In Sunday’s Philosophy in Action Webcast, I discussed public breastfeeding. The question was:

Is breastfeeding children in public wrong? My wife and I want to have kids, and one question we have concerns public breastfeeding. Is it immodest or improper to breastfeed in public? Should stores permit or forbid it on their premises? Should public breastfeeding be restricted or banned by law as indecent?

My answer, in brief:

People ought to support public breastfeeding, even if they prefer not to look at it. It’s not a sexual act, and mothers should be able to feed their babies when they’re out and about.

Here’s the video of my full answer:

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Two Book Reviews: Kids and Paleo

Mar 102012

Not too long ago, I received two books aimed at paleo kids and their parents to review. (Disclosure mandated by the turds at the FTC: These books were given to me for free as review copies.)

Alas, I disliked Paleo Pals: Jimmy and the Carrot Rocket Ship. However, I loved Eat Like a Dinosaur. Let me explain why.

Paleo Pals: Jimmy and the Carrot Rocket Ship by Sarah Fragoso of Everyday Paleo

As you’ve probably gathered from the name, this book is a children’s story on eating paleo. I wanted to like it, but I don’t think that it does much to explain to kids what’s good about eating paleo or bad about eating the Standard American Diet. Also, I didn’t find the story compelling in itself: too much came across as propaganda, and I didn’t like that.

The two basic claims of the book about paleo are (1) that industrial food production is scarybad and farm-produced foods are goodygood and (2) that eating paleo makes you feel better, mentally and physically.

I strongly disagree with the first claim against industrial foods, and frankly, that’s not what paleo is (or should be) about. Farms can and do produce unhealthy SAD foods, and factories can produce healthy paleo foods. Similarly, “processed” foods are not inherently bad, as some people seem to think. All fermented foods — like kombucha, kefir, and sauerkraut — are “processed” foods. Anything cooked is “processed.” That some food is processed — or even processed in large batches under strict conditions (i.e. industrially) — reveals little about its nutritional value. Instead, what matters is the original quality of the ingredients, and then whether the processing enhances or degrades the nutritional value of the food.

While I’m not a fan of many foods sold in America today, the fact is that industrial production is huge benefit to everyone, particularly in terms of safety and cost. Every paleo-eater depends on the industrial food system in order to eat paleo. As much as I want to see changes — including the end of all government meddling — that doesn’t justify condemning industry. I’ll just vote with my wallet.

The second major argument for paleo in the book is that eating paleo makes you feel better, mentally and physically. I agree with that, but again, the book was mostly just asserting that, rather than allowing it to emerge from the story. So it seemed like propaganda.

If you’re a paleo-eating parent, I’d recommend reading how Kelly Elmore and her daughter eat, as described in this post: My Paleo Kid. And if you have any problems or challenges, ask on the PaleoParents e-mail list.

Personally, I’d not be willing to read a child this book, purely due to to its explicit anti-industry message and seeming propagandizing.

Addendum: I’m a person with strong opinions and a blunt style, and I like that about me.  However, I tend to err in the direction of “bull in a china shop,” and that can be misunderstood by more gentle people.  Here, I don’t want my review to be taken as any kind of personal attack or global criticism of Sarah Fragoso.  I didn’t like this book, and I stand by that judgment.  Nonetheless, I respect Sarah Fragoso and her work with Everyday Paleo. I’ve never met Sarah, but her blog is awesome, and I’m more than happy to recommend it to everyone, particularly parents.  And if you found value in this book — if it helps you explain paleo to your kids and grandkids — that’s fine by me… and you’re welcome to say so in the comments.

Eat Like a Dinosaur by The Paleo Parents

I love this book! It’s a kid-friendly paleo cookbook, with over 100 gluten-free, dairy-free, legume-free recipes for kids and adults to enjoy. Every recipe has a good picture, simple instructions, and a handy icon for what kids can do. (Obviously, what kids can do will depend on their age and skills.)

Kids could easily review the recipes to decide what to cook, review and assemble the ingredients, and then do much of the cooking. It would be a great first cookbook for kids to work through, and after much cooking from it, they could easily graduate into regular adult cookbooks.

I loved the cooking that I did as a child. I only wish that I’d done more nuts-and-bolts cooking of meat and vegetables, rather than so much baking and desserts. I’d strongly encourage paleo parents to teach their children to cook… and then let the kids do the cooking!

Rick Santorum on Pregnant Rape Victims

Jan 312012

Rick Santorum says that pregnant rape victims should “accept the gift of human life” and “make the best out of a bad situation.” And yes, that’s what every advocate of “personhood for zygotes” must say.

