Category Archives: television

two breads

Some brief notes on food.

We went to the pediatrician about a month ago to get H. some shots and because we like how warm they keep the exam room. In the course of the visit, our doctor recommended that we go ahead and start our son on solid foods. We were surprised — he’s so little! — but I asked the doctor what kind of food we should start with. “Rice cereal,” he said, as though rice cereal were the kind of thing people keep around the house.

We wondered if this was really the right time, or if Dr. S. was just giving us the standard timetable without taking into account H.’s extreme preemieness. (I mean, yes, he is already in the 50th percentile in height and weight, thanks to our spectacular parenting, but even so….) Still, we agreed that some time soon Henry would probably become interested in food, and that would probably be the right time to start feeding him solids. (There are, of course, also some technical recommendations for when to start: “when he can sit on his own, turn his head from side to side on his own, turn his head from side to side showing he has had enough to eat, and accept food from a spoon without the tongue pushing the food out of his mouth.”)

We soon found out, though, that it’s harder than you might think to tell when a baby is ready to eat. What does it mean to be interested in food? Here are the things he does so far:

  • Stares at other people’s food.
  • Watches you eat.
  • Puts anything he can get in his hands into his mouth.

But on the occasions that I have attempted to put bits of mashed-up food in his mouth, the reaction has generally been confusion. Not that he’s upset, exactly — he just doesn’t understand why I did that, or what he’s supposed to do with the mush. (Though this last time it was a bit of mushed-up potato from the inside of a french fry, and while he wasn’t interested in the potato, he did suck the salt off my finger. Yes, that might have been my child’s first food — french fry salt. Leave your “worst father in history” comments below.)


Related: Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution is an interesting show. British TV Chef Oliver goes into American schools and tries to convince West Virginia lunch ladies to cook healthy meals, which is fascinating, because he finds it challenging to make meals that are nutritious yet also meet the program’s budget and the government’s “nutrition” guidelines. These guidelines are often obtusely enforced. In one episode Oliver is chastised for not providing “two breads” at a meal, even though he provides a pasta dish, which is nutritionally at least equivalent to white bread. He goes over to a competing meal line staffed by professional lunch ladies.

“Where are your breads?” he asks.

“The pizza,” one of the lunch ladies answers. “It counts as two breads.”

Oliver’s chief nemesis, though, ends up being, not one of the lunch ladies, but the administrator in charge of determining whether Oliver’s meals are “reimbursable” according to government standards:


Oliver’s struggle to provide children with real food can’t have been more futile than our attempts to get real food in a suburban Maryland office park. So far we have discovered a really wonderful Afghan curry place and a locally reputable joint for Maryland crab cakes, a dish whose popularity eludes me. (A lot of crab is lumped together. Then some heat happens. Then they charge you $14.) And other than that, it’s a vast wasteland of chain restaurants.

You can read our previous takes on chain restaurants here and here, but I’ll admit it — I’m not above them, when they’re done right. Subway makes a reliable $5 sandwich, to include vegetables; Ruby Tuesday makes an adequate, if not thrilling, hamburger; there’s even a Chik-Fil-A here, which makes my little Southern heart sing.

But here is what we have learned since we’ve been here: never go to a non-chain restaurant that models itself on chain restaurants. We went to the “Olive Grove” restaurant around the corner, and we thought we knew what we were getting: an Olive Grove ripoff featuring Sysco processed chicken lumps over fettucine. Man, if only. Instead we got dishes that came with all the health and self-image hazards of processed foodstuffs, yet still somehow lacked the reliable saltiness and transfat satisfaction of your typical extruded nutrition. The marinara with sausage was noticeably worse than if you had made it yourself from a jar of Ragu and some Jimmy Dean hot sausage links. The chicken piccata tasted like margarine and death.

But the place was packed to the brim — the decor resembles a convention hall, and families crammed in around banquet tables like they were at a favored cousin’s wedding. There are clearly a lot of people in Maryland who hate food and want to see revenge worked upon it.


Finally, here is an interesting article about how orange juice is made. Squeezing is involved… but so are “flavor packs.” Kind of appalling; kind of… what you’d expect, really. Just be aware that the phrase “100% juice” is a careful semantic positioning.

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I’ve just got to get these last few ibexes in….

