Tuesday, March 31, 2009

It's Good to Live in DC

Adam and I are really starting to enjoy living here in DC.  We've been socializing more than ever, mostly through visits from our out-of-town friends.  I think we've had just about one visit per month from people passing through town and the schedule is even more packed for the next couple of months. 

It's also exciting to be living in a real city again.  Today, Adam was on the train to New York for a workshop at Columbia University and was sitting across from the former commander of the U.S.S. Cole, from the time it was attacked.  Adam admires the U.S. military very much (he even considered a career in the military at one point) so this was a huge thrill for him.  (Apparently, the gentleman is scheduled to be on Hannity and Colmes tonight, I think discussing the shut-down of Guantanamo.  I hate that show but I'll have to watch it.)  You don't usually get to meet such interesting people on planes and trains when you live in East Lansing or Lexington, Virginia!  Although, come to think of it, we did meet Mayor Ray Nagin on a plane when we lived in New Orleans, but that was pre-Katrina so he wasn't quite that interesting yet. 

Adam has also made a ton of great contacts for work amongst the lobbyists and think tanks here in DC.  We've been able to attend every lecture of the Ayn Rand Center for the Advancement of Objectivism.  (I wonder why they changed their name.)  I'm going to a big homeschooling conference this summer, whose keynote speaker will be Susan Wise Bauer.  I've been meaning to read her book, The Well Trained Mind, for ages, so I'll have to get to that soon.

There is just so much going on all the time.  I don't need to plan anything.  In fact, I need to turn down quite a bit.  We have other friends in the outlying areas that we've been meaning to visit since we arrived...last May!  I think I need to put that on my to-do list or we'll always be too busy.

But not this week.  We need to get downtown to see the cherry blossoms.  I've never seem them in bloom.  Spring is just beginning here and we have white and pink flowers everywhere.  It's just beautiful.  Maybe it will be ok to live here after all.

Monday, March 30, 2009

A Little Thing

Putting on a peanut butter mustache to match my daughter's.

Good Calories, Bad Calories

I strongly recommend Good Calories, Bad Calories, by Gary Taubes.  If you haven't heard of it, the subtitle is, "Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control, and Disease," and that is an understatement!  This book turns everything you thought you knew about nutrition on its head, or at least attempts to. 

First, I want to thank all of you who recommended this book to me.  I have been liberated from my fear of fat!  I knew that I did better eating protein versus carbohydrates, but I still thought I should eat lean meats and low fat dairy products to minimize fat, both for weight control and to keep my cholesterol down.  Even after reading Taubes' NYT article, What if it's Been a Big Fat Lie, I didn't quite get it.  Here is the inescapable truth: there is no correlation between dietary cholesterol and heart disease.  There is not even a clear correlation between the "bad" cholesterol in your blood, LDL, and heart disease.  And a correlation would only be a start anyway - as you know, correlation does not equal causation.  There is a correlation between the "good" cholesterol, HDL and heart disease: the more HDL, the less heart disease.  There are also some good theories for causation that fit with the studies that show this correlation, although they are not proven yet (in my opinion).  Still, nothing supports the conventional wisdom that suggests limiting fat in the diet--simply nothing.  The original correlations have withered away with conflicting data.  The theory has gotten consistently weaker through time.  Read the book - the evidence from the studies could not be clearer.   

Taubes has a much more ambitious purpose than just to debunk the conventional wisdom, though.  His goal is to inspire more formal study of the harmful effects of refined carbohydrates and sugars in the diet.  Overall, I agree that this absolutely needs to be done, but I think, along the way, Taubes ends up making some of the same mistakes he identifies in the low-fat advocates.  He puts too much faith in observational studies and anecdotal evidence.  I was much more convinced by his skepticism than his positive thesis.  To be more specific, I'll use the author's summary of his own conclusions based on the evidence he collected, and put in my two cents (in italics):

1. Dietary fat, whether saturated or not, is not a cause of obesity, heart disease, or any other chronic disease of civilization. (Emphasis added.) I'm not convinced that "disease of civilization" is a valid concept but otherwise, I agree with this statement as a general rule for obesity and heart disease. This is where I think Taubes is brilliant and revolutionary.  His meticulous collection and presentation of the relevent studies is impressive and convincing.  

2. The problem is the carbohydrates in the diet, their effect on insulin secretion, and thus the hormonal regulation of homeostasis--the entire harmonic ensemble of the human body. The more easily digestible and refined the carbohydrates, the greater the effect on our health, weight, and well-being. This is where I think he goes too far, but I fully agree that there is enough evidence to treat this as a theory to be studied further. Further, I think it is enough to justify my own effort to reduce my carbohydrate and sugar consumption, but in a much more limited way than Taubes might recommend. I might even call it "probable" that carbohydrates are a big problem in a modern diet. But to call carbohydrates "the problem" is going too far based on the evidence he has presented.

3. Sugars--sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup specifically--are particularly harmful, probably because the combination of fructose and glucose simultaneously elevates insulin levels while overloading the liver with carbohydrates. I don't think there is all that much evidence for HFCS being even more harmful than sugar (although there is enough to warrant further study), but what impressed me in his discussion of sugar is the mammoth amount of sugar consumed per capita in our country now - I can't find the figures but it went from approximately 10 pounds a couple hundred years ago to well over 100 pounds per year now. Otherwise, my comments on #2 apply here.

4. Through their direct effect on insulin and blood sugar, refined carbohydrates, starches, and sugars are the dietary cause of coronary heart disease and diabetes. They are the most likely dietary causes of cancer, Alzheimer's disease, and the other chronic diseases of civilization. I would put the qualifier "most likely cause" on the first set of conditions and "a possible cause" on the latter. Note that Taubes says "dietary cause," not "cause." This means: as effected by diet. Taubes does not deny the interaction of genetic factors or other environmental factors. He is speaking strictly about effects from the diet. But, again, with the diseases of civilization! I think that would only be a valid concept if, in fact, the earlier part of this statement was proved correct. In other words, if we did prove that carbohydrates and sugars caused diseases x,y,z, and we found that those diseases cropped up with the introduction of those foods in various diets, then we would have a valid concept. Of course, we'd probably call it something different then, like, "diseases of refined carbohydrates" or something. Still, this is the first place I have ever seen (and I have looked all over the internet, including in academic articles) any evidence at all presented for the "diseases of civilization" concept. It seems to be so accepted that nobody bothers to explain or justify it. But Taubes did give a history of the idea and it was a fascinating and compelling set of anecdotal evidence, but I just don't think it's valid to speak of these diseases as a group (and the members in the group are not always clear either). I think that is dangerous assumption-making, and the kind of oversimplification that Taubes warns us about in the earlier parts of the book. (The term "civilization" is inflammatory, from an Objectivist's point of view, but really it refers to agriculture, which many consider to be the necessary precondition to civilization. It really angered me, though, when Taubes quoted somebody who said that agriculture may have been the biggest disaster in the history of man, or something to that effect. Now that is the kind of anti-man statement I've heard when reading about the Paleo diet, at least in implication. If there are indeed "diseases of civilization," they are still a small price to pay for our modern world! Also, as somebody pointed out in the comments here on my blog, if modern foods are causing health problems, the answer is more science, not reversion.)

5. Obesity is a disorder of excess fat accumulation, not overeating, and not sedentary behavior. Wow! This is another area where Taubes shook up my worldview. You just can't understand this unless you read the book and the mountains of circumstantial evidence for this statement. I would add a qualifier to this statement that says that obesity "may sometimes be" a disorder of excess fat accumulation...or possibly, "may usually be." I still believe some (many?) people are overweight because they eat too much, even when their internal nutritional needs are met, but Taubes presents a plausible theory (see details below), there is evidence for it, and it fits with my own experience.

6. Consuming excess calories does not cause us to grow fatter, any more than it causes a child to grow taller. Expending more energy than we consume does not lead to long-term weight loss; it leads to hunger. Again, you'll have to read the book to understand and believe this. The key is that you can eat and the calories can get stored in your fat tissue without giving your cells the energy they need, so that being overweight is actually a manifestation of internal starvation. See #7. There is much evidence for this, but again, it really is not proven yet, in my opinion.

7. Fattening and obesity are caused by an imbalance-a disequilibrium-in the hormonal regulation of adipose tissue and fat metabolism. Fat synthesis and storage exceed the mobilization of fat from the adipose tissue and its subsequent oxidation. We become leaner when the hormonal regulation of the fat tissue reverses this balance. If you haven't read the book this probably doesn't make much sense to you, but it is intelligible in the context of the science presented in the book.

