July 31, 2005

Monkey Girl Photos

This week's batch of photos is now online. It's got the dollhouse, more barrettes, our monkey girl climbing too high, and more.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 11:00 PM | Comments (0)

More On Pension Failings

I've already written a bit about United Airline's pension and its bankruptcy. There's an interesting article in Sunday's NYT ("
How Wall Street Wrecked United's Pension") with details about how the company changed the way it funds its pension plan, and how the money managers earned what appears to be more money than was paid in insurance premiums to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. The article points out how aggressive companies have become in funding pension plans (and mentions in passing that local governments fund their plans even more aggressively), and how their taking on extra risk is now coming back to bite them in the ass. And, unfortunately, it's going to be the taxpayers who wind up paying.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 09:30 PM | Comments (0)

Ben Stein on China

Ben Stein is an interesting figure - actor, economist, law professor, author and more. In today's NYT, he writes an editorial about the current obsession with China ("Don't Worry About China. Learn From It.")

Here is the attitude he writes about:

there is a lot of talk in the news media about how powerful China has become and how weak and pitiful the United States has become. There is talk of Chinese dominance over the world economy, and, from what I can gather, a general fear that soon we will be in peonage to the Chinese.
On the issue of the relative "richness" of America and China:
Consider the most optimistic C.I.A. data about China in 2004. It says China has a purchasing power parity G.D.P. of (very) approximately $8 trillion, compared with roughly $12 trillion for the United States. Again, this is for a nation with nearly five times our population. Even when using this most astoundingly optimistic estimate - I would almost say a preposterous estimate - China has a per capita G.D.P. of about $6,000, or about 15 percent of America's and well below that of any nation in Western Europe, or of Japan, Israel, Taiwan and many other countries.

In other words, the United States is vastly richer than China by any measure. This is not to boast, but it's also not to be afraid of imminent world-pauper status.

Will China be richer than the US in the foreseeable future?
In other words, it will be a long time before Chinese per capita G.D.P. matches ours. And for that to happen, it will take a previously unheard-of growth rate for an unheard-of length of time. This is a big series of ifs, especially for a country with a rapidly aging labor force and an inherent contradiction between dictatorship and free markets.

The rapidly aging work force is a critical point - China's one-child policy means that their population pyramid is very rapidly changing from a pyramid to a rectangle (i.e., there's a lot more old people compared to the number of young people than there used ot be).

Ben goes on to point out that there is nothing wrong, in and of itself, of another nation becoming prosperous:

But suppose that it does happen. Suppose that China becomes a larger economic power than the United States. Suppose, in our great-great-grandchildren's day, that the average Chinese citizen is about as rich as the average American. How would it hurt us? Why would we be worse off? If the Chinese were richer, they could buy more from us and employ more of our workers. They could buy more of our stocks. They could tour our beautiful nation more.

The fact that our neighbors are worse off does not make us richer, and the fact that they are better off does not make us poorer.

And finally, Ben makes the most important point: Rather than worry about others, we should focus on improving ourselves:

But another factor is even more important: personal responsibility. Americans who want to make sure they stay well off accomplish nothing by worrying about China. But we can certainly learn something from China. Individuals and nations become rich by investing in human capital - getting a good education, learning good work habits, saving and investing prudently and living healthy lives. Any young Americans who want to keep up with the Chinese can get a good education, work hard, save as much as possible, invest prudently - and they will be just fine now, in 25 years and in 50 years.

The moral here is simple: learning from our friends, the Chinese, means something. Fearing and envying them means nothing.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 01:54 PM | Comments (0)

July 29, 2005

The 18 / 18 Rule

Dorothy is just over one month away from an important transition point. A few years ago, a friend of mine (from way back when I was an undergrad), talking about children, told me:

You spend the first 18 months of their lives convincing them they're the center of the universe, and then the next 18 years convincing them they're not.

Dorothy turns 17 months old in another week. And come September 6th, her world is due for some reconfiguration.

Or maybe not. Grandparents' attitudes aside, how could we say "no" to this face?

Posted by Tom Nugent at 08:45 PM | Comments (2)

July 28, 2005

Stupid Stupid Cops, Judge, Etc.

I just saw the story (courtesy of DaddyTypes) about the man who spent six months in jail for blowing raspberries on his newborn son's tummy. (Read on only if you want to see me vulgarly vent a spleen.)

Holy fuck! What were they (the police, the judge, etc.) thinking?!? According to comments on DaddyTypes, the angle of the photo may have made it unclear if the man was kissing the belly button or the penis (which would be weird), but SIX MONTHS?!? The mother was also arrested, although she got out on bond. But she wasn't allowed any contact with her children (they had an older child who was also taken away) for months. In what way is keeping children away from their parents while you waste six months trying to decide if there was any criminal intent? I'd think you'd want to clear things up either way, to allow the newborn to get back to his parents.

There was another suggestion in the comments that maybe they wanted to check the man's immigration status. Using a completely unrelated item to detain someone while you check on their immigration status is unethical, at best (but for all I know, it's probably legal). But for 6 months? Do these asstards not care one whit for the effects their arrests have on families?

Posted by Tom Nugent at 10:04 PM | Comments (1)

Tracking Laser Printers

PC World has an article on identification marks from color laser printers. Basically, most color laser printers (and perhaps other printers?) embed faint yellow dots across any page they print, and those dots encode the printer's serial number etc. So, if you use the printer to make counterfeit money, the government could perhaps trace the printing back to you.

The fear, of course, is that any old document could also be traced back to who printed it.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 12:07 PM | Comments (0)

July 27, 2005

Our Little Monkey

Dorothy has suddenly turned into a monkey. In the last week or two, she's been able to climb into the chair in her room by herself. She climbs up the outside of her Kangaroo Climber (the right hand side of this object). Or she'll stand up (without holding onto anything!) in the notch up at the top of the Kangaroo Climber.

