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From Religion to the Quantified Self, 5 things you may have missed!

1: Q&A: Lean on me by Dale McGowan
2: CREATe: a trade fiction author’s perspective by Charlie Stross
3: Quantified-self Experimentation Platforms by Melanie Swan
4: As Public Makes “Hard Choices” On Social Security, Alan Simpson Ducks His “Moment of Truth” by Richard Eskow
5: Second child syndrome by Carol Lloyd

Niki: Competitive cheerleader and future medical doctor, by Darlene Cavalier

Howdy, Science Cheerleader fans! Allow me to introduce you to a fellow Illinoisan, Nicole (Niki), a competitive cheerleader pursuing a science career.

You’re studying Interdisciplinary Health with minors in Spanish and Chemistry at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. What got you interested in that collection of subjects?

Nicole U of Illinois Science Cheerleader

As a junior in high school, I took Introduction to Sports Medicine, and from there the rest is history! After having seen and had numerous injuries myself, everything fell into place. From that point on, I knew Orthopedics and Sports Medicine was going to be my goal, it was just a matter of choosing the degree. I-Health offers a wide variety of courses that intrigued me. It gave me the opportunity to not just study 1 field, but many aspects that can relate to athletics, science, and medicine!

You’re in the process of studying for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)?
The MCAT is a standardized test that is a combination of physical sciences, verbal reasoning, writing samples, and biological sciences. Sitting for the exam takes about 6 hours, and requires extensive preparation. To help prepare, I have been taking all the courses that are recommended and tested on the exam. I will also be taking a preparation course and doing lots of practice exams and problems. The best form of preparation for the test is to just keep practicing, sound familiar? My goal is to become a doctor and work with athletes to bring them back to health after injuries to continue competing and playing in the sports they love.

Best part of your studies?
The best part of my studies is the constant learning and expanding of knowledge. I love being able to have study groups with friends and building relationships with my professors. My day job is a full time student, but I am also an intern and volunteer with the athletic trainers of my high school and the Chicago Rush, an Arena Football Team. Working with these programs allows me the opportunity to continuously learn from real life experiences and continue to develop my skills. I appreciate these opportunities and my education because I know in the future I can make a difference in someone’s life.

You’re a serious cheerleader and dancer—15 years of activity—doing everything from high school cheerleading to Illinois Stunt and Tumble. What do you find the most rewarding about all those activities?
The most rewarding part of being involved in cheerleading for 15 years would have to be getting to know my teammates and all the ups and downs along the way. Working hard for 15 to 20 hours a week is worth every minute when the team steps on the mat and does the best routine possible. I have also loved being able to break the stereotypes. This is something that has kept me motivated because I can be an example of being the complete opposite of the “cheerleader” stereotype by being a dedicated student and a cheerleader!

Which came first, your interest in science or cheerleading?
Since my cheerleading career began before I started school, I would have to say that my love of cheerleading came first; however, I have always enjoyed school. My dad, Tom, and I used to have “Tommy School,” and I can still remember my dad telling me that if you understand Math, everything else comes easy. We used to do math flashcards until I could get through the entire deck without a mistake! As much as I did not understand why he insisted so much then, I could not be happier now. Understanding math really did make everything else easier for me, including me getting a serious interest in science at a young age!

Nicole University of Illinois Science Cheerleader WorkHow do the qualities that made you a great cheerleader benefit you in your science studies?
I have learned through the competitiveness of cheerleading that you can never give up. No matter how difficult something is, if you try your best, you never fail. I also dedicate myself to everything I do to my best ability. No matter if I have three exams in one week or my flyer is falling to the ground, I will fight to do my best to do make sure everything ends up right. These qualities have shaped me to be the strong headed and driven student I am today. I want to be able to show others that concepts learned in a sport can relay to real life experiences.

