Sunday, November 24, 2013

Vive La Manism!

Like many of you I've been fascinated with revolutions for a very long time, perhaps it's the American way.  I've often idly wished that I could have been involved in one, or even better... start one.  I've since learned that real revolutions are actually quite dangerous ordeals and no place for those as feeble as me. I will therefore go about (and by "go about" I mean sit in my chair here) stirring up mass rebellion on the green pages of this unread blog.  The only problem is that I've had enough of politics lately so I have shifted my thoughts to more tame issues such as gender inequality (I feel to insert an emoticon or LOL here but I must do so within parentheses as the contents of such are exempt from the strictures of formality).  Yes, that's right I would like to start a revolution in the way society thinks about our so-called gender issues.  A daunting task for sure but I intend to illustrate for all of you the necessity and plausibility of such a paradigm shift.  As always I must start with a clarification - if at any point throughout the course of this post I tend toward levity please understand that the topic at large and my opinion of it is not a joke.

The first thing any movement needs is a good name.  As the title suggests this is a movement that will contrast starkly with the current state of gender studies.  A quick Google search, however, revealed that there is already a man-centric approach to the gender discussion, known all too predictably as masculinism, that is diametrically opposed to militant feminism.  Luckily for us the second thing a movement needs is for some logic to join the cause and provide some good ideas.  I therefore offer my unsolicited services, along with an even better name more worthy of the standard that I believe will unite us in a good cause:  FeManism.  Pronounced FEE-man-ism - it's a stretch but "humanism" was already taken as so we'll work with what we've got.  You might be thinking that this movement must not be very well established if it's already changed names but I would argue that it's just very progressive.  Indeed you might say we're already in our second wave.  Now that the name and the introduction are sorted out let's begin our discussion of the tenets of the proposed FeManist Movement.

The guiding principle of FeManism is that all -isms should be eradicated, with a special focus on sexism  (including feminism) in favor of a more inclusive view on societal issues, both global and local.  Essentially I propose that we acknowledge problems as they exist or arise in societies and cultures as phenomena whose causes and affects are not isolated to one gender, and that we consider solutions with a broader view of all the players involved.  That's it.  I concede that no respectable list should only have one bullet point but this one does, so if you don't like it then join the cause and add to it.  It may seem quite obvious, but I believe that such common sense often eludes us as soon as discussions of this topic arise.  If this one statement were the guiding principle of all gender discussions I believe the world would be a different place and many a debate would take a different tone.

So far this whole presentation has been rather vague and really quite unimpressive so allow me to give you some details of what I mean.  Everyone knows that sexism is about how the proverbial world hedges up the way against women.  For millennia women in most cultures were deprived of basic human rights and in many areas abuse and oppression have continued uninterrupted. There's a wealth of statistics suggesting that they're underrepresented in some fields and they make less than their equally qualified male counterparts.  That's not to mention the unquantifiable inequalities they experience in role expectations.  Where there is injustice there needs to be improvement and I am in no way opposed to addressing these issues and striving for a world where everyone is free to pursue their own happiness in an equitable manner.  I also insist that this is only half of the story on sexism.

Are we aware as a society that the percentage of male college enrollees has steadily declined for the last 47 years?  Did you know that boys are 82% more likely than girls to be diagnosed with a learning disability?  Does it mean anything to you that the delinquency rate among boys is three times higher for boys than girls?  How about that males age 20 to 24 are 5 times more likely to commit suicide?  The problems boys and men face are not limited to education and psychology - the burden of unemployment is increasingly born by men.  This may seem like a natural and innocuous consequence of women moving into various work forces.  Unfortunately the machine of society is not as gender neutral as it tells all of us to be and we observe that marriages and families with female breadwinners are less likely to result in mutual happiness as compared to those where the father fulfills the traditional role of earning the families income.  There are MANY other categories that men and boys fare worse in that I did not list but I encourage you to check out, as well as some of the sources they cite, and see for yourself.  Indeed society discriminates between the sexes - it may not always be the way you assumed though.  And yet in the face of such glaring disparity it seems that some sectors just haven't caught on.  To prove this, I invite you to choose your favorite institution of higher education and look up their "gender studies" curriculum.  What themes do you notice?  It seems beyond question to me that the challenges, issues and difficulties of both genders are not equally represented.  I strongly believe that we as a society are not seeking out the problems that both sexes face and trying to improve and correct them.  If course titles are any indication then they strongly support that conclusion.

