The New Yorker on Breastfeeding

This week's New Yorker runs a natural history of breastfeeding well worth reading in its entirety, even if you've never exchanged business cards with another nursing mom while both of you were hooked up to breast pump tubing during a work conference "break."

Some fascinating trivia from the Age of Reason:

...wet nurses were not nearly as common in Colonial America as they were in eighteenth-century Europe. "Suckle your Infant your Self if you can," Cotton Mather commanded from the pulpit. Puritans found milk divine: even the Good Book gave suck. "Spiritual Milk for Boston Babes, Drawn Out of the Breasts of Both Testaments" was the title of a popular catechism. By the end of the eighteenth century, breast-feeding had come to seem an act of citizenship. Mary Wollstonecraft, in her "Vindication of the Rights of Woman" (1792), scoffed that a mother who "neither suckles nor educates her children, scarcely deserves the name of a wife, and has no right to that of a citizen." The following year, the French National Convention ruled that women who employed wet nurses could not apply for state aid; not long afterward, Prussia made breast-feeding a legal requirement.

Kate Harding over at Salon's Broadsheet found the article's takeaways a bit disturbing; you might too. I was too besotted by the bright, shiny historical details to pay close attention to the mommy war ammo.

I'm looking forward to reading Jill Lepore's book on the broader topic, whenever she publishes it. Write faster, Lepore!

According to a new report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (brought to my attention by Steven Aftergood), spending on US nuclear weapons infrastructure and related programs surpassed $52 billion in 2008. "That's a floor, not a ceiling," said study co-author Stephen Schwartz, who noted that the figure does not include costs associated with classified nuclear weapons or intelligence-related programs.

A view of the spending breakdown, provided by Carnegie:

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To put this in some context, nuclear weapons expenditures accounted for some 10 percent of all defense spending... and dwarfed the entire federal budget for "soft power" programs like international diplomacy and foreign assistance, which amounted to just $39.5 billion last year.

Of the $52 billion spent on nuclear programs, 55.5 percent went to upgrading and maintaining the existing stockpiles of weapons, whereas just 10 percent was invested in nonproliferation programs aimed at preventing the spread of such weapons around the globe.

For a funny, ground-level look at how the nuclear weapons budget is spent, you might check out A Nuclear Family Vacation by Nathan Hodge and Sharon Weinberger. Find my review here.

One Way to Help the Third World: Adjustable Eyeglasses

Every time you feel so overwhelmed by the horrors of Third World underdevelopment and chaos, someone comes along with a great, oh-so-obvious solution. I came across this one via Slate:

In the United States, Britain and other wealthy nations, 60 to 70 percent of people wear corrective glasses...But in many developing countries, only about 5 percent have glasses because so many people, especially those in rural areas, have little or no access to eye-care professionals. Even if they could visit an eye doctor, the cost of glasses can be more than a month's wages. This means that many schoolchildren cannot see the blackboard, bus drivers can't see clearly and others can no longer fish, teach or do other jobs because of failing vision.

[Joshua] Silver's answer: Adjustable glasses.

OK, you have to be a science geek to have come up with this, but still. It's all about the mindset: Instead of giving up because glasses are so expensive, work on making glasses cheaper. Duh.

Check the piece for a link to the guy's site. The glasses are BCGs (think: Drew Carey) in the extreme but, when you make your living dumpster-diving in Bangladesh or wherever, ugly glasses are the least of your problems.

Rumored for Coachella: Britney Spears?

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The lineup for America's premier music festival has generally been announced towards the end of January, and so right about now, speculation, rumors, and blog insanity is reaching a fever pitch. I've been feeding the flames myself, posting the first fake flyer (complete with dream headliners Daft Punk, the White Stripes and David Bowie) back in December (along with some early whispers) but now somewhat-journalistically-reputable blog LAist has posted a list of "confirmed" and "rumored" artists, and they snuck in one head-slapper: right there between Blur and the Comedians of Comedy, it's Britney Spears. Da-wha? Turns out, as Idolator discovered, Brit-Brit (blargh!) has dates confirmed in the LA area Thursday, Friday and Sunday nights, and the Coachella venue in Indio is only a few hours' drive (or a quick helicopter ride) away. Madonna was one thing, but does anybody actually like Britney Spears' music? And, more importantly, will she bring tour openers (and possibly the worst musical act in America today) The Pussycat Dolls with her?

