Friday, November 26, 2004

Thanksgiving pictures

D1 getting an early piano lesson from Grandma. Or maybe they're just banging. Either way, lots of fun. D1 concentrates on her fingering to an unusual degree for a baby, which bodes well for her future musical abilities.

DOB and brothers playing football. The teams are short three convalescing players, including me. DOB's team won, as they always do, and DOB sustained no injuries. All in all, a great success.

We were trying to get a picture for DOB's wallet, but the background is too dark. Also D1 is having collar issues, a problem not unknown to her mother.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Photos of a 5-month-old

For those interested in more, and in the high-res versions, they are in the usual place.

As is evident, she is getting quite comfortable with the whole sitting-up concept, and should soon be able to sit unsupported. We are lurking closer and closer to readiness for eating, which according to current theory is indicated by a) wanting to grab parental food (got that); b) being able to sit up (pretty much there); c) growing teeth (working hard at it); d) having the high chair ready to use (that's my department). Still, I'm hoping to put her off until after New Year's. It will not again be this easy to feed her until she learns how to cook.

The Tenth Commandment

That's the one that's been most on my mind lately because . . . well, because it's the one I've been most frequently violating. I never used to have a significant problem with this, which I've realized has been because for most of my life, my needs and wants have fallen significantly below my income. With marriage and a baby, needs and wants have increased astronomically while income has yet to accompany them. (Sigh. How many other temptations that I think I don't have to worry about are simply lurking out there waiting for a change of circumstance?)

In my inbox are pictures from a missionary friend of people living in smoky huts, subsisting on sweet potatoes. On the floor are copies of the Wall Street Journal (which I need to sort through and throw out) full of ads for those who can afford multi-million dollar homes, luxury resorts, and gourmet restaurants. Neither of these particularly affects my perception of my own life of small ranch houses and the finest Wal-mart can offer. They're too far out of my experience.

What gets me and sinks its claws in is seeing those who seem to have it just a little bit better than me. Someone whose house is a little bit bigger and better fixed up; someone whose clothes are a little spiffier; someone who doesn't seem to scramble quite so much when the bills come in. Aren't we just as smart? Don't we work just as hard? (I'll overlook the question of whether we are equally in debt.) And isn't God obligated to give us a lifestyle roughly equal to that of our friends?

Guess not. And I guess that's why the tenth commandment prohibits coveting your neighbor's stuff--because that's where the temptation lies.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

The Ultimate

In our History Book Club mailing today is an ad for The God Gene, the new book purporting to identify genetic reasons for spiritual belief. (I say purportedly not because I find the premise troubling--why wouldn't God design to believe in him?--but because I doubt it is yet entirely proved.)

What I did find troubling, however, was the quote from Publishers Weekly in the ad: "This gracefully written book may intrigue people of all faiths--or no faith--who wonder about the ultimate connection between science and religion." This quote implies that the ultimate connection between science and religion exists in our heads. No doubt science and religion connect and intertwine at many points in the universe of reality, but the ultimate connection between the two is most definitely not in our heads.

The ultimate connection between science and religion is in the place of ultimate reality. And if that place is in my head, then neither science nor religion are more important than my preference for Peanut Butter M&M's. But if the place of ultimate reality is in the mind of God, then we have hope that both science and religion--and our lives--have meaning.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Movies and Immortality (with the "t")

We spent the weekend in a more-or-less vegetative state, due to feeling sick, the kind of feeling sick that never quite rises to the level of positive illness but if not cooperated with probably will. So we laid around and, since DOB had brought his work laptop home, watched more movies than we realized we were physically capable of watching. The anchor movie for the weekend was The Two Towers, in preparation for the release of the extended-version Return of the King on Friday.

When given the chance, we always watch "The Making of . . . " whatever it is we just watched, and I never cease to be amazed at just how much energy, materials, and time go into the creation of a movie, especially a big-budget epic. The energy that in former ages went into pyramids or cathedrals as people expressed their hopes and fears of the afterlife in our age goes into something to keep people amused on a boring Saturday. (A not-entirely apropos quote comes to mind here, whose author I have forgotten, "Many people long for immortality who do not know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.")

