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Wednesday, October 24, 2018

"It runs in the blood of our family to steal"

Almost every semester, I teach this passage from John Adams's Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States:
"We cannot presume that a man is good or bad, merely because his father was one or the other; and we should always inform ourselves first, whether the virtues and talents are inherited, before we yield our confidence. Wise men beget fools, and honest men knaves; but these instances, although they may be frequent, are not general. If there is often a likeness in feature and figure, there is generally more in mind and heart, because education contributes to the formation of these as well as nature. The influence of example is very great, and almost universal, especially that of parents over their children. In all countries it has been observed, that vices, as well as virtues, very often run down in families from age to age. Any man may go over in his thoughts the circle of his acquaintance, and he will probably recollect instances of a disposition to mischief, malice, and revenge, descending in certain breeds from grandfather to father and son. A young woman was lately convicted at Paris of a trifling theft, barely within the law which decreed a capital punishment. There were circumstances, too, which greatly alleviated her fault; some things in her behavior that seemed innocent and modest; every spectator, as well as the judges, was affected at the scene, and she was advised to petition for a pardon, as there was no doubt it would be granted. "No," says she; "my grandfather, father, and brother were all hanged for stealing; it runs in the blood of our family to steal, and be hanged. If I am pardoned now, I shall steal again in a few months more inexcusably; and, therefore, I will be hanged now." An hereditary passion for the halter is a strong instance, to be sure, and cannot be very common; but something like it too often descends in certain breeds, from generation to generation."
The students tend to find this story funny and preposterous, but apparently it is also an actual phenomenon. Who knew? Now I have statistics to back it up for future semesters.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Local social media

I am a member of both local moms' Facebook groups and local lost pets Facebook groups, both of which completely dominate my newsfeed. As a result, when I scroll down and see posts that read, "We lost this girl today..." or "Please help find this baby!", I temporarily panic and think OMG SOMEONE'S CHILD IS LOST IN TOWN!!! But then it just turns out to be a cat or a parakeet or whatever, and I am like people, please.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Paean to my new vacuum cleaner, for which I have been longing for a year


"How many people ruin themselves by laying out money on trinkets of frivolous utility? What pleases these lovers of toys, is not so much the utility as the aptness of the machines which are fitted to promote it. All their pockets are stuffed with little conveniencies. They contrive new pockets, unknown in the clothes of other people, in order to carry a greater number...

Our imagination, which in pain and sorrow seems to be confined and cooped up within our own persons, in times of ease and prosperity expands itself to every thing around us. We are then charmed with the beauty of that accommodation which reigns in the palaces and economy of the great; and admire how every thing is adapted to promote their ease, to prevent their wants, to gratify their wishes, and to amuse and entertain their most frivolous desires. If we consider the real satisfaction which all these things are capable of affording, by itself and separated from the beauty of that arrangement which is fitted to promote it, it will always appear in the highest degree contemptible and trifling. But we rarely view it in this abstract and philosophical light. We naturally confound it in our imagination with the order, the regular and harmonious movement of the system, the machine or economy by means of which it is produced. The pleasures of wealth and greatness, when considered in this complex view, strike the imagination as something grand, and beautiful, and noble, of which the attainment is well worth all the toil and anxiety which we are so apt to bestow upon it."
--Adam Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments

Things my two-year old has requested for her third birthday

- A cup
- Toilet paper
- A spoon

When I told her that her first choice, the cup, was not really a good idea, she burst into tears and wailed, "But I want a cuppppp!" I guess we should be grateful that her expectations are still very, very low.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

More 2.5ish

31 Months:
- "Whobody?" This is the greatest. Extrapolating from "somebody," Goomba determined that the logical way to ask about the identity of somebody is whobody. "Whobody starts him car?" "Whobody left him towel here?" Often the whobody in question is Goomba herself.

- Potty training victory! After six months of wheedling and exhorting and arbitrary use, she one day decided to ditch diapers and use the toilet. It was a like a switch unexpectedly went off. Now we have many unused diapers.

- Potty training defeat! As a result of graduating to underpants, Goomba has decided that she is, alternately, a big girl and a grown-up, and therefore no longer under any obligation to obey our instructions. She will not put on her clothes or shoes, and she will definitely not go to bed. Conversation:
Me: I will sing you one song, and then we will say night-night, and you will go to sleep, ok?
Goomba: Two songs!
Me: Ok, two songs and then what?
Goomba: Say night-night.
Me: And then what?
Goomba: Then I cry!
(Accurate.)

- Where does everything poop? "Where do bears poop?" "Where do squirrels poop?" "Where do birds poop?" "Where do mooses poop?" "Where do butterflies poop?" (Where DO butterflies poop? I could not answer this one.)

- "I want to drive!" She is very serious about this, and requests it every time she gets into the car. More than one meltdown has been precipitated by my informing her that she can't drive our car.