8. Insulin is the primary regulator of fat storage. When insulin levels are elevated-either chronically or after a meal-we accumulate fat in our fat tissue. When insulin levels fall, we release fat from our fat tissue and use it for fuel. Again, maybe. I learned a lot about the role of insulin by reading this book and it was fascinating.

9. By stimulating insulin secretion, carbohydrates make us fat and ultimately cause obesity. The fewer carbohydrates we consume, the leaner we will be. I wish, but again, I only give this a maybe.

10. By driving fat accumulation, carbohydrates also increase hunger and decrease the amount of energy we expend in metabolism and physical activity. Overall, I am pretty confident there is some truth to this theory, but I'm not convinced it is as clear-cut as Taubes suggests and I definitely do not think the evidence warrants cutting out most carbohydrates from one's diet, regardless of the costs in enjoyment, convenience, and price.

Much of the reason I say there is not enough evidence for many of these claims is that there have never been any real studies testing the hypotheses!  Taubes claims that the fat hypothesis is so ingrained and accepted that to even undertake a test of these theories would be blasphemy, so to speak.  To Taubes' credit, he calls the ten statements above his "own conclusions" and specifically calls for controlled studies.

I found the early part of the book the most interesting, where Taubes makes it clear that the erroneous fat hypothesis became gospel through a mixture of bad science, inertia, and government interference.  He goes as far as to say:
It's possible to point to a single day when the controversy was shifted irrevocably in favor of [the fat] hypothesis--Friday, January 14, 1977, when Senator George McGovern announced the publication of the first Dietary Goals for the United States.  The document was "the first comprehensive statement by any branch of the Federal Government on risk factors in the American diet," said McGovern.

This was the first time that any government institution (as opposed to private groups like the AHA) had told Americans they could improve their health by eating less fat...The document itself became gospel. It is hard to overstate its impact.

Another interesting issue is the concept of public health.  In a chapter called "The Greater Good" Taubes traces how the desire to "achieve the greatest good by treating entire populations rather than individuals" leads to patients who are not motivated to change their behaviors, which in turn leads to "experts" who exaggerate risks and try to create social pressure to change people's behavior, whether it is good for any particular individual or not.  Recognizing that this is an instance of collectivism at work really helps to understand the succession of "public service messages" we receive about health, which invariably are later revoked.  Think about the campaign against salt, or the outrageous exaggerations of the anti-drug campaign.

I could write even more about this book but I'll end with my own conclusions.  I do not think that carbohydrates are bad in the way that Taubes does so I suppose that I fundamentally disagree with the book.  (It is, after all, called "Good Calories, Bad Calories.")  I think the balance is off in the standard American diet--it is slanted too much towards carbohydrate consumption, in part because of convenience (which is a value) and in part (more recently) because of the low-fat campaign.  (Taubes specifically takes issue with the idea of a "balanced diet," claiming that the concept comes from the errors in the fat hypothesis, but I don't agree.  Because I do not think there is enough evidence, I default to a principle which fits with all my other knowledge about health, and life in general for that matter.)  For now, I'm not so much reducing carbohydrates as adding fats back into my diet.  For me, that means that carbohydrates are falling away more naturally, since I don't really like to eat much of them anyway.  I'm really just retraining myself to stop thinking in terms of fat being bad.  Once you see the Big Fat Lie for what it is, you will be shocked at how ingrained it is into your psyche.   I intend to trust my body's signals more than I have in the past, and to be even more skeptical (if that is possible) about nutritional studies.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Curious George

My favorite line from Curious George is:
George promised to be good. But it is easy for little monkeys to forget.

It reminds me to always assume positive intent with my own little monkey.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Edison Hour

If you are repulsed by the man-hating, primitive-worshipping, anti-progress evil which is environmentalism...

If you are inspired by inventors, creators, discoverers...

If you respect man's mind and feel awe at all that the human race has accomplished...

Then turn on all your lights tomorrow, March 28, from 8:30-9:30pm for Edison Hour!  Environmentalists will be turning everything off for "Earth Hour," so let's show them that we reject the call to sacrifice, the renunciation, and just plain dreariness of their creed. 

You can see the oppposite of that creed in this now familiar, but still moving image.  I wish Thomas Edison could have seen this!


(Image courtesy NASA/GSFC)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Little Thing

Homemade mayonnaise.  Try it.

A Little Thing

Samantha made her first poop on the actual toilet today!  In the past she's only successfully used the little bucket thing.  All it took was me telling her that Cajun Lady would help her.

I must say that a tiny little child on a big toilet making little grunting noises is just unbearably cute.

Objectivist Round Up

The Round Up is up at another new host: Erosophia.  Don't miss Rational Jenn's latest post about discipline without punishment, including lots of interesting comments.  Taxes are on my mind this week, having just filed, and I see there is an analysis on the host blog about whether Objectivism necessitates a condemnation of all taxation.  I've never been totally convinced that it does, so I'll check that out with interest tomorrow.

I'm in the Dollhouse

Samantha loves it when I make up stories and pretend to be made-up characters.  For stories, I use the Little Bear TV show (still love it!) as a base and make up new situations.  It's pretty easy when you have a set of characters already made for you.  I'm surprised at how well I'm doing with the storytelling.  Adam and I thought for sure that these "imaginative" things would be more his domain than mine, so I'm pretty impressed with myself.

Then I have two main characters I play for her: Whale and Cajun Lady.  Whale talks really slow and low...well, like a whale.  She lives in the ocean and eats plankton and that's all she does, except the funny-talking.  I can count on Sam cooperating with just about anything if I ask her as Whale.  Cajun Lady is the latest addition to my repertoire.  I just started talking in this weird Cajun accent one day and Sam fell in love with it.  That one is much more fun for me, but it's a bit embarrassing at the supermarket.

Another fun part for me is when I'm tired of playing the funny character, I close my eyes for a moment, open them and sort of shake my head and say in my usual voice, "Did I fall asleep?"  Now I just need to teach Sam to respond, "For a little while."

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

All Moms Are Pampered Now

Even if you use cloth diapers, you've got to admit that disposable diapers were a great invention.  Well, if you use cloth diapers you probably can't express an idea very well yet.  And of course, there are those pesky environmentalists.  OK, so you don't have to admit it.  But I think it was a great invention, and one of my favorite blogs, Heroes of Capitalism, has the story right here.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


I made up a new game for Sam the other day.  I think it's a bit advanced for her, but it kept her occupied while I dried my hair.  I gave her 5 Q-Tips, a pair of tweezers, and the cup from my bathroom counter.  I showed her how to line up the swabs on the floor, about an inch or two apart, then how to use the tweezers to pick them up and place them in the cup.  I might try kitchen tongs and Brussels Sprouts in the kitchen next time.

This is another example of selfish parenting.  My motivation here was not to find something interesting for Sam to do, but to keep her occupied so I could get my own things done.  It worked out well for both of us.

Monday, March 23, 2009

I Don't Like this Phase

We are into the spilling phase of childhood.  Sam spills her milk at least once a day now.  She almost never spilled like this in the past, even when she first started using a regular cup.  She loves cleaning up, so that consequence does not deter her.  Instead, I try to show that I'm frustrated with it, but that it's not the end of the world.  In the meantime, I'm stuck with a lot of clean up, even with her help.

Yesterday she was in her booster seat at the table, drinking from a glass, and I was doing the dishes.  I started thinking, "I hope she drops that glass and it shatters."  She's been using glasses as well as plastic cups for a long time and I was hoping the first time she shattered one would be such a traumatic experience that it would teach her to be more careful.  Because of the spilling, I was becoming paranoid about her dropping a glass and I wanted to get it over with. 

Not a minute later, I got my wish.  The problem is, she didn't freak out.  In fact, I think she just found it kind of interesting.  I should have known - this kid pops balloons on purpose and laughs at the explosions, and she taunts the cat to get him to swipe at her so she can try to duck away in time.  So I made her stay in her booster seat while I cleaned it up, which took at least 20 minutes.  I thought for sure she would get bored and hate having to sit still, but she just watched me.

Today, she dropped another one.  I'm going to have to get creative with some other kind of natural, or at least related, consequence.

A Little Thing

I think Sam and I have been playing with her Han Solo toy too much.  Today I told her, "I love you," and she told me, I KNOW.

Cosmos on Hulu

Thanks to Jim Woods for alerting me to the fact that Carl Sagan's Cosmos is available on Hulu.  I can't recommend this show highly enough.  Adam and I have been looking forward to watching this with our daughter since before she was born.  In fact, Cosmos is one of those things that makes you want to have a child, just to share that value.

A Natural Birth

I chose to have a natural childbirth with Samantha.  I'm still surprised at myself for making that choice, but so glad that I did.  My memories of the pregnancy and birth are all so positive.  Sometimes I want to have another child just to go through it all again. 

