There are two "standard features" of disasters like this that always make me go beyond the surface behaviour and wonder about things like motivation and hidden messages in the statements of officials and the public.
In natural and human-caused mass tragedies alike, it is inevitable that both professionals and common folk will comment that the people are strong, that they always come together to help each other in time of need, often even claiming that such banding together for the common good is "what we do in America". The implication, it seems to me, is that in most other societies in the world people couldn't care less about what happens to their neighbors which, of course, is absurd. It also seems to come from a submerged fear that human nature would lead people to avoid helping without the extra prodding (guilt-trip?) provided by the inevitable reminders that "Our community is resilient; we will rebuild."
Also inevitable, it seems, are the expressions of faith and the calls to prayer, sometimes by public officials. For example, after yesterday's devastation in Oklahoma, that state's Governor and Lieutenant Governor both were quoted as asking for prayers for their devastated towns, and U.S. president Barack Obama promised "Your country will travel it with you, fueled by our faith in the Almighty." Apparently atheists need not apply to aid the relief efforts.
I always have the feeling that these are politicians who see themselves as religious, or perhaps want to be seen as religious, and use highly emotional situations like natural disasters or terrorist attacks to excuse their expressions of personal faith where public opinion and -- oh, that's right -- the Constitution of the United States restrict them in more routine situations. One wonders if they would appreciate and encourage prayers to Allah offered by America's Muslim citizens. Some internet commentators are even more cynical than I, as reported in today's Washington Post: Some blame disasters on what they believe is a decline in faith in America. Others ask what kind of an Almighty God would allow such devastation in the first place, and how people could then pray to the same God for comfort and deliverance.
Having criticised these predictable reactions, I realise people might want to know what I would suggest instead. (Fair enough.) The sentiments themselves are not wrong, just the emphasis and the assumptions that seem to be behind them. As for resilience and the will to rebuild, instead of making it a matter of nationalism or implying that it might not happen without the public being reminded, say something like, "The governor/president/mayor has directed the appropriate agencies to begin the process of recovery." As for the role of Almighty God and prayer, politicians and people could simply state their own intention to pray and their own reliance on their own image of a supreme being in helping them deal with the situation.
Stating what you believe is totally appropriate for politicians, victims and everyone else. Stating that your value system is the right solution for everyone else is not appropriate. The distinction is subtle, and important.
This time around, what has struck me most directly between the eyes is the apparent fact, or at least my overwhelming impression, that in all stories about attachment parenting the younger "participant" (yeah, like he has a choice!) is a boy. It's as if either 1) a mother-son interaction is more attention-getting for the media sharks, or 2) moms don't bother to attachment-parent with girls. Or, possibly, 3) attachment-parenting with girls is age-old, and therein not newsworthy.
A few examples, and then I'll put this baby down for a nap:
Of course, there are examples of moms extended-breastfeeding daughters, and other examples of attachment parenting between mothers and their girls. The Time Magazine article behind the cover noted above contains some. Also, The Stir, apparently a Mommy Web Site (my admittedly sarcastic term), has a list of ten celebrity moms who "practice attachment parenting": Angelina Jolie (many children, boys and girls); Pamela Anderson (two sons); Salma Hayek (daughter); Beyoncé (daughter); Maggie Gyllenhaal (two daughters); Gisele Bundchen (daughter and son); Kourtney Kardashian (son and daughter); Claire Danes (son); Gwen Stefani (son); Hilary Duff (son). But the majority -- to me, as I read and watch TV in my cave, it seems like the vast majority -- of those the media focus on, especially if the story involves breastfeeding, are moms and boys.
It may (or may not) also be significant that two of the three examples in the bullet list of moms featured in media stories are actresses (indeed, both were child stars), and that both have separated and/or divorced from their husbands. As a scholar, I hasten to note that this is a million miles away from a representative sample. It is not research. It is pop culture, and through my filter to boot.
What does this mean?
Dunno. Just the messenger.
On the other hand, in a Time magazine article, Chelsea Clinton seeks to dispel " Four Myths About Millennials", saying that such descriptions don't describe the millennials she has come in contact with.
As a Boomer looking back, I'm noticing more and more how dissimilar recent cohorts of human beings are from my generation and those before. I try to avoid labeling the change as "bad" or "good", because it just "is". Coincidentally (?), I've been reading some things lately that were written and said in my youth, or at least in my mid-adulthood, which seem to caution us about just what is happening now.