Today, though, she completely took Elizabeth and me by surprise. We were getting dinner ready. I'd just come in from tending the grill outside, and Elizabeth and I were both over by the kitchen sink and counters. I turned around, and there was Dorothy, sitting in her high chair. But I hadn't put her there. Neither had Elizabeth. We took her out of the chair, and she immediately proceeded to climb (quite safely, I might add) right back up into the chair. We were floored. Then when she saw us both looking at her, she proceeded to stand up in the high chair. Next I assume she's just going to do jumping jacks on the edge of a cliff.

I realized, somewhere in the back of my mind, that at some point Dorothy was going to be able to get into just about anything she wanted to. But I'd sort of been assuming she'd be bigger (and more mature/developed) before it would happen. Is nothing going to be safe in our household this soon?!?

Posted by Tom Nugent at 08:46 PM | Comments (2)

July 26, 2005

A new stage?

Dorothy has developed a number of new behaviors very recently (like in the past week). She's suddenly being more affectionate with her teddy bears, carrying them around and hugging them (and playing with them with Daddy). She will stop playing to come find us and spontaneously hug us. And when we tell her it's time to stop playing (e.g., because it's bathtime or time to come home from daycare), she will throw a fit, yelling "no, no!" and trying to push our faces away when we pick her up.

While we were giving her her bath this evening, Tom was saying that it seemed like she was in some kind of phase, but we couldn't quite put our finger on what it was. Then I realized a common theme - I think she's suddenly realized that she can consciously express her emotions.

We've usually been able to tell what she thinks for quite a while, but I think it's been more that we're able to read her reflexive signals. But now I think she's doing it with awareness of what she's doing, and so she can do more complicated things to express how she's feeling. If she was feeling happy and we happened to be holding her before, she might give us a hug or a snuggle, but now she can think that she wants to hug Mommy, come find me, and hug my knees until I pick her up. Or when I come to get her at daycare while she's playing, she could say, "no, no" before, but she wouldn't scream it while pushing on my face and trying to squirm out of my arms, and then pout in the car seat and refuse to hold a book or a toy. (That lasted until I'd been on the road for two minutes - then she started having fun playing with the Velcro on her shoes.) When she didn't want to stop playing with her doll furniture at bathtime tonight, I was able to "negotiate" by asking if she'd like to take the toy bathtub with her, and avert the screaming meltdown we had last night. (She had lots of fun putting the toy people in the toy bathtub and filling it with water while she was standing in the real bathtub).

Dorothy's transformation from a baby with little or no real capability for thought into a "real person" isn't a smooth and linear process - there are fits and jumps along the way, sometimes taking one step back for every two steps forward. Sometimes it's frustrating and infuriating, especially when my old strategies for relating to her stop working, and I have to go back and figure out what's going on in her mind. But it's probably the most fascinating thing I've ever watched, and I can't wait to see what happens next.

Posted by Elizabeth Nugent at 08:16 PM | Comments (1)

A New Tallest Building

CNN reports on a plan to build the tallest building in the nation. It would be in Chicago, home of the country's current tallest skyscraper. Here's a rendering of the design:
According to the article:

The proposed Chicago skyscraper, designed in a twisting shape like an enormous drill bit, is designed by [Santiago Calatrava]
The new building would be called the Fordham Spire.

No it won't. I'm from Chicago and I think I know a little bit about the personality of the city. Whatever the building's official name, it is going to be called the "Chicago Screw."

Posted by Tom Nugent at 03:52 PM | Comments (1)

Grading Scandal

Elizabeth pointed out an article in last Wednesday's NYT about a grading scandal at a high school in New York. One teacher (Philip Nobile) had written letters to the school principal about scoring problems on a state test. In particular, he accused an assistant principal (Theresa Capra) of changing scores of some failing students. In response, the administration suddenly changed their tune on his teaching ability from high praise to "unsatisfactory," presumably to give them a reason to fire him:

Well, things did not turn out quite that way. Late last month, the Education Department released a 30-page, single-spaced report by a special investigator chronicling the events and concluding that Ms. Capra tampered with the Regents exams in June 2002 and June 2003, and that Mr. George "engaged in a cover-up of Mr. Nobile's allegations." Those allegations, said the report by Louis N. Scarcella, an investigator for the city school system, "have been proven correct in every detail." ... Ms. Capra resigned last year, during the investigation. Mr. George was recently removed as principal. Mr. Nobile, meanwhile, received a satisfactory rating for his teaching this year, and has also earned tenure. Nobody should mistake this for a happy ending. The exposure of the Cobble Hill scandal qualifies more as a cautionary tale, because Mr. Nobile's experience offers disturbing proof of the pressures that administrators can use to isolate, marginalize and oust internal critics. Moreover, Mr. Nobile's personal crusade against cheating serves as a reminder that in the current system of Regents testing, there is little self-interest in rigorous grading, if rigor means revealing widespread failure.

"I call it 'affirmative cheating,' " Mr. Nobile said of the grading on test scores. "It turns teachers into liars and hypocrites. They feel a natural sympathy with students and want to help them. And there's a desire of administrators to pump up scores to look good. And most of the teachers - especially the young, untenured, easily intimidated - simply won't come forward to complain without protection."

One of my high school teacher-friends, after reading the article, said that it seemed very familiar, since that friend had seen similar behavior in a different state.

So yes, public education in this country is screwed up. State testing has a slew of problems, and the organization of schools themselves is not aimed at furthering the education of students, but rather on political manipulations of some teachers.

And people wonder why the US schools (esp. high schools) score behind so many other countries?

Posted by Tom Nugent at 09:07 AM | Comments (1)

July 25, 2005

Bubbles and Barrettes

I just put up a new photo album from this past weekend. We went to a picnic on Saturday, and got to make giant bubbles.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 10:40 PM | Comments (0)

Citizenship and the Military

David Kennedy wrote an editorial in today's New York Times titled "The Best Army We Can Buy." He argues that military service in the USA is divorced from citizenship, a situation which many figures through history have warned against.

Kennedy begins:

THE United States now has a mercenary army. To be sure, our soldiers are hired from within the citizenry, unlike the hated Hessians whom George III recruited to fight against the American Revolutionaries. But like those Hessians, today's volunteers sign up for some mighty dangerous work largely for wages and benefits - a compensation package that may not always be commensurate with the dangers in store, as current recruiting problems testify.

