Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Libertarian Loonies: Liberty vs. License

[Gentle readers—In my last update, I posted an essay about how I was planning to vote as it pertained to specific candidates. This got many responses; peace and blessings be upon all of you who answered my pleas for input. I have tried to reply to each person who left a comment. My sister Carolyn, who happens to be a brilliant intellectual property lawyer with an avid interest in politics, posted the longest comment and asked the most challenging questions. As I started to reply to her, it quickly morphed into a completely new blog post. It was not what I wanted or intended, but it’s what happened. So here is my quickly-written, lightly-edited, highly imperfect “open letter” essay about Libertarianism. It is long and doesn’t even try to be funny. If you’re not fascinated by politics, you should skip it. --GHB]


Yours was definitely the most directly argumentative so far. Which gives me more material to work with. Yay!

I avoided detailing lots of Libertarian positions because I was trying to keep it short. I have these episodes in which I attempt to be more disciplined in my writing. Don’t worry; it will likely be of short duration.

You’ll note that I said that Libertarians are awesome on some issues and totally insane on others.

(The best description of Libertarians I've ever heard came from the candidate for governor of North Carolina in, I think, 2004. He started off a radio interview by saying (I paraphrase) "Libertarians are people who sit around arguing about whether a private citizen should be allowed to own an aircraft carrier.")

Yes, I am aware of the Libertarian stances on abortion and marriage. I can live with their compromise on abortion: make it legal, but don’t have the government subsidize it in any way. I don’t like legalized abortion, but it’s already among us and unlikely to depart. Plus I understand the legal arguments in its favor. I listened to the oral arguments in Roe v. Wade (yes, I know there were two) and I understand why the Supreme Court ruled as it did. Again, I don’t like it, but I understand it.  

I quote from my original post:
“The differences between principled compromise (which is necessary)…”

In our history, there have been times when people of strong moral convictions compromised, as on slavery. Northern abolitionists didn’t like it, either, but occasionally decided that it was more important to reach some kind of settled standard.

When I wrote the above line, I was thinking of the 3/5ths compromise, or the two Missouri Compromises. Northern abolitionists who found slavery repugnant were unhappy about them, but many concluded it was better to preserve the union imperfectly than to engage in scorched earth tactics. Given our current understanding of the evils of slavery, maybe that was the wrong call. Maybe the U.S. should have started out as two different countries, or split earlier. But I count those compromises as principled because the participants were honest, saying “I really don’t like it, but I think it’s the best we can do.”

“…and unyielding stubbornness (which is generally not helpful)…”

Here I was thinking of President Bush (II). I spent a lot of his 2000 campaign saying “He’s slightly crazy and probably stupid. But I’m impressed that he has stood firm in his beliefs. He has pandered remarkably little.” A year or two later I was tearing my hair and saying “Does this man even understand the IDEA of compromise? This is ridiculous! 9/11 has gone to his head and he thinks he can shove ANYTHING through Congress and not make even small, reasonable concessions. Aaaaagh!” I spent the next six years in that vein, growing increasingly disgusted with him. Grrr. I STILL don’t like W.

“…and being tossed about by every wind of political opinion (which is morally empty and also destructive to everyone involved)—”

I was thinking of Mitt. I admit it. Other politicians in recent times have been accused of flipping. John Kerry comes to mind. But I don’t remember his pendulum swinging with anything near the number of issues and depth thereof as Mitt has shown in the last two cycles.

It feels like Mitt shifts so frequently and so fast and so far, I’d still distrust him even if he weren’t Mormon.  His religion just makes me even more disappointed in him than otherwise.

“—those are topics for a different blog post.”

You see now why I said that. Here I am not even half done answering you, and it appears likely this will turn into its own post rather than just a long comment. Sigh.

Regarding their marriage position—that really is a topic for another blog post. For one thing, in a real blog post, I can italicize and bold and not sound like I’m screaming at people. [Editorial note: as this point in my response, I was only using all-caps for emphasis, since I was still writing in the comments section, in the vain hope I could keep it short. Yes, snort and snicker away. It’s likely the only laugh you’ll get in this entire post.] Let’s just say that since I know they don’t have a prayer of getting elected, I am willing to punt that point for the present. This reasoning does not apply to Mr. Obama. The “likelihood” consideration is part of my overall strategic decision with each election cycle. If the Libertarian Party ever got to a point where they were consistently earning around 30% of the vote, I might very well jump ship. Kind of like a venture capitalist who realizes her latest company is now running itself smoothly so she sells it and starts anew.

I think you are slightly overstating the libertarian position when you say they believe there should be “NO GOVERNMENT.” Most libertarians I’ve researched acknowledge the need for a military. They don’t want to be entangled in foreign wars, but they think it is reasonable to impose low taxes to support national defense on a federal level. Some moderate Libertarians support roads and highways. A few of them even support public schools.

(Mostly random aside—Steven R. Brust is an idealistic socialist, harmless mostly because he writes fantasy novels. I paraphrase something he once asked: “Why do they say ‘socialized medicine’ but not ‘socialized national defense’ or ‘socialized roads’ or ‘socialized schools’? If we pool our resources for the latter, what’s so horrible about working together on the former?” I’m still thinking about that one, mostly because our interstate highway system is excellent, our military is, overall, well-equipped, well-trained, and effective, and our schools are mixed—some good, some horrible. I’d hate to try the national experiment of a single-payer health system and have it turn out like our educational  initiatives did.)

