tumbledry

Alexander Micek commenting on Bow +

Putting this one on the high school graduation board for sure. Well, if Mykala lets me. I have ideas that aren’t funny that I think are funny, so I screen them with her first. This works just as well in real-life as it does on the internet.

Bow

Bow

This picture is currently Mykala’s phone background. I’ve lost significant amounts of time just staring at it before I do anything useful on her phone.

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Capital in the Twenty-First Century

I am reading the conclusions in Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century (It is rather unreasonable to try to wade through the 300 pages separating my progress in the book and the conclusions, given our two week old! So, I skipped to the end…). Here are some interesting quotes:

Social mobility:

Throughout most of the twentieth century, however, and still today, the available data suggest that social mobility has been and remains lower in the United States than in Europe. (p.484)

Education:

In other words, parents’ income has become an almost perfect predictor of university access. (p.485)

To be sure, university fees are much lower in Europe if one leaves Britain aside. In other countries, including Sweden and other Nordic countries, Germany, France, Italy, and Spain, tuition fees are relatively low (less than 500 euros). (p.485)

Stepping out of my quotation parade here—that means undergraduate educations are 12 times more expense on average in the United States than in Europe.

Social programs:

Finally, income support outlays (i.e. welfare) are even smaller (less than 1 percent of national income), almost insignificant when measured against total government spending.

Welfare benefits are questioned not only in Europe but also in the United States (where the unemployed black single mother is often singled out for criticism by opponents of the US “welfare state”). In both cases, the sums involved are in fact only a very small part of state social spending. (p.479)

Income inequality:

piketty1.1

Tax revenues in rich countries:

piketty13.1

Taxes:

[In the US] In 1942 the Victory Tax Act raised the top rate to 88 percent, and in 1944 it went up again to 94 percent, due to various surtaxes. The top rate then stabilized at around 90 percent until the mid-1960s, but then it fell to 70 percent in the early 1980s. All told, over the period from 1932-1980, nearly half a century, the top federal income tax rate in the United States averaged 81 percent.

It is important to note that no continental European country has ever imposed such high rates (except in exceptional circumstances, for a few years at most, and never for as long as half a century).

Particularly fascinating is that it is not theoretical that government created the middle class in the United States after World War II (see the income inequality chart above):

Concretely, the two phenomena are perfectly correlated: the countries with the largest decreases in their top tax rates are also the countries where the top earners’ share of national income has increased the most (especially when it comes to the remuneration of executives of large firms). (p.509)

As Piketty points out, the above is not explained by the theory of marginal productivity:

A more realistic explanation is that lower top income tax rates, especially in the United States and Britain, where top rates fell dramatically, totally transformed the way executive salaries are determined. (p.509)

And lets throw out trickle down theory while we are at it:

… there is no statistically significant relationship between the decrease in top marginal tax rates and the rate of productivity growth in the developed countries since 1980. (p.510)

Loving this:

According to our estimates, the optimal top tax rate in the developed countries is probably above 80 percent.

The evidence suggests that a rate on the order of 80 percent on incomes over $500,000 or $1 million a year not only would not reduce the growth of the US economy but would in fact distribute the fruits of growth more widely while imposing reasonable limits on economically useless (or even harmful) behavior.

A rate of 80 percent applied to incomes above $500,000 or $1 million a year would not bring the government much in the way of revenue, because it would quickly fulfill its objective: to drastically reduce remuneration at this level but without reducing the productivity of the US economy, so that pay would rise at lower levels. In order for the government to obtain the revenues it sorely need to develop the meager US social state and invest more in health and education (while reducing the federal deficit), taxes would also have to be raised on incomes lower in the distribution (for example, by imposing rates of 50 or 60 percent on incomes above $200,000). Such a social and fiscal policy is well within reach of the United States. (p.513)

But Piketty’s definitive solution is not based on marginal tax rates but rather on a “global tax on capital.” He spends the book explaining, illustrating, and providing evidence to show that r > g where r is return on capital and g is growth of income and output. That is “Once constituted, capital reproduces itself faster than output increases. The past devours the future.” (p.571).

