Reinventing the World

August 5, 2011

This is a long and meandering post. I’m not entirely sure what the point is. This is the luxury of a blog.

As you, dear reader, are likely aware, I spent a good part of last month plowing through A.S. Byatt’s wonderful novel The Children’s Book. It is centered in England at the beginning of the 20th century up to WWI. The main characters are, primarily Fabians, Socialists, and similar derivatives. What they generally have in common is a desire to make the world into something different. They live in a time of enormous injustice and are generally aware of it. They hold political meetings or write editorials or participate in protests in an attempt to change their society for the better. They do not, generally, succeed, but that isn’t the point. The point is they tried, and much of what they started did lead to real changes over time.

Beyond that, there was this idea/feeling of optimism. It’s something the US really had after WWII. I can remember the last strains of it from my childhood.

And then I look at the absurd mess that is the United States right now and I am totally flabbergasted. We have now reached a point where some of our elected officials are willing to destroy the economy of our country to ensure that rich people get to keep every-damn-penny they have. There is no sense of optimism. There is no sense that we are all working together to make something new and good. There is only division and selfishness.

Never mind that there is no evidence – none – that conservative economic policies work. What is most disgusting to me is how utterly uncharitable it all is. America has become a place where money is the only thing that matters.

You may be familiar with the concept of Gross National Happiness. It is a concept introduced by the king of Bhutan in an attempt to better measure how well the people of the nation are doing. It attempts to measure several things. Let’s look at each one for the US:

1. Economic Wellness: This is bad and getting worse. Republicans haven’t totally destroyed the economy yet, but they’re getting close. Real wages haven’t gone up in I don’t know how long and unemployment is high. No one thinks the recent deal in Washington is going to make things better.

2. Environmental Wellness: We are currently in the process of gutting a lot of our environmental standards (at least where enforcement is concerned) and it’s impossible to get any new regulations through congress because we don’t want to hurt industry. Someone remind me, again, how it is that industry has been helping the general populace lately?

3. Physical Wellness: Well, once the rest of Obamacare kicks in, things should get a little better here. That said, every year I’ve been teaching, the cost of health insurance has gone up (often matching exactly whatever raise I was given) and benefits have gone down. A great many Americans are still uninsured, and we rank near the bottom of the industrialized world in health care. But again, at least this one figures to get a little better.

4. Mental Wellness: I don’t really know much about mental wellness stats in the US, but since basically everyone is worried about losing their job, I have to believe this is kind of a downer, too.

5. Workplace Wellness: Yeah. Do I even need to explain?

6. Social Wellness: We live in a nation where religious discrimination is almost status quo. We live in a nation where sexism, misogyny and violence against women are horribly rampant.

7. Political Wellness: Oy. vey.

And here’s the thing, we could fix most all of these things. Much as the Republicans have been trying to tear apart the New Deal for decades, it freaking worked. Why can’t we do something like that now? Why can’t we make a giant investment and agree, as a society, that we want to make a better nation. Things we should do:

1. Economic Wellness: We’re going to need some kind of rational tax system. Rich people benefit from the society that allows them to be rich. In most instances this comes in the form of inherited wealth. In other instances, someone is simply lucky enough to have their particular talents valued highly by the society in which they live. A stock broker is very important in America. Less so in nomadic Mongolia. If you are rich, you are also almost certainly very lucky, thus you should pay a higher percentage of your wages to keep society going.

2. Environmental Wellness: It is time to go the route of green energy (if you don’t think global warming is real, you are an idiot, I’m just going to state that as a fact) via direct government. The US government has invested in industry infrastructure before (think railroads, among others) and it’s time to do it again. The primary problem with green energy is the upfront cost. If the government starts to offset that, suddenly green energy is much less expensive.

3. Physical Wellness: Socialized Medicine. Single Payer. Do it. I know socialism is a bad word, but if you really hate social programs, I hope you’re sending your children to private schools and hiring a private security force to take care of crime in your neighborhood. Why basic health needs aren’t considered on par with these other things is beyond me. Also, socialized medicine works way better than our current system as about a million studies will tell you.