Before anymore progress can be made in convincing people of the necessity and plausibility of such a change of thought I would like to allay the concerns and fears that undoubtedly arise in the heart of any feminist who may read this.  The FeManist Movement is designed such that any just cause can and ought to be subsumed under its name; thus if your motives and ideals as a "feminist" are truly seeking the best interest of society as a whole then they automatically form a portion of the idealogical foundation.  It must be clearly stated however, that any cause undertaken must be considered from the perspective of all members of society and one sided coins will no longer be counted as legal tender.  I must admit that I am not well-informed on what true feminism entails but I do sincerely believe that in most cases the motives are good and in-line with the principles of the FeManist Movement set forth above therefore all are welcome to recant feminism and join FeManism.

It's time to change our approach!  If you have sons - there may be bigger fish to fry then whether the female bank presidents make as many millions as the male bank presidents.  If you have daughters, you ought to be very concerned about whether there will be any boys around that you can trust and depend on to make your daughters happy and to raise your grandchildren.  Even when considering such grave issues as sexual assault, spousal abuse or the right of women to speak and act on their own will in certain cultures ought we not investigate and consider what pushes the perpetrators and what could possibly prevent or mitigate such motivations?  I invite you to consider the plight of men and boys and then to ponder whether our thoughts and discussions of gender would be better served by considering both boys and girls and men and women at the same time.  Let's all lean in to sincerely and justly address the challenges of our day that affect each and every member of society.  

Now that you are all convinced that we ought to be more conscious of how males are affected by the world around them today let's examine one societal phenomena that I believe is traditionally viewed with a strong female bias.  I trust that none of you can get through too much of your day before being reminded that there is a crisis of sexualization in our world, and an attending, wide-spread epidemic of body image problems.  I'm also confident that we have all been apprised of the damage this is doing to the girls and women in our lives.  It seems to me that the mainstream of society is aware of this problem and many have stepped up to reinforce positive and constructive approaches to the way females view their bodies.  The vibe I'm getting is that we as a people are fed up with the sexual propaganda that is forced upon us and we collectively and regularly voice our rage along with constant reassurances that we appreciate women for who they are.  (Unfortunately our rage stops at lip service and we effectively guarantee the defeat of the opposition by continuing to fund the trillion dollar media industry who authored the hoax... but that's the stuff of another post.)  This is undoubtedly a huge problem facing women with drastic and far-reaching consequences - one would have to be quite out of touch not to see that.  One would also have to be out of touch to not see that in rampant sexualization lies the machinations of male destruction and degradation.

Has anyone else noticed the ads that pop up on a male's facebook page?  They are one of two types - pictures of attractive females with ridiculous promises of being hooked up with a local single (why doesn't their ad optimizing algorithm pick up the giant checkmark on my account that says I'm married?) or a picture of a giant and fictitious man with muscles so large it's illegal (I'm not trying to be funny - that's what these clever marketers come up with, "how would you like to take a supplement that will make you as huge as this man.  Please hurry because said supplement is not safe and is already going to be a banned substance.")  One of the great mysteries of my life is who it is out there that actually clicks on these things.  There must be quite a few of you because they make enough money to plaster their inane ads all over the world!  Moving on.  Riding my bike to work is what informs me of societal trends these days.  There are a lot of ads in downtown Los Angeles.  Huge ones painted on buildings, little ones infiltrating the minds of passersby (is that how you pluralify that word?) on the sides of buses and on the bus stop covers.  One of them right now is some clown with suspenders, no shirt and a large set of muscles - I don't know spanish but I think he's advertising a spanish language TV station.  I go to the gym most mornings to hold my weight gain and high blood pressure at bay - at least I try to remind myself everyday of this purpose.  No matter how many times I go I'm still shocked every time by the number of young men in the locker room shaking their supplement-laced protein shakes in their trendy little blender bottles and weighing themselves while shamelessly checking their muscles and grabbing their belly fat in the mirror.  Finally: even though I use social media very sparingly, even I was still quickly made aware of the number of so-called selfies being published of scantily clad men and boys along with statements about their muscles, weight, looks or leanness.

