“I Love Our Family!”

DASH: …aced those guys that tried to kill us! That was the best vacation ever! I love our family.

This year, we broke with tradition and opened presents today, instead of the 6th, Epiphany, because Eldest Daughter is catching a plane for Orlando in the morning to go on some Benedictine College sponsored singing cruise/tour. We all wanted her to be there.

So, what kind of gifts do my kids give each other and me? Glad you asked:

From Younger Daughter, I got a Duck Dynasty apron.Why, I’m not sure, but I’ll be wearing it around the kitchen from here on, instead of the Darth Vader apron I’ve been appropriating from Middle Son for the last several months.

Youngest Son found these at a garage sale: Lincoln Cents

The funny thing is, I stopped collecting when I was maybe 11 or so – but I had the 1st and 2nd sets almost complete (why do they even have a slot for a 1909 s VDB? Like a kid is a) going to find one; and b) stick it in a cardboard folder if he did.) I still have my old sets someplace.

But the third set starts in 1975, when I was in high school and no longer collected – and the one he gave me is, not surprisingly, almost complete. So it turns out to be a very cool gift – I now own a nearly complete set of Lincoln cents.

My Beloved gave me a compilation from the 1950s of “This, I Believe” interviews, which is both interesting and sort of a scream: for years, I’ve been quoting the protagonist in Walker Percy’s “The Moviegoer”, whose comment on the show was: “I believe in a good kick in the ass. This—I believe.” (I substitute ‘pants’ for ‘ass’ around the kids.)

But the winner may be this, also from my wife:

Practical English full

Here’s a clearer image of the cover text:

Pratical EnglishIt is a boxed set of little pamphlets published in Chicago in 1935, to help people improve their use of English. It contains, for example:

The Eight Parts of Speech

1. All names of persons, places, things, are NOUNS,

As Caesar, Rome and kings.

2. Pronouns are used in place of nouns;

My thought, her work, your frowns.

3. When the kind you wish to state,

Use an ADJECTIVE, as great.

4. But if of manner you would tell,

Use ADVERBS, such as slowly, well. 

To find an adverb, this test try,

Ask how, or when, or where, or why.

5. PREPOSITIONS show relation,

As with respect, or in our nation.

6. CONJUNCTIONS, as their name implies

Are joining words; they are the ties

That bind together day and night,

Calm but cold, dull or bright.

7. Next we have the VERBS which tell

Of action, being and state as well.

To work, succeed, achieve, and curb

Each one of these is called a VERB.

8. The INTERJECTIONS show surprise,

As Oh! Alas! Ah me! How wise!

Thus briefly does this jingle state

the PARTS OF SPEECH, which total 8.

It’s actually very good stuff, from what I’ve skimmed – old school, hard core Strunk & White style admonitions.

Anyway, a lot of hand-made items changed hands – Oldest Daughter knitted one-piece caps & scarves, where the scarf attaches seamlessly to the back of the cap – a cool look. Lots of fun. Hope you had a Happy New Year’s day, too!



20 Questions with the Moores

On the drive back from visiting my sister in Sunnyvale, we played 20 questions. This can be a little different:

We get answers like: “Conceptually? No.”

Or, to the question “Is it worth more than $10,000?” we get, “In nominal terms, perhaps not, but certainly when adjusted for inflation.”

After establishing that the answer was mineral, man-made, mobile, larger than a car, and was not made after 1950, the 10-year old asks: “Is it a cell phone?” He explained that, before 1950, cell phones were bigger than cars and cost way more than $10,000.

Hard to argue with that.

With two questions left, my wife pulls “Is it a steam locomotive?” out of thin air. I have no idea how she guessed it – they weren’t that close. Mind reader.

She is a bit psychic:

Mom: Animal, vegetable or mineral?

Daughter: vegetable.

M: Did we eat it tonight?

D: Yes.

M: Is it heirloom carrots?

D: Yes.

But mostly, simple questions like: is it used for work? or: is it bigger than a loaf of bread? tend to generate philosophic discussions that, on the surface, seem unwarranted. And it’s not even me who starts them, I swear!

