What is happening, here?

I don’t even want to click on it to find out. I just want to let my mind wander, and walk away assuming this is — obviously — a store where Hawkeye sells me survival gear, or maybe just rocks. Rocks would be fine.

Circus elephant of the day

I took my kids to a giant, ugly mall just across the NY/NJ line this weekend, and it turns out that it’s actually the eighth largest mall in America, and extremely controversial. I have no real opinion (we had a nice time, and it also seems entirely possible that it’s an environmental monster and land use disaster that never should have been built), but I have to recommend the Wikipedia article on the place. It’s full of gems like this:

The construction of the mall faced a number of environmental obstacles before it began. What was initially thought to be a mastodon buried there turned out to be a circus elephant.

Wikipedia

There’s more where that came from! And it has a ferris wheel!

The dumbest thing about baseball

Here’s the manager of the Houston Astros talking about one of his players getting hit (almost certainly intentionally) a few days after that player crashed into the other team’s catcher, broke his nose, and gave him a concussion.

“I wish they would have handled it better,” Hinch said. “It was too high. If they’re going to hit guys, they need to hit guys the right way. They don’t need to throw two … sliders and then throw [at] a guy at the neck level. That’s not right. That’s not the right way to do it, even if you’re allowed to do it, which you apparently are nowadays.”

A.J. Hinch, via ESPN

I don’t mind unwritten rules in sports, because most of them are about honoring the spirit of the game, which is supposed to be fun and entertaining, and not a technality-based slog that feels like personal injury litigation. But those are unwritten rules, not unwritten enforcement of those rules — and enforcement is where all of this falls apart and just becomes a bunch of dudes passive aggressively raging out at each other.

In other words, one possible unwritten rule could be “don’t hit people in the head”. You could then enforce it socially — basically, don’t hit players in the head, or people will dislike you, fans will enjoy when you fail, it’ll be harder to get endorsements, teams will consider you a distraction and a risk, and it will generally just be less fun and rewarding to be a baseball player. Those things can all happen anyways, but we’re basically taking “hitting people in the head”, and bolting it to “being a jerk” and giving you those normal consequences.

If you want actual physical penalties as part of enforcement — and, by the way, the act of enforcing those penalties is potentially in violation of either written or unwritten rules themselves — you really have to formalize everything or you end up with nonsense like this. These guys can’t rationally adjudicate anything. If they could, we wouldn’t need umpires and replay and all this crap.

Unwritten rules, fine. They determine our (non-local) heroes and our villains. Unwritten enforcement is just unsatisfying chaos.

Bob Ross on Haircuts

Everyone loves Bob Ross, the TV painter who died back in 1995 and encouraged everyone my age to reference “happy little trees” for no reason whatsoever in their everyday life.

But there’s more.

According to Annette Kowalski, Mr. Ross originally chose to perm his hair because it was cheaper than getting frequent haircuts.

The New York Times

Brilliant. I’m in, let’s do this, let’s get perms for Bob Ross.

Petty + Bitter

This is pathetic.

The White House reportedly requested that the U.S. Navy move the warship — named USS John S. McCain for the late senator — “out of sight” during President Trump’s state visit to Japan over Memorial Day weekend, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Axios

They put a tarp over the guy’s name. A tarp! The whole point of naming the thing is to honor the guy — we’ve decided to honor him. None of us are in love, politically, with everyone we’ve named a frickin’ boat after, but we roll with it, because we’re Americans, and not three year olds who throw themselves on the floor screaming when it’s time to go to bed or eat cauliflower (I have some familiarity with this, FWIW).

I know Pence is a useless Ken doll with a policy agenda from “A Handmaid’s Tale”, but at least he could probably stand there blankly during the occasional ceremony. Trump can’t even do that, plus he’s a moron enacting awful policy.

Taglines

I don’t know how long ESPN has had this one, but I just noticed it. Maybe it’s like, 12 years old, I dunno.

This seems… weird, even if I can’t put my finger on why. Is it too much punctuation (a colon, and then three sentence fragments)? Is it the kind of pathetic “we’ll do whatever you want” nature of it? Is it the idea that ESPN “serves” fans, which seems kind of ridiculous?

Maybe it’s all of it. Even those negative qualities do seem pretty on-brand for them, though, at least these days.

Bad Dads

There are a lot of smart observations in this Darcy Lockman piece on, essentially, why parental work is disproportionately performed by Moms to what is often (and not unreasonably) considered an absurd degree. So you should read it.

