Friday, April 29, 2011

Nora's baptism picture [Bryan]

Nora was baptized on April 9th. We all had a wonderful day celebrating Nora and her decision to be baptized. She really is an amazing little person. She is kind and mellow, eager to show love and affection. She has a keen sense of fairness and does not like to leave anyone out. She will often say something like, "You're the best, Mom" and then, when she notices I'm listening too, beams and says, "And you're the best too, Dad." In other words, she goes beyond the call of duty to make sure my feelings aren't hurt and that I'm included in her compliment. Nora is also becoming a somewhat accomplished artist, particularly at portraiture. Her soccer skills are developing nicely. She is great at math and she spells better than I do. We love her so much and are amazed at how well she is turning out, considering she has novice and incompetent parents.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Helping kids ride bicycles [Bryan]

Andrew has been learning to ride a bicycle this week. After going through this process twice now, there are a few things I would recommend.

1. Use a very small bicycle, one that lets the child easily touch the ground. This makes it a much less scary process and gives the child more confidence.

2. Tell the child to wiggle the handlebars around, rather than hold them straight. Sometimes I think kids believe that they have to hold the handlebars perfectly straight, which is not how you balance yourself.

3. Start them off going down a small hill. That way, they can focus on balancing at first rather than pumping the pedals.

4. We tried riding on the grass, but this just made it difficult to balance, steer, and pedal. Just start on the sidewalk or road, that's what I say.

Anyway, I hope this helps somebody, somewhere.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Austerity, shmusterity [Bryan]

There have been many calls lately to immediately cut government spending. Wouldn't our economy do better if the government wasn't spending so much money? Actually, no. There are five countries who have implemented severe "austerity measures" in response to the economic crisis: Portugal, Spain, Ireland, Greece, and Britain. We now have yet more data showing what happens when you cut spending during times of economic fragility: the economy contracts, people are laid off, they stop buying, then more people are laid off, then everyone defaults on their loans, tax revenues plummet, interest rates soar, and the deficit ends up increasing! Long term spending on our aging population is the real problem, not big deficits now during a period of high unemployment.

Business Insider yesterday: "So now we know: Not only does austerity not help the economy, it doesn't even help governments get out of debt, as Greece's and Spain's latest horrific numbers confirm. The governments have been cutting spending, and deficits have gotten worse. So, what's the point of austerity again?"

Wall Street Journal yesterday: "Greece's budget deficit in 2010 was 10.5% of gross domestic product, significantly larger than the Greek government and European Union's forecasts, EU statistics agency Eurostat said Tuesday. Lower-than-expected government revenue was the main culprit behind the larger deficit number."

New York Times a few weeks ago: "In the United States, the debate over how to cut the long-term budget deficit is just getting under way. But in one year into its own controversial austerity program to plug a gaping fiscal hole, the future is now. And for the moment, the early returns are less than promising. Retail sales plunged 3.5 percent in March, the sharpest monthly downturn in Britain in 15 years."

Looks like Keynes was right.

Seems about right [Bryan]

Who is President Obama? Ezra Klein has the answer:
Perhaps this is just the logical endpoint of two years spent arguing over what Barack Obama is — or isn’t. Muslim. Socialist. Marxist. Anti-colonialist. Racial healer. We’ve obsessed over every answer except the right one: President Obama, if you look closely at his positions, is a moderate Republican from the early 1990s. And the Republican Party he’s facing has abandoned many of its best ideas in its effort to oppose him.

If you put aside the emergency measures required by the financial crisis, three major policy ideas have dominated American politics in recent years: a health-care plan that uses an individual mandate and tax subsidies to achieve near-universal coverage; a cap-and-trade plan that attempts to raise the prices of environmental pollutants to better account for their costs; and bringing tax rates up from their Bush-era lows as part of a bid to reduce the deficit. In each case, the position that Obama and the Democrats have staked out is the very position that moderate Republicans staked out in the early ’90s — and often, well into the 2000s.

This seems right to me, and you could point to many other examples, like immigration policy, foreign policy, and educational policy, where Obama leans right of center. This is why the spasm of hatred and vehemence that Obama has brought out on the right has always baffled me. It underscores the point that your politics has little to do with your policy preferences. It is more like a football game, more to do, that is, with whether "your side" is winning or losing.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Creepy Easter Bunny [Bryan]

Via the Daily Dish.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Pictures from London/Oxford [Bryan]