Today I was channel-surfing in order to find something suitable for Henry to watch, and I saw something on the “American Life Network” called Ancient Secrets of the Bible: Noah’s Ark — Fact or Fable?. It was being billed as a documentary, so I sort of assumed it would come down on the side of “fable,” but that’s because I still tend to think of documentaries as stodgy, fact-laden things. Whereas even full-fledged evangelicals reviewing Ancient Secrets of the Bible on Amazon warn that

[I]f one is looking for unbiased viewpoints and for an actual academic bible study, the series title is very misleading…. Even my friends who are ministers saw the series more as entertaining propaganda than revealing any actual historical or scientific secrets….

Anyway, this one was about the story of the Great Flood, and it had a number of, erm, scientists talking at length about how the Ark would have been super seaworthy, and how you wouldn’t really have needed every animal on earth to fit in the Ark — whales, for example, could just have kept swimming!

I find stuff like this irritating, because it seems to me that people spend HUGE amounts of time trying to prove that a book like Genesis is some sort of true and factual history of the Earth — which efforts are, of course, really aimed at proving that Genesis is the literal word of God, even though the Bible itself makes no such claim.

And so, in a quest to prove that the Bible is exactly the sort of document that it isn’t, the video parades by a series of people in coats, some of them claiming to be scientists, to testify to the seaworthiness of the Ark, or to explain that “two of every living thing” doesn’t mean as many as it sounds like, because, for example, all breeds of dog have a common ancestor.

These arguments always tend to be specious or irrelevant, though this guy, for example, goes to pretty extraordinary lengths to ignore the text in order to make the text sensible. Claiming that by “clean animals” God only means the ten kosher mammals mentioned in Deuteronomy 14:4-5 is reasonable, but to then claim that by “every unclean animal” God is referring specifically and only to the unclean animals mentioned here and here — to include rabbits, rock hydraxes, and pigs, but not hippos or kangaroos — takes a certain amount of narrow legalism, and it certainly flies in the face of the obvious meaning of Genesis 7:17-21:

I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it…. You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them.

I have highlighted the Lord’s multiple uses of “every” and “all” because I’m an asshole and I’m making a point in a snarky way. But, seriously, here is that guy’s argument:

The broad words of Genesis 6:19: “And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark” and a similar phrase in Genesis 7:15 are clearly inconsistent with the sacrifices of Genesis 8:20 and the seven pairs mentioned in Genesis 7:2-3. Since the phrase “two of every kind” is an overgeneralization, the preceding phrase “every living thing” can also be treated as an overgeneralization and be interpreted narrowly to mean every living thing of importance that Noah owned or had custody of. If Noah was asked years later how many animals he took on the barge, Noah may have replied, “Every one; I took them all.” In such a remark, the words “every” and “all” would mean only that he did not leave any of his animals behind, not that he took every species on the planet….

Noah’s clean animals included cattle, sheep and goats. His unclean animals included raven, swine and eagles. They were his inventory, his stock in trade. But most of the world’s animals were not included. Exotic zoo animals such as elephants, giraffes, hippos, lions, apes and kangaroos are not mentioned in Genesis or Deuteronomy and were not included in Noah’s inventory. Since it would be impossible for Noah to attract millions of animals from all over the planet, he did not do so. The animals came to the ark because local herdsmen brought them to the ark.

This argument is nonsense from the get-go. Noah kept eagles as part of his stock-in-trade? Well, that explains why he needed the rock hydraxes, I guess: eagle food. And the last line flatly contradicts the Lord’s assertion that every kind of animal “will come to you to be kept alive,” as well as providing some tragicomic scenes just before the flood:

HERDSMAN: Hey Noah, that’s one big boat.

NOAH: Yup. The Lord God’s gonna destroy the world by unleashing the floodwaters.

HERDSMAN: You don’t say. And you’re gonna float it out in that thing?

NOAH: Yes, that’s right.

HERDSMAN: Oh. Can I come?

NOAH: ‘Fraid not. You’re sinful and God is grieved that he made you.

HERDSMAN: Oh. Well, would you take my camels with you? They’re good animals, and I’d hate to see anything happen to them.

NOAH: No — I’ve already got two camels. Do you have any hoopoes? God seems to think they’ll come in handy.