After the jump, the LAist confirmed and rumored lists.

mojo-photo-slumdog.jpgLast night's Golden Globes ceremony was, as Vulture put it, "astonishingly not-bad," with multiple surprise winners and cheeky speeches (see some of those after the jump). Hollywood bad boys Mickey Rourke and Colin Farrell got Best Actor nods, which you have to celebrate if only for the "holy crap what will they say on stage" anticipation, and every 30 Rock win brought us a hilarious acceptance speech. But the most inspiring moments of the night came with the non-stop cavalacade of wins for rags-to-riches drama Slumdog Millionaire, which grabbed four awards including best dramatic picture. Other heavily-favored and multiple-nominee pics including Benjamin Button and Frost/Nixon came away empty-handed, but the unabashed joy of the Slumdog team at every win made it impossible not to root for them. Plus, there's the fact that the film's success has "virtually the entire Desi population on the planet energized," as MTV News put it. Slumdog's wins also seem like a long-overdue nod to Bollywood, despite the fact that the flim has about as much to do with Bollywood tradition as Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon did with martial arts movies. So is there anything to stop Slumdog from winning the best picture Oscar?

Golden Globe best picture winners have been Oscar predictors only about 2/3 of the time—last year's dramatic picture winner, No Country for Old Men, lost the Oscar to Atonement, and the comedy/musical winner, Sweeney Todd, wasn't even nominated. But this year, Slumdog Millionaire has been racking up awards with increasing momentum, and, as Associated Content put it, the competition is dropping like flies:

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was the original favorite, but has lost a lot of ground due to Slumdog Millionaire's rise and some very mixed reviews. Milk may be a sleeper, but most expect that homophobes in the Academy will stop it from winning, like they supposedly did for Brokeback Mountain. Films like Frost/Nixon and Doubt are not regarded as serious threats to win, while The Dark Knight is just trying to get in, and countless other contenders have fallen off the map this Oscar season.

Homophobes aside, even San Franciscans are starting to acknowledge that our hometown favorite may not be quite Oscar-caliber. Amazingly, Slumdog hasn't even opened yet in India, and success there could make denying the top prize to what the Wall Street Journal called "the film world's first globalized masterpiece" next to impossible.

Oscar nominations come out January 22. After the jump: appearances from Sacha Baron Cohen, Tina Fey, Tracy Morgan, and Slumdog's best dramatic picture win.

afcbetting.gifGuess who's playing on Sunday night at the Lincoln Memorial as part of the opening event for the inauguration festivities? Beyonce, Mary J. Blige, Bono, Garth Brooks, Sheryl Crow, Renee Fleming, Josh Groban, Herbie Hancock (!!), Heather Headley, John Legend, Jennifer Nettles, John Mellencamp, Usher, Shakira, Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor, will.i.am, and Stevie Wonder. (Don't live in DC? You can watch on some free HBO thing.)

You know who else is playing on Sunday night? The greatest professional sports franchise in the history of the United States (the Pittsburgh Steelers), which will take on a miserable bunch of thugs and complainers (the Baltimore Ravens) in an hard-nosed bad-blood knock-em-out match-up that will determine who gets to go to Super Bowl XLIII.

I've emailed the transition office to ask for a rescheduling. I'm not joking.

No More Bush to Kick Around

NO MORE BUSH TO KICK AROUND....James Fallows on the Bush press conference earlier today:

I think even people who oppose the Bush Administrations policies would find it somewhat harder to dislike him viscerally after this performance — rather than getting angrier the more they see him, as with most of his appearances over these last eight years....Everything in his posture, expression, and body language — even his emphasis on the word defeat in talking about the 2008 results — indicated that he has taken in the fact that things have not gone well.

I haven't yet watched the press conference myself, so all I can say is: I sure hope Fallows is wrong. It's human nature, of course, for anger over a botched job to recede with time, and perhaps it's also true that anger naturally morphs into other, more complex emotions anyway. How many people today are really angry at Herbert Hoover?

Still, I sure hope that the public doesn't forgive Bush for a very, very long time. To this day I don't understand how such a manifestly unqualified candidate got either nominated or elected in the first place, and the damage this man-child has done to the country during his eight years in office is hard to even put into words. If Barack Obama is lucky, he might — might — by 2016 be able to get us back to where we were in 2000. The last eight years have taken us backward by almost every metric that matters, and as he heads off to Texas, hopefully never to be heard from again, Bush will go down in history as one of the very few presidents to have left the country in demonstrably worse shape than when he got it. It's an elite group indeed.

Short Term vs. Long Term

SHORT TERM vs. LONG TERM....As long as we're talking about the economic long term, here's another question for the economics crowd. Conventional wisdom, after first complaining that TARP was misconceived and what was really needed was bank recapitalization, has quickly swung around to the idea that, in fact, Henry Paulson's capital injections were wasted. After all, banks still aren't lending.

Tax cuts, similarly, are in ill repute because they don't necessarily increase consumption. People are more likely to sock the money away in a savings account or use it to pay down credit card debt. So there's no bang for the buck.

