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Showing posts from November, 2011

National Review misses good ol' civilian-slaughtering imperialism

The ransacking of the British Embassy in Teheran is a very serious, ugly affair. At National Review, it makes Charles C.W. Cooke wistful for the good ol' days—with the Empire would've responded by killing a lot of innocent people. He fondly remembers one Lord Palmerston:
With the British embassy in Tehran under Iranian control, the Foreign Office issued a statement expressing “outrage” and confirming that the move “is utterly unacceptable. The Iranian government [has] a clear duty to protect diplomats and embassies in their country and we expect them to act urgently to bring the situation under control and ensure the safety of our staff and security of our property.” This, to put it mildly, would not have been Palmerston’s response. Having fumed for a while that Tehran was not close enough to water for a quick naval bombardment, Henry John Temple would have sent a blockade to the Caspian Sea and knocked out coastal towns one by one until an apology was forthcoming and a restora…

Glenn Greenwald: You can dissent without being a dick

Forgive the crudeness of the headline. But that's the thought I had while reading Glenn Greenwald this morning, as he weighed in on l'affaire Sam Brownback. If you've missed the controversy, here's the skinny: A Kansas teen-ager who was part of a group visiting the Kansas governor sent out a tweet suggesting she had criticized him to his face; the tweet contained a crude hashtag. The governor's communications staff saw the tweet, and told the teen's principal. It's all been resolved, now, and nobody has come out of it looking all that great.

But the Washington Post's Ruth Marcus wrote a column this morning castigating the teen for her incivility. And Greenwald has piped up criticizing Marcus for showing undue deference to elected officials:
Behold the mind of the American journalist: Marcus — last seen in this space three years ago demanding that Bush officials be fully shielded from all accountability for their crimes (the ultimate expression of “respe…

Dirty hippies and the First Amendment

Regarding this: I’ve had to make this point a couple of times in the past few days, so I might as well make it here: You don’t have to *like* the Occupy folks to think that abusive policing is bad.

There’s an old saying that—in my view at least—once represented the American ideal: “I don’t like what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” That ideal has been replaced, it seems, with the idea that dirty hippies deserve whatever they get.

I like the old way better. It does require that I hold myself to the same ideal—that I allow room for people to be (say) bigoted or homophobic or, maybe, just a little too solicitous of the rich and powerful. I should defend their right to speak their minds, and get angry if a cop pepper sprays them for doing so. It’s easy to be gleeful when our opponents are silenced, but it isn't actually right.

Those darned cops

In the aftermath of the much-publicized pepperspray incident at UC-Davis, Ben and I use our Scripps column this week to debate the role of police officers in our communities. My take:
Abusive cops are nothing new: Ask your black and Latino friends about their experiences driving around in white neighborhoods, and you're likely to get an earful. What's remarkable about the recent examples of brutality -- why they have our attention -- is the victims in these cases: White, middle-class kids.

And that's fine, because it lets us finally have a big conversation about the role of police in our communities -- a role that has shifted since the events of 9/11. Departments across the country have become increasingly militarized over the last decade, preparing for a terrorist attack that most will never face. They've purchased tanks and drones, and have generally armed themselves for war.

In the absence of an actual external threat, though, those war-making capabilities have been…

What good is college football?

Ben and I wrestle with the Penn State scandal in this week's Scripps column. My take:
College football is a blot upon the landscape.The sport distorts the educational mission of participating schools, draws disproportionately from their financial resources and institutional energy, and badly exploits the young men who play the game.All this, so we fans can have our Saturday tailgates. The scandal at Penn State isn't uncommon. As a young reporter in the early 2000s, I wrote about how Terry Allen, then-football coach at the University of Kansas, was presented with accusations that two of his players sexually assaulted a woman. He didn't go to police; Allen punished the players by making them run extra laps after practice. After the story broke, he stuck around another year before losing his job over a poor record. Anybody who has spent time around a top-level college program can probably tell you a similar story -- usually off-the-record. KU's current coach, Turner Gill, …

On hospitalization: Advocate for yourself

Over the course of three surgeries starting in May, I've had the honor of spending 17 days in the hospital in recent months. Before this, I'd not spent a night in the hospital since I was five years old, so I had to learn a thing or two about how best to take care of myself.