Without going into detail and hopefully without injecting my own bias, I encourage those who care about more than just the most recent marketing of the iPhone to read the following:
Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers. The Power of Myth.
New York: Doubleday, 1988
(See also the video recording, available on DVD, of the six PBS specials, also called The Power of Myth, Acorn Media, 1988/2013, and other versions)
Bettelheim, a psychiatrist, repeatedly mentions the importance of "inner-directedness" being the operative principle in child and adolescent development, a process in which the developing person finds solutions to life problems, rather than being given solutions by adults. Fairy tales, in their original forms (or as close to original as possible), provide opportunity for the hearers to imagine themselves in the story and learn from the situations and outcomes without the effects of contemporary (adult) revisions and filters that are inevitable in modern (often "sanitized") versions, especially in films where everything is explicitly spelled out, and imagination is minimised. Bettelheim criticises even illustrated books of Fairy Tales which, he feels, impose too much direction and literalism on the child's imagination.
Campbell, in his interviews with Moyers and throughout his career, notes that our society has lost the effectiveness of the world's great stories (or, as he puts it, the one great human story, with its virtually endless variations and inflections), partly because many have come to insist that the stories are literally true (theists), or could not have happened (atheists). He feels that society is in need of finding new myths (new variations on the one great human story in metaphoric form), and for the time being, is living without these quite useful links to the natural world from which we all come, and, essentially, in which we all live.
My motivation for suggesting the above reading is not so that someone, someday, will admit that "I told you so", or even that they will feel that Bettelheim or Campbell "told us so". The ideal outcome from this, and similar, reading "assignments" would be a lively discussion about how and why these authors' notes on modern society are wrong or right.
The fact, as I noted above, that today's society "is" does not mean that it cannot benefit from the opinion of past wisdom as to what "could be".
I wouldn't be surprised if tomorrow's teenagers rise up in the middle of the night and kill us all, just out of revenge for feeding them such garbage (apologies to the Tomato community) when they were kids.
I mean, this kind of thing makes you nostalgic for shows like Sponge Bob Square Pants, and [gulp] Barney.
I assume they wouldn't like me, either. No sale.
I figured this was an unusual case, especially for someone whose business is cutting trees and clearing dead branches from my yard, so I went online to look further. What I found there was astouding: an arborist whose business name actually is: "Tree Climber in Christ". The comapny's motto is, "When you Need to Get to the Top". (In the words of the brilliant Anna Russell, "I'm not making this up!")
Jesus, I wasn't expecting a sort of American Inquisition! (With apologies to Monty Python's Flying Circus.) I think I prefer another company, at least by name, found in the same internet search: Gorilla Tree Service. At least you know where you stand . . .
As of now, this is just a vague feeling I have when viewing, reading or otherwise "revisiting" books, television programs and movies, music or other well-developed products of the past. Perhaps, for now, for anyone who thinks this worry of mine might have some merit, similar activities might be the best way to see what I mean. Take a look at movies or TV shows from, say, before 1970. The book I was reading when this notion occurred to me, in a form that could be written down as I am doing here, was The World of Children, a book of photography and commentary by Philippe Arias and others, published in London in 1966 by Paul Hamlyn Ltd. The scholarly and other descriptions and opinions about childhood and children (and adolescence and adolescents) expressed there seemed oddly different from what might be written in such a book today.
I wonder if we in "Western" societies have already lost much of what was then considered valuable or appropriate for people entering the world and learning about it and enjoying it.
Aerial Epstein-Norris: There was just like, five, like police officers, they didn't, they weren't, like, just, like, officers, they looked like more investigators, and that's all I saw, and I was like, I wonder what's happening. That's, like, really scary, really freaky, I would not expect something like that to happen.
Like, what? How embarrassing for these poor women. How embarrassing, like, for their university, and for that matter, like, their, like, High Schools. Let's be honest. How, like, embarrassing, like, for our whole, like, culture.
What is their position on cultural diversity? On "creation science"? Or, for that matter, on the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and other, presumably secular, political matters?
Why is a college or university with a trumpeted "Christian atmosphere" necessary in the first place? There may well be good answers to these questions. We need to ask.