Kennedy then goes on to argue that the privilegese of citizenship have been linked to military service for many countries throughout history:
Since the time of the ancient Greeks through the American Revolutionary War and well into the 20th century, the obligation to bear arms and the privileges of citizenship have been intimately linked. It was for the sake of that link between service and a full place in society that the founders were so invested in militias and so worried about standing armies, which Samuel Adams warned were "always dangerous to the liberties of the people."

What about the size of the US military? Technological advances have made soldiers much more deadly these days. In comparison to the country's total involvement during World War 2 (when 25 times as many people, proportionate to population, were in the armed forces, and 10 times as much of the GDP was spent on war), he writes:
The implications are deeply unsettling: history's most potent military force can now be put into the field by a society that scarcely breaks a sweat when it does so. We can now wage war while putting at risk very few of our sons and daughters, none of whom is obliged to serve. Modern warfare lays no significant burdens on the larger body of citizens in whose name war is being waged.

This is not a healthy situation. It is, among other things, a standing invitation to the kind of military adventurism that the founders correctly feared was the greatest danger of standing armies - a danger made manifest in their day by the career of Napoleon Bonaparte, whom Jefferson described as having "transferred the destinies of the republic from the civil to the military arm."

America is certainly involved in many more foreign affairs, including wars, then we were before World War 1, for example. We do not (yet), though, have a leader like Napoleon who would lead the country into wars of border expansion. It could be argued that America has engaged in wars of aggrandizement.
Some will find it offensive to call today's armed forces a "mercenary army," but our troops are emphatically not the kind of citizen-soldiers that we fielded two generations ago - drawn from all ranks of society without respect to background or privilege or education, and mobilized on such a scale that civilian society's deep and durable consent to the resort to arms was absolutely necessary.

I am not a historian. I would be interested to see a comparison of the fortunes (and longevity) of nations which used citizen-soldiers versus those that turned to mercenaries (e.g., was the hiring of mercanaries a factor or symptom of the decline of the British Empire?).
Leaving questions of equity aside, it cannot be wise for a democracy to let such an important function grow so far removed from popular participation and accountability. It makes some supremely important things too easy - like dealing out death and destruction to others, and seeking military solutions on the assumption they will be swifter and more cheaply bought than what could be accomplished by the more vexatious business of diplomacy.

The life of a robust democratic society should be strenuous; it should make demands on its citizens when they are asked to engage with issues of life and death. The "revolution in military affairs" has made obsolete the kind of huge army that fought World War II, but a universal duty to service - perhaps in the form of a lottery, or of compulsory national service with military duty as one option among several - would at least ensure that the civilian and military sectors do not become dangerously separate spheres. War is too important to be left either to the generals or the politicians. It must be the people's business.

Before reading this last paragraph, I had already been wondering about forms of service other than in the military. To defend my family, I would bear arms against an aggressor. I could probably expand that concept to war, in terms of joining the military to fight off invaders. But I do not see any of the wars the US has fought in the last couple of decades as being clearly and directly linked to defense of the homeland, except perhaps for the invasion of Afghanistan (and I'm not yet 100% certain of that one). But it is because the military is being used for both homeland defense as well as non-critical wars that I would not want to be in the military.

I do, however, feel that requiring people to perform some form of service to the country would be healthy, and I would not object if I had been "drafted" into some form of social service, as long as it wasn't the military. Back during the Depression, projects such as the CCC helped improve national infrastructure. Rather than focusing on economic development (as was the case for the CCC), adding other branches of mandatory service such as a parks and highway cleaning team, and a facilities construction team, and a home visit support and care for the elderly team, could all serve to bring home the experience of citizenship to all adults.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 10:47 AM | Comments (2)

July 24, 2005

Lying About Food

This evening I committed what you might call my first lie against Dorothy. She loves sausage, but has never been interested in even trying hamburger. This evening, we grilled some good hamburgers on the grill. We tried putting cheese (another favorite Dorothy food) on both sides of the hamburger to make it more appetizing. I messed up the cheese, and had it wind up sticking to the plate etc. Just as I was serving it to Dorothy, Elizabeth asked her if she'd like some hamburger. I corrected her: "No, Dorothy, would you like to have a big sausage for dinner?"

She gobbled it up.

Well, half of it anyway. And we can't complain about her eating 1/6 of a pound of beef for dinner. But I have now entered that gray realm of morality - is it excusable to mislabel food (i.e., lie about what it is) if doing so will convince my daughter that it's ok to eat?

Posted by Tom Nugent at 10:19 PM | Comments (0)

She's a GIRL!

I've known Dorothy is a girl since before she was born. I see physical evidence every time I change her diaper. I've even been known to pick out some pink clothes for her. Yet, somehow, deep in the back of my mind, I treated her as a unisex baby (and, except for how we dress them and what we see when changing diapers, "unisex" is a reasonable description of most babies & toddlers). In some ways, I thought of her a bit more as a boy than as a girl. Well, today I was hit with the most visceral evidence yet that she's a girl:
That's right - today, we got some barrettes for Dorothy. Wearing barrettes must mean she's a girl, right? :-O

Posted by Tom Nugent at 10:11 PM | Comments (0)

July 23, 2005

Teddy Bear Fun

Once again Elizabeth was so good and grabbed a video snippet from the camcorder this evening, so that we could post it quickly, rather than 2 years from now (as would have happened if it were left to my responsibility). We now have a great 41 second movie of Dorothy giggling at some teddy bears (the movie file is ~4.5MB, and it's in MP-4 format). Enjoy!

Posted by Tom Nugent at 11:46 PM | Comments (1)

Stupid War on Drugs

Yes, the War on Drugs is stupid. It has cost lots and lots of money, and for what? To put hundreds of thousands (more?) of people, who mostly only hurt themselves, in jail. Where we have to pay more to keep them locked up. And you know what? Drugs are still out there, plentiful and cheaper than they were before the war started. Has there been any benefit to this war, besides law enforcement agencies getting to confiscate and sell property of the accused?