Cheryl wrote an interesting essay in high school about how the ideal government would be anarchy—provided the people were all saints. Basically (as I recall) she said that if every single person were honest and self-disciplined, we would not need government intervention. Granted, she wrote it more as a contrarian “devil’s advocate” kind of experiment, but it was still fun. (Cheryl, feel free to clarify or correct me here.)

I think Libertarians take too generous a view of human nature. Their stance on a complete lack of regulation drives me nuts, because they seem to think that if a butcher sells tainted meat, he’ll naturally go out of business. People will stop buying from him. Problem solved. Well, yes--after dozens of people get sick and die. If he’s a small supplier, he won’t be able to cover all the victims’ medial costs, no matter how much he’s sued. And in an increasingly interconnected food supply, a mega farm might ship meat to thousands of stores all across America. Without regulation, it would be very difficult to track the outbreak, trace contaminated units, issue warnings, and so forth. 

Libertarians seem to think that a few such cases and all the bad actors would shape up from fear. I’m incredibly skeptical; telestial people tend to convince themselves that short-term gain is worth high risks. “I won’t get caught,” they think, and then proceed to behave in sociopathic ways. The death penalty hasn’t proven much of a deterrent against murder, either. Completely unregulated capitalism had some horrible effects during the industrial revolution and Victorian eras. Maybe we should wait and try it again during the Millennium.

And don't even get me started about Ayn Rand's businessmen, who seem to pay their workers well for no obvious reason, even though they generally hate altruism. In fact, you should probably not mention Ayn Rand around me at all unless you want Yet Another blog post, or an hour-long argument.

I said in another comment that if the majority of people want something wicked, there are no good options. Leaders can either give it to them, which is bad, or deny their agency, which is probably worse. This is one of the reasons I can make the “no funding for abortions” compromise. If people are completely determined to do something destructive, they probably will. At least this way they can do it without my tax dollars enabling them.

Using this reasoning, I am also okay with legalizing marijuana. Again, not happy about it, but I can’t imagine that legalizing marijuana could possibly be worse than ending prohibition was. And I’m not convinced that marijuana is any more medically destructive or impairing than alcohol. Our current policy has resulted in crazy criminal gangs, and is obviously not working well. Time to try something else. Obviously the best solution would be for people to abstain, voluntarily, from any destructive drug. Since that’s not going to happen—until, probably, the Millennium—the next best option is probably to sigh and regulate it, and then tax it to high heaven.

I feel the same way about censorship. Voluntary abstention is best. Parental control over minors is necessary. Government censorship is bad.

Of the three options you listed, it seems that I am mostly lining up with #2. And you agreed that, in such a case, Gary Johnson is the best choice for me.

Three pages. Yup, that was sure a short chronological duration for my self-imposed verbal brevity. It also answers an earlier question: this has definitely morphed into a new post.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Political Perplexity

Craving Comments

I began to despair. According to google metrics, around 1 in 20 people actually post comments on my blog.

Then I had a Brilliant Idea.

I have decided to write provocative, controversial things and see if they elicit more response.

I have also decided to churn out more posts, worrying more about quantity than quality. And to highlight certain phrases for emphasis.

Let’s see what happens. 

Mister Mitt Mormon

I’d like Mitt Romney a lot better if either he weren’t Mormon, or I weren’t.

Five years and a few months ago, towards the beginning of the primary season for the 2008 election, a nice LDS lady met me and automatically assumed I was a Mitt fan.  I’m afraid I made a face.  When asked about my views, I explained, politely, “I like how he turned the Salt Lake City Olympics around. And I like how he opposed gay marriage as governor of Massachusetts. I really thought he tried hard and demonstrated political courage in that situation. I don’t like how he has changed so many of his positions (like on immigration and gun control and the environment) in an opportunistic way. And I’m not happy that he was ever pro-abortion, even if he claims to be pro-life now.”

I know Mormons want to assume that other Mormons are automatically nice, honest, and holy. In general that’s true. But I have known some crazy, abusive, or dishonest LDS people.

A few months after the incident above, as the primary season was starting to heat up,  I told a lay Catholic minister that I wouldn’t judge all Catholics by Rudy Giuliani if he wouldn’t judge all Mormons by Mitt Romney. We struck the deal.

Now, because I’m churning this post out, I’m not going to worry too much about niceties like research and documentation. Instead, I’ll just write down my opinion in a somewhat haphazard way.
In the years since then, I have further been unhappy by his carpet-bombing of negative ads in the primaries (both 2008 and 2012), his hypocrisy on Obamacare, and his pandering.

Apparently he showed remarkable leadership as a young missionary in France, stepping up and running the entire mission while his mission president was incapacitated. A very impressive feat for a young twenty-one-year-old kid.

I have some relatives, on both sides of my family, who lived in Boston back when Romney was the stake president there. I accept that he was a good stake president. Effective, charitable, even spiritual.  He does seem to have fantastic organizational management skills. In 2008, I emailed his PAC and suggested that he take over the post-earthquake disaster response in Haiti. Never heard back. Ah well.

All of that doesn’t necessarily translate to being a good president, though.