Not “a” solution but the solution:

The right solution is a progressive annual tax on capital. This will make it possible to avoid an endless inegalitarian spiral while preserving competition and incentives for new instances of primitive accumulation. For example, I earlier discussed the possibility of a capital tax schedule with rates of 0.1 of 0.5 percent on fortunes under 1 million euros, 1 percent on fortunes between 1 and 4 million euros, 2 percent between 5 and 10 million euros, and as high as 5 or 10 percent for fortunes of several hundred million or several billion euros. This would contain the unlimited growth of global inequality of wealth, which is currently increasing at a rate that cannot be sustained in the long run and that ought to worry even the most fervent champions of the self-regulated market. (p.572)

Extraordinarily illuminating. I look forward to revisiting it in the future, when I’ve more time to ponder details and better understand what Piketty is saying.

Home with Mom

Home with Mom

Baby K’Tan

Baby K’Tan

Esmé in the Baby K’Tan.

Esmé

Esmé

Family of Three

Family of Three

At the Hospital

At the Hospital

I think Mykala had been up for 38 hours at this point. Nice smile!

Esmé

I went to bed on Tuesday evening, expecting to head to work the following morning, a little disappointed that our baby girl’s due date, July 22, had come and gone without a hint of her arrival. But instead of sleep, I felt Mykala’s gentle nudge and heard her voice just a few hours later at 3am: “My contractions started, I think.” She sounded so calm that it took me the better part of an hour to fully wake up and realize that this is The Big Show. We began timing duration and interval of contractions, and true to my computer geekery, I created a new text document in BBEdit that I would later save as labor.txt, here’s a snippet:

6:20am:
1:47    44s
1:45    23s
1:55    39s
1:34    38s
2:50    54s
2:08    51s

Only when, three hours later, I sent a text to work that read “Mykala is in labor” instead of “We think Mykala may be in labor” or “These probably aren’t Braxton-Hicks contractions, but I have never done this before so what is going on?!” that it finally, truly sunk in. I’m sure Mykala would’ve benefited from this mindset from me three hours earlier, but better late than never, I hope. So I put on my scrubs, Mykala came downstairs, I began my simple responsibility of record-keeping and she the impossible task of enduring each contraction.

In our discussions leading up to labor, both Mykala and I agreed that we should wait as long as possible to go in to the hospital. “Well, first babies aren’t born in cars,” I remember repeating a few times. We discussed the hospital business model of turnover and out-patient rhythms, the tendency of modern medicine to intervene or suggest intervention right when mom-to-be is most tired and liable to make a decision she may regret, and that we expected Mykala’s birth plan to necessitate flexibility. But I have to tell you, it was difficult for Mykala to wait it out at home. While it was more comfortable for her to labor in familiar comfort without the interruptions of shift changes or new personalities or blood pressure tests, it was impossible for us to know whether she was dilating. All she knew was pain, nothing of progress.

I know it was fourteen hours later only because I have a bright pink Post-It note that has one little black line written on it: “5:05.” That was the time we reached room 2526 at St. Joseph’s Hospital. “Has your water broken? Have you had any bloody discharge?” We answered in the negative to both of these questions, and felt like the veracity of Mykala’s pain was being called into question in the dearth of external signs of labor. “We’ll go ahead and do an exam and get you on the monitor to see where you are at.” Mykala was laboring hard, breathing through contractions that were steadily coming 110 seconds apart and lasting for 60 seconds, and we waited to find out if it was time to go home or time to stay.

Hearing “She’s dilated, six to seven centimeters” brought such a deep sense of relief, like driving through a dark night to an unknown destination and seeing the correct road sign illuminated by your headlights. Smiling through my tears (I cried far more than Mykala during the entire labor), I told her how happy and proud I was of her. We weren’t going to wallow at something like “three centimeters” for hours! The next validation came when the cause of Mykala’s intense pain was located: baby was occiput posterior (i.e. face up, OP, sunny-side up, not facing the correct direction!) and this was causing searing back labor. Other women who have had back labor (OP) and then delivered a normal (OA) baby have said that they really didn’t even care about labor the second time. Nurse staff wondered why they were so calm and the simple answer was: “Because it hurts so much less than last time!” A note:

The anterior (OA) baby can more easily tuck his or her chin. The posterior baby’s back is extended straight, even arched, along the mother’s spine. Having the baby’s back extended often pushes the baby’s chin up. Posterior babies more often have an extended neck.

This is what makes the posterior baby’s head seem larger than the same baby when baby’s in the anterior position. Because the top of the head enters (or tries to enter) the pelvis first baby seems much bigger to the mother’s measurements.

