A prayer for my daughter

I’m finding it easy to relate to Yeats in this poem (yes, I spent the pre-dawn hours today watching futures trading and reading poetry), written a couple days after his daughter’s birth during the Irish War for Independence.

Feminists (irrationally, in my opinion) loathe this poem because in it Yeats is begging that his daughter experiences domestic tranquility. They accuse him of erasing her womanhood or whatever with his hope that she becomes a “flourishing hidden tree.” They, of course, miss the entire point of the poem, which is hardly about their identity-politics obsessions, but about the ability to survive the chaos of the modern world with your basic impulse to be happy intact.

His asking her to turn away from “intellectual hatred” and politics is about his complicated views about Irish nationalism balanced by his desire that his daughter’s generation not be victimized by the same very real violence and discord he was observing in the world around him. My favorite lines are: Hearts are not had as a gift but hearts are earned / By those that are not entirely beautiful. That’s not entirely an observation about physical appearance.

A Prayer for My Daughter, William Butler Yeats

Once more the storm is howling, and half hid
Under this cradle-hood and coverlid
My child sleeps on. There is no obstacle
But Gregory’s wood and one bare hill
Whereby the haystack- and roof-leveling wind
Bred on the Atlantic, can be stayed;
And for an hour I have walked and prayed
Because of the great gloom that is in my mind.

I have walked and prayed for this young child an hour
And heard the sea-wind scream upon the tower,
And under the arches of the bridge, and scream
In the elms above the flooded stream;
Imagining in excited reverie
That the future years had come,
Dancing to a frenzied drum,
Out of the murderous innocence of the sea.

May she be granted beauty and yet not
Beauty to make a stranger’s eye distraught,
Or hers before a looking-glass, for such,
Being made beautiful overmuch,
Consider beauty a sufficient end,
Lose natural kindness and maybe
The heart-revealing intimacy
That chooses right, and never find a friend.

Helen being chosen found life flat and dull
And later had much trouble from a fool,
While that great Queen, that rose out of the spray,
Being fatherless could have her way
Yet chose a bandy-legged smith for man.
It’s certain that fine women eat
A crazy salad with their meat
Whereby the Horn of Plenty is undone.

In courtesy I’d have her chiefly learned;
Hearts are not had as a gift but hearts are earned
By those that are not entirely beautiful;
Yet many, that have played the fool
For beauty’s very self, has charm made wise,
And many a poor man that has roved,
Loved and thought himself beloved,
From a glad kindness cannot take his eyes.

May she become a flourishing hidden tree
That all her thoughts may like the linnet be,
And have no business but dispensing round
Their magnanimities of sound,
Nor but in merriment begin a chase,
Nor but in merriment a quarrel.
O may she live like some green laurel
Rooted in one dear perpetual place.

My mind, because the minds that I have loved,
The sort of beauty that I have approved,
Prosper but little, has dried up of late,
Yet knows that to be choked with hate
May well be of all evil chances chief.
If there’s no hatred in a mind
Assault and battery of the wind
Can never tear the linnet from the leaf.

An intellectual hatred is the worst,
So let her think opinions are accursed.
Have I not seen the loveliest woman born
Out of the mouth of Plenty’s horn,
Because of her opinionated mind
Barter that horn and every good
By quiet natures understood
For an old bellows full of angry wind?

Considering that, all hatred driven hence,
The soul recovers radical innocence
And learns at last that it is self-delighting,
Self-appeasing, self-affrighting,
And that its own sweet will is Heaven’s will;
She can, though every face should scowl
And every windy quarter howl
Or every bellows burst, be happy still.

And may her bridegroom bring her to a house
Where all’s accustomed, ceremonious;
For arrogance and hatred are the wares
Peddled in the thoroughfares.
How but in custom and in ceremony
Are innocence and beauty born?
Ceremony’s a name for the rich horn,
And custom for the spreading laurel tree.

The Biggest Little Farm

I am shameless in my love for gardening and nature in general. I have written before about how the act of gardening educates the human spirit.

We used to have a hobby farm years ago, on a piece of property alongside a large creek (what would be considered a river to people out west), with a natural spring elsewhere on the property, and a giant tobacco barn. I could not stand the house on that property, but I deeply loved the land. And I am missing having that kind of property these days, with a quarter-acre garden, an orchard, and fishing. There’s no stress about the systemic collapse of the economy out there.

