RSSCategory: American Culture

Cost of raising a child

June 14, 2012 | By | Reply More
Cost of raising a child

How much does it cost to raise a child? According to the Associated Press:

For $235,000, you could indulge in a shiny new Ferrari — or raise a child for 17 years. A government report released Thursday found that a middle-income family with a child born last year will spend about that much in child-related expenses from birth through age 17. That’s a 3.5 percent increase from 2010.

This immense amount of money required to raise a child has serious ramifications.

At this time, though, I would merely like to note that there are (assuming a child sleeps 8 hours a day) a child is awake almost 100,000 hours over 17 years (17 years x 365 days x 16 hours waking time per day). That means that it costs parents about $2.35 for each of their children’s waking hours.

But parents don’t necessarily get to enjoy the company of their children during every one of their child’s waking hours. I’m going to make a great leap and guess that parents only spend about 4 hours per day in the company of each of their children each day over a period of 17 years. Therefore, parents spend about 24,820 hours in the company of their children over 17 years. Therefore, it costs parents ($235,000/24,820) $9.47 for each hour that they actually get to spend with each of their children during the first 17 years.

Quite often, this can be a great bargain, at least in my experience.

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Facts, figures and hypocrisy regarding marijuana

May 27, 2012 | By | 1 Reply More
Facts, figures and hypocrisy regarding marijuana

I’ve never used marijuana. I’m not promoting the use of marijuana, or alcohol intoxication, or the use of prescription drugs to get high. On the other hand, I know that many people do these things. In my opinion, it is not for me to tell other folks how to run their lives, as long as A) they are not minors and B) these activities don’t seriously interfere with their duties to their family or work. How is it that getting high on alcohol or prescription drugs (or runner’s high and other natural ways to get high) are OK, yet smoking a joint will cause you to end up in jail and give you a noteworthy criminal record? Yes, if you are arrested on your own property for the crime of trying to escape stress or pain, you can be marched through the same criminal justice system as those who steal cars, those who rape, and those who commit arson.

With that in mind consider the following statistics regarding marijuana usage from Huffpo:

While Obama’s term began with great promise for drug policy reformers, in the past two years it has been difficult to distin­guish Obama’s drug policies from those of his White House predecessors. Although President Obama has acknowledged that legalization is “an entirely legitimate topic for debate” — the first time a sitting president has made such a statement — his administra­tion has made a string of increasingly disappointing moves over the last year. Half of all U.S. drug arrests are for marijuana — more than 850,000 Americans were arrested for marijuana in 2010 alone, 88 percent for mere possession.

Please note carefully that 850,000 is more people than the entire state of South Dakota. America has massively dysfunctional priorities, and it’s time to think of a better way to handle urges people to get high. I would propose that we handle marijuana like we handle alcohol. Regulate it and tax it. When people whine that others are getting high illegally, I’m inclined to tell them to shut the hell up, because they are probably getting high on something (most likely alcohol or prescription drugs). And perhaps they are getting high on their feelings of moral superiority and the the excitement they get when they support laws that invade the private lives of their neighbors.

The above Huffpo article makes the legitimate point that Barack Obama would not be President if the harsh marijuana crackdown he is supporting had been applied to the young Barry Obama smoking a joint. How many otherwise law-abiding people are thrown into the criminal justice system because of the sin of wanting to feel some pleasure or some escape from the stress of the crazy world, or some relief from serious chronic pain?

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George Lucas moves to Plan B

May 21, 2012 | By | Reply More
George Lucas moves to Plan B

I’d bet that a lot of those obstructionists in Marin County are wishing they could rewind the clock.

But after spending years and millions of dollars, Mr. Lucas abruptly canceled plans recently for the third, and most likely last, major [studio] expansion, citing community opposition. An emotional statement posted online said Lucasfilm would build instead in a place “that sees us as a creative asset, not as an evil empire.”

If the announcement took Marin by surprise, it was nothing compared with what came next. Mr. Lucas said he would sell the land to a developer to bring “low income housing” here.

