Baby sleep

Well, it’s late and all my kids have been asleep for a while, but it is quite notable just how different their sleep patterns are.  Through four kids, David was definitely the toughest when awake but a great sleeper.  Started sleeping through the night at 2 months.  Our youngest Sarah, was definitely the easiest when awake, but definitely the worst sleeper.  She didn’t sleep through the night till after 2 and still wakes up and whines for juice more often than not (stashing a full cup in her crib usually means I get through the night without getting harrassed).  Has our parenting changed over time?  Sure.  But mostly, our kids are just really different.  Nice to see that science now backs this up.  Great summary at this blog:

Canadian researchers analyzed sleep data from 1,000 twins, aged 6 months to 48 months, both fraternal and identical, to determine the role of genetics in sleep habits. What they found was that a baby’s ability to sleep through the night appears to be largely genetic. Interestingly, a baby’s ability to stick to a regular daytime nap routine is more environmentally influenced.

“At three of the four time points, genetics accounted for between 47 and 58 percent of nighttime sleep duration. But genes never explained more than about one-third of daytime nap length, the researchers reported Monday in Pediatrics.”

The fact that napping habits are more influenced by environment than nighttime sleeping doesn’t surprise me. With baby number one, for me, nap time was sacred– death to anyone or anything that interfered.

Baby number two: Wake up! Time to pick your big sister up from pre-school. Don’t fall asleep now! her ballet class is starting any minute. The poor kid lived in a drive-thru.

Yep.  And definitely agreed on the greater environmental influence on naps.  I love identical vs fraternal twin studies that help us uncover cool findings like this.  also worth mentioning that there’s still a pretty solid amount of this that is not genes, but environment.  To that end, I’ll put in a plug for what I like to call one of the two books that literally changed my life, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.  It’s mis-named though, it really should be “Happy parent.”

Chart of the day

So, I was going through some semi-recent Pew data on political knowledge for my summer Intro to American Government course, when I came across this cool chart I had not seen before:

On a test of four factual items, Maddow viewers win (and perform far better than the viewers of conservative opinion shows).  As a reader of the New Yorker, etc., I of course enjoyed that it came in second.  I also dug a little to discover that “etc.” is actually Atlantic (which I also subsrcibe to) and Harper’s (which I’ve twice subscribed to, but ultimately leaves me a little flat).  As to the political knowledge of New Yorker readers, he’s your explanation in another chart:

Would actually like to see the effect of the news sources controlling for education, i.e., the performance of Maddow viewers becomes much more impressive in this context.  If I remember, I’ll check back in roughly September of this year when Pew should be making the entire dataset available.

Why do Republicans want poor kids to be hungry?

Honestly, my disgust with the values of the Republican party today causes me to almost ignore just how incredibly mean-spirited their proposed policies actually are.  It’s nice to get a reminder, like today’s Krugman column.  If Republicans get their way in the budget, literally millions of poor children will be hungry.  Seriously.  That’s sure not the country I want to live in. Krugman:

Like many observers, I usually read reports about political goings-on with a sort of weary cynicism. Every once in a while, however, politicians do something so wrong, substantively and morally, that cynicism just won’t cut it; it’s time to get really angry instead. So it is with the ugly, destructive war against food stamps.

“Weary cynicism.”  I wish I had thought of that.  Captures my own attitude perfectly.  Anyway…

First, as millions of workers lost their jobs through no fault of their own, many families turned to food stamps to help them get by — and while food aid is no substitute for a good job, it did significantly mitigate their misery. Food stamps were especially helpful to children who would otherwise be living in extreme poverty, defined as an income less than half the official poverty line…

So what do Republicans want to do with this paragon of programs? First, shrink it; then, effectively kill it.

The shrinking part comes from the latest farm bill released by the House Agriculture Committee (for historical reasons, the food stamp program is administered by the Agriculture Department). That bill would push about two million people off the program. You should bear in mind, by the way, that one effect of the sequester has been to pose a serious threat to a different but related program that provides nutritional aid to millions of pregnant mothers, infants, and children. Ensuring that the next generation grows up nutritionally deprived — now that’s what I call forward thinking.

And why must food stamps be cut? We can’t afford it, say politicians like Representative Stephen Fincher, a Republican of Tennessee, who backed his position with biblical quotations — and who also, it turns out, has personally received millions in farm subsidiesover the years.

These cuts are, however, just the beginning of the assault on food stamps. Remember, Representative Paul Ryan’s budget is still the official G.O.P. position on fiscal policy, andthat budget calls for converting food stamps into a block grant program with sharply reduced spending. If this proposal had been in effect when the Great Recession struck, the food stamp program could not have expanded the way it did, which would have meant vastly more hardship, including a lot of outright hunger, for millions of Americans, and for children in particular.

Look, I understand the supposed rationale: We’re becoming a nation of takers, and doing stuff like feeding poor children and giving them adequate health care are just creating a culture of dependency — and that culture of dependency, not runaway bankers, somehow caused our economic crisis.

Krugman concludes with a question:

But I wonder whether even Republicans really believe that story — or at least are confident enough in their diagnosis to justify policies that more or less literally take food from the mouths of hungry children.

Firstly, I think they really and truly believe this story.  They’ve been hearing it long and often enough.  And when you think about policy abstractions it is actually pretty easy to ignore the fact that you will literally be causing children to go hungry.  To paraphrase Josef Stalin– one hungry child is a tragedy; a million hungry children are a statistic.