These people seem, at first glance, to have a more scientific approach — at any rate, they have a lot more numbers on their website. Also, they take the novel, if completely unwarranted, approach of claiming that “kind” doesn’t mean species — it means genus or even family:

The word species and the biblical word “kind” are often used interchangeably. This is incorrect since they are not synonymous. The biblical word “kind” denotes an organism that reproduces others like itself…. The word kind is probably closer to the modern taxonomic unit of genus, and in some cases the larger taxonomic unit, family.

The Canidae (canine) family includes about 14 genera of dog like animals. These include the coyote, dog, wolf, jackal, etc. The ark did not have to contain the hundreds of species of canines that make up this group. In reality, these were all represented by a few “kind.” These “kind” would then produce all the animals that make up the Canidae family.

Gosh. I thought evolution took too long as it was. Who knew it was actually so speedy?

Anyway, after excluding fish — because, you know, fish live in water, don’t they? — these folks also decide to leave plenty of other animals off the Ark, too:

Noah would not have to be concerned with the aquatic mammals such as the dolphins, whales, porpoises, sea lions, and walrus. There are also many aquatic reptiles that could survive outside of the ark. These would include many types of snakes, alligators, crocodiles, and sea turtles. There are almost a million species of arthropods that would survive the flood. Animals such as the following: shrimps, crabs, lobsters, and many other crustaceans. All of the insects could survive outside the ark. Mote than 35,000 species of worms and nematodes would also survive the flood.

All right, first of all — insects drown. There’s actually a mosquito trap that depends on it.

Second of all, these guys are still failing to account for the Lord’s emphatic instruction to take two of “every kind of creature that moves along the ground.” (Emphasis mine, not the Lord’s.) That means, I’m sorry, every snake, lizard, beetle, ant, scorpion, hedgehog, and so on.

But let’s assume for a second that they find a way to wriggle out of those problems. There’s still the basic fact that their idea of how things “survive” is that of A CHILD. Noah stays on the Ark for a year, and the waters cover the Earth completely for at least 150 days. No land creature on earth can hold its breath for that long, but even if it could, let’s say, float, how could it live for five months to a year when its entire ecosystem has been destroyed? What would it have eaten? How would it have plausibly reproduced? The life cycle of the painted lady butterfly is 21 days, and during that time it relies intensively on specific types of plants as part of the process.

Oh, dear — plants. Why did God forget about the plants? 150 days of complete immersion in water would be enough to turn the earth’s surface into a complete desert. And although I’m sure someone will argue that Noah could have brought enough seeds to repopulate the earth with plants (even though, you know, he had no access to several of the continents, and even though this is supposed to have have happened just a few thousand years ago), this again shows an extremely childish understanding of how individual organisms relate to their ecosystem. A plant does not exist in isolation, nor can you just stick it in some dirt and hope for the best. Destroy the environment completely, and you destroy the ability of each individual creature to feed itself, reproduce, and go through its life cycle.

Then there are the fishes, whales, and other waterbound creatures that the authors of Genesis, and our ersatz scholars, don’t even bother with. Genesis tells us that the mountaintops were covered (7:20) to a depth of 20 feet, which means that the waters must have covered Everest. Assuming that the seas prior to the flood were at about the same height they are today, this means that there must have been enough water to cover the surface of the earth (510.07200 million km2) to roughly the height of Everest (over 8km), or about 4,513,117,056 km3. That’s about 3 times the volume of the earth’s oceans now. So suddenly all the earth’s water creatures are living in a space 4 times the size of the space they were living in previously — meaning predators and prey, herbivores and their food, are now much farther apart. The ocean, formerly teeming with life, is now fairly empty, and many if not most creatures would starve.

Coastal water ecosystems, meanwhile, which rely extensively on photosynthesizing and photosensitive organisms, would of course be obliterated. And while we’re pondering this — does it rain salt water or fresh? If it rains fresh water, most of the sea creatures would die, but if it rains salt water, most of the freshwater fish are goners.


In the end, I prefer the first guy’s theory, in which God is more interested in saving Noah’s property than in preserving genetic diversity. It contradicts the text, but it doesn’t contradict basic biology. Of course, there’s a simple solution to all of these logistical issues with the flood story — God just uses magic to recreate life anew at the other end. That almost has to be the solution, because there’s an olive tree growing somewhere even before Noah gets out of the Ark.

