Friday, August 29, 2008

Wisecrack of the day

McCain knew he needed to bring some youth to the ticket, which is why he appointed a first-term governor who is not only younger than he is, but whose state is actually younger than he is.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

It's late, and I'm tired, and the baby's crying, so I can't really find the words except to say rest in peace, Karl.

If you didn't know him, he was very much on the side of the angels, and the world is more than a little poorer for his absence.
How to draw anything in 1 step

Never Going to Happen Policy Idea of the Week

How to solve the drug war:

Let corporate America at it. Specifically, the drug companies. They're on the look out for the next allergy drug because it's something people will take all the time, every day, for the rest of their lives. Why not let them create new recreational drugs?

I'm confident they could create something that tastes good, gets you out of your head for a while, but is out of your system in, say, three hours, and doesn't give you a hangover.

I'm not sure it'd be good for the human race to have such drugs, but it'd certainly take care of the drug war if there were cheap and safe uppers, downers, and euphorics for sale at your corner Quickie Mart, ya know?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

If, like me, you installed the Microsoft Silverlight plugin and found that it ate all your bookmarks and crippled Firefox, hopefully what I just did will also work for you: uninstall Silverlight and reinstall Firefox. And stop trusting Microsoft.

Speaking of the new computer, I will say that I'm not completely hating Vista, but I'm not loving it, either. It's certainly pretty, but its kruftiness has more or less erased the performance gains I expected to gain from a faster processor and larger hard disk. I'm seriously considering running Ubuntu from CD and seeing how I like it. Anybody out there who's tried it and has advice?
I was on my way to work this morning, thinking about the similarity between buying cars and people. Stay with me on this. It's about packages. You want electric locks? Well, that comes with a CD player. No idea why. You want the CD player? You'll end up with a spoiler and racing stripes.

The same thing happens with people, particularly in dating. You'll rarely find someone who absolutely loves food and who has the kind of toned body you see in magazines because, well, those packages just don't come together. You can have food lover or gym rat, but it's hard to get both. And forget about getting food lover, gym rat, and watches Buffy the Vampire Slayer, because there are only so many hours in the day.

And I thought about that, and wondered why, and the phrase that popped into my head was "house rules", which is a recurrent line from The Way of the Peaceful Warrior that comes up every time the main character asks "Why?" about some rule or another. It's his teachers way of saying, "If you want to succeed at the game, don't spend your time railing against the rules, spend your time learning them."

Of course, as it so often does, my mind turned to politics. I've got a fair number of libertarian friends, and I always seem to end up arguing with them about taxes. To me, taxes are just part of the house rules. This is a democracy, and we can always change the rules if enough of us agree, but I just don't see that happening with taxes. And the nice thing about these house rules is that, if you don't like the rules, you can move somewhere else.

Some libertarians do just that. A friend from college moved to Costa Rica to help found an Ayn Randian data haven. Seriously. I never heard from him again, except for one update that had pictures of him and one other guy doing tequila shots with a bunch of very pretty girls. If that's what life is like in an Ayn Randian data haven, I can understand why he's not emailing people about it. Things could get crowded.

But for the most part, people stay here and complain about taxes because life is good in the U.S. and life is pretty hard in most low-tax, low-service countries, unless you're already wealthy. And most of the wealthy either earned it in a higher taxing country, like the U.S., or they inherited it. There are obviously exceptions, but that's where most of the wealth in these countries is concentrated. The Caiman Islands is not the kind of place where you can take a middle-management job and work your way up to relative prosperity, as you can in the U.S. And it's not a huge market for goods, either, because there's not much of a middle class. (and because it's very, very small)

That's my thing about libertarianism, really. There are countries out there with that kind of approach, and they're not anyplace I'd like to live. They don't invent things like the internet (2nd most successful government program anywhere) or have nice national and state parks. You're not supposed to drink the water, and while the street food is tasty (and also the most common form of entrepreneurship), it's often not that sanitary.