There are stereotypes about cheerleaders in our society that make it seem unlikely that a cheerleader could be a scientist.  Obviously these stereotypes are untrue, and you are a great example of that.  How do you feel about breaking down negative stereotypes about cheerleaders? Have you faced a situation where you had to challenge a stereotype about cheerleaders [or scientists]?
I think that it is extremely important for these stereotypes to be broken down. These are simply negative connotations that are coming from people who do not understand or know cheerleaders or people in the science field. My opinion is that you have to love what you are doing, so if you love cheerleading/dance find a way to bring something you have learned or gained to your academics and future. Majority of my life I have been stereotyped as the “smarty,” but at the same time people would call me the loud cheerleader. People never knew how to connect the two, so they went to both extremes. In 8th grade, everyone voted for what profession each student in the class would be when they grew up, although I had great grades and could have been voted anything, I was voted the professional cheerleader. This is just one reason I hope that this sport we all love soon becomes recognized and people no longer stereotype those involved because there is so much more to the athletes who pour their heart and souls into each performance just like any other athlete. Who is to say that you can’t be bubbly and have brains too?!

Best cheerleading experience?
After 15 years of traveling the country from Las Vegas, Nevada to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, I have had some amazing experiences. After thinking about it, I would have to say my 2 years in Daytona Beach, Florida with Illinois Competitive Stunt and Tumble was my best experience. Stepping on the mat felt incredible, and to place 5th in 2011 and 2nd in 2012 was the icing on the cake! It was a culmination of years of hard work to reach the ultimate goal of NCA Collegiate National Championships!

Best science-related experience?
Ironically, my best science related experience actually incorporates my athletic background. At my high school graduation, I received the Senior Spirit Award. This award was given to the student that best represented the athletic department through academics, pride in the school, participation, and support of the athletic department. You may ask yourself, well how does that relate to science? If I had not taken Sports Medicine, I might not be in the field I am today.  That course guided me to find a passion in the medical field further than what I had ever thought before. It was one of the most rewarding moments to experience knowing how much of an impact I made on others, when many of them do not know how much of an impact they made on me.

What advice would you give your 12-year-old self?
Walter Payton once said, “Tomorrow is not promised to anyone.” This is a piece of advice I have heard my whole life and would give back to my 12-year-old self. You have to have the courage to be strong and know that if you do what you love, you will never fail. You can never let the fair of striking out keep you from playing the game, never give up, and be yourself. My final piece of advice would be to never let other people change the way you think about yourself.  You are you and nobody can change that, so embrace the brainy cheerleader within you and never stop trying to do your best.

Apart from work and cheering, what are some of your favorite activities?
When it comes down to it, my whole life has been academics and school, but there are many other things in my life outside of those too. I absolutely love spending time with my family, whether we are going to the Chicago Bears’ games or to the dog park with our Rhodesian Ridgeback, Staley. Something very close to my heart is my family’s volunteer work with the Walter and Connie Payton Foundation. The WCPF is an amazing organization that helps underprivileged families supply their children with school supplies, holiday gifts, and much more. It is rewarding to be able to give back to those who I know appreciate the assistance in any way possible.

What are your plans for the future?
In the future, I hope to be able to make a difference as a Sports Medicine Doctor after attending medical school. I would like to work with sports teams as their team physician. I have always loved being on the sidelines as a cheerleader, dancer, and athletic trainer. I want to continue that and be present to help athletes who love their sport as much as I love mine. Furthermore, I would like to work with young children to show them that there is more than one way to be yourself and being passionate about anything is never a negative thing, it is you being you.

Why do you want to be a Science Cheerleader?
To me, being a Science Cheerleader is so much more than a name. It is about showing people of all ages that there are more to the girls on the sidelines once you look past the poms and the cheers. I want to be a science cheerleader because I want young girls to know that it is okay to have multiple passions. There is always a way to combine academics with outside interests, whether that be sports or hobbies. I want to be a role model for the girls who experienced the same stereotypes that I did growing up.. Be who you want to be!

Q&A: Lean on me  by Dale McGowan

Q: I saw a note on Pinterest recently that really grabbed me, and I’ve not been able to shake it. It was a list of suggestions for parents. One of the entries was “give your children something to believe in – because there will come a time when they are alone and scared or sad, and they’re going to need something to believe in.”