View of the creek from our old property.

Anyway, we have been watching a documentary called The Biggest Little Farm that, apart from being generally inspiring, is an incredible thought-piece on exactly the kind of principles I approach gardening with. The soil is alive, so treat it like it is alive. Biodiversity is the solution to all problems. To work is to pray. Etc. I highly recommend watching it. You can stream it on Hulu.

Selfish idiots are totally going to break corporate supply chains

I was writing earlier about what is called the tragedy of the commons in economics and philosophy. In these situations, everything would run smoothly if every person only took what they absolutely needed to get by. But dysfunction in the whole system occurs when people selfishly and irrationally begin to hoard. The few will break the system for the many.

My husband went to the grocery store this morning, and at opening time, there was a line down the block to get in. The store is full mostly of seniors in our area, who are cleaning it out every day. This has become like a sport to them, and they have an entire retirement savings to do it with. Publix has appropriately started rationing products so these individuals do not buy them out. Now they are buying items that the store did not think to ration, because they can.

They had stocked dish soap on the cleaning aisle, and one woman was buying 10 bottles of it at once. A passerby asked her why she was buying that much, as you are obviously not able to clean surfaces with it. She replied that she thought she could trade it for things she did need.

This situation is really bringing out the worst in people and it’s making me downright despise some of the people in our community. I’m used to watching people buy out stores for hurricanes and the immediate hoarding that involves, but these people are nuts. I want off this planet.

Responding to critics of homeschooling

As a homeschooler, one of the questions I get asked the most is “How do you respond to critics of homeschooling?”

That’s easy to answer. I say, “OK, Boomer” and move on with my day.

It’s remarkable how much that perfectly dismissive response sums up this issue. I have never had anyone under the age of 55 go off on me, dogmatically, about how I must enroll my child in the public school system. This is a policy position that is held almost entirely by liberal Baby Boomers. And, to be fair, only by liberal Baby Boomer women, typically with some past professional connection to the school system. It will go away once they leave the political sphere, which honestly can’t happen fast enough.

I can count on one hand the number of people I know from high school and college that even have their kids in public schools. They are either homeschooling or send their children to private schools that reflect their family values and academic ambitions. Even the Generation X and Millennial school teachers I know are not critics of homeschooling. The myriad problems in public education exhaust them.

Passionate critics of homeschooling get an undue amount of attention from homeschoolers, in my opinion, considering critics of homeschooling themselves are a pretty narrow group culturally. You aren’t responding to a legitimate argument about education. You are responding to a loud minority that has permanently and ideologically detached itself from contemporary culture. Why let people like this get under your skin? The world is changing, and it is changing in your favor. Direct your energies to helping it change, not debating people who dwell intellectually in the past. That’s good advice on many topics, in fact.

If you talk to people who are parents now – as opposed to people whose children flew the nest a long time ago – substantially all of them understand the decision to reject the public school system for your child’s education. It is not irrational to want to raise your child in an environment that does not involve low-and-declining academic standards, active shooter drills, bullying both in person and online 24/7, shoving kids with special needs into closets – I mean, “quiet” or “reflection” rooms – for hours, blah blah blah. Many people who choose homeschooling now, unfortunately, are driven there by personal crisis – like their child has become a target and school administrators have willfully failed to protect them.

In our county, even before the coronavirus panic, the school district had already received two threats to shoot up a high school and two teachers had been arrested – one at a middle school and one at an elementary school – for physically abusing students. At the elementary school, the teacher had beaten the shit out an 8-year-old with autism, and it was evidently caught on video. The district had previously known about the issues with violence in both teachers, and responded, not by firing them, but by putting them on Orwellian “teacher success plans.” My child is 8 years old. You think you are going to convince me to send my child there? When Hell freezes over. These are the issues they are dealing with so far this year, and it’s only March.

But most people who are parents now don’t even try to defend public schools, unless they are some mommy blogger PTA president who not only drinks the Kool-Aid but orders it in bulk at Costco. The typical responses I get when I tell people I am a homeschooler are “wow, I would absolutely do that if I could manage our finances around it” and “I’m so jealous.” No one under the age of 55 asks me about “socialization.” (Crikey, that’s a Boomer term if ever there were one.) One, because most people who are parents now wish they could better control their kids’ social environment. And two, people who live in the social media age fully understand that it is not difficult to make friends outside of physical institutions. That is just not a problem in the modern world. I’m not going to tell you that homeschooling does not involve effort on your part to help your child build quality social relationships, but that is hardly a problem unique to homeschoolers.