Just from looking around at the approaches various countries take, it seems like those organized around more liberal approaches to problems are a bit more livable for the people, and a little harder to start businesses in, but those businesses seem to do better. The more libertarian countries tend to be less livable for the common folk, easier to start businesses in, but harder for those businesses to go beyond mere self-subsistence. If I wasn't so tired, I might could come up with some reasons why, but as it is I'll just say it's the house rules.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Ah, the tender joys of going to the DMV and having almost everything I need to renew Christie's plates.

I guess I get to blow another lunch hour tomorrow.

Colic is not a diagnosis

The medical definition of colic is, essentially, uncontrollable crying in an otherwise healthy child. Doctors know that it happens in a certain percentage of babies, and that it generally starts around weeks 2-3 and stops on its own around week 12. They don't know what causes it, though there are lots of theories, and the general consensus in this country is that it can't be cured, but must be endured.

A diagnosis of colic says, "We don't know why your child is crying, but we can't find anything wrong with her, and we think she'll get better on her own." Which is great, if you've actually looked at other options. When we first took spud to the pediatrician, he looked her over, checked her extremities, felt in her gut, and found nothing obviously wrong, then talked to us about colic, what it was like, and sent us on our way with instructions to get help with her so we could both sleep, and to call if she got noticeably worse.

The Happiest Baby on the Block, by the way, has some great tips for calming colicky babies, and we went through them all. But sometimes nothing worked. In fact, we had several ten hour nights where nothing worked, and either Christie or I was up all night with a crying baby while the other tried their best to sleep through it, which rarely worked. I say "Christie or I", but it was Christie who bore the brunt because she was still on maternity leave, and I was working all day.

So it was Christie who went to the doctor and, because it was a last minute appointment, saw a resident. Now, I've got nothing against residents. Christie's main doc through her pregnancy was a resident, and she was awesome. But this woman saw a crying mom with dark circles under her eyes, read colic on the chart, and started asking her screening questions for postpartem depression.

Now remember, at this point we had a baby who was either asleep or screaming. No middle ground. And she rarely slept for more than 20-30 minutes at a time because her gut kept waking her up, screaming. The only time she could sleep for more than that was if she was being held by someone who could immediately soothe her back to sleep. She could not sleep laying down, screamed when she had hiccups, and displayed roughly a dozen symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, which she had a family history of. And unlike traditional colic, her screaming was not limited to a particular time of day. In fact, if the resident had looked past the chart which said colic, she might have seen that the physically exhausted mom in front of her was holding a sheet where she had written down things our infant was doing that were not symptoms of colic, but were symptoms of GERD.

Christie asked, "Can you at least write a prescription for a heartburn medication that's safe for our baby so we can eliminate reflux?"

The reply: "We don't really like to medicate children unnecessarily."

Around this time, Christie's mom arrived in Columbia, and it was at her insistence that Christie called the doctor again and insisted that she be seen. This time, our actual pediatrician was available.

He listened. And he recognized that even though our baby was growing, and we clearly deriving nourishment, she was not "otherwise healthy". Within two days of putting her on Zantac for reflux and Alimentum (easy to digest formula), she was sleeping for 4-5 hours at a time. She has her fussy periods, as any baby will, and last night she had some serious gas pains, pretty much all night, but oh my god we have a happy baby suddenly. She's smiling all the time, and almost laughing.

Now, there are those who flat out say that colic doesn't really exist. I won't say that, because there have been plenty of times when spud was crying for no reason at all, and she does get fussy every single day right around dinner time. That's textbook colic.

But if you have a baby that's been diagnosed with colic, be aware that there may be more going on that just plain colic, and be especially aware that you may have to fight like hell to get recognition of that fact. And if you're a doctor (or physician in training), don't let an existing diagnosis of colic blind you to other possibilities.

BTW, when we went back for a followup, our pediatrician told us that if the Alimentum and Zantac hadn't worked, he was going to call a retired doctor he knew that specialized in infant colic to see if he could help. In other words, even if it really was just colic, he was working on getting us help with it, because he saw how desperate we were. And that is why we love our doctor. He's Dr. Nathan Beucke, by the way, with the University Physicians Green Meadows Pediatrics Clinic, and I highly recommend him.