For one thing, as the CEO of Bain, or as a stake president, he would have faced a lot less argument then he’d get in the oval office. Members of the stake, in particular, might whine a little or ignore his requests, but they would be unlikely to go around actively subverting his initiatives, criticizing his character, organizing protests, issuing press releases calling him nasty names, and stalling his policy initiatives with dirty political tactics. That’s called “steadying the ark,” and it is NOT encouraged in Mormon culture. That’s also called “business as usual” in D.C. and is assumed to be fair game.
My sister Cheryl, who has a M.A. in political science and has specialized in Supreme Court and election issues, says that the skill set required to get someone elected does not overlap very well with actual governance. That’s why a new president tends to make his campaign manager chief of staff, only to fire the guy one to two years later.

I have seen a similar issue with Mr. Obama, who ran a superbly-executed 2008 campaign. Like him, love him, or loathe him, everyone agrees his team was extraordinarily disciplined and professional. He was less effective as president, though, because he had a wider scope and less control.

Another concern about a Romney presidency involves his shifting positions. I am annoyed that he pandered to the Republican base, then tried to reset the “etch-a-sketch” for the general election, then acts poised to “reset” again if he hits office.

My best guess is that, once he got into politics, it eroded his moral center. I can understand why it seems so easy to compromise—just a little bit—to win this one election. Because, once elected, the candidate can do so much more good…

The differences between principled compromise (which is necessary), and unyielding stubbornness (which is generally not helpful), and being tossed about by every wind of political opinion (which is morally empty and also destructive to everyone involved)—those are topics for a different blog post.
For now, let’s just say that since he has pandered shamelessly to the rabid right, I don’t see how he can expect to govern from the center. It’s ever so much easier to start a mob than to direct, or, especially, quell one. 

Plus, I keep asking myself, “If he’s the kind of guy who will say anything, tack anywhere, or embrace any position to get elected, what makes anyone think he will suddenly discover his spine in office? And if he did, which set of positions would he use?”

My final objection is much more personal: I don’t want Mitt Romney becoming the worldwide face of my faith. 

I used to love it when President Hinckley went on national TV. He acted genuine, and his personality just came through for everyone to enjoy. I was proud to point him out to friends and say “That’s my prophet!”

I feel a strong responsibility to act as an ambassador for my religion. That doesn’t mean I need to pretend to be perfect, which is hypocritical. It’s okay to admit human frailties and failures. But, yes, people are watching, and it’s important to set a good example.

As a teen-ager, I tried especially hard to live the standards taught by my family and my faith. After all my efforts, I got very frustrated at the frequent variations of the following conversation:

Classmate: Gail, why don’t you lie/cheat/date/curse/smoke/drink/gossip/dress immodestly?
Gail: [sensing a great missionary opportunity] Oh, well, I’m a Mormon, and—
Classmate: [interrupting] –but Jack is a Mormon, and HE does it.
Gail: [cringing internally] Well, I can’t speak for his choices, but as for myself…

Now imagine having that conversation with a co-worker or neighbor about the first Mormon president.

Neighbor: So, I’ve noticed you’re really honest and never engage in nasty gossip.
Gail: Well, I'm far from perfect about it, but I do try hard to be uplifting. You see, I’m a Mormon, and—
Neighbor: [interrupting] But President Romney is a Mormon, and he flip-flops all the time. And he covered up a major scandal. And he smeared his opposition unfairly. In fact, he comes across as a cynical, dishonest jerk.
Gail: [cringing visibly] Yes. I know. And I’m really unhappy about that. [We then spend time in further apologetics, discussing how Nixon was raised Quaker, and the Quakers are awesome but Nixon certainly wasn’t. Or how Rudy Giuliani, Joe Biden, and Paul Ryan are all Catholics of very different stripes. And how you can’t judge an entire religion by one person, even if that person is one of the most powerful and famous men in the world….]

In a situation like that, I would want to be able to tell my neighbor, honestly, “I didn’t vote for him.”
See? I would like Mr. Romney a whole lot more if one of us weren’t LDS.

That’s funny, since very few people actually like him, and those who do are often Mormon. I am struck at how many people say “Well…he’s better than the other guy,” or “I don’t believe he’s Christian, but I mostly agree with his current set of moral positions” or “I don’t entirely trust him to stay true to his current set of moral positions, but we have strong watchdog groups who will lean on him to stay honest.” I paraphrase something Jon Stewart said earlier in this cycle’s primaries. “If Mitt Romney becomes the Republican nominee, Evangelicals will vote for him, but with the same level of enthusiasm with which you’d take your cousin to the Prom. They’ll do it, but they’ll be really unhappy about it.”

President Obama

I don’t intend to vote for Mr. Obama, either, though for different reasons. I rather like President Obama. He’s not perfect, but he has tried hard. He has been fairly consistent in his policy positions. I felt like he really made good faith efforts to work in a bipartisan way, only to be swamped by a highly obstructionist congress. Mitch McConnell stated his #1 priority was to deny the president a second term. Facing a fiscal cliff and rabid Republicans foaming at the mouth, Obama blinked. I was disappointed, but I was also not the person on the ground. I can imagine it looks a lot different when you’re sitting in The Chair.

Many people are much more disappointed in Mr. Obama, but that’s primarily because they had such unreasonably high expectations. I was skeptical of his campaign promises, simply because I knew that a president can’t, single-handedly, reform my local school district or change the culture in Washington D.C. or write and pass comprehensive immigration reform. All candidates promise major changes, and it annoys me, because either they’re pandering or they have no concept of how the system works. Well, the system doesn’t work all that well. Let’s say they have no concept of how Washington operates.

The next time a politician, at any level, makes a “pie in the sky” promise, ask yourself, “He's either dishonest or incompetent. Or maybe crazy. Which is it?”