While I was pregnant, I wrote a note to friends and family explaining the general reasons for my choice of natural childbirth, and just a few days after Sam arrived, I wrote up my birth story.  Here are both essays, unedited to preserve every bit of emotion and confusion of the time.


Natural Childbirth

As many of you know, I have opted to have a natural childbirth at a birth center instead of a hospital.  If you know Adam and me at all, you're probably surprised at this, as are we! 

I am a firm believer in the value of modern, western medicine, and I certainly don't go looking for more pain than I need to experience in life.  However, after some good advice from friends and then a lot of research, I found that having a baby in a hospital has a lot of drawbacks.  Hospitals have timeframes for labor and delivery that promote the use of interventions to speed up the process, even when there is no medical reason for it.  Just like with government controls, one intervention leads to another, often leading to the ultimate intervention - a C-section.  Many of these seem to be completely unnecessary.  I suspect that hospitals also have liability concerns that encourage, not just the reduction of risk (a good thing), but the covering of backsides.  Mothers are treated as patients, and the birth process is a medical event.  The bad part about this is that you are a passive player in the whole event.  Sure, you still have to push at the end, but you're basically lying flat on your back (the worst possible position, by the way!) with tubes and wires all over you, catheterized, just waiting for things to happen.  With an epidural (very hard to avoid in a hospital), when the baby is born you may or may not feel the experience, and your baby will not be as alert as one born without any drugs. 

I want to have some control over my body, I want to *experience* the whole process, even if it does mean a lot of pain, and I don't want my baby doped up when she is born.  Luckily, there is a free-standing birth center just a few miles from here which three women I know have used and loved.  My baby will be delivered by certified nurse midwives.  They have a lot of the basic emergency capabilities that a hospital does, and for anything else the hospital is just 10 minutes away (no longer than it would take to get you from a delivery room to a surgical room for an emergency C-section anyway).  There are no drugs available at all.  The atmosphere is very homelike, and they have tubs for a water birth if I want that.  They leave you alone as much as possible, and they don't whisk your baby away from you shortly after she is born. 

The midwives are definitely a bit anti-medicine, and they offer a lot of hokey things like herbs and aromatherapy, but they don't push those things on you.  They very explicitly work to provide you with the experience that you are looking for.  I've had all my prenatal care there, and I trust their medical knowledge and advice.  I am actually looking forward to labor (and I'm only a little bit nervous).  Maybe I'm na├»ve, but it seems like the act of giving birth has the potential to be a fulfilling experience - a challenge with a great reward at the end!  I know that a lot of things can go wrong and that I may not have the "perfect" experience, but I am totally confident that I've made the right choice to at least allow for the possibility of a great experience.  I'll be sure to post my "birth story" here after our daughter is born.


My Birth Story

I woke up at 6am to find that my water had broken.  Luckily, I made it to the bathroom before any damage was done to the bed!  (Adam and I were never sure how that would work.)  It was very little fluid and I didn't feel any contractions, so I was not totally positive about it, but I think I was in a bit of denial.  Still, I said out loud, "Oh no!"  It was 2 weeks and one day early, and I was not ready!  My parents weren't here yet, I hadn't frozen a bunch of easy to heat meals, I had work to do today, I hadn't even finished packing my "hospital" bag, and darn it, I just didn't feel emotionally prepared for the baby, although I guess you never are anyway.

I woke up Adam who was nearly catatonic (we got to sleep about 2am that night) and I told him that I thought my water had broken.  With eyes barely open he said, "On the bed???"  I said, "No, it's ok," and he said, "Congratulations," and closed his eyes again.  I managed to laugh uproariously at that.  After getting Adam to truly awaken, we contacted the birth center.  Kip was on call for the Labor Day weekend and advised me to keep an eye on things and let her know if contractions started or anything else changed.  I told her I was going to try to go back to sleep.  At this point, it was still possible I was not going right into labor, but either way, I needed my rest and there was no urgency.  I even took a half a (doctor approved) Benadryl to help me relax and sleep.

The minute I got back into bed at 7am, the contractions started.  I let Adam sleep and decided to time them for a while as I lay there.  They were 6 minutes apart and about 30-40 seconds long, but I was not using a stopwatch, just my bedside clock.  Not very painful, but definitely there and fairly powerful.  At first I tensed against them, but then learned to relax through them, and I was happy to find that relaxation helped a lot.

At 8am I decided sleep was out and I took a shower.  By the time I got out, the contractions were stronger and closer together.  I still let Adam sleep, thinking he would need his energy for the marathon ahead.  I went downstairs and tried to time the contractions with a stopwatch, but I kept getting interrupted by needing to go to the bathroom, trying to eat, and being confused by when they started and ended.  It seemed like they were only 3-4 minutes apart now, but I thought that couldn't be right.  I called Kip to let her know I was definitely in labor, so she should be ready to come in to the birth center.  She is a half hour away, and I am just 5 minutes away.  I started thinking that it would be sooner rather than later, so I woke up Adam and told him to shower and get the bag together.  I figured he could help me time contractions when he came downstairs in a half hour or so.  It was about 9am at this point.

This is when everything started happening fast.  Contractions became very strong.  I tried lying on my side on the couch and that did not work for me at all - it hurt!  I had never managed to eat but that was out of the question now.  I went into our home office to try sitting on my "birthing ball" (just one of those inflatable exercise balls).  I didn't make it that far.  Just inside the office door, I fell to my hands and knees and started having serious contractions in rapid succession.  That position was the best, though.  I hardly left it for the next two hours.  I was able to relax and it hurt, but it was not a pain that bothered me.  It truly was like the pain of working muscles, as opposed to the pain of being injured.  But it took all of my focus and effort to get through it.  I knew I was definitely in active labor (and probably further than that, as I found out later).

When Adam came downstairs around 9:30 I told him to call Kip - we needed to go in asap.  (No, I did not say it that calmly!)  Adam says that as he came down the stairs he was thinking, "labor coach reporting for duty," but when he found me on the floor moaning, he knew his job would simply be to get us out of the house and to the birth center.  He did his job very well!  I'm not sure how or what he did, but we managed to leave around 10:25 or so with Kip expected at 10:30.  By this time, I was feeling the need to push and I had been scared to death that the baby would be born on my office floor.

The car ride sucked big time.  Kip was there when we arrived and when she saw me crammed in the front seat of the car somehow on my hands and knees, I heard her say, "that looks real!"  Adam told her to start filling the tub and apparently she already had, but I didn't hear that part - just that Adam knew what to do.  What a champ Adam is!  He did everything right.

I got in the birthing room and went right back on my hands and knees leaning over a birthing ball.  The other two midwives, Shelie and Sandra, arrived somewhere in there, but I missed it.  Kip started taking pictures and I'll love her to my dying day for that.  Adam and I certainly didn't have time to think about that! 

I had been feeling the urge to push for about at least a half hour as we were trying to get into the birth center, and I had been holding it back, which was difficult.  Now I had to change modes and allow my body to do its work and this was a challenge as well.  I told Kip (or whomever was listening) about this concern and focused on doing it.  By now the contractions really were one on top of the other.  No real breaks or rest at all.  I'm sure Kip knew we were in second stage labor (pushing time) by this point.  Someone had put towels between my sore knees and the hardwood floor and my legs were slipping apart so Adam wedged his knee next to mine to hold me in place.  He must have also been rubbing me or something, but I don't really remember that part.  I just know he was there and that's all that mattered to me.

When the tub was full, Kip told me if I wanted to have the baby in the water, I needed to get in now.  I did so only through sheer will power and the help of an experienced midwife who knows when to leave you alone and when to give you a push.  The tub felt great.  I highly recommend it!  I also was able to really relax and let my body push.  I don't think I ever had to consciously push - the contractions did all the work and I just had to let it happen.  I actually held back a bit because that baby was coming fast and the stretching hurt really bad - and this is the kind of pain that feels like an injury.  I knew slower would be better for that pain.  I think I cussed a bit at that point.

But eventually, her head popped out - what a relief - the worst was over!  And my practically constant contractions stopped.  As I'm waiting for a contraction to push out her body, I hear the midwives giggling as they look at my baby's face under the water peering up at them.  They called Adam over to look because she had her eyes open and was blowing bubbles and making faces and moving all around!  There was no rush to get her out of the water, as her oxygen was still provided by the umbilical cord, but I was ready to get her out and that contraction hadn't come yet and I kept asking if it was okay.  She was also squirming around inside me and it felt darned strange!  I joked that she didn't want to come out yet because she wanted to give me just a few more good kicks before she did.  I cracked myself up with that, and there is actually a picture of me laughing while my daughter is halfway in and halfway out of me.  That was probably the best moment of the whole labor process. 