Today we are feeling somewhat better. The house also is looking somewhat better.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Pilgrim Observations

Whether or not the story ever comes off, reading up on the Pilgrims has been fun. I already knew that the Pilgrims didn't limit themselves to wearing black and white out of some stern abhorrence of worldly pleasure; what I didn't know is their association with black was for the precise opposite reason. They wear black in their portraits because black was in style! (Wonder what interesting conclusions future generations will draw about our religious convictions from our clothes--no doubt they'll notice our stern avoidance of frills and fanciness and conclude we believed elaborate clothing was a sin.)

Puritan literature for children, such as it was, had an interesting angle. One of the most popular books had tales of various pious children, whose good life was sealed by the fact that they died young with religious admonitions on their lips. Had I been a Puritan child, such a tale would have motivated me to promptly go out and pull the cat's tail, in hopes of not being so good as to demand an early death.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Can this story be saved?

I'm working on a story, because DOB promised to give a children's sermon at church next Sunday and he wants to do one about the Pilgrims, naturally. It's got to be interesting for ages 4 to 84 and have a clear but not obnoxious moral. Reading various Pilgrim documents, I found the account of young John Billington (son of Plymouth's first murderer!) getting lost in the forest, the adventures of the men searching for him, and the eventual peace treaty made with the formerly hostile tribe who took him in. It seems like good material to work with.

But I'm running into the same problems I always run into when I write stories. I think the problem is the way I read--all the dialogue, skim the action, skip descriptions altogether. So when I write a story, it tends to have plenty of dialogue, briefly-described action, and no descriptions. Trimming extravagant overwriting has rarely been needed on anything I wrote; the challenge is keeping it from sounding like a police log. Maybe I should just abandon story-writing and stick to drama, where I can write dialogue to my heart's content.

In other news, D1 has moved into 6-9 month outfits, without even giving me the courtesy of looking a little swamped in them for the first few weeks. They fit perfectly (well, as perfectly as anything can fit someone who lies on the floor and wads herself up all day). She better stay in this size until Christmas is over, though, because all her Christmas outfits (due to a garage sale by a conveniently-sized baby) are in this size range.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Doughnuts, carrots, and a short guide to interpretation

QOC: "Eating a dozen doughnuts a day will make people fat. Carrots, on the other hand, are a God-given food, delicious and nutritious. People should eat more of them."

C #1: "That's not true. Why, my cousin Phil eats nothing but celery and water. By what you say, he should be thin and yet he weighs 500 pounds. Don't judge people just because they are fat and think they're all doughnut gluttons!"

C #2: "Doughnuts have nothing to do with fat. My little brother can eat a dozen doughnuts every day and he's skinny as a rail."

C #3: "Some people are allergic to carrots. Don't force them to eat carrots, it will make them sick."

C #4: "Are you saying it's a sin not to eat carrots? That's ridiculous! Don't be so legalistic."

QOC's revised post: "In many cases, excessive consumption of doughnuts can, for some people, cause them to gain unwanted weight, although of course there are many causes of weight gain and some of them are no one's fault at all. I personally prefer to eat carrots, which are quite tasty and healthful, and although of course I would never suggest that it was divinely mandated to eat carrots, still, I think if more people ate more carrots, they might possibly find it beneficial."

This is not meant to pick on any of my commenters; the level of discussion on this blog has (almost always) been courteous, intelligent, and beneficial. This is more a compilation of common logical fallacies I see on various blogs and discussions. To deconstruct them:

C#1: This a formal logical fallacy whose technical name is "denying the antecedent." In other words, if I say "If X, then Y," it is quite irrelevant to prove that Y can occur without X. I never said that X was the only possible cause of Y, and logically, I don't need to.

C#2: This is not a structural fallacy, but simply an attempt to negate a rule by proving an exception. Just because you have proven that one person can eat huge quantities of doughnuts without gaining weight does not mean you have disproven the main point, which is that excessive doughnut consumption generally results in weight gain.

C#3 and #4 are both getting a little carried away. Just because someone says something is a good idea does not mean they are going to force it on anyone, insist that everyone ought to do it, or claim that it's a sin for people not to do it.

Being a lawyer, I like to make sure I have enough qualifying statements so that people don't misinterpret what I have to say. Being a writer, I often find excessive qualifying statements suck the meat out of what I was trying to say. It annoys me if even after loading something up with qualifying statement upon qualifying statement, people still insist on interpreting a generalization as a universal, exception-free rule, or a suggestion as a command.