I’m not voting for Mr. Obama because I can’t bring myself to support someone who favors broad abortion rights and same-sex marriage. But, despite our honest difference of opinion, I respect the man.

Libertarian Loonies!

I’m voting for Gary Johnson, the libertarian party candidate. The libertarian party is awesome on most issues and insane on others, but that’s okay. I don’t actually want him to get elected.

Every election cycle, we hear “A vote for a third-party candidate is a spoiler. Go with the lesser of two evils and don’t waste your vote. Ralph Nader cost Al Gore the 2000 election, and then look what happened with President Bush.” Or "Ross Perot cost George H. W. Bush the election in 1992, and then look what happened with Bill Clinton."

I see that argument. The problem is that “the lesser of two evils” choice perpetuates the pathetic paradigm.

Thinking only in the immediate term, thinking only as far as the next four years, is what got America into a huge mess. Budget issues (like states deciding whether or not to implement health care exchanges) or diplomatic issues (as in our current holding pattern regarding Iran) keep getting booted down the road, until after the next election. We’re lucky to get 18 months of actual governance these days.

If more people decided to ignore the immediate “lesser of two evils” crisis and focus on a long-term agenda, it would take a generation, but we could see a more robust, multi-party system. The Republican party really ought to be three different organizations, anyway.

In a more diversified, multi-party system, maybe we would have genuine policy debates and less pandering. The third-party candidates debate last week was awesome. Crazy, but awesome. They discussed issues that neither Mr. Obama or Mr. Romney wanted to touch with someone else’s twenty-foot pole.

Granted, stronger third and fourth parties might lead to even more gridlock. But given our current situation, I doubt it could get much worse. Let’s give it a try. Third party revolution!

Given the options “A or B,” I generally write an essay and end up choosing G. (Not C, which is still too cliché.) Go gamma girls!

This year, I’m choosing G again, for Gary Johnson.

Controversial Comments

If you disagree with me, that’s fine. The comments section is below. Be passionate, but be polite. Preferably with punctuation. No cursing and no vilifying. 
Allowed: "No offense, Gail, but I think you're crazy. Here's why..."
Frowned upon: "I'm not voting for a Obama. He's Muslim!" [I frown upon it because it's not true and because it implies that being a Muslim is inherently bad.]
Definitely not allowed: "obama is a *#&%* terorist muslim commie come on guys seriously who would vote for such an evel person romney isn't grate but hes better than the other guy at least hes american your a traitor for even saying he has any good qualities"

Let's see what happens.

Monday, October 22, 2012

FHE Quotes Out of Context

[I have a friend who may have a slightly idealistic view of family home evening. She has said she wishes she could come watch an authentic LDS family night.

Well, it's a good thing she didn't come tonight, because she would have seen wiggly kids, interruptions, disorganization, chaos, distraction, whining, crying, and an hour of time wasted in aggregate. She also would have heard the following quotes, which sound even worse taken out of context.]

1) "Yes, by all means, perform a quality control check between the German and English hymnals. Perhaps you should also, simultaneously, perform a quality control check on the efficiency of FHE music. I bet that MOST families can sing an opening song in under three minutes."

2) "That was Sammy? Wow!"

3) "...welcome to the pedicure spa. I am applying mascara to your toe hair to make it look longer. I hear it's the latest fashion and the girls love it."

4) "How many times have I told you not to leave your feet lying around on the floor? That's disgusting!"

Okay, fine. Yes, I'll provide the context. But only because I like your elevator. I mean, robot.

1) --Gail, frustrated at a confluence of circumstances, including not being able to find a hymn book, plus Eric acting indecisive, dawdling, getting distracted, and disappearing to use the bathroom during negotiations. Just as we settled on me playing out of the German hymnal while everyone else gathered around Jon's smartphone for the English words, Eric started obsessing about minute variations in rhythmic notation. It is typical for opening exercises to take more than ten minutes when Eric is in charge. The quote looks a lot harsher written down than it sounded when I said it. And if you think it's bad, you should have heard all the complaints I swallowed about how long it took to get through family business. *suppressed screaming*

2) --After we finally sang "Joy to the World" as the opening hymn, Sam sat around, playing with Mega Blocks, and humming the melody to himself. It was imperfect, but very recognizable. I thought at first that Daniel had been the one humming.

3) --We were working on our LOTR costumes for FHE. Eric put on a pair of tan socks and I used a permanent marker to draw hobbit toes and hair on 'em. The full conversation went as follows:

Eric: Will you talk to me so I don't get worried?
Gail: Why would you be worried?
Eric: I mean bored.
Gail: Sure. So, welcome to the pedicure spa. I am applying mascara to your toe hair to make it look longer. I hear it's the latest fashion and the girls love it.
Eric: [giggling] It tickles! And that's funny.

4) After it was over, we had six tan socks which looked like hobbit feet, at least vaguely, in dim light, if the seams stayed aligned properly. Boys promptly removed their "feet" and scattered them about, exactly as they would any other pair of socks.

[So, there you have it. Yet another dysfunctional family home evening. If we keep at it, in another ten years, perhaps we'll have something to brag about.]

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Sammy Snippets

[Sam has become increasingly verbal over the last few weeks. He's at that stage where he acquires several new words a day and strings them together into increasingly complex sentences. Some of the following quotes from the last eight weeks are duplicates from facebook. They are listed in approximately reverse-chronological order: latest at top, oldest at bottom.] --ed

"Noooo! Bad Mommy! Bad, BAD Mommy!!!!"
--Sam, screaming and thrashing, angry that I was changing his diaper.

