I have a bunch of bitter almonds, purchased well over a month ago when they were green; allowed to sit out and dry (in, per the vendor's instructions, a single layer), the somewhat thick fuzzy green layer has contracted around the shells which, in the meantime, has hardened. (Green almonds which have not yet been dried can be bitten straight through.)
Oddly, when the nuts are cracked, the kernels inside are almost all "twins", that is, rather than a single almond with two halves, there are two almonds embracing each other.
But also, the shells themselves, when cracked open and separated from the still-green exterior, smell almost exactly like apricots. Isn't that something? I think so.
Jessica Valenti on how long it took her to bond with her baby.
From Oudie, with the comment "Brave! She'll get savaged for it."
Valenti attributes it to her very difficult pregnancy and the premature birth, but I think it's fairly common for new parents not to bond very fast with their first born child for a couple months. (I remember holding Hawaiian Punch for the first time and thinking that this was an odd creature. No sense of belonging or rightness.)
Also I've heard several parents say that they bonded more immediately with the second, and that furthermore, that allowed them to retroactively go back and bond with the memory of their first child as a newborn. Like once the pathway is laid down, your kids sort of blur together. (This was my experience, too.)
Pretty much the only socially sanctioned way to say you didn't love your baby much at first is to attribute it to post-partem depression, though, and then you got cured and it was all better. So Valenti is definitely breaking some taboos and I bet she'll take some heat.
Yglesias links to a study purporting to show that NYC's prestigious exam-admission public high schools don't provide any academic benefit for the marginal student; for students right at the breakline between admission and not getting in, the ones who attend don't get any measurable benefit on standardized tests. And put in terms of standardized tests, this doesn't really surprise me -- I went to one of these schools, and the curriculum was nothing thrilling.
On the other hand, look at the Bronx High School of Science. Seven physics Nobel laureates, out of eighty-four for the US as a whole -- 8.33%. Assuming that Bronx Science and Stuyvesant (which has some of its own Nobelists, but no physicists) sorted out all of the physics talent in NYC (and conservatively assuming that there aren't any other physics Nobelists from NYC - I couldn't find a list in the thirty seconds I took to look for one), NYC has still produced more than its share of physics Nobelists than you'd expect as a share of the population. It seems weird to think that Bronx Science had nothing to do with that (oh, you'd want to do proper statistics to see how unlikely it is, look at broader markers of success in science, and so on. But it's at least suggestive). It could be a literally academic effect; it could be a reputational effect (kids from BS get more attention, better jobs, because everyone knows about BS, and it lets them excel); it could be a network effect (lots of scientists come out of BS because the school admits kids who were going to be scientists anyway, and then they tend to hire each other, which puts them in a position to excel).
My smaller public elite high school, for a more mundane example, in my graduating class of 200 produced the web editor of the New Yorker and one of their bloggers (I'm pretty sure there were a couple more people who worked at the New Yorker in there, but I can't remember names) -- not earthshatteringly important, but positions representing a certain amount of media power. I knew (and liked) them both in high school, although I'm totally out of touch now, but obviously one of them had an influence over hiring the other (or someone else with a Hunter connection hired them both). That's not an academic benefit, of course, but it's the sort of networking that's conventionally only available to people wealthy enough to have gone to school at the sort of expensive private school that Yglesias went to. Public exam high schools mostly don't serve students coming out of grinding poverty, but they certainly do serve students who couldn't possibly have afforded to go to elite private schools, and then give them the same networking benefits that would otherwise have only been available to the wealthy.
I don't actually know how I feel about that. I sort of hate the existence of that sort of networking, and that it's so important to who gets to run things. On the other hand, to the extent we can't get rid of it, isn't it better that access to it shouldn't be limited to people whose parents could pay astronomical sums for private schools?
Remember when everyone became weirdly possessive of the word "crooners" as though no one else had ever taken an era-specific noun and applied it to things from later on that reminded them of that original thing? But then also no one came up with a suitable substitute word for present-day-crooners? I really love Beirut.
From Nick S:
Reading a long speculative piece by Charlie Stross I came across the following:
We haven't yet managed to raise the upper limit on human life expectancy (it's currently around 120 years), but an increasing number of us are going to get close to it. And I think it's quite likely that within another century the mechanisms underlying cellular senescence will be understood and treatable ...
I had a strong and visceral reaction, "I don't want to live to be 120." In my mind if medical science could improve the chance that I could live to be 90 while being healthy, active, and independent for as long as possible I don't want more than that.
I don't have a reason that I can explain beyond saying that I don't really understand why somebody would want to live forever. I understand wanting to not die, and I understand wanting to say to death, "come again in the Spring" but I can't actually sympathize with the goal of, "live forever or die trying."
[Perhaps it's easy for me to say, I'm still youngish (mid-thirties), and don't have kids, so I don't spend much time thinking about possible futures that I won't live to see. I don't think that's a complete explanation for my belief. I lost my last grandparent a couple of years ago, a grandmother that I was very close to who died easily in her nineties, having been mostly in good health. Watching her get older I hoped that she would live as long as she could, and I appreciated the time we had together, but I never wished that she would live forever.]