4&5. Mental Wellness & Workplace Wellness: I’m tying these together to talk about human-friendly labor policy. Why on earth don’t we have paid maternity and paternity leave? Why don’t most of us have decent amounts of vacation time? This one would be pretty tricky as it really requires a mental shift to the idea that time can be more valuable than money. Less work would lead to less production, overall, but I don’t know why that’s a bad thing. Economies can’t grow forever. Eventually, we need to stabilize, and I would be willing to bet that most people would be way happier without the 60-hour work weeks and constant fear that you could be fired at any moment. Stronger unions would certainly help this along. Interestingly, despite this idea that lack of job-security makes people more productive, every study I’ve ever seen says the more secure a person feels, the harder they work. This comes, I suspect, from feeling like and important part of an organization instead of like a nearly-worthless cog that can be replaced at any time.

6. Social Wellness: Let’s start by trying to value all members of society equally and go from there. It would certainly help if a certain political party could drop the sexism, homophobia, and mad-crazy religious intolerance.

7. Political Wellness: This comes down to the anti-intellectualism in place right now. I don’t know how this happened, but it now seems to be decidedly uncool to have any idea what you are talking about. I suspect a lot of it stems from the political power ultra-conservative religious groups currently have. You can’t be a member of some of these sects without stomaching a lot of cognitive dissonance (I’m thinking of the things that come out of Michelle Bachman and Glenn Beck’s mouths). Basically, you can’t believe that nonsense if your willing to actually research information. Thus, researching information (also known as learning) is bad and ignorance is good. This explains how the Tea Party got so many people elected during the last go-round. If you could take care of this and get everyone thinking that it’s a good idea to listen to people like Paul Krugman (who has been very, very right about what’s been happening in the economy) because, you know, they actually have some expertise and don’t say stupid things like, “You know, where I grew up, we believed in common sense…”

So what if we did all this? Well, we’d end up with a sustainable nation where people are mostly happy. Instead, we have an unsustainable (oil is going to run out eventually) mess with high unemployment and an overwhelmingly unhappy populace. But it could change. We just need to realize, as a nation, that what we’ve been doing isn’t working. It’s time to try something else. We can reinvent the world. We have the means, we only lack the will.

I have another, more serious post about moving and stability coming up, but I don’t quite have my thoughts together on it yet. In the meantime, I present you with a list of eight things I will not miss about the current apartment:

1. The laundry “facilities” – First, the machines are functional only in the loosest sense of the word. You can definitely get clean clothes, it just might take you six hours to do a load. Second, they are located in a spider-infested cellar at the bottom of the most rickety outdoor staircase I have ever seen.

2. The nextdoor neighbors – We live next to a couple with a young son. For a while, they seemed quite nice, but there comes a point when you realize that the screaming matches are kind of a regular thing. When the husband screams that his wife is a “goddamn fucking bitch” so loudly that we can hear it inside our apartment (located in a separate house) when they have company, well, I’m sorry, I can’t even pretend that I have respect for you anymore.

3. The garage – Is falling down. Seriously, I’m afraid to lean against it.

4. The incompetent remodeling job – We live in what is typically referred to as an “owner occupied unit”. This is supposed to signify that it is nicer than other apartments because, before you moved in, the owner lived here and he made it all nice and homey. Our landlord, however, remodeled the place himself and the whole thing reeks of someone constantly saying “that’s good enough”. My personal favorites are in the bedroom where he meant to put in crown molding, but just left a few inches unpainted and never got around to it and the inch and a half gap under the bar that divides the living room and kitchen where he must have measured wrong and figured no one would notice. Oh, and don’t let me forget the shower rod that is hung so high no shower current will adequately bridge the gap between rod and tub.

5. The lack of doors – There are two closet doors and a bathroom door in our two bedroom apartment. That is all.

6. The mailman – He likes to take days off. Especially Saturdays. He also doesn’t seem to have figured out where everyone in the neighborhood lives. It’s not like the addresses are on the envelopes or anything.