2011 Update: Kid #2 actually does have reflux, and it is so, so different from colic.  I mean, really.  If he hasn't had his Zantac, he fusses every time he spits up, and cries for almost half an hour after every feeding, but if he's had his Zantac, nothing.

And here's my full post on colic, from the safe distance of month 4 and it's all done.

Friday, August 22, 2008

I love Trib talk:

"Talk about this crummy weather we’ve had for the last year or two. Well, with tornadoes in January and rain every other day - and not little rains, 3 and 4 and 5 inches at a time - now I’m sure ‘experts’ will say it’s caused by global warming, but I just wonder what this space station has to do with it. I bet it is somehow connected because those old boys up there aren’t sitting around looking at the stars and oohing and aahing. They’re up to something. Maybe it’s time we unplug this money pit, send it sailing off in the wild blue yonder and then maybe weather and everything else would kind of get back to normal."

You can really tell we live in a college town.
I'm sure you heard about the guys in Georgia a while back who claimed to have found a dead bigfoot. You didn't? Man, you need to spend more time reading the blogs filed under "Unbelievable" to the right. Anyway, turns out it was a bigfoot costume filled with road kill.

I'm not remotely disappointed. Yeah, a bigfoot corpse would change the world, really, and I would love to be able to believe in bigfoot, but it's not a belief I can sustain for more than about 15 minutes without getting all sweaty. It's a lot of work. But a couple of rednecks filling up a bigfoot costume with roadkill, stashing it in their freezer, and sending pictures to the media? That's entertainment!

In the course of reading about this, I happened across forgetomori's science page, which is filled with the sort of extraordinary images you see on UFO websites, but with explanations. And the explanations, while mundane on the surface, actually drive home what an incredibly cool world we live in, and how many genuine mysteries there are.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

First post from the new laptop, and it's a short one. Check this out: How to make a wooden spoon, the viking way.

That is seriously hardcore.

Monday, August 18, 2008

An analogy that's bugging me

Rev. Rick Warren is comparing pro-choice politicians to holocaust deniers, and in context, it mostly makes sense, if you take it very much on the surface. See, if you believe life begins at conception, abortion is murder, and being pro-choice is like denying the Holocaust. Of course, if I wanted to go for maximum offensiveness, I could point out that if I believe Jesus was an immortal bigfoot, well, lets just say that the legislative implications of that particular counter-factual would be rather far-reaching. But I don't want to be maximally offensive, so I won't go into it. Nevertheless, I'm sure I'll be offensive enough without really going for the gold.

Instead, I'll just point out that the argument isn't about whether life begins at conception nearly as much as it is about whether a fetus has a soul. My reading of scripture is no, and I understand that the traditional view, before the Christian Right got into it, was that the soul entered the body with the first breath, which fits quite well with various readings of the Old Testament, not to mention the etymology of the Greek and Latin words for soul, not to mention the original Hebrew words, ruah and nephesh, both of which seem to be tied to breath. But things have obviously changed, and it's now in vogue to claim that if you don't agree with the right wing on this one particular issue, you're not really a Christian.

I'm not, but that's a separate issue.

So what happens to these souls, then? Limbo is no more, remember, and never was accepted doctrine by evangelicals. So it's either heaven or hell. If the soul enters the body at conception, then so does original sin, and that means Hell, since these babies have not been baptized, nor have they accepted Jesus as their savior. That is also accepted church doctrine, unless they've changed it lately. Well, it's church doctrine that you must believe and be baptized to get into Heaven. Again, when it comes to fetuses, there's a lot of hand-waving. But if a fetus is a human being, then they get stuck with that doctrine as well, right?

I'll be honest with you. If I were really a Christian, and I really believed that life began at conception, I think I'd have to believe, also, that those little babies were all going to Hell. Which would really, really piss me off. Actually, I kind of went down that road, a very long time ago. And I started thinking about miscarriages, which are even bigger numbers than abortion, and are nobody's fault but God's. And God wouldn't send innocent babies to Hell (actually, according to church doctrine, he does just that all the time, but, hey! look over there!). Therefore life must begin at birth, not conception.

An alternative has just occurred to me, that original sin doesn't come with the soul, but comes later, maybe by passage through the birth canal. It would be just like the misogynist church to claim that contact with the vagina causes original sin, wouldn't it? This has the extra bonus that our daughter is without original sin. Excellent!