My husband and I are, at the least, agnostic….But I do want to know that if something really shakes the lives of my children, they will have some way of comforting themselves, some way of (eventually) coming to know that everything will be all right. How is this accomplished?

A: How I love this question. It cuts right to the core of the ultimate reprieve that religion offers from fear and vulnerability. Life may be incredibly hard and unfair at times, but believing that Someone Somewhere who is all-powerful and all-good has a handle on things and will see to it that justice prevails in the end… I can easily see how that idea can make life bearable, especially for those who are in much closer touch with the raw human condition than I am.

It brings to mind the Russell quote I’ve written about before: “Ever since puberty I have believed in the value of two things: kindness and clear thinking….When I felt triumphant I believed most in clear thinking, and in the opposite mood I believed most in kindness.” And there’s the key to the question. If I can’t offer them the kindness of God to lean on, what can I give my kids to help them through the inevitable times they will feel the opposite of triumphant?

You may have heard the Christian acronym J-O-Y, which stands for “Jesus, then Others, then Yourself” — the supposed formula for true happiness. Take away Jesus and you have the real-world resources I hope to build in my kids: the support of other people, and a strong self-concept.

Kids need to develop the ability to connect emotionally and meaningfully with others, and that’s a skill that starts at home when they are young. You care for your child and encourage their natural empathy for others. They become the kind of people who attract others to them in mutually supportive relationships.

As they get older, peers overtake family as the leaning posts. It’s no coincidence that teenagers often become obsessively centered on their peer group for identity and support as they are pulled through a period of rapid change, and that they focus more on those who are going through the same transition than on the all-too-familiar family they are transitioning away from.

They’ll also make connections based on interests and passions. In addition to a really tight group of friends, my daughter Erin (15) is passionately involved in photography, volunteering, volleyball, animal rescue, and acting. She’s in specific clubs that connect her to others with the same interests, and if those interests continue, she can continue to be connected to those larger passion communities throughout her life.

Those interests won’t all continue, of course, nor will all of her current friendships. Some will fall away as she grows older and her circumstances change, but she’ll retain the ability to connect. It’s not a static belief she needs, but that ability, that skill. Those mutually supportive connections with other human beings, connections she has built herself, will get her through hard times, as well as the strong self-concept on which those relationships are based.

And, when she’s 21 or 31, if we’ve built the right kinds of connections between us and earned it ourselves, her family will be that ultimate connection she can always lean on. To paraphrase Tim Minchin, we are the people who’ll make her feel safe in this world.

But I’m not headed into White Wine in the Sun here. There’s another song that captures this humanistic idea of people caring for each other better than any other.

R&B legend Bill Withers wrote it after he moved to LA in the lates 1960s following a stint in the Navy. He was really alone for the first time in his life, feeling vulnerable, away from the personal connections that had made him feel safe growing up in a small coal mining town in West Virginia. He sat down and wrote one of the great songs of all time about what he was missing. Not a particular belief, not God, but somebody to lean on. And unlike God, that human relationship can be mutual — which to my mind is SO much more satisfying and meaningful.

CREATe: a trade fiction author's perspectiveBy Charlie Stross

January 31st and February 1st this year saw the launch and inaugural conference of CREATe — the RCUK research centre for copyright and new business models in the creative economy. It's a seven-university, national scale academic consortium primarily led by law academics, intended "to help the UK cultural and creative industries thrive and become innovation leaders within the global digital economy".

I was invited along as one of the speakers, with a brief slot in which to describe how the analog to digital shift in the creative media has affected me. The conference was frenetically paced: I don't think I'll surprise anyone else who was there if I confess that I came away with my mind churning, but physically exhausted. As nobody got more than six minutes on stage during the case studies session, I had to deliver an abbreviated version of my talk. So I'm publishing the whole thing here, below the fold ...