Huckabee's statement, unfortunately for his argument, only applies to cultures that are completely dedicated to, and controlled by, a single religion. America, indeed most countries in the world today, are multi-cultural and encourage people of many religious persuasions to spend money in their economies. The American Revolution itself was an unequivocal rejection of the idea that "Culture is to fit Holy Scripture." It was, to finish Huckabee's quote, the affirmation of "the other way around".
I don't have an issue with this statement, because I believe it is probably true for many mothers, and not necessarily a bad thing in itself. I would point out, however, that, while I certainly don't regard the panelist who made the claim or mothers who share her view as paedophiles, this is another clear indication that paedophile-like feelings are present in the general population, albeit in a subtle and (I believe) usually harmless way (i.e., not overtly sexual). It may also explain why women in particular are so irrational and extreme in their demonization of paedophiles: Jealousy.
Osborne explained in this interview that resistance to racial and gender integration of the Vienna Philharmonic is due to a feeling that a change in the all-male, all-white makeup of the group would compromise the unique quality of the music-making. He used the word "camaraderie" to describe what defenders of the orchestra's traditions feel would be lost by integration. (Osborne has been quoted using strikingly different words in other contexts such as his Web blogs and in newspaper articles. For example, osborne-conant.org/Taking-on.htm quotes his essay "Art is Just An Excuse" in which he claims the "exclusionary policy was part of an intolerable racist heritage".)
VPO flautist Dieter Flury explained the orchestra's position (at the time) in a 1996 interview on West German State Radio: "From the beginning, we have spoken of the special Viennese qualities, of the way music is made here. [It] is not only a technical ability, but also something that has a lot to do with the soul. . . . if you think the world should operate according to quotas . . . if you establish superficial egalitarianism, you lose something very significant. . . . Something produced by a superficial understanding of human rights would not live up to the same standards."
It is possible that both Osborne (and those who support integration of the VPO) and Flury (and those who believe integration will change the essence of the orchestra) are right. A political reality of the post-feminist world of the XXIst century is that public opinion is on the side of women taking part in previously-all-male institutions and activities. Said differently, this means that, for today, it is the right thing to do. A result of the exercise of that political power is that the same institutions and activities will change fundamentally. Said differently, this means that the integrated institutions will no longer exist and function -- in the case of the VPO, will no longer "sound" and "feel" -- the way they did in the past.
The summary of all this, in my opinion, is that uniqueness, specialness, individual flavour are becoming a thing of the past while homogeneous social structures are being encouraged -- some would say forced -- to become heterogeneous. Ironically, while attempting to increase diversity, this represents the loss of diversity, in the sense that the VPO will be just like the NYPO, or the BSO, or any other top-quality orchestra in the world, in the same way that cities, churches, educational institutions and any number of other social entities are emasculated. (The pun is most certainly intended.)
In postscript, let me once again express my feminist notion of what should be happening instead: women should form their own all-female institutions, taking the time, in some cases decades or centuries, to develop the quality and standards that men developed in the all-male groupings, instead of taking the easy (or at least easier) way of "muscling in" to highly-developed well-functioning organisations, typically changing them forever. Such an approach would increase diversity in unimaginable ways. (Perhaps that's why it doesn't happen that way!)
It is right to question exclusive groups and propose good reasons why old policies should be changed. It is wrong categorically to assume that all-male institutions -- or, for that matter, all-female or all-anything groups -- must be integrated on the basis of arbitrary concepts of "fairness".
This image, indeed this activity, is common and timeless. It is shown in a recent magazine ad for Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card.
The reason I notice this, and include it here, is that it struck me that this is one activity/image that is difficult to imagine being "shared" with women. In other words, it seems unlikely that a mid-childhood boy -- or girl, for that matter -- would find himself or herself riding on the shoulders of a woman for recreational purposes, unlike other traditional man-boy activities in advertisements and movies/tv in which recently we have seen women, such as playing catch in the front yard, or washing the car. Fishing may be another such activity unlikely to involve adult women.
Is this important? If so, why?
I think it is important. As social roles for females and males merge and flow and blur, it is still important, as long as males and females are different in significant social ways, for boys to include men in their role modeling behavior, since they one day will be men (and role models?) themselves. Of course, it is also important for girls to include women in their role modeling, but in current society, there is little danger of losing that tradition.
