Heather: 8 months

Heather was 8 months old on Thursday, and she's getting so big! She can sit and crawl and pull herself up to her knees (she's getting pretty good at pulling all the way up to her feet, too). As of last week, she officially weighed 14 lbs, 10 oz.  She's been wearing 9-month clothes for a couple of weeks now.
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Heather:

  • LOVES taking baths.
  • LOVES to look at new things and people.
  • HATES when I leave the room. (Sometimes, she hates when I am out of reach. Many of our afternoons are spent with us trying to figure out how I can hold her tight while she crawls around and plays. Obviously, this is impossible, but it seems to be what she would really like.)
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  • LOVES the VeggieTales opening song. I use it to distract her while I trim her nails!
  • LOVES shiny balloons.
  • HATES those few seconds between when she realizes I'm going to nurse her and when the nipple actually enters her mouth.
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  • LOVES eating Cheerios.
  • LOVES chewing on things. Sometimes, she'll grab your finger and shove it in her mouth—right back along the side, not in front— to chew on.
  • HATES loud, sudden noises. Also running bathwater or the blender or vacuum. And sirens up close scare the living daylights out of her.
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  • LOVES playing with hair—mine, Kyle's, whatever.
  • LOVES pulling over the recycling bag and playing with whatever she can find inside.
  • LOVES little flashing lights, like on computers.
  • HATES story time. (I really, really hope this is temporary. She has always loved it! But she currently seems to greatly prefer our books to library books, which make her squirm and thrash and cry. Strange.)
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  • LOVES pulling books off bookshelves (or out of boxes).
  • LOVES getting vitamins—or anything from a dropper, really. She gets iron twice a day, and a tri-vitamin and fluoride once a day. She loves them all. (In good news, I've been able to stop giving her gas drops, though she loved those, too.)
  • HATES going to sleep.
  • LOVES being held (unless you're trying to get her to sleep, of course). She'll crawl a long ways to get you to pick her up. (And then she'll hoist her armpits at you until you do!)
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  • LOVES being tossed in the air/held upside-down.
  • HATES having her face washed.
  • LOVES making noise.
  • LOVES squeaking her fingers down the pages of her board books.
  • LOVES when Daddy comes home.
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It's getting rather difficult to get candid shots of her; as soon as she sees the camera, she bolts for it:

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And a sleep update: Heather's getting pretty good at staying asleep/soothing herself back to sleep if she wakes up, but she's also started fighting the initial put-down pretty hard. We're down to one nap a day, which is insane, but seems to be working alright for us. She's getting enough total sleep (she usually sleeps 12-13 hours at night, so a one- or two-hour nap is okay, according to her pediatrician), but the stretch between the nap and bedtime gets kind of long some days, and she grumps.

Heather is growing and learning so quickly these days! We have a lot of fun with her, and we love her very much.
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Book Review: The Tyranny of Clichés by Jonah Goldberg

To start, an anonymous commenter asked me to read this book. It is unlikely I would have selected this for reading material without prompting.  Also, I know nothing about Jonah Goldberg outside of this book.  I don't know who he is, what he does, or why anyone should care what he thinks.  So my opinions are not built around any personal like or dislike of Goldberg himself.

I'd like to preface my remarks by plainly admitting that clichés generally lack depth and nuance.  Generally because it's hard to include depth and nuance in an one-sentence sound-bite.  But just because they have obvious and glaring exceptions does not mean there's nothing worth hearing from them.

I'll even agree with Goldberg that when clichés are used as discussion-enders the people who use them as such do a disservice to society.  Like using Wikipedia for research, clichés should be a starting point rather than a stopping point.

Honestly, I kept this as short as I could, but it's still longer than I'd like for a blog post.  But let's get started.

"One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter."