In today's New York Times, John Tierney highlights a new absurdity of the war on drugs: arresting doctors who prescribe OxyContin. Is OxyContin a scourge?

The D.E.A. announced that in two years, there had been 464 OxyContin-related deaths, but most of the victims had taken other drugs, too, so the cause of death was uncertain. Ronald Libby, a political scientist at the University of North Florida, notes that even that figure is a minuscule fraction (0.00008 percent) of the number of OxyContin prescriptions written, and that it's dwarfed by the more than 32,000 people who die in the same period from gastrointestinal bleeding from other painkillers, like aspirin and ibuprofen.

So aspirin and ibuprofen kill 60 times as many people as OxyContin (and the oxy deaths may be due to people having taken other drugs at the same time), yet the Oxy is the drug being pursued. And worse, this means they're taking doctors, already a resource that's becoming scarcer by the day, out of their offices and discouraging others from entering the field. Oh, and causing current doctors to not properly help patients suffering from physical pain:
But many doctors are now afraid to give painkillers to either kind of patient. The D.E.A. tried reassuring them by working with pain-management experts to produce a pamphlet setting out guidelines for doctors who want to avoid investigation. But last fall, the agency said it wasn't bound by the guidelines after all, and could investigate even when it had no reason to suspect a doctor.

At some point, will politicians and the public fix their rectal-cranial inversion problem and realize that the war on drugs is costing way too much money for no real benefit? Cancel it all, and try to do something more productive, like educate people about drugs.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 10:05 AM | Comments (0)

July 22, 2005

Baby's Named a Bad, Bad Thing

I remember running across this site when we were just starting to think about names for our baby, I think before we even found out we were having a girl. I was just reminded of it again by a post on Blogging Baby, and had to go reread. People have some amazingly silly names for their kids, and the snarky comments of the author are perfect. A few samples after the break:

I once met a lady named Rodana. I think she runs a successful internet business.

In her spare time she destroys Tokyo.

I was thinking of naming my son Toolio. Does anyone know the origin on that one?
---[Jane] DeSac

Toolio DeSac. Boy, can't think of any way that kid'll get picked on. That's one taunt-proof name there!

How about Lou? When I was in England, I heard that name and it seemed to have a little tinkle to it. Randy is good too.

You weren't listening QUITE hard enough in England, were you?

May I suggest:
  • Calaya Tanith
  • Calaya Branwen
  • Calaya Delphine
  • Calaya Faerin
  • Calaya Gwendolen
  • Calaya Maeve
  • Calaya Magdalen
  • Calaya Mairead
  • Calaya Niamh
  • Calaya Nimue
  • Calaya Roisin (ro-SHEEN)
  • Calaya Siobhan (sha-VON)
  • Calaya Talwen
  • Fainne Maeve
  • Fainne Roisin
  • Fainne Tanith

No. No, you bloody well may not suggest them. Please leave us alone and resume reading "The Annotated Legends of the Runes of the Mystical Arthurian Knighthood of the Sacred Circle of the Shield of the Spell-Casting Princess Faeries of the Grail of Blackwynne Castle. Book II."

There are plenty more where these came from - check it out!

Posted by Elizabeth Nugent at 08:55 PM | Comments (1)

The Sex Talk, One Version

I have no idea how I'll handle it when Dorothy starts asking me about sex-type issues (and hopefully that won't happen for many many years). But I have to admit that I sort of hope it doesn't quite go like this (although it would be funny).

Posted by Tom Nugent at 08:27 PM | Comments (0)

The Pension Burden

In his June 17 weekly letter, John Mauldin discusses the extreme trouble that public and private pension plans face. Despite the stock market advances of the last two years, the amount of underfunding of private pension plans has actually increased. What's going to happen to them when the stock market doesn't perform above average?

Mauldin provides a strong argument as to why the stock market can't possibly perform nearly as well as the pension plan managers are hoping/gambling on to save their hides. The amount of underfunding in 10 years will be hundreds of billions of dollars, maybe even a trillion dollars:

Second, let's just look at the roughly $800 billion in assets. Let's look at a typical 60% stock, 40% bond asset allocation mix. Let's generously assume you can make 5% annualized on your 40% bond portfolio allocation in the next ten years. That means to get your 8% (assuming a lower average target) you must get 10% on your stock portfolio. Now, about 2% of that can come from dividends. That means the rest must come from capital appreciation.

Hello, Dow 22,000 in 2015. Care to make that bet with me? But pension plan managers are doing precisely that.

Earnings over long periods (and ten years is a longer period) grow about GDP plus inflation. Let's generously assume 6% earnings growth. A 22,000 Dow (or a 2500 S&P 500) means we will have to get back to bubble valuations, or P/E ratios into the high 20s for the largest cap stocks. Why? Because if earnings grow at only 6% and the market grows at 10%, P/E multiples have to get much larger. It is Back to the Future.

This all means that either corporate profits are going to go down as the companies pay more money into their pension plans (and reduced corporate profits will affect stock prices, thereby making the problem worse), or a whole bunch of pension plans are going to go under, with the taxpayers footing the bill. As we saw when United Airlines defauled on its pension plans, the taxpayers have to cough up $10 billion to take care of the United Airlines pension debt, and there are over a thousand more plans which are underfunded. And unfortunately, private pension plant managers don't seem to be trying to address these problems very strongly - they're pushing the hard decisions further into the future, where they can only grow worse.

But that's only for the private pensions. Public pension (city, county, state) promises are, if anything, worse, with even more underfunding. In ten years, these public plans may be underfunded by over 1.5 to 2 trillion dollars. Imageine what kind of effect that kind of debt obligation will have on local taxes - they will have to skyrocket in order to pay the debts.
Courts have consistently upheld the obligations of municipalities to fund the promised retirement programs. Unlike private pensions which can be cut or simply abandoned, public pensions will have to meet their commitments. Only four states allow for public pension funds to be cut retroactively. That means taxes will have to be raised or services cut to fund increased contributions.