I'm Charles Stross. I'm a full-time science fiction author, multiple award nominee, winner of two Hugo awards, with about twenty novels in print from major publishers (SF imprints of Macmillan, Penguin, and Hachette). I do this for a living; as I like to explain it, "I tell lies for money".

In my defense, it's better than what I used to do for a living. I started out as a pharmacist, then by a drastic sideways hop acquired a computer science degree and ended up working as a technical author and programmer in the first dot-com boom. And, as a side-effect, I first stumbled blinking onto the internet in 1989.

There have been ebooks on the internet for nearly eighteen years longer than I've been on it. If ebooks were people, some of them are old enough to be grandparents — legally. Project Gutenberg got started in 1971, after all, and one of its first homes was an ARPAnet connected mainframe.

And there have been ebooks off the internet — even commercially sold ebooks — for a long time as well. Anecdotally, I know of SF authors who tried selling novels (on floppy disk, for PCs) as far back as 1985.

During the pre-history of ebooks, various blind alleys were experimented with, mostly unsuccessfully. Nobody needed a $5000 PC to read books with in 1985, so some sort of value seemed to need adding. Infocom's text adventure games were marketed as "interactive fiction" and there's still a marginal but healthy sub-culture of IF authors and consumers to this day. Later, Voyager experimented with Apple's HyperCard as a delivery for books in hypertext form, distributed on floppy disk and CDROM.

But it took a very long time for the internet to take off as a sales channel for newly written trade fiction.

The problem with the interactive fiction and hypermedia attempts prior to 1998 was that they relied of physical media for distribution — and the media were much more expensive than ink on wood-pulp, not to mention limited to an audience who owned the even more expensive display device. (The actual cost of goods in a paperback or hardback is around 10% of the suggested retail price.)

To make matters worse, developing a hypertext with "value added" content is inherently more expensive than sitting down in front of a text editor and bashing out a linear narrative text. (You want music and special effects, both of which cost money.)

Then the internet came along. And the big incumbents in the publishing industry tried to ignore it for as long as possible.

To be fair, the big publishing incumbents are the little brothers of big media — typically the publishing subsidiaries of large multinational media conglomerates with magazine, newspaper, and sometimes music and TV/film publishing arms. They observed the damage caused to the music biz by file sharing and a botched approach to monetization, and then the film industry, with growing horror. However, during the late 90s and early 00s, ebook uptake was impaired by fragmentation. As late as 2007 there were around half a dozen battling ebook file formats and corresponding platforms, with no clear winner until Amazon bought MobiPocket and used their system as the basis for the Kindle (into which Jeff Bezos pumped many millions of dollars, effectively subsidizing the early adopters.)

In addition, sales of commercial ebooks were hampered by contract boilerplate.

Books are sold by reverse auction; highest-price editions appear first, then over time the price is lowered, through limited editions, hardcovers, trade paperbacks, mass market paperbacks, and so on.

However, books are also sold through distinct sales channels. Hardcovers and trade paperbacks are sold as trade goods, on sale-or-return credit. Mass market paperbacks are essentially disposable items, like magazines, where the covers are stripped and returned for credit if they're unsold.

Were ebooks a sales channel or a reverse-auction price point? Nobody in 2005 had a clue. Publishers set up internal web/internet divisions, which then made a bid for control over the new ebook channel, and the trade publishing divisions then tried to sabotage the internal empire builders by forcing them to sell ebooks for a higher price than the corresponding paper edition. Chaos ruled!

What forced them to focus was an external threat: Amazon.

Amazon's goal is to use the internet to collapse all existing producer-to-consumer supply chains, and position themselves as the sole intermediary. Jeff Bezos picked the book retail channel as his first target for disruption because it looked moribund, chaotic, and vulnerable. Amazon's deep-discounting of books threatened publishers with a price war and was eroding the traditional retail channels, which had been left weak since 1992 when WalMart effectively destroyed the US mass market channel by reducing their number of wholesale suppliers from around 470 to 90 across the USA (destroying a bunch of local specialist wholesale market information and creating the gap that B&N and Borders expanded into).