I can see the appeal of increasing my healthy, active, and independent adulthood. Most of it is generational - watch my grandchildren raise their children, etc. But also I'm happy and greedy, so I want as much happy as possible.
But I don't identify with pursuing extended life on a very dedicated level. If it fell in my lap, it would be lovely. Although the part where you outlive everyone from the first half of your life seems really depressing.
Did you ever get in trouble growing up for having a bad attitude? I'm thinking 4-10 year olds, maybe. I never did. Jammies and his siblings did. One of my friends will enforce consequences if the kid is being too borderline to have explicitly broken any rules, but is definitely being a butthead. My parents probably should have tolerated a tad less bullshit from me. I wasn't terrible, but they never pushed back on this point.
I remember in second grade, the teacher told me "No backtalk" and I was utterly mystified. First of all, the grammar didn't make any sense to me. Second, clearly the teacher and I were both supposed to air our perspectives, and then we'd analyze what the nature of the conclusion should be. How could that happen if I wasn't allowed to participate?
This is tangential from the bad attitude stuff, above, though. I backtalked in good faith, from a problem-solving attitude.
We're all familiar with the construction, "I'm not racist, but..." which usually precedes a sentence that will demonstrate that the speaker is, in fact, kinda racist. Today, on Facebook, I was introduced to a new variant, "I'm pro-choice, but...," after the NYTimes Magazine piece about selective reduction of twins drove my liberal twin-parent friends crazy. I bet we'd have a more interesting conversation on Unfogged?
I haven't really been able to look at the internet during the time between when AWB walked off in my panties and now. Did anything happen on the blog while I was gone? Any new memes I should know about? Will someone make me a highlights reel? Or...cut to a montage?
I have done a lot of great thrift shopping which I miss an inordinate amount in Narnia. I got some AMAZING stuff. Sterling candlesticks for $3.83. Great transferware. Silver plate meat platter with helpful grooves for blood (or, as my grandmother would label it, "meat juice). So much more.
Unrelatedly, I watched Beetlejuice last night for the first time in a hundred years and I had totally forgotten that an earnest, be-spectacled Alec Baldwin and prairie-dressed and poodle-haired Geena Davis were the good ghosts. Also, I forgot how much I dressed exactly like Winona Ryder and was thus VERY annoyed when the movie came out since I had thought of it first. And yet it made me want to cut my bangs into little spikes next time I cut my hair. And in case you're interested....
I just mentioned this in the meta-post thread, but I'm somewhat in awe of the number of interesting questions raised in David Runciman's essay in the most recent London Review of Books.
It doesn't take any positions about the policy debates of the day, and it barely offers any conclusions about current political debates, but I found it remarkably compelling. At a vastly oversimplified level, it challenges anybody who wants to propose that we can improve the
results of electoral politics by engaging in some project other than electoral politics. But it approaches that issue by asking a number of questions about the relationship between government, electoral politics, local politics, and local culture.
Here is a very long set of excerpts (I've highlighted some passages to try to break it up visually and make it somewhat less like a giant block of text), that I pull to give a sense of the range of the piece.
This is the real passion that motivates Blue Labour: a sense that the country has been raped by the bankers, and all on the watch of a Labour government. They want someone, or something, to stand up to what the editors call in their introduction 'the destructive, itinerant power of capital', and they are acutely conscious that New Labour barely even put up a fight. That's because liberals never put up a fight: all they do is talk about individuals, with their rights and responsibilities, their choices and their freedoms, without noticing that individuals are like confetti in the face of the whirlwind power of money. The Blair government was beholden to the City of London because it lacked the intellectual resources to organise any resistance, being convinced that big state socialism was dead, globalisation inevitable, and the job of politics to ensure that consumers had access to the best deals out there. Consumerism for Glasman is simply what liberalism looks like when it's waving the white flag. What's needed instead is the power of community-based organisation, because it's only when individuals are joined together by something more substantial than the rights they share that they have any real say in the way the world treats them. .. .
There is nothing particularly original about any of this. As Glasman admits, he is harking back to an earlier period in Labour history, when the movement was centred on local struggles and community organisation, before it fell into the hands of Oxford-educated do-gooders who wanted to set the world to rights. There is more than a whiff of nostalgia about it. But for all that, it is curiously compelling. . . .
... The same is true of his most notorious flight of fancy: the idea that modern Britain needs to learn from what he calls 'the Tudor commonwealth statecraft tradition'. Apparently the Tudors saw the realm as a hotchpotch of balanced and overlapping interests, inherently resistant to top-down reorganisation and needing to be nurtured through an Aristotelian conception of the common good. It's not hard to quibble with the history (Henry VIII and his henchmen didn't find the realm all that resistant to top-down reorganisation). But the phrase 'Tudor statecraft' stays in the mind long after the tired New Labour soundbites have been forgotten.