32 Months:
- Extremest psychological distress from trying to decide if she is a big girl or a baby. She now understands that this is a trade-off, and if she wants to wear underpants and drink out of a cup and sit in "the big girl chair" (aka, a chair), she must also do things like go to sleep on her own at night, and clean up her messes, because this is what big girls also do. But she doesn't want to do all the big girl things, only the ones she enjoys. So she begs to be a baby, then insists she is not a baby, then begs to be a baby again.

- Conversation (after I called her little):
Goomba: I am big. The little is gone. Now I just big.
Me: The little is gone? Where did it go?
Goomba: To eat a sandwich.

- On eating some pasta I made for her: "It's good. You are good, my mommy." Thank you, my kiddy.

- Conversation:
Me: You are my sweet pea.
Goomba: I not a pea. Peas are green and I not green.
Me: Ok, good point. What are you?
Goomba: A pasta! Pasta is yellow and I yellow.
Me: You are my sweet pasta?
Goomba: Yes.

- Playing on her ride-on car: "Where is the air-conditioning on this thing?"

34 months:
Enter Niney onto center stage. Niney is a stuffed cat that she's had since infancy and she has always favored, but now Niney is everything. (His "real name" is Nigel, after our real cat, who is referred to now as "Real Cat.") She feeds and diapers and bathes him and potty-trains him and projects her entire self onto him. She is his mommy, and sometimes also his daddy, his grandma, and his babysitter. Niney does everything she does. "We inform her that she's going to swim class tomorrow, and she responds, "Niney also going to swim class." She also re-enacts many of her interactions with us with him, with her playing our part and the cat playing her. The best part is that Niney is blamed for all her misbehavior (but is never credited with any good behavior). As in the following exchange:

Me: Goomba, why did you throw your fork on the floor?
Goomba: Niney did it!
Me: I just saw you do it. Niney is not even in the kitchen.
Goomba: Niney did it! [Switches to Mama voice and addresses imaginary Niney] Niney why did you throw your fork on the floor? You can't do that!
Me [in a Niney voice]: I didn't do it! Stop falsely accusing me!
Goomba: You did do it Niney!
Me [in Niney voice]: No, I didn't do it! You did it!
Goomba: NO I DIDN'T!! NINEY DIIIIIDDDDD IT!! [bursts into tears]
This exchange occurs on a regular basis. She is always extremely distressed when her obvious guilt is pointed out to her.

So she has learned to lie, but at least she's still pretty bad at manipulation. She'll ask, for example, to go to the bathroom right before bed in order to get out of bedtime, and when I ask her, "Are you actually planning to run down the hall and throw yourself in mommy and daddy's bed?", she proudly replies, "Yes!"

She has learned what I do at work. No longer do I go to campus and "eat pizza." Now, she informs me that, like mama, she goes to work on campus, where she "teaches students." "And Niney goes to work too, but he gets bored so he stays in the car and sleeps." Already she anticipates the nature of the college lecture.

To thwart her continued efforts to drive our car, we told her that you need a driver's license to do that. This worked until she found some cards with pictures on them from a card game and took one and insisted that it is her "lisenn." She carries it around and shows it to people and again demands to be allowed to drive.

35 months:
- Conversation:
Goomba: I love you mommy.
Me: I love you too.
Goomba: BUT WHY???

- Conversation with apologies to my students:
Goomba: Are you a teacher?
Me: Yes.
Goomba: But you are not a teacher at [her preschool].
Me: But teachers are not just for preschool. They teach big kids in big kid school.
Goomba: You teach big kids?
Me: I teach...very big kids, yes.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Efforts to defuse meritocratic competition will all lead to more competition

Ok, we are back to fighting the meritocracy. Do you know what the ultimate democratic and anti-meritocratic selection mechanism is? A lottery. When we select something by lottery, we give up all pretense of selecting for the best. So no one will have to compete to be the best anymore. Will this not solve all our problems with university admissions? Yes! Yes! No more squabbling and lawsuiting over who deserves to get in, because it will no longer be about desert. Except, of course, if we condition admission to the lottery on meeting certain pre-requisites and those pre-requisites are themselves a little subjective, such as...
After a cull using this automated scoring — applicants would need, say, a combination equivalent to a 3.7 grade-point average, 4 out of 5 on the essays/activities and 1500 on the SATs — the final selection for acceptance would be done purely by lottery.
Or 
But what if Harvard created a fixed set of criteria that it deems desirable—say, an SAT score of 1470 or above, a 3.5 or higher GPA, a demonstrable interest and aptitude in particular non-academic activities, a record of overcoming obstacles, and so on? To continue to promote diversity, the school could give extra weight to certain applicants depending on, say, their zip code, the kind of high school they attended, their income, and their race. 
Then what will happen? Will we perhaps turn all our energies toward squabbling and lawsuiting over the precise calibration of qualifications for the lottery instead? What makes a "4 out of 5" on an essay or an activity? Why was my essay a 4? Why not? Just how many obstacles does an applicant need to overcome to clear the bar? How much interest is "demonstrable interest"?