Bezos' pushed development of the Kindle, and sold it to the Big Six as a safe ebook platform with DRM and standardization. Trouble was, it was a walled garden: the publishers only realized around 2009-10 that they'd handed the DRM keys to Amazon, locking their customers into a vertical silo, and Amazon were now free to squeeze them for deeper discounts.

The publishers response was to look for a white knight, in this case Apple with the iBook store and the Agency model. This then led to a DoJ anti-trust investigation (ironically favourable to Amazon, the 500lb gorilla with the 90% market share) and leading to the slowly emerging situation of oligopoly, in which three primary DRM platforms lock customers into specific sub-markets — Adobe Digital Editions, Kindle, and Apple's FairPlay.

(There is some movement on the DRM requirement within the publishers; Macmilan dropped the requirement for DRM on genre fiction titles last year, for example, having finally worked out that piracy was less of a threat to their long-term future than being bent over a barrel by Amazon. Who play hardball with publishers in pursuit of steep discounts. Did I say hardball? More like rollerball. And they play dirty.)

So. What does all this mean for me, as an author?

Rewind to 2003.

I have a literary agent, on comission, to handle contractual negotiations with traditional publishers. They buy the territorial rights to my manuscripts, polish, edit and turn them into books, then publish those books through trade and mass market channels. They then pay me a royalty. Royalty terms are recondite and vary with channel, number of units shipped, discount off SRP at which they were sold, number of returns, and so on. Very roughly, the publisher covers production and manufacturing costs, splits the profits with author, and the distribution chain takes the other 60-70% of the price the end-customer pays.

Forward to 2013.

As a successful novelist my picture is ... unchanged, except that there is a new distribution channel: ebooks. Ebooks are not subject to sale-or-return accounting; every sale is final. Ebooks never go out of print, so contract reversion terms are different. The retail price is typically lower but the sales channel has fewer middle-men so the royalty rate is higher. Production costs are, surprisingly to most people, nearly as high as for dead-tree books (ebooks still need editing and proofreading and marketing).

Mass market paperback sales are down around 50-70% in the USA. (In the UK the mass market channel disappeared in the early 1990s; all paperbacks are sold as trade books.) Ebooks are now up to 60% of gross sales, from 6% in 2008-09 and 0.6% in 2005.

Hardcover or trade paperback sales are, mostly, unaffected by ebook sales. These are premium products sold to people who like buying lumps of dead tree. They may dwindle over the coming decades but the hardcover market is still okay.

So ebooks are the new mass market paperbacks; easily distributed, cheap, disposable reading matter.

But what's life like for unsuccessful novelists?

Here's where things get interesting.

The barrier to entry for publishing has all but collapsed. Anyone with a credit card and an address can self-publish a book via Amazon. It probably won't sell; the new author's biggest enemy is obscurity. But once in a blue moon, something catches fire — E. L. James for example — and word of mouth (which is still the best marketing tool an author has) causes it to explode. With no physical product to go out of stock, there's no deferment of gratification for the customer: so an obscure ebook can go bestseller overnight under the right circumstances.

(However, if you self-publish it probably won't be you.)

Good self-published writers are equally likely to be headhunted by publishers as to break through on their own. John Scalzi (multiple Hugo-winner and New York Times top 10 bestseller) self-published his first novel on his blog before it was acquired by Tor. But John had form as a journalist and AOL editorial content provider before he did that. Beginning authors generally have little or no ability to judge the quality of their own work, and may therefore self-publish prematurely.

The flip side is that self-publishing provides another avenue for authors with a track record who are currently out of favour with their traditional publishers (for failing to meet ever-rising sales targets) to reach their market. I know of several experienced authors in my field who have switched to self-publishing. They generally end up spending extra time on production and marketing rather than the primary specialty, writing, and they don't usually make more money by self-publishing, but they're no longer entirely dependent on the goodwill of a publisher who may be being held to profit levels set by the accountants of a media conglomerate. They can, in other words, specialize.