That being said, I don’t think it’s a very helpful assessment of the situation. It ultimately offers Moms no advice at all, and only one piece of advice for Dads — do what Mom would do, when she would do it, the way she would do it. That’s not reasonable advice for any human being (“be this other person”), and it’s not reasonable here — yet the article makes no attempt to get to the bottom of:

  • why there is such a different set of expectations and values around housework between Moms and Dads (in the article, the idea that a task could be done less often than Mom feels is necessary, or not at all, is dismissed out of hand as “unreasonable”)
  • the role of workaholic culture in driving increased expectations for constant parental “hustle”, and how that particularly affects women with demanding jobs who come home to what feels like effectively a second office
  • the role of society and social pressure that “blames” Moms for kids being sloppily dressed, poorly behaved, groomed, or anything else that is obviously the shared responsibility of both parents
    • the corollary here — how Moms and Dads can talk and align their expectations; if Dad doesn’t care what the PTA parents think about the way their kid dresses, why is that, is it a good/bad reason, etc.
  • whether there is any correlation between the way we perform parenting tasks (high effort, low effort, frequency, emotional state, stress, personal interest, etc.) and their effectiveness as a part of raising children
  • whether Moms and Dads in different scenarios really do have different levels of autonomy

That last one is a particularly egregious miss by Lockman in this piece, as she directly quotes Dads asking for autonomy and simply Mom-splains it away.

But this isn’t “maternal gatekeeping,” the theory that men want to help but women disparage their capabilities and push them out. Instead these seem to be situations that necessitate the intervention of a reasonable adult.

A mother in California said: “It’s important to me that my sons are not falling asleep in class and that they’re not late for school. My husband does not share those priorities, so I do bedtime and school drop-off.”

The dad in Vermont explained: “I do laundry when I need it. When it comes to the kids’ laundry, I could be more proactive, but instead I operate on my time scale. So my wife does most of their laundry. Let me do it my way and I’m happy to do it, but if you’re going to tell me how to do it, go ahead and do it yourself.”

– the New York Times

Leaving aside the confusing switch between different sets of parents (why are we hearing from a mother in California, and then an unconnected dad in Vermont about a completely different issue?), this whole section reeks of cherry-picking. In an article about “good” Dads, are you telling me the California mother is dealing with a father who doesn’t care if his kids “fall asleep in class” or miss school? If that’s true, he actually sounds like a totally shitty Dad! What’s much more likely is that he also shares these priorities, but doesn’t agree with Mom about which tactics and tasks are necessary to protect these priorities. And maybe he’s totally wrong! But we don’t explore that at all — it’s just that Mom cares, and Dad doesn’t — according to Mom. Yeah… this seems productive.

Laundry Dad doesn’t really get a response, either. Is he right? Is he wrong? Is Mom interested in some kind of scenario where Dad simply takes care of the laundry issue and Mom removes it from her brain? Is Dad bluffing and actually wants things done to Mom’s standards, just not by him?

These are all possibilities that go completely unexplored, because for all it’s thought-provoking, this really is a deeply, deeply cynical article. Moms are miserable and shouldn’t change a thing. Good Dads are actually Manipulative, Game-Playing Bad Dads, but for some reason we think they will unilaterally disarm and accept the domestic values and priorities of Moms (who, by the way, are apparently miserable) when presented with what is essentially a “shame on you” in the New York Times.

In reality, this article — and this way of thinking — will change absolutely nothing. It simply extends the “I could be happy if would you would just… ” myth that plagues relationships of all kinds, from marriages to the office to the basketball court. A bunch of Dads will read it and feel like doing better is impossible, because it involves submitting completely to domestic values they don’t believe in, and a bunch of Moms will forward it to other Moms and say “OH MY GOD THIS IS SO RIGHT”, or maybe send it to a Dad in the hopes that they’ll snap out of The Dad Matrix and realize it matters whether the kids take a bath today or tomorrow, and that the correct answer is obviously ___________.

My advice is that if your plan to improve a relationship relies entirely on the other person suddenly seeing things your way from now on, come up with a different plan, or get out of said relationship.

Two Incomes

Ross Douthat, as is his way, brings up an interesting discussion and then hand-waves away the perspectives of what I’m pretty sure are the vast majority of people. Today, it’s about “the two income trap”, the argument/concept that an increase in two-income households has unexpectedly resulted in both less time (due to working) and similar costs, as families have bid up the cost of housing and child care.

I had never heard of this argument before, so that’s cool. And Douthat (who seems like a nice, reasonable man on the podcasts I’ve heard him on) does a good job breaking down different approaches and conclusions from various “pro-family” perspectives who disagree on what all this means. But then…

This is the real “trap” created by two-earner culture. There are many families that want to raise kids on one income, or one income and some part-time work, and instead find themselves pressured, financially and culturally, to keep up with the dual-earning Smith-Joneses next door.

Ross Douthat, NY Times

Eh… is that the real trap? I don’t feel pressured financially or culturally to keep up with my neighbors or my friends. After a pretty wild fifteen years out of college, we’re in the best shape we’ve ever been in (financially) thanks to some controlled risks, career gambles, and more than a few relocations (including one where I needed a new job to give me an advance so I could move… and incredibly, they did it).