"Noooo! Bad Mommy! Bad, BAD Mommy!!!!!!"
--Sam, the next day, kicking and shrieking, furious that I was refusing to change his diaper and instead insisting that he wear pull-ups for the first time.
--According to my mother, I threw a similar fit, at a similar age, when the pediatrician predicted (accurately, alas) that I would be a short adult. Something like "Bad doctor! Mean doctor! Me be bigger [than you] Mommy!"

Sam: I nee'a new nose.
Mommy: You need a new nose?
Sam: [nods]
--Turns out he needed a new tissue for a drippy nose

Jon: Sam, don't touch that.
Sam: Is it fragile?
Jon: [gaping] Did you just say 'fragile'?
Sam: [nods seriously]

--Sam was tickling my feet and asking if I'd had enough.

"I uh boy. Daddy uh boy. Ewuh uh boy. Danny uh boy. Jeff uh baby. Jeffwey uh boy? Mommy's uh guhl."
--I'm so glad he has that straightened out. Positive gender identity is important. I wish he didn't feel the need to quadruple-check those stats several times a week, but I'm living with it.

[From facebook, October 6th]
Sam came over to me and pointed to his elbow. "My ow hurts," he said. I kissed his elbow, and it healed miraculously. Mama magic! "Dayks, mom," he said, then toddled off again.

A few minutes later, he brought me a board book with most of the spine torn off. I kissed it, too. And it healed miraculously! (Well, I didn't see the binding suddenly regenerate, but it must have worked because, once again, he said "Dayks, mom," and toddled off again.)

Major mama mojo!

Above: Sammy's Snake Name. September 17th, 2012.

Sam: Mommy 'appy?
Mommy: Am I happy?
Sam: [nods]
Mommy: Yes. I am happy. I am happy that I have such a sweet Sam.
Sam: Ewuh 'appy?
Mommy: I think so, yes.
Sam: Danny 'appy?
Mommy: Yes, Danny ought to be happy since I agreed to homeschool him.
Sam: Baby Jeff? 'Appy?
Mommy: Yes, Baby Jeff is happy.
Sam: Daddy 'appy?
Mommy: I certainly hope so.
Sam: [waits expectantly for a more definitive answer]
Mommy: Yes. Absolutely. Daddy is a very happy man. [Because if he isn't, he should be, darn it.]
Mommy: Sam, are you happy?
Sam: Sammy 'appy. I appy!
 --It appears the census is in and it shows 100% happiness for our family. Wait, we forgot to poll Bear. But both of Sam's personalities (first and third) answered. It averages out, right? Now I'm just baffled about where on earth that question came from.

[From facebook, October 5th]
I thought Sam was getting past the stage where he names everything after the noise it makes. He walked into the office holding The Pigeon and said, "Mom, dahts a bud."

I did a double-take. Birds used to be "tweets" all of a week ago.

"That's right, Sam!" I encouraged him. "That's a bird. He's The Pigeon. He says 'tweet' and 'let me drive the bus!!!'"

Oops. Sam spent the next several minutes flying The Pigeon around the house shouting "'Let me dwive da bus!!!'"

Perhaps I should never have things make interesting noises, ever again?

--I was quoting from Mo Willem's classic Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, a book about peer pressure. Fortunately he has not yet connected The Pigeon with his toy "oge cool bus" [orange school bus].

Ewuh go maff? Time go maff!
--Sam, bored, hoping that it was time to take Eric to his math group. (Which, being translated, means "Can I go play at Malachi's house?")

Sam: Bug! BUG!!! [Freaks out]
Daddy: Sam, it's just a bug. Chill.
Sam: BUG!!!! [Attempts to find refuge by climbing on top of his father's head. Well, almost.]
Daddy: [Trying to protect his work laptop] Sam, what's the big deal? What's so scary about a bug?
Sam: It might bite.
--We both thought that was a very impressive sentence for a boy of 29 months. How many 2 1/2 year old kids use conditional verbs?

[Sam falls and hurts himself. He picks himself up and goes running for the office.]
Mommy: [intercepting him] Sam, Daddy isn't available, but could I give you sympathy? I know I'm only your second-string parent, but--
[Sam turns around, bypasses Mommy, and runs straight to Daniel for sympathy.]
Mommy: Ouch. I can handle being second-string to Daddy, but third or fourth?
--Around that time, Sam also developed a marked preference that Eric unbuckle him at the end of car rides. Not mom. Nope.

[From facebook, September 30]

Is two too young to diagnose OCD?
--Gail, sighing over Sam's obsessions, simultaneously creating the perfect sentence for showcasing the three "two" homophones.

"Where's my daddy hug?"
--Sam, wailing that his daddy had left for work without giving him a hug. In Jon's defense, he walked out of the house and got into the car before Sam was up; Sam woke up just in time to watch from a bedroom window as daddy drove away. No fault attaches to Jon for this, but it didn't make the next four hours of toddler obsession and hurt any easier on Sam. Or on his dear, sweet, kind, patient mommy.