There is a local tax and/or service crunch coming to a city near you in the next decade. If French entrepreneurs are voting with their feet to leave France (which is a beautiful place and one of my favorite countries to visit), you think US tax-payers won't move to cities and counties a little farther out with lower taxes and fewer commitments? The attraction of lower tax communities with fewer pension commitments is going to rise. This will drive down property values in high cost cities. Cities will need to raise taxes collected and this will start tax-payer revolts.

Since I'm on a doom and gloom roll, here, let's bring in housing. From today's MarketWatch weekly news highlights:

Debate all you want about the existence of a housing bubble and the possibility of its bursting, but there's no debate when it comes to this: A greater percentage of homeowners are now in riskier loans --that is, loans with terms likely to result in a steep rise in monthly payments at some point down the road.

Combine a steeper monthly payment with an unexpected financial crisis, and the picture gets pretty ugly, with the homeowner unable to make monthly payments -- and eventually forced into foreclosure.

The article goes on to talk about ways that many lenders are trying to help borrowers to get back on track to making their payments.

Both of these items - underfunded pensions and homeowners on the edge of missing monthly payments - are signs of an economic system with some terrible burdens (there are more than just these two). Any single issue might not in and of itself cause a massive crisis, but the combination of issues could well snowball, with small problems in one causing small problems in another, then another, then come back to worsen the original problem. Since the country as a whole doesn't seem to be doing much to avoid the problems, we'll just have to wait and see what happens.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 07:50 PM | Comments (0)

No Emotions Allowed

The 2002 Nobel prize in economics went to some of the founders of the field of behavioral finance. Basically, they showed that humans are not perfectly rational actors, as had been assumed in many economic models for decades. Related research has shown that people make investing decisions often on an emotianal basis, as opposed to a rational plan.

I just read about a recent story in the Wall Street Journal (sorry, no link) describing some research into people with damage to their brains that made them less capable of feeling emotions (at least those related to investing). They compared these people with "normal" people to see who did better at investing. And guess what? The people whose brains didn't let them feel emotions about investing performed better.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 01:11 PM | Comments (0)

July 20, 2005

It's Full of...What?

In case you haven't heard about it yet, go to Google Moon to see their latest mapping project. And make sure that you try zooming in all the way.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 10:19 AM | Comments (0)

July 19, 2005

Religion in the workplace

Continuing with the theme of bizarre education news, we now have the Utah teacher fired for being a witch.

"She also believes in witchcraft and paints her windows in her classroom black. Halloween is her favorite holiday and she doesn’t hide the fact that she prefers the dark side."

Witchcraft? Jensen had always known her coffee drinking was considered odd. She was the only teacher who drank the stuff, though one part-timer occasionally sneaked a cup saying, “‘I’m really careful about where I drink this,’” Jensen said. Her proposal that students read Steinbeck’s classic but profanity-laced Of Mice and Men had raised eyebrows. She had once been accused of swearing in class by a parent who heard the rumor at Relief Society Enrichment Night. But witchcraft? That was a shocker.

Reading the article, I'm not sure that the coffee is actually the reason she "believes in witchcraft" - it's more likely to be that she taught The Crucible one year. Of course, that's oddly prophetic, as it turns out.

If Jensen were a witch, her belief system would be protected by federal antidiscrimination law. But she isn’t. She was raised LDS, but left the faith long ago and doesn’t practice any religion now.

Perhaps that's the real problem. Both non-LDS teachers in the school were fired on the same day. The other was not a lapsed Mormon - she was Catholic - but students still referred their area of the building were as "Hell's Corner."

Further, it appears that the state attorney general may have withheld key evidence in the case, about the part of the school board meeting where the witchcraft accusations were discussed. That's a very serious matter, sufficient grounds for disbarment in any state. That it would be done by a state attorney general is mind-boggling.

Posted by Elizabeth Nugent at 02:24 PM | Comments (3)

Tot's Trike

Yes, it's been a while since new photos were uploaded. I've just put up two weeks' worth of photos in a new album, so enjoy!

Also, there's a brief movie snippet of Dorothy saying 'no' while in the front seat of the (parked) car.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 11:55 AM | Comments (0)

July 18, 2005

School Is Boring?

A piece in Saturday's New York Times titled "Students Say High Schools Let Them Down" reports that a majority of high school students believe their courses are not demanding enough:

A large majority of high school students say their class work is not very difficult, and almost two-thirds say they would work harder if courses were more demanding or interesting, according to an online nationwide survey of teenagers conducted by the National Governors Association.

The survey, being released on Saturday by the association, also found that fewer than two-thirds believe that their school had done a good job challenging them academically or preparing them for college. About the same number of students said their senior year would be more meaningful if they could take courses related to the jobs they wanted or if some of their courses could be counted toward college credit.

It's encouraging - students seem to want to be challenged, not let off easy.
"A lot of business people and politicians have been saying that the high schools are not meeting the needs of kids," said Barbara Kapinus, a senior policy analyst for the National Education Association. "It's interesting that kids are saying it, too."
So, that leaves parents and teachers as two major influential groups that aren't mentioned in the story. I wonder how they feel about what students are learning?

Posted by Tom Nugent at 05:14 PM | Comments (0)

July 15, 2005

Competitiveness out of control

Since Tom says I should blog these things instead of just sending them to him...

A T-ball coach has been charged for hiring a player from another team to injure one of his own players, so he wouldn't have to put him in the game.

Words fail me. I understand that adults can get competitive about children's sports, but I was hoping it was limited to high school or maybe junior high kids. I mean, it's T-ball! They usually don't even keep score!

Posted by Elizabeth Nugent at 03:57 PM | Comments (1)

July 14, 2005

Cute Critters

Would you like to buy a stuffed animal version of the common cold, or perhaps Ebola? Giant Microbes has them, and more. We haven't bought any of these cute critters yet, but I'm sorely tempted.