Pre-Fourth Up-roundings and Tidbits

1. What other willies-producing tricks are those creepy little 6-legged horrors up to these days? Glad you asked:

Bone House: Species Of Wasps Protects Its Home Using Bodies Of Dead Ants

Seems some wasps lay their eggs behind a wall of dead ants, to send a message much like nasty little mafiosi: mess with us, and it won’t be pretty.

I’m betting seeing piles of dead bodies from the moment of birth results in years of tiny nasty wasp therapy.

Bone House Wasps defending against predators. More or less.

2. Domesticated Tomato Plants Evidently Stone Deaf

How else would one explain how a few tomato hornworms can reduce a decent size plant to a bunch of green twigs, in light of this study? The claim here:

We found that feeding vibrations signal changes in the plant cells’ metabolism, creating more defensive chemicals that can repel attacks from caterpillars,” said Appel in a statement.

So, plants, hearing the sloppy eating sounds of caterpillars, produce chemicals that the caterpillars don’t like, thus driving them off. Why they don’t just produce those chemicals by default is not explained – no, they have to wait until one of their little buddies or they themselves start getting eaten, *then* they grab their little chemical Uzis and have at ’em.

This tomato plant was evidently hard of hearing.

3. Investment advice explained:

Say you have developed and successfully tested a way to make a lot of money investing in stocks. Do you:

a. Spend your time making a lot of money investing in stock? or

b. Sell your expertise to other people so that they can make lots of money investing in stock?

4. Never cared about cars much until I was about 30, and working as a personal lines underwriting analyst, and had to look at a lot of car magazines as part of my job (no, really). Then my obsessive little mind started noticing all sorts of odd things.  One, which hit its apex a couple years ago, was what we called Sweeps:

a 100% Sweep compliant Hyundai Sonata

From humble beginnings back around 2009, this practice of using a fold in the side sheet metal as the unifying design theme of cars briefly took over the world. The idea is almost as old as cars, but here it is put to work unifying what are really disparate design features, giving the design a real sense of forward motion. The picture above show a perfect example: the sweep starts as part of the definition of the tail lights, moves through the door handles and points at the front wheels, then is picked up curves defining the fog lights and indeed the hood.

The sweep ties into the rear design nicely as well.

It’s surprisingly elegant and convincing, which means of course that car makers quickly overdid it in a series of abominations (e.g., designs with two contrasting sweeps, or sweeps that have a kink in them – unclear on the concept), and, then, as of this model year, it has largely disappeared. RIP, sweep – until it is rediscovered in 20 – 30 years.

Now, my attention has been drawn to colored – most often, red –  brake calipers:

We must make sure all the world knows we can stop if we want to.

Back in the day, something as mundane as brakes would not be made into a design feature. But then, a few years back, some sports cars – I think it was Ferrari – started painting the brake calipers red. This shows up nicely if you have spidery rims, which such ego-toys typically do. Now, you’ll see trucks, and subcompacts with 1.2 liter engines advertising their stopping capabilities.

Current hobby: seeing how lame an underpowered econobox is willing to sport look-at-me! brake calipers.

Chevy Sonic entry-level subcompact. With red calipers. And a spoiler. Woo. And, I might add, hoo.

The Week That Was

That certainly flew by.

1. For the next month, or perhaps longer, I shall be working in San Jose – 50 miles from here. This translates into about 3 – 3.5 hours/day in a car. Historically, I’ve moved to be closer to work when the one-way commute exceeded 20 minutes. Now, however, since this will run a limited time, and I’ve got this wife and kids, I’m going to just do it.

The scenery is usually nice, especially for next the month before everything dries up and turns brown until next November.

Fallout: very little posting. Boo, and, I might add, hoo. But it also provides ample time for prayer, meditation, listening to EWTN and TRYING NOT TO GET KILLED BY MANIACS ON THE FREEWAY!!!! Now, how much and what quality of prayer I’ll get in is open, but hey, can’t say I’m not getting plenty of opportunity.

2. I got a year older – at this point, I’m aging digitally. I made dinner, we had sorbet for dessert, and watched Princess Bride with the kids – it was good.  I’m named Joseph after St. Joseph, being born on St. Joseph’s day and all. I’m grateful I didn’t come a couple days early – I’d have made a lousy Patrick.