According to Mykala’s birth plan, she wished to manage her pain without pharmaceutical intervention, and the nurses were great in not saying “do you think you need an epidural?” To see the love of my life in front of me, truly truly hurting, saying she couldn’t do this, left me struggling to come up with words or phrases that would impart support in the absence of being able to understand the depth of her pain. Thankfully, I had read that after delivery, women place reassuring physical presence way above the words uttered by their labor partner, so I tried to avoid saying anything dumb and focused instead on simply being there. Unfortunately, between 1am and 2am the next morning (23 hours in), I was flagging. Actually, let’s not be subtle: I was worthless! Falling asleep on Mykala, stumbling around the room, not helping much at all. Mykala’s mom luckily had come in an hour or so before and I was amazed at her energy, giving counter pressure to contractions, sitting with Mykala at the tub, making sure she was going to make it.

Some IV fluids and then later some Pitocin (just a little) to clear a cervical lip, and Mykala was on the home stretch. No pain medications, none, the entire time. We could just see the top of baby’s head, two leads for internal fetal heart rate monitoring coming off of it, when I was astounded to hear that they were just then going to have Dr. Grande come in! Apparently he lives ten minutes from the hospital, and during his long OB/GYN career had done this once or twice, and had gotten this down to a science. So he came in, Mykala did some absolutely superhuman pushing (I just… I have absolutely no idea how she did it), and little Esmé Johanna Micek was born at 4:28am on July 24, 2014, head 14 inches in circumference, length 21.5 inches, 8 pounds 1 ounce of perfect little baby. As she emerged and was held aloft by her feet by Dr. Grande, the very first thing I noticed were her beautiful eyes, closed right then in the existentially charged gap between emerging into the world for the first time and taking her first breath. Seeing her placed on Mykala’s chest for some immediate skin to skin time, waves of tears did not wash over me as I thought they would, just a bit of peace finally, a long exhale for Esmé and for her tough-as-nails mom.

Staying in a hospital is a weird mix of hotel and something very different. Mykala and I would sit there, baby would nap, I would nap, Mykala would stay awake, and it had the sense of just being a hotel room where we were planning what to do on vacation that afternoon. We had a private bathroom, TV, and a nice view out the windows, (inexpensive) room service, and regularly scheduled room cleanings. But doctors and nurses and lactation consultants and nursing assistants had to visit to do all the tests and checks required of a new mom and baby. The one time Mykala fell asleep, I was so happy and tip-toeing around and then boom she was awake as we greeted another new face. We left as soon as we could, which took an excruciating nine hours between our request to be discharged actually leaving.

The feeling of significance, leaving as first-time parents from the hospital, was blunted by sleep deprivation bleariness, and made all the more difficult by an extremely rough first night at home as baby would not latch to drink mom’s milk. The next day we sorted it out, and had much better success starting to find a rhythm of feedings, burpings, and changings that would work.

The significance of it is now slowly sinking in. We are proud and totally exhausted parents. And now, this journal has a very important new tag: Esmé. It will be filled with love.

Vegetables

Vegetables

A “GrowBox“—the bottom half provides water in a reservoir, which is wicked up by the soil. You only have to water about once a week! Clockwise from upper left: tomato, cucumber, kale, zucchini, rosemary, parsley. The consistent watering helps, as does the included organic fertilizer. The burlap-looking thing keeps weeds down, reduces moisture loss from the soil, and apparently provides some nutrients as well, though we’re a little skeptical on that part. Let’s see what we’ve got in August!

Watermelon

Dear baby,

You’re the size of a small watermelon now. Where did the time go? It feels like we were just finding out about you, or moving, or painting your room, or assembling your crib, buying your mattress, picking out your diapers, installing your car seat. Get this: pretty soon I’ll be addressing these to you by your name instead of the generic “baby”. You used to be the size of a grain of basmati rice and now you’re huge!

I played some music for you last night (we make sure to play songs with bass in them so you can hear them through your swimming pool in mom), and you were movin’ and groovin’ pretty well. I hope you get your mom’s coordination and proprioception.

Anyway, you could safely be born any time now, and I’ve been trying to explain to you that you are the one who triggers labor. If it is getting too cramped in there, you get to decide to come on out and see us.

See you soon.

Love,
Dad

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