So here's a general guide to interpreting this blog: If I say X is a good thing, but don't say X is what God commands everybody to do, it's because I don't think X is what God commands everybody to do. If I criticize action Y but don't say people who do it are sinning, it's because I don't think they are. If I say A usually results in B, I'm not denying that sometimes B comes from other causes and sometimes A results in something else.

I like offering opinions, and it's only fair that I should expect disagreement. I like to talk about broad swaths of culture and ideas, and I know perfectly well there are almost always exceptions. But if we spend all our time focusing on the exceptions, we miss out on having a discussion over the broad swath.

This post does not specifically address any other post, nor do the hypothetical comments herein listed specifically criticize any other comments. The opinions contained herein are strictly those of the author, and may or may not reflect those of the organization. Let the buyer beware. Don't drink and drive. Patent pending. No animals were harmed in testing this post. Wear sunscreen. Price may not include product. Do not take with milk. May cause side effects which include, but are not limited to, crossed eyes, headaches, and spinning craniums. Dolphin safe. FDA approved. Beware of dog. No trespassing. The end.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Quick Reference Guide for Reformers

Are you an idealistic reformer out to change the world to a new and better place? To save you time, the Duchy is posting a list of already-tried ideas. Clip this list and keep it in your billfold; when you have an idea to save the world, check and see if it appears on this list before you sell all your worldly goods to get it started:

* Abolishing private property
* Free love
* Widespread celibacy
* Peace through weakness
* Peace through conquest (works for longer, but eventually people get mad)
* Central planning
* Committee meetings
* Eliminating human inhibitions
* Prohibition
* Diets with complex, day-by-day instructions
* Pretty much anything with "modern" attached to it

Feel free to support human progress by proposing your own additions.

This seems like a good place to quote G.K.Chesterton: "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried."

Then comes baby in a baby carriage

Conventional wisdom says that it's better for a marriage if the couple puts off babies for a few years. Statistics say otherwise; one of the strong predictors of a marriage staying together is if the couple has one child within the first two years and another within the next two. (Shotgun weddings excepted.)

I always doubted the conventional wisdom, considering that if God really thought a couple needed a few years of time alone he could have made women have a 22-month gestation time, like elephants. Without putting any "oughts" on it, or denying that there may be cases where it's better to put off children, I'd like to speculate on some ways in which babies do help a marriage, even a brand-new one.

Babies provide a greater incentive to work things out. Everybody has times when they don't quite get along in perfect harmony. Having a third person in the house who is totally dependent on your ability to work together is a tremendous incentive to keep going regardless of your momentary feelings toward your spouse.

Being a parent makes you a better person than you were. As a parent you have two choices: become more patient, unselfish, and flexible; or go crazy. Most of us alternate. These qualities help a marriage (especially the insanity).

Babies make your commitment tangible and permanent: Sure, you believe in the permanence of marriage. But the reality is, as long as it's just the two of you, you really could walk away. Once you have a baby, your very DNA has melded together, and you will go the rest of your life having a part of you being also a part of your spouse.

It's the ultimate vote of confidence in your spouse: There really isn't any greater way you can show you trust and respect a person than by making them the other parent of your child. I once had a young woman volunteer to me the information (I never ask such things) that she and her husband had no children because he wasn't really mature enough to be a father yet. I had to wonder what had made her think he was mature enough to be a husband.

Babies help you get to know each other better. I know, everybody says this is why you shouldn't have babies. We can't figure out why. Presumably by the time you marry you have gotten past sitting around and sharing your favorite colors. If you really want to know a person--their deepest fears and hopes; their childhood memories and plans for old age; how they react to two a.m. crises when they got to bed at midnight--there is no better way than to raise a child with them.

If people mean "know" in the more, ah, Biblical sense, then it seems the presence of a baby at least indicates you're on the right track.

Babies re-orient you from present to future. People without kids are much more likely to live life focused on the present: spending their time, energy, and money on things that have immediate payback. Once you have a baby, you face the reality that a part of you will live on after you die. You have something in the future to live for. You start visualizing yourself as a grandparent and great-grandparent and building your life and marriage with that future in mind.