But as soon as God starts using magic powers, we’re immediately struck by the ridiculousness of the whole story. If God regretted how men turned out (somewhat undermining any claims to omniscience or wisdom), why didn’t He just wink all the evil men out of existence? Why does He go out of His way to “destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it”? On the other hand, if the entire creation is unsatisfactory, why bother repopulating it with “two of every creature”?

And finally, and most damningly, why is God unaware that His plan isn’t going to work?? God makes a covenant with Noah, supposedly the most righteous of men — and then not four verses later sin returns to the world in a particularly embarrassing and squalid fashion: Noah gets passing-out drunk, Ham checks out his father’s “nakedness,” and when Noah wakes up he petulantly curses Ham’s lineage. These are the people You chose to save? Why not just start over entirely?

None of it makes sense if the God of Genesis is the all-knowing, all-seeing, all-wise, and yet completely benevolent God we like to think of today. On the other hand, the story of the flood makes some sense if the God of at least that particular story is an older, more mythological god, a god who makes mistakes, who can’t see or even imagine the future, who is carried away by human passions like grief, regret, and anger. And the aftermath makes sense, too, as a crude and obvious Just-So Story cooked up to make it okay to enslave Canaanites. In other words, this story makes perfect sense as an ancient myth welded with some clumsy tribal propaganda. It makes not a lick of sense as a story about any sort of loving, or even moderately humane, uber-Deity.


All of which is only by way of saying that I hope my son doesn’t waste his life trying to defend a collection of obviously man-made myths as the literal transcription of the words of an anthropomorphic (and apparently very confused) God. So we’re not going to watch Ancient Secrets of the Bible in our house. I know how impressionable young people can be — I was terrorized out of my gourd by Orson Welles in The Man Who Saw Tomorow when I was about ten. Welles, hosting a supposedly nonfiction investigation into the predictions of Nostradamus, made what sounded to me like very convincing arguments that the French astrologer had predicted just about everything in history, and that his latter predictions strongly suggested a coming apocalypse precipitated by a Middle Eastern madman. My mom and my sister laughed it off when I came upstairs, white as a sheet, convinced we were all going to die in the very near future. But I kept it in the back of my mind for years, waiting for the inevitable, and even today it’s hard for me to be sure that this guy isn’t going to destroy us all:

(That is Ahmedinejad, isn’t it?)


Anyway, I’ve been trying to figure out what I might tell my son about God, or, in keeping with the context of this post, what I might let him watch on TV to form an accurate opinion of how the world works and what kind of being or force might be running it. My own agnosticism and inability to stay firmly within the religion in which I was brought up stems at least in part from the horrific displays of cruelty and suffering you can see in, oh, Disney and the BBC’s earth. Or, as my wife memorably put it, “All this natural magnificence makes me want to die.”

I can accept human suffering within a religious framework. I can accept that as generally moral creatures we’re here to be a balm and a comfort to one another, and without suffering there wouldn’t be much basis for morality or balming or comforting. I get that. But that doesn’t really explain the overwhelming viciousness and selfishness that the entire world both exhibits and suffers from. Most sentient creatures are born to eat or be eaten by other creatures, and not in a nice way, and there’s no getting around that. Everything gets sick, everything suffers, everything dies (and rarely in bed).

Fervent literal-Genesis Christians will tell you it’s because of the Fall without stopping to work out the implications of what they’re saying. God made tiny baby birds to be eaten by snakes and cows to become hosts for insect larvae and great noble-browed bears to lie down and die of starvation and exhaustion in the Arctic circle because some human woman ate some fruit she wasn’t supposed to before she even had the knowledge of the difference between good and evil. I’d rather have an indifferent God than a God who behaves like that.

And I’m not alone. Jesus says, in Luke 11,

Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!

In other words, we can’t hold God to a lower standard than we hold ourselves. If we, who are evil, wouldn’t think of condemning thousands or millions of men and other creatures to die for the act of a single person, how can we believe in a God who would do the same? Or, to approach another theological briar patch the same way, if we sinners, who are low, angry, and vengeful, wouldn’t punish someone infinitely for a finite lifetime of transgression, how can we believe that the loving and just Creator would do the same?