Most anti-choice folks don't really talk about Hell, though. Or they insist that all babies go to Heaven, ignoring original sin (and a bunch of other theology, but that's another post). Hell is for abortion doctors and Democrats, not innocent babies.

And here is my problem with this analogy (I know, you're thinking "Finally!" aren't you?). This world is a fucked up place, filled with temptation, and these innocent babies are all up in Heaven, having skipped the hard part of life and gotten fast-tracked up to the loving arms of their creator. I mean, isn't the whole attraction of Christianity that this life sucks, but God loves you and will take care of you in the next? I know it was for me. By this standard, abortion falls pretty far short of the Holocaust, since the Jews are definitely not going to Heaven, according to established church doctrine.

If you are offended by some of the statements in the post above, I'm sorry, but I'm just reiterating the doctrine of the mainstream evangelical church. Except for the bigfoot thing, but I was clearly kidding there. Snoogins.

I should note that some Christians, such as my parents, believe in universal salvation, which sidesteps the above logical conundrums. As doctrines go, it's a good one, but it pretty much kills my motivation to get up on a Sunday morning. If my immortal soul is not in jeopardy, I'd rather sleep in.

I should also note that most of the Christians I have known are wonderful people. They make good friends and neighbors, have written some wonderful music and some fantastic poetry. Ditto for Republicans, except for the music and poetry part. But this kind of internal inconsistencies is one of the reasons I'm no longer a Christian. Sleeping in on Sundays used to be another, but the, we had a baby, and I don't even have that anymore.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Another heartbreaking story about our broken immigration system. In this one, immigration sends an important notice to the wrong address, and as a result detains a 15-year resident of the U.S., refuses to treat his cancer, and leaves him to die in a cell without allowing his family, or even his lawyer, to see him, until a federal judge finally intervened. Too late, of course.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Christie and I were talking the other night about a thread on Feministing about what role men would have in a "feminized world". We ended up having an interesting discussion, and she suggested that I try to bring some structure to the ideas and turn them into a post. I wanted to start with a quote from Robert Heinlein:
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
I would add a few things to this list, like comfort a crying baby, but mostly I think it's a good list. I also think it's a little male-centric, because there's a focus on fixing problems, which is one of those traits that I identify as male.

But what, exactly, does that mean? In the past, masculine and feminine were discreet categories. That made it easy. Nurturing? Feminine. Strong? Masculine. Creation? Feminine. Destruction? Masculine. (Theorist Mircea Eliade thinks this urge to divide things into discrete groups is a fundamental part of human nature, and I think it's tied to the origin of language, but that's another post entirely.)

Just as we now know that physical gender is a spectrum, we also recognize that these sorts of traits fall along a spectrum (actually, the latter is more readily accepted than the former, but pretending that the controversial is commonplace is an old trick from my literary theory days. Isn't it fun?). Plus we have people who are biologically male, but identify as female, women who fall in love with women as opposed to men, and every other possible permutation, albeit sometimes in very small percentages of the population. In other words, as in every other thing found in nature, there are no sharp lines, just gradations. (Bart Kosko's Fuzzy Thinking is a decent introduction to this idea.)

This might be a good time to introduce a Venn diagram, but there are actually very few traits that fit exclusively into the male or female side of things. Overlapping bell curves probably work better to demonstrate that, for example, the average man is stronger than the average woman, but that the overlap is so great that no meaningful distinctions could be made on an individual level. Reverse that dynamic for, say, nurturing.

That's what I mean when I say that I think of the urge to fix things as a masculine trait. And I choose that example because I love the movie (and book) Holes, and the line "I can fix that" has become, in our house, another way for me to say "I love you", right up there with "As you wish."

I consider the fact that I'm always looking for new ways to tell my wife (and, now, daughter) that I love them to be something of a feminine trait. But I don't care, because I contain multitudes, and because I don't think we should limit ourselves.