Elizabeth suggested that they'd be good for get-well gifts. To which my response was "I'm sorry you got bubonic plague, but here's a cute critter to remind you of your misery." To each their own, I guess.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 04:45 PM | Comments (2)

Nature vs. Nurture - It All Depends

I was cleaning out old email today, and came across a link that Elizabeth sent to me. The link is to a story about IQ and whether environment or genetics is more important (i.e., the old nature vs. nurture debate). The answer? It depends on class. If you're poor, environment matters more. If you're middle or upper class, then the environment is decent and genetics plays a bigger role. Makes sense.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 03:17 PM | Comments (0)

Real Estate is Better than Sex

In his July 1 letter, John Mauldin begins his "Thoughts on the housing bubble" with this bit:

Looking at a recent magazine covers one is left with the impression that the whole world is concerned about US real estate prices. This is borne out by the fact that if you go to Google and type in sex you get 78,000,000 hits. If you type in real estate you get 110,000,000 hits, which makes housing about 40% more interesting than sex. Is there a greater sign of a bubble?

Posted by Tom Nugent at 12:15 PM | Comments (0)

Waiting for Harry Potter

Musings in the shower this morning: does Hogwarts have a Sex Ed class for the older students? You know, magical methods of contraception, the dangers of using engorgement charms on yourself - the basics.

Posted by Elizabeth Nugent at 09:07 AM | Comments (2)

July 13, 2005

Teach to the Test: Part 4,782

(I don't know why Elizabeth doesn't blog these items, since I often do after she emails them to me....)

There's a nicely depressing article in today's NYT about public school teachers (in this case, English teachers) teaching to the state test. It begins by talking about a wonderful graduate-level course on writing that a high school teacher took, and how much she liked it:

And so, when Ms. Karnes returns to Allendale High School to teach English this fall, she will use the new writing techniques she learned and abandon the standard five-paragraph essay formula. Right?

"Oh, no," said Ms. Karnes. "There's no time to do creative writing and develop authentic voice. That would take weeks and weeks. There are three essays on the state test and we start prepping right at the start of the year. We have to teach to the state test" (the Michigan Educational Assessment Program, known as MEAP).

Want to feel even better? Read this part:
"MEAP is not what writing is about, but it's what testing is about," Ms. Karnes said. "And we know if we teach them the five-paragraph essay formula, they'll pass that test. There's a lot of pressure to do well on MEAP. It makes the district seem good, helps real estate values."

In Michigan, there is added pressure. If students pass the state tests, they receive $2,500 college scholarships, and in Ms. Karnes's middle-class district, families need that money. "I can't see myself fighting against MEAP," she said. "It would hurt my students too much. It's a dilemma. It may not be the best writing, but it gets them the money."

That's right. Forget educating students - school is all about getting the kids some money.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 08:09 PM | Comments (1)

Another Pre-eclampsia Prevention?

Elizabeth passed on this entry on BloggingBaby about a study from Britain suggesting that large doses of vitamins C and E (much larger than is found in prenatal supplements) might help prevent pre-eclampsia. Sounds very different from some of the suggestions we've seen before (besides getting a different father). We'll have to see what the follow-up study finds.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 01:33 PM | Comments (0)

July 11, 2005

Child Car Seats No Safer Than Normal Seats?

Elizabeth just sent me an interesting NYT story about child car seats. It's not totally conclusive, but historical data seems to strongly suggest that even a normal car seat belt is practically as effective in keeping children (ages 2 and older) safe as child seat belts. Of course, infant seats are required for babies. But the main point of the article was that, for the "bigger" kids (i.e., those aged 2 or 3 and up), any kind of restraint makes a big difference over being unrestrained, and there's little difference between normal car seat belts and child car seats.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 11:14 AM | Comments (1)

"Bye" She Said

Sometime this past week, Dorothy learned to say "bye" (or maybe it's "bai"). She would sometimes say "bye bye bye" when reading the end of Pat the Bunny (where the kids say "goodbye") and similar times, but it was sporadic, and required prompting.

This morning, I was holding Dorothy as Elizabeth loaded some items into her car before heading off to daycare and then work. Elizabeth came back in, and I handed Dorothy over to her. Dorothy turned to me, then without any prompting said "bye" as clear as day, waved her hand once, then turned away.

The whole thing had a bit of an "OK, Dad, I'm done with you, let's go" feel to it. But I guess she's just starting to prepare me for the next 18 years, as she continually goes "bye bye" for longer times and further away.

Is it too early to miss her when she leaves for college?

Posted by Tom Nugent at 09:30 AM | Comments (2)

July 09, 2005

Almost Done

It's Saturday night. It's all quiet from Dorothy's room, so I'm assuming/hoping she's asleep. Elizabeth's flight is due to arrive around 11:15pm, meaning she won't be home until well after midnight. Thankfully, both Dorothy and I have survived Elizabeth's absence, although my sanity took a hit.

Elizabeth had to work late Wednesday night preparing for her trip, so I've now done bathtime four nights in a row by myself. Thursday was mostly OK. I got up around 6:30, took a quick shower then got Dorothy. I was going to fix her some eggs, then decided we'd go out for breakfast. So we went to IHOP, where Dorothy wolfed down 3/4 of the kids' meal cheese omelette and a pancake. We then went grocery shopping. We played for a while, had lunch, and then I tried to put her down for a nap. An hour-long fight ensued, wherein I tried different places (her mat, her crib, our bed) and methods (leaving her alone, rubbing her back), and she mostly screamed and squirmed. She finally fell asleep mid-scream in our bed, and thankfully slept for almost 90 minutes. The rest of the afternoon, we went to the park and whatnot. Evening was fine.

Friday morning, Dorothy let me sleep in. She made some loud noises around 4:45am and 6am, but quickly quieted down. I woke up and stayed up around 7:30, and went to check on her - she was sitting in her crib quietly. I cleaned her up, gave her breakfast, and took her off to daycare. In the evening, I picked her up and again had a mostly fine evening (dinner, bathtime, etc.). There was some occasional crankiness, but I attributed it to teething (she has some canines coming in). When I laid her down to bed, she didn't complain, but it was clear she wasn't quite ready for sleep - she lay in her crib and twiddled her lip with her finger making "bub bub bub" noises.