And yes, we still feel like it’s not enough. We still make pro-career decisions that, to us, are pro-family. Because the thing that isn’t enough — it’s not our collection of consumer goods, or our “vacations” (LOL), or anything you’d picture a couple of well-off mid-atlantic white people worrying about. For me, it’s mostly the fact that in post-safety-net America, you can never really build enough of a net for a bunch of things that can actually happen to you. High paying jobs can disappear. Physical challenges happen. Family members can suddenly need help — and not the “I’m in a pinch” kind, but the “I’m going to die” kind. The fact that I haven’t been hit with these problems doesn’t mean they don’t exist (close friends and relatives have been kicked right in the teeth by many of them), and now that I have two little kids, the pressure to build a real net is very real. My parents didn’t need me to take care of them, financially, which was a huge boost to me coming into and out of college, and remains a huge advantage today. But they need me to take care of myself and my kids — and as with most people, there is no line in our family budget for “inheritance”. That cavalry ain’t coming if 55-year old Nate checks his 401k and suddenly realizes he spent too much time coaching Little League and not enough at the office.

Now, one way Douthat could be right (and I could be wrong) that would be wonderful would be if all of things I’m worried about simply aren’t issues. No one loses their job, there is never a car accident or hospital visit, some sort of decent, public higher education is available to my two kids that I can afford. But assuming all of these things are going to work out doesn’t seem “conservative” at all, and it’s objectively false that these things don’t happen to people in the aggregate. They do.

Now, the conversation Douthat actually wants to have (and spends most of the article discussing quite eloquently) is about the right way for society to support families, and enable families to form in ways that are most compatible with their hopes, dreams, values, etc.

I think that’s wonderful, and would love to do it. I also have absolutely zero belief that it’s anything other than a very academic, very NYT Opinion Page discussion without major, radical changes to the relationship between employers and employees, as well as the state and its citizens. Because I can tell you, in private sector capitalist thunderdome (where I have spent my entire career), your family’s financial viability is on you. And if you fail there — in 2019 — absolutely no one is coming to help.

Choose wisely.

How many kids should you have?

At the same time, having only one kid means parents miss out on the opportunity to have at least one boy and one girl—an arrangement they have tended to prefer for half a century, if not longer. (Couples are generally more likely to stop having children once they have one of each.) Maybe this is another reason two is such a popular number—though in the long run, one researcher found that having all girls or all boys doesn’t meaningfully affect the happiness of mothers who wanted at least one of each. (This researcher didn’t look at dads’ preferences.)

The Atlantic

First of all, hat tip/LOL at “didn’t look at dads’ preferences”. I mean, I can’t blame them.

Secondly, the answer is two. God bless my friends diving into three kid territory (those friends exist now), but it’s definitely two. Having more than one is a game changer, but I think for the most part it’s a change the average parent will ultimately enjoy. Having a third just feels like — to me — the worst of both worlds. You have more hilarity to enjoy, but it’s paired with an increase in logistics that soaks up the time you’d actually use to experience the hilarity.

Maybe you just need a super-parent in your home to make this work. My wife and I see ourselves as pretty good parents, but we’re also ordinary, flawed people with intense jobs and deeply personal hobbies & interests we barely get to pursue anymore, so the costs of parenting (along with the joys) are pretty tangible to us. So not only am I a fan of the two kid approach, I’m a fan of our accidentally compressed timeline that front-loaded our kids’ heaviest logistics (diapers, naps, trying to figure out what someone needs when they can’t talk, etc.). Pretty soon we’re going to be done with the baby stuff, and I think as character-building as its been, we’re going to really enjoy raising little citizens.

Welcome to Serbia

Somewhat inexplicably, I have been in Novi Sad, Serbia for the last several days for work. It’s pretty amazing. For a guy who doesn’t really travel much (and certainly doesn’t try to), this is my third incredible international trip after fairly extended visits to Vietnam in 2011 and China in 2013.

It’s a traveling person’s cliche, but Serbia really is a beautiful country. The locals (who, unlike me, are young and cool) have occasionally put down Novi Sad as a “boring” city in their conversations with me, but… I kind of love the place. Maybe it’s because I’m boring, or maybe it’s because this is the right kind of boring for me, but I really enjoy the vibe here.

In other news, a few days of looking around has indicated that Serbians are enormous, friendly, and drink a lot. Also, I saw “GO HOME YANKEE NO NATO” spray painted on the street, which was a little jarring. Still, as interesting as all this is, I can’t wait to get home and see my kids again. My wife and I have both done our fair share of business travel (okay, mostly her), so being away from each other is something we’ve grown to handle. But the munchkins are different, and this is my first extended period of time without them. I really miss ’em.