Below are some pictures of our England trip. We had a wonderful time. My highlights:
  • Staying at New College, Oxford, and presenting a paper in that evocative intellectual environment (New College, ironically, was founded way back in 1379).
  • Seeing all the old churches and cathedrals. Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's were awesome, obviously. The Henry VII chapel at Westminster was particularly beautiful. But even the little church at New College had a charming cloister and a painting of St. James by El Greco.
  • Experiencing "Speakers Corner" at Hyde Park. I always wanted to see this famous place. When we went on a Sunday evening, there were about 150 people, broken up into groups of 2 to 10, arguing fiercely with each other about every topic under the sun.
  • Falling in love with some new, old paintings at the National Gallery. Some new favorites include Raphael's "Portrait of Pope Juilius II," Bellini's "Doge Leonardo Loredan" and Holbein's "The Ambassadors." I also loved Jackson Pollock's "Naked Man with Knife" at the Tate Modern.
  • Taking an evening walk around "The City," which includes the financial district and some of the most famous streets in the world -- Cheapside, The Strand, and Fleet Street.
  • Contemplating the graffiti in the prison at the Tower of London.
  • Tasting the best roast beef I've ever tasted at Simpson's on the Strand. Even the boiled cabbage wasn't bad (although Ellie suggested the rest of the world should stage and intervention and gently suggest to the English that nobody really likes boiled cabbage).
  • Staring at Big Ben -- a monument that is more impressive in person than in pictures.

Tower bridge

Off to see the crown jewels, housed in this building at the Tower of London.

View from atop St. Paul's, looking down Ludgate Hill.

Millennial Bridge, from the Tate Modern, looking toward St. Paul's

Ellie dressed up for our night at Simpson's.

Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery

Westminster Abby

Some statuary "borrowed" from the Parthenon in Athens at the British Museum

London at night after our ride on The Eye of London.

Ellie is the world's best traveling companion!

Speaker's corner. The man on the right is on his "high horse," dressed in the blue robe and goat horns. Not sure what his message was.

The Gardens at Kensington Palace

The Renaissance statuary at the Victoria and Albert Museum

Buckingham Palace

The Radcliff Camera, at Oxford

The trees associated with Alice and Lewis Carroll at Christ's Church, Oxford.

The Bridge of Sighs, Oxford

The Cloister at New College, Oxford

New College, Oxford

The old city wall and gardens, New College, Oxford

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Unholy silence [Bryan]

Ellie and I recently returned from a trip we took by ourselves to England. We saw many great and important things, timeless monuments to human persistence, endurance, and creativity. We saw majestic cathedrals, ancient libraries, sculpted gardens, and brilliant artistic achievements. Nothing was as sweet, though, as returning to embrace an armful of children. To see their little smiles again, their eyes full of trust and delight, their snotty noses, to feel their little arms give me the tightest squeezes they could muster, to listen to their voices rise with excited questions and bubbling curiosity -- I don't know if could ever stand to be apart from them for too long.

And so it was that I read this remarkable essay, by theologian Christopher Pramuk, about losing children when they are young, particularly losing them through miscarriage. I recall that, when Ellie discovered she was pregnant with each of our three children, we often didn't tell people for several months. After all, what if "something happened" and Ellie miscarried? Thankfully, we were spared this ordeal. But it is sad, tragic really, how there is this culture of silence around miscarriage, and heartbreaking how couples are often forced to carry this burden alone.

The essay begins:

Several years ago my younger sister gave birth to a three-pound baby boy stricken with severe genetic anomalies. With sophisticated prenatal testing, she and her husband were about as well prepared for the birth as possible. Their single hope and prayer was that the infant, Jerry, might live long enough—a few seconds, a few minutes—to say hello, as it were, and say goodbye. They wanted to hold him and look into his eyes, however briefly, so that the child might feel and know their love for him. God willing, they would have long enough to introduce him to his two sisters, ages 2 and 4. God willing—the phrase still catches in my throat.

The day came, and we gathered in the delivery room to welcome the baby. With his limbs badly deformed, his breathing labored, Jerry gazed into my sister’s beaming face as she held him against her, crying and smiling. He was beautiful, and for more than eight hours he fought to stay alive. Everyone around the hospital bed held him in turn: parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and his two big sisters, beaming with delight. At last, lying on his mother’s breast, with his father’s hand resting gently on his head, Jerry gave his last labored breath and lay motionless. God, it seemed, had been willing, and a family’s humble prayer had been answered.

Four days later, we prayed at the graveside where Jerry’s body, in a tiny coffin, would be laid in the earth next to his older brother, Jack. Delivered at full-term nine years earlier, Jack was stillborn, the victim of an umbilical cord accident.

Jerry’s death awakened painful memories. My wife and I have suffered two miscarriages. For years I have struggled to reflect prayerfully on these and on my sister’s losses, experiences that have struck me to the core; largely, I have failed. What disarms me still is not just the pain of those losses but the revelation of how many others have been through this. After both our miscarriages it seemed that whenever we shared our news with a close friend or family member, a kind of hidden door opened behind their eyes and words would tumble forth, “I’m so, so sorry.” Long pause. “You know, we had a miscarriage two years ago. It was awful."

Another long pause, “No, we didn’t know.”

And the unspoken question arises, “Why didn’t you tell us?”

In Christian and Catholic circles, a strange kind of silence, an existential and theological loneliness, surrounds these more hidden deaths. Some silences are good, healthy and holy, pregnant with hope and expectation. Something new, something beautiful waits to be born here. The silence following our miscarriages, however, was nothing like this. It felt like loneliness, death, crucifixion. It seemed to mock my wife and me and our desire for life, our trust in its elemental goodness.