Today she got up around 6:30am, which wasn't too bad. We played and did stuff for a while, but she was getting more cranky. She usually naps for 10 minutes on the way to daycare, but obviously doesn't get the car ride when we're staying at home. Eventually, I gave in and took her for a ride in the car around 10:30. She wound up sleeping for a half hour, which I suspected might cause trouble later (because it was longer than normal, and later than normal). It did. Her normal naptime is from around noon until 1:30 or 2pm. By 2:30 today, she still expressed no interest in wanting a nap, but she was showing signs of needing one (i.e., she was getting more cranky). I tried laying her on her mat - no luck. I tried putting her in her crib, to no avail. I even left her there for 20 minutes, hoping that if she didn't see me, she'd give up and go to sleep. Nope. She just screamed at me for those 20 minutes. So eventually I took her out in the car again. This time she slept for 50 minutes, so her total was still a bit low for the day. We went to the park where she got to walk around and watch some big dogs and some guys trying to fly a kite. Bathtime was fine, as was bedtime. She even was happy about brushing her teeth. But she started putting up a fight when I put her in the crib, even though she hasn't done that at bedtime in a long time. So I had to feel guilty while listening to her cry "daddee dahdee dahdee." Luckly things got quite within 5 or 10 minutes.

The frustrating thing about her refusal to nap both Thursday and Saturday is that she supposedly goes down for a nap very easily at daycare. They say she practically puts herself to bed. Perhaps she gets more tired out with the other kids, and maybe not having parents around helps. But it's still frustrating.

OK, I'll stop my whining now. I'm so looking forward to seeing Elizabeth get home.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 08:31 PM | Comments (0)

July 07, 2005

Phone Pictures

I remembered to download a bunch of old (and a couple new) photos from my cell phone today. So you get a bonus, mid-week mini-photo album!

Posted by Tom Nugent at 08:57 PM | Comments (0)

July 06, 2005

Home Almost Alone

Elizabeth is heading to Boston on a business trip Thursday morning, and won't be back until Saturday night. That means it's just me and Dorothy for three whole days! Well, she'll be in daycare during the day on Friday. I've survived similar situations before, such as when Elizabeth was in the hospital last summer, but then I at least got to see Elizabeth once a day. And I've given Dorothy a bath by myself when Elizabeth has been working late. But I don't think I've yet been totally on my own for multiple days. On the plus side, Dorothy isn't nursing any more (she was weaned a few weeks ago), so I don't have to worry about all of that. Wish me/us luck!

Posted by Tom Nugent at 10:01 AM | Comments (1)

July 05, 2005

Is the Laugh Annoying?

Normally I believe that background audio on a web page is annoying, because you can't stop it, and it's usually really crappy MIDI songs. But Elizabeth has snagged a short audio clip of Dorothy laughing, and we've put it as the background audio on the main page of the blog.

We're wondering: Can you hear it? Is it really annoying? Should we remove it? Or does it bring a smile to your face no matter how often you hear it?

Posted by Tom Nugent at 10:58 PM | Comments (2)

Decision-Making for Global Politics

I'm catching up on my Scientific American reading, and just finished the April issue. There's an excellent article titled "Shaping the Future" which discusses how to make robust policy choices in the face of scientific uncertainty about the future. Their biggest example is climate change, but they also mention sustainable development, bringing products to market, and many more. Their method, which focuses on flexible plans and then analyzes how any given plan would fare under a wide variety of possible futures, reduces the need for forecasting the future (the method traditionally used to decide policy, and the method most likely to be wrong). The full article gives more details, and is a great read.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 10:13 AM | Comments (0)

Ahh, Sleep!

Saturday was Dorothy's last day of taking amoxicillin for her latest ear infection. Her sleep had actually started improving the previous weekend - no more 5am wakings (or at least, she'd go back to sleep after only a few minutes of noise).

Over the last few days, though, she's been doing even better - she hasn't gotten up before 7am since at least Friday, maybe longer. Oh sweet sleep! It's amazing how much nicer it is to be able to sleep until 7am instead of just 6am. Maybe she's not such a morning person after all.

Of course, her naps were mostly shorter (unless she was snuggling with her Mommy), but I'd happily trade off shorter nap time for longer morning sleep.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 09:52 AM | Comments (0)

July 04, 2005

Happy Fourth

Brian, quoting another blogger,, talks about our armed forces and how lucky we are to have them, how proud of them we should be, and what we should be thinking about on this Fourth of July. A snippet:

I would be highly remiss to call any of the contrusions I’m facing – most of which I cannot describe in any detail, alas; patience – as “problems.” They are, at worst, situations, and at best opportunities. A “problem” is taking fire when you’re in a helicopter heading off to rescue comrades.
I never have to worry about who’s at the door, or why they’ve come. My heart never leaps when the doorknocker falls; my stomach never flips when the phone rings.

I am a modern happy American. I have no idea.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 08:40 PM | Comments (0)

Changing the Sheets

Changing the sheets on a bed is not, in and of itself, a chore that most look forward to. For years, we didn't look forward to it. That started to change when we got the cats.

Once the cats were big enough, they would love to hide under the new sheets as we put them on, and then one would pounce on the other who was "hidden" underneath the sheets. The simple act of changing sheets had become a fun act of play.

Now that Dorothy is big enough to walk around and climb, changing sheets has been raised to a higher level of fun (at least when we remember to change them before she's gone to sleep). Dorothy circles the bed, watching and screaming at the cats, mostly Cobalt, especially as he chases my hand which I'm wiggling enticingly under the sheets. Then Dorothy will climb up onto the bed, and either her and/or Cobalt are under the top sheet, with him getting extremely nervous. She tries going after him, and he runs. You have to experience it to appreciate the hilarity.

Of course, it now takes a half hour just to change the sheets.

UPDATE: Elizabeth was cool enough to download video from the camcorder and create a 20-second video of the sheet-changing fun.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 08:18 PM | Comments (0)

Bubble Photos

The latest batch of photos is now up, and includes weight-lifting, bubbles, and more.