On top of all that, we are currently in a situation as a country where public education systems have spontaneously lost their primary source of per pupil funding and have arbitrarily wiped out an entire semester of education. In Florida, the governor has announced that the state will end standardized testing and parents who are concerned about how the coronavirus closures have proceeded will be allowed to decide whether their child gets to advance to the next grade or whether their academic progress is so thoroughly ruined that they need to repeat this one. I cannot imagine the anger I would be feeling being put into that position and I feel genuinely sorry for folks with kids in public school through all this tumult.

I went outside to garden a couple days ago, trying to get away from the anxiety of what is happening with the economy. Unfortunately, gardening has proven not to be a good solution for this anxiety, as I live in a gated community that is full of retirees, all who want to stop by and discuss current events with the finance and economics geek. But not all of them.

My elderly neighbor came over to visit – which I usually do not mind – nominally to talk about flowers. Apparently, she had been chatting with our daughter earlier and our daughter was excitedly telling her all the things she was going to be learning in 4th grade. As I mentioned in an earlier post, our daughter is very interested in genetics and the idea of cloning. I have included that in what we will be studying when we start the next academic year. She’s very worked up about it. Being able to do something like that for a gifted child is an excellent reason to homeschool.

After a few minutes, it was clear that my elderly neighbor did not actually want to talk about my gardening at all. She is retired from the school system and wanted to yell at me about homeschooling. Emphasis on “yell,” as she went off on me at a volume the whole neighborhood should have been able to hear. So I went out to the garden trying to calm down, and here comes this lady in her late 60s, screaming that I am screwing up my child’s chance at a social life by homeschooling her and that “people like you” are the ones ruining the public education system by taking the “good kids” out of classrooms and decreasing state funding.

Of course, we had invited this cranky old lady to our daughter’s raging birthday party at the beginning of February, trying to be nice, so she already knows our daughter has a ton of friends and that they are all exceptionally good kids. Such empirical evidence is not going to stop her from breaking out the rote talking points her superiors in public education have indoctrinated her with, however.

And she’s doing this during a period where public education is in an absolute tailspin and all parents have essentially become involuntary homeschoolers. That’s how culturally disconnected she is. Let that wash over you. She chose this moment in time to rag on homeschooling. That’s how unmotivated she is to challenge her garbage political talking points intellectually.

These are not people who have ever thought critically about what an education should do for a child. And they were hired as educators. They have inherited, not chosen, purely predictable and purely political opinions on the subject. And because they come from public education professionally, they take it personally that you are rejecting a traditional school environment. You are rejecting them. You are saying they are not good at what they do. That’s against their rules. They want you to sit in your chair and shut up.

Initially, I did try to reason with her, against my better judgment, only because she lives nearby. And, well…

I explained that not all “socialization” is good and worthwhile. That our schools are known more for cranking out teenage mothers than Rhodes scholars. That I would rather that not be the environment our daughter is in. I want her to be in an environment that maximizes her talents and helps her develop a conscience. She explained to me that our daughter was going to learn about sex sometime (narrator: she already knows) and that she went to school in the 1970s with free sex and pot and, look, she turned out all right.

I explained that “turned out all right” is not exactly the educational outcome that I am going for. I explained that we care so much about education that we buy the top curriculum available for our daughter, that she studies Latin and computer programming already. These things are not even options in public schools for a child her age, if ever.

She then proceeded to carry on about how studying Latin is stupid. At the top of her lungs. Making grotesque facial expressions and tossing her hands about, to make it abundantly clear that she held our education decisions in complete disdain. It was an absolutely toxic scene, but that is pretty much what I am coming to expect from people of a certain age and background. I’m sure she spends the other 23 hours of the day raging internally about Trump and watching cable news. (Inject the poison directly into my veins all day long!) I’m sure he’s really living rent-free in her brain. It’s depressing as hell seeing people rotting away their golden years like this. But that’s their prerogative.

There is nothing to do with such a personality except to tell them to enjoy the beautiful day and go back inside.