7. Parking on the street – Technically, we have the garage, but well, you remember #3. For some reason, people on this street are really possessive of parking spots even though there are WAY more spots than cars. I tend to park in whatever open space is closest to the house. Sometimes, this means I am parked in front of someone else’s house. WHY DO THEY CARE? I do not throw a fit when someone is parked in front of our house. Oddly, I do not find it a giant inconvience to walk 50 feet. Our downstairs neighbor is especially bad about this. He seems to believe he actually owns the place directly in front of the house.

8. The landlord. I saved this one for last. He is not the worst landlord I have had, but he is in the discussion. We had a windstorm in September that blew off part of the chimney. He got it fixed in March. That same month, our roof began to leak. That didn’t get fixed until May. Recently, some water started leaking into the downstairs unit. He seems to expect us to stop flushing the toilet so he doesn’t have to get it fixed right away. There are other examples, but let’s just say he sucks.

Good riddiance shitty apartment.

I suppose this could be considered the second in a series of posts about how the world goes crazy when you have a child.

As the 17 people who read this blog are no doubt aware, my wife and I have recently had a child. Simone is now 6 weeks old, and the world is very worried that she is going to die of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). In fact, we have worked several doctors into tremors and fits when we have told them that *gasp* we are co-sleeping. That is, our daughter sleeps in bed with us. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is lack of space, we won’t have room for a crib until we move in a few weeks, but we also like it. It’s much more convenient for feedings and diaper changes and what not. Anyway, let’s take a walk through the numbers.

First, let’s establish that SIDS is one of those things that people panic about a bit too much. As of 2006 (most recent number I can find), there were 0.51 deaths for every 1000 live births. This means that there is a 0.051% chance that any given child will die of SIDS. So, yeah, let’s just start by acknowledging that half of a tenth of a percent is probably not something to lose your mind over. Still, any new parent wants to be safe and you don’t want to subject your child to unnecessary risk, so let’s look at some other factors.

According to literally every source I can find, breastfeeding reduces the risk of SIDS by 80%. Simone is exclusively breastfed. For those scoring at home, that makes her current calculated risk 0.0102%. Basically, 1/100 of a percent.

Smoking doubles the risk of SIDS. Neither Cate nor I smoke. Other than my mother, Simone is not exposed to anyone who smokes. My mother is not allowed to smoke near Simone. Simone sees my mother about once a week. I think it is safe to claim that Simone lives in a nonsmoking environment. Let’s just ballpark it conservatively and say that this lowers her risk of SIDS by 10% to 0.0092%. That is, there is currently a chance slightly less than 1 in 10,000 that Simone will die of SIDS. Isn’t math fun?

But the point of this article really, is that doctors keep telling us that co-sleeping is bad, and there is, as far as I can tell, absolutely zero evidence for this. Sure there are a lot of fuzzy statistics that don’t factor in if the parents are drinking so much that “sleeping” means “passed out” or if they are smoking in the bed with the child or even if they are just putting the child to sleep and leaving them alone (that’s right, sometimes, “adult bed” counts as cosleeping even if no one else is there). I wish I were making this up, but I’m not. The only hard number I can find is that there are 60 accidental infant deaths a year in adult beds. This number has a TON of problems. One, it’s a raw number. There’s no context. 60 out of how many? Was another adult in the bed? What was that adult doing? How does that compare to accidental crib deaths? It’s meaningless. Inicidentally, this number has gained most of its fame becuase crib manufacturers put it out there all the time. The fact of the matter is, there is simply no evidence, zero, to say that cosleeping is harmful. In fact, every single study I’ve been able to find that is any kind of legitmate says that cosleeping REDUCES the risk of SIDS. Some studies even show that it is as beneficial as breastfeeding. (Look for a man named James McKenna, he has done a lot of the work.) Another fun fact: the countries where co-sleeping is the most prevelant are those with the LOWEST incidence of SIDS.

This kind of thing just annoys the fuck out of me. Almost every doctor you encoutner will tell you the cosleeping increases the risk of SIDS and it just isn’t true. This happens sometimes in all fields. A few bogus numbers come out, they catch on, and suddenly something is gospel even though it’s totally wrong. The next time a doctor looks at me like I’m trying to kill my child, it is going to be really tempting to demand evidence and then laugh at them when they can’t produce any. Further, I refuse to worry about SIDS. There is probably an 1 in 10 ro 20 thousand chance that Simone will die from this. There are things far mroe likely that I am also not worred about*.

