December 15th, 2010


I'm usually really careful about how I talk about where people should sleep. I know that the choices that I and my family make about where to sleep do not meet longstanding US social standards, and I know that a _lot_ of people's sleep locations decisions do not meet longstanding US social standards. I also know that most of the time, this mismatch between expectations and reality is papered over by some combination of not talking about it and making verbal statements that try to shorten the distance between reality and ideal.

There's a word I'm not using here. If someone comes back and says that I used that word, I'm going to challenge you to find that word in this post. Because I am not using That Word.

In any event, today, the CPSC made an announcement that a lot of us saw coming over recent months and years. They banned the manufacture and sale of drop-side cribs, and are requiring hotels to get rid of theirs and replace them with fixed side cribs, altho they have about a year to do so.

Here is decent coverage of the announcement:

There are a couple of things I'd like to point out. First:

"Drop-side cribs have been blamed in the deaths of at least 32 infants and toddlers since 2000 and are suspected in another 14 fatalities. In the past five years, more than 9 million drop-side cribs have been recalled."

My rule of thumb for understanding millions of babies is, there are about 4 million of them born every year in the US. Notice, "about" and notice _only one significant digit_. Thus, when I see "9 million" cribs, I think, wow, about 2 years worth of babies, figure it out of five years and that's roughly (very roughly) 40% of the cribs sold in that five years. Maybe it's 20% of the cribs, because every baby has duplicate cribs. Maybe it's 50% of cribs sold, because each baby gets less than one crib, what with hand-me-downs and so forth. But that's a lot of recalls.

My oldest child is 5 and bit years old, but many of my friends (older and younger) had their children before I had mine. Thus, I adopted a lot of my parenting practices by seeing what people I love and respect were doing with their kids, and imitating them. Some, but by no means all, of my friends spent an awful lot of time trying to figure out where their infants and toddlers should sleep, and quite a few of them commented on how the crib they owned was used only to store stuffed animals and similar toys. In conjunction with a bunch of reading, I concluded that buying a crib was a pointless waste of time, and that cribs were, in fact, basically very, very dangerous. I slept with my babies, for the most part, altho we did also have a moses basket and an Ambi baby hammock (subject to its own recall). As I aged, my knees got less and less happy about getting up off a mattress on the floor (how I solved the bedframe hazard problem: get rid of the bedframe) and I had a very low platform made that saved my knees but kept the sleeping surface low enough that an outright fall would not be particularly dangerous. We did some other things, too, not all of which I would necessarily recommend doing with a fresh baby, but are probably just fine once the kid's old enough to move around (which ours were old enough to do at a shockingly young age. We have developmental problems, but they aren't motor problems.).

In addition to the touchy social interaction issues that arise whenever people are doing one thing but pretending that they are doing another thing, when my first child was very young, and I was pregnant with my second (IIRC), the AMA launched a major anti-bedsharing campaign. This was utterly bizarre and inexplicable to anyone reading the current studies, since more and more evidence was piling up about the hazards of cribs, the hazards of babies sleeping unattended and so forth. The AMA, however, and a couple of doctors in places where life is really tough all over (notably Detroit) chose instead to focus on infant deaths occurring with a sleeping adult. Almost all of these deaths involved overly tired and/or under the influence adults (many of which were not related to the infant), sleeping with the infant in a chair or similar, but somehow all those details disappeared, and the problem became Cosleeping. The goal: make those infants sleep by themselves in a safe location. The plan: deliver new cribs that meet current safety standards to poor parents. Never mind that that's probably not the real problem. That's actually not what I want to draw attention to here. We just _banned_ drop side cribs. Until recently, virtually _all_ cribs sold were drop side cribs, and if you've ever attempted to transfer a sleeping baby to a crib without waking the kid up or destroying yourself, you'll understand the popularity of the drop side. It's hard to imagine that any of those donated cribs of just a _very_ few years ago are not now illegal to make or sell.

In the hormones of my second pregnancy, and my general touchiness in the wake of a small town political project I had undertaken prior to that pregnancy and which continued throughout the pregnancy, I ranted and raved a lot, in writing and to my long-suffering husband R., about the irrationality and, in fact, criminal craziness of the people pushing to end cosleeping and do so in part by passing out dangerous cribs. But what calmed me down, repeatedly, was something that I remembered from when I was a younger adult, over a decade from having a baby of my own.