I've also uploaded a new short movie of Dorothy and Daddy playing with bubbles.
(Reminder: movies may be deleted at any time to save space.)

Posted by Tom Nugent at 02:54 PM | Comments (0)

July 03, 2005

Fun and chaos

Our friend Jay has been holding down the fort alone (well, with the help of his mother), with four kids, while his wife Kim is out of town. We invited the family over to our house to run some energy off the kids, and enjoy our new grill that my parents gave us for our anniversary.

What a crew! Luka, who will be 2 next month, was very enamored of Dorothy, but wasn't much interested in respecting her need for space - he wanted to hug her, or at least get her in a headlock. Veda, 4, ran around for a while, but decided that her shoes were too small and that she had to go barefoot and mostly stay inside. Jaxon, 6, wanted to shoot baskets, but couldn't get the ball quite high enough. Neve, 8, photodocumented the whole event. Jay and his mother, Beth, rounded out the group and tried to keep order.

We all played frisbee for a while (Dorothy spectating while clinging to my legs) in the back yard (which hasn't been dug up yet). When the adults were starting to get tired, we headed back to the deck for a while, and then went on the rope swing. Luka really wanted to swing, but he's not quite ready for it yet. :) I went out back again with Neve and Jaxon for some more frisbee, and finally we decided it was time to start up the grill. We all stuffed ourselves with cheeseburgers, hot dogs, and seedless watermelon. (Dorothy ate her whole hot dog, half of Luka's, a slice of cheese, probably about 20 grapes, and a dozen bites of watermelon! Veda settled for a hot dog bun with ketchup, and the cheese peeled off of two burgers.)

By now it was getting to be time to start Dorothy's bedtime routine, so Jay and Beth rounded up the herd and headed out (fortunately taking away some of the enormous watermelon that Tom had gotten). We cleaned up the deck while Dorothy played with ice (getting so entranced that she didn't even notice us going in and out of the house, until she suddenly turned around and noticed that she was all alone), and I swept up the Sun Chips that had managed to fall everywhere in the kitchen and dining room (we're not sure how we got soggy chips in the laundry basket, but fortunately there were no clothes in it). Tom located the missing frisbee and got the basketball back out from under the deck. Dorothy fell asleep in record time, after such a busy afternoon.

Tom and I are totally exhausted, after only a few hours with the kids, with two other adults around. I don't think we're cut out for such a big family - two is probably our limit (or maybe over our limit!)

Posted by Elizabeth Nugent at 09:13 PM | Comments (0)

Child Custody Laws in New Zealand

DadTalk discusses a new law in New Zealand that gets rid of child "custody" in divorce cases, and instead focuses on keeping both parents as involved as possible with the child. Interesting reading.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 08:28 PM | Comments (0)

The Security Blanket?

You may have seen the pictures of Dorothy with a new toy. It's an AquaDoodle. The AquaDoodle is a pretty ingenious little product - it's a drawing pad with pen, but the "ink" is just plain water. The material on the mat turns blue when it's wet, and then goes back to white as it dries. This allows Dorothy to have fun with scribbling, and we don't have to worry about her sucking on the pen (which she does) or drawing on the walls, cats, us, etc. (she does). The felt-tip pen is easy to refill with a bit of water. It also comes with a stamp pad and stamps (in simple geometrical shapes) - just pour a bit of water on the pad, and it's good to go.

Dorothy does enjoy drawing on/with her new toy, but the drawing pad seems more like a security blanket at times. She'll drag the pad (and the felt pen) around everywhere when she feels like it. And when she wants it, she does not want to let go for anything. She was home with a babysitter for a few hours recently, and she fell asleep on the floor clutching it, and wouldn't let go even in her sleep. Luckily, the times when she absolutely wants it don't last too too long, and don't happen too often.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 10:55 AM | Comments (1)

Shape Sorter

Dorothy's developed two interesting geometry/visualization skills recently.

First, she has some number-shaped refrigerator magnets, which she loves playing with. Sometimes she will bring us numbers to hand to us, and it seems like it's almost always a matched pair - two eights or two zeros or two sevens, for example. She rarely hands us un-matched pairs, even though she will play with lots of different numbers.

Second, I've written about Dorothy playing with her multi-shape/multi-color blocks before (February, May). She's now reliably putting all four different shapes through their respective holes. She's repeatedly put the entire set of twelve blocks into the bucket, with little or no coaching. If she gets frustrated, though, she will repeat the earlier trick of taking off the lid to get the block into the box.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 10:45 AM | Comments (0)

July 01, 2005

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

An Illinois man, understandably upset at having to swerve to avoid a 14-year old girl who'd run in front of his car, got out and grabbed her arm, presumably to give her an earful, but she then ran away. Now he's been convicted as a sex offender (go read the story, then come back).

As the father of a little girl, I'm all about nailing sex offenders to the wall. But this case has gone way past any sense of rationality:

While acknowledging it might be "unfair for [Barnaby] to suffer the stigmatization of being labeled a sex offender when his crime was not sexually motivated," the court said his actions are the type that are "often a precursor" to a child being abducted or molested.
Buying a gun is a precursor to murder, but we don't arrest everyone who likes to hunt, do we? Buying a telescope or a security camera is a precursor to stalking/invasion of privacy, but we don't arrest astronomers and shop owners, do we?

The accused's lawyer asked a good question about the implications of this case:

"If you see a 15-year-old beating up your 8-year-old and you grab that kid's hand and are found guilty of unlawful restraint, do you now have to register as a sex offender?"

I wish child molestation didn't exist. And I think anyone who commits such a heinous act should suffer horribly. But I also know that people are not omniscient. This country's justice system originally believed that it was worse to put an innocent man in jail than it was to let a guilty man go free. Apparently that's all changed - now it's guilty until proven innocent. Except for this guy, there's no way to prove he's innocent. As far as I know, under the sex offenders law, you're registered until you die.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 02:29 PM | Comments (1)