Our family

The ethics of children

Yesterday I was talking to Hayden about homelessness. I told him that some people don't have a home, and they have to live outside. In winter they get cold and when it rains they get wet. Hayden thought about it for a second, and declared "we should build a big camp for them to live in, and give them hats and scarves and gloves so they don't get cold". 

When Hayden asked why they don't have a home, I told him that bad men took their homes away. Some people lost their home years and years ago, others lost their home yesterday, and some will lose their home tomorrow. "But the bad men will give their homes back when they turn good, won't they?", he asked, to which all I could say is that we need to make the bad men turn good first, and some never do. Hayden had a solution for this too: "We should be like Dora the Explorer. When we see a bad man taking a home from someone, we need to say 'Swiper, no swiping!' and show him that it is wrong".
And just like that, Hayden has figured out the basic tenants of left-wing politics, all by himself. When someone needs help, we help them, when someone tries to do harm, we stop them. It really is pretty simple and instinctive for children to understand. Right-wing politics, by contrast, takes years of indoctrination. It takes some special mental gymnastics to convince yourself to glorify those who make wealth to the detriment of others, and to aid them by hurting those who are already hurt.

An exuberance of children

Google tells me that the collective noun for children is either "a tantrum of toddlers" or "an ingratitude of children". We just had Hayden's fifth birthday party, with our house filled with eight 5 years olds, and neither tantrum or ingratitude fits the well-behaved, but overly energetic, activity that we experienced, so I'll go with "an exuberance of children". 

Lydia had everything planned: there was a balloon animal corner, a face-painting bay, a marble construction site, and a play-dough table. She even recruited Julie, assistant teacher at Hayden's school, to run a craft table. For us used to dealing with one fairly restrained child it got a bit much at times, but actually Julie was good at calming things down by forming a singing circle (where each child had a chance at being in the centre to sing a song). 

Hayden had great fun, tempered only by Fatima not being present, and all the kids had great fun. The parents (in Europe, you just drop off even very young kids at parties) probably also had fun. We had fun too, in that exhausted everyone-is-laughing-no-one-is-crying-we've-nearly-made-it-to-the-end-without-a-disaster type of way.


Happy Birthday Hayden!

Our little boy is now 5 years old. It is a milestone for him, one of his friends is a year old, and Hayden attributes the ability to climb, run and pick up heavy objects to being five. He has been counting down the days for four months, and tells everyone he is "four years old, but I'm nearly five". We spent the last night in the pool on the waterslide ("When I am five I will put my head under the water"), then had breakfast waffles and presents in the hotel before flying out home. Luckily, Hayden loves flying - when you are his size, all seats seem first class, his has unlimited iPad time while in the air, food is on service and Mummy and Daddy are right there.

Captain Hayden, of the Airbus A330-200, SLC to AMS. Hayden has decided he now wants to be a pilot when he grows up.


Time to go home

Hayden has had a fun time travelling through Utah, Idaho and Wyoming with Mummy, Daddy and Uncle James. Now he has spent some time in day care in Montana during my conference, which he also seems to have enjoyed (and he has been nicely resistant to their attempt to instill patriotism into him). But today he said "This world isn't the best for me. I am happier in Brussels."

Me too Hayden, me too.


Mammoth Hot Springs


Yellowstone National Park


Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, with Osprey nesting

50 million year old petrified Redwood, from a gentler Yellowstone climate

A grizzly bear with her cub



Norris Geyser Basin


Hayden Valley, Yellowstone National Park


Japanese-American internment

Near Cody, in the middle of Wyoming, lies the remains of one of the internment camps where Japanese-Americans* were imprisoned in during WWII. More than 110,000 Japanese-Americans (most second/third generation American citizens, others barred from applying for American citizenship due to racist laws) were rounded up, stripped of their Constitutional rights and imprisoned in concentration camps. The excuse given at the time was that it was a military necessity after the attack at Pearl Harbor, but report after report since the event has found that there was never any security risk, and the real reason was simply racism. There was systematic racism against Japanese-Americans before WWII, during WWII and after WWII, and the implementation of internment was based on popular sentiment rather than military objectives. 

It was difficult to explain to Hayden. “In America, the people who live here came from lots of different countries, and have different colour skin. The people with white skin didn’t like the people with brown or black skin just because of the colour of their skin. They took lots of big ones and little ones who had a different skin colour and put them in jail for four years, even though they didn’t do anything wrong. It was a really really bad thing to do, we should never be mean to someone because of the colour of their skin.”

The great shame of America is just how systematically every aspect of the democratic republic failed its own people. The root cause of the internment was popular racism, and jealously of the economic success that Japanese immigrants has achieved (a parallel to the racism that the Nazis harnessed in Germany against the Jewish peoples). The bigotry and dehumanisation was broad within the American public, and loudly proclaimed by newspapers**, prominent businessmen*** and community leaders. Americans politicians rode the popular sentiment, all the way through the system up to FDR who signed the incarceration order. The judiciary failed to implement the Constitution, being swayed by popular racism rather than objective law, again, all the way through the system up to Supreme Court. The executive branch actively aided the racist policy, with the military implementing the order based on race (“I am determined that if they have one drop of Japanese blood in them, they must go to camp”, Colonel Bendetsen) and the Census bureau providing the confidential data needed to identify who had Japanese ancestry. For all the checks and balances, democracy failed its own citizens and let racism and bigotry rule. Is America now preparing to do the same to Muslim-Americans and Latino-Americans under a President Trump?

Despite all these deliberate insults, large numbers of Japanese-American men volunteered for the army, and fought bravely for a country that despised them. “Rarely has a nation been so well-served by a people it has so ill-treated. For their numbers and length of service, the Japanese Americans of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team… became the most decorated unit in American military history” – President Bill Clinton, 2000. Such a lasting shame to the country that these decorated soldiers, returning home, had to visit their family in concentration camps.

*At the moment it is popular for conservative (white) Americans to rail against “hyphenated Americans”, saying they should drop the hyphen and just be Americans. Which is rather rich of them, consider the long and dishonourable history of white Americans forcing the dual identity on minority groups, and treating them less for it. No matter how they protested, Japanese-Americans during WWII were not treated as regular Americans, so if some choose today to embrace dual identities the white nationalist brigade just have to suck it up. For my personal point-of-view, as an Australian-British-Belgian-European, the more identities we have the more likely we are to overlap and find common understanding.

**Columnist Henry McLemore, Hearst newspapers: “I am for the immediate removal of every Japanese on the West Coast to a point deep in the interior. I don't mean a nice part of the interior either. Herd 'em up, pack 'em off and give 'em the inside room in the badlands... Personally, I hate the Japanese. And that goes for all of them.”

*** Austin E. Anson, Salinas Vegetable Grower-Shipper Association, Saturday Evening Post, 1942: “We're charged with wanting to get rid of the Japs for selfish reasons. We do. It's a question of whether the white man lives on the Pacific Coast or the brown men. They came into this valley to work, and they stayed to take over... If all the Japs were removed tomorrow, we'd never miss them in two weeks, because the white farmers can take over and produce everything the Jap grows. And we do not want them back when the war ends, either”


Geysers of the Old Faithful basin, Yellowstone



Old Faithful