I then had to have a discussion with our puzzled and anxious daughter about why she needs to stay away from our neighbor and especially not talk about her home life around her. One of the most difficult parts of parenting is explaining to a young child that not everyone in the world has good intentions for the people around them. They just cannot grok the impulse to be mean and nasty for no reason at all that some adults have. And believe me, if you have an interfering old bitty living next to you – the plague of NextDoor – you have reason to be concerned if you are a homeschooler. Eventually their interference graduates to calling the authorities because your kid is daring to play in the backyard at noon, having already finished their school work. That’s not a proper school day! There should be rules about this! This is the reason the Home School Legal Defense Association exists. Best money I spend every month.

I used to be puzzled at what kind of response critics of homeschooling would ever think they were going to get from homeschoolers. “Oh, I was going to homeschool my child, but now that I’ve heard your generic political opinions about education, I clearly need to upend the way I live and live the way you think I should.” This behavior is mindless and unnecessary on its face. But a very small number of people are deeply committed to it, nonetheless.

The thing to remember when in these situations is that these situations are not about you. They are about someone else’s obsessions and insecurities. They should not matter to you. When your world collides with this particular subset of people, make it clear that they are not going to persuade you to make poor education decisions for your child and walk away. As with Twitter trolls, the fewer interactions you have with them the better.

When it comes to dealing with critics of homeschooling, the wisdom is stop feeding the trolls.

Remember who is keeping you alive right now

One of the lessons of this coronavirus panic – a lesson that should never have had to be learned in the first place – is that President Obama’s neoliberal attitude that we can have a purely professional economy (everyone needs to go to college and “learn to code,” you better step into the modern world) and still maintain stability over the long term is 100% dead wrong.

In fact, this crisis would be even deeper and deadlier if we had taken the Obama/Biden/Bloomberg professional class logic to ever more extremes than we did already. We may need the government’s assistance to ramp up manufacturing of necessary equipment now, but at least we still have domestic farmers restocking our grocery market shelves daily. (Though the China-Obama nexus did its level best to make their livelihoods unsustainable too.) These are the people Bloomberg recently dismissed as simpletons dancing over seeds in the ground, even though your average combine is more technologically equipped than one of his ubiquitous market data terminals. (In fact, I would argue that agriculture is actually a STEM job now.)

This is a powerful lesson in not electing dangerously out-of-touch people.

It is now beyond dispute that we need to re-develop robust domestic manufacturing operations, agriculture, and energy independence in a big way. We cannot trust brutal regimes and their wage slaves to provide for us in a crisis, especially a crisis that directly pits our interests against theirs. If you feel good about 80% of medical equipment and pharmaceuticals being manufactured in a country with profound and genuine contempt for our culture and way of life, I’m confident you are quite in the minority today.

The one silver lining of the despair people are suddenly experiencing is that the “let them learn to code” mentality – which presidential candidate Joe Biden exhibited only weeks before this crisis – and the mocking of people in trades as uncouth and uneducated and unnecessary is dying a humiliating death. You may have gone to graduate school, but you need the God-fearing, gun-toting, hard hat-wearing workers of America for your survival.

I’ve been watching gross celebrities like Debra Messing – aptly named, as she is sincerely messed up in her head – talking about how she hopes the MAGA crowd gets coronavirus and dies. These sickos need to be powerfully rejected in favor of normalizing American values, work ethic, and family life. (Another lesson of this crisis is that the best personal safety net is an extended family.) This is the petty garbage that has made our country vulnerable in this very moment. It’s toxic and it needs to just go away already.

Victor Davis Hanson is excellent in this piece – Remembering Who Is Keeping Us Alive:

I tried an experiment yesterday. I went to four large supermarkets in Fresno County, the nation’s largest and most diverse food-producing county, and looked at both checkouts and shelf space. The two big sellers seemed to be cleansers of all sorts (bleach wipes were all sold out, for example) and staples such as canned soup, pasta, and canned fish and preserved meat.

Then I drove in about a 50-mile circumference to look at local farms — vineyards, orchards, row crops, dairy, etc. — and packinghouses and processors. There seemed absolutely no interruption at all. Farmers and workers were on tractors, packing houses were bringing in late citrus for cold storage, and lots of people were harvesting winter vegetables in the field. Machines were fertilizing, spraying, and cultivating.

The point is that in our age of necessary shutdowns and staying home, one thing we must do is eat — and eat well to stay healthy. And that means lots of people have to go to work and produce food and transport it to the major cities, and not always in isolation on the south 40.