How long will this go on before we realize that boys are having a body image crisis very much the way that girls are?  Eating disorders among males are reaching numbers never before seen - yet the body image narrative still focuses on women and girls alone.  Thor and Captain America are inspiring boys and men everywhere to defend and protect, all the while teaching them that the girls and the people at large want and expect them to be ripped to shreds and look good in nothing but oil.  Sadly these attempts to redefine the ideal male figure go largely unopposed because there is no establishment dedicated to the overthrow of male oppression.

Further compounding the problem is the fact that too often the take home message for boys about the medias portrayal of the sexualized female is that they are to blame.  Whether we meant to or not the way we have hitherto addressed this problem has sent a message to men and boys, loud and clear that they are bad and girls are good - the perpetrators and the victims of sexualization are aligned perfectly along gender lines.  This along with other messages to boys and men that they are good for nothing at work or around the house except to make people laugh with their unintelligent and perverted comments leaves males with very little feeling of leverage, ability or necessity to address this topic from their perspective.

As I think about these problems along with the better understood and more widely publicized problems that women and girls face I wonder if there isn't a solution that might spare both genders the pain and shame with which oversexualization presents them.  I wonder if we might reconsider the way we talk about the issues women face such that we make men and boys feel more like part of the solution rather than just perpetual perpetrators.  I wonder if we might look at the way history has often treated the man as an object of his own sexual passions and desires and do everything we can to avoid presenting females with the images and themes that will ultimately lead to the acceptance of such falsehoods for their gender as well.  I hope we don't wait for the image and sexualization crisis to become more statistically obvious amongst boys before we start to counteract negative images and ideas with positive, uplifting and encouraging ones.

Accept this discussion of the media's portrayal of the ideal man as a single example of how gender issues need to be considered from both gender angles before a course of action is decided upon.  Perhaps the traditional or widely accepted feminist ideals are not the all-encompasing solutions to the world's gender problems that we seek - though they are certainly a good start.  If we have society's best interest at heart we may need to incorporate concessions for men and boys into our gender solutions, or we may need to acknowledge that there is no such thing as a problem for women alone or a problem exclusively for men.

(Thanks to Silent Thunder for his discussion and suggestions - some of his ideas may have made it into this post)

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Wealth Inequality, The Trending Video

A particular youtube video has recently been gaining quite a host of supporters - I'm sure many of you have seen the link next to a friend's declarations of admiration on facebook and some of you might have even watched it.  If you don't know what I'm talking about, then I encourage you to watch the video here  Now that you've seen it I'd be interested to see your thoughts about it, but first allow me to inundate you with my own.  

This video brings up some very important social issues that should be important to everyone but I believe it's also full of subtleties and implications that are based on something other than sound economic principle.  From the start it's important that I make clear that I am far from an expert on economics, in fact the extent of my understanding comes from a single, entry-level, general education class on macroeconomics and personal experience.  Luckily for us, every American has claim to the latter and as such, each individual's opinion should be important in deciding the policies and practices that are characteristic of the economic machinery of our country.  This belief brings me to my first point - the current political system is broken.  Everyone has probably heard this a million times and thought it themselves as well, but most likely it's almost always accompanied by a condemnation of politicians, executives and powerful people.  We as a people are quick to recognize the inability of congress to get anything done but blind to the fact that we empower and elect the type of people who promise not to compromise.  This of course is a large topic so I won't divert too much attention to it, but it relates obliquely to the subject at hand through the attitudes of some people who viewed the video, then commented about it.  It seems that an increasingly large number of people are insistent that every position that doesn't agree with theirs is idiotic and wrong and everyone who espouses such opinions must be ignorant and sometimes even undeserving of respect.  I have sometimes been one of these extremists and will try not to be in this discussion.