3. Do you ever want to do something, then think: OK, but I’d better do this other things first, then remember that you have to do that thing before you do this thing and – well, what appeared to be a simple task results in major, multi-stage work that takes forever? A year ago, when I began studying Greek, I wanted to have a desk to spread out materials where I didn’t need to pack them up and put them away every evening, as I needed to do when I used our dining room table. I have such a desk in the music room, long abandoned to being a repository for stray junk – and the music room is really just a sheet-rocked area in the garage, I wanted more comfort than that. The plan: move the desk to the bedroom. Easy-peasy, right?

By a doom fell and certain, logic inescapable established that I must first get a new TV – don’t even ask, but it works.  I’d never purchased a TV in my life, since its only use for me is watching videos and now Netflix – on commercial channels, by the second ad, I’m thinking, in the words of an all-pro defensive back, of tackling “three feet past” the TV – which would damage the walls. PBS – let’s not go there. Anyway, our third free  hand-me-down TV that we’d had for 15 years  was starting to flicker a bit (after about 30 years of total use), and those flat screens had come down in price so much – well, it was time.  But: the letterbox shape of the new TV was not going to work in the roughly square area vacated by the old TV. So:

Displaying photo.JPG

This is a media case I just built. It holds almost all our DVDs, old video cassettes and CDs – freeing up space for the new TV! And adding a month or two further delay in getting the desk moved into the bedroom. See, in order to have room for this new case, a nice bookcase had to be moved – where? Why, the bedroom, of course! That meant rearranging things so that I could add both the desk and the bookcase. And so on and so forth, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

I’m getting close, I can feel it! Just need to find permanent homes for the junk squatting on my desk (including an old Mac tower circa 1999, and a rack of computer music geegaws and a giant old CRT monitor and…) THEN clean the spare rug that’s going under the desk and – I got to stop thinking about this.

4. My beautiful and charming 16 year old daughter is the kind of odd duck that, were she not beautiful and charming, people would say: there goes one odd duck! But no one does, for reasons mentioned. For example: of all my kids, she would have been the last one I’d have suspected was memorizing pi out to 40 digits. She also took a look at the DVD, VCR and CD mess, and promptly alphabetized the whole thing. She also the one who reads massive numbers of books and wants a Great Books education. Of course, I’ve incorporated these data points into my understanding of this now lovely young woman, as a layer on top of my mental image of her as a tiny blond 3 year old with an inscrutably content expression standing in the bathtub covered from head to foot in unnaturally red popsicle drippings. It is going to be very odd to hand her over to some guy to marry.

5. In the Drafts folder: part 2 of Economics for Catholics, in which we discuss what it means to be poor in the modern world; The Nature of Our Addiction, in which is discussed how it is that we have been wounded by the current education model, such that it is folly to believe that we all the sudden see everything clearly and reason rightly just because we’ve managed to pick up on the schooling game; as well as more stuff on Science! I’ll get right on them in the couple hours I’ll have to write on Saturday mornings for the next month – when I should be moving the desk.

6. This Crimea thing is such a complete shock. Where would anyone ever get the idea that a totalitarian nation ruled by a tyrant would use the excuse of protecting its nationals that just happen to be in what some historical accident or meddling do-gooders have determined to be another country entirely to seize territory? As someone of Czech heritage, I find the whole idea flabbergasting! My sympathy goes out to our administration, which must have been completely caught off guard by this.

7. This just cracks me up:

Displaying photo.JPG

A beverage company proud enough of its hot water to present it with a flourish.

Jen Fulwiler does this thing. Check it out.

4,500+ Miles,

13 states,10 motels, almost 10,000 feet in elevation difference, a dozen or so natural wonders, thousands of photos, thousands of cows, hundreds of horses, dozens of sheep, a herd of elk, a dozen or so llamas, 6 camels, 2 donkeys, 2 buffalo (or, as my children lept to correct me, bison), 2 pronghorn, and a young grizzly bear later – back in the saddle. Kids voted Craters of the Moon their favorite, just ahead of Yellowstone, but this has much to do with them getting to spend hours climbing around in lava tube caves, as opposed to staring at stuff through the car windows. We need to go back and spend a week or two at several of these spots. (Tetons National Park was my fav – very impressive and beautiful, and where we saw the bear.)