I’d bet about 10% of people go utterly ballistic about their property. I’ve seen it in my own neighborhood, where a contingent of people stepped forward about 15 years ago to prevent a low-key art fair on my street. You couldn’t believe all of the hyperbole and all the venom. The opponents were worried that people would be walking on the sidewalks in front of their houses during the fair, if you can believe that one. Well, the fair went on, and it continues to this day on an annual basis. I’ve thought a lot about the “sacred” since reading Jonathan Haidt’s thoughts on it (I’ll post on it soon). The basic idea is that once some declares something (e.g., their home) to be sacred, there is no negotiation allowed, and anyone who tries to cross them is evil. The bottom line is that otherwise reasonable people become crazy.

George Lucas apparently had enough of it and decided to let some ordinary folks move into Marin. Talk about inhumane punishment: forcing rich folks to live nearby modest-income Americans . . .

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Zach Wahls honors his two moms.

May 3, 2012 | By | Reply More
Zach Wahls honors his two moms.

Today, an attorney with whom I work told me I absolutely needed to drop what I was doing in order to listen to a 19-year old man giving a statement to the Iowa legislature. Under consideration was a constitutional amendment that would reverse the landmark case of Varnum v Brien. I looked up Zach Wahls on Youtube and watched his incredible speech.

My friend then told me that Zach also happened to be in town, at Left Bank Books, 5 blocks away from my law office. I walked over, arriving in time to hear Zach ending his prepared remarks, and opening the floor to questions. One of the main points he made is that people react badly to households of two gay parents because they have a “fear of the unknown.”

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“Saying Gay” is not about SEX

April 28, 2012 | By | 1 Reply More
“Saying Gay” is not about SEX

I’ve been thinking about the Missouri “Don’t Say Gay” legislation (HB2051) since it hit public awareness. I’ve lived in Missouri most of my life, I am used to seeing legislative discussions that make my head hurt, but this one hit me harder than most.

I realize that this bill, like much legislation around the country, is a fearful reaction to the many advances that gay folk are making. It is more accepted to be gay now than 20 years ago. Gay people are often portrayed on TV shows, in books and movies and the storyline is no longer about being gay. The dramatic value of homosexuality has dipped in popularity. Being gay is less taboo, and for some people that is the last straw. This legislation feels like a last ditch effort from the folks petrified and disgusted by homosexuals to protect themselves through the guise of protecting the children. But from what?

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Life by the numbers

April 15, 2012 | By | 3 Replies More
Life by the numbers

In years past, I used to rest assured that I was in good shape, physically, economically and socially. That was before computers gave me the ability to know exactly how I’m doing.

It used to be easier to pretend that one was in good health. Nowadays, hundreds of websites let you know about all of the diseases that threaten you, complete with many symptoms that undoubtedly match some of your symptoms. Of course there have always been books and magazines with medical information, but never before could you so easily pinpoint so many symptoms with a free Google search or a quick visit to the symptom-checker at Wrongdiagnosis.com.

Economically, we used to put our money into some sort of mutual fund or other investment, and we considered that we were “married” to the account. Computers now give us the ability to track our financial health second by second. Computer-programmed trading also creates crazy jumps and plunges in the market. Ignorance was bliss, and many advisers argue that you should go back to finding a reasonable place to put your money, then ignoring it for long periods of time.

Then there is one’s social health. It used to be that I could assume that I had an indefinite (large) number of people with whom I had a friendship. That was before Outlook came along to tell me exactly who I did (and did not) know well enough to have a phone number or an email address. In Outlook, you’ll get the exact number. Ooops. My social circle is not nearly as big as I’d like to believe.

Perhaps you are thinking that Outlook is not the right place to look, and that one ought to look, instead, to Facebook. Thanks to the precision statistics offered by Facebook, we can see that the typical Facebook user has 190 friends. That’s it? But what if I get in a bind or I get sick, and I need the help of a “friend.” It seems like you could run through 190 “friends” all too quickly. It ultimately presents the same problem as Outlook. It gives you a finite number, and many of them are not really good friends, anyway, as much as I enjoy sharing information with them.