You may well be thinking what could possibly be subtle in that video!?  It's just a bunch of bar graphs showing the wealth distribution in America right?  Hopefully a few simple questions will illustrate my point.  What is wealth?  How do you measure an individual's wealth (I'm not speaking spiritually or emotionally here - literally material wealth)?  Is wealth a limited resource?  Does one person having wealth mean another doesn't have it?  There's plenty more where that came from too.  Does that begin to paint a larger and more complicated picture than what's portrayed in the video?  If not I've failed.

Before we even start discussing those questions in earnest let's first consider statistics.  It should be easy to understand that this video (and any presentation of statistics for that matter) is meaningless without a good explanation of how they arrived at their conclusions.  Statistics cannot stand alone - we need to know how large their sample was, how they chose their sample, and how representative their sample was of America.  We also need to know what they considered wealth and how they counted it.  In other words did they count every minutia of every American's wealth?  I highly doubt that they did and I also have serious doubts that anyone is really privy to such information.  So without an understanding of where they came up with their information we should all be cautious about sinking all of our stock into it.

If that were my only point this would be a rather vacuous (got that one straight from the thesaurus) synopsis.  For the sake of continuing, therefore, let us assume that all of the bar graphs are a true representation of reality and that there is nothing misleading or inaccurate about the presentation - not too terribly far-fetched.  As mentioned, this assumption would subsume at least representative sampling and the ability to accurately measure and quantify wealth.  In this case, I agree with the main thrust of the video that income inequality, especially to that extreme, is a problem, but at this point I'm going to step out on a limb and interpret the intent of the author, or perhaps just the conclusion of a lot of people that liked the video.  I sensed an air of "we need to redistribute the wealth" - we should take a few columns of green off of that 1% guy's stack and start spreading it over the lower quadrants - this is what I have a problem with.  If anyone had a different impression or interpretation please let it be known.  Furthermore, when the narrator was introducing the results of the poll in the beginning he said something about the difference between people's ideal and their prediction of reality was based on their belief that the "system" was skewed.  If I understand correctly those polled were asked about numbers alone - not their justification, so for the author to conclude that Americans believe the system is skewed, is more a reflection of his own opinion than anything else.  This opinion of the author is the second point that I take issue with.  So for all the people out there who were wondering about my opinion on wealth inequality I'll make it explicit:  it IS a problem, it is not necessarily caused by the system and government sponsored redistribution is not a solution.

One more diversionary point must be discussed before moving on to clarifying those opinions.  It seems to me that we (notice the inclusion of the first person) fail to grasp what's really going on here with all of this wealth.  The video says something about the top one percent having "so much green in his pockets" - nothing could be further from the truth!  Where is the wealth of America's richest people?  Where is your wealth?  If you answered, "It's in my pockets" then I'm forced to say that you're a fool with money, unless you are one of the few on the very low side of the wealth ladder whose entire fortune fits in your pocket.  Again, it would be nice to know what the definition of wealth was for the purpose of these metrics, but in any case, whether only liquid assets (cash, and bank accounts) were counted or all assets (including houses, cars, yachts, real estate, etc (use your imagination)) the same principle applies - one person's wealth is another person's wealth.  This can be a real mind bender if you're attached to the idea that your wealth is yours, but at the same time this should come as no surprise.  Almost all of your "money" in the bank is actually somewhere else being counted as wealth.  The guy across town gets a loan from your bank and buys a car - so now you're still counting it as your wealth but so is the car salesman, and all the factory workers who built the car.  The extremely rich have investments - they count the value of their investment as wealth but the companies that they're invested in used that same wealth long ago to pay their suppliers.  You might also have a house, you count some portion of that as your wealth but so does the contractor and all his workers.  I think the point is pretty clear.  So when we see the giant stack of cash stacked over the 1% guy's head we must remember that it might be the same cash stacked over everyone else's head too.  That's just downright confusing isn't it?  So how much wealth is there out there really?  After thinking about it (again I stress that I'm not an economist) I've come to the conclusion that wealth is just a measure of economic activity which in turn is some extremely complex function of an unknown number of variables like buyer's confidence, ambition and technological advancement.  So should we really be upset that a couple people are so rich?  We definitely should be if their having implies another's not having but it isn't so - the GDP is theoretically unbounded!  On the other hand, it is definitely a problem without any qualifications that so many people have so little wealth, but in my opinion it doesn't have that much to do with the top 1% having so much.