Babies create interdependence: Independence does not contribute to union; that's why God made both believers to need each other in the Body of Christ and spouses to need each other within marriage. But young, healthy people without children remain as independent, as a practical matter, as they were before marriage. With children, they become interdependent: neither of them could effectively raise the child alone. When you really need each other, not just in an emotional but in a very tangible sense, your sense of togetherness grows.

Babies make life's trials less significant. Not less numerous, by any means. But babies have a great capacity for acting delighted to see you without noticing that anything is wrong. And they still need just as much care whether you feel good or want to crawl under a rock and hide. It's a great distraction.

On the flip side, there are statistics indicating that a lot of people's marital satisfaction goes down after having kids. It'd be interesting to integrate the two studies and find out what the correlation is between those who wait to have kids and those whose marriages diminish in satisfaction afterward.

But even if people who launch right into child-rearing have as much of a let-down after kids as those who wait--or more--I suspect what may be going on is this: Yes, kids hamper the candlelit dinners, spontaneous trips, and long soul-searching conversations that people associate with romance. But they build the qualities that make for genuine love and commitment and a happy life-long union. Sooner or later the rush of first falling in love is going to diminish. Having kids right away means that when it does, you have a deeper and truer bond already in place.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Repeat Experiment

Being sluggish yesterday, I spent much of the afternoon reading Invincible Louisa, a children's biography of Louisa May Alcott. (D1 was more interested in trying to read it, too, than she was in eating. She is definitely our child.) The whole family was good friends with Emerson, Thoreau, et al., and very influenced by Transcendentalism. At one point Louisa's father, Bronson Alcott, seriously considered leaving his beloved family in order to pursue experiments in communal living more effectively. The author summed up the whole episode by saying:

"Something was very wrong with the world, every one said. Here and there a few were trying to organize totally new schemes of living. So many were tried that we do not have to try them over again today."

Of course, this book was written in 1933. By the time another thirty years had passed, apparently a lot of people had forgotten the experiments of the 1840s and did need to try them over again.

Monday, November 15, 2004

D1 draws admirers, stops traffic

Well, duh, you say.

Last Saturday we finally had the time and energy to spend some of the gift cards we had received for our wedding. I'd had a $400 shopping spree in my purse for 14 months and had never bothered to go on it. I don't know whether that's a better indicator of how hectic the last year has been or an indicator just how deep our loathing for buying stuff goes.

We started out at Penney's to get a replacement for the lost pair of pants. His Majesty suggested that if we went to Goodwill we could probably find the actual pair of pants, but we never made it that far. We wound up buying another pair exactly like the last pair--saves on decision making. Besides, it was on sale.

Afterward I waited for DOB in the hallway of the bathrooms with D1 (looking very fetching in her duckling dress) in her stroller. Two grandparents came with a couple of granddaughters; the grandma and granddaughters went into the ladies' room (whose door was missing, but it was a long hallway and turned a curve, so it was OK). The grandpa noticed D1 and bent over and started cooing at her. With the way I happened to have the stroller, this meant his rear was backed into the ladies' restroom.

A few minutes later we heard an "Excuse me, can we get by?" The grandpa stood up and scooted aside, and ten or more slightly impatient women came marching out of the ladies' room.

We only managed to spend about half the gift cards, so we will have to go back sometime. But we got many Useful Things (most notably clocks for every room) and a few Fun Things (giant book on castles for 50% off!). I still can't shut my purse, thanks to the remaining gift cards.

Odd baby fact learned yesterday: The most effective and safest laxative for infants is to put baby in a fancy dress, forget to put an adequate backup outfit in the diaper bag, and go to church.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Positive spin

Commenting on an incident where three Democrat youths beat up a Republican, the DA says, "It's a good thing to see young people interested and excited about politics."

Then again, maybe not.

We can't even get the Young D's around here to debate us, much less beat us up.

Milestones the Baby Books Miss: Miscellany

D1 has been growing too fast in too many ways to note them all, but here are a few:

Self-endangerment: She has now gained the strength and mobility to entrap herself in things, without having the strength and mobility to escape. We are going to have to put the baby seat away, after I discovered her hanging herself over the toy bar. She can also tug on her arch of toys that hangs over her playmat until it falls over on top of her; fortunately it doesn't hurt.

