Video – The Truth About Breastfeeding

We plan to breastfeed our infant. This video provides a lot of information about the benefits of breastfeeding. It doesn’t discuss any “risks”, although I am not sure that is a meaningful concept when analyzing an evolutionary biology-based parenting practice. Below the video is a summary of some of the key points if you do not wish to watch the video:

  • The benefits of breastfeeding imply exclusive use, ie, no supplementation with bottle feeding, formula or solid foods
  • Breast milk is the most complete form of nutrition for infants; it also allows the mother to pass her antibodies to the baby to improve its immunity to disease
  • The skin-to-skin contact of breastfeeding creates hormonal release that leads to bonding
  • Breastfeeding is connected to improved brain development in infants (compared to non-breastfeeding), especially with regards to language development, emotional function and cognition
  • The hormonal release also assists with post-partum healing of the mother’s body and delays the return of ovulation during breastfeeding, preserving the mother’s stores of iron and creating “natural” spacing between pregnancies
  • Childbearing and breastfeeding have shown significant decreases in a woman’s risk of developing different forms of cancer in clinical studies
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Review – Totto-chan

Totto-chan: The Little Girl at the Window

by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi, published 1981

What a wonderful book! I’ve never read anything quite like it, although it reminded me quite a bit of various Hayao Miyazaki animated films I’ve seen in the past. “Totto-chan” is a memoir in the guise of a novel. The author’s childhood self is the main character and the events described actually took place while she attended a creative school called Tomoe Gakuen in pre-war Tokyo. This proves to be an interesting narrative device because the story is told from the emotional and experiential point of view of a child, but with the knowingness and articulateness of an adult. The obvious fondness or at least understanding of the author toward her younger self serves to enhance the overall sensation of empathy the story engenders, for that is the primary theme of the school and what the children were learning there.

Led by the visionary headmaster, Sosaku Kobayashi, the Tomoe school’s philosophy is built on trusting children to be themselves, “let nature lead” as Kobayashi put it. The story is filled with anecdotes of Totto-chan and her classmates being entrusted to figure things out for themselves, with adults and authority figures like the headmaster and parents simply listening and providing confidence that the children will succeed in coming up with workable solutions as they learn to navigate the world around them. Mistakes and slipups (such as Totto-chan falling into the school’s cesspool) are treated with dignity and patience. Instruction and structure come in the form of simple guidelines (for lunch, students were asked to bring “something from the hills and something from the sea”) with the belief that the children will be motivated to find their own solution with a limited amount of information.

The effect on the children is a unique sensation of freedom and capability, of openness and consideration of themselves and the needs of others. Seemingly without encouragement, the school spontaneously forms a meaningful, interested sense of community and ownership by the students toward their school grounds, neighborhood and classmates. Left to pursue their studies and interests at their own pace, some students excel through deep study and careful focus of a particular subject while others enjoy sampling disparate bits of knowledge and experience without a plan. All students appear happy and enthusiastic about their lives, even those students who come to the school with severe developmental handicaps. As the author says, this liberty allowed a lot of children who were misfits in the standard schooling regime to find a sense of ease and belonging and to go on to live productive, independent and connected lives as adults.

The story gives the reader a glimpse of an educational philosophy and pedagogical approach that is at once intuitive and mysterious: why shouldn’t every school demonstrate such empathy and concern for its students; and how DOES Mr. Kobayashi manage to have such patience and a sunny disposition toward the antics of small children that are considered so “obnoxious” by nearly everybody else? The epilogue of the story summarizes some of the research travel Kobayashi performed in Europe for several years leading up to the founding of the Tomoe school and it becomes clear that there is a dedicated, principled purposefulness to every single event in the story, which the author as an adult reflects upon in the present with a “Oh, so THAT must have been what Mr. Koboyashi was trying to teach us there…” To a cynical mind it may seem almost exploitative to be so cunning in one’s schemes, but if the ultimate goal of the approach is to develop in the students the maxim “Trust yourself”, how nefarious could this stratagem actually be?

The school seems like a very “social” place and less like an academy– numerous field trips, “sports” days, music and exercise classes and camping overnights pepper the plot and while there is a library and scenes of students doing self-directed physics studies with alcohol burners and beakers, they always take place in Tomoe’s disused railroad cars-cum-classrooms. It’s a challenge only to those readers with a constricted view of what education and learning necessarily mean. For Kobayashi and his students, every experience brings teachable moments and the question begged and answered is why reading about flora and fauna in a textbook is a superior approach when one can go outside for a walk and study the variety of life up close.