So far, mostly been trying to catch up on my reading of other bloggers. Next time, I must remember to politely request that everybody I read stop thinking and writing while I’m away.

That not being the case, there were a couple things that were allowed to transpire without my participation, a shortcoming to be addressed ASAP.

Update: In. Sane. Roadtrip

1. 2,400+ miles in. Writing from Hays, KS on our way back from dropping off Eldest Daughter at Benedictine College in Atchison. Kansas, as well as eastern New Mexico, has been getting a lot of summer thunderstorms, so everything has been lush and green.  We ended up driving the Old Santa Fe Trail much of the way – didn’t really think about it before hand, but makes sense if you’re going from Santa Fe in the general direction of St. Louis that that’s the road you’d take.

2. While we shall keep the pictures to a minimum, here’s one:

Death Valley

We will use this cute picture as a segue into a discussion of taking the temperature.  Turns out that this location, Furnace Creek, out in the flats 190′ below sea level, is where the hottest temperature ever recorded was registered back in 1913. Started googling around, came across the following. Can’t attest to its accuracy – I found no corroborating information.

A few years back, they built a new temperature station at Badwater, which is even lower down. Funny thing: instead of putting the station out in the center of the valley, it’s on one side – the west facing side – up against some cliffs. If you wanted to pick a spot where you’d be likely to set an all time high, this would be it: low down, where the Death Valley inversion layer will trap the heat and near cliffs that will absorb and re-radiate out the heat towards your thermometer.

So, why build a new station in Death Valley, when you have one 20 miles away that’s been in continuous use for decades? Because, according to the link above, nothing is more annoying to the global warming crowd than really old record high temperatures.  Or, to put it the other way, record high temperatures are their bread and butter, so that when they fail to happen, it might look bad. Really old record highs suggest that it’s not way hotter now than it used to be.  But, alas! 11 years later and still no new record high, even after stacking the deck to get one. Even if this report turns out to be inaccurate, it is an interesting data point that some record highs are really old – 100 years or more.

3. Now writing from Westminster, CO, near Denver, from the living room of a college friend of my wife’s. A delightful thunderstorm is driving temps into the ‘very comfortable’ range, in addition to supplying a nice show.

4. Benedictine College is a pretty school on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River. The Benedictines arrived there in 1858. The brothers have an abbey as part of the college. The sisters have a convent a couple miles south. Both ran schools, for men and women respectively. Some years back, they decided to merge into one college. Then, they decided maintaining two physical plants was too much; now, just about everything is conducted in the buildings surrounding the abbey.

Lots and lots of brick, which looks odd to a Californian. Brick is not a good choice where there are earthquakes. One striking thing about the brickwork on the older buildings – much of it looks a bit slapdash, with uneven rows and joints and partial, broken bricks. I’m guessing it was originally plastered over or had some sort of fascia to cover it up, because it runs against the convenient myth that craftsmanship was much better in the old days. While that may be true, it’s also true that poorly made things tend not to last, so that well made things are overrepresented in surviving old things. However it has come about, as the buildings are remodeled and repurposed, there is now plenty of exposed brick and stone work that, while perhaps not first rate to my gimlet eye, is nonetheless beautiful and cool as all heck:


Makes a fellah want to crack open a classic and get at it.

5. Santa Fe’s population has almost doubled from what it was when I first got there in 1976, from 35,000 to almost 68,000. It is a beautiful place, so it is not surprising people want to live there. One has to wonder: how do people make a living there? There’s state and city government, two small colleges, a prison, and? Sure, there are plenty of art galleries, hotels and restaurants, but these more often than not provide low and uncertain wages to most of the people who work in them.

Odd how a place can feel more like home when visited for a day or two than it ever felt when I lived there.

6. Heading up to Wyoming Catholic College tomorrow, then on to Yellowstone and Idaho Falls Friday, Elko, NV Saturday and on home Sunday. 4,200+ miles. The kids have been total troopers so far.