The only meaningful and durable relationship is one in which each person without compromise lives her or his own life, and in this context, they happen honestly to like being with each other.
The problem is that, several years back, the Internet surpassed the last opportunity for organising it, making any sense out of it, cataloging it. Hence, while it's all out there, future searchers will not be able to find anything but pop music.
Beyoncé-Gate peaked yesterday. The superstar "singer" (she is really not so much a singer as a performer, but I quibble) started her appearance at the Super Bowl XLVII Half-Time Show Press Conference by delivering an a cappella rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner to prove she could sing it. Silly. There never was any doubt that she could sing it. She did go on, to her credit, to admit her Inauguration Day performance was lip-synched. Unfortunately, her excuses of lack of rehearsal time and bad weather were weak. If the rehearsal time was not adequate or the weather might affect a live performance, she should not have agreed to take the "gig".
All this, of course, is side show, which is what Beyoncé is good at. The real issue for me was the lack of musicianship -- leave alone basic singing -- in her performance, on January 21 and yesterday. Phrasing, a crucial aspect of "real" vocal music, was and is totally lacking in her performances. Granted, phrasing is not necessary in much of pop music today, and she is, after all, a very beautiful woman.
But the song in question here was the United States National Anthem. The way Beyoncé delivered it, it was not music. Anyone who thinks otherwise need only revisit the recorded performances of the piece by real singers, such as Marian Anderson, or Marilyn Horne. As for lesser-known "real" singers, one might visit the YouTube videos of Lievens Castillo or Brenda Randall performing the difficult piece. (I bet they weren't paid as much as Beyoncé, either. Yes, I quibble.)
This is nothing short of pathetic. It wouldn't even deserve to be mentioned, except that this expectation (gratitude) for this biological function (giving birth) is a central feature of many mothers' psychology in America and, presumably in other developed countries of the world.
There are many actions taken by many mothers that do deserve gratitude, that do rightly earn the devotion of their children, but the mere act of giving birth does not even begin to qualify in and of itself.
In the first place, it is almost always either a selfish act on the part of the mother -- something she feels pressured to do and is well-rewarded by the society for accomplishing -- or it's a mistake. In the second place, being born into a crazy, competitive, dangerous world for the wrong reasons is no favour to the incoming child. Once the society's fawning support for new mothers wears off -- which it certainly does by the child's adolescence, if not much sooner -- the child with a mother whose only "claim to fame" is the fact that she endured the pregnancy is, to say the least, missing a great deal of what should be a part of development and socialization.
Mothers (and fathers) who are not prepared to continue their obligations to their child(ren) once the pregnancy is history should seriously consider remaining childless as a service to the unborn.
The war will be betweenn so-called "entitled parents" and the rest of the world (i.e., the great majority). I came across this term while reading about an interview on the Today Show (Tuesday, 22 January 2013) with Philip Galanes, a New York Times columnist and author of books on modern (or, rather, post-modern) etiquette. Galanes was talking about the vitriolic reaction he had gotten from "entitled parents" when he suggested that a mom with a crying baby might modify her (the mom's) behavior by removing the screaming brat from the place where the screaming was bothering other people. "Why are you anti-baby?" the idiots shot back.
I was pretty sure I knew what the term "entitled parents" meant, but I went online to find out how the blogosphere was using it, and maybe where it originated.
They are, of course, parents (in honesty, almost always moms) who feel they are entitled to special treatment because they have kids. I think they see it as sort of a temporary royalty, since they feel they have been anointed by society for following the rules: you must procreate. OK, I've procreated, now I get the perks.
I suppose I first noticed this in the 1970s, when "Baby on Board" signs began appearing in the back windows of cars. It seemed immediately absurd that I, as a driver, should be extra careful around this mom's car just because her baby was riding along. The equally absurd implication was that if there was no baby in the car, I could be as reckless as I wanted.
A first-lieutenant in the above-mentioned (about-to-boil-over) war is likely going to be a blogger called The Bitchy Waiter. He explains that while it seems to entitled parents that he hates babies, it is really the parents he hates, as they are the ones "who let their spawn become the center of the world." His message to them is clear and direct: "Get over yourself. They're kids. No big deal. You aren't the first person to bring a life into the world. Little Johnny and Suzie are the center of your world, not ours."