[From facebook, September 28th]

"Well, the real reason I withdrew Daniel from Meridian was that I couldn't stand listening to Sam obsess about orange buses." 
-- Gail, explaining why the hour-long round trip wasn't bad, but an hour as a captive audience was agony. ("Oge bus! Dat oge bus head. Hi Bus! Mom! Dat a sool bus! MOM! Oge bus dehw! MOMMY! BUS!!! [Gail finally gives in and acknowledges it's existence.] Bye bus. Mo bus! Wa mo bus!!!") I couldn't have any kind of conversation with an older child. I couldn't listen to the radio. He babbled incessantly. And very, very repetitively. 

[From facebook, September 10th]
In keeping with the motorized vehicles theme, Sam has made two recent pronouncements.

First, he was chattering about "Dahs a chuhch big," when all at once he proclaimed, "Dahs a baby chuhch!" (Translation: "That's a baby truck.") We had been passing semis and garbage trucks, and then he saw a Toyota Tacoma.

Second, as we drove past a parking lot, he said "Ni-ni, car. Ni-ni!" repeatedly.

It took
me a minute to figure out why he was saying good night to all the cars, then I realized. Obviously, mobile cars are "awake." Stationary cars, are, perforce, asleep. Makes perfect sense, now. I feel enlightened.

He's so cute when he comes up with innovative utterances. I just wish he did it more frequently. I'm getting tired of "A truck! More trucks. One truck. Big trucks. Truck big." As thirty-minute monologues. Even with the occasional car and bus thrown in, it grows wearisome. Here's hoping for more diversity. Soon.

[From facebook, September 8th]
Sam thinks I am simultaneously omnipotent and senile.

Yesterday, he kept chattering about trucks and buses. "Dahts a chuhch big! Mom! Dahts a bus! Mommy! One bus! Bye-bye bus! [Pause] Wa' mo' bus. Mom! Mo' bus! Hi, bus! Tanks, Mommy."

[Translation: "That's a big truck. Mom! That's a bus! Mommy! One bus! Bye bye bus! I want more buses. Mom! Cause more buses to appear for my amusement! Oh, look, a
nother school bus! Thanks, Mommy."]

Today he reminded me about a hundred times to buy more milk. At home. In the car. In the grocery store. Constant nagging. "Mom! Mo' moke! Nee' mo' moke. Mommy! I wa' mo' moke. Moke, Mom."

This raises many philosophical questions. Why is it that I can conjure buses and trucks out of thin air, but not milk? Also, why is it that I am sometimes all-powerful but always stupid? Should I feel more flattered or insulted? 

Sam: [going upstairs] Bye, Mom! [unintelligible babble]
Mom: [doing dishes] Bye, Sam!
Sam: Bye, Mom! [garble which Mom tunes out]
Mom: Bye, Sam!
Sam: BYE MOM! Ahgay!
Mom: Bye, sweetie. I'll miss you.
Sam: [extremely frustrated] BYE MOM! Avguday!
Mom: OH! Bye Sam, have a good day.
[Sam, satisfied, finishes climbing the stairs. It was a short day; he was back down within half an hour.]

--Speaking of verbal explosions...from September 19th. Jeff started it. Sam helped finish it. Baby Book Bandits.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Emperor's New, Hypothetical DI Challenge

Several years ago, my older sister started dating a guy. They got serious about each other.

When she came home from college that summer, she spent much of her time planning a "hypothetical" wedding. "Hypothetically speaking," she told Mom, "If Greg and I got married around the middle of August of 1998, in the Orlando temple, and we used the Gainesville Chapel for a reception..."

After several weeks of this, I quipped that at her wedding reception, she would be standing in the receiving line when a child would suddenly blurt out, "But, Mother! The bride is only wearing a hypothetical gown!"

Well, I've been talking about a highly hypothetical DI team for a few weeks now. Tonight we had the first meeting, and I'm starting to think it might become a reality.

One of Renae's warm-up activities involved making clothes out of pipe cleaners. At least, that's what I thought I heard. So. A bunch of kids who all want to do things "My way" and struggle with group work. A hypothetical team. Imaginary clothes. It all fits together...

For the meeting, I prepared a handout. If you didn't make it to the meeting, here is a copy, subjected to blogger's idiotic formatting, below:

Destination Imagination: Hypothetical Team
I (Gail) have no idea what I’m doing. Mercifully, 1) Merinda Cutler knows what she’s doing, 2) she is willing to offer some mentoring, and 3) I learn quickly.

Unfortunately, I can also be extremely distracted and disorganized. Blame the babies.
All quotes are from Merinda Cutler, unless I specify otherwise.

I. Goals/Vision:  DI is about kids thinking outside of the box, acquiring skills, practicing teamwork, and solving problems creatively, while also budgeting their time and resources. It is supposed to be fun. It is also supposed to be kid-driven. I believe it fosters attitudes of risk-taking, lifelong learning, independence, and imagination which will serve our kids well in a globalized economy.  This means we parents need to sit back and let the kids make mistakes. Lots of mistakes. We can ask questions, but not take over. Parents must sign a non-interference pledge. 
My opinion: If we, the parents, start obsessing about winning tournaments rather than enjoying the process, we are probably doing something wrong. I am naturally competitive, but will try to restrain myself. Plus I have no desire to go to state this year. Too complicated. Too messy. Too much stress. Too expensive.  Maybe next year. Most of the time I roll my eyes at clichéd statements like “everyone’s a winner.” In this case, I agree with it. If other parents have different goals, I am happy to consider them.

II. Age: A team competes at the level of its highest-grade member. So if we had  all third- and fourth-graders, the team would compete against other “fourth-grade” teams. If we had two second-graders, two third-graders, two fourth-graders, and a single fifth-grader, the team would compete against other fifth-grade teams.