Once upon a time, pediatricians told parents to put their babies to sleep on their stomachs. There were scientific explanations. It was Best Practice. And then, there was a Back to Sleep campaign. And the AMA never did any really good job of saying, oh, my bad, gosh, we gave you some bad advice, sorry about that. No, they went straight from Thou Shalt Do This, Not That to Thou Shalt Definitely Not Do This But Definitely Do That. Which is really a pity, because while putting a stop to placing very fresh babies on their stomachs to sleep was probably a net win, my personal experience of sleeping with fresh and not so fresh babies is that they spend a lot of time sleeping on their sides and this seems completely fine. For one thing, it's easier to line them up with the boob that way.

I do feel for new parents of the last couple years and for the next few years. Attempting to make fixed side cribs "work" is nightmarish. The compromises these parents will find themselves inevitably making will make them feel uncomfortable, and make it even harder to get enough sleep. I wish them all the best, and encourage them to try their best to ignore some of the advice they are given and to apply the senses and the brain they are fortunate to possess and come up with a solution that works well for them.

And if you need to tell people you are doing something other than what you are doing, try not to lose any sleep over that, either, but try to tell the people who love and respect you and are about to have babies of their own as much of the truth as you think they can handle. They need all the help they can get, and there sure isn't any forthcoming from the medical professions trade associations.

the wonder that is youtube, iPad and assistive technology in general

I may have complained about this before, but it is not (currently) possible to buy iTunes episodes of Teletubbies. Lacking any other obvious and easy way to get any of the Teletubbies dvd videos onto the iPads, we resorted to YouTube. This has worked well (altho T. has been a little obsessive about the toast video) for a while, but lately, nothing we picked seemed to be the right video, and, irritatingly, T. kept erasing whatever we typed into the search box. This morning, it dawned on me (I know, I'm a little slow) that T. really wanted to be doing the typing.

So, hand over hand with the boy and the virtual keyboard. Lots of fun.

Then I had a conversation with the nice people who provide services for A., since it turns out that while their primary mission is 0-3, they'll help out with older kids, too. We were discussing possible goals for T., and I got to explaining about the switch from putting things away (never mind who was using them) to throwing toys all over the place very methodically (this is impressive when you have an entire bin of just potato head pieces), and the recent thing with the typing and playing matching games on the iPad. They don't have a lot of technology nor expertise in using it, but I said I was happy to provide all that, but R. and I (being very, very aspie ourselves) are pretty bad at helping T. figure out how to use them in a communicating sort of way.

See, when you're like R. and me, you can _write_ augmentive communication stuff, and navigate it with great facility, but we _still_ wouldn't necessarily actually be using it to _communicate_. The nice people who provide services don't seem to really believe me about this. But they will.

In any event, I've decided it is definitely time to fork over the (comparatively) big bucks for ProLoQuo on the iPad, and while I was at it, I bought ArtikPik, which it turns out is hugely amusing for T. It is a familiar enough set of exercises to what he does in paper flashcard form at the school with the speech therapist that he understood it better than I did. Funny, that. Also, half of ArtikPik is matching games. Which he is obsessed with, and in this case, is words and matching stick figure pictures, organized phonetically. Freakishly brilliant.

I haven't even started up ProLoQuo yet, but I'll try to get around to a review when I've figured some of it out.

_The Gold Standard at the Turn of the Twentieth Century_, Steven Bryan (kindle)

Subtitled: Rising Powers, Global Money, and the Age of Empire

Executive summary: Buy it. Read it. It's really amazing.

Commentary not specific to the content of the book, but relevant to my experience of reading it:

The is the first book I've read that I received through Netgalley. (<-- That means I did not pay for this book. I got it for free. I don't _think_ not paying for it influenced my opinion of it, but maybe I'm not the best judge of that. Certainly I've praised or criticized books I've paid a wide range of prices for before. But you never know.) I got two copies of it: a kindle copy e-mailed to my kindle, and a version that I downloaded to Adobe Digital Editions and then copied to Bluefire on the iPad. I primarily read it on the kindle, despite formatting problems (and I have no idea whether these formatting problems are corrected in the the version for sale currently on Amazon) in that edition that were not present in the other version. I don't like reading longform on an active screen, so (as mentioned in previous posts), I ultimately used the Bluefire copy as a way to keep a "finger" in the Endnotes while reading the main text on the kindle. This worked _really_ well and I anticipate doing something similar in the future when reading scholarly books such as this one. Especially since very, very few publishers are using HTML anchors and targets to connect notes to their text references.