From the view of paranoid American parenting, the children disrobing with their teachers and swimming naked together in the school’s small pool will seem like a perfect opportunity for secret child abusers amongst the faculty to get their jollies. But the lesson here seems to be that every choice in life brings with it risks and if bathing suit-less swim time is a useful means for helping the children (especially the physically handicapped) to appreciate and accept their differences and similarities such that they can have confidence about who they are and act with kindness towards everyone else, the risk of something monstrous or mean-spirited in such an environment might be a better risk to take than watching certain individuals grow up feeling alienated from themselves and others for lack of such experiences.

Indeed, those same paranoid parents would be wondering how a child could ever develop a moral sense without correction and punishment from adults. It is enjoyable, then, to witness the many moments when Totto-chan attempts to do something underhanded or less than honest (with herself, her parents or her friends) but recognizes the moral inconsistency of her actions on her own and eventually makes amends and moves on. It makes you think that children are capable of so much more than they are given credit for, typically, and that maybe the moral failings of children reflect not their immaturity, but the perverse incentives of the adults who guide them.

This is a humorous book, as well. There were many moments when I couldn’t help but laugh out loud and recount a passage to someone nearby, they’re just too good not to share. And thankfully, there are moments of profound tragedy and despair. I say thankfully, because it is in these recollections that we are truly reminded of how precious life is and what a wonderful gift a school like Tomoe is.

One of those tragedies is that the Tomoe school burned to the ground near the finale of the Pacific War as Tokyo came under increased firebombing by the US Air Force. It’s a stark reminder of the injudiciousness and unfairness of war, even though it is recounted without particular frustration or anger on the part of the author (a testament to the empathetic spirit of the school itself!) But there is also a lesson in the resilience of the creative spirit, as Kobayashi’s only response is to ask, “What kind of school shall we build next?”

The good news is that we don’t have to suffer war or burn our schools down to ask that question ourselves.

I think this book can be enjoyed by children, parents, families, teachers and social theorists and anyone concerned with building a more empathetic society built upon respect for the individual and the instinct of trusting oneself.

Review – Real Food For Mother And Baby

Real Food For Mother And Baby

by Nina Planck, published 2009

For me, reading this book simply resulted in confirming a lot of biases I already have regarding ideal nutritional practices. Those confirmed biases could be reduced down to:

  • make most of what you eat yourself
  • when eating animals, use as much of the animal as you can (including bone, skin, organs, etc.)
  • when eating fruits and vegetables, use what is in season when possible
  • focus on organics and other traditionally raised and cultivated foods
  • avoid eating things that were not regularly consumed 100 years ago
  • avoid anything processed, “packaged” sweetened or artificially preserved
  • eat more fat than you’re “supposed to” and don’t get your nutritional advice from headline news or the government

There’s more to it than that, but that’s a good start to revolutionizing the way most moderns/Americans eat in the West.

The book is essentially 200pgs of these broad outlines and a few more specific guidelines, along with basic scientific information on why this is the right way to eat and how various research agrees. The advice is good for women (and men) planning to conceive, women in pregnancy, nursing mothers and babies ready to eat things besides breast milk.

In other words, the “best” diet for fertility, childbirth and infancy, is also the best diet for children and adults in terms of achieving optimum health outcomes and maximizing genetic fitness and expression.

The weakest part of the book is the author’s condoning of various “cheats” and nutritional oversights based on the arbitrary logic of “a little poison now and then won’t kill you”, and it was a let down to learn that after following these nutritional practices she still ended up getting drugged out and giving birth by C-section during her own pregnancy.

Mothers to be will probably find the affirmative tone and validative diction of the book enjoyable. And for some this will be a revelation. For me, I didn’t get a lot new. It did get me to think about how hopeless health (and intelligence?) outcomes must be for generations of people in communities without the knowledge, incentives or resources to eat this way. It also got me thinking about how easy it is to overdo good nutrition, to obsess about it and give it undue consideration. It’s important, yet spending your life on feeding yourself doesn’t leave time for much else which to me is like luxurious primitivism.

Notes – The Snowball, By Alice Schroeder: Part V, Chap. 43-52

The following are reading notes for The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life, by Alice Schroeder (buy on Amazon.com). This post covers Part V: The King of Wall Street, Chap. 43-52

The modern Buffett

In Part V of the Snowball, we see Buffett’s transformation from the early, cigar butt-picking, Grahamian value-minded Buffett, through the filter of his Fisherite partner, Charlie Munger, into the mega cap conglomerator and franchise-buyer Buffett who is popularly known to investors and the public the world round.

It is in this part that we also see Buffett make one of his biggest missteps, a stumble which almost turns into a fall and which either way appears to shock and humble the maturing Buffett. It is in this era of his investing life that we see Buffett make some of his biggest rationalizations, become entangled in numerous scandals he never would’ve tolerated in his past and dive ever deeper into the world of “elephant bumping” and gross philanthropy, partly under the tutelage of his new best friend and Microsoft-founder, Bill Gates.

