage handlers -- are living in trailors in a parking lot by the airport between shifts. It's a grim, grim lifestyle, presumably nobody's first choice. (via Bag News Notes)

  3. Thousands of Americans are moving to Mexico for the health coverage. Surely that should convince some unbelievers that things aren't perfect here at home...
But, you know, things are just great here, because we live in a just world and thus everybody deserves whatever they get . . . [sound of head banging desk]

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Privilege, liberalism, and Ted Kennedy

There have been many tributes to and examinations of the life of Ted Kennedy in the last week, but the one that struck me was this musing by Bitch, Ph.D., on what it means to come from a wealthy and powerful family and also care deeply about the poor, underprivileged, and weak.
Therein lies the strength of true liberalism, I think. And the defense, if defense is needed, of "liberal elites" as such. The privilege of the elite can and should be the privilege of working to lift others.
It's not something that one sees all across the political spectrum anymore, or really anywhere along it -- all the more difficult, then, to see a major torchbearer fall by the wayside just when one of his causes (healthcare expansion) might finally be in play. All the more reason for the rest of us to step up . . .

Edit: should add this excellent Ted Kennedy word cloud that gives a pretty good sense of his priorities.
(via a Medley tweet)

Monday, August 31, 2009

Things that wig me out

sorrowHave been increasingly disturbed by the shows of violence, vitriol, and prominent armaments among conservatives lately. It reminds me of this discussion of eliminationism, also creepy with overtones of totalitarianism. (yay!) But back then it was the swagger of the empowered (how dare you question us?!), while now it is the fearful spitting of threatened animals, a sometimes more dangerous beast. Anyway, I'm not sure I have much to contribute to the discussion, but I have read and bookmarked a bunch of articles and bits related to this issue, and now present them here:
  • Troubled History -- the uncomfortable historical thread of political violence in the American right

  • The Guns of August -- an op-ed by Frank Rich on recent visibility of guns at healthcare forums and the pundits who encourage the nuts

  • In America, Crazy Is a Preexisting Condition -- more in a similar vein by Rick Perlstein, looking at the remarkable consistency of this element across many decades

  • Out of Control -- are right-wing demagogues unleashing forces beyond their control?
Chipper, chipper stuff...

Friday, August 28, 2009

Friday lighter bits

  1. What your tattoo locations say about you. Snark-a-mundo.

  2. Consequences of gay marriage. Made simple for the dim-witted.

  3. Imagine if the Presidential Medals of Freedom were given to reward lifetime achievements of the highest order! That might just make one feel inspired. Crazy!

Friday healthcare links

Have been piling up a bunch of compelling stuff over the last week or two, but apparently not getting together the umph to blog it. So here is the healthcare heap:
  • An op ed by Gawande and others talks about critical steps to better healthcare, focusing on how to make the actual medical system work better (and cheaper) rather than on the insurance end. THis will surely be the next step for healthcare reform (as Masschusetts is already facing), so it's good to see the experts exploring real possibilities.

  • Might Democratic legislators have realized that there can be no true bipartisan approach to this issue? The GOP is pushing for concessions but virtually promising that it will still vote against the bill -- if so, let's get something decent on the table and do it without them!!!

  • In a similar vein, Robert Reich boggles at the seeming power of the Gang of Six to decide the fate of this effort in the Senate. Let's not leave it to them -- we all have a stake here!

  • George Lakoff bemoans the failures of the Obama publicity machine -- that is, he notes that healthcare reform really needed to be sold to the American people, using all the framing and persuasion tools at hand, rather than trusting to dry policy arguments and letting the opposition set all the terms of the media discussion. Perhaps not too late, so I hope somebody in power reads his thoughts on this!
I hope that we're going to see some serious movement on all this next week, especially from the Democrats. Maybe that recent show of progressive spine can get a little momentum going!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

To Speck at 18 months

playing with plastic turtles on the Acela trainWell, this summer has been a busy one and initiated you as a Real Traveler: you went for a long weekend to Mom & Dad's college reunion (by car), to visit Grandma and Grandpa for 5 days on Cape Cod (by train), and for a week to Glasgow for an old pal's wedding (by plane) and were a trooper on all fronts. You weren't too taken with your travel bed/tent initially -- picture Mom and Dad sitting outside their hotel room listening to you scream for an hour and regretting having come out without their shoes (thus being denied the opportunity to take turns getting a beer downstairs) -- but after you had a little time to get used to it for a few naps at home, it became an old friend and a refuge in strange places. Throw in the beloved stacking buckets and a few familiar books, and you could tell we when were officially in a New Home Base and start making it your own. Our trips were, of course, studded with visits to Assorted Playgrounds and other recreations, but in return you were a good sport about spending long stretches exploring reunion tents, city squares, art fairs, and even a sizeable museum with minimal complaint, and you took the shifts of routine in pretty good stride. By the end of the longer trips, you tended to become a little clingy and wanted to keep your flock in sight at all times, but otherwise you were pretty open to novelty.