While some of these traits are physical (height, strength), most of these masculine/feminine splits happen within the context of a particular culture. The redneck culture my father's family comes from encourages a flamboyance of dress in men not typically seen in mainstream white American culture apart from vacationers in Hawaiian shirts (embroidered ostrich-skin boots, anyone), and that's just one surface-level example.

Feminism works to show women that they are not limited to culturally imposed feminine strengths, feminine virtues, or feminine careers. To a somewhat lesser degree, it does the same with men, but only secondarily. The gay movement has helped as well, and has certainly begun to infiltrate straight male culture (e.g. metrosexuals).

I put that Heinlein quote up there because I can't think of a single trait for a "good man" that isn't also a trait for a good woman, and therefore a good human being. And in the end, as Terence said, "Homo sum: humani nil a me alienum puto", or, "I am a human being, therefore nothing human is alien to me."

Or to put it differently, I have no hopes for my daughter that I would not have for a son: To find a way of being in the world that makes her happy and makes the world just a bit better.

Monday, August 11, 2008

More parent geekery

Chipmunk's outgrown the womb sounds, it seems, but Christie noticed that the soundest she ever slept was during a big rain storm, so I hit freesound again and grabbed some rain clips, which I tweaked in audacity to make a nice 15 minute rain track for her to sleep to.

In the realm of gadgets, these Energizer Light on Demand LED flashlights have been great. We have the twin light center, and they're sort of light portable nightlights, the way we use them. You never know if the spud is going to want to be bounced, rocked, or walked, and if she wants to be in her room, the living room, or somewhere else, so it's nice to be able to take the light where you need it, and have the switch within reach when she finally drops off.
I don't want to jinx anything, but thanks to some tips from Rita, this is three nights in a row of no middle of the night colic.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Primary races rouse interest: At Fire Station No. 1 of the Boone County Fire Protection District, Rex Sanders, 59, said he was most concerned about the economy. "We need to control our taxes," he said, adding that he voted a straight Republican ticket because he believed only they can get the job done.

Um, dude, it's a primary.
Pretty cool signage.

Monday, August 04, 2008

In my head, I know it's colic, but when it's 4 am and she won't stop crying, there's this nagging little voice that suggests that maybe she just doesn't like my singing.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Speaking of parent gear, I need to give a shout out to my homies at 3M for inventing Cavilon, a spray-on barrier that, combined with Desitin, totally kicked diaper rash to the curb. It's hard to find, but very effective. Too pricey to use all the time, obviously, but good to use every once in a while. Plus one application lasts for days, according to the label.
When you're a parent, you find yourself thinking and saying things you don't expect, and your priorities shift. For instance, when Christie and I first started getting the crap that shows up in your mailbox shortly after you register and Target and/or Babies R Us (just a coincidence, I'm sure), one of the fliers was for a complete baby soothing center that seemed absolutely ridiculous. "Multiple swing patterns"? "6 different nature sounds"? "MP3 player input"? Whatever. Who would need that?

And then, suddenly, you find yourself with a colicky six-week-old, no sleep, and a creaky old swing that eats batteries like I eat Pop-Tarts, and the ridiculous starts to seem pretty reasonable awesome. It's quiet (for a swing), the nature sounds are actually pretty relaxing, even for adults, and the swing motion is just what our little banshee needs to stay asleep without having to be in our arms.

Expensive? Yes, but if it means Mom and Dad get to sleep in the same bed again (for a few hours at a time), it's worth it.

Friday, August 01, 2008

I consider the fact that the Chipmunk slept through her first Wal-mart trip to be strong evidence that my aversion to the evil blue giant is recessive, and that Mary's affection for it is dominant. Clearly, the little one finds the fluorescent lights to be relaxing. And when you need a diverse bunch of stuff, and the baby only sleeps long enough for one store trip at a time, Wal-mart is certain a tempting choice. But here's another reason not to shop there.

I mean, apart from the fact that their website lied to me about them having a charger in stock for Christie's audiobook player, which lured me in the store, leading me to buy the other items on my list because I thought it'd be faster than going somewhere else, which it would have been if they stocked things in a way that made sense, or trained their employees in some sort of non-random fashion.

Shorter Wal-Mart: We won't tell our employees where to put the Desitin, but we will tell them how to vote.