What We Tell Our Daughters

Confluence of forces. In the last week or so:

– A young woman I know & love, upon achieving the well paying highly respected job after 19 years of schooling and multiple degrees, wrote her father a letter asking: what is the point of all this? She’s unmarried and unattached, and, given that she’s spent much of her youth pursuing academic achievement, it’s unclear if or where or how she would find a husband if she ever wanted to. A symptom of modern insanity, taken down to the personal level: We leave nothing to chance in the work world, and so believe it wise to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars over two decades to ensure a good financial future. Yet happiness, which for most people, men and women (and children), is found in family, is supposed to happen automatically in the cracks left over from our relentless pursuit of Career.

– One of my daughter’s best friends, age 16 or 17, recounted an encounter at school, where she had ventured (out loud) that she would like to get married and stay at home to raise a family. This triggered a reflex response in her young unmarried female teacher. Seems that my daughter’s friend would be, in the eyes of this teacher, selling out and letting women everywhere down by just marrying some guy and staying at home to raise children. This seems to be a decidedly majority position.

This post appeared in First Thoughts.

So, what do we tell our daughters? We have 2 teenage daughters, age 15 and 19 – what guidance should we offer them?

It seems obvious that few of us are the trail-blazing mavericks we might want to imagine we are. Most of us want nothing more desperately than to have a Place. To fit in. To be loved. To have someone to love. For all but the few of us for whom our career is a vocation, the only justification for a career is in how it makes possible a life of love.

From the First Thoughts essay linked above:

It reminded me of an earlier but quite similar perspective on the same issue in Sigrid Undset’s 1932 novel Ida Elisabeth. The speaker is the lawyer Herr Toksvold:

There will never be more than a small percentage of either men or women who can create for themselves a field of work which they could not exchange for another without feeling it as a sacrifice. But because a few women have succeeded in making themselves a position which it would be a sacrifice for them to give up if they married, perhaps nine times as many are forced to go out and do a full day’s work as breadwinners, and to do the work of a mother and housekeeper the rest of the twenty-four hours, or as many of them as they can stand on their feet without dying for want of sleep. Because a few females of the middle class have discovered that it is a disgrace to be kept by a man.

Which reminds me of GK Chesterton quip from around the same period:

A liberated woman is one who rises up and says to her menfolk, ‘I will not be dictated to,’ and proceeds to become a stenographer.

Honesty and my Christian faith would require the following ‘talk’ by dad to his beloved girls:

My beloved daughters, you have the talent and opportunity to do a huge, dizzying variety of  things with your lives. You could be doctors, lawyers, writers, artists, run your own business, or any of dozens of other things. Whatever honorable path you chose, you will have my blessing and support. You will always have my love. That said, take a look around. Look at the adults around you. Who is happy? Who is fulfilled? Whose life would you like to pattern yours on? 

Among our family friends and acquaintances you see old married couple (like your mom and dad), single people, widows and widowers, divorced people, happy people, angry people, the hyper focused, the completely lost. I offer you this: the happiest people I know are people who have found and followed their vocation with their whole heart. While this includes a number of happy and holy priests and sisters, by far the largest group is happily married, completely faithful couples. 

So, my beloved daughters, you should listen and pray for the guidance of God. Perhaps you are among the few chosen for a professed religious life. Perhaps God intends for you to serve him as single women. But, more likely than not, you will find whatever happiness that is your lot in this life by being married. Therefore, as your father, I pray every day that you find your vocation. And pray that if that vocation is marriage, that God give you a good, Catholic man who loves you completely. 

And by the way – children are wonderful! 

And, in fragments over time, I think this is the message I’ve delivered. But by far most important, I hope my daughters see that my happiness in this world springs from my love of my wife their mother, and from them, my beloved children. And I hope they see that their mother takes joy in them and in our marriage.