Postscript: Morning news programs today are reporting a study by Safe Kids Worldwide and American Baby magazine which found that 78 percent of mothers with children under 2 years old talk on the phone (illegal in many states) while driving with their babies, and 26 percent admitted to texting or checking eMails with their babies on board. (Anyone familiar with this kind of research will recognize that since these are self-reports, the percentages represent those who admitted the behavior, so the actual incidence is probably higher.) Of those mothers who drove an average of 150 miles per week, ten percent had been in a crash with their babies in the car. This figure, according to the researchers, is three times higher than the general population, and approaches the crash rate of teen drivers. The invulnerability illusion of these young moms stands out in these results like a sore thumb -- or a broken arm -- or a dead baby.
Americans, and those in societies like America, tend in overwhelming majority to feel they're "really living" when they're successful doing what they're told is desirable, and it is no accident that this life closely parallels the marketing and advertising that saturates their every waking minute. The minority who avoid this narrow path, however difficult their lives may be to sustain and validate, can be viewed either as potential wreckage or as creative pioneers. Personally, I tend to favor the latter description even as I fall short of living up to it myself.
The two films that led me to this observation were Mr Bean's Holday (2007) and Bruce Weber's journal-like Chop Suey (2001). Weber's film seems to start out as a light documentary of the photography sessions with athletic and handsome young men that led to the book, The Chop Suey Club (Santa Fe NM: Arena Editions, 1999). Before long, we see that Weber seems to be introducing his main Chop Suey Club member, Peter Johnson, to some of the many significant people Weber has met along the way through film clips and interviews with (and about) such diverse characters as fashion magazine editor Diana Vreeland (1903-1989); Brazilian boxer Rickson Gracie (born 1958); British explorer Sir Wilfred Thesiger (1910-2003) and, most importantly, lounge singer Frances Faye (1912-1991).
The cumulative effect of Weber's Memory Lane is that the viewer comes to realise that a significant underground of people exists even in affluent, conformist societies who simply go their own way, sometimes rising to fame above the mediocrity, sometimes not. Vreeland's unlikely passon for surfers; Sir Wilfred's consuming admiration for the desert and its Bedouins; and Frances Faye's triumph as a singer whose fan club included the likes of Sinatra, Judy Garland and Mel Tormé, despite her inability to get bookings in Las Vegas's "big rooms" because of her openly unconventional lifestyle; are examples of the non-traditional lives that Weber seems always to have sought out and documented with his camera.
How did Mr Bean's Holiday fit into this pattern? Obvious and simple. The juxtaposition of the non-glamourous Mr Bean (Rowan Atkinson), and the glitz and unreality of the Cannes Film Festival, punctuated with the theme song of the film, the nostalgic and quintessentially-French "La Mer" (Albert Lasry & Charles Trenét, sung by Charles Trenét [1913-2001]). (Anyone who is not [yet] familiar with the uncompromising individuality of Mr Bean would do well to get the TV series on DVD, and become immersed.)
Oh, wait a minute. I've been praying for years that morons like Gov. Perry will one day see the light: that regulation of weapons like Ak-47s, which did not exist at the time the Second Amendment was written, does not even come close to threatening our individual liberty. Whose prayers is God going to answer?
If you want to talk about laws infringing our basic rights, how about the George W. Bush/Dick Cheney Patriot Act? Or proposals to regulate the Internet? Or the exceptions to the First Amendment that lawmakers and the Supreme Court have been willing to allow in recent years?
Let us pray . . .
What is the difference between being "shot" and being "gunned down"? It's the same kind of question (which I've mentioned before) when we hear that someone was "brutally murdered". To make that phrase valid, there must be "gentle murders", and such presumably more-enjoyable experiences should be reported equally.
Gentle murders absurd? Yes, of course. Just like the manipulative and gratuitous use of shock-value terms. We've got to remain aware of how we're being jerked around.
I wonder if JIF's ad agency read my blog, because now there is a spot on the air showing a boy playing a video game, while his dad (presumably) is making him a peanut butter sandwich, before they start playing the video game together.
At the end of this new spot, the same trademark appears onscreen, with the surprising twist that the voiceover announcer closes the commercial with, "Choosy moms -- and dads -- choose JIF."
I take this as progress, and I'm impressed. On behalf of America's dads, Thanks, J.M. Smucker Co.