My wife is not bothered by many of the traditional theological bugaboos. Recognizing the fragmentary, mosaic nature of the Bible, she believes in the good words of Jesus and ignores most of the rest and is a contented Christian. I’m in a somewhat different boat. The Baha’i Writings are harder to take piecemeal (at least, according to Baha’is), and anyway, as I said above, the natural world inclines me to disbelieve in a personal God who manipulates things on a day-to-day basis for anyone’s benefit.

But at the same time, I miss the sense of having a personal, conversational relationship with the universe. And I would feel dreadful and ashamed if I inhibited any budding sense of the divine or the ideal within my children. (Or anybody else, really.)

So. You see. I start out this post smug and playful and end up humbled and serious.

Here is what I say, then, to my son: do the best you can. Put your faith in reason and science and our shared experience and do not seclude yourself in burrows of illogic and bigotry masquerading as faith in something higher, and do the best you can. If there is a God worth meeting, He won’t fault you for it.

developmental milestone #47

Ah, Jesus. It’s happened already. I didn’t want to believe it. I mean, here’s a kid who can’t even reach for things yet, or sit up by himself, or belch without assistance. Here’s a guy who’s still sometimes afraid of his own farts, is what I’m saying.

But he watches TV.

I don’t mean he’s programming the TiVo for Top Gear. But starting about three weeks ago I noticed him staring at the sizzling, flickering rectangle whenever it came into his field of vision. At first I thought he was just noticing it the way he notices any intense light source. But after a few days it became clear that he loved the TV for something more than its brightness. If you turn him away from the TV, he cranes his head around trying to find it again — something he doesn’t do with lamps or windows. And unlike other sources of light, TV actually seems to calm him down when he’s upset.

Sorry, let me just quote that last part again and add some typesetting for emphasis:

[U]nlike other sources of light, TV actually seems to calm him down when he’s upset.

This is freaking me out.


For the record, the AAP recommends, in a short, stern, and citationless statement, that you not let children under 2 watch television. Science Daily gives more details here, noting specifically that the idea of “Baby Einstein”-type videos helping your kid learn seems not to be borne out by science.

Watching TV programmes or DVDs aimed at infants can actually delay language development, according to a number of studies. For example, a 2008 Thai study published in Acta Paediatrica found that if children under 12 months watched TV for more than two hours a day they were six times more likely to have delayed language skills. Another study found that children who watched baby DVDs between seven and 16 months knew fewer words than children who did not.

The problem, researchers point out, is that time in front of the TV oftens substitutes for time spent interacting with parents and siblings. And as anyone who’s ever tried to learn a foreign language knows, four hours of Telemundo is not the same as four hours of active conversation with a native speaker.

On the other hand, as these parents will tell you, sometimes it’s nice to let the little wriggler zone out in a narcotic stupor for a few seconds. Sometimes you don’t want to be somebody’s physical trainer, language coach, and best friend all at once. Sometimes you just want the little pasha to hang out for an hour and not require much of you.

We do not plunk Henry down in front of the TV by himself. Even if we wanted to, he HATES being by himself. But here’s the thing: I like TV. I like it a lot. I like to watch it. It’s bright and colorful and makes pleasing noises. I’m watching it right now. And I have already learned to walk and talk.

I have adopted various placement strategies to keep him from looking at the TV while I watch it, but I can see already that that’s not going to be a long term solution. Man… this is bumming me out. I wonder what it’s like to live without TV.

the limpin’ Irish

Here’s a video of President Obama dropping the ball on the public option at a town hall meeting in Montana:

This interchange has been hitting all the major news outlets (especially liberal ones) as an example of how our civil discourse ought to be — civil. But in all the astonishment that a guy in an NRA jacket and a hoity-toity Harvard grad could exchange views without resorting to bellowing like stuck moose, I think it’s been somewhat overlooked that, although the President speaks eloquently on the idea of flattening tax deductions for the wealthy, he misses the larger concern that Randy and others have. To wit: is this “public option” basically just a massive public aid program that people who are already paying their share will have to fund?