A moment later, at 11:27am, I had my contraction and pushed out her body (this time I helped it along a bit).  I sat back and they put her on me and I can't say anything more than anyone else ever does about this moment:  it was unbelievable and awesome.  I just repeated over and over, "Oh my god," and "I can't believe it."  She was pink and covered in white vernix, and of course, the most beautiful baby ever born!  She cried quickly and opened her eyes.  I held her until the umbilical cord stopped pulsing and they cut it.  I continued to hold her until the placenta was born about 45 minutes later.  Then we got out of the tub and all three of us got into the bed and became a family.  We named her Samantha Miriam.  She weighed 6 pounds 4 ounces and was 18.25 inches long and was perfect and healthy.

I never had a vaginal exam.  I never knew about centimeters dilated or effacement or anything medical except that the baby's heartbeat was indicating no problems.  My entire labor was 4 ½ hours long, including the official pushing time of 45 minutes.  At about 1 hour, I was the birth center's fastest "door to delivery" first time mom ever.  The worst part was pushing the head out, and the next worst part was being afraid she would be born on my office floor and the hectic panic of getting to the birth center.  Everything else was, dare I say it, a great experience.  I am so proud of myself.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Only One

It's nice to have a unique name:


LogoThere are
or fewer people with my name in the U.S.A.

How many have your name?

(HT: Rational Jenn)

It's actually quite convenient that I married a man with a rare name since I don't have a middle name to distinguish me.  My parents thought it unnecessary, given that my maiden name is Afflerbach.  That fact accounts for my short first name as well, which I appreciated very much growing up, having to write Afflerbach over and over.  Thanks, Mom and Dad!

Adam doesn't have a middle name either, but we did give Samantha a middle name, Miriam, after Adam's mom who died about 13 years ago.  I'm not a fan of naming children after relatives, but this was a special case.

Speaking of names, it looks like Samantha might become a Sammy.  She calls herself Sammy most of the time, even though Adam and I use it rarely.  Now that she started it, though, we've been using Sammy more often.   Whatever you call her, she is unique.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


Here's a quick video of Samantha.  I love the grunting as she runs in the other room to get her step stool.


If toddlers are so chubby, how can their knees and elbows be so sharp?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Book Reviews

I'm still working on the bible, but in the meantime, I've read a couple of other books I should note.

I read Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner for my book club and enjoyed it as light fiction.  The main character, Cannie, pines over the loss of a loser-boyfriend and finds that if she is going to recover and have a happy life, she needs to address her self-esteem issues.  Cannie is smart and likable, and the plot kept me interested.  The book had some juvenile elements to it - some hysterical-dumped-female moments and a fantasy trip to L.A. when Cannie sold a screenplay - but I could overlook that.  I'd give it a 7 out of 10.

Based on a recommendation from a friend, I skimmed Sleep: A Groundbreaking Guide to the Mysteries, the Problems, and the Solutions by Carlos H. Schenck to see if it might give me any ideas about my insomnia.  I found that it wasn't really necessary to read it because my friend had already given me the best advice he had gleaned from it:  regulate your circadian rhythm by using blue light in the morning and blocking blue night at night using special glasses.  I'm going to try my full-spectrum light each morning and see if that alone will help. I won't rate the book since I didn't read the whole thing, but it seemed to have a really good overview of the wide range of sleep problems out there.  Interesting stuff!

Objectivist Round Up #88

Welcome to the March 19, 2009 edition of the Objectivist Round Up.  I'm honored to be hosting the Round Up for the very first time! 

For anyone unfamiliar with the ideas of Ayn Rand - where have you been?  Her epic novel, Atlas Shrugged, has been breaking even its own incredible sales records this year, and is currently in the top 10 on Amazon.com's US Fiction and Literature categoryPundits are talking about Ayn Rand and Objectivism more than ever before.  Going Galt is the hot phrase of the moment on the internet.

In Atlas Shrugged, Rand tells a tale of the U.S. economy deteriorating at an ever-increasing rate due to government controls, which has obvious parallels to our situation today.  Rand offered a unique moral defense of capitalism in the novel and her other works, which is something many seem to be grasping for right now.  Ayn Rand explained that:
The moral justification of capitalism does not lie in the altruist claim that it represents the best way to achieve “the common good.” It is true that capitalism does—if that catch-phrase has any meaning—but this is merely a secondary consequence. The moral justification of capitalism lies in the fact that it is the only system consonant with man’s rational nature, that it protects man’s survival qua man, and that its ruling principle is: justice.

“What Is Capitalism?”  Capitalism, The Unknown Ideal

Still, Rand was much more than a political philosopher, and so are those of us who are informed by her ideas.  Today's Round Up includes posts on parenting, sexuality, morality, health care, music, and of course, politics and economics.  Enjoy!


Burgess Laughlin presents Book Review: The Independent Scholar's Handbook posted at Making Progress, saying, "This book review identifies potential values for three types of readers, each gaining from different elements of the book: (1) would-be independent scholars wanting to know proper methods; (2) students of recent history who would like to see the role non-academics played in creating today's culture; and (3) intellectual activists intrigued by detailed examples of the careers of non-academic intellectual activists in the 1960s-1980s (the roots of our own time)."

Brad Williams presents The Austrian business cycle in one image posted at scripsit, saying, "Mish says: "[T]he only way 45% of the world's wealth could vanish in a year is if it was a mirage in the first place.""

Galileo Blogs presents The Case for Bankruptcy posted at Galileo Blogs, saying, "What is bankruptcy? What are the common fallacies of bankruptcy? Why is bankruptcy an essential feature of capitalism? It uses General Motors as an example."

Amy Mossoff (that's me!) presents Selfish Parenting posted at The Little Things, saying, "Can rational selfishness be a guide for making better parenting choices? This is the first post in a series which will explore that idea using concrete examples. Today's example is the question of allowing a child to help with cooking family meals."

Paul McKeever presents Paul McKeever’s Minimal Maxims and Bon Arrows, volume 1, issue 4 : Paul McKeever posted at Paul McKeever, saying, "four more thoughts for the week...including one cipher."

Doug presents Colbert's Distortion of Atlas Shrugged posted at Dark Waters Blogs.

Greg Perkins presents Challenging What Everybody Knows posted at NoodleFood, saying, "How do you quickly explain -- or at least motivate further exploration of -- subtle ideas that would challenge "what everybody knows"? It's just hard, a skill to be practiced. That one can profit from "prudent predation" is one of those things that Everybody Knows. So what might an Objectivist say to shake a general audience's confidence in the idea that predation is egoistic?"

Flibbert presents Men, Women, Birds, and Bees - Part 5 posted at Flibbertigibbet, saying, "I've finally posted the last in my series on masculinity and femininity in which I focus on the particular issue of homosexuality (my favorite!). Check it out!"

Francis Luong (Franco) presents My Subconscious Altruism Yardstick posted at Just Add Rationality, saying, "A wholly credible contextual backdrop to challenge people to seriously consider whether they believe they truly have a right to live for themselves or not."

Francis Luong (Franco) presents Initial Thoughts on Going Galt posted at Just Add Rationality, saying, "That Rand's ideas are making the media is good publicity. But if the publicity spreads a diluted or subverted version of Rand's ideas then it will only serve to give power and credibility to our enemy. Consistency is key (to hell with Emerson)."

Ari Armstrong presents Beer Smash Protests Protectionism posted at FreeColorado.com, saying, "Colorado law prohibits grocery stores from selling regular beer to consenting adults. This protectionism is wrong."

Paul Hsieh presents More Problems In Massachusetts Health Care posted at We Stand FIRM, saying, "The problems with Massachusetts' system of "universal health care" are becoming increasingly obvious, even to the NY Times."

Diana Hsieh presents Activism Against NAIS posted at NoodleFood, saying, "NAIS -- the National Animal Identification System -- is on the political horizon. It's not just another statist intervention: it promises to put many small farmers out of existence. You can help prevent it."

Rajesh Dhawan presents Living under socialism posted at Objective extrospection.

Grant Jones presents Tax Supported Indoctrination posted at The Dougout, saying, "On the manufacturing of mindless altruists by academia."

Khartoum presents Desert Island Scenarios – Good Or Bad? posted at Philosophy, Law and Life., saying, "A desert island example greatly reduces the amount of perceptual data one requires in making a rational decision by scaling it down to the personal level. It could be a powerful tool for communicating an idea."

John Drake presents Parenting as managing posted at Try Reason!, saying, "Parenting is a lot like managing. In this post, I explore some of the similarities."