III. Managers: Merinda suggests dividing the parental responsibilities several ways, so that no one parent feels overwhelmed. Some possible roles include:
Main Manager.  Prepares instant challenges and debriefs the team afterwards.  Merinda says, “This person does not need to be an expert in DI or management. All this person must do is commit to meet with their team once a week for about an hour and attend one 4-hour training on a Saturday (Oct. 13, Oct. 27, OR Nov. 4) and the tournament all day on Saturday, March 2nd. Your team is expected to work independently of adults (they actually get docked points if they don't), so you don't have to be super creative or innovative. You just need to prepare simple materials for your team to practice instant challenges, be there to help keep your team on task, and give objective feedback as needed.”
At the moment, I seem to be the main team manager. I would be happy to cede this role to someone else. Any volunteers? If not, remember that you didn’t want the job, either, and be merciful in judging me.

Co-Manager.  “Not essential, but highly recommended. This person is there to support the manager as needed—training is not required, but certainly would be helpful. This person might be in charge of making sure all the team's paperwork is in order and submitted on time.” (S)he could also help with crowd control. Most of us have toddlers, so whoever ends up running and debriefing the meetings each week could almost certainly use someone else to help babysit the younger kids.

Location/Transportation Manager. I am willing to volunteer my home as a meeting space. If, however, we can’t meet her one week, a location manager could be in charge of making other arrangements. Reserving a room at the library, perhaps, and also co-ordinating carpools. Also making arrangements for field trips to visit experts for special training.
Appraisers.  “Each team must provide TWO appraisers for the tournament or pay a fee to hire them. If you choose to do this, you must attend the training on Sat, Feb 9th and attend the tournament all day on March 2nd.” I note the appraiser could be a husband. Also that they would not end up judging their own children.
Materials Manager.  Your team will need a lot of found items and some purchased supplies to complete their Central Challenge and practice Instant Challenges. So start collecting extra things around your house like cardboard boxes, paints, craft supplies, office supplies, scrap wood, PVC pipe, drinking straws, rubber bands, mailing labels, paper clips, etc. Most of the practice instant challenges your team will do when they practice will require a few random items that can usually be found around the house. It's very helpful to have someone on your team to gather and/or purchase these materials for you.”

Renae also pointed out that if the kids make big, bulky props, they would need to be stored somewhere. And transported to the tournament.

Merinda had a gallon Ziploc bag of twisty ties, clips, clothespins, and other random things. I have been making a collection for the last several weeks rather than throw out, say, old plastic jars. Any volunteers to collate and cart around all of this?

Snack Manager. Everybody wants to be the snack manager. Show up at the end, distribute crackers or cookies, collect your own kid(s), and flee the chaos. Sadly, we can’t all be snack managers. Ah well.

IV. Schedule: Once I have registered a team, I will receive a nifty timeline with suggestions for intermediate goals and “you should really start working on this item now.”

Most DI teams meet for 60 to 90 minutes per week, possibly going up to 120 minutes as they approach the year-end tournament.

The regional competition will be on Saturday, March 2nd, in Dripping Springs, approximately a one-hour drive to the southwest.  Merinda says, “Make sure your team members all know that on this day they will be doing NOTHING but Destination Imagination in Dripping Springs. They won't be competing all day, but they need to be available all day because the schedules aren't set until just before the tournament. If they can't come on this day, they should drop out now.”

V. Costs:  I quote from
Membership Fee
(Purchased at

Individual memberships (1 team) cost $135.
Tournament Registration Fee
$40 per team
Also, each team has to supply 2 volunteers who will be appraisers at the tournament; there is a judge penalty fee of $100 per appraiser if you do not supply the volunteers.

Team Solution Supplies

$50 - $300
This varies depending on the challenge.  Most challenges have a cost limit.  A reasonable rule of thumb is that a team might spend twice the cost limit for the challenge.  However, a technical team may spend more than this as they construct and discard different possible solutions.  It is also possible that a team may take a minimalist approach and solve the challenge with very few purchased materials.  (Years ago there was a team that placed well at finals who basically had no costumes and whose only props were a ladder and a plastic flower).

Note that the cost limit only applies to materials that are actually presented as part of the team’s solution.  A team may build something that costs $30.  IF they do not use it for their solution it does not count against the cost limit but you have still spent the $30.  Other items are exempt items for the cost limit (such as batteries).  You spend the money but it doesn't count against the cost limit of the challenge. 

The Improv Challenge (Challenge D) has no cost limit but rather has a specific list of materials that the team may bring with them to the tournament. 

Most of my past teams spent around $20 - $25 per team member. I encouraged them to find items around their houses and transform those objects instead of buying new items.
 Instant Challenge Supplies

This can vary greatly by team.  Most ICs require items that are commonly around the house:  paper, paperclips, paper plates, duct tape, straws, etc.  You can also ask parents to donate specific supplies you need for Instant Challenge. 


 Other than your vehicle expenses for taking the team around, there are generally no travel expenses associated with the regional tournament.

I am estimating a total of around $400 for the entire team, for the year. That would be divided by the number of children on the team. My lowball estimate is $200 and my highest estimate is $550.