*Deaths that are more likely than SIDS:
Natural Disaster
Assault with Firearm

It has come to my attention after having a conversation with a couple of good ol’ friends from back in the day that there may be some misinterpretation going on regarding my previous blog. For the record, I have no issue with the raising and lowering of voice tones in a musical fashion as one of the aforementioned friends noted (that would be Kirsten) this is GOOD for babies. No, what bothers me is the intentional mispronouncing of words and the making of nonsense sounds.

That is all.

Baby Talk

June 22, 2009

Oh I care for you, honey, at my own expense
But something’s spoiling my sentiments
You open your mouth and it makes no sense
All you ever give me is baby talk
-Richard Thompson

I am beginning to think that, at least for a while, I will be writing a series of posts that are observations about parenting and how the world becomes idiotic. Let’s start today.

This should serve as a cautionary tale to all who read it. It is something that I was NOT prepared for. If you have a baby and go out in public the following things may happen to you:

1. People talk kind of at you as you pass them on the street. These are not people you know. They will look in your direction and say brilliant things like, “That’s a new one” and “Look at the baby.” I would imagine it’s something akin to what people whisper when they pass someone with a giant goiter. They don’t whisper, though. They speak loudly. It is clear they want you to hear, yet there comment seem to require no response.

2. People will walk up to you and interrupt you do talk about and touch your babies. This one probably aggravates me the most. First of all, I do not know you and I do not know where your hands have been, so please take them the fuck off of my child. A baby is not a piece of public property, so you cut that out right now. Second, my wife and I are trying to decide how many blueberries we need or whatever. We are, as you may have noticed before you started talking to us unprompted, having a conversation. If you really can’t control yourself, at least have the courtesy to wait until we’ve finished transacting our business so that we can smile and walk away from you if we feel so inclined.

3. People will walk up to your baby and begin to talk to her as though she can understand them. They will speak exclusively in baby talk. There are few things I hate more in life than baby talk. If you want to make your speech a little more musical, fine whatever, but don’t start every goddamn word with the “w” sound. That is obnoxious. Also, it is bad for a child’s linguistic development. Remarkably, what is best for them is for you to pronounce words correctly and not make up nonsense sounds. Also, again, we don’t know you, so, yeah, please go away.

I have been a father for nine days now, and for the last few I’ve thought about exactly what I want to write about that. This is one of those things that’s been written about so many times. Still, I tend to write about whatever is on my mind where this blog is concerned, so I think I will write about it at least a little bit.

First, I’ll provide some logistical details. Simone came into the world at 5:26 AM on Monday, June 1st. She moved quite quickly as a drug that was not supposed to put Cate into labor did put her into labor. Cannonball was in a hurry and Cate spent less than 5 hours in labor. Simone was born almost exactly an hour after her mother’s water broke.

Some, fairly obvious, first impressions: This can be exhausting and, to quote Cate, everything takes twice as long as it did before. So, you look up at the clock and it’s 6:30 and you think, wasn’t it just 4:00 about 5 minutes ago. However, it’s pretty nice. I love my daughter and she’s adorable, and even though it’s been just over a week, I can see little things starting to happen. Her face is becoming more expressive and she smiles in her sleep and sometimes when she’s awake. Generally, she smells good and it’s nice to have your newborn daughter asleep on your chest. All that said, it would be okay with me if she pooped less. It would be REALLY okay if she didn’t poop when I was in the process of changing her diaper as that really doesn’t help anyone out. Also, I would be totally fine if people would cut it out with the baby talk. We went out briefly today and every stranger we passed lost the ability to speak English. It’s ridiculous.

I don’t know that I have much more to say about it right now. I’m enjoying it, and I think I will enjoy being a father. Because this is something that has been written about so much and shown so much in movies and television, it is interesting to see how my reactions and emotions jibe with those shown in popular media. Predictably, my reactions have, thus far, been mellower than your average father’s day greeting card commercial.