Rational Jenn presents Kids Handling Conflict posted at Rational Jenn, saying, "Even young children can learn rational ways to work out their differences."

Rajesh Dhawan presents Why Democracy does not work- Idea cellular advertisement on TV posted at Objective extrospection.

Rajesh Dhawan presents Women in the special forces? posted at Objective extrospection.

Daniel presents Prokofiev's "March"--More Tiddlywink Music posted at The Nearby Pen, saying, "Want to hear one of Ayn Rand's "tiddlywink" songs? This is one of her favorite marches by Prokofiev--the one she would famously swing an arm to the music to (as if she was conducting)."

Jim Woods presents Grassley Just Wants You to Make Him Feel Better posted at Words by Woods, saying, "When he comes to businessmen, what would make Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) feel a little bit better?"

C. August presents Housing Glut? Open the Borders posted at Titanic Deck Chairs, saying, "One surprising solution to the housing crisis... more freedom."

Michael Labeit presents On Free Trade and Marginal Utility posted at Philosophical Mortician, saying, "This second post in my free trade series focuses on how the law of marginal utility governs free trade."

Ryan Krause presents Tax Bitch #1 posted at The Money Speech, saying, "A few interesting notes about the tax code you might not have known."


That concludes this edition of the Objectivist Roundup. Next week's host is Erosophia. Submit your blog article to the Objectivist Roundup using our carnival submission form.

Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.


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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Happy Birthday Toby!

He got a song too.  Happy birthday, buddy.

Ferocious Furry Friend

Toddler Montessori

Samantha and I went to our first Montessori class today.  Since it is a 7-week session designed for toddlers, I thought that it would be full of moms and kids who were starting pre-school in the fall, just like me and Sam, but the school starts taking toddlers into this class as soon as they can walk, and some people repeat the 7-week session, so the ages ranged from 15 months to just-turned-three, and most of the kids had been to prior sessions.  I think there were about 8 children there today, but it varies from week to week.

The class was held in a room set up just like a Montessori classroom, but geared just a bit younger.  There are rolled up mats which the children use to define their own work space on the floor.  If they prefer a table, there are a few, all with just two chairs, one for mommy and one for the child.  There is a potty on the floor in the corner, but no pressure to use it.  The materials/toys are similar to a primary Montessori class, but a bit simpler.  Everything is on low shelves and the children pick what interests them, or they watch other children. There is also a big slide for those kids who just need to get their energy out.  There is a snack table with just two chairs, so the kids must take turns.  Bananas, plastic knives, napkins, cups and a pitcher of water are nearby, to be used whenever hunger strikes.  The moms stay with or near the children, guiding them in the proper use of the materials (but in a more informal way than a primary class) and the one teacher floats about and makes suggestions as necessary.  The last 15 minutes of the 1.5 hour class is "circle time" for singing a few songs as a group.  It's a good signal that class is about to end.

The materials they have are wonderful - I wanted to play with everything myself!  They have dozens of items: peg boards, scissors and paper, puzzles, paper and glue, a sensory table with beans, and Sam's favorite: a small box with 5 beautiful marbled rocks in different colors.  She would shake the box and pour the rocks out on to the table in a controlled fashion, sort of like she was playing craps.  Then she would carefully put the 5 rocks in a line.  Then she would pick them up one at a time and drop them back in the box.  She repeated this exercise many times.  Who would have guessed that this would be the most interesting thing in the room?

Sam immediately understood the concept of taking one toy at a time, bringing it to a table or mat, and then returning it when finished.  She needed a reminder to put things away a couple of times, but it was great to see that this was not a foreign concept to her.  We clean up at home, but there is no one-toy-at-a-time rule and things get pretty messy every day.

Sam didn't do as well with respecting others' work.  She pushed and grabbed a few times.  Although this is "normal," I'm really looking forward to more of this structured Montessori time where I can work on this with her.  I knew this was one big drawback to putting her in day care, where the practice seems to be to yell loud instructions across the room when a child does something really flagrant, like pushing another kid hard enough for him to fall down.  I'm not worried about Samantha in this area, though.  She is a very empathetic and orderly child and I'm sure with the right guidance, she'll get the idea of taking turns and respecting others.

Just before circle time, the teacher took a bell and walked in a circle around the carpet.  The bell is one of my strongest memories from my own days in Montessori.  At circle time, we'd play "pass the bell."  While sitting in a very large circle (well, we sat in a square around a carpet), one child would get the bell and have to walk with it to a child on another edge, without allowing the bell to ring, and then hand it to the next child. It was an exercise in concentration and body-control.  Today, the oldest girl in the class, who has been to a few primary classes, took the bell and tried to walk without ringing it.  I didn't realize this was a Montessori tradition - I thought it was just my own particular teacher's invention. 

Beyond all the other reasons I want Samantha to go to Montessori, it will be wonderful to share all of these traditions with her.  I look foward to all the memories that will surface in me as I watch her go through it.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Little Thing

Samantha stepped on to my scale today and said, TEN O'CLOCK.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Happy Birthday to Me



When do human beings lose the ability to drink lying down?  Samantha can still do it.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Selfish Parenting

Since before my daughter was born, I've had this theory that much of good parenting comes from being selfish.*  Over and over, I have to make choices that most people see in terms of the conflicting interests of parent and child: whether to give up traveling for the sake of stability, whether to allow a child to sleep in "the family bed," whether to spend a lot of money on an expensive pre-school, etc.  In many of these cases, I seem to find an answer that does not require a sacrifice from anyone.  In fact, staying grounded in selfishness - in the pursuit of my own rational self interest - seems to help guide me in making these choices.

I want to try to explore this theory further by using my blog as a storehouse of experience.  I want to be inductive here, and to start collecting examples of how I've used selfishness as a guide.  I've been trying to write a meaningful introductory essay to kick off the experiment, but I keep getting stuck because I can't prove this theory yet.  Saying that selfishness is a virtue is very abstract and while it implies that parents need to be selfish, is it a principle that can actually help guide parenting choices?  The only way to find out is to be inductive and start with concretes that I know.

So I'll start with the latest example - something I mentioned in my last post about Montessori school.  I don't let or encourage Samantha to "help" me with cooking very much.  Now, allowing a child to help with everyday life activities is something I believe in.  I agree with the Montessori way of including the child in the activities of the family.  But this principle is not helpful when you hold it in isolation from other principles.  It doesn't tell you when a child is ready, or even how to think about when he might be ready.  It also doesn't tell you how much effort you should be willing to put into nurturing this aspect of your child's self-esteem. 

There is a cost to letting my 2-year-old "help" me cook.  At her developmental level, it would mean an enormous amount of extra time for me in preparation and clean-up, plus, paraphrasing the parents in the video, our meals might taste "different."  When I first saw the video of Edison helping make a pizza, I thought, "I should probably be putting more effort into letting Sam help with the cooking."  But my next thought was, "Nooooooooooooooooooooo!"  I already do all the cooking and cleaning in my household, and I have to be careful that those chores don't take over my life.  Ok, so some would call this a conflict of interests.  Her gain is my loss, and I just have to decide if I'm going to be "selfish" or not.  And here's where altruism gets you.  If you believe it is moral to sacrifice, the answer to this situation will be automatic: the parent should sacrifice for the child's sake.  Not all parents will actually do it, but only on the grounds of a fuzzy thought such as, "I'm not a superhero," or "nobody is perfect," or "what about me?"

I started to think about why I was not interested in letting Sam help more.  There are certainly other areas where I do things "for her sake," giving up values that are more strictly "for me," because of the value she is to me and what it requires to raise her in the way that I want to.  But with this one, I analyzed (quickly, and almost subconsciously) the particulars of our situation: Sam is particularly good about playing by herself while I am cooking, so it becomes a "me-time" event, I am already doing many things to let Sam take care of herself and gain a sense of efficacy, and she is probably not developmentally ready to control her impulse to taste raw eggs and handle food in a structured way (since she can't even do it at mealtime).  When I look at the whole picture, it turns out that my good and her good are probably more in sync than it first appears.  Since the general principle of nurturing her independence is already a value for me which I act on, this particular case is optional, and in my hierarchy of values (which includes nurturing her independence) this would be a sacrifice.  And maybe the amount of time it would take is an indicator that I would be pushing her too hard or too early.  After all, you can actually do harm to your child's sense of efficacy when you expect her to do something too early, when she is simply not capable of it.  When you are adjusting your life to "suit" your child in ways that seriously interfere with your other values, you are creating a fake world for her.  The child is not fully formed and needs you to guide him, but he does not need his entire environment customized to his small self.  Montessori classrooms are exactly that - scaled to the child's size - but that is just for a few hours a day.  At home and elsewhere, the child needs to live in reality, not in some fantasyland.