Sock removal: She has recently discovered that she has toes. She has not succeeded in removing her socks by this means yet, but she practices diligently.

Social coughing: For a while we thought she had an allergy, but we have finally come to the conclusion that she has figured out how to cough on purpose and is trying it out, as she tries out every sound, to find out its significance in the English language. She also makes interesting clicking noises which, alas, will not help her since we're not !Kung tribesmen.

Sitting up: She can sit on my lap without falling over for . . . well, five seconds at least. Maybe ten. It's a start.

Thursday, November 11, 2004


Rose was mentioning the fun of random lists last month: here are two hilarious ones.

I notice my sidebar is working again after a week of malfunction. Does HTML just go on strike from time to time? What's up with that?

So far I'm not doing very good at resting today, as I am supposed to be doing to recuperate from a week of a baby having a growth spurt and tackling too many big projects. But it's so hard to stop when one is going, and especially so when one realizes how hard it will be to get going again.

In defense of stupid rules

For some reason, as a child I was most fascinated with books in which the children went to boarding school (A Little Princess, What Katy Did At School, etc.). Part of it was the thought of going far away to some strange place; part of it was the fairy-tale like preponderance of rules at such institutions; instead of your coach turning into a pumpkin you got a scolding by the headmistress and detention, but the general idea was the same. It all sounded like a challenging and amusing game, whether you went along with the rules or tried to break them.

As it happened, I never got the chance to spend any length of time in any sort of institution. However, most of my compatriots did, whether it was a Christian college, IBLP, mission organization, or whatever. They all came back with the same complaint: The Rules. As a teacher in a Christian high school (whose rules seemed quite lax to me) I got the exact same complaints. It didn't really matter what the specific rules were, or what the institution was, the complaints were the same: meaningless rules, mindless conformity, legalism, self-righteousness, hypocrisy.

For the most part they also seemed to think these problems were unique to their institution, or to their specific time and culture, and that there was some better paradise out there where all the rules made sense and were sensibly enforced.

There isn't. Stupid rules are intrinsically bound up in the nature of institutions. An institution is up against one of the most powerful forces known to man: the madness of crowds. Get a crowd of people together, and they're liable to do something crazy. Get a crowd of young, inexperienced people under the influence of powerful hormones together, and the chance rises to a virtual certainty. Even if a majority of them have the maturity to handle greater freedom, an institution can't deal with people as individuals--it has to deal with them as groups, and thus must write its rules for the lowest common denominator.

There are several reasons that the ensuing rules wind up being arbitrary. One is the need for an appearance of order. It's a basic fact of human psychology that people act more orderly when things look orderly. Crack down on graffitti and you have less theft. So if one has times and seasons, strict dress codes or uniforms, rules about how to move, talk, etc., one constantly reinforces the idea that this is an orderly place. That's why Catholic schools have uniforms: not because there's some Vatican document that says plaid skirts are more acceptable in the sight of God, but because children dressed in uniforms behave better.

Another is the role of practicing obedience. You want people learning how to obey on the stupid rules--the ones where breaking them has no real consequences. Most of the rules we will have for D1 in the next few months will have no particular moral or safety value: Don't bang on the keyboard. Don't crawl on the hard-surfaced floors. But they will teach her to obey us so that when she's big enough to encounter real dangers (don't run in the street), she'll already have learned how to obey. We don't wait until she's big enough to run out in the street and then teach her to obey--if she decides to try disobeying then, it's liable to be too late to correct the problem.

Yet another is the factor that the few stupid people in the crowd tend to ruin things for everyone. I once went on a sledding trip to Mount Rainier, only to discover that the Park Service had banned sledding except in one level, overcrowded run. Why? Two drunk guys had gotten hurt sledding. Snowboarding was still OK, though, as no one had yet sued over it. We were highly annoyed, but you couldn't blame the Park Service for wanting to protect themselves. If you're standing in loco parentis for hundreds of young people, an irreducible minimum of whom are bound and determined to go do something that will hurt themselves, you're going to err on the side of caution.