A new article in The Atlantic, “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely,” by Stephen Marche, should make us even more suspicious of the Facebook phenomenon (the article is in the May 2012 edition, not yet online). We learn (p. 66) that neurotics and lonely individuals spend greater amounts of time on Facebook per day than non-lonely people. He also writes that Facebook has become a place to pretend that one’s life is better than it is, and that “believing that others have strong social networks can lead to feelings of depression.” He also cites to research showing that “surrogates can never make up completely for the absence of the real thing . . . actual people in the flesh.” He concludes that the idea that a website “could deliver a more friendly, inter-connected world is bogus.” Further research shows that “the greater the proportion of face-to-face interactions, the less lonely you are . . . [and] The greater the proportion of online interactions, the lonelier you are.” He adds that Facebook is not always a bad thing. Like many things, it is a tool that can be used or misused. “It’s like a car. you can drive it to pick up your friends. Or you can drive alone.”

Then again, Facebook puts us into the business of competing with our “friends.” “Facebook imprisons us in the business of self-presenting, and this, [according to author Jaron Lanier], is the site’s crucial and fatally unacceptable downside.” Facebook gratifies “the narcissistic individual’s need to engage in self-promoting behavior.”

So think about this next time you smugly react to your “friend” count. Marche’s article is far more nuanced than the above summary, and he would admit that there are many ways to use Facebook. I, for instance, use it to share article, including many articles from this website. I can’t help but notice, though, that many people post on Facebook 8 times per day, and they would seem to fall into his description of those having a “narcissistic personality disorder.” When you add up your Facebook “friends,” then, to see how rich you are with “friends,” you might want to set those narcissistic friends aside before counting.

So this is life by the numbers, at least if you include this final number, which I take as a challenge, rather than a depressing fact (or use this alternate method of calculating your approximate number of remaining days). In sum, it appears that you will be happier (or at least you will think you are happier) if you get away from the computer and, instead, spend time with a good friend, face-to-face, talking about something other than your health, your investments, and you cyber social circle.

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Motherhood and Politics

April 13, 2012 | By | 1 Reply More
Motherhood and Politics

I don’t have a lot to say about this kerfluffle over the remarks of someone who, as it turns out, is not actually working for Obama regarding Ann Romney never having worked a day in her life.  This kind of hyperbole ought to be treated as it deserves—ignored.

But we live in an age when the least thing can become a huge political Thing, so ignoring idiocy is not an option.

I remember back in the 1990s a brief flap over Robert Reich.  I’m not certain but I believe it was Rush Limbaugh who started it by lampooning the Clinton Administration’s Secretary of Labor for “never having had a real job in his life.”  Meaning that he had gone from graduation into politics with no intervening time served as, at a guess, a fast-food cook or carwasher or checker at a WalMart.  Whatever might qualify as “real” or as a “job” in this formulation.  In any event, it was an absurd criticism that overlooked what had been a long career in law and as a teacher before Clinton appointed him.  It’s intent was to discredit him, of course, which was the intent of the comments aimed at Mrs. Romney by asserting that she has no idea what a working mother has to go through.

A different formulation of the charge might carry more weight, but would garner less attention.   It is true being a mother has little to do with what we regard as “gainful employment” in this country: employees have laws which would prevent the kinds of hours worked (all of them, on call, every day including weekends and holidays) for the level of wages paid (none to speak of) mothers endure.

Hilary Rosen raised a storm over remarks aimed at making Mrs. Romney appear out of touch with working mothers.  A more pointed criticism might be that Mrs. Romney does not have any experience like that of many women who must enter employment in order to support themselves and their families, that a woman who can afford nannies (whether she actually made use of any is beside the point—the fact is she had that option, which most women do not) can’t know what working mothers must go through.

But that’s a nuanced critique and we aren’t used to that, apparently.  Soundbite, twitter tweets, that’s what people are used to, encapsulate your charge in a 144 characters or less, if we have to think about it more than thirty seconds, boredom takes over and the audience is lost.

Unfortunately, the chief victims then are truth and reality.

So the president gets dragged into it for damage control and the issue becomes a campaign issue.

Which might not be such a bad thing.  We could stand to have a renewed conversation about all this, what with so many related issues being on the table, given the last year of legislation aimed at “modifying” women’s services and rights.  Whether they intended it this way or not, the GOP has become saddled with the appearance of waging culture wars against women, the most recent act being Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin’s repeal of that state’s equal pay law.  Romney is the presumptive nominee for head of that party and one of the things he’s going to have to do if figure out where he stands on these matters and then try to convince the country that he and his party are not anti-woman.