So I find my selfishness is guarding against doing too much for my daughter, even too much "guiding" towards independence. 

I notice that, along with selfishness, another idea guiding me here is the issue of holding context - I need to retain the whole of my value system, not isolate one issue.  That is another way to slip into duty.  I'll have to keep that in mind as I continue to write up examples.

I've written much more than I intended here, but hopefully I'll be able to essentialize these examples better as I go forward.  As with my Three Good Things exercise, I hope you'll find some value in going on this journey with me.


I'm talking about Ayn Rand's selfishness here:

The Objectivist ethics proudly advocates and upholds rational selfishness-which means: the values required for man's survival qua man-which means: the values required for human survival ...

The Objectivist ethics holds that human good does not require human sacrifices and cannot be achieved by the sacrifice of anyone to anyone. It holds that the rational interests of men do not clash-that there is no conflict of interests among men who do not desire the unearned, who do not make sacrifices nor accept them, who deal with one another as traders, giving value for value.

Ayn Rand, “The Objectivist Ethics,” The Virtue of Selfishness


Saturday, March 14, 2009

Boring but Useful

Did you know that you're supposed to clean the lint screen on your clothes dryer?  I don't mean pulling the lint off each time you use it - I mean that you're supposed to wash it with soap and water every 6 months.

As suggested, I checked mine and water passed through it very slowly, so I guess it did have a film built up over it that was impeding air flow.  I cleaned it and the water ran right through.  I think it has reduced drying time but it's hard to tell for sure.  I need to try drying a load with the sensor - you know, "more dry/less dry."  The sensor function hasn't worked so I've  just been using the "timed dry" function, which was really annoying when I guessed the wrong amount of time needed and came back to a moldy load 3 days later. 

It took 5 minutes to clean the screen.  The hardest part was that it took a few weeks for the thought of cleaning it to coincide with being in the mood to do it and not having a load of laundry that needed to get in the dryer asap.

Friday, March 13, 2009

End of an Era

Three Good Things for the day:

  1. Samantha and I had a nice playdate with our neighbors. 

  2. I had a very relaxing day.  Besides the playdate, I had an hour-long nap and spent quite a bit of time reading while Sam played at something-or-other.

  3. Change is a good thing.  The Three Good Things exercise is growing a bit stale, both for me and the blog, so I'll end it now before it becomes a chore.   I benefited from writing out the good things, especially on bad days, and I do think that I've built up quite a good habit of looking for these things and thinking about them objectively.  I don't think I would have had the dedication to stick with it off-blog so who knows - I might end up doing more introspection exercises in public.  I was also tickled to see that I sparked a little trend on the blogosphere and I really appreciate all the nice comments I got about the thread.  Thanks for listening!


Yesterday, while Samantha and I were leaving day care, we were in the lobby with a mom with 2 kids, about 5 and 1 years old, probably.  The kids were getting their packages of crackers from the bowl they keep in the lobby.  The other mom was distracted, talking to the receptionist, but when she turned around and saw that her older child had picked out only one package of crackers she said, "You didn't get one for your sister!  Get one for your sister right now!  Remember what we said about being selfish."

Today Samantha had a play date with our next door neighbor and her daughter.  C.'s mom encouraged C. to use polite language, share, and take turns.  She used phrases like, "What's a nice thing to say when somebody gives you something?" and, "When you want to play with somebody else's toy, you can ask them."  

Just an observation. No further comment necessary.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


Three Good Things for the day:

  1. The library.

  2. Walking my dog.

  3. Family dinner.

A Little Thing

The Spirit of Radio by Rush gives me the exact feeling that the lyrics extol, especially when it comes up on my iPod unexpectedly!

Links for the Day

Is it Thursday already?  Here is the latest Objectivist Round Up, hosted this week by Titanic Deck Chairs.

My husband Adam's paper on the sewing machine is also up at his SSRN site.  Click "download" to read the whole paper in PDF format.  As I wrote before:
It’s called, “A Stitch in Time: The Rise and Fall of the Sewing Machine Patent Thicket,”  and it’s a great story about the numerous inventions that went into the development of the sewing machine in the 1840’s and 50’s.  The conflicting claims to the intellectual property resulted in a huge legal battle later called the “Sewing Machine War,” but the result was a new market solution: a privately formed patent pool that allowed each member to benefit from his contribution to the whole product.  The purpose of the paper is to dispute the idea that patent thickets are a modern phenomenon which require the reduction of property protection lest we hinder innovation.  It’s a pretty easy read, for a scholarly legal article.  

A Little Thing

Whenever I mention to Sam that something is broken, she says, DADDY FIX IT.  Today, even my offhand comment that her car seat straps were twisted got a call for daddy.  It's nice to have a daddy around.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Just Another Day

Three Good Things for the day:

  1. Samantha had a really good day at day care.  She didn't cry or cling onto me when I dropped her off and she got to go to the playground twice.

  2. I saved over $30 on my dog's flea and heartworm meds because my new vet matches any price you find on the internet.  I love saving money.  Can I spend it on something now?

  3. I'm about to pour myself a glass of wine and watch American Idol.  Go, Danny Gokey!


I just mailed the check to secure Samantha's spot in the Montessori school we chose.  I can't wait for her to start.  And it turns out, I don't have to.  They have a toddler program.  Starting Wednesday, once a week for 7 weeks, Sam will go to Montessori with me for about an hour and a half.   This is the perfect reason to reduce her day care time to 2 half days per week, which I've been wanting to do anyway to save money and also because I just don't like this new day care as much as her first one.

I wish we could attend the Montessori program right before the school year starts, but they don't have any summer programs at this school.  Still, it's a good way for her to get used to the environment, and I'll bet that I get some good ideas for nurturing her independence at home.  Speaking of which, check out this video (HT: Principled Parent) of a 20-month-old being raised by two Montessori-trained parents.  It's a bit long but if you've never seen young toddlers acting this way, you might need the time to pick your jaw up off the floor.

I took notes, and here are the things I might try at home:

  • Put Sam's mattress on the floor.  We were just about to go from crib to toddler bed, so I'll consider this option. 

  • Put a step near her dining chair with booster seat so that she can climb up and down herself.  I've been struggling with how to help her do this independently, but I never thought of a stool for some reason.  (Sam is probably the same size as the 20-month-old in the video, so she is just too small to do many things kids her age normally do.)

  • Set up a pitcher of water and cup on a low shelf in the kitchen for her to get her own drinks.  She is really bad at pouring so this will be good practice.

  • Get her a backpack.  If a 20-month-old can carry one, even little Sam can too.

We've also always struggled with washing hands.  Sam loves to wash her hands and hates it when we help, but she can't reach any sinks in the house, even when on a high stool.  I have to pull out the retractable faucet in the kitchen and she gets very angry about that.  (And when the sink is full of dirty dishes she just doesn't get to wash her hands at all).  When we visited the Montessori school, we realized all we have to do is to set out a bowl of water, soap, sponge, and towel.  Sometimes you just don't see the obvious solution!

One other thing I would note from that video:  I would never spend the amount of time necessary for Sam to "help" me in the kitchen as much as Edison did.  I try to let her help in ways that actually help me.  I'll do a little extra work, like helping her wash her hands after cracking an egg, or asking her to get things for me from the cabinets, but spending that kind of time would be a sacrifice for me.  (I really have to finish my introductory post on Selfish Parenting.)  At a certain point, it feels very forced to let a child "help" when they are not really helping.  Edison seemed to do a good job, but when I've had Sam do similar things she just wants to play with the food.  She'll help me wipe and dust and sweep all day, but when food is around she just wants to rub it all over her face.  Maybe that's just a difference in different kids, but I'm not going for that one.


Why do parenting books and web sites tell you all the things you need to do to "baby-proof" your house, but make no mention of when you can remove all of that safety stuff?  I know it depends on the child, but really, I have no idea if I should still be pinning up the blind cords or keeping all the outlets covered.

Taking down the baby gates on the stairs and letting Sam go up and down at will led her to finally work on walking instead of crawling on the stairs.  (She can climb up without a handrail or even a wall for balance now!)  We also stopped locking up sharp objects (except razors) and only keep medicine and chemicals safely out of reach.  She has learned to be careful with sharp objects.  I'm not sure if there is any independence to be gained from the other things, though.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Memories, Man-Made, and Memory

Three Good Things for the day:

  1. Samantha and I had a nice playdate/visit with an old friend who lives in the area.  She has 3 kids, the baby being just 3 months old.  Even though I recorded them and wrote about them, I had forgotten what those baby giggles sounded like.