What I learned is this: I had to be an advocate for myself.

My second visit to the hospital, in July, was the worst. Part of that was a function of the surgery itself--I was opened up along the entire length of my belly, and surgeons had a difficult time once they got inside. The result was more pain--and more pain medication--than I have ever experienced in my life.

An additional problem, for me, is that I am what's known in the medical industry as a "bad stick." Hospitalization is an unending series of 1 a.m. blood draws--the better to deprive you of needed rest--and what became clear during that second visit is that it was hard for medical personnel to find a decent vein to tap. On one pa…

On pooping

A couple of months ago, I took my son to the French cafe down the street, a lovely place full of coffee, brie, and accordion music. He had his usual croissant, I ordered a sandwich and soup, and we were well on our way to enjoying an atypically mild Philadelphia day.

Under my shirt, though, activity was brewing. The seal on my colostomy bag had come loose--and when the poop started flowing again, there was little resistance between it and the outside world. I heard a farting sound and looked down in horror as a dark brown stain spread across the front, the smell of shit muscling aside the aroma of green lentil  soup that had made the cafe so inviting.

I quickly paid my bill, hustled Tobias home, and cursed furiously as I cleaned myself up. And I spent the rest of the day feeling sorry for myself.

Last week, my colostomy was reversed. Early Monday morning, I pooped in the regular fashion for the first time in roughly seven months. For me, 2011 has been the Year of Poop--with much thoug…

Poverty: It's worse than you think

Remember how the New York Times said the other day the Census Bureau's new, fuller accounting of poverty would likely reduce the poverty rate in America? Remember how I bought it?

I was wrong:
There were 49.1 million poor using the SPM definition of poverty, more than the 46.6 million using the official definition of poverty with our universe. For most groups, SPM rates are higher than official  poverty rates.So that's embarrassing.

The Times' logic wasn't crazy: By adjusting poverty estimates to include more than cash income—things like food stamps and other government-based assistance, and adjusting for regional cost-of-living differences—it seemed likely that the poverty rate would come down. What's a welfare state for, after all?

But the new estimate also improves on the older count by more fully reflecting how people must spend their money. The official definition of poverty from 1964 to this year reflected the cost of food for a small family; the new measure al…

This is why there's an Occupy Wall Street movement

Because government helps banks, but it doesn't help you:
The largest banks are larger than they were when Obama took office and are nearing the level of profits they were making before the depths of the financial crisis in 2008, according to government data.

Stabilizing the financial system was considered necessary to prevent an even deeper economic recession. But some critics say the Bush administration, which first moved to bail out Wall Street, and the Obama administration, which ultimately stabilized it, took a far less aggressive approach to helping the American people. “There’s a very popular conception out there that the bailout was done with a tremendous amount of firepower and focus on saving the largest Wall Street institutions but with very little regard for Main Street,” said Neil Barofsky, the former federal watchdog for the Troubled Assets Relief Program, or TARP, the $700 billion fund used to bail out banks. “That’s actually a very accurate description of what happen…

Spanking, revisited

My last post on spanking generated quite a bit of discussion at my Facebook page. My position—then and now—is that I have spanked, but within a very strict framework that limits spank-worthy situations. And, I added, not everybody has control enough of their emotions that they should use spanking; it's too easy to let anger take over and turn a swat on the behind into something abusive.

Let me revise and amend my remarks, in light of this New York Times story about spanking advocates Michael and Debi Pearl, and their followers who apparently killed their child.
Debate over the Pearls’ teachings, first seen on Christian Web sites, gained new intensity after the death of a third child, all allegedly at the hands of parents who kept the Pearls’ book, “To Train Up a Child,” in their homes. On Sept. 29, the parents were charged with homicide by abuse. More than 670,000 copies of the Pearls’ self-published book are in circulation, and it is especially popular among Christian home-schoole…

Philadelphia: Where women are still prostitutes and men are still innocent

It's not just the Mummers club. Apparently, it's really, really hard to get arrested for buying sex in Philadelphia—and really easy to get arrested for selling it. Our latest example is a bust at the Penthouse Club in Port Richmond, where seven dancers and one manager were arrested Friday night on prostitution charges.

And the johns? Off scot-free. Once again.