That, though, raises a bigger question. Is democratic micro-entanglement consistent with wanting to win elections? Glasman, along with almost every other contributor to this volume, assumes that Blue Labour is a way of reinvigorating democracy. By democracy, I take it they mean electoral democracy or representative democracy or liberal democracy as it's sometimes called: you know, the kind of thing we have in this country, with regular elections, professional political parties, a free press and occasional changes of government. Of course, the point of the Blue Labour critique is that this model of politics has become tired and needs some life put back into it. The assumption is that micro-democracy will be good news for macro-democracy, making it more dynamic and responsive. To use one of the ugliest words in the contemporary lexicon, Glasman and his colleagues believe that micro-democracy is scalable: get it right at the local level, and the rest will follow. But will it? Given that Glasman is not afraid of taking pot-shots at sacred cows, it's surprising that he doesn't really consider the alternative. What if macro-democracy is bad news for community empowerment, indeed makes it irrelevant? What if democracy - the kind of thing we have in this country - is the real enemy?
... But as one of Bernstein's most persistent critics, the French syndicalist Georges Sorel, pointed out, the problem with democracy was not that it was too messy. The problem was that it was too neat: it reduced everything to winning elections. This meant the movement would always be sacrificed on the altar of political expediency. It was hopeless to expect elected politicians to stand up to the forces of global capitalism, because elections gave them all the cover they needed to carry on mouthing high ideals while doing nothing except lining their own nests. Sorel went too far (he ended up convinced that Mussolini was the sort of community organiser democracy really needed). Still, seen from the early 21st century, there is something uncannily prescient about one of his most cynical remarks. 'Democracy,' he said, 'is the paradise of which unscrupulous financiers dream.'
Glasman also fails to ask the obvious question about Tudor statecraft: what killed it off? The answer is democracy, built on the principles of political representation that evolved during the 17th century. If 16th-century political life was based on a complex and overlapping patchwork of interests, this was only because no one had found the institutional means of simplifying it. Tudor statecraft was the product of a world in which those at the centre could never be sure of what was happening anywhere else, since reliable sources of information were negligible. It was government in the dark, which explains both the institutional diversity and the intermittent bursts of extreme brutality. 'Representative government' changed this by giving all sorts of different people a say in how they were ruled. ...
The really significant paradoxes of modern politics are the paradoxes of democracy: localising and centralising, responsive and elusive, open and closed, adaptable and sclerotic, at its most transformative when something has gone badly wrong and at its most inadequate in the aftermath of its successes. Democracy does not always fail to stand up to capitalism (Sorel was wrong about that). It succeeded pretty well between the Great Depression of the 1930s and the oil crisis of the 1970s, but certainly there are no guarantees: it requires politicians to harness the power of the democratic state to broadly redistributive ends, which command the general assent of the people they represent. The evidence of the last 40 years is that this is becoming increasingly difficult. That's what Glasman & Co are complaining about. But it is a mistake to finger liberalism and argue that democracy emancipated from liberalism would revert to its traditional role of protecting the working man. Democracy - having to win elections - is part of the problem too.
That's fascinating stuff.
Jammies made me the following offer: let's live off his salary, and save mine. (There would be a few major expenses out of my salary, but that's the gist of it.) This is a great fit for our personal finance styles - I keep track of nothing, but I'm generally miserly. Jammies tracks all his receipts meticulously, and likes to spend down to zero. I find it very exciting that my credit card and bank card balances would come out of his account, and mine would grow and row and GROW! even though obviously it would be our mutual savings.
Here's the one weird part - this would majorly hamper my ability to make secret purchases. I'd be turning over my receipts, and he'd see my credit card and bank statements. I can't think of any secret purchases I'd like to make, and I know if I was really embarrassed about, say, the butt-enhancing spanx, I could bootstrap a solution - purchase it with cash or whatever.
More importantly, Jammies is not a distrustful person who would be scrutinizing my purchases with a suspicious mind. But the basic loss of privacy is a weird sensation.
I have been hearing throughout the recession that tax cuts stimulate the economy, and raising taxes does the reverse -- that there's literally nothing sensible we can do at the moment to close the deficit without injuring the economy. Bringing the Bush tax cuts to an end might be politically satisfying, but it's economically counterproductive right now.
On the other hand, I'm also hearing that what's going on at the moment is that corporations and wealthy people generally are sitting on financial assets rather than consuming or investing productively. If taxes on high-income individuals and entities go up, and the increased revenue gets split between deficit reduction and stimulative spending, wouldn't it be possible to get some net deficit reduction with at least some stimulus from getting those assets back in motion?
(I realize that by thinking this is even possible, I'm assuming a pony. Nonetheless, I'd like to know if it's self-evidently wrong.)
At the beginning of the summer, I wrote down what I wanted to accomplish. One of the things was to be the best possible Unfogged blogger I could be. So this past three months is what it looks like when I'm trying my hardest. If nothing else, framing blogging as a priority (as opposed to a time-waster) makes me happy.
Unfortunately, faculty workshops start this week. On the plus side, if you didn't notice that things have been terrific, then you probably won't notice when they go to pot, either.