Some of you reading this might have thought that I would make it through a whole post without bringing up Chemistry... you were wrong.  The more I think about it the more wealth and the economy is like chemistry.  Wealth could be like energy, and all of us people are like the millions of molecules and atoms that pass energy around amongst ourselves.  In both cases it is almost impossible, and really quite meaningless to talk about a single entity - in a sea of molecules it doesn't really mean anything if a single molecule has a thousand times more than another molecule because energy is being transferred so much and so frequently.  Likewise it doesn't mean a whole lot to say that one man in America has a billion times more wealth than another because in all reality both men are counting the same wealth.  To help deal with this problem in Chemistry we use macroscopic characteristics like temperature and pressure that help us characterize the state of the ensemble.  I presume it's the same in economics.  One macroscopic phenomenon in Chemistry is called equilibrium - certainly you remember from your high school chemistry days that equilibrium is the state of the ensemble where no overall change is occurring, yet if you looked at a single particle in the ensemble there is still a lot going on.  Even though individual molecules are still colliding, reacting, transferring energy, and undergoing all kinds of motion and change, the whole ensemble is static - concentrations stay the same as do all of the macroscopic properties such as temperature, pressure and volume.  I like to think that there is a similar state of the economy - a static state, a natural state so to speak.  In order to understand the economy as a whole we can't look at individuals, we have to see the whole picture.  Now here's the difference - the chemical universe for a particular problem might well be approximated by the contents of a single beaker but in economics there is absolutely no way to uncouple a part of the problem from the whole, and in order to truly understand it we absolutely have to see the whole thing.  In other words don't plan on ever understanding the economy and don't plan on anyone, ever accurately predicting the evolution of the economy.

What then is the cause of the poverty problem in America?  I don't intend to answer that question - I only intend to drum up reasonable doubt against the claim that it's the greed of the richest of the rich, or the bias of "the system".  In fact I would argue that it's greed and covetousness that inspires some people who claim altruistic motives to desire to take from the rich, but again that's another issue altogether.  Once again I've made an assumption about the opinions of the authors, viz. that their "system" is somehow connected with the government.  If they're conspiracy theorists then they probably believe the system is controlled by the government, if they're your average fans of wealth redistribution then they probably think the system is the violent dog that the government refuses to lock up.  So what role does government play in the economy, or in the pocketbooks of the people?  This question is certainly more than I can chew but I implore all rational people to think critically about whether or not the government has done something to funnel money to the extremely rich?  In my thoughts I see that the wealth of every individual ultimately comes from those around him/her.  Let me illustrate what I mean.  Someone builds up a business venture dedicated to vacation properties and becomes one of the richest men in the world.  Why did this happen?  Could it be that his wealth is a reflection of societies attitudes and values?  Is it possible that rather than people being victims of the few richest people, the few richest people are a product of people's desires and values.  Some of you might be thinking though that America's tax code disproportionately burdens the poor and middle class, thus supporting the rich's efforts to amass wealth.  That is an issue worth discussing but is wealth redistribution through taxation really plausible?