Some interesting details:

The investigation and subsequent raid by the LCE and the police Citywide Vice Unit had been prompted by community complaints, including those from the spouses of men who'd blown their family's grocery money at the club, said Sgt. Bill LaTorre of LCE. At the Penthouse Club, on Castor Avenue near Delaware, men would pay $300 for 30 minutes in the champagne room or $250 for a skybox, police said. There, guys could partake in any number of sexual acts with the dancers, including "the front door, the back door and the upstairs," LaTorre said. State Police did not immediately identify…

Matt Yglesias on working hard for your riches

The old Calvinist idea about money, as I understood it, was that hard work, discipline, and prudence were moral virtues. They were also things that are more likely than not to lead to personal prosperity. So prosperity shouldn’t be stigmatized as ignoble, it should be rather seen as something likely to flow from virtuous behavior. But this equation assumes that morally speaking what matters is the hard work, the discipline, and the prudence. Cutting corners, lying, cheating, or stealing to make a quick buck doesn’t fit the bill. Earning a multi-million dollar salary to deliver below-average performance as the CEO of a firm and then take a multi-million dollar golden parachute when you get sacked doesn’t fit the bill. Spending your days and nights dreaming up smart regulatory arbitrage schemes doesn’t fit the bill. In terms of what it says about your personal virtue, if you’re going to earn your keep identifying and exploiting previously unknown loopholes in the legal framework, you ma…

Matthew Continetti tries to take a pass on income inequality

In the newest Weekly Standard, Matthew Continetti makes the case that conservatives don't really have to care about income inequality—whether it's growing or not—because it's not government's job to address such issues. 
Inequalities of condition are a fact of life. Some people will always be poorer than others. So too, human altruism will always seek to alleviate the suffering of the destitute. There is a place for reasonable and prudent actions to improve well-being. But that does not mean the entire structure of our polity should be designed to achieve an egalitarian ideal. Such a goal is fantastic, utopian even, and one would think that the trillions of dollars the United States has spent in vain over the last 50 years to promote “equality as a fact and equality as a result” would give the egalitarians pause.That sounds principled, and maybe even a little bit appealing if you're of the right temperament. But it fundamentally ignores one simple fact: By virtue of…

Michael Gerson: Let's focus more on economic mobility than income inequality

Liberals are right that a combination of rising economic inequality (even if the rise is gradual) with stalled economic mobility is an invitation to destructive social resentments. Americans will accept unequal economic outcomes in a fair system. They object when the results seem rigged. That way lies the Bastille. So the question comes to liberals and conservatives: If social mobility is the goal, what are the solutions? What can be done to improve the quality of teachers in failing schools, to confront the high school dropout crisis, to encourage college attendance and completion, to reduce teen pregnancy, to encourage stable marriages, to promote financial literacy, to spark entrepreneurship? Both Democrats and Republicans should have something to contribute to the development of this agenda. Neither party, however, currently has much to say. And this is not likely to change until the discussion turns from equality to mobility.via

Capitalism comes to Cuba, not with a bang but a whimper

For a half-century now, opponents of the Communist regime in Cuba have been waiting for the moment when it would all be over: Some event, probably Fidel Castro's death, would bring an end to his revolution—and suddenly Cuban exiles and American businesses would be setting up shop once again in Havana.

But with news that the regime is about to allow the buying and selling of real estate, it's worth asking the question: What if "the moment" never comes? Oh, Castro will die all right. But his brother is running the nation now, and he seems to be managing a careful—slow—movement away from socialism. What if the country simply evolves, instead of making a clean break?

It's been a long, long time since the U.S. embargo against Cuba—and our refusal to have diplomatic relations with the government—made sense. Those efforts didn't bring down the regime. (And our relationship with China pretty much undermines any philosophical reason we have for continuing the policy; …

What will the new poverty measures mean?

According to the New York Times, the poverty rate in America is about to fall—not because anybody's material circumstances have changed, but because the Census Bureau is adopting a "fuller" accounting of citizen well-being that looks beyond their cash income to also measure the government assistance they receive, as well as account for differences in costs-of-living for local areas. Here's the Times' chart giving an overview of the likely numerical changes:

I'm not sure how detailed the Census numbers will actually end up being: It would be nice if we could determine what percentage of the people who remain in poverty are employed, so that we have a sense of how many of these folks are "working poor"—that is, trying to provide for themselves, but unable to completely do so in the jobs they're able to obtain.