So many questions, so many lawyers to raise them in court...

H/T Joanne Jacobs.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The irreparable trauma of daycare?

These are all sad stories, but one thing I'm struck by in the family separation coverage is how strange this ubiquitous claim is:
“There is no greater threat to a child’s emotional well-being than being separated from a primary caregiver. Even if it was for a short period, for a child, that’s an eternity,” said Johanna Bick, a psychology professor at the University of Houston who studies adverse experiences in childhood.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

"Don't trust your soul to no backwoods Southern lawyer"

The South is in most respects pretty much like the North, especially in college towns like this one, but every once in a while, you encounter something like this:
Confederate Monument Protest Permit 

This is the lawyer representing our local white nationalist troll. What is he wearing? I think his outfit can be described as, pretty much, The South. (This ensemble could also be seen occasionally on another Virginian, Tom Wolfe.) So I looked him up, and found this Google Maps image of his office:

Is it real? Is he also a troll? I don't know, but it's pretty amazing if real. A true backwoods Southern lawyer.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

On moving

Was going to list some leftover furniture on the area Craigslist free stuff page when I opened it to find this had gotten there first:














I guess you can take these along with my media center.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Go west (to I-81), young man

Does anyone remember when Mike Huckabee was running for president in 2008 and his major transportation policy proposal was to add extra lanes to I-95? At the time, I was living free and easy (that is, employed, unmarried, childfree) in DC and taking frequent trips to visit friends in New York (remember when our friends still lived in New York? also, remember when we used to take the Chinatown bus to see them?) and see the sights of the fabled East Coast to which I had very recently relocated and where everyone is from and all significant American life was said to take place. I remember thinking about his proposal that this is truly a great idea. I-95 is the Great American Thoroughfare. Since then though, everyone turned against the people along I-95, including especially the people who live along I-95 themselves, the greatest anti-elitists of all, and it has become the Hated Elite Thoroughfare.

There is another expressway though that roughly tracks I-95 along the East Coast, but runs through its "back country," where authentic people live, and that is I-81. It is along this interstate that you can find authentic cities that, if you have ever heard of them, it was likely only as the butt of a joke, like Martinsburg, Hagerstown, Scranton. In deference to our new populist overlords therefore, we hewed closer to the I-81 on our recent trip to New Haven (boo hiss) and back. Actually, so populist were we that we took state roads almost all the way up (great idea if you want to drive for nine hours), and the I-81 only back down. And, since we also had a toddler with us, we stopped...a lot. In many small towns: Berryville, VA, Green Springs, PA, Wanaque, NJ, Middletown, NY, Lewisburg, PA. We also stayed in Lancaster, PA for a day and visited Emily Hale in Williamsport, PA, where we saw the used food store (two of them, actually; the used-food business must be doing well) and everything was named after Little League and there were some extremely impressive Victorian mansions.

The great irony we discovered was that, for all the apparent resentment against the college-educated among the voters in the I-81 corridor, building and sustaining a college, even a small one, from the nineteenth century was the most reliable ticket to present-day survival for a small town or city beyond New York's or Washington's exurban orbit. For example, look at this nice postcard of pre-war Middletown. It looked almost exactly like that last Saturday afternoon, except nearly every one of those storefronts was empty and instead of dozens of people strolling about, there were more like two. The whole western side of Virginia appears to sag and sit empty, with strip malls full of discount tobacco stores and places that fix cell phones. By contrast, Lewisburg, home of Bucknell University, was in fine shape. Gettysburg's prosperity is apparently sufficient to support a proto-suburban ring. I realize that colleges are not the only economic basis for small towns, and that these places do still serve as supply centers for agricultural hinterlands and, judging by what we saw, trucking depots, in addition to whatever local specialties they might have, but it was truly uncanny how much work colleges were doing for otherwise-isolated local economies.

Utopia, VA is an obvious and extreme example of this, since we have both a huge university and a huge university hospital that together employ something like 120 percent of the city's residents, and make possible 20 fancy coffee shops. Another thing this road trip has demonstrated to me is Utopia is really in the middle of nowhere when you consider it from the perspective of the geography of the eastern US (is this why no one ever visits us here?), but it never feels like it when you're in it. From the inside, it feels comfortably large and full of things to do. But without the university, it's clear that Utopia would be, at best, like its much saggier neighbor, Waynesboro, VA - a place that itself has benefited economically a great deal from even somewhat distant proximity to Utopia's university.

It would surely be preferable to have a more diversified economy, but it's very hard for a small place to do that simply by virtue of its size, and the main alternative to a higher ed-based economy seems to be no economy at all. So what do the populists have to say about this difficulty?