The Review Proper:

I complain a lot about the separation of economics and politics that happened about a century ago both in academic and in political rhetoric. I believe that separation has caused incalculable damage to our ability to make good policy decisions in the real world. I also complain a lot about books which purport to be about "world" history, but which exclusively use English-language and English-speaking-country sources for no really good reason other than convenience. This also does incalculable damage to our ability to make good policy decisions in the real world. Steven Bryan, in one book, has put political economy back together (I'm not sure whether Hercules or Humpty Dumpty or both should be invoked at this point) and done so by producing an excellent history of what was going on in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, and how that was then horribly misunderstood during the interwar period, and how we are further misinterpreting all of the above now. Best of all, his case studies are not England and the US or even Western European countries. No, Bryan picked Argentina (as a, or even the, major South American power of the time) and Japan (ditto for Asia, if you discount India as a colony of Britain and thus without control of its currency or its tariff structure, and China, as having been subjected to unequal treaties which limited its control of its tariff structure).

The "put political economy back together" bit is where he describes the path to the gold standard first sketchily for Britain (Isaac Newton!?), then Germany's adoption after receiving the indemnity from France after their war, then France being forced onto the gold standard when Germany started dumping silver and France being unable to maintain the Latin Monetary Union's bimetallic exchange rate. Throughout, Bryan keeps track of how all this was influenced by mining in the west in the US (silver mining interests, the mid nineteenth century discoveries in the California and Australia, and the late nineteenth century gold discoveries in the Yukon, Transvaal and elsewhere). With this story as background, he then delves deeply into the political debates first in Argentina and then in Japan. (This would be the non-English-centric world history part.) He describes the various political parties, some individually influential bureaucrats, and the agricultural, industrial, trade and financial groups who had significant input into the debate. He even describes the allegiances and perspectives of various newspapers and other media of the time. After a very abbreviated description of how things developed in the course of The Great War (who quit exchanging gold when, who benefited from increased trade, who came out of the war in great economic shape and who conspicuously did not), he spends some time describing the interwar debates that led to the re-adoption of a very different form of gold standard during the 1920s, and how that turned out. He concludes by drawing some parallels between the misunderstandings in the 1920s of the events of the late nineteenth century and what he describes as our contemporary and recent past misunderstandings of both the late nineteenth century and the 1920s and the Great Depression.

Bryan benefits from recent excellent scholarship in English about Argentina during the relevant time period, and I _love_ finding out about that, and hope this percolates beyond the academic community. It is way too easy in the US to have an incredibly myopic and inaccurate perspective on how development has occurred in countries very close to us in the south. His personal expertise in Japan seems to be much more extensive.

Unfortunately, for all that I read widely and am curious about everything, I don't know enough about the details of the times and places he is describing to know whether he is accurately representing his sources, much less whether he's leaving anything substantial out that would undermine his thesis. His thesis is wondrously straightforward: this whole gold standard thing originally happened because of a string of weird errors that cascaded as people scrambled to adapt to important trading partners and world powers successively switching from a de facto bimetallic money system (with paper) to a de jure single metal system (with paper). How to adapt was hotly debated, and the details of the exchange settled upon, and the mechanism of implementing exchange were more important than the words "gold standard" would suggest. And the _reasons_ for adapting were all the usual political suspects: improving access to foreign capital for domestic infrastructure improvements, being able to import weapons, being able to export competitively and, in Argentina's case, managing the need to convince Europeans to immigrate.

It was also interesting to think about the idea that advocates of a return not only to a "gold standard" didn't just want the exchange mechanism: they wanted to return to the prewar rate in part because they _wanted_ deflation. I'd been seeing a lot of references lately to liquidationist ideas; this provided a taste of context.

The author is an atypical academic, based on the author bio from the publisher website: "Steven Bryan is an attorney in Tokyo. He received his Ph.D. in history from Columbia University and his J.D. from Harvard Law School." This goes some way towards explaining his willingness to make such direct, political connections with the present, which is refreshing, but scholarly work produced outside the academy does not necessarily have the benefit of a lively discourse prior to publication; while his argument and ideas resonate for me, I retain some reservations as a result of my ignorance of the details of the times and places covered, and the author not being an active, professional historian in an academic setting.

I look forward to poking around in Columbia's catalog for more in this series, in hopes they've picked other academic work of similar quality. If not, I may just go buy the kindle edition of _Chimneys in the Desert_, because it's looking really tempting. . .

But I _really_ hope somebody has fixed (or will fix) the formatting problems in the kindle edition. They were a little distracting.

Another review of this book can be found at:

It focuses tightly on countries who are trying to maintain a depreciated currency so they can export more stuff. (Think: China) Here's a blog post from the author expanding on that parallel.