As Ari and I said in The Assault on Abortion Rights Undermines All Our Liberties:

In [a] 2004 survey, around 1.5 percent of women who got an abortion cited rape or incest as the cause of the pregnancy. Forcing a woman to carry an unwanted fetus to term when the pregnancy was caused by a sexual assault victimizes her yet again. Even if she gives up the child for adoption, she must live with the ever-present physical reminder of her assault for the duration of her pregnancy. Moreover, the woman might feel a torturous conflict over the born child: she might desperately want to raise her own child, but abhor the thought of raising the child of her rapist.

That last point, I think, is particularly important.

Video: Teaching Young People to Use Credit Cards Wisely

Oct 142011

In Sunday’s Rationally Selfish Webcast, I discussed teaching young people to use credit cards wisely. The question was:

How can young adults learn to use credit cards responsibly? Some young adults (usually college students) seem to make terrible financial decisions, often getting themselves into serious and overwhelming credit card debt. Others seem to handle their new financial responsibilities just fine. How would you recommend that parents teach their teenage children to use credit cards wisely? What advice would you give to young people headed to college about managing their finances well?

Here’s the video of my answer:

If you enjoy the video, please “like” it on YouTube and share it with friends in e-mail and social media! Also, all my webcast and other videos can be found on my YouTube channel.

Video: Parents, Teach Your Kids About Your Guns!

Jun 292011

In Sunday’s Rationally Selfish Webcast, I answered the following question about kids and guns:

Should people give up their guns when they have kids? Many people think that having guns in the house with kids is terribly risky, if not child endangerment. They say that the kids might get to the guns, even if locked away, and injure or even kill themselves in an accidental discharge. Is that right? If parents choose to keep their guns in the house, what should they do to minimize the risk of injury?

Here’s my answer, now posted to YouTube:

In essence: Don’t try to kid-proof guns, but instead, gun-proof your kids by training them in the principles of gun safety.

Links mentioned in the webcast include:

Video: Fatherhood Should Be Voluntary

Jun 212011

In Sunday’s Rationally Selfish Webcast, I answered the following question about the child support obligations of unwilling fathers:

Should a man unwilling to be a father have to pay child support? Suppose that a man and a woman have sex, and the woman becomes pregnant — even though the couple used contraception based on a shared and expressed desire not to have children. If the woman decides to raise the baby, should she be able to collect child support from the man? What if they’d never discussed the possibility of pregnancy? What if they didn’t use any form of birth control?

Here’s my answer, now posted to YouTube:

No involuntary servitude! No involuntary parentude!

The policy paper mentioned in the video is The ‘Personhood’ Movement Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters that Rights Begin at Birth, Not Conception by Ari Armstrong and me.

Report from ATLOSCon

Jun 022011

Note from Diana Hsieh, 22 Feb 2012

If you’ve come to this page via “Checking Premises” or something similar, please note that I’ve written a length commentary on the criticisms circulating about me, including explaining my views of various controversial matters, in this post: On Some Recent Controversies. I’d recommend reading that, then judging me based on my full range of work, not just a few out-of-context snippets. If you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail me privately at [email protected].


Last weekend was the Atlanta Objectivist Society’s weekend mini-conference, ATLOSCon. And I’m delighted to report on its many awesome qualities! Here’s just a partial list of the awesome.