Yes, that’s hyperbolic, but not by much.  This is where the culture wars have brought us—one part of society trying to tell the other part what it ought to be doing and apparently prepared to enact legislation to force the issue.  Ms. Rosen’s remarks, ill-aimed as they were, point up a major policy problem facing the GOP and the country as a whole, which is the matter of inequality.

That’s become a catch-all phrase these days, but that doesn’t mean it lacks importance.  The fact is that money and position pertain directly to questions of relevance in matters of representation.  Ann Romney becomes in this a symbol, which is an unfortunate but inevitable by-product of our politics, and it is legitimate to ask if she can speak to women’s concerns among those well below her level of available resource and degree of life experience.

The problem with all politics, left, right, or center, is that in general it’s all too general.  Which is why Ms. Rosen’s remarks, no matter how well-intentioned or even statistically based on economic disparities, fail to hit the mark.  She can’t know Ann Romney’s life experience and how it has equipped her to empathize with other women.  Just as Ann Romney, viewing life through the lens of party politics, may be unable to empathize with women the GOP has been trying very hard to pretend are irrelevant.

Like with Robert Reich’s critics, it all comes down to what you mean by “real” and “work.”  And that’s both personal and relative. Isn’t it?

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Breath of fresh air

March 26, 2012 | By | Reply More

Our family vacuum cleaner had seen better days. Like most things that break these days, it wasn’t that old; my wife and I bought it less than five years ago. Thus, the frustration and an opportunity. We were aware that there was a vacuum repair store less than a mile from our house, and we decided to see whether we could save our vacuum.

Upon entering, we spoke to “Dan,” who has been running his vacuum repair shop for fifty years. He is a affable fellow with a small shop filled with more than 50 used vacuum cleaners. After a quick test of our machine, Dan announced that $40 would get our old vacuum working again. That would have been much less than $200, the price we would pay for a new vacuum cleaner. But for $100 and our vacuum as a trade-in, we could upgrade to a significantly better “commercial vacuum” that someone else had traded-in and which Dan had already repaired. My wife and I decided to upgrade, and we are now happy with our powerful “new” vacuum (not so powerful that it sucks up pets and children, but quite powerful).

It occurred to me that this is an unusual way of doing business in modern America. As Annie Leonard explains so well in “The Story of Stuff,” most things that are manufactured these days are designed for a single use (including immense amounts of packaging). My family makes regular use of other kinds of re-sell-it shops, including Goodwill, Salvation Army and private garage sales. But how nice, to also be able to make use of a store for fixes things in order to keep them out of the landfill, especially when these things are expensive household appliances. Perhaps a vacuum cleaner is about as cheap as appliance can be while it is still expensive enough to make it worthwhile to offer a repair shop. At least, I don’t remember seeing any smaller appliance repair shops; a look on the Internet tells me that such shops do exist, however.

Dan had more than a few noticeably old (repaired) vacuums for sale, a sight that made me think of the phrase “planned obsolescence.” I do think society would be better off with fewer big box purchases and more repair shops. And since Dan was such a competent and friendly fellow, I’ll mention that he is an avid bowler who recently bowled his second 300 game.

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The Other Sides

March 23, 2012 | By | Reply More
The Other Sides

Let’s imagine the conflict known as the Civil War. It had been brewing since before the Constitution was ratified. The issues were marrow deep in American society, so much so that any attempt to address the issue of slavery was, in effect, a deal breaker for the new nation. The South made it abundantly clear that any action on the part of the North to write into the new guiding document the idea that black slaves were somehow deserving of the liberty being claimed for their white owners—and thereby signaling the end of slavery among the Thirteen Colonies—would be met with absolute refusal to play. Had the reformers, exemplified by the likes of Benjamin Franklin, tried to assert any kind of racial equality at the time, the United States would have been stillborn.

Instead, they put a time limit into the document—20 years—which forbade the topic from even being discussed in Congress until that later year, at which time, presumably, the issue would come to the floor for some kind of resolution. History shows that every such attempt was met with denunciations by southern members of Congress and often with threats of secession—which by then were illegal.

Make no mistake, as some revisionists might have you believe, secession was not an option and everyone who voted to ratify the Constitution knew it. Contrary to popular mythology, the original 13 states locked themselves together permanently.

[More . . . ]

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