This brings us back to chemistry.  Now that you remember equilibrium you might also remember Le Chatelier's principle.  If not, it can be summed up in the following statement:  a system will naturally undergo the changes necessary to achieve equilibrium.  For example equilibrium of a certain reaction is characterized by a certain ratio of products and reactants.  If you change the system by adding more reactant, then the ratio of products and reactants will change too.  Almost immediately, the system will do whatever is necessary to bring the ratio of products and reactants back to the equilibrium value.  What if the economy were the same - suppose we are at equilibrium now as defined by all the macroscopic economic variables (confidence, ambition, greed, etc.) and suddenly the government takes a huge amount of money from the richest few percent.  What will happen?  If the original cause of the income inequality was anything other than chance, or institutional order, then is it not likely that the system would promptly return to equilibrium?  If we take a huge amount of money from a bunch of powerful, intelligent and possibly greedy people will it not find it's way back?  If we give that huge amount of money to the poorest few percent without making any other changes is there any guarantee that the changes will have a long term effect?  

What about WAGE inequality?  The fact that executives make three hundred and something times more than their average employee?  As before, I agree that this is problematic but the real question again revolves around the true cause.  Is the government somehow responsible for encouraging top heavy salary schemes? As before I think the sad truth is that we the people are responsible.  I honestly believe that the reason executives make so much is because overtime society has allowed it and encouraged it.  Suddenly some people are starting to realize that we've made a mistake and they start shouting about how horrible it is but there are people far and few between who really hold the moral high ground on the issue - society is replete with greed.  Who sets the executives pay?  Again I'm not the expert but I think oftentimes it's the board not the executive himself.  In another vein, but still related to wage inequality, the problem might be totally unrelated to the poverty problem.  This would be unfortunate for the supporters of redistribution because it would mean that simply regulating executives wages would not affect the poverty problem.  We would need to determine how many "poor" people work for those CEO's whose incomes are grossly inflated before we can really say whether this is the problem.  What if there is a huge number of businesses in the finance sector where none of the employees are really struggling to make ends meet yet the executives are making 1000 times more than their average employee (in other words the executive is extremely rich), while on the other hand there are many other companies where the average worker is poor and the bosses make a little bit more but are really just eking out a modest living for themselves and their family.  Statistically, this might look the same as if executives in every business everywhere in America were making three hundred and something times more than their average worker, but the situations are worlds apart.  Would insisting that executives' wages be comparable to their employees' really help the poor people much if that were the case?  So we see that wage regulation isn't necessarily a good answer.

In summary, I hope that I have proved absolutely nothing.  Hopefully after reading this you will have nothing but a long list of questions about the economy, wealth and income.  Most likely they will be questions that don't have an answer - even from the educated economists.  At that point hopefully we will be one step closer not to the "right" answer of how to regulate economic affairs in America, but rather to the table of a discussion on how to really assist individuals who are poor and stimulate and encourage a strong foundation of morals and values in EVERY American, not just those greedy CEO's.

PS  I liked this editorial in the New York Times that follows some of the themes discussed here

PPS  Lest any be confused, I'm an equal opportunity condemner so whenever gender was defined in my discussions of the CEO of a company, or of a greedy rich person, the opposite gender could be equally well substituted.



Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Porter Shayne Sorenson

On Tuesday, December 4th at 6:00 PM we headed to the hospital so that Chalise could be induced.  Once we finally got a room they started the process and we were kind of just sitting around being bored until about 2:00 AM when the contractions really started picking up and Chalise was in pain.  Once they gave her an epidural a few minutes later she was sleeping like a baby as if nothing was even happening.  Little did we know she actually was progressing and at about 7:00 AM or so she was ready to go.  The actual delivery part went pretty smoothly and Chalise did an amazing job - I was proud of her.  At 9:05 AM, Porter Shayne Sorenson was born and weighed in at 8 lb. 6.2 oz. and was 21 inches long.  Since most of you haven't seen him yet I figured I would post as many pictures as I could. 

Waiting for the excitement.

His first bath.  Chalise ate a bunch of cheese right before we went in and some of it got all over him in the womb.

We were lucky to have Chalise's mom and grandparents here with us to see the birth.   They were a huge help and we loved having them.