Farmers do a lot more than just drop a seed in the ground and then by rote watch it sprout into a corn stalk, as one of our nation’s richest and most influential figures lectured us not all that long ago. For millions to subsist at home, to force the virus to sputter out, they must eat, as well as have power, running water, law enforcement, and sanitation. And that means millions of Americans must go to work as usual and sustain the elementals and existential forces of American life for 330 million, usually out of sight and out of mind, as we concentrate on the required quarantining of universities, offices, bureaus, sporting events, etc.

Another lesson of this ongoing crisis — in addition to the need for U.S. domestic production of some key medical supplies and pharmaceuticals, even greater skepticism about the veracity, competence, and agendas of media, and reexamination of the gospel of globalization and open borders — is  greater appreciation of muscular labor and those who feed us, protect us, give us energy, and clean up after us, and who cannot afford to stay home, and whom America cannot afford that they might.

Why Twitter provides an inaccurate picture of political attitudes in the country – the math

From Pew Research:

  • Only 22% of Americans use Twitter at all.
  • Only 39% of users with public accounts tweeted at least once about national politics, and that includes national politicians, institutions or groups, as well as civic behaviors such as voting.
  • Content explicitly related to these issues made up just 13% of all tweets.
  • A small share of users produce the vast majority of content related to national politics: 97% of tweets from U.S. adults that mentioned national politics over the study period came from just 10% of users.
  • Users who strongly disapprove of Trump generate 80% of all tweets from U.S. adults and 72% of tweets mentioning national politics. Those who strongly approve of Trump (who produce 11% of all tweets from U.S. adults) create 25% of tweets mentioning national politics. Taken together, strong disapprovers and strong approvers of Trump generate 97% of all tweets mentioning national politics from U.S. adults on Twitter.
  • Political tweeters are almost twice as likely as other Twitter users to say the people they follow on Twitter have political beliefs similar to their own.

So (1) relatively few Americans use Twitter at all; (2) relatively few Twitter users talk about politics at all; (3) almost all political tweets are coming from a small slice of people; (4) the views of that slice of people are skewed in one direction; and (5) those people live in an ideological bubble, following only/mostly people who share their beliefs and attacking people who disagree all the time.

This is fascinating because this small group of people are driving substantially all news content in the country. Much of the news media doesn’t even get out and “collect” news stories in the real world anymore; they just write about the garbage they read on Twitter. When it seems like the folks in the media don’t sound like the people you are seeing in the real America – that they are more toxic, more lathered up about a particular issue, more biased – that’s because they only see the ideas bouncing around a small community that lives to reinforce each others’ biases.

I think if you look at the people who reliably consume corporate media content in the country, the numbers look pretty much like they do above. It’s a loud conversation being had by a small number of people who only want to listen to people who think like they do.

Stifling free speech in a financial crisis

One of the things I find alarming about current events right now that absolutely did not exist during the 2008 financial crisis is the social media shame game where the media and users try to pile on any dissenting opinion, even to the point of trying to destroy someone’s life and reputation over what they’ve said.

In fact, in the 2008 financial crisis, most of the American population was totally unaware of what was happening. Now everyone is hyper-involved, and they are trying to bully people into sharing their profoundly illiterate opinions on economics and government.

Right now, we have an extreme government response to the coronavirus that is worse than anything ever done in past plagues, worse even than the rationing of resources during unfathomable global conflicts that killed tens of millions of people. And you aren’t allowed to disagree with it online.

Elon Musk is pretty much the only celebrity voice speaking truth to power at the moment, and it is bonkers to see how he is treated in the media. I’m not too worried about Musk personally, as history will undoubtedly be kind to him and his vision for the world. But people with less resources are being attacked viciously for doing the same thing. If you go out to walk the dog, someone is going to post a video of you online as an evil disease-spreader trying to destroy humanity.

This whole “we are going to run off this economic cliff together and you better get on message or we’re going to ruin you personally even faster” response is certainly a new development in financial crises. The United States is truly in a Soviet era at the moment culturally, and it’s vaguely terrifying to see. People really seem mentally ill. And you are stuck with the consequences of their lunacy.

And it’s not about political parties. I’m watching conservatives engage in exactly this sort of behavior, which not all that long ago they were decrying on the left. It’s really changed my mind about a lot of people.