If we had five kids on a team, that would come to between $40 and $110. If we go with my middle estimate, it would be around $80 per kid for the entire year.
1)      If it’s too much, talk to me. I’ll try to work with you.
2)      DI is supposed to be low budget. One of the beautiful things is that you’re encouraged to use everyday items in creative ways. Also that rich kids should not receive an unfair advantage because they splurge on the newest robotic set. A budgetary upper cap helps to level the playing field.
3)      I would be willing to set a team limit. For instance, if we did the torque challenge, we could agree on a maximum our team would spend, even if it was under the maximum allowed by the rules.

In my opinion, if we spend more than $100 per child for the entire year, we've gone seriously wrong. I expect $50 per kid is a much more reasonable amount, especially if we put a strict cap on our challenge budget. Again, I'll work with you.

VI. Format/Assessment: I quote from
How will Teams be Assessed at the Tournament?
At the tournament, Destination Imagination teams will solve two types of Challenges: Team Challenges and Instant Challenges. Teams will perform their Challenge solutions to a group of Appraisers. Destination Imagination Appraisers are local volunteers who have been trained to assess the Challenges.
What is a Team Challenge?
There are seven new Challenges to choose from each year. The areas of focus include: Technical, Scientific, Fine Arts, Improvisational, Structural and Service Learning. There is also a non-competitive Early Learning Challenge. View our current season’s Challenge previews on our website.
The Team Challenge is the combination of the Central Challenge and Team Choice Elements. After solving Team Challenges, teams can attend tournaments to showcase their solutions in front of Appraisers and live audiences.
Central Challenge
The Central Challenge encourages development of critical thinking, problem solving techniques, teamwork, and creative process over a sustained period of time (usually 2 to 4 months).
Team Choice Elements
Team Choice Elements are team-selected elements that are incorporated with the Central Challenge to allow creative freedom in showcasing additional strengths.
What is an Instant Challenge?
Instant Challenges require teams to engage in quick, creative and critical thinking.
At a tournament, a team will receive an Instant Challenge and the materials with which to solve it. The team members must think on their feet by applying appropriate skills to produce a solution in a period of just 5 to 8 minutes.
In a world with growing cultural connections, increased levels and types of communication, and a new need for real-time teamwork and problem solving, the ability to solve problems quickly is becoming increasingly critical.
Instant Challenges are performance-based, task-based, or a combination of the two. Although each Instant Challenge has different requirements, all Instant Challenges reward teams for their teamwork. Instant Challenges are kept confidential until the day of the Tournament.

VII. Challenges: It’s okay to wait a few months before deciding which challenge the team will attempt. In the meantime, teams can work on practicing instant challenges, building teamwork, and investigating their options.
This year’s challenges: (I quote from

 Your vehicles are cranked and ready to tell their story. Will you push it, play it safe, or take the big risk? Just make sure you get In the Zone!
Points of Interest
- Present a story about the dangers faced by vehicles, told from the point of view of one or more vehicles
- Design and build small vehicles that are able to reliably and accurately travel specific distances
- Use at least three different power sources for the vehicles

 Art can begin with a flick of the wrist, but can it ride on the wind? If you take on this Challenge, you will imagine a character so light and airy that it could slip, slide and sail away!
Points of Interest
- Explore how the science of wind energy can be used to make kinetic art move
- Design and create kinetic art that moves during the presentation
- Create and present an original story that features an invisible visitor
- Integrate wind energy research into the story

 With the right camouflage, you can become anyone or anything. Superheroes and chameleons change themselves every day! Who will you be when you take the mask away?
Points of Interest
- Present a team-created story about a character that uses a disguise
- Use only non-verbal theatrical techniques to present the story
- Design and construct at least two masks that enhance the story

 The world has undergone a dramatic change overnight! OK team, grab some T-shirts and markers and see if you can make sense of this Change in RealiTee!
Points of Interest
- Create a 5-minute improv skit about life after a dramatic change and how the characters adapt to this change  
- Learn about different communication techniques and integrate one into the skit
- Use only white t-shirts, washable markers and team members to create all costumes, sets and props      
- Create a slogan from three randomly selected nouns

 Let’s do the twist! It goes like this: Build a structure that can survive a serious hit while holding weight. That’s what we are torqueing about!
Points of Interest
- Build a structure made entirely of glue and materials the team chooses from a list
- Test the structure by placing weights on it, and by subjecting it to torque-inducing impacts
- Produce a list the materials used in your structure, and provide samples of these materials
- Produce a prop or costume made of all the materials used in the structure
- Tell a story about something or someone that causes an unexpected twist or surprising change

 LIGHTS: Find a community need.
CAMERA: Solve the problem the best way you can!
ACTION: Then unveil your documentary film to a captivated audience.
Points of Interest
- Use collaborative problem solving tools to identify and select at least one real community need
- Design and carry out a project to address the real community need
- Create a movie that documents the project
- Evaluate the project and prepare a thorough project review
- Prepare for a live press conference

 Instant Challenges require teams to engage in quick, creative and critical thinking. At a tournament, a team will receive an Instant Challenge and the materials with which to solve it. The team members must think on their feet by applying appropriate skills to produce a solution in a period of just five to eight minutes.
In a world with growing cultural connections, increased levels and types of communication, and a new need for real-time teamwork and problem solving, the ability to solve problems quickly is becoming increasingly critical.
Instant Challenges are performance-based, task-based, or a combination of the two. Although each Instant Challenge has different requirements, all Instant Challenges reward teams for their teamwork and the creativity of their solutions. Instant Challenges are kept confidential until the day of the Tournament.