Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Best Number of Kids

I found this Elizabeth Kolbert article about the ethics of having children interesting, especially this passage, since it concludes by affirming my own procreative fate:

According to Caplan, a professor at George Mason University, the major mistake that parents (or prospective parents) make is overvaluing the present. This is a common enough error. Workers in their twenties and thirties don’t save enough money for retirement because it seems such a long way off. Then their sixties roll around, and they wish they’d spent less on S.U.V.s and HDTVs and put more into their 401(k)s.

Couples, he argues, need to think not just about how many children they might want now, when they have better things to do than microwave Similac, but how many they will want to have around when they’re old and lonely and watching “The View.” Caplan recommends what he calls the “take the average” rule:
Suppose you’re thirty. Selfishly speaking, you conclude that the most pleasant number of children to have during your thirties is one. During your forties, your optimal number of kids will rise to two—you’ll have more free time as your kids assert their independence. By the time you’re in your fifties, all your kids will be busy with their own lives. At this stage, wouldn’t it be nice to have four kids who periodically drop by? Finally, once you pass sixty and prepare to retire, you’ll have ample free time to spend with your grandchildren. Five kids would be a good insurance policy against grandchildlessness. 
Caplan does the math and concludes that in this case “the best number of kids is three.”

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Reading Fiction

From Ann Patchett's compelling piece about the disappointments of a year with no Pulitzer Prize for Fiction:

Reading fiction is important. It is a vital means of imagining a life other than our own, which in turn makes us more empathetic beings. Following complex story lines stretches our brains beyond the 140 characters of sound-bite thinking, and staying within the world of a novel gives us the ability to be quiet and alone, two skills that are disappearing faster than the polar icecaps.

I've posted lots of sentiments like this before, and this isn't necessarily the most original formulation of them—but I do agree with her (this is a big part of why I do what I do as an English teacher), and her essay as a whole is quite thoughtful and worth reading.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

What Caro Knows About LBJ

I was impressed by the sweep of Charles McGrath's summary of what Robert Caro has learned about LBJ in this paragraph from his long NY Times article about the biographer, and I was amused by McGrath's final detail:

In his years of working on Johnson, Robert Caro has come to know him better — or to understand him better — than Johnson knew or understood himself. He knows Johnson’s good side and his bad: how he became the youngest Senate majority leader in history and how, by whispering one thing in the ears of the Southern senators and another in Northern ears, he got the Civil Rights Act of 1957 through a Congress that had squelched every civil rights bill since 1875; how he fudged his war record and earned himself a medal by doing nothing more than taking a single plane ride; how, while vice president during the Cuban missile crisis, his hawkishness scared the daylights out of President Kennedy and his brother Robert. Caro has learned about Johnson’s rages, his ruthlessness, his lies, his bribes, his insecurities, his wheedling, his groveling, his bluster, his sycophancy, his charm, his kindness, his streak of compassion, his friends, his enemies, his girlfriends, his gofers and bagmen, his table manners, his drinking habits, even his nickname for his penis: not Johnson, but Jumbo.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

MLK and the Modern Republican Party

This passage from a 1964 essay by Martin Luther King, Jr., succinctly describes and predicts the emergence of the Republican Party as we have known it for the last 40 years or so, and it comments as as well on the basic sentiments that are activated to rally against President Obama:

For some Americans deluded by myths, the candidacy of a Goldwater seemed a solution for their ills. Essentially he identified big government, radicalism, and bureaucracy as the cause of all evils. Civil rights legislation, in his view, is not a social necessity—it is merely oppressive big government. He ignored the towering presence of discrimination and segregation, but vividly exaggerated crime in the streets. The poverty of the Negroes, he implied, is due to want of ambition and industry. The picture that emerged to delight the racist was that of undeserving, shiftless, criminally dangerous radicals who have manipulated government for their selfish ends, but whose grievances are largely fanciful, and will wither away if left to the states.

—"Negroes Are Not Moving Too Fast"

Sunday, April 8, 2012

I Know a Man

I know a man—and I just want to talk about him a minute, and maybe you will discover who I'm talking about as I go down the way because he was a great one. And he just went about serving. He was born in an obscure village, the child of a poor peasant woman. And then he grew up in still another obscure village, where he worked as a carpenter until he was thirty years old. Then for three years, he just got on his feet, and he was an itinerant preacher. And he went about doing some things. He didn't have much. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. He never owned a house. He never went to college. He never visited a big city. He never went two hundred miles from where he was born. He did none of the usual things that the world would associate with greatness. He had no credentials but himself.

He was only thirty-three when the tide of public opinion turned against him. They called him a rabble-rouser. They called him a troublemaker. They said he was an agitator. He practiced civil disobedience; he broke injunctions. And so he was turned over to his enemies and went through the mockery of a trial. And the irony of it all is that his friends turned him over to them. One of his closest friends denied him. Another of his friends turned him over to his enemies. And while he was dying, the people who killed him gambled for his clothing, the only possession that he had in the world. When he was dead he was buried in a borrowed tomb, through the pity of a friend.

Nineteen centuries have come and gone and today he stands as the most influential figure that ever entered human history. All of the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned put together have not affected the life of man on this earth as much as that one solitary life. His name may be a familiar one. But today I can hear them talking about him. Every now and then somebody says, "He's King of Kings." And again I can hear somebody saying, "He's Lord of Lords." Somewhere else I can hear somebody saying, "In Christ there is no East nor West." And then they go on and talk about, "In Him there's no North and South, but one great Fellowship of Love throughout the whole wide world." He didn't have anything. He just went around serving and doing good.

This morning, you can be on his right hand and his left hand if you serve. It's the only way in.

Martin Luther King, Jr., "The Drum-Major Instinct"

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

St. Louis Slavery, St. Louis Freedom

Back in November, I wrote an essay about the Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing site on the St. Louis Riverfront Trail. I explored St. Louisans' historical amnesia about our city and state's role in slavery.

The November piece focused on slaves who attempted to escape from Henry Shaw. Today at the Occasional Planet I have a kind of sequel to that earlier piece. Based on a fascinating talk I went to in Tower Grove Park on Sunday, this new essay explores another route to freedom many St. Louis slaves attempted: the freedom lawsuit.

I'd be delighted if you took a look at it.