Quantified-self Experimentation Platforms by Melanie Swan

In the burgeoning Quantified Self (QS) movement, one recent trend is the emergence of tools explicitly for the conduct of QS experiments, either individually or in groups. These tools offer the rapid design and launch of experiments, and usually some degree of automated operation, data analysis, and recruitment.

On the mobile platform, there is PACO, the Personal Analytics Companion for the design and operation of private or shared personal science experiments. Another tool is studycure, an online platform that allows users to create and run interactive experiments using simple if/then logic to help users design experiments.

Community self-experimentation networks also exist, such the health collaboration community Genomera where professional researchers, non-profit groups, and individuals run studies examining a range of issues such as sleep quality, vitamin deficiency, microbiomic profiling, empathy-building, and how the memory works.


As Public Makes “Hard Choices” On Social Security, Alan Simpson Ducks His “Moment of Truth” by Richard Eskow

Alan Simpson’s the lead pitchman for a billionaire- and corporate-funded initiative to slash Social Security that has subjected the public to years of nonstop haranguing and lecturing.

The lecturing’s gotten crude, too, as when Simpson insisted that anyone who disagrees with him is shoveling “bullsh*t.”

That’s tough talk, but it’s a funny thing: When the public makes tough decisions, as it did in a new National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI) survey, the tough-talking Mr. Simpson is nowhere to be found.

Three-Card Monte

Much of this verbal abuse has been funded by right-wing billionaire Pete Peterson. Peterson tried to amplify the impression of an anti-deficit groundswell through a kind of three-card monte in which he funds many different shell organizations staffed by the same people and delivering the same message. They include the Concord Coalition, which may have been the first to trot out the phrase “we must make the hard choices on Social Security.”

That statement’s almost always conjoined with another Peterson-funded theme: that their harsh, right-wing benefit-cutting proposals are based on “arithmetic, not ideology.”

President Obama picked the Peterson-backed team of Simpson and hedge funder Erskine Bowles to run a deficit commission, which ended in deadlock and failure. But with generous funding, the deficit duo went on to tell us that we need to face a “moment of truth” on deficits and Social Security.

(They placed in on the defunct Fiscal Commission’s website, which misleadingly suggested it includes official recommendations from the Commission.)

The Amen Corner

It’s true that Republicans had the most radical idea of all: privatizing Social Security. But well-funded politicians and ex-pols in both parties are used to create an impression of “bipartisan consensus.”The Democratic contingent is led by Bill Clinton, who’s become extremely wealthy in the hedge fund world since leaving the Presidency.

And while Republicans like Mitt Romney slandered the “47 percent” as irresponsible “takers,” Democrats like President Obama unfortunately repeated the “hard choices” mantra while others, like Nancy Pelosi, expressed a disturbing willingness to cut our already-inadequate Social Security benefits.

The underlying theme was always: The American people want it both ways. They demand Social Security, but they don’t want to pay for it.

“There is no free lunch,” the Concord Coalition writes mockingly.  With the NASI survey, the public just offered to cover its tab.

Canned Music

Simpson slandered older Americans as “greedy geezers” in a nasty outburst and condescended to younger ones in a silly video.

A Peterson-funded group called “The Can Kicks Back” tried and failed to popularize their deficit deceptions among Generations X and Y. The rich CEOs of “Fix the Debt,” another Peterson shell organization, asked others to sacrifice for their benefit.

They asked slanted questions in a series of AmericaSpeaks “town hall meetings,” which we attended – and which turned out to be “a mind control experiment gone horribly right.”  But the stacked deck of cards dealt by the Peterson crowd at AmericaSpeaks prevented the kind of comprehensive choices and solutions offered in the NASI survey.

They even created a deficit-reduction “game” called “Budgetball,” which we preferred to describe as “The Fountainhead” meets Deathrace 2000.

Meanwhile they and their media collaborators kept repeating one phrase like a mantra: Hard choices. Hard choices. Hard choices.

Now the public is making hard choices – and the deficit hypocrites are nowhere to be found.