Goldberg introduces his book with his criticism for "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter."  One example he uses is Martin Luther King Jr.:

Most reasonable and decent people would recoil at the suggestion that Martin Luther King was a terrorist (some liberals might interject at this point and say, "Aha, but some Southern racists said exactly that about King!," to which a sane person would respond, "Yes, and they were wrong to do so"). (p5)

Goldberg takes an example entirely supporting the idea the cliché represents and then dismisses it because the people holding the viewpoint that King was a terrorist are wrong.  This seems to be a blatant misunderstanding of what the phrase is trying to say.  The phrase is saying that people can view the same situation in completely opposite ways and that to each person their own viewpoint is the valid one.

Similarly, he says it's ludicrous to suggest that George Washington and Osama bin Laden could be viewed as either terrorist or freedom fighter.  Which, of course, they can be if you understand how to view the world from someone else's point of view.  I imagine the British would have happily (and in their eyes, rightly) labeled George Washington a terrorist had the word been used then as it is now.  I also easily imagine that the followers of Osama bin Laden view him as a martyr for their cause for freedom from Western oppression (as they view it).  This does not mean that we can't also view those same examples differently and apply our own moral reasoning.

Goldberg, however, refuses to anyone a point of view which conflicts with his personal sense of morals.  Osama bin Laden can't be a freedom fighter because he wanted to oppress women.  Washington can't be a terrorist because he wanted to create a nation of freedom.  And that's essentially where his argument ends, but not before calling anyone who disagrees "a terrorist sympathizer," "an idiot," or "frightened." (pp4-5)

Centrists, Moderates, Independents and Compromise

Next Goldberg attacks political moderates and the concept of compromise:

The independents and moderates who just grab stuff from this shelf, then from that shelf, like a panicked survivor of the dawn of the dead grabbing what he or she can from the supermarket before the zombies spot her, do not value consistency at all. (p7)

After an eighteen-month campaign, all of the informed, conscious, and ideologically consistent voters have already made up their minds.  All that's left are the undecided centrists, who actually think they have the more sophisticated and serious position; their indecision comes, actually, by virtue of the fact that they've either not paid much attention until way too late in the game, or more simply, they're a**holes (sic) who think they must be the center of the universe. (p8)

If I say we need one hundred feet of bridge to cross a one-hundred-foot chasm that makes me an extremist.  Somebody else says we don't need to build a bridge at all because we don't need to cross the chasm in the first place.  That makes him an extremist.  The third guy is the centrist because he insists that we compromise by building a fifty-foot bridge that ends in the middle of thin air?...The independent who splits the difference has no idea what to do and doesn't want to bother with figuring it out. (p7)

If that's not arrogant, intentional misunderstanding then I'm not sure what is.

He seems to be unable to grasp the concept that a voter may not like any available candidate because none of them particularly align with the voter's ideology; and, therefore, they spend more time trying to decide what to do than a voter who is perfectly aligned.

These excerpts perfectly show Goldberg's reasoning throughout the book:  There are only 2 valid viewpoints, the "liberal" one and the "conservative" one.  And if you don't fit into one of those two bins it's because you "do not value consistency at all",  "[have] no idea what to do and [don't] want to bother with figuring it out", or "[are an] asshole who [thinks you] must be the center of the universe."

When a situation is complex and not easily divided into two sides Goldberg sets up a false dichotomy and then attacks the side he doesn't like.

This leads me to my biggest problem throughout the entire book: Goldberg rarely has anything constructive to say.  Almost every chapter is an angry attack made of emotional vitriol.  Sadly, I rather expected this type of one-sided rhetoric given that the subtitle of the book is, "How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas."  He makes no secret that it's going to be an assault rather than a discussion.

Which is really too bad.  At times you can see that he's intelligent and able to form meaningful thoughts.  And he could have written a book I probably would have really enjoyed; that is, if he had attempted to present a remotely fair view of the topics.  But instead it's all, "I'm right; everyone else is an idiot" (I suppose that's what sells books).  [I'm not even saying he shouldn't pick a side, but at least give the other position a fair shake and then argue for a side instead of just attacking the other.]