  • Bacon: Paul and I stayed with the Caseys, and they made bacon for us, every single morning. (Yes, I did put that first on my list of awesome. I wouldn’t have made it through the weekend without all that bacon!) I love visiting paleo friends, because then I see how others eat paleo in their native habitat (i.e. at home). We didn’t do much eating at the Casey’s, due to a very full schedule. But the slew of bacon every morning was seriously awesome.
  • My Lectures on Pride: My two lectures on “The Theory and Practice of Pride” went well, I think. Most Objectivists aren’t too clear on the meaning and demands of pride, and that means that they can’t use it on a daily basis, as they do other virtues, to make their lives more awesome. My lectures were a start in the right direction, I think, and I look forward to doing more work on this topic.
  • My Rationally Selfish Webcast: We visited philosophic crazytown — twice, at least — but it was fun to do with a live audience. I’ve already posted the audio here.
  • The Casey Adults: We’d never met Brendan before, so that was a real pleasure. I particularly enjoyed my talk with him about their approach to vaccinating the kids, in light of his own family history. Also, he’s rather better-looking than his Facebook picture… and he has better taste in clothing. Jenn and I talked a good bit about “perfectionism,” which is a topic that I’d like to explore more in the future. Overall, it’s just so darn easy and pleasant to spend time with them: they weren’t a source of “introvert debt,” meaning that feeling of being drained and exhausted by other people, however fun they might be. (That term was coined by Tim, I think.) Maybe I only incur “introvert debt” by spending time with extroverts?
  • The Casey Kids: Happily, I got to spend some time with Ryan, Morgan, and Sean — although not as much as I would have liked. Sean pretty much ignored us: he wasn’t curious or nervous, just uninterested. Morgan and Ryan were exactly as Jenn describes them. Ryan was great fun to talk to, and I wish I had more time (and energy) to talk with him. At one point, Brendan explained who the pope is to Ryan, due to the pope being featured in a story Brendan was telling us. That was fun to witness. Morgan was perfectly sweet and amiable. I would have taken her home with me, because I’m sure she’d be no trouble at all, but alas, Jenn and Brendan would probably object. Also, I was particularly amused when Morgan fell asleep on the couch with her hair slightly in a plate of bacon. Sleepy Child + Bacon = Cute.
  • Positive Discipline in Action: At the Casey’s, I saw the workings of a deeply positive discipline household for myself, from the inside. I’ve spent oodles of time in families with kids ranging from about a year to ten years old, so I’m familiar with standard modes of interaction for those ages. The Casey kids periodically acted in impulsive or emotional ways, as all kids do. However, the resulting problems were solved in a remarkably low-drama, low-conflict way. I didn’t see the standard battle of wills, with the parent forcing their wishes on the unwilling child by threats or bribery. Rather, I saw something more like firm but friendly negotiation for mutually-agreeable solution, and that usually only took a few seconds. That was amazing, particularly given the stress of the weekend. Also, the kids had far, far more respect for the doings of the adults around them than any other kids that I’ve known. Also, awesome.
  • I was able to squeeze in a nice long chat with Trey about my plans for the Rationally Selfish Webcast, particularly the changes that I need to make it what I want it to be. That was super-helpful.
  • The Tweets: We had an excellent slew of #OutOfContext tweets, with my favorite being about my preference for more firm sausage at Saturday’s dinner. Yes, that’s true in all possible senses, although we were actually talking about food.
  • Jason Stotts: I had some good conversations with Jason Stotts of Erosophia about sexual ethics. Our general approach seems more similar than I’d expected, and I think that I need to be more careful in how I’m making certain claims, so that I don’t overstate my views. On that note, I had three (!) separate conversations about the morality of S&M at ATLOSCon, particularly where to draw the line between (a) beneficial enhancement of the sexual experience and (2) self-destructive harms, degradation, humiliation, etc.
  • The Volokhs: Paul and I spent an afternoon with the Volokhs, instead of doing the hike as planned on Sunday. (We were exhausted, so some quiet chat seemed so much more appealing.) I was fascinated to see how much older Charlie seemed than Sean, particularly in his verbal capacity, even though they’re basically the same age. I wonder if that’s just a temperamental, familial, or other ordinary difference — or whether Sasha’s talking to Charlie only in Russian makes some difference in Charlie’s verbal skills. (That was awesome to witness!) Also, I was greatly amused by Charlie’s chasing me down the long room in giggles, but then getting a bit nervous and running back to his parents, and then admitting that he was scared. With Hanah and Sasha, we had a lengthy conversation about the origins and basis of modern Judaism, which I found particularly fascinating, given my own interest in the history of religion. Earlier, we’d discussed why learning so often requires teaching (e.g. in law school or philosophy graduate school) rather than merely private reading and studying on one’s own. That was fascinating to me, and I’m going to have to think about the implications of that for my own work.
  • The Clutter: When Jenn says that her house is cluttered, she means it! It was remarkably clean, however. That got me thinking about what values I can and perhaps ought to let go, particularly given that I’ve just got to lighten my load of obligations. I’ve got an unrecognized perfectionist streak, I think, and that’s having some very pernicious effects on my health.
  • ATLOSCon Lectures: I particularly enjoyed Hanah Volokh’s lecture on interpreting laws, Miranda Barzey’s discussion of creating a value-dense home, and Kelly Elmore’s poetry class. Looking over the schedule again, I heard lots of good things about classes that I didn’t attend, and I hope that recordings will be available.
  • ATLOSCON People: I enjoyed meeting a whole slew of people that I’ve known online for ages, like Ansley and John, Tori, and Miranda. And I met new awesome people, like Tim and Faye. And I saw friends that I wish I could see more, like Trey, Earl, Tom, Shea, Jenn, and Kelly. For those not mentioned, please consider yourselves awesome too!