Milk Cow Blues

Simpson’s vituperation toward America’s seniors was most evident in his “BS”/”greedy geezer” rant, and it was extended to all generations in his misogynistic note to  female activist and organizer Ashley Carson. He compared Social Security to “a cow with 300 million tits.” Note to faux-folksy Simpson: It’s “teats,” if you’re a farmer – unless you get off on using crude language to a woman.

Simpson abuses to a lot of people who disagree with him, including Max Richtman, the civil and courteous head of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. But he never addresses the substance of their arguments.

In Ms. Carson’s case, Simpson wasn’t just being abusive. He was also arguing that lazy Americans were trying to “milk the system.”

He was wrong. Americans are willing to pay for their Social Security.

Hard Choices: Made

A new survey from the National Academy of Social Insurance reinforces previous polling which showed Americans across the political spectrum oppose benefit cuts to Social Security and want wealthy Americans to pay more.

But the NASI study did something new: It presented respondents with a range of options and allowed them to select among them. The results were striking, and revealed a rock-solid consensus which spanned generations and political persuasions: Americans want wealthy people to pay their fair share, but they’re willing to chip in more themselves – so much so, in fact, that Social Security benefits could be increased.

That’s a very good idea, since Social Security’s benefits are among the lowest in the developed world.

“Greedy Geezers” = Selfless Seniors

That includes seniors, as can be seen if you delve into the NASI survey’s findings. Older people’s activism in defense of Social Security has always been primarily selfless. After all, only the “chained CPI” proposal would cut their benefits, and it hadn’t been introduced yet when Simpson called them “greedy geezers.” They were fighting for the generations that follow them, not themselves.

That selflessness is borne out by the NASI survey, which showed that 88 percent of “Silent Generation” respondents – the youngest of whom is 70 – were willing to pay more in taxes to protect the program.

Everybody get together, learn to love one another right now …

That spirit of generosity extends to Baby Boomers, too. 86 percent of them said they “didn’t mind” paying more in taxes to protect the program, even though most benefit-cut proposals would affect Boomers less than the generations that follow them.

The Baby Boom generation lost most of its wealth in the Wall Street financial crisis. Yet it’s still willing to pay up to keep the program solvent – especially for their children’s generation.

The Kids Are Al-Right

Younger Americans are willing to make the hard decisions, too.  87 percent of Gen X-ers and 85 percent of Gen Y-ers were also willing to pay more in taxes in order to protect the program.

Solid majorities of young people were willing to share in the sacrifice, across all income levels.

Consensus At Last

Did you think Republicans never want to pay more taxes? Not true, at least when it comes to Social Security. Three out of four Republicans said they’d be willing to pay more to protect the program. So did 86 percent of independents – and 91 percent of Democrats.

What’s more, 62 percent of Republicans thought we should consider increasing the program’s benefits. So did 71 percent of independents and 84 percent of Democrats.

The President’s vision of bipartisan consensus can be achieved – around strengthening Social Security.

Having Their Cake – And Eating Yours, Too

Guess who isn’t willing to step up and pitch in?  The millionaires, billionaires, and corporations behind the deficit hysteria. Their pampered pitchpeople are hiding, too.

After all, the NASI survey’s been out for a week and we haven’t heard a peep from any of them. Not one of them has congratulated the American people for making those “hard choices.” Not one of them has signed on to promote the NASI survey’s common-sense, fiscally responsible agenda for Social Security.

Not even straight-shootin’ Alan Simpson.

You can run but you can’t hide

“If you have some better suggestions about how to stabilize Social Security instead of just babbling into the vapors,” Simpson wrote in his “310 million tits” email, “let me know.” Now the public has let him know.

Where’s Alan?

“If there’s no pain,” says the Concord Coalition, “there’s no gain.” Now we know that they’re talking about your pain and their gain.

Where’s Alan?

And the public’s still being lectured. One lecture came from Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein who, thanks to the Wall Street bailout, benefited rom the largest free lunch in history.