On more usual developmental fronts, you've expanded your initial steps to a confident brisk walk, with particular interest in pushing your boundaries with irregular surfaces, small curbs, and ramps and bridges of all kinds. Now we often bring you along to the playground or store on foot (although it can be nice to have a stroller available in case you wear yourself out, if for no other reason than that your parents can't always carry you all the way home without collapsing themselves). So far you're very careful to stay on the sidewalk (even when that curb looks enticing) and to offer a hand for crossing streets, so we feel ok about letting you roam with us in the city -- if you become a racer later on, that could change. You even cooperate in avoiding puddles and mud, trusting that we'll give you other opportunities (in more appropriate clothes) to do some serious puddle-stomping for the joy of it -- both our street and the zoo have great stretches for that.

big mouthYou still haven't launched your major production of speech. The old favorites Hi and Mama/Dada (often combined for dramatic effect: Ma ma ma... da DAT!) have been joined by EIEIO (closer to YiYi but clearly recognizable as a call for a round of Old MacDonald), uh-oh, a sarcastic teen-type Da-ad, and "gee!" which appears to be "seeds!" (used for a variety of Very Funny Things of the sort for which You Had To Be There). You also shake your head and nod, and use signs for finished, hot, and broken. All enough to satisfy the pediatrician; your parents fully expect that you'll wait a while yet (judging from your facility with nonverbal communication, and your relative lack of experimentation with sounds) and then probably come forth with a rush of language all at once when you decide it's time. Should be fun to watch!

Firsts in the last few months:
  • First kisses. You first kissed Golden Bear, then your parents, in Scotland, and then you got a bit more cagey about it. However, you often kiss your stuffed pals when you haven't seen them in a while, and you sometimes have your toys kiss one another. Meantime, most of us have to make do with your blowing a kiss on your way up to bed.
  • You learned to play hide-and-seek, also in Scotland, due in part to the prime geography of our rental apartment. Somehow the way that you and your dad mutually developed this game seemed to involve your just naturally picking a "home base" to which you would return while your victim hid again (and then called out repeatedly while you searched), which amazes me. It was also a big hit on Cape Cod, where your grandparents' house is largely on one floor; sadly, our own house is mostly vertical in design, which means we won't get much of this game at home.beach2 = sand and bucket
  • You visited your first beach. After some initial caution (including a long stretch of standing in one place while adapting to the strange movement of sand under one's feet), you got into the scene wholeheartedly, running back and forth between the dry sand and the waves (to coat and wash your hands) and shoveling sand back into the sea. Will have to do more of this!
  • You became a musical tyrant, not just learning to recognize your Mother Goose Rocks CD, but insisting that it be played over and over (and to the exclusion of all other music)! Amusingly, you have developed dances and games for many of the tracks, turning about for the Hokey Pokey, playing knick-knack on our shoes and door, dancing your fingers for Where Is Thumbkin, etc. This attachment also means that having the beloved CD on my computer (or a round of Old MacDonald in the car) offers a way to calm some storms in unfamiliar places, which is good. Of course, having these tunes constantly in our heads can be a pain, but I always have pesky tunes in my head, so hard to complain much.
On other fronts, lessee... you apparently grow your teeth in bunches, having waited another couple of months before launching 5-6 at once, to some distress. Beyond toyful kisses, you have a sort of empathetic response to many toys and books, from offering Golden Bear a drink to trying to comfort Curious George in a story by helping him look for a missing bunny; you've also started moving little animals around in elaborate games accompanied by narrative (if wordless) sounds. You've learned the idea of blowing -- whether to cool foods, inflate an air mattress, or produce bubbles -- but do so ineffectually, with an incredibly endearing sort of goldfish-mouth motion. You eat mostly recognizeable foods, including a bowl of cereal at breakfast (although eaten manually) and a couple of acceptable Indian dishes (briyani and korma); we have no pretenses, however, of getting our act together for dinner in time to include you, so we also stock various versions of pasta, some much-loved spinach patties, and Mom's special pumpkin muffins. You have adopted O as your pet letter, and will point it out at almost any opportunity, on signs, in books, on plates in the ground; you sometimes notice other letters, but O is your touchstone for contact with the written word. Finally, the hot weather has brought some visits to playgrounds with various kinds of water sprayers, and even though you sometimes grimace or hold your arms over your head, you have definitely decided that you love getting wet. We now have special water shoes (for sprinklers and puddle-stomping) as well as a UV-protective swimsuit, so you're pretty much ready for anything!


What none of these externalities capture is how much the last few months have made you into a more companionable presence. Not only can you tell us a bit about what you need or want ("are you hungry?"), but you create games to play with us, show enthusiasm for going places, and frequently snuggle up or give us a hug. I know that language will really propell that sensation forward, but already it feels a bit more like we have a fun little person in the household. Can't wait for the next round!