President Obama says, in a nutshell, It’s true that we can’t insure 46 million people for free. We can make up about 2/3 of the cost by improving efficiency and eliminating waste, and we’ll make up the rest with a tax on the richest income bracket.

Now, all that may be true, but I think he’s missing an opportunity to state the obvious — most of the money will, or should, come from actual premiums that currently-uninsured people pay into the program! (The rest of the cost might have to be made up with efficiency gains, etc.) Nobody — I mean, nobody — wants the “public option” to be a giant charity program for people who haven’t bothered to buy health insurance, and it irritates me that the President and his spokespeople don’t make it clearer that this is an insurance plan that just happens to be run by the government.

Here is the sentence that the President forgot:

“Look, this will basically pay for itself with premiums — we’re just giving the insurance market a little healthy competition, in the same way that public universities provide a low-cost, high-quality alternative to private schools.”

Because, really, who hates Ohio State?

Elana says that what we need to make this popular is for the public option to have a snappily-named football team. GO TUMORS!

I shake my fist angrily.

So apparently when you get married, one of the main things you do for fun is agree with each other.

I cannot believe how lame and yet simultaneously satisfying this is! Like if you are being angry about health care reform, you turn to your spouse and go “And another thing, did you hear about that anti-reform guy who got into a fight at a town hall meeting and doesn’t have health insurance because he got laid off and now his lawyer is BEGGING FOR DONATIONS?!?” and your husband says “I KNOW.” and sometimes I am self-aware enough to shudder at my own lameness and go find something else to do…

But quite often, I am not. It’s like when you get married you get a personality transplant from a really old cranky person sitting on a porch!

When I go to the gym (my location of choice to RAISE MY HEART RATE, GET OVERHEATED, AND BOIL MY FETUS!) they have these big TVs overhead so you can stare at a closed-captioned version of either ESPN or CNN. I should start picking the machines that face ESPN, because I don’t know anything about NASCAR and so am not irritated by it.

Whereas CNN fills me with rage! Rage that probably raises my heart rate and boils the Lentil EVEN FASTER.

Recently CNN has been discussing America’s Health Care Crisis 24/7. But the people who work at CNN are all… buffoons. You know? They say stupid things! They invite stupid guests! They solicit stupid comments from stupid viewers! They make me feel like America is just not smart enough to succeed and one of these DEATH PANELS who are apparently hovering at the edges of our health care system should just check our vitals and go “You know what, this is a nation of morons. Pull the plug, maybe we can use the organs for something.”

My favorite statement that recently went unchallenged on CNN was about how President Obama is only championing this health care thing because he’s soliciting support from illegals.

(ILLEGAL ALIENS DON’T HAVE THE VOTE, YOU NUMBNUTS. You almost caused a pregnant woman to have an accident on the treadmill. Unless by “soliciting support” you literally mean that the president is looking for some guy pals who will come over and play Wii with him and tell him he’s doing an awesome job, and Michelle was so totally wrong about that new tie, it is freakin’ sweet.)

from the department of “thank you for proving my point”

This past week has been pretty depressing, as the health care debate got fairly well mired in angry and flagrantly stupid rhetoric, though late in the game the President did his patented “Let’s not be morons, here, people” act:

But every round of hysterical caterwauling in our political discourse drops little nuggets of unintended comedy in its path, and here’s a particularly excellent one: Investors’ Business Daily, arguing against the adoption of a single payer system (itself not, uh, actually on the table), made the following embarrassing claim:

People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn’t have a chance in the U.K., where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.

— forgetting that Hawking, who was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis at the age of 21 and has, apparently, survived longer with the disease than anyone else, gets his health care from… the British National Health Service.

she was too young to fall in love, and I was too young to know

One of the recurring miniature arguments my wife and I have is about the age at which things like marriage and child-raising are appropriate. Why we have this argument is unclear, since we are both far past the age when such things might be questionable. I think it has something to do with trying to figure out what we’re going to tell our own kids about sex and marriage and all the rest of it. I tend toward the side of “Well, you get married young and your parents help you out and then you go out and find your career,” while my wife thinks it’s better to grow into your full emotional maturity before trying to teach another person how to live.

But one thing we both agree on is that 16 is way, way too young to start having kids. So we’ve decided that when our little Lentil reaches puberty, we’re going to show him or her all six episodes of the fantastic MTV show 16 & Pregnant.