And as the Times notes: "Monday’s release are likely to offer fodder both to defenders of safety-net programs and fiscal conservatives…

One more Max Boot comment today

Yes, it was the Bush Administration that signed the Status of Forces Agreement that is resulting in the United States pullout of Iraq. But Max Boot has a handy Obama-blaming response to that fact: Bush didn't really mean it:

As Condoleezza Rice notes, “when the Bush administration signed the agreement, it was understood by both the U.S. and Iraqi governments that there would be follow-up negotiations aimed at extending the deadline — a step that would be in both the U.S. and Iraqi interest.” Perhaps it really was impossible to reach an agreement on any extension, although I’m skeptical of that argument. But don’t cast the blame on Bush who’s been out of office for almost three years. The failure to renew the troop-basing agreement occurred on Obama’s watch and he will get the blame if Iraq falls apart (as well as the credit if it does not).If the Bush Administration really thought the United States should stay in Iraq past 2011, one thing it might've done is negotiate a SOFA wi…

Max Boot bemoans our lost victory in Afghanistan

Boot is so exasperated with those weak appeasers in the Obama Administration:

One of the most discomfiting aspects of the forthcoming U.S. pullout from Iraq is what it portends for Afghanistan. In a nutshell, it appears more and more likely that Obama will pull out of Afghanistan too, even though the war there is far from won. Thus we read in the Wall Street Journal today: “The Obama administration is exploring a shift in the military’s mission in Afghanistan to an advisory role as soon as next year, senior officials said, a move that would scale back U.S. combat duties well ahead of their scheduled conclusion at the end of 2014.”  The Afghan army is capable but still needs time to develop. If we pull out too fast the army could fracture and the entire country could be plunged into a civil war which would, among other possible consequences, allow Afghan territory to once again become a haven for Al Qaeda and other transnational terrorist groups. That seems a high price to pay for the p…

The poor are making poor choices. Right?

I want to read more deeply into this new paper about how debt is swamping the middle class—which makes the suggestion that the leverage problem is holding back America's economy. But in a quick overview, I couldn't help but notice this:

The debt is highest among the middle class. Middle-income families before the crisis had a debt-to-income ratio of 155.4 percent in 2007, the last year for which data are available, for families with incomes between $62,000 and $100,000, which constituted the fourth quintile of income in our nation in 2007. This ratio is higher than for any other income group. Families in the top 20 percent of income (with incomes above $100,000) had a ratio of debt to income of 123.6 percent, and families in the third quintile (with incomes between $39,100 and $62,000) owed 130.7 percent of their income. Households in the bottom 40 percent of the income distribution (with incomes below $39,100 in 2007) owed well below 100 percent of their income.In the Facebook…

Guilty as charged

Cooking is the easiest thing to do in the house. But what women are still expected to do, what my wife is still expected to do, is to remember when every sock in the house is about to get a hole in it, or when the kids are due for a dentist’s appointment or a play date – that whole recipe for family life, women still feel obliged to do it more than men. And so men do get a certain kind of cheap credit for being a family man just by cooking. Cooking is the showy side of domesticity.via Gonna have to examine my conscience on that one...

Today in inequality reading: Stagnant wages

A new report from the Resolution Foundation, a British research organization that focuses on workers with low income, has done just that. The report covers 10 rich countries, and looks at the growth rate of median pay versus economic growth per capita from 2000 to the start of the Great Recession.Here’s the key chart showing that ratio: A higher ratio means that the pace of growth for median pay was close to the pace of growth for output per capita. A low ratio means that median pay grew much more slowly than did the economy as a whole.

