Monday, November 28, 2011

A truck I built [Andrew]

[Below is Andrew's (age 5) first blog post -- BW]

I made a Lego car and I also wanted you to see it. I would like you to see it on the computer. It has taillights that look realistic and also it looks like a real truck.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Nostalgia de la luz [Bryan]

I saw an amazing movie last weekend, Nostalgia for the Light, a film by Patricio Guzmán. It is a heartfelt documentary, more of a reflective essay, really, than an informational film. It deals with the seemingly different activities occurring in Chile's Atacama desert. On the one hand, you have astronomers taking advantage of the dry conditions to observe the ancient light coming from distant galaxies; on the other hand, you have mothers of the political prisoners who were killed during the reign of dictator Augusto Pinochet, looking for the thousands of bodies that were dumped in the same desert some 35 years ago. The film attempts to make the connection between these activities, namely, that they are both exploring the past in a way that situates our identities in the present.

Some of the stories the film tells are simply amazing: A woman describing the moment when she realized that a foot that had been unearthed was her brother's foot, and that he was never coming back. A young mother, my age, describing how the authorities had many years ago forced her grandparents to choose between revealing the location of her parents or losing her -- forced to choose, in effect, between the life of their child and the life of their granddaughter.

It was the images, though, the stunning visuals, that really struck me: The pictures of a simple Chilean house representing the sleepy Santiago world before the dark political turmoil of the 1970s. The fading pictures of some of the prisoners, before they were prisoners, full of hope and naive confidence that they could change the world, now dead. The footage of bodies, partially mummified by the dry desert conditions, being unearthed from their mass graves, with expressions of horror still frozen in their faces.

A sad, beautiful, haunting, and thoughtful film. Highly recommended.

Soccer stars [Bryan]

My experience having kids in youth soccer has been mixed. They've always been among the younger children on their teams, and play is usually dominated by one or two older boys, leaving our kids to be more like spectators than participants. Plus, I've found it is hard to instill in my kids a competitive thirst. Away from the playing field, we usually tell them to share, to play nice, to not push, etc. Expecting them to then be hyper-aggressive in sports seems almost unjustified, no matter how much I scream "ATTACK!" maniacally from the sidelines. Thus, until this season, neither Nora nor Andrew had even come close to taking a shot on goal, let alone actually scoring a goal. They have both played multiple seasons.

This year, though, was a qualified success. First, there is Andrew. Andrew loves to play goalie. He gets so excited when he sees the ball approach that he starts to jump up and down in the goalie box. Some of the other parents called him the "dancing goalie" for this very reason. Andrew, being somewhat timid on the field, had not really shown his skills all year, even in practice. The next-to-last game of the season, Andrew was goalie and picked up the ball around the goal. The coach told him to wait for a minute and then to carefully throw the ball to a teammate off to the side. Andrew, apparently not hearing his coach, instead decided, with a wonderful, even mischievous grin on his face, to open up a can of drop-kick-from-hell on the other team. He grabbed the ball, tossed it in the air, and kicked it as hard as he could. The ball took off, well past the midfield line, like a shrieking comet, soaring and flying, over the heads of teammates and opponents alike. The coach's mouth dropped open. Then, grinning, he said, "Well, that's okay, too."

Second is a Nora story. Nora is actually a very skilled player. She controls the ball well, and can kick with determination and strength -- that is, when she is mentally in the game. It is easy for her to defer to the bigger stronger boys on the team and, over the season, she seemed to become more and more timid. But then it happened. Nora was playing forward. She happened to find herself in the middle of the field. The ball was deflected in her direction and the other team's goalie was way out of position. Nora gave the ball a little kick, redirecting it toward the goal, knocking it gently into the net. GOOOAAAAALLLLLL! I was speechless and just stood up with my hands in the air. Nora looked back at me with a look that asked, "Did I just do that?" I was so happy for her. I made a big deal of it. She was somewhat embarrassed by my excited praise, afterwords saying that she didn't want to score anymore because she didn't like all the attention. Something changed, though, from then on out. Having tasted the thrill of scoring, of excelling, of sticking it to her opponent in a fierce battle of will, she would not be stopped. Her game really blossomed after that and she scored a goal in her next game, which was her last game, as well. This was after 3 years of not even taking a shot!

