Friday, August 30, 2013

Knowing Nothing But War

As the Nobel Peace Prize winning President of the United States prepares to perhaps unilaterally attack Syria to show he was darn serious about that whole "red line" thing, Robert Martin remarked on Facebook that his children have known nothing but war for their entire young lives. I commented that at 41 years of age I have barely known "peace" at any time in my own life. As I thought back on this question it was a pretty sober realization of how true that was.

From birth to high school I lived through the waning days of Vietnam and the Cold War. I attended an elementary school with fallout shelter signs and assumed that the Russkies were going to attack us at any time. Of course there was also the invasion of Grenada to get the U.S. of A. a win to take some of the ashes of Vietnam out of our mouths. As the cold war ended and I graduated high school I headed off to college. I made it all of two months before the invasion of Kuwait and then Operation Desert Storm. That lasted a very short time of course but it was followed by the battle in Mogadishu in 1993 memorialized in Black Hawk down and the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in 2000, not to mention various other military actions around the world. Still,  the decade between Operation Desert storm in 1990 and the Cole bombing in 2000 were relatively peaceful. Until that fateful day of September 11th, 2001 when the world changed. For the next 12 years we have been at war nonstop. The bodies come home in flag draped coffins, soldiers come home with fewer limbs than they left America with, occasionally we see the all too common sight of dead women and children, "collateral damage" in our war on terror, a war that ironically seems to be defending American families from terror at the cost of inflicting terror on families overseas. In four decades as a citizen of America I have know peace perhaps 25% of the time.

As we seem bent on repeating the same mistake that we have made so many times before, I am praying that those calling for war will be thwarted and I also pray that those in leadership in our nation who profess the name of Christ will seek peace rather than war. Endless war is no way to run a country and has proven to be futile at leading to a lasting peace.

Antibiotic Use (Abuse?) Down On The Farm

I listened to this interesting story on NPR this morning, Antibiotic Use On The Farm: Are We Flying Blind?

It is undenaible that massive use of antibiotics occurs on the farms and that it is just a given in most agricultural schools of thought this is a necessary and good thing. It probably is necessary if for no other reason than the conditions industrialized agriculture houses animals in, an unnatural and unhealthy environment being fed unnatural feed. The reward at the end for this is "cheap" food for Americans, resulting in American families spending less of their income as a percentage on food than ever before in history.

Is this bad? It it nothing to worry about? I am not sure but even as someone who is not an eco-nut or alarmist I think there are legitimate and serious concerns about the massive and often preemptive use of antibiotics in our food system. The story is brief, give it a listen and see what you think. At the very least it should encourage you to think more about where your food comes from and how it got there.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Book Review: What To Expect When No One Is Expecting

Some time ago I read an interview with author Jonathan Last where he was talking about his latest book, a very troubling look at declining rates of child bearing, What To Expect When No One's Expecting. After reading the interview I was eager to check this book out and I was not disappointed.

Last's premise is a simple one but it runs contrary to virtually every doom and gloom Malthusian theory out there, theories telling us that the world is suffering from overpopulation. Last argues that just the opposite is true, that plummeting birth rates not just in the West but in the developing world as well spell serious trouble for our future as a species.

The math is pretty simple. People have a 100% mortality rate. Without exception. So when a couple dies and leaves behind less than two children (plus childless singles), the population shrinks. We see this right now in Europe and Last cites some startling statistics that show that some of the largest nations in Europe like Germany are headed for dramatically reduced populations in the next 50 years. This is especially problematic in cultures where the care of the elderly has been subcontracted to the state, a state that relies on a steady supply of young workers to support the older workers.

Another interesting observation Last makes is that at one time a large family was seen as a sign of success while now it is largely becoming the inverse where the more education and the higher your income, the correspondingly fewer children you tend to have. There are a lot of implications to that, some that can be dangerous if taken the wrong way (like the worldview of Planned "Parenthood" patron saint Margaret Sanger)

This book is not merely a veiled racial attack on minorities and immigrants because as Last point out they too are adopting at least this aspect of American life, having rapidly diminishing family sizes just like their Caucasian counterparts. Nor is it intended as a wagging finger in the face of families that struggle financially and see children as an expense. That mindset is deeply cultural and ingrained in our society. This book is simply looking at the numbers and seeing that our future is being lived out in Europe right before our eyes demographically, just as it is religiously and in many other ways.

On top of it all our economic system is broken and that has not helped. We are one of the few single income families I know and it is not an easy way to go. Our cultural norm has created an untenable situation where more and more families are two income and have fewer and fewer children which leads to an upside down demographic pyramid where more elderly people needing care are at the top being supported by fewer and fewer replacement workers.

While most of the information Last provided was quite useful and presented in an informative and often humorous fashion (given the gravity of the topic), his solutions presented at the seemed like more of an afterthought, mere tinkering, rather than substantive policies. Sure we need to have more flexible work arrangements and modify Social Security but what is really needed is a renewal of the social contract that has family at the center rather than government. Families need to be more than relative strangers who inhabit the same residence and become the generation spanning units that have held our social network together for centuries. The social breakdown of the family, the rise of single parent by choice households and the dual income couple, the seemingly endless increases in college costs and the simultaneous relatively diminished value of a four year degree, on and on, have led to a shattered social network and a soon to be bankrupted government. Last has done a service by pointing out the numbers and giving us some of the background that has led to this point but where we really need to focus is on the solutions and those will require more than mere tinkering around the margins. This is a book we need to be reading as a nation and taking a long, hard look at the reality being played out i Europe right now. We cannot serve as a nation and culture, and indeed we cannot survive as a species, if we stop having children but that is the very road we have gone pretty down already.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Where Have All Of The Children Gone?

I have been reading a very interesting book on demographics, What To Expect When No One Is Expecting by Jonathan Last. His point is pretty simple and backed up with a ton of stats, namely that we are facing a demographic disaster even as certain academics continue to warn of overpopulation. This is an argument I have been making for some time and it is just common sense. As people live longer thanks to improved medical care and nutrition while at the same time people have much smaller families to replace those workers that die or retire, we are inevitably heading for a major crisis. The best thing we can do to ensure the viability of Social security is not to keep paying our Social Security taxes, it is to have children who will be future tax payers.

Anyway I read something interesting that I wanted to share from the book:

This does not mean people have stopped having children- merely that in the Second Demographic Transition, procreation became an act of self-actualization. And because raising children is difficult, resource intensive, socially inhibiting, and (if can be candid) often unpleasant, it is not an exercise many people want to put themselves through multiple times.

What To Expect When No One's Expecting, pg 93

There is some definite truth to that. Having children is often seen as a milestone in our own personal quest toward an adult bucketlist but it also is something that seems more about the parents than the children.

The second sentence is also quite interesting. Raising kids has always been time and resource intensive but in spite of all of our cultural noise about how important kids are we are at the same time doing everything we can to make raising kids more and more difficult.

Anyway, just thought that was interesting. The full review is coming out soon as I finished the book a few days ago.