I work in reality TV at the moment, because a relative was kind enough to find me a job. It’s terrible — you feel the nation’s IQ tumbling down a staircase every time you go to work — but it’s okay money and and pretty easy work compared to other PA-level positions I might be able to get right now. So I do my job to the best of my ability and try to ignore the ethical implications of feeding people’s appetite for moronic misbehavior.

But not all reality TV is terrible. Some of it — usually the stuff that takes a more documentary, hands-off, less-constructed approach — can actually stimulate thought.

You have to hand it to MTV — they’re completely blunt about social trends. When porn-inflected faux bi-lesbianism and MySpace “celebrity” briefly became national fascinations, MTV boldly rolled out A Shot At Love With Tila Tequila, because, really, why let good taste stand in the way of ad sales? Sure, you can make fun if you want, but the unashamed and ruthless pursuit of The Next Big Thing periodically brings you something excellent. Just ask Joe Jackson. And with publicly-acknowledged teen pregnancy fast becoming just another lifestyle option, leave it to MTV to accidentally come up with a sensitive, even-handed look at the rapid maturation it takes to become a decent teenage mom.


So. 16 & Pregnant follows six girls — one girl per episode — from some time early in their pregnancies through the birth and the first few months of parenthood. It excludes girls who make the difficult and terrible decision to have an abortion, which is perhaps slightly dishonest, but even MTV knows the boundaries here. So that leaves two options: keeping the baby, or giving it up for adoption.

Five of the six pregnant teens decided to keep their babies. Of these, four had some sort of hormone-addled sperm donor in the picture; none had anything approaching husband material. This is, perhaps, the real lesson to be learned about teen pregnancy, and one that I want to stamp upon the brain of any future sons: Some girls that age might actually be ready to be moms, albeit with a lot of help from their parents. But NO BOYS ARE READY TO BE DADS AT SIXTEEN.

Here is a typical example: Ebony, who had dreams of joining the Air Force and seeing the world, got pregnant by Joshua, who also claimed to have dreams of joining the Air Force, though my wife and I suspect that may have been something he said to Ebony to sleep with her, and then in a comical and nightmarish turn of karma was forced to live out for the rest of his life. The terror-stricken look on Joshua’s face when the Air Force recruiter tells them that they can’t both join (and that it’s probably going to have to be him who carries the burden of military service) pretty much says it all.

Joshua is the kind of kid who, under normal circumstances, would do one enlistment in the Air Force as a “petroleum specialist” and then get out and work at AutoZone and smoke pot and tell his friends dull stories about refueling planes. Ebony, on the other hand, seems like if she hadn’t gotten pregnant she would have put herself through college with the G.I. Bill and gone on to be a spectacular and capable officer.

Here’s the whole episode (sorry about that — MTV.com doesn’t break them down into clips). I find it heartbreaking, because while Ebony is taking charge and making a plan and thinking about the future, Joshua is playing pranks with socks and screwing off during study time.


Joshua, sadly, isn’t the worst of the bunch — that title probably goes to Ryan, fiance of Maci, who is 21 years old and shows even less interest in manning up and taking responsibility for, you know, having gotten a teenager pregnant. If I were her dad, I’d be tempted to have a serious talk with that guy — “Get a job and support your child, or you can do some time in the pokey” — but maybe that’s the wrong approach. You get the feeling (and this feeling does not abate by the time of the “reunion” show) that both Ebony and Maci would be far, far better off by themselves.


The best boy, by far, in this bunch is Tyler, boyfriend of Catelynn. These two kids come from terrible, dissolute families, but they’ve been dating since the 7th grade and somehow they’ve kind of raised each other to be serious, responsible teenagers. You can see Tyler in this trailer — he’s the one pushing back against his moronic dad who insists that “all that baby needs is love!”:

Tyler and Catelynn, with no family support, find a sweet, lovely couple to adopt their baby, carry the child to term, and bravely hand her off, telling the new adoptive mom that they look at this as “giving a gift” to their daughter. The moment where the adoptive mom brings out a set of matching charm bracelets — one for Catelynn, one for herself, and one for baby Carly — is, um, unwatchably sad. But if you enjoy a good cry, here’s the full episode.