Then, of course, one comes to the problem of how people apply the rules. There are various types: the ones who treat The Rules as if they came down from Mount Sinai. (Often the ones who wind up breaking even the Mount Sinai rules as soon as they get out.) The ones who give lip service to The Rules and them break them when anyone's back is turned. The administrators who enforce The Rules with a rod of iron yet don't follow them themselves. I'm sure they were there in your institution, because they are present in every institution. Every institution is made up entirely of sinners, and if hypocrisy, self-righteousness, and legalism aren't the three most common human sins, they come awfully close.

Now, as it happens, institutions with their arbitrary rules are particularly prone to fostering that kind of problem. That's because God didn't create people to live in institutions; he created them to live in families. As a family, we can deal with people as individuals. We can gradually give more freedom to one who has earned it while continuing to train another under restraints until he is ready. Love, close quarters, and the rough-and-tumble of everyday living make it more natural--and more important--for us to be real with each other.

I don't think it's particularly good for someone's moral and social development to spend much time in any institutiton. But sometimes one is there for awhile; in that case, stay calm and head home by the stroke of midnight instead of kicking the pumpkin. The Rules won't hurt you if you don't let them. And if you want to improve whatever institution it is you came out of, spend your time and energy critiquing the things that can be changed and that are worth changing.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

The requested picture of D1 in the leaves.

Behold the office!

To trip the light fantastic

Which I now have room to do in here because the office is clean!

Actually what has really happened is the mess has all been sized down and sorted enough to be stashed somewhere without creating even more loathsome messes. But this is the first time the office has ever even looked clean since we got married. Now that there is a clear space, I can work with a much clearer mind on one little project at a time until order at last prevails in reality as well as in appearance.

That is my theory of cleaning: start with making things look clean, then you'll feel energized to clean the stuff that doesn't show in manageable stages. My mother's theory was the opposite: empty out all the hiding places, then you can be sure you'll deal with everything at once. Sometimes this provided balance, sometimes it worked at cross purposes, with me coming along and hiding everything she had just laboriously drug out.

About a year ago I felt like I was at the bottom of an insurmountable pile and wondered if I had turned into a total slob. Then I found a very comforting chart in an organizational book. It illustrated how life went along roughly parallel to one's ability to keep things organized until some crisis event caused life and organization to diverge, resulting in a giant mess. It listed several examples of events that might trigger this problem: moving, marriage, new job, home business, new baby, sickness, injury, etc. I hadn't just had one of them--I'd had them all! No wonder I was having problems. With a little breather space (I think we've made it four months without a new crisis) things are going much better and I am gradually digging my way out.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Big scary projects

This week is the week of tackling big scary projects:
  • The bathroom drain. Our bathroom drain is specially designed to trap the maximum amount of hair in a position where it can neither continue down the drain nor be reached by ordinary means. Up until now, I had not dared to try to get the drain apart myself, but with postpartum hair loss, the problem was reaching critical proportions. With only a little damage to the tub finish (matches the scratches from the blinds at the other end of the tub), I managed to get it apart and back together all by myself. And now there is a drain setting that actually drains.
  • The pumpkin. I figured it would be a waste to let fall pass without trying to process at least one pumpkin. I escaped with minor injuries, and the pumpkin is good and pureed. For full details and to offer your own helpful squash insights, go to the Martha blog.
  • The leaves. I have little previous experience with leaf-raking, since a) I lived on a farm; b) most trees there were evergreen; c) I had lots of brothers; d) they had lots of powered equipment. But I've decided to put in a little leaf-raking exercise every good day this week, after bundling D1 up so she can sit in the sunshine and watch me. Now I have a large mountain range of leaves along the property line, which the beagle from two doors down likes to burrow through. I'm hoping they won't blow away before I can bring myself to shove them down the hill (over the next-door condo's spanking-neat lawn) to the street, where DOB tells me some beneficient creature will come and pick them up.
  • The office. This really is the project which the others are more-or-less excuses to avoid. Particularly dreaded is the pile in the corner, the pile of papers and miscellany that has been sorted out all the previous times and left to sit because we didn't know what to do with it then either. Paper sorting is only fun if you have a relatively low stumper-per-inch ratio. The ratio here is very high. But I hold fast to my vision of a tidy office and slog on.