Photo of the day

This from the National Geographic Traveler photo contest is just awesome.  I love the whole gallery at the link:

Fénec The soul of the desert

Photo and caption by Francisco Mingorance

The fennec, or desert fox is a canine mammal species of the genus Vulpes, which inhabits the Sahara Desert and Arabia. With its features ears, this is the smallest species of the family Canidae. It is endangered and its main threat is illegal in other countries.

Location: Morocco

More reason to hate the Tea Party

Well, now that they’ve largely failed in 1) preventing more Americans from having affordable health care; and 2) preventing Obama from being re-elected.  The Tea Party needs something to freak out about.  Turns out that its national educational standards.  God forbid we try and bring up the piss-poor education in Mississippi or Louisiana to national standards or even worse, share data across states to try and improve education.  We’ll simply ignore the fact that pretty much every country that outperforms us relies on national standards.

Local control of educational standards not only has a long history, its importance to learning is quite clear.  Factoring an equation, subject-verb agreement, and the years of the Revolutionary War quite obviously are different in North Carolina than North Dakota.  And standards should reflect that.  Or something.

From the Post:

Tea party groups over the past few weeks have suddenly and successfully pressured Republican governors to reassess their support for a rare bipartisan initiative backed by President Obama to overhaul the nation’s public schools.

Activists have donned matching T-shirts and packed buses bound for state legislative hearing rooms in Harrisburg, Pa., grilled Georgia education officials at a local Republican Party breakfast and deluged Michigan lawmakers with phone calls urging opposition to theCommon Core State Standards.

So, just what is this evil Common Core you ask?

The White House has promoted Common Core, written by governors and state education officials in both parties and largely funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to create consistent math and reading standards from kindergarten through 12th grade. Academic standards vary widely among states, and that patchwork nature has been partly blamed for mediocre rankings of U.S. students in international comparisons.

The standards do not dictate curriculum. Rather, states decide what to teach and how to prepare children for standardized tests based on Common Core.  [emphases mine]

F*&n Communists!  I mean really, the hubris of thinking their should be national standards on math and reading.  Reality?  I suspect that despite the fact that this has been truly bipartisan and embraced (until now) by plenty of Republicans (note that last emboldened paragraph above), the Tea Party whackjobs have realized that Obama is for it, so it can’t be good.  Not to mention, the Gates Foundation spends most of its money trying to cure the world’s poorest people of disease, so you know their values are suspect.

Now, I’m no expert on the Common Core (though, seems to be being implemented just fine with my 7th grader this year), but to argue against national standards for math and reading is ludicrous on its face.  If the Tea Party gears up, unfortunately, not many Republican politicians will have the guts to face them down.

On the bright side, big business is actually interested in having well-educated workforce, so there’s this:

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable also are planning a public relations blitz to defend the standards.

Those are the real heavy-hitters of the Republican Party.  As a political scientist, it will be fascinating to see the Chamber of Commerce vs. the Tea Party.  And boy am I pulling for the Chamber for once.

Video of the day

Over at Wonkblog, they put together a post of great spelling bee moments.  This one is awesome:

Test tube burger

So, a while back I wrote about the (hopeful) future of “meat” that is actually engineered from vegetable protein but tastes and feels like the real thing.  That would be an incredibly huge boon for a sustainable environment.  Meat production is incredibly inefficient as compared to plant production (a lot of resources go into simply keeping a cow, pig, etc., alive).  Not to mention, the very questionable morality of how we treat factory farm raised animals.  A couple weeks ago the Times ran a story on the efforts to create synthetic meat in a test tube, i.e., culturing real animal cells and “growing” meat in a lab.  Turns out, it’s really, really hard:

The hamburger, assembled from tiny bits of beef muscle tissue grown in a laboratory and to be cooked and eaten at an event in London, perhaps in a few weeks, is meant to show the world — including potential sources of research funds — that so-called in vitro meat, or cultured meat, is a reality.

“Let’s make a proof of concept, and change the discussion from ‘this is never going to work’ to, ‘well, we actually showed that it works, but now we need to get funding and work on it,’ “ Dr. Post said in an interview last fall in his office at Maastricht University…

The idea of creating meat in a laboratory — actual animal tissue, not a substitute made from soybeans or other protein sources — has been around for decades. The arguments in favor of it are many, covering both animal welfare and environmental issues…

Yet growing meat in the laboratory has proved difficult and devilishly expensive. Dr. Post, who knows as much about the subject as anybody, has repeatedly postponed the hamburger cook-off, which was originally expected to take place in November.

His burger consists of about 20,000 thin strips of cultured muscle tissue. Dr. Post, who has conducted some informal taste tests, said that even without any fat, the tissue “tastes reasonably good.” For the London event he plans to add only salt and pepper.

But the meat is produced with materials — including fetal calf serum, used as a medium in which to grow the cells — that eventually would have to be replaced by similar materials of non-animal origin. And the burger was created at phenomenal cost — 250,000 euros, or about $325,000, provided by a donor who so far has remained anonymous. Large-scale manufacturing of cultured meat that could sit side by side with conventional meat in a supermarket and compete with it in price is at the very least a long way off.

Intriguing.  And though it is clearly absurdly expensive right now, it’s not hard to imagine a future where this has actually become affordable.  That said, based on what I’ve read about fake meat made from vegetable material versus “cultured meat” made from real animal cells, I’m putting my money on the former.  Either way, I would love it if my grandkids grow up eating great tasting burgers made from vegetable protein or animal protein grown in a lab.  Either way, that’s a huge advance for the environment and animal welfare.

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