I have never been to Disneyland.  We never went when I was little and I really didn't think it was necessary nor did I feel like I missed out on anything because of that.  It was pretty fun though to go for my first time as a 26 year old.  Our friend Sean from our ward works for Disney and has a free pass for four people as often as he wants.  So he and his wife Kelsey invited us to go with them and we happily obliged.  Once again Chalise's activities at an amusement park were limited but it was great because almost all of the rides are OK for pregnant people and little kids.  I would have to say that my favorite part was the food.  We got a gigantic turkey leg and the most amazing corn dog man has ever set eyes on.  Now I can say that I've been there and I wouldn't mind going back there again.
Here we are at the pearly black gates

Of course you can enter through a really expensive gift shop (cause for suspicion).  Lucky for us we borrowed a hat just long enough to steal a picture.  Ha!  We win.
I got two buttons - one for being a first-timer and one because we were celebrating Kelsey's birthday.

This is completely unrelated but not worthy of its own post.  Everyday as I ride home from school I go by the track stadium where the marching band practices.  They are SOOO cool!  I idolize them.

Hallifornia Pie

What do you get when you mix Chalise and Shayne and California and Halloween?  The answer is Hallifornia!  We weren't really planning on dressing up for Halloween but then our ward was having a trunk or treat party and we heard that most people did actually dress up so we figured we'd join in the fun.  We were also invited to our friend Zach's birthday party earlier that day, which was themed after The Hunger Games.  We were thinking for a few days about what we would be for the Hunger Games party but nothing ever came and then in a last-ditch, desperation moment it occurred to us that we could be tracker jackers with relatively little effort.  All we had to buy was some colored duct tape and then we made some antennae out of hangers and construction paper.  We were quite proud of our ingenuity.

We were flirting with the idea of just wearing the same thing to the ward party that night but then a few minutes before we left, we decided that we would do something else.  Chalise had seen someone on pinterest a while back who dressed up as the guy from Castaway with a volleyball.  She had the brilliant idea that we could do the same thing but make her pregnant belly be the beach ball.  I thought it was quality humor but as is usual with our Halloween costumes, most people didn't appreciate it as much as we did (recall Princess Leia and Juan Solo).

Granted our presentation was not flawless, but seriously that is a genius concept

Before we had made the decision we pulled out our dress-up totes and were brainstorming when Chalise encouraged me to try on some old warmups that I had.  This is what happened.

She said I can't wear them anymore.

On Halloween I came home from school and Chalise had made plans about having a party.  Nobody wanted to come to our party (no one else was invited anyway) except us but it was pretty darn funny.

We carved a pumpkin.  Clearly if you buy late in the season it's slim pickins at the patch.

The idea here was to make a Mike Wazowski pumpkin but I totally ruined it and we were left with this piece of work.  We seriously sat there and laughed at it for about 10 minutes and then we snuck outside and left it on our stairs and laughed for another 20 minutes about how cool it would be when our neighbors saw it and didn't know what it was.

We bobbed for apples.  This is not a sanitary activity.  Chalise went first and I watched closely - she dropped either a large saliva chunk or a snot bomb into the water and it was just floating around in there.  I had to bob anyways just for the glory.

Sometime between Halloween and Thanksgiving we decided that we would make pies and invite some of our friends over to eat it with us.  Chalise had to work on Thanksgiving so we couldn't really do anything then but we wanted to celebrate somehow.  It was the first time that either of us had attempted to make pies.  We did pumpkin, coconut cream and chocolate cream.  Definitely the hardest part was the crust - making the dough wasn't bad but we have some weird hollow plastic roller that I don't think works very good and we had pie pans that were bigger than normal and I didn't make enough dough to go around.  Trying to stretch that stuff thinner and thinner with a defective roller was enough to drive a freight train up a dirt road (as my mom would say).  In the end we finally found success and they were all really good, especially the coconut cream.  I could have swam in that thing it was so good.  Our friends either liked them all or lied to us as any normal people would and said they were really good.