I can only hope, on behalf of English teachers (and all educators) everywhere that this is some kind of intentional parody. (?) If not (God help us), here's some advice to begin with: "'i' before 'e', except after 'c' . . .", and so forth.
Be very suspicious of invitations to individuality when someone is trying to sell you something. It's only disguised conformity . . . and you have to pay for it.
The response of many, especially politicians, was expressed in the words of president Obama, as meaningless as they were necessary, required by a public both outraged and confused by what took place: "We have to take steps to make sure something like this never happens again."
If the entire history of humankind is any guide -- and it can be! -- atrocities involving human against human are just as impossible to prevent as earthquakes or lightning strikes. False hope of eradicating horrific behavior serves to make it more likely.
What we need are ideas that address causes more than measures that prevent effects. More gun regulation? In my view, yes. It won't solve the problem, however, as possession of firearms, even assault weapons, isn't the cause of mass murder in schools, shopping malls and military bases. Heightened security in schools and other places where numbers of people gather? Yes, if such measures can balance our right to free movement around our world with our need to be safe. Still, we wouldn't be addressing the causes of incidents such as school shootings. Closer monitoring of internet postings, eMail and other personal communications? It is difficult to imagine doing this while also respecting the right to privacy that is a cornerstone of any free society. Even if privacy rights were infringed, it still wouldn't address the causes of violent, anti-social behavior.
The Sunday talking-heads shows danced around what I believe is the central issue, while focusing on the abovementioned prevention issues, and others. To me, the cause fairly jumps off the screen, or page, as otherwise intelligent and thoughtful people mention in passing that the shooters are always young males. I would say it with different emphasis: The shooters are always . . . always . . . ALWAYS young males. This truth screams at us, and we as a society scream back, Take away the guns. Put armed guards in nursery schools. Lock up everyone who appears mentally ill. Execute every murderer until we're sure we've put down the last one.
How, then, do we respond? What, given the above analysis of what not to do, should we do? I've written about this in detail elsewhere, and will (no doubt) again, so I'm going to make this go-round as simple as possible:
To begin to see the value of this, imagine if the Columbine teens, or the Aurora (Colorado) Movie-Theatre shooter or the Sandy Hook Elementary School (Newtown, Connecticut) gunboy had a trusted man-friend that they could have confided in, not about the potential massacres, perhaps, but just about their own alienation and feelings of being socially outcast -- common themes running through the post-mortems of all these deranged kids. Imagine.
To meet society's requirement that explicit sexual activity be forbidden, let it be stopped by the simple separation of those who are inclined to cross this line, without law enforcement or public humiliation for all involved in public court proceedings. Any who refuse to honor such separation then could be prosecuted as are stalkers and trespassers.
Quite a bit of healthy mentoring would survive the parameters outlined here, and would give many otherwise troubled boys and young men an alternative means of finding attention, not to mention the fact that these youngsters might have someone close enough to them to notice any signs of serious trouble that might indicate a need for "professional help".
Consider this incontrovertible fact: until about 30 years ago (give or take a decade), hero-worship of role-model men was a common feature of boys' lives that was fully supported and valued by the society, a developmental atmosphere that is starkly different from today in Western cultures. In the last 30 years (give or take a decade), unlike previous generations, we have been shocked by least two or three mass murders per year, always . . . ALWAYS . . . perpetrated by young men who felt alienated, and wanted in their own twisted way for someone to notice them.
I would think that anyone could "do the math" on that one.
The more I think about this, the more it seems that everything we do, and feel, and want, and need is explained in these ten words. It's not that the idea is new, for people have consciously and unconsciously been living this way, or failing to, all along. It's just that, at least for me, it has never been so well expressed, clear, obvious and . . . well, relevant!
I can easily imagine that a book could be written about the nuances and applications of the key words "successful" and "relevant", what the statement means and what it does not mean. (It might be like what happened with "Love thy neighbor as thyself", which over time became the New Testament and then the worldwide Christian religion. Now that I think about it, the smart thing to do would be to make sure something like that "doesn't" happen with this precious phrase.)
I can tell that I will be returning to this idea over and over, as long as keep thinking (and writing). For now, I'll just leave it as it is, with this plea to the world: If anyone knows the original source of this idea -- who may have been the first to share this wisdom with the world -- please let me know. I cannot (and will not) take credit for it myself.