But surely this is short sighted? Stimulus spending can (we hope) help keep the economy afloat over the next couple of years, but then what? When the economy starts to recover, it will certainly be helped along if bank balance sheets are in better shape than they are today. Likewise, it will be helped along if consumers have paid down some of that credit card debt and put a few dollars aside. Right? We can't keep running a negative savings rate forever, after all.

So: what's wrong with government spending to stimulate the economy now, combined with tax cuts and bank recapitalizations to help get the economy in shape for recovery a couple of years down the road? This isn't so much a suggestion as a question. Does this make sense, or is there some fundamental misconception at its core? What say the economists?

The Stimulus

THE STIMULUS....From the same Washington Post article about the Bush economic record that I quoted below, we also have this:

"The expansion was a continuation of the way the U.S. has grown for too long, which was a consumer-led expansion that was heavily concentrated in housing," said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a onetime Bush White House staffer and one of Sen. John McCain's top economic advisers for his presidential campaign. "There was very little of the kind of saving and export-led growth that would be more sustainable."

"For a group that claims it wants to be judged by history, there is no evidence on the economic policy front that that was the view," Holtz-Eakin said. "It was all Band-Aids."

Agreed — and this is what continues to niggle at the back of my mind. A big stimulus package is all well and good, but suggestions that it should be even bigger and badder than Obama has proposed make me wonder what the end game is. Paul Krugman, for example, criticizes the $800 billion plan on the grounds that it will only make up for part of the output gap caused by the recession, not all of it. But aside from the practical question of whether we could effectively spend double the amount Obama is proposing anyway, I guess I wonder if we should even be trying to make up the entire output gap with domestic spending. Because there really is some readjustment that needs to happen in the medium term.

For years now the the skyrocketing U.S. trade deficit has been Topic A among economists. The big fear was that the Chinese were shipping us goods and we were shipping them back treasury bills, and this couldn't last forever. Eventually the Chinese would tire of stockpiling treasuries, the dollar would crash, and all hell would break loose. In the end, that's not what happened, but it was still the trade deficit that was at the heart of our problem: American consumers went into deep debt to buy all those Chinese goods, the savings glut from China and elsewhere poured into the American housing market, and eventually the music stopped. The dollar didn't crash, but housing and the American consumer did.

But the dollar could yet crash, because one way or another the books have to balance. Americans have to consume less and export more. Keeping American output high is important, but one way or another American consumption has to fall and Chinese consumption has to grow. If a gigantic stimulus plan keeps output high but also keeps consumption high, then it's just another Band-Aid.

So what's the end game? Hardly anyone wants to talk about it. And I feel sort of stuck. I'm not an economist myself, and virtually every economist I respect is on board with the idea that the Obama stimulus package is, if anything, too modest. It should be twice as big and last twice as long. Better safe than sorry. That's hard to argue with, but I still wonder where it's going to leave us in a few years. With a nice soft landing as the dollar rises but doesn't implode, or at the top of yet another bubble waiting to pop?

Boomers, Meet Cuspers

Looking for a marked-down home in a marked-down country? From CNN:

The real estate market is so awful that buyers are now scooping up homes for as little as $1,000.

There are 18 listings in Flint, Mich., for under $3,000, according to Realtor.com. There are 22 in Indianapolis, 46 in Cleveland and a whopping 709 in Detroit. All of these communities have been hit hard by foreclosures, and most of these homes are being sold by the lenders that repossessed them.

"Foreclosures have turned banks into property management companies," said Heather Fernandez, a spokeswoman for Trulia.com, the real estate Web site. "And it's often cheaper for them to give these homes away rather than try to get market value for them."

So, give up lattes, mani-pedis, and Netflix for awhile, and buy a piece of the "greatest nation in the world."

You know, growing up a dispossessed, poor black girl, sharecroppers' fourth of sixth: Even I thought better of America than this. I thought my biggest problem was shoving my way in line. I never thought my kids would find no line at all.

Why am I bitter? Here's why: After the much-vaunted "boomers," it's not 'God bless America,' a la Kate Smith.

It's not, 'God damn America,' a la Jeremiah Wright.

It's 'God save America,' a la every citizen living today and to come.

Perhaps that's why this other CNN article spoke to me so loudly:

Rarely has there been a year when so many things went out of style in such a short time: not just investment bankers, gas-guzzling vehicles, corporate jets, conspicuous consumption and political polarization, but also a whole generation.

After strutting and tub-thumping and preening their way across the high ground of politics, media, culture and finance for 30 years, baby boomers have gone from top dogs to scapegoats in barely a year.

As baby boomers lose their authority and appeal, generational power is shifting one notch down: to cuspers (born roughly 1954-1965), who arrived in style in 2008 with their first truly major figure, Barack Obama (born 1961).

We 'cuspers' missed both the postwar baby boom and 'flower power.' But we do inherit the mess the 'die before I'm 30 crowd' engendered. We've been quiet too long.