Dissent

Liberals are uncomfortable with the topic of patriotism because their core philosophical impulses are to make America a different country than it is.  This is not an evil impulse, and it can certainly manifest itself in patriotic ways.  More importantly, it can manifest itself in humane and decent ways.  But at the most basic level love is about acceptance.  If you are constantly trying to change the person you claim to love into someone he or she is not, there comes a point when it's reasonable to ask whether you really, truly, deeply love the person for who he or she is.  Barack Obama campaigned promising to "fundamentally transform" America.  We would not think a husband who promises to "fundamentally transform" his wife has a healthy love for her. (pp127-128)

In a incredible manipulation of words Goldberg equates patriotism to love and then argues that anyone who wants to change the country (specifically President Obama) doesn't love the country and is equivalent to an abusive husband who demands his wife change to suit his whims [seriously?!--yes he's entirely serious].  (Also, stay tuned for a future blog post discussing nationalism compared to patriotism.)

"Better ten guilty men go free than one innocent man be imprisoned"

This, I presume, was the impetus for the commenter asking me to provide a review.  In the aforementioned post I made this remark, "...my predilection for the idea that it is better to let 10 guilty persons go free than to convict 1 innocent person."

This chapter, like a few others, is rather bizarre in that Goldberg never makes any point.  First he rambles on for four pages on the idea that it would be insane to release 10 prisoners every time a defendant was found not guilty in court (or some variation on that theme).  And, yes, it would be rather silly to embark in such behavior.

He then goes on to say that of course that's not what anyone means when they use the phrase.  He then spends one page defending the principle that the phrase represents (that we should have a justice system that errs in favor of the defendants).  He then ends the chapter with this paragraph:

But the phrase becomes pernicious and dangerous when it is used to change the subject from actual and specific questions of guilt or innocence.  If Joe the Accountant is guilty, he is guilty.  Too often, when people invoke n guilty men what they are in fact trying to do is change the subject.  They corral an abstraction--"the system"--because they are uncomfortable arguing the facts in question. The implication is that they are arguing with somebody.  But who are they arguing with?  Not the judge, nor the prosecutor, nor the loved ones seeking justice for the dead, nor the other guests on the cable talk show.  It is a debater's talking point preloaded with its own straw man.  As such it is a way to fend off an argument rather than a means of making one. (p158)

Now, I've read it several times over and I can't make any meaningful sense out of it--especially not as the scathing criticism over the phrase that it's apparently supposed to be.  I guess he's arguing that some people try to use the phrase as a defense for letting someone escape justice?  I've never come across such usage, but then I don't spend my time watching talk shows (where he implies this occurs).

Which leads me to my concluding topic.

In many, if not most, of his chapters he sets up some grand argument (usually a false dichotomy) and then attacks the "liberal" side as being absurd/stupid/ignorant/etc. and rarely actually defends the "conservative" side.  But much of the time I found myself simply not caring, because I personally didn't agree with either side he posited.  But, as I previously mentioned, to him that simply makes me either ignorant, lazy, or an asshole; so take your pick.

Pick me up, Momma

Heather is reaching the needy, clingy stage highlighted by separation anxiety.  She also seems to be starting to teethe.  So she wants to be held a lot.  We pretty much always pick her up the same way, by sliding our hands under her armpits.  She appears to have figured this out and when we go to pick her up she won't reach for us, but she will lift up her arms.

And now she seems to have come up with the idea that if she can get our hands under her armpits then we have to pick her up.  This coupled with her daily-increasing mobility makes for some adorable behavior.  However, her first issue is that she doesn't know how to get her legs out of her way, but once that's sorted out she jumps right into action.

My favorite part is right at the end.  Once she gets herself all situated she just stops and looks up at Jess as if to say, "Alright Momma, I did my part, now you have to pick me up."

One year older...

Saturday birthdays are the best.  We got up in the morning and I played with Heather while Jess decorated the apartment.  We thought Heather would enjoy playing with a bit of streamer.  Little did we know that streamer dye runs very easily.  So Heather ended up with blue all over her tongue, hands, and mouth.  It was rather entertaining and it mostly washed off.