So, like I said, a qualified success. Perhaps even more than that.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

On the urge to occupy [Bryan]

I'm not a huge fan of the "protest-left," so I have mixed feelings about the Occupy Wall Street people. I think their energies could be much better employed actually engaging in partisan politics, like the Tea Partiers did when they took over the agenda of a major political party.

However, there is no denying that the OWS folks have brought attention to a real problem. You don't have to be a militant egalitarian to acknowledge that a country is sick when it has such vast and growing income disparities as we have now. The top 1% has done really, really well over the past 30 years, much better than other income groups. This has led to an enormous amount of political power given to a small group of people (almost an oligarchy).

Meanwhile, conservatives' unrelenting goal seems to be to preserve and extend lower tax rates for these favored few -- notwithstanding our big deficits, crumbling roads and bridges, and a decimated public service sector. Mitt Romney's economic plan, to name just one example, would include a $6.6 trillion tax cut that would primarily benefit wealthy individuals and corporations (source), thus making the all of these trends even worse. Personally, I don't have anything against people who have made a lot of money, at least when it is made through their hard work and initiative rather than through social privilege and bailouts. I wouldn't mind making more money myself. Asking people who have done very, very well over the past 30 years to pay a moderately higher tax rate seems both fair and pragmatic. You don't have to "hate the rich" to see this is good policy. Conservatives who are concerned with social stability should recognize this as much as anybody.

Anyway, below I've prepared a fun array of charts (fun for me anyway) to illustrate what is happening and why.

The above chart tells the story told in terms of the growth of average income. The income of the top 1% (the red bar) has grown much more than the average family income (the blue bar) since 1979.

Above is roughly the same information broken down by income group. The income of the the top 1% (the red line) has grown by an astonishing 281%, much more than other groups.

Here is story told in dollar amounts. Again, massive growth for a few, while everyone else is flat.

The story by income share. Key point: The growth in income of the top 1% has come at the expense of other groups. A rising tide is not lifting all boats.

Here is one reason why this has happened: Tax rates for the wealthiest have plummeted lately, even as they make much more money.

Meanwhile, many corporations still pay no taxes. It is true that America on paper taxes corporation at a fairly high rate compared to other countries (perhaps too high). However, the loopholes and subsidies allow many corporations to pay a tiny fraction of their assigned tax rate.
Another reason for the stagnation of the middle class has to do with the declining influence of unions. Again, you don't have to think unions are perfect (I sure don't) to recognize that they have played an important role in making sure that everyone benefits from economic growth.

Monday, November 07, 2011

October Pictures [Bryan]

Nora was a "batterina" this year.

Stephen, a dragon, practicing his roar.

Andrew, a race car driver

We went to the Corn Maize at Darby Creek to pick out our pumpkins and partake of the quaint autumn festivities.

Stephen, as ghoul.

Our Halloween party.

15 hyper kids. Good times.

Ah yes, and some good eating. I made up some roasted pumpkin salad with goat cheese, arugula and mint. Also, some pork loin with burnt brown sugar, thyme, and orange confit.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

You know nothing of my work [Bryan]

Someone posted my favorite scene from Woody Allen's masterpiece, Annie Hall, so I had to re-post it here. In this moment, a blowhard professor is pontificating about media theorist Marshall McLuhan and gets nailed as Allen pulls in McLuhan himself to set the record straight. Just so you know, I live in fear of just this: big shot mind scoldingly saying, "You know nothing of my work...How you ever got to teach a course in anything is totally amazing."