Monday, November 08, 2004

A Very Sad Baby

D1 is starting to develop her skills at parental manipulation. She has a special cry reserved for occasions when she is neither cold nor hungry nor tired, but simply wants to wrench her parents' hearts for the unpardonable crime of not letting her do what she wants. It is accompanied by a face that manages to communicate abject misery without losing any of its promise of adorability should its wish be granted. How a four-month-old baby, happy the moment before and the moment after, can muster up such a display of sadness is beyond us; if she continues with this skill, she has a great future in opera. But we are doing our best to ensure she does not have a great future in parent control, even if we have to take heart-hardening pills to do it.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

I love those wide open spaces

DOB's siblings came yesterday and took the furniture that's been clogging up our hallway down to fill up their living room for a few years. Now we can walk down the hallway without impaling ourselves on the buffet or endangering D1's head with the handles on the china cabinet.

I don't think it will help solve the dishwasher shin-whacking problem, or prevent doorframe collisions. But every injury we don't get is much appreciated.

Friday, November 05, 2004

God, Muslims and Thomas Sowell

(Am I too much of a Thomas Sowell fan? He keeps popping up in the oddest places.)

Anyway, there's frequently controversy in certain Christian circles over whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God. The Southern Baptists have criticized President Bush (though not very hard) over saying that they do.

After starting in on a book on Muslims yesterday, though, I'm quite convinced that Muslims and Christians do worship the same God, and that denying they do is really indicative of a poor understanding of who God is on the part of Christians. (Hold your horses--this is not because Muslims have a better understanding.)

Let me illustrate with an incident that happened while I was studying at the World Journalism Institute a couple of years ago. I was riding with two other students to a party and the topic of our assigned readings came up. Student A and I were both fans of Thomas Sowell before we were assigned to read A Conflict of Visions. Student A asked Student B what he thought of the book.

"I hated it," Student B said, "You could just tell here was this white guy who didn't have a clue what he was talking about . . ."

"What?" Student A and I responded, "Thomas Sowell is black."

"No way!" Student B said.

The argument continued in this vein for some time, and I'm not sure by the time we arrived we had him fully convinced, although we were both privately quite amused at his ignorance.

Now, would it have been accurate or helpful for us to say, "You aren't talking about Thomas Sowell. You have been reading a false Thomas Sowell?" Of course not. It was definitely Thomas Sowell we were all talking about; one of us just had a radically erroneous understanding of who Thomas Sowell was, one that colored his understanding of everything he said.

But here's the thing: Thomas Sowell was a real person. We all knew we were talking about a specific real person, the one who writes all those books. From there we could argue about the specific traits that this real person had--quite independent of our opinions of him. The only way Student B could have had one Thomas Sowell while Student A and I had another Thomas Sowell was if Thomas Sowell himself was simply a figment of our imaginations.

Now, when a Muslim talks about God, he is talking about the transcendant, personal, uncreated Creator and Lord of all things. That is quite definitely who Christians are talking about when they are talking about God. We do have radically different understandings of the character, nature, and demands of God--but it is the real God who is out there we are talking about. Only if God was simply a construct of our own imagination could we declare that only those who precisely comply with our understanding of God are talking about "our God." God is Himself, not the creature of our dogmas.

That doesn't mean our dogmas are unimportant. They are even more important if you look at it this way. Because if God is real and distinct from our ideas about Him, it matters hugely whether those ideas are right or wrong. Christians and Muslims do worship the same God; at least one of us is very, very mistaken about how He wants to be worshipped. And it is the real God whose real actions will punish those who misconstrue his nature.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Surprising New Poll

So, Tuesday G.W. Bush won re-election with 51% of the popular vote. Today CNN is out with a poll reporting that the percentage of people pleased with the outcome of the election is . . . 51%!

Guess those voting machines work after all.

On the other hand, a comforting thought

No man ever became great or good except through many and great mistakes. -Gladstone

Then again, maybe my mistakes aren't significant enough to improve me.

Boast not thyself

As part of our electioneering activities, the RNC paid for us to stay in a hotel close to the county headquarters where we were working. Since DOB was leading the data entry effort, he had to leave the hotel early in the morning. The plan was then for his siblings to come by and pick me and D1 up a bit later.

When he left, DOB cautioned me, "Now make sure you get everything out of the hotel room."

"Don't worry," I told him, "I've never left anything behind in a hotel room." I didn't mention it, but I could not help mentally noting this was due to my habit of cleaning up behind myself, so that I could easily see anything that had been left--contrary to his own habits.