In former times, money and power, often made possible by educational opportunities available to those born into money and power, defined the elite of society. Indeed, the tiny elite were able to define and develop the society that we now myopically seem to believe was universal. No, most of the music, art, literature, architecture and all other refined aspects of life that we study about and enjoy today -- if they've survived destruction by modern idiots -- were developed and left to us by a tiny upper crust of the world's people. It is likely, I suppose, that true creativity, true excellence always will be a rarity, and maybe that's as it should be, as long as they aren't lost completely under the weight of the mindless majority.
Today and in the future, those who become truly creative and excellent will be those who learn, through self-discipline and moderation, to rise above the mediocrity that inevitably results from tweeting to an audience who couldn't care less what you're having for dinner, or what your adorable kids just said, or texting your useless (and predictable) opinion about the latest pop-star scandal, or how great it is that so-and-so celebrity got married or pregnant.
Now, here's the problem. How will young people with the rare ability to become creative and self-disciplined get the message? Who will be their examples, their mentors, and how will these true, complete humans of the future even know that they need to be different, to (re-)claim their lives, to invent themselves rather than be invented by Apple, Microsoft, Google, Twitter and Facebook?
Moralizing? No. Laws or other external regulation? Certainly not. The only forces that can penetrate the unprecedented media saturation that assaults us minute by minute are . . . unfortunately . . . logic and rationality. True thinking, reasoning, self-examination. I say "unfortunately", because these processes, these qualities, are hopelessly old-fashioned, and may be nearly extinct since the materialistic backlash to the 1960s that has characterized the last generation or two.
The solution is as simple as it is unlikely: develop and live by standards that are not externally imposed, and require that everyone in your life -- including family -- respect your individuality, or piss off.
You have to be ruthless to be elite. (Good luck.)
The low point of his appearance was when he petulantly scoffed, "I want to say this is for all the haters who thought I was just here for one or two years." OK, maybe he does have haters, but I'm not a Bieber-hater, and I am among those who still, despite awards and contracts, think his days are numbered. Because he's not an artist, in the true sense of the word. I mean, compare Bieber with Tony Bennett, for example, and you'll see what I mean.
In addition to this low point, there were several other moments that were at least bizarre, if not embarrasingly revealing.
First of all, Justin's date was his mother. (The breakup with Selena obviously sent him back into the ftal position. I believe the current term for this on the street is "whipped". He may be fiscally sound, but he's a psychological basket case. At one point he looked at his Mom, and said, ".I wanted to thank you for always believing in me." Translation: "Thanks, Mom, for making me so cute, and letting me live out your dreams.")
While onstage, he got a kiss from Jenny McCarthy. "Wow. I feel violated right now," he said, laughing. Violated by a kiss from a show-biz colleague? Too many years as an under-age sex object for the world, I guess, as he still seems to feel like he's a potential victim in the Child Abuse Industry.
For her part, McCarthy said backstage that she did "grab his butt. I couldn't help it. He was just so delicious. So little. I wanted to tear his head off and eat it", offering further evidence that he's still regarded as a childish morsel, not to mention McCarthy's frightening mayhem imagery.
Once again, let's compare this foolery with other performers whose performances could be classified as artistic. Aled Jones (Welsh boy soprano) debuted in the mid-1980s much younger than Bieber did, and enjoys a strong career today. Lenny Kravitz joined a professional choir when he was about 12, and has become both wildly successful and solidly socially relevant. Harry Connick Jr was eleven when he released his CD called "Eleven" (originally called "Pure Dixieland"). He's unquestionably an artist in musical terms, as well as in other areas such as acting.
Others may have started careers as young adults, and have had astounding careers also counted in decades, combining musical skill with message. Bono (and the group U2), Dylan, Joan Armatrading, Sting, Springsteen, Carly Simon. And then there was Michael Jackson, fondly remembered as a pre-teen sensation, and relevant to his dying day and beyond. These are artists. Bieber and his lot are latter-day circus folk.
The difference boils down to style versus substance. Bieber has style. Artists have both.
In fairness, there well may be a true artist lurking inside Justin Bieber. We can speculate and hope that he will add some substance to his style as his career progresss. This is much less likely for him as long as he is the chess-piece of an enormous marketing effort, but it could happen and I trust we will see movement in that direction soon. Until then, the "artist" designation, in the true and classic sense of the word, will have to wait.