Of the 10 countries analyzed, Finland showed the closest relationship between the living standards of the typical worker and improvements in the overall economy. The United States was on the lower end. From 2000 to 2007, median pay increased at a quarter of the pace of output per capita. In other words, the typical American worker did not share much in the country’s growing wealth even when the economy was good.via

The unseen casualties of a decade of war, continued

The U.S. is inadvertently financing human trafficking and worker abuse because of the federal government’s poor oversight of contractors operating in war zones, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) told a congressional panel today.Federal contracting regulations rely on self-policing and reporting to contracting officers, which has not been proven to be an effective way to monitor trafficking, POGO Director of Investigations Nick Schwellenbach told a subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.Although the Department of Defense has made some improvements in combatting trafficking, there is still a notable lack of criminal enforcement. In the few investigations that have been conducted into alleged contractor involvement in human trafficking in war zones, some of the people making allegations were never even interviewed, Schwellenbach told the Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and Procur…

We're still talking about Janet Jackson's 'wardrobe malfunction?'

LOS ANGELES (November 2, 2011) – The Parents Television Council® condemned the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruling claiming the Janet Jackson striptease during the 2004 Super Bowl was not indecent and does not merit a fine. The PTC and its 1.3 million members led the public outcry after the incident by calling on the Federal Communications Commission to levy a hefty fine against CBS and its affiliates for violating the federal broadcast indecency law. via You know what's really indecent? That any part of our government is still occupied with a two-second flash of flesh that occurred nearly eight years ago. CBS clearly didn't intend to air such a moment; it hasn't led to a parade of prime-time stripteases—because alienating family viewers clearly isn't in the broadcast network's best interest. End it already.

Big corporations pay a lower tax rate

You often hear people argue that the United States’ corporate tax rate of 35 percent is much higher than other nations, but don’t be fooled. Thanks to loopholes, the actual tax rate is much lower—about 18.5 percent according to a survey of the 280 largest publicly traded companies by the left-leaning Citizens for Tax Justice. About a quarter of the companies paid less than 10 percent in taxes over the past three years, while 30 companies—including Boeing, Wells Fargo, and GE—appeared to pay no taxes whatsoever.via I don't actually have a clean take on this, though I thought it was important to note. It could be an argument for tax reform—lowering the rate but removing the loopholes. On the other hand: The loopholes always seep back in, and the new lowered rate would probably be seen as the ceiling, meaning that eventually the government would be deprived of necessary revenue. And on the other other hand: Maybe the loopholes aren't always bad. Boeing didn't…

George Will wants freedom of association ... for conservatives

There's a lot to unpack in George Will's column today about Vanderbilt University's decision to withhold recognition from the Christian Legal Society, a campus group that (naturally, given its orientation) wants to ensure that only Christians can be in its leadership.

I think Will goes wrong by starting to compare apples to oranges. Will must be quoted at length:
In 1995, the Supreme Court upheld the right of the private group that organized Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day parade to bar participation by a group of Irish American gays, lesbians and bisexuals eager to express pride in their sexual orientations. The court said the parade was an expressive event, so the First Amendment protected it from being compelled by state anti-discrimination law to transmit an ideological message its organizers did not wish to express.

In 2000, the court overturned the New Jersey Supreme Court’s ruling that the state law forbidding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation required the…

Community colleges on the rise

Comparatively affluent students are picking community colleges over four-year schools in growing numbers, a sign of changing attitudes toward an institution long identified with poorer people.A recent national survey by Sallie Mae, the student loan giant, has found that 22 percent of students from households earning $100,000 or more attended community colleges in the 2010-11 academic year, up from 12 percent in the previous year. It was the highest rate reported in four years of surveys.In the lengthening economic downturn, even relatively prosperous families have grown reluctant to borrow for college. Schools are finding that fewer students are willing to pay the full published price of attendance, which tops $55,000 at several private universities. More students are living at home.via My son's just 3 years old, but I've already spent a lot more time than I expected thinking about how best to provide his education. When he was born, I think I had a plan to g…

Solving the jobs crisis through despair

Some goodish news from the Fed...
The unemployment rate, it predicted, would still be at least 8.5 percent at the end of 2012, at least 7.8 percent at the end of 2013 and at least 6.8 percent at the end of 2014.But at least that's a drop in unemployment, right?
Such reductions probably would come in part from people abandoning the search for work, rather than those finding new jobs. (Sigh.) Expect government officials to tout the falling unemployment rate even as other indicators—median wages, number of households in poverty—continue to stagnate or get worse.