The lesson

Buffett made a series of poor investments but ultimately survived them all because of MoS. There will be challenges, struggles, and stress. But after the storm, comes the calm.

The keys to the fortress

From the late seventies until the late nineties, despite numerous economic and financial cycles Buffett’s fortune grew relentlessly under a seemingly unstoppable torrent of new capital:

Much of the money used for Buffett’s late seventies spending spree came from a bonanza of float from insurance and trading stamps

This “float” (negative working capital which was paid to Buffett’s companies in advance of services rendered, which he was able to invest at a profit in the meantime) was market agnostic, meaning that its volume was not much affected by the financial market booming or crashing. For example, if you owe premiums on your homeowner’s insurance, you don’t get to suspend payment on your coverage just because the Dow Jones has sold off or the economy is officially in a recession.

The growth in Buffett’s fortune, the wilting of his family

Between 1978 and the end of 1983, the Buffetts’ net worth had increased by a stunning amount, from $89 million to $680 million

Meanwhile Buffett proves he’s ever the worthless parent:

he handed the kids their Berkshire stock without stressing how important it might be to them someday, explaining compounding, or mentioning that they could borrow against the stock without selling it

Buffett had once written to a friend when his children were toddlers that he wanted to see “what the tree has produced” before deciding what to do about giving them money

(he didn’t actively parent though)

Buffett’s private equity shop

Another tool in Buffett’s investment arsenal was to purchase small private companies with dominant franchises and little need for capital reinvestment whose excess earnings could be siphoned off and used to make other investments in the public financial markets.

Continuing on with his success in acquiring the See’s Candy company, Buffett’s next private equity-style buyout involved the Nebraska Furniture Mart, run by a devoted Russian immigrant named Rose Blumkin and her family. And, much like the department store chain he once bought for a song from an emotionally-motivated seller, Buffett beat out a German group offering Rose Blumkin over $90M for her company, instead settling with Buffett on $55M for 90% of the company, quite a discount for a “fair valuation” of practically an entire business in the private market, especially considering the competing bid.

An audit of the company after purchase showed that the store was worth $85M. According to Rose Blumkin, the store earned $15M a year, meaning Buffett got it for 4x earnings. But Rose had buyers remorse and she eventually opened up a competing shop across the street from the one she had sold, waging war on the NFM until Buffett offered to buy her out for $5M, including the use of her name and her lease.

One secret to Buffett’s success in the private equity field? Personality:

“She really liked and trusted me. She would make up her mind about people and that was that.”

Buffett’s special privileges

On hiding Rose Blumkin’s financial privacy: Buffet had no worries about getting a waiver from the SEC

Buffett got special dispensation from the SEC to not disclose his trades until the end of the year “to avoid moving markets”

The gorilla escapes its cage

Another theme of Buffett’s investing in the late 1980s and 1990s was his continual role as a “gorilla” investor who could protect potential LBO-targets from hostile takeover bids. The first of these was his $517M investment for 15% of Tom Murphy-controlled Cap Cities/ABC, a media conglomerate. Buffett left the board of the Washington Post to join the board of his latest investment.

Another white knight scenario involved Buffett’s investment in Ohio conglomerate Scott Fetzer, which Berkshire purchased for $410M.

Then Buffett got into Salomon Brothers, a Wall Street arbitrage shop that was being hunted by private equity boss Ron Perelman. Buffett bought $700M of preferred stock w/ a 9% coupon that was convertible into common stock at $38/share, for a total return potential of about 15%. It even came with a put option to return it to Salomon and get his money back.

But Buffett had stepped outside of his circle of competence:

He seemed to understand little of the details of how the business was run, and adjusting to a business that wasn’t literally made of bricks-and-mortar or run like an assembly line was not easy for him… he had made the investment in Salomon purely because of Gutfreund

Buffett’s disgusting ignorance and hypocrisy

Buffett:

I would force you to give back a huge chunk to society, so that hospitals get built and kids get educated too

Buffett decides to sell the assets of Berkshire’s textile mills– on the books for $50M, he gets $163,122 at the auction. He refused to face his workers and then had the gall to say

“The market isn’t perfect. You can’t rely on the market to give every single person a decent living.”