* Long aside: I’ve hated since I first heard it the sometimes stated by always implied idea that men have had it so much better than women through history. What history would that be? Until modern times, for almost everyone in every civilization that’s ever existed, life options have been very tightly constrained – for men and women. It’s sheer fantasy to imagine that the man who works himself to death farming or dies of his wounds in a war he had no choice about fighting is somehow so much more free and has such better options that the wife and daughters he leaves behind.  Only once the Middle Ages  came around were there any real choices for any but the wealthiest few – peasants could and did become priests and nuns, clerks in the courts, and leaders in the villages. Unmarried women such as Hildegard of Bingen and Catherine of Sienna wielded far more authority than the typical medieval man, who spent the bulk of his anonymous life slogging through the mud to raise enough food to survive. In general, men and women have always shared the same fate – they lived and died as a team, at the same level of poverty or affluence.

We perhaps get the impression from the 1% of people who lived at court, about whom much of history is written, that life was full of political intrigue and social climbing, and that women either conspired along with the men or ended up mere prizes and chattel. But even if that impression is true, life at court was not available to a huge majority of people.

An evolutionary biologist (Dawkins, maybe?) once wrote about the mistake contained in naming one bee the Queen. For while it might be explained that she sits in the heart of the hive having her every need met by workers willing to die to defend her, it also true that she is the kept slave of workers, who fly free and see the world while she is trapped inside a dark cell for all but a few brief hours in her youth. Both these views are wrong – the workers are no more exploiting the queen that she is exploiting them. And none of us should want to be a bee of any kind.

The Appeal of Childlessness

From Tacitus:

It was next proposed to relax the Papia Poppaea law, which Augustus in his old age had passed subsequently to the Julian statutes, for yet further enforcing the penalties on celibacy and for enriching the exchequer. And yet, marriages and the rearing of children did not become more frequent, so powerful were the attractions of a childless state.

What was going on: around the time of the Empire, it had become apparent in Rome that Roman citizens were not having the large families that had characterized the earlier Republic. For example, when Hannibal fought and won the Battle of Cannae in 216 BC, he killed about 70,000 Roman soldiers, wiping out an entire army. Yet Rome was promptly able to raise a new army of citizens of similar size to continue the war – something possible only if you have plenty of young men handy. This contrasts with the situation under the Empire, where getting an army together increasingly meant recruiting from among the barbarian allies.

So, starting in 18 BC and continuing through the above Papia Poppaea law of 9 AD, the Empire tried to encourage families by heavily penalizing people who remained celibate.

It didn’t work, “so powerful were the attractions of a childless state”.

A couple things have long struck me as obvious that evidently are not, at least to most people. First, that, in the modern world,  population growth has long been curtailed by the powerful attractions of the childless state, not through the ‘selfless’ work of population control organizations. The mythology under which people – usually meaning ‘people other than my friends and neighbors’ – were ignorantly breeding up children by the dozens everywhere one turned and needed outside help such as provided by Zero Population Growth in order to control the otherwise uncontrollable results of their urges seemed nonsensical on the face of it when one looked around at the friends and neighbors people generally had.

By 1960 – before the Pill – it was already true in America that one was much more likely to live among zero, one, or two child households than among families with 3+ kids.  In the Southern California neighborhood of my childhood – the 1960’s, a suburban, child-friendly place with lovely parks – there was our big Catholic family of 9, one other big Catholic family of 8 and one other family with 3. Every other household had zero, 1 or 2 children.  The total number of children in the 3 block-area I considered home turf had far fewer than replacement children.

So, if I were to conclude that the human population was growing out of control, I’d have to base that conclusion on people I didn’t see. This becomes an important feature in population talks – it’s always about people we don’t see, not about my friends and my self.

Next, as illustrated by the lines from Tacitus above, the Romans were grimly delightful in the simple clarity of their thinking, uncluttered as it was by uniquely Christian moral baggage. They did not ask: ‘is it morally OK to invade some country, slaughter as many people as needed, take what we want, subject them to Roman rule, install a military presence whose day-to-day  survival is based on extortion and theft?’ Nope – Gaul, or Germany, or Macedonia or Egypt was there, they had stuff we wanted, so – we take ’em. Tacitus cuts to the chase: Romans are not refraining from raising children because of some higher concern, but because it’s less trouble and more fun in 1st century A.D. Rome not to have them.

We, on the other hand, need Reasons. I suspect this springs from our being a nation founded on a creed, as Chesterton pointed out. Everything we do has to be referred back to some ideal or principle, even and especially when the real reasons are staring us in the face. Manifest Destiny? The Indians had land, we wanted it, we had the army; Inferiority of Blacks? There’s a lot of money in slavery; The threat of Overpopulation? The attractions of a childless state are indeed powerful.