  2. Sam and I went to the playground today and somebody had made a big circle on the blacktop using the mulch from the play area - about 8 feet in diameter.  I didn't even notice it until Sam pointed and said CIRCLE! CIRCLE! PEE-PO MAKE CIRCLE!  She seems to know that people make things like that, which is pretty cool.  

  3. I got a "birthday card" from somebody telling me that I'd won a contest.  It had balloons on it that said, "Happy Birthday, Amy."  Sam sees balloons all the time and can say "balloon," but when she saw the card, she said, HAPPY BIRTHDAY.  I think she is sight reading.

A Little Thing

Between the sculpture we have in our living room and the memorial, Samantha now thinks all statues of men are Thomas Jefferson.

Another Food Post

Well, I'm breaking my own rules by spending even more time on the food issue, but there is something that is bothering me.  While responding to comments on my earlier post, I realized that I may have implied something in my last post that I didn't intend. 

A very popular Objectivist blogger, Diana Hsieh, posts a lot about food issues on her blog, and I'm not sure she would call herself a follower of the Paleo diet, but she has certainly referred to it on NoodleFood and her diet is similar.  Since we share quite a few readers, I want to state that my earlier post was in no way meant to insult her or her beliefs about food.  I do not think she is anti-man.  As a matter of fact, her blog is a big part of what has inspired me to look at my diet more carefully, and I think she has done the same for many others.  Thank you, Diana!

I don't agree with all of Diana's choices, and she does take much more care about what she eats than I do, but I do not consider her neurotic and I would hate to think that I implied that by not being more specific.  As she wrote recently in a post about the same article I referred to, many food choices are good or bad for an individual.  I wholeheartedly agree.  As I said in my post, most of my convictions are formed from my own personal experience with food and how my own body reacts.   I need to put more thought into what I eat than most people do, and apparently, so does Diana.  Still, I believe very few foods are "bad" for everyone and that moderation is indeed a good principle as regards food, whereas I think Diana takes a much stricter approach and finds much more of the research to be credible than I do.

Since many of my readers read NoodleFood as well, I just realized that people might have thought I was referring to her, and that it was unfair to be so critical about this issue without mentioning Diana and the overall good influence she has had on me, even if we aren't in agreement on the issue.  She certainly knows a lot more than I do about the latest studies in nutrition and she is one of the few writers whom I respect enough to even bother reading a post from about food.   Her link to the Gary Taubes article is what really convinced me to work harder to avoid unnecessary carbs.  While responding to a comment on my prior post, I realized that my main experience with the Paleo diet came from a doctor I saw who held the position that diet was responsible for all health problems.  I did some research through that doctor's resources (and one other person who followed the diet) and I found none of it credible and much of it to be disgusting propaganda.  So that's what I was thinking about and referring to when I was writing.

I reject the Paleo diet, as a whole.  And to clarify some confusion in the comments:  I think the diet is anti-man because, at least from what I've seen, the promoters are against modern foods because they are man-made, and will attach all kinds of other anti-progress, anti-business garbage to the diet.  I do not necessarily think that anybody who follows the diet is anti-man, just as I don't think all environmentalists are anti-man, but the idea of environmentalism is.  I'll take the parts of the diet that make sense to me based on the knowledge that I have, which includes the knowledge that just about everything we've ever been told by scientists about nutrition has been reversed later.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Canine, Cool, and Cute

Three Good Things for the day:

  1. I have a good doggie.  I took him to the vet and he obeyed me and won over every person he met with his happy face and waggy tail.  The animals have been kind of annoying lately so it was nice to have a good experience with one of them.

  2. We ran our air conditioner for the first time.  It worked.  We're not sure how long it will last, but it works for now.

  3. Samantha stood in the shopping cart and handed me each grocery item so I could run it through the scanner.  She loves to participate and it's so darn cute.

New Homeschooling Blog Carnival

Today, Kim's Play Place hosts the first ever Academy of Science and Technology blog carnival, where "we can share our experiences teaching and mentoring science and technology with children."  By the number of submissions, this looks like it will be a successful endeavor. 

If you're a homeschooler or you just like to supplement your children's science education, take a look!  There are also incredible photos of the Ring Nebula and Saturn using a 10" telescope.  Awesome!

Tea Party Follow Up

The next grassroots effort at protesting the draining of our wealth through regulation, taxation, and inflation is to send letters to your representatives tomorrow, March 10, in honor of the 10th Amendment to the Constitution.  Here is what I will send tomorrow.  Feel free to copy and paste if you like.

On this March 10th, in honor of the 10thAmendment to our Constitution, and inspired by Rick Santelli, I am writing to express my disapproval for every action my government has taken in response to the financial crisis.   The economy needs to be liberated, not stimulated.  Let the free market work and stop redistributing wealth under the guise of “recovery.”  What the government is doing is worse than a moral hazard; it is a moral outrage!

Arbitrary Aliens

A couple of people asked for more details on the conversation I had with friends the other night about whether it is possible that there is extraterrestrial life, or whether that claim is arbitrary.  It's hard to write anything coherent to summarize a conversation that had no real conclusion (especially since I am the one with the most confusion on the issue).  I can, however, present what I recall in an unstructured way, which is how a conversation goes.  I hope it is intelligible.

We all agreed that ET life would be arbitrary if there was no evidence for it - if it is just pure speculation.  But the real sticking point is the question of what constitutes evidence.  Does one instance of something imply that there might be other instances (life on earth=POSSIBILITY of life elsewhere)?  No, I think we all agreed. 

We went through some history about how humans did not even have evidence for planets outside of our solar system until about 10 years ago.  We knew we had planets in our solar system, we knew there were other stars, but there was no direct evidence for extra-solar planets at all until very recently.  How could one consider it possible that there is life elsewhere when you there is not yet evidence of a planet for that life to live on.  Well, I did, but I'm not sure it was justified.

What if we found evidence of life on a body in our own solar system, past or present?  Would that be evidence for possible life outside of our solar system? Or would it only apply to our solar system?  (Actually, I don't think we discussed that the other night, but I've discussed it with Adam before.)

Now that we do know there are other planets, does that move ET life into the realm of the possible?  Adam says no, that you still need to have evidence that there is at least one other earth-like planet.  What we know is that life happened here.  It hasn't happened on any other body in our solar system as far as we know.  The laws of causation tell you that there must be certain conditions required for life, and all we have to go on is what happened here.  But we don't even understand the "how" here.  Still, if we found another planet that had x,y, and z conditions (which we are not qualified to name) then we would at least know that there was a second place where conditions made life possible.  (Earth could be unique, after all.)  But another thing we realized is that we're not even sure scientists today could fill in the x,y, and z above.  Humans might not even know what would constitute evidence in this case, let alone have that evidence.

But now that we know there are extra-solar planets, we thought that it is now within the realm of the possible that there is another earth-like planet.  And I'm still not sure why we can't go one step further and say that if that is possible, then so is ET life.  But both K. and Adam agreed that you can't skip a step - that possibilities are not evidence.  That does make sense to me, but I still fight it.  Something is still missing for me here.

I think a big part of my problem is that I buy the argument of numbers and time.  It rings true to me that the amount of planets (although we really do not have a good idea of how many there are yet) and the amount of time in the universe allow for so many possibilities, that the idea that earth is unique seems far-fetched.  However, K. brought up that if you play with the actual formulas for the possibilities, it is easy to make it come out that there are more variables required than planets in the whole universe, and earth might indeed be unique.  We just don't have enough facts to use the formulas at all.  I might have to look more closely at that issue because it is still compelling to me and I'm not sure why.

Still, is that last argument just a statistical argument?  And are statistics evidence?  I don't know the answer to the first question, and I'm not clear on the second.

I also brought up the problem of induction and that I have a sense that, if you dispense with the arbitrary as defined this way, you'd never have any reason to explore or use your imagination or come up with a new hypothesis.  I do know that a hypothesis requires evidence, but what comes before the hypothesis?  If it is arbitrary to speculate about something with no evidence, then what drives us to explore?  Sometimes you come across evidence you weren't looking for, but sometimes you need to be looking.

So what other type of evidence would bring ET life into the realm of the possible?  We didn't get any further on that, but we did use a great analogy of a civilization on an island that has never seen any land mass except their island.  Would it be arbitrary for them to speculate that there might be land other than their own, let alone other humans or even life?  We agreed yes, which supports Adam and K.'s position.  But we asked what would be the evidence to make it possible.  We thought of them observing land under the ocean and how it rises and falls, and that they could conclude that it might rise above the surface in areas other than their own.  That would be evidence.  Also, if they saw birds not from their island, that would be evidence.  (Adam said he thought that the bird example really happened in history.  If anybody knows about that, please comment.)  We also thought that, without more evidence for these islanders, it would be as reasonable (which is not at all) for them to speculate about another land mass in the sky as somewhere else in the water.  That analogy was helpful in realizing how your own context can lead you astray.