Buffett on John Gutfreund:

an outstanding, honorable man of integrity

Assorted quotes

Peter Kiewit, a wealthy businessman from Omaha, on reputation:

A reputation is like fine china: expensive to acquire, and easily broken… If you’re not sure if something is right or wrong, consider whether you’d want it reported in the morning paper

Buffett on Wall St:

Wall Street is the only place people ride to in a Rolls-Royce to get advice from people who take the subway

One Day Your Children Will Comment On Your Blog

I have a funny thought from time to time that I thought I’d share. I don’t think it’s original, someone else has probably pointed this out before and they’ve probably said it better than I have, but here it is anyway.

I’m not writing this blog just for my pleasure or the pleasure of my readers, but for my children (and grandchildren). In a general sense, the internet is immortal and the words jotted down and thoughts expressed will in most cases remain on the web long after they’ve served their immediate informational purpose and even long after we’re dead and gone.

The work of future biographers and historians will be made infinitely easier by the public record-keeping of their eventual subjects, who have poured out their thoughts, dreams and anxieties for all to see on the web. The retention and archive of years and years of people’s personal electronic communications via e-mail in the cloud will further ease the work of these chroniclers.

But it is our children, for most of us unborn or currently incapable of understanding our written thoughts, who will be offered the strangest privilege by getting to look back on our personal, recorded thoughts. Up until now, most adults have never had to face children who had ready evidence of their past imperfections, mistakes and occasional cluelessness. No adult ever had to have the tables of parenthood turned on them as their children were unable to effectively watch them “grow up.”

The internet has changed many things, many businesses, many social activities. It is hard to imagine most traditional rules and styles of parenting surviving the internet completely unscathed. How will authoritarian, paternalistic, “because I said so!” parenting stand in the face of children who can read their parent’s blogs?

How will the State convince us of its version of historical events when we can all watch them ourselves on YouTube and make up our own mind about what happened and what was the significance of it?

For bloggers in their 40s and 50s, learning about the consequences of children who can read their blogs is probably becoming a weekly occurrence. For bloggers in their 20s and 30s, this experience is likely yet to be had though inevitably it will.

Rather than end my commentary with a warning like, “Be careful, your children will be watching you!”, instead I want to encourage readers to be fully cognizant of the opportunity to communicate with future generations in a powerful, new way. If your mission is to spread knowledge and understanding, smile knowing that what you’re writing and what you’re building will one day be enjoyed by your children, as well.

Be thoughtful, and they’ll be thankful!

A New Kind Of “Fairy Tale”

Moral instruction in the form of short stories, nursery rhymes and “fairy tales” is a common tradition in most cultures. In the West in particular, many children grow up learning stories from Aesop’s Fables or other derived literature such as “The Tortoise & The Hare” or “The Old Woman in the Shoe”. The trouble with these pedagogical traditions is that they often rely upon magical or other irrational characters or premises to tell the story and teach the lesson. That or, even worse, the original moral intent has been lost or confounded in modern retellings and there either is no principle at root or the one evoked has to do with some commie catchall such as “sharing is caring.”

A good friend seeks to rid the world of such childish flim-flam and bestow well-reasoned and entertainingly told moral tales upon our cultural heritage with a new series she is writing. The first of her efforts, The Three Little Pigs: Or, To Survive We Must Plan… and Work, has just been published and as I read several drafts before publication I can say without reservation that she is off to a promising start.

As the author, Roslyn Ross, mentions in the foreword,

This version of the Three Little Pigs is unlike any other–it is clear, rational, and value-oriented. Specifically this version is different in that: -It has death in it. Most other versions of The Three Little Pigs available today shy away from this reality of life, the very value this story was intended to teach: Those who fail to plan for their survival … often don’t survive. It does not serve children to hide reality from them, so this version of the story deals plainly with death.

Yes, the story has anthropomorphic pigs, anthropomorphic pigs who talk in rhyming verse, no less. But this was a creative decision made purposefully by Roslyn because she feared that if she scrapped the animals from the story entirely it’d be TOO unfamiliar to the parents who grew up with such nonsense and thus they might miss her story entirely when searching for this kind of material for her children.

Roslyn also had the story illustrated with her own commissioned artist. The result is a story that is both literally and visually original.

We are big fans of Roslyn Ross’s parenting philosophy at A House Rises, which she has most recently outlined in her first book, the misleadingly titled “A Theory of Objectivist Parenting” and which she continues to develop, explain and exemplify on her personal blog, Raising Children Is An Act of Philosophy. (We hope to either convince her to adopt the WordPress medium for her blogging efforts or convince her to join us in our effort!) We will be posting a summary review of Roslyn’s parenting theory book for those short on time or hesitant to devote an hour to reading the whole book on a mere recommendation.

For now, we’re just excited to see Roslyn’s latest effort come to fruition and we’re looking forward to seeing the other planned installments in the series and eventually incorporating them into the educational curriculum of our own children.