The unseen casualties of a decade of war

Adolescent boys with at least one parent in the military are at elevated risk of engaging in school-based physical fighting, carrying a weapon and joining a gang, according to research presented today at the American Public Health Association’s 139th Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.The study by researchers at the University of Washington’s School of Public Health looked at the strain of military deployment on U.S. families, particularly its toll on adolescent boys and girls whose parents are on active duty. The research is based on data from the 2008 Washington State Healthy Youth Survey of more than 10,000 adolescents in the 8th, 10th and 12th grades of public schools. The study finds that military deployment is associated with a 1.77 higher odds of physical fighting and 2.14 higher odds of gang membership among adolescent boys in 8th grade. Girls in 8th grade with at least one parent in the military were at twice the risk of carrying a weapon.via

Media Research Center on the Herman Cain scandal: Clinton! Clinton! Clinton!

The Media Research Center seems to think the media is proving its liberal bias by covering the Herman Cain scandal so closely, whereas it strained to ignore the Clinton sex scandals of the 1990s. Which is weird, because my memory of the late 1990s is that political coverage was dominated, for a time, by news of Clinton's sex scandals. There was even an impeachment or something.

Nonetheless, MRC concludes:
When one contrasts the sexual harassment scandals of Democrat Bill Clinton, which included on the record accusers, with the hazy allegations against Republican Herman Cain, it becomes clear that the networks have enthusiasm for one and ignored the other.That's interesting framing, because the "hazy allegations" against Cain are actually confirmed cases that were settled with monetary payouts a decade ago. That makes them somewhat more tangible than the MRC suggests, it seems to me.

Thomas Sowell defends usury

At NRO today, Thomas Sowell gets cranky about a California newspaper's investigation into "payday loan" companies and their practices. He particularly objects to a line suggesting that customers of such institutions are charged what amounts to an annual interest rate of more than 400 percent:
The 460 percent figure comes from imagining that the borrower is not just going to borrow the money for a couple of weeks, but is going to keep on borrowing every couple of weeks all year long.

Using this kind of reasoning — or lack of reasoning — you could quote the price of salmon as $15,000 a ton or say a hotel room rents for $36,000 a year, when no consumer buys a ton of salmon and few people stay in a hotel room all year. It is clever propaganda, but do people buy newspapers to be propagandized?Sowell, having raised such questions, might've attempted to answer them.

That might've detracted from his screed, though, because the evidence is that quite a few customers actua…

Rand Paul is really angry about the Herman Cain scandal story

Paul adds that fear of sexual harassment suits damages workplace relations. “There are people now who hesitate to tell a joke to a woman in the workplace, any kind of joke, because it could be interpreted incorrectly,” he says. “I don’t. I’m very cautious.” via You know what else damages workplace relations? *Sexual harassment.* It's ok, I think, to be cautious about telling that dirty joke.

We know how to help the economy: Aid distressed homeowners

I found this recent magazine article very interesting. Here are a couple of key paragraphs from it:
Underwater homeowners can’t refinance at today’s rock-bottom interest rates, because they’re considered bad credit risks. They can’t move to where jobs are more plentiful or the pay is better, because if they sell their home, they end up owing the banks a bundle. But if they lose their job, their wages drop. If they have a medical emergency, they may fall behind on their mortgage payments and be foreclosed upon. If that happens, they and their family can lose both their home and their credit rating.

We don’t need another stimulus to fix what ails the economy. We need to fix the housing market. And the way to do that is to allow a mortgage cramdown in the context of a personal bankruptcy. Put simply, someone who owes $450,000 on a house worth $300,000 isn’t going to be helped that much by a lower interest rate. He would be helped​—​as would the housing market and the larger economy​—​if t…

Blog news

First of all, a thank you to everybody who reads this blog regularly: October was the best traffic month I've had since returning to this Blogspot site after leaving Philadelphia Weekly. It's more gratifying to write this stuff when people are actually reading it.

Second of all: I'm certain I won't break that record in November. I have my (knock on wood) final diverticulitis surgery on Nov. 8, and preparations are already consuming my time and mental energy. I won't be here quite as much this month. I'm sorry about that. My hope is that being restored to full health allows me to write and opine more vigorously than before.

I had thought, for a little while after the first of my three surgeries, that I might abandon political blogging entirely. What I've discovered in recent months is that I have a passion for understanding and making sense of how the country is run, and how it might be run better. I want the blog to reflect my other interests, too: Parentin…