Then finally, this brought up the question about why it is so compelling to think of the possibility of life on other worlds.  K. speculated that there is just so much fiction about aliens that it "feels natural."  Maybe.

I identify at least one mistake in my thinking about the concept arbitrary.  I used the concrete "god" as a stand-in for the concept.  And in the past the concept of god might have been arbitrary speculation, but today, it is false, so now I'm confusing "arbitrary" and "false."  Even if god were arbitrary, you can't hold a concept properly with one concrete as a stand-in.  I definitely need to work on my understanding of arbitrary.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Friends and Family

Three Good Things for the day:

  1. I spoke to my parents over Skype.  They've spent the past couple of weeks on the beaches of Mexico and are now headed inland.  They're planning to see Mexico City this trip, which should be interesting.

  2. We had such a great weekend with our friends from Chicago.  I'm exhausted mentally and physically. 

  3. Samantha swung on the big-girl swing at the playground today. 

Saturday, March 7, 2009


Three Good Things for the day:

  1. We watched more Cosmos.  Carl Sagan is second only to Ayn Rand in his glorification of reason and his worship of the mind of man.

  2. We visited the Jefferson Memorial.  "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every from of tyranny over the mind of man."

  3. Nurturing the development of my daughter's mind is a form of that same worship and respect.

Do You Have Biblical Morals?

Since I'm reading the bible right now, this quiz was extra fun:
Your morality is 8% in line with that of the bible.


Damn you heathen! Your book learnin' has done warped your mind. You shall not be invited next time I sacrifice a goat.

Do You Have Biblical Morals?
Take More Quizzes


Like Greg Perkins at NoodleFood, I answered the question about how to curry favor with god according to my knowledge of the bible, not according to what is right, since there is no "right" way to treat a figment of one's imagination.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Carl Sagan, Company, and Conversation

Three Good Things for the day:

Watching (1)Cosmos with (2)good friends and then (3)having a 2 hour conversation about whether or not it is arbitrary to posit the existence of life on other planets.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


The latest Objectivist Round Up is up at Tito's Blog.  Be sure to check out Rational Jenn's post on Kids and Money (two of my favorite things).  We're planning to handle money in much the same way with Sam.


Three Good Things for the day:

  1. We had our second and final Montessori interview today.  We have two great choices and we need to decide or get an extension by tomorrow.  The interview was fun.  I'm sure that Sam will thrive with Montessori.  She was so excited by this school that she practically joined right into a classroom.

  2. After the interview, Samantha and I went to the mall for lunch.  I love dining with her.  We were both in a great mood when we left and then I saw the Canadian geese, flying back north.  I got so excited and told Sam that seeing the geese going home meant that spring was coming.  We stopped to watch, right there in the parking lot.  Then 3 geese flew directly over our heads, probably just 20 feet up, honking their beautifully ugly honk.  It's hard to explain why, but it was just one of those magical times you have with your kid - a time that you know she will remember.  Sam said, MORE GEESE MOMMY the whole way home.

  3. Sam got into my office drawer for the first time today and I restrained myself while she played with thumbtacks, a stapler, and other various sharp objects.  She didn't hurt herself once, and she (mostly) put everything away.  Still, I may have to claim that drawer as my own personal property, just like my nightstand drawer and my purse.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Exciting Stuff

Three Good Things for the day:

  1. Adam just submitted his latest article for publication.  It's called, "A Stitch in Time: The Rise and Fall of the Sewing Machine Patent Thicket,"  and it's a great story about the numerous inventions that went into the development of the sewing machine in the 1840's and 50's.  The conflicting claims to the intellectual property resulted in a huge legal battle later called the "Sewing Machine War," but the result was a new market solution: a privately formed patent pool that allowed each member to benefit from his contribution to the whole product.  The purpose of the paper is to dispute the idea that patent thickets are a modern phenomenon which require the reduction of property protection lest we hinder innovation.  It's a pretty easy read, for a scholarly legal article.   I'll post an update when it is available at Adam's SSRN page, in a week or two. 

  2. We're making plans for this weekend's visitors, K&P from Chicago.  I love that we're getting so many visitors now that we live in a big city again.  Maybe for our next vacation we can go somewhere without visiting anybody.  We haven't done that in a long time.

  3. I caught a tantrum on videotape!  It's a bath-time naked tantrum, though, so unless I can edit it, it might not make it up here.  I'm hopeful, though.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A Little Thing

Samantha had her first chocolate milk.  Then we had chocolate milk kisses.

She's Such a Girl

Three Good Things for the day:

[caption id="attachment_706" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Little Girl Shoes"]Shoes[/caption]


[caption id="attachment_707" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Jewelry"]Jewelry[/caption]


[caption id="attachment_708" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Feather Boa"]Feather Boa[/caption]

Better than a Protest

Paul Hsieh's excellent op-ed, Ayn Rand and the Tea Party Protest, directly answered my misgivings about the protest I attended last week.  Unless a protest or demonstration is organized around a clear, positive principle such as individual rights, I think the gathering of bodies is a waste of time, no matter how much media attention it garners.

Fortunately, some protests around the country did seem to have more focus that then one here in DC.  I love that the Denver protest opened with a reading from Atlas Shrugged. 

Next time, I'll be more prepared.


Don't web site designers do any market research?  Don't they know that stay-at-home-parents need more than just a few minutes before their session times out?  I want to be able to pay one bill without logging in three separate times!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Filling, Fox in Sox, and Food

Three Good Things for the day:

  1. Novocain.

  2. Dr. Seuss.

  3. Home delivery on a snow day.

The Sam Update - Thirty Months Old

Today, Samantha is two-and-a-half years old.

Give me a moment...

Whew.  I just had to banish my fear of her growing up too fast.  I've never had much of a fear of death, but I imagine this is what it must feel like - this unbearably strong wish to make time stand still.  But then I remember that without time and mortality, there would be no values at all, and that the best way to freeze time is to live in it.  The feeling passes, but wow.

So on to the update!  Sam's biggest accomplishment this month is that she is starting to use the potty.  She still has trouble anticipating the event, but when she misses it, she lets us know by telling us, TOO LATE. CHANGE DIAPER.  She's actually pretty lucky because she has 3-4 chances to practice catching it every day.  We're entering a new phase of poop all over the place, I'm afraid, which is another thing she likes to say:  POOPIE ALL OVER THE PACE. POOPIE ON COUCH. NO POOPIE ALL OVER. POOPIE IN POTTY. POOPIE ALL OVER. YESCH.

Somehow, Sam learned to say "thank you" without much instruction from us.  We occasionally tell her that she can say "thank you" when somebody gives her something, or compliments her, or helps her, but mostly she has just heard us using it.  When I hand her a new capful of paint and get a DANKY MOMMY in that sweet voice of hers I just about melt onto the kitchen floor.

She talks on the phone a little bit now.  She seems to understand that she is talking to someone, and she listens.  Beyond saying, HI, though, I have to prompt her.  Adam is particularly happy about this development, since he is occasionally away on business trips.  Both Sam and Adam look forward to their telephone time, now.

Sam continues to tell us stories.  Her memory is astounding.  Yesterday it snowed and I said something about the time we went sledding (which was over a month ago).  Sam said, BOY, FALL DOWN, CRY, DADDY, HELP, which was her way of remembering that we saw a boy fall off his sled and cry.  She remembered the part about the dad because when the boy cried she got very upset and I told her that his daddy was helping him: "See, he's ok; his daddy is holding him and he'll be fine; he just needed a hug."

Despite the continuation of these kind of strung together noun-and-verb sentences, Sam has started using some prepositions, conjunctions, and articles.  She is even finally getting her pronouns right, but thank goodness, she still says NAKED YOU when she takes her clothes off.

I just checked one of my old favorite web sites for milestones that Sam should have hit by now, or will be hitting soon.  I'm so glad I've avoided these things lately.  It says that by 30-31 months, most kids can recite their name and draw a circle.  Ok, she just did those things, so that makes sense.  But half of kids can put on a T-shirt (nope), balance on each foot for a second (we'll have to try that), recognize the ABC's (sure), and brush their teeth (yes, for a while now).  Advanced skills for her age are using two adjectives (if she were only using two adjectives, I'd be scared), drawing a cross (we'll have to try that), and pointing to objects described by use (she did that before she could talk).  But it isn't until 33-34 months that most kids can name one color?  I think she knew at least 5 colors before she could talk because they were some of her first words.  But the milestone of stacking 8 blocks? Why in the world would she even try?