It would seem, based on the records of population growth, that concern for overpopulation is an effect, not a cause, of falling fertility rates. Because people are a relatively long-lived species, it takes generations for the effects of decreased numbers of offspring to show up in population totals – eighty years or so after people in a population  start having below replacement rate numbers of offspring, you’d expect the total population to start falling. Until then, the population total keeps rising as long as the number of kids is more than the number of ‘premature’ deaths.

By 1960 at the latest, it would have been clear that the population of Americans – and Europeans, Russians, Japanese – were starting to peak, net of immigration. For example, say the population average birthrate per woman was 3. But that average of three could be made up of 40 year olds with an average of 4 children, and 20 year olds with an average of 2 children. And those 20 year olds may not have any more, and their children may also only average 2 offspring. In this situation, the population will continue to grow for at least another 40 years, as the children of the 40 year olds and 20 year olds reach child-bearing age – and add their 2 children on average. But the big picture is that the population will fall – that, eventually, there will be more than 2 people dying (old age + premature deaths) for every 2 people added.

So, in the 1960s, an analysis of the trends (this is all trends, after all – it’s possible, if unlikely, that the Duggars will inspire millions to have as many children as possible) would match my analysis of the families in my neighborhood – that, on the whole, there were not enough kids to even replace the people already in the neighborhood, let alone cause an explosion.

But all I recall from the time is the constant bleatings of that anti-Cassandra, Ehrlich, and his minions. As the 7th of 9 kids, this was rather painful – it seemed that the world thought I shouldn’t be here (yea, I was a weird kid who paid attention to such things).

And now, I wonder: the days of population growth are numbered. Every single time over the years that I have compared actual population to projections – you know, like how we were supposed to have 100 billion people by now, unless war, famine and plague took us out – the actual results were at or below (usually below) the low-end estimates. Almost didn’t matter who was doing the projecting. So, now, we have the UN projecting a peak of somewhere between 7.4 and 10.5 billion, to be reached in the 50-60 years, then a gradual decline – maybe. The UN, by international charter, I suppose, is incapable of issuing population numbers without a note of panic*. Current forecasts often go to some lengths to make sure we know that people could change their minds, that people could start (implied: recklessly) having more than 2.1 children again, and we could return to growth – contrary to all experience over the last 70 years, and to Tacitus, and to other historical evidence.

We seem to feel a great need for an overriding moral concern to justify our submission to the attractive power of the childless and near childless state.

* Exceptions are some of the stuff that came out in 2002 – reading this, you might think population growth wasn’t a real problem at all. And that simply won’t do. The UN reverted to form in 2010 and after. And the usual suspects take that and run with it.

Babies and Money, Cause and Effect

Following up on this appalling yet predictable essay, which asserts that children are just status symbols meant to show off one’s wealth. This theory is supported with carefully selected data and anecdotes that would make sense only to people who have no normal people among their friends and acquaintances. Evidently, these people are over represented in places like NYC and DC, if you can imagine.* Smaug

As in all good lies, there’s a shred of truth. In this case, the truth – anecdotal, to be sure, but not contradicted in my experience – is that babies create wealth in the families blessed with them. It works like this: You, a normal guy, gets married, and, in the normal course of things, father children. Protect and provide instincts kick in, and you, with, say, to pick a COMPLETELY RANDOM example, a degree in Great Books and lots of classes in art and music, find yourself saying: OH MY GOD! These people, whom I love and are responsible for, are COUNTING ON ME!

Then, while you may have taken – again just picking examples out of thin air – a dumb job at an insurance company because directing church choirs wasn’t going to pay the rent, start a scramble that will continue unabated for the next 50 years: you start looking for every opportunity to get a better, more secure, better paying job.

Note that you do this even though you were pretty much cool with living hand to mouth and being very involved in art and music – that Bohemian vibe worked for you . So, maybe you get a MBA, take any promotion that comes up, burn the midnight oil to make sure your employer understands they can’t live without you – basically, you climb the economic ladder.