A fair amount of dishes were produced

We acknowledge that the crusts won't win any beauty contests but they tasted good

We are practically Marie Callender's

Quinn's Visit

Chalise's brother came to visit us in October because he was the only one from their house who didn't get to come this summer when we moved here.  We tried to do some cool stuff while he was here and show him some of the достопримечательности (don't you think it's cool how the Russians found a way to say tourist attraction in just one word?).  Quinn is really fun and we enjoyed having the company.  Over the course of a few days, Chalise took him to the aquarium in Long Beach and to Griffith Park while I was at school and then we went to Hollywood, and Knott's Berry Farm together.  We also spent a good hour and half deciding where we should eat dinner one of the nights and ended up eating at Johnny Rocket's (a glorified fast food joint).  We failed him in that one regard but otherwise I'd say we had a great time and we hope that he can come visit us again sometime.  Since I wasn't actually at the aquarium I'm going to guess what all of these pictures were.

This is Quinn kicking a tiny shark in the face.  Please excuse the lack of focus.

Here he is using telekinesis to move the jellyfish.

Some words are worth a thousand pictures.

In California the birds are so nice that if you just walk around with a little cup of food they will swoop down and land on your shoulder.

That is Grauman's Chinese Theater behind us.  Apparently it's a pretty famous place in Hollywood right by the walk of fame.

We had a camera malfunction and lost all of our pictures from Knott's Berry Farm except this one.  Chalise wasn't allowed on any of the rides because she was pregnant so she just stayed here the whole time. 

Back to the Future

The title says "back" because it's getting pretty close to a year ago that Chalise and I went on a cruise to the Caribbean.  The title says "future" because we will definitely go again sometime in the distant future when money grows on trees.  I don't remember any of the details - just be grateful that I can remember the names of the cities that we went to.  Besides Chalise's bout with food-born illness and my sinus infection it was super fun.  Our favorite activity was just laying there doing nothing and eating.  Here are some pictures for you all to remember our vacation by.

This may or may not be me by the ocean at Cozumel, Mexico.  We didn't pay for any shore excursions at this stop so we just found some really nice guy who drove us around to some cool places and talked to us about Cozumel.  It was a pretty organic traveling experience - as a side note organic food is totally trendy and not very cool but organic traveling is fun.

Chalise was super excited to see these peacocks on the beach.  It was a really interesting feature for sure.  Who just keeps their pet peacocks on the beach?

The beach was actually our last stop here.  Before this we went to some ruins but we weren't allowed to take pictures of them.  The hammocks were definitely relaxing.

This is when I hovered far above the ocean.

Between Cozumel and Roatan Island we went to Belize.  We went on an excursion to a private island which sounds way cooler than it is.  What they fail to tell you in the advertisement is that 4,000 of your fellow passengers are also going to that same private island and they are going to steal all the floaties and all of the beach chairs.  Despite my harsh language it was still way fun.

In Roatan again we just paid some guy to drive us somewhere cool for way cheaper than the cruise ship would have charged.  He took us to this place where you can play with birds and monkeys.  We walked into the first monkey cage and I thought they were gonna ease into familiarity with us.  Not so.  Next thing I knew something had jumped on my back from behind completely unawares.   Chalise loves animals and as expected thought it was the greatest thing ever even though this monkey is climbing into her ear (it appears that way).
This attempts to give you a view of Roatan Island.  We thought this place was the prettiest overall - it was really green and had some pink flowers everywhere.  Looking at this picture now all I can think is how gigantic those ships are - it looks like it's about to swallow the island whole.

We fell prey to the overpriced coconut stand.  It is pretty cool how they chop it up so quick and it tastes pretty decent.

Our last stop was the Bahamas.  This is us with our snorkel gear on, getting ready to go onto the sandbar that they call stingray city.  Soon after this picture we found out that none of the cool kids were wearing the nerdy vests...  Come to think of it not even the weird kids were wearing them.  We were the only ones!  So we took them off and pet the rays unhindered by safety equipment.
Here you can see some of the rays (they are the ones under the water).  This was probably one of my favorite parts of the whole trip.
At our last port we each got to have our picture taken in front of the store that we thought best described us;)

Merry Christmas!