Pack it in, guys. In fact, you should be celebrating: The public’s made those hard choices you’ve been talking about. If you’re not hypocrites you’ll fight for their Social Security agenda, not yours.

If you’re not hypocrites.

It’s time to step up and take a lesson in responsibility from the American people. Anything else is, in as one of you once said, “bullsh*t.”


Second child syndrome by Carol Lloyd

“First one breaks, second one bounces.” 

LearningtoysZ, my second daughter, has benefitted from the classic second-child upbringing… she slept most of her way through her first year (and we let her!)   Her elder sister, T, was what is known nowadays as a “sensitive” toddler, prone to biting best friends, operatic meltdowns, extravagant wish lists and inscrutable insecurities.  Baby Z couldn’t get a word in edgewise until she was two, when  she found her voice and hasn’t stopped yammering, falling on her head, blubbering and then laughing like a hyena.   She’s great: tough, easy going, hilariously out of control at times, but never, ever, frail.  Early on she learned to sleep and play on her own, reprogram my cell phone and find my car keys.  Now she spends hours exploring her favorite subject: African American women’s history.

At age 9 she’s a happy, rambunctious grade-schooler, so we tell her to pipe down and be patient. After all, her elder sister, who has been diagnosed with a murky multifactorial diagnosis which manifests as keen annoyance at noises she doesn’t like, has to do her homework and we all know a 7th grader’s homework is more important than a 3rd graders, right? 

It’s not that we don’t dote on Z.  We do.  And if we thought she needed it, we would have Z diagnosed with whatever expert-stamped pathology would get her the extra help she needed.  We just don’t think she needs it. But of course, I don’t know that we would have thought T needed it back when she showed a slight reading lag, had she not been Daughter Number 1 to two aging professionals, with all the OCD passion that those circumstances evoke. Now in middle school, my elder embodies all the earmarks of first born privilege: she’s accomplished and ambitious, high strung and demanding.

Growing up in the hot house

In an era when parents often display the hyperactive solicitude of a dowager ministering to her award-winning orchids, many first children suffer from hothouse syndrome. They are the center of a dangerous and precarious universe, growing up in the fun house of their parents’ refracted identities, great expectations, and dreams. 

The second child can never ignite that same fanatical focus -- which can be a good or bad thing, depending on your child and their particular needs.  If your first born is a breeze and your parenting seems to forge a multilingual straight A piano prodigy, and the second one comes along unwilling to sing to the same alfa melody (as was the case with Tiger mother Amy Chua) the second child becomes a humbling lesson in social emotional learning for the parents.  If on the other hand, the second child gets a lot less pressure and a lot more room to think, they can thrive in a very different way.  

Ironically, the awareness of the second child’s special lack of parental fixation has spawned its own anxious diagnostics in the blogosphere: “second child syndrome.” How do you know if your child is suffering from this syndrome?  They either distance themselves emotionally or get especially upset, try harder for parental approval or try less, get in trouble or try to be nice all the time (you get the point, could be any child at any time).  Yet it’s only in a culture that has obsessively embraced “cultivation parenting” that this syndrome could even exist.  What about the 3rd, 4th, and 5th children or the 12th? Perhaps what we’re really facing is an epidemic of first-child syndrome.

"The cat ate my homework"

Lately my husband and I have been trying to balance the scales and give Z more attention. Ever vigilant to signs she’s playing second fiddle to her older sister, she always ready to throw down the gauntlet and declare injustice. She’s begun to procrastinate on her homework or come up with bizarre explanations as to why she lost it. I can't blame her: now that my elder toils four hours a day on polynomials and memorizing the process of meiosis, it’s hard to sit with Z as she hammers out multiplication tables she could do in her sleep.

Either way, both daughters have benefitted from what the other has missed – the confidence that comes from parental attention. versus the confidence that comes from learning for oneself.  No childhood is perfect and theirs won’t be either.  In the meantime, I’m learning from my second daughter things I never thought I’d learn from a 9-year-old: like Harriet Tubman’s real name and how to fall on the ground, bang your head and keep laughing.



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