It is also the summer for me now, and I do find myself excited over that. Cate and I will be spending a good deal of it trying to find a larger apartment or a small house we can rent for the first few years of Simone’s life until we can put a down payment on one of our own. Also, I look forward to increased writing time. Time away from school and students already has the creative juices flowing more freely, and I’m currently working on a little off-the-wall ghost story. I’d like to have a rough draft done by the end of the weekend, but we’ll see.

I found out for sure on our last day of school that I will have two creative writing classes next year. This is VERY exciting. I went in to teaching hoping that I could teach writing eventually. One of my summer goals is to design a writing class that is as interesting and as much fun as it could possibly be so that I can convince some of my students to sign up for an advanced creative writing class the next year.

I suppose that is all for now. I realize this post is rambling and largely unfocused. That will likely change as the summer wears on and I get used to the new structure of my life.

Okay, before you read this I need to make something clear: This is not me talking to any individual. This is a very abstract post about the differences between two generations, one of which I happen to be a part of and one of which my parents happen to be a part of. I love my parents. They have been wonderful and supportive. If all Baby Boomers were like them, I think the world would be a lot less screwed up right now. So, just to be clear: THIS IS NOT TARGETED AT INDIVIDUALS. That is, unless you are guilty of griping about some of this stuff, in which case, you need to stop it. Alright, let’s get on with it.

Today, I heard yet another in a long line of media rants about how baby boomers have it tough, what with the economy collapsing, and how my spoiled-ass generation needs to step up. I think it is hilarious that baby boomers have the nerve to call anyone spoiled. Let’s take a look and do a few comparisons.

College: A lot of the talk I here revolves around how everyone my age and younger should take out loans or whatever to foot the bill for their education. Fun fact: when you adjust for inflation, college today is three times as expensive as it was in the 70s when baby boomers went to college, and they had a lot more grant money than we did. How many baby boomers are remotely aware of what an education really costs today compared to when they were going to school?

Work: And then there’s this: when my parents were graduating from high school, you could get a factory job making the equivalent of $20 or $25 dollars an hour. I had to go to school for six years before I could make that kind of money. And I’m glad I got out when I did as it’s only getting harder even though the economy has pretty much been in the toilet since my senior year of college (thanks GWB!). Also, Boomers have stayed in the work place longer than any generation before them. This, of course, means that opportunities that were open to them because people retired or died are not open to us.

Health Care: I don’t know if any of you have noticed, but health care is pretty damn expensive right now. Way, way, way more expensive than it was twenty or thirty years ago. Why, you ask. Well, without getting into a long post about the health care industry, it has a lot to do with the quest for profit by compaines like Humana and a fucked up food industry (also, all about profit) that encourages obesity and other health problems. All of these changes were instituted (of course!) by the Baby Boomer generation. Also, it can be argued that the cost of providing health care to employees is depressing wages (because it’s so damn expensive) and discouraging companies from hiring full time employees (hello contract labor!).

Tax Policy: For all the cries about socialism, our current tax structure does an excellent job of redistributing money to the top of the economic ladder. Go here to see just exactly how much easier rich people have it today than they did when baby boomers were growing up and enjoying all that cheap education and whatnot. Baby boomers want to hold on to their money, though. They earned it, why should they have to look out for future generations?

Economy: Look, things are a total, utter, unbelievable clusterfuck right now. I’m not placing all the blame on Baby Boomers. I do, though, want to point out just briefly that, generally speaking, they were the ones making ridiculous sums of money and instituting ridiculous monetary policy.

Look, I’m not saying my generation doesn’t have its shortcomings. It does. But my god, our parents and grandparents have gone and left us with the biggest mess since the Great Depression and all they can do is look down their noses at us and say, “Hey, pick yourself up, buster” when they, as a generation NEVER, EVER, EVER had to deal with anything like this. So this is what I want the Baby Boomers to do: Stop YOUR whining and griping about how entitled we are. We’ll be just fine, but don’t blame us for being pissed that because you screwed things up so much, we’ll likely never have it as good as you did.