I hope that I’ve not forgotten anything too important, but if so, just add it to the comments. Honestly, I’m still rather wiped out from the whole wild weekend of too many people and too little sleep. I’m quite certain that if every weekend were like ATLOSCon, I’d be soon featured in a VH1 series entitled “Behind the Philosophy” that would track my heedless and wild rise, then my tragic downfall, and then my careful rise again. Happily, ATLOSCon happens only once per year, so I’ll be safe from that disaster.If you missed ATLOSCon, you should come next year! It’s fun, fun, fun! But you need not wait that long. You can attend the Chicago minicon over Labor Day Weekend (September 3rd and 4th) or to Denver’s next SnowCon from January 11th to the 15th.

Most of all, thank you to everyone who made ATLOSCon possible, both the other speakers and organizers! It was a fantastic experience, and I look forward to seeing everyone next year.

Parent Versus Child on Sex

Apr 282011

Julia Sweeney unwittingly introduces her eight-year-old daughter to internet porn and gay sex. The result? Completely hilarious!

Via Trey and Shea.

Justice for Henry

Mar 222011

As many of you know, I’ve long been a fan of Katie Granju, and I was deeply saddened to read of the tragic death of her teenage son Henry last year. Yesterday, I read Katie’s detailed account of the facts of her son’s death and the subsequent investigation (or lack thereof) posted to Justice for Henry. It was harrowing — and deeply disturbing.

Here’s my basic view, based on what I’ve read: Henry had a serious drug problem, and his self-destructive choices certainly set the stage for his death. Nonetheless, he did not die of a simple overdose of his own doing. Others were involved — and they should be held legally responsible.

Inadvertently, Henry put himself in the power of some very dangerous people. Those people violated his rights: they gave him excessive drugs under false assurances; they took him to their home; they assaulted him severely, and they refused to call for an ambulance. Later, he died as a result of complications from the overdose, but if he’d lived, he would have been profoundly disabled.

In short, Henry’s death seems to have been a crime — or at least, serious crimes were committed in the events leading to his death. Yet the people responsible are still at liberty — and amazingly enough, regarded with favor by the Knoxville authorities. Critical witnesses have not been interviewed, and compelling evidence has been ignored.

For months, Katie has been silent about what she knows, in the hopes that private requests to law enforcement would result in a serious investigation. Unfortunately that has not happened. It might only be happening now that Katie writing and posting all that she knows on Justice for Henry.

I hope that local authorities conduct a serious, honest investigation — even if only due to public pressure. Justice should be done — and that means uncovering and prosecuting any person who violated Henry’s rights in the last few days of his life. Even when a person puts himself as risk by his own wrong choices, as Henry clearly did, he still retains his rights. Criminals who choose “easy targets” to prey upon should not be given a free pass. They are still dangerous, destructive, and fully deserving of punishment. That’s part and parcel of “equality before the law.”

I hope that the authorities in Knoxville see that and act accordingly. Justice should be done.

The Cautionary Tale of Todd Marinovich

Jan 172011

As a followup to Diana’s recent post on parenting styles (“Compare and Contrast“), some readers may recall the sad story of Todd Marinovich.

Todd Marinovich was groomed (and pushed) from birth by his father Marvin to be an NFL quarterback. And he ended up crashing and burning in the national spotlight. Two interesting stories about Marinovich illustrate the consequences of the senior Marinovich’s nightmare parenting style.

The first story (“Bred To Be A Superstar“) was written in 1988, when Marinovich was a high school football superstar trying to decide with big name college to attend. At that time, his future was seemingly bright with limitless possibilities.

Note the recurrent theme of how much the father was sacrificing for his son’s future success, and how little say the son had in his life decisions:

Though Marv owns an athletic research center — a sort of high-tech gym — his true occupation has been the development of his son, an enterprise that has yet to produce a monetary dividend. And the Marinovich marriage ended last year after 24 years. “All Marv has done,” says a friend, “is give up his entire life for Todd.”

This is sadly reminiscent of the character of Peter Keating from The Fountainhead, whose mother “sacrificed” to push Peter into the field of architecture (and away from his natural love of painting) — with tragic results that unfold during the novel.

The second story was written in 2009, looking back on the younger Marinovich’s tragically wasted life. I thought the title (“Todd Marinovich: The Man Who Never Was“) was especially apropos. The teaser paragraph summarizes the main theme, but the whole article is worth reading:

Twenty years ago, he was guaranteed to be one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play the game of football. Engineered to be. He was drafted ahead of Brett Favre. Today he’s a recovering junkie. Scenes from the chaotic life of a boy never designed to be a man in the 2010 National Magazine Award winner for profile writing.

No child can become a full human being when his parents fail to teach him how to practice rational, independent decision-making, and instead attempt to impose their own “central purpose” on him.

The Marinovich saga of flame-out, drug addiction, and jail are unsurprising consequences when a parent fails to help teach a child how to live a first-handed life.

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