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Once the apartment was decorated and after we had breakfast we decided it was time to open presents.  Other Dickerson children might consider this blasphemy, but Jess convinced me it was a good idea.  Since it was Saturday we could hang out in pajamas and open presents and then you have the whole day to play with things; it's like Christmas, but then there's cake.  It's really hard to argue against this logic.

Heather helped with presents for a little while, but then became much more interested in what Jess was doing.

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Hey look!  I got my very own Galileo thermometer!

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After opening and playing with presents for a while, it was time for Heather's nap.  So she slept while we prepared for the day.  And after her nap we went to California Pizza Kitchen for birthday-lunch.  Birthday-dinner is more traditional, but it's kind of hard to go anywhere for dinner when Heather goes to bed by 6 each night.

When we got home from lunch it was just about time for some friends to come over so we could have cake and hang out.

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Jess was kind enough to do our usual Saturday grocery shopping on Friday so we were able to just relax and enjoy the day.  It was a good day.

Approval Voting

Some of the most interesting classes I took during college were the artificial intelligence courses.  These courses usually took concepts from psychology, sociology, political science, and evolutionary biology, and discussed them in the context of logic, mathematics, and algorithms.  It's absolutely fascinating stuff.

One of the most interesting topics from all of my education was about voting—discussed in the context of Arrow's impossibility theorem, the Gibbard–Satterthwaite theorem, and Condorcet's paradox.

The Wikipedia introductions in each of those articles are pretty easy to understand.  But in quick, simplified, summary:

Condorcet's paradox explains how it's possible for an election to have no meaningful winner because any choice can be argued against due to a cyclical ordering of choices (think rock-paper-scissors).

The Gibbard–Satterthwaite theorem shows that (for 3 or more choices/candidates) if voters order the candidates by preference and you try to choose a single winner from those preferences, then either (1) someone is a dictator and controls the outcome, (2) some candidate can never win, or (3) voters have an incentive to lie about their preferences in order to influence the outcome (people can game the system).

Arrow's impossibility theorem is similar, but deals with systems that attempt to find a preference order over all candidates rather than a single winner.  For a reasonable set of axioms that define a "fair" voting system, there can be no voting system which satisfies all of the fairness axioms simultaneously.

I think these ideas are simply enthralling.  We then went over a slew of different voting protocols (ways of casting and counting votes) and showed how they were bound by these concepts.

Our class discussion naturally led to which voting protocol was "most fair."  But, necessary in that discussion is also which voting protocol is most fair without being too complex to actually use.

Most of the time when we think about voting in the United States, we're thinking about plurality voting (first-past-the-post or winner-take-all).  This is when, trying to get a single winner out of a group of candidates, each voter casts one vote and the candidate with the plurality of votes wins.  It happens to be a very simple protocol, but, in the opinion of the class (which I agree with), one of the least fair protocols.  Without discussing the technical violations of Arrow's fairness axioms, the reasoning we used was that when there are many candidates with similar levels of support, a large part of the population ends up being unrepresented and, due to this, plurality voting tends to collapse to a two-party system (often where neither candidate is really liked, but only preferred over the other candidate).

In our discussion, we tended to favor approval voting for its simplicity and ability to stave off a collapse to the two-party divisiveness.  In approval voting, each voter simply votes for any/all candidates of which they approve.  So if there are 4 candidates and you like 3 of them, you vote for all 3.  Or if you only like 1, just vote for that one.  There now is no reason to collapse into a two-party system because I can vote for all candidates I feel are qualified instead of fearing that the "other person" will win and I therefore must vote for the "most electable" of my actual preferred candidates.

Approval voting, of course, has some of its own problems, but we felt it was certainly more fair than plurality voting and would help solve some of the problems we're experiencing in U.S. politics right now in terms of partisanship, divisive rhetoric, and inviability of third-party candidates.