When the siblings-in-law arrived, the room was straightened up and all the luggage piled neatly in one spot. We picked it up and headed out (with one minor catastrophe when an overloaded brother trying to shut the door dropped one of the jugs of water and had it split open).

Yesterday I was also quite pleased with myself because I had put everything away from the trip by noon the next day, quite the fastest I've managed in a long time.

Yesterday evening I was mentally planning the activities of the next day, and suddenly I realized: I never unpacked DOB's gray slacks. Or his shirts. Or my green skirt. And then the mental image came into my head of all our hanging clothes neatly lined up in the hotel closet. I had not thought about them since I hung them up Tuesday morning.

I put in a call to the hotel lost-and-found, but so far have not received a call back. We are hoping they come through for us, as DOB's work wardrobe is still quite limited and we really can't afford to lose one of his pairs of pants.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Ohio Politics

  • Rumor has it that DOB's parents and some siblings were assigned to work in a palatial estate when the local headquarters ran out of room. Alas, the headquarters where we were working did not run out of room, so we were stuck in a very battered back room of a very ugly suite of offices in a very dull strip mall. But we worked hard anyway.
  • D1 did her part to re-elect the president by being unusually good, which was impressive considering that she's very good even on ordinary days. She lay on her playmat and cooed or napped while chaos reigned around her, occasionally pausing to give encouragement to some frazzled campaigner.
  • Florida would be a lot more fun for outdoor protesting in November than Ohio will be. Nonetheless, watch for us out holding signs that say "Don't Count Dead People" and chanting "Two, Four, Six, Eight, If you can't win, litigate!"
  • On the other hand, Ohio's Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell will look a lot better on TV than Katherine Harris did. And he would sound more credible saying that we haven't disenfranchised any minority voters, except that race doesn't mean race any more, it means ideology.

Washington Politics

I wish I could like the Libertarian Party. I like their platform. I agree with it more than any other platform I've seen. I've spoken to their state convention, and they liked the rubber chicken as much as anybody. And in Washington state, which has a strong live-and-let-live instinct, they could make a real positive difference.

Instead they insist on being political idiots.

What they could be is the party of principled freedom. They could emphasize things like the tax benefits of limiting government to its proper size and the economic growth that would result. They could work to explain the difference between things one has a right to do and things it is right to do and advocate personal self-control instead of government intrusion. They could run candidates in races where both candidates are in the mushy middle, to give people a clear alternative to vote for, or in lopsided races, to stimulate political debate.

What they are is the party of potheads. They talk about drug legalization until they are blue in the face, even though nobody cares. They run spoiler candidates against free-market diehards. They alienate their sympathizers (like me) without gaining anything by it.

I am particularly annoyed because they ran one against Lois McMahan, a close family friend, and the candidate that--before now--I devoted every alternate year to since I was 15. The Libertarians don't have a better friend in the state house, as far as reducing the role of government goes. It's a district exactly evenly split; party control flips back and forth almost every time. And the Democrats poured money into the race as one of their best chances of securing control of the state house. So why did the Libertarians decide to help them out?

Right now the race is just a couple of hundred votes apart, so I'm sure everyone is still waiting for the absentees. But if it weren't for the Libertarian, Lois would be a couple of hundred votes ahead instead of behind. (And it looks like they may have also cost the Republicans their first decent shot at the governor's mansion in a couple of decades.)

On the bright side in Washington, some of my personal legal heroes look like they'll be on the Supreme Court: Richard Sanders was re-elected handily, and Jim Johnson looks like he's got a strong lead.

Monday, November 01, 2004


There seems to be some hullabaloo about excavating Martin Luther's facilities.

Now I have new motivation to keep the bathroom clean . . . if I became famous later in life, some folks might dig up my toilet 500 years down the road and I wouldn't want them to find it a mess.

I must force myself to stop blogging now and get busy. Will most likely be incommunicado until after the election, as we work to get everybody else to vote. We even passed up the chance to see the president in our very own town this morning--we're the hub of electoral attention--so that we would have time and energy for our efforts. We'd rather see him re-elected than in person.

Please do vote, unless you already have, or are going to vote for Kerry.

D1 demonstrates simultaneously her affection for blowing raspberries and how charming she looks in a stocking cap.