And, as a result of all this – not greed, but a sense of responsibility – you end up doing pretty well. I’m – we’re – doing pretty well. It took time. We already had a couple three kids before my income was above the household average for our area, and it wasn’t much above until the last 5 or 6 years. And none of this would have happened if we hadn’t had children.

Note that this phenomenon – fathers acting more responsibly – isn’t just or primarily about climbing to the top rungs of the economic ladder. If a man who would have otherwise been unemployed takes odd jobs just so he can give something to his wife and kids, that’s a huge step both socially and economically. Any father that focuses on long range thinking at all, that embraces his duty to his kids, is adding to society, raising the level of culture and, in a word, making the world a  better place.

At least for us normal guys, children are most often the cause, not the effect of wealth.

*Are there places like DC and NYC? In the sense used here, maybe SF? That’s about it. There are normal people in Chicago, Dallas and Atlanta, maybe even in Baltimore. Boston?

1. Of course, once we’ve taken care of our duty to or families, once we *do* have money, guys, being human, like to be recognized for our success. This is a difficult path to trod without looking like a fool or a greedy SOB – but even this is more likely to be an effect rather than a cause of children.

Anyone Who Hates Dogs and Babies Can’t Be All Bad

This old joke, paraphrasing a quip by a Leo Rosten about W.C. Fields,* seems to need to be explained to some people these  days, and I, as an experienced if amateur joke writer, am just the man to do it.

A joke is a sudden and startling contradiction or reversal of our expectations. The above quip about W. C. Fields has entered the pantheon of jokes by virtue of its exemplary execution of this reversal. But the point to be noted is that it *is* a reversal of expectations. So – pay attention, ye possessor of a modern mind – the joke only works because normal people are known to *love*  dogs and babies (especially babies – listing dogs *and* babies together is humorous in itself, and kicks the joke up a notch).

In the 1930s and 40s, an iconic American comedian could build an entire career on playing off the startling humor in his hatred of dogs and babies  – and love of liqueur. But it was not lost on his audience that a man who hated dogs and babies would be just the sort of miserable wretch to require constant drowning of his sorrows. Great, lasting humor requires tragedy (just ask a Jew or an Irishman) – W. C. Fields, who found no love for dogs and babies, was ultimately tragic.

So, going back to Miss Friedman’s rather amazing essay, it seems she’s missing a basic point: normal people love babies. I love babies. My wife and family love babies. Our friends and acquaintances love babies.  It’s practically definitional: All normal people love babies. If you don’t love babies, there’s something wrong.

One of the gaping holes in modern life is the shortage of babies. At our school, for a number of years, a few babies – little brothers and sisters of the students – have spent a good deal of time.  What happens when you introduce a baby into a social group of 40 kids age 5 to 19? They pretty much drop everything and wait in line to hold, talk to, play with the baby. They kids coo and laugh and make fools of themselves to try to get a reaction out of the properly called ‘little bundle of joy’. This can go on for hours. Surly teenagers turn shy and quiet, and wait their turn. Manic 5 year olds pull out all the stops to get a smile. Everybody in the building is delighted by any firsts – ‘look! She grabbed the toy!’ – and baby achievements are trumpeted proudly, even when it’s somebody else’s baby.

Hold the baby, feed the baby – lines form. And kids even want to get involved in diaper changing. Babies trigger a startling increase in civilized behavior. Kids get quieter if the baby is getting agitated, show concern if the baby is upset, and apply peer pressure to those who do anything that makes it hard on the baby.  In olden days, we’d believe this is evidence the kids were growing up.

Babies are the key, I believe, to the civilizing benefits of age-mixing, which was a social fact for every culture prior to our own. Now days, babies are not often introduced into an world full of other children, teenagers, adults, parents, grandparents – and our kids development gets arrested, and we are all poorer for it. Instead of a dozen sets of hands ready to hold the baby, parents are left to their own devises (even when, as is increasingly rare, there are an involved mother and father present).

Did we have 5 children because we are rich? We are rich because we have 5 children.

*Exact quotation: “The only thing I can say about W. C. Fields is this: Any man who hates dogs and babies can’t be all bad.”