There are several significant threads to this story. This was an age-different homosexual relationship which, except for the now-refuted claim that the younger man was under age, was freely admitted with both parties acknowledging that it was consensual. It wasn't that long ago that even these facts would have ruined Clash's career and even brought criminal charges. Also, Clash's profession was clearly and closely related to children, the "Holy Grail" of modern society. In very recent memory, any whisper of homosexuality would have disqualified him from this sacred duty without a second mention.
There is also a troubling aspect, at least for me, when I see and hear the reactions of people who, now that the young man has recanted his story, talk about the affair with a palpable sense of relief. The fact that the younger partner had (barely) passed his 18th birthday makes it OK, when the original claim that he was (gasp) only 16 would have brought out the most virulent revenge-motivated hatred from the same people who now (rightly) praise and revere Clash for his long career of bringing joy to children.
Am I the only one who sees the absurdity of this? Am I the only one who feels there is so little difference between the average 16-year-old and the average 18-year-old in terms of his (or her) sexuality, that the vigilante-reaction associated with 16-year-old sex (with over-18s) seems a bit over-the-top? What about the inconvenient truth that in some states, not to mention some other countries, sex between "adults" and 16-year-olds isn't even illegal?
But, let's focus on the positive: anti-gay attitudes, per se, are obviously fading into history, and that's a good thing.
This kind of knee-jerk description of late adolescence is pretty much a figment of the adult imagination. Whether adulthood is "scary" or "heart-poundingly exhilarating" has mostly to do with whether a kid was protected from the adult world (scary) or prepared for it (exhilarating).
There is a line missing here. In fairness, George should have followed up his first question with another: "Do you want a girlfriend?"
Assuming that a pre-teen boy (or girl) 1) wants a heterosexual romantic relationship, and 2) would benefit from one, is just wrong. It's an incorrect media-driven assumption, and there are absolutely no precedents in history or in literature produced before the last quarter of the XXth century. Hollywood is playing fast and loose with human development here.
Straight people (roughly 90% of the population) suffer from such assumptions because they are pressured to manufacture feelings and behaviors that they are not ready for. Gay and Lesbian people (roughly 10% of the population) suffer from these pressures because their natural development process is blocked as society forces them earlier and earlier to "declare" heterosexuality. The result of this is at least an adolescence of self-doubt, private and public denial of a truth about themselves, and the all-too-often worst-case scenario: suicide.
All because a macho, unthinking and in all likelihood ignorant dad didn't ask his son what he wanted.
The League of Women Voters was an essential and effective organisation after women were given the right to vote ("suffrage"), in some countries as early as the late XIXth century, and in the United States of America upon the adoption of the 19th amendment to the Constitution in 1920. In the XXIst century, with roughly half of all voters being women and with women gaining elected office in virtually every state and at every level of government in the United States and Western Europe, an organisation like the League, whose name implies special consideration for women, is an anachronism. Its resources and energies need to be directed to more relevant needs, perhaps rebranding itself as The League of Disenfranchised Voters, or the Society Against Voting Irregularities.
The California Museum for History, Women and the Arts in Sacramento, California, needs to be re-named as, for example, the California Museum for History and the Arts. A focus on women's history is entirely appropriate, especially since the struggle for equality is so recent. The name of the institution, however, should not imply that women need special consideration. Among other things, that implication is condescending, leaving the impression that the building and organisation was built by men who must have decided to do women a "favor" by giving them a Museum.
Various women's hospitals and medical groups also need to be "ingtegrated", and their names changed to reflect this. At one time, women's medical issues were undervalued and sometimes ignored. Then, the presence of special medical groups was both necessary and welcome. This has changed. It is impossible to imagine today a hospital that caters primarily to men and their medical problems, to the exclusion or detriment of women.
Equality for women in Western culture is one of the great achievements of the XXth century and there is absolutely no danger of those achievements slipping away. Any further focus on women as a special class of people will allow those who favor superiority for women to realize their unacceptable goals.
Here's a simple test you can do, which I developed from my profound interest in equality. Whenever you see the name of an institution or public service that contains the word "woman" or "women", substitute the masculine alternative and see if you still support it.
Would you give any weight to the endorsements of an organisation named The League of Men Voters? Would you contribute money to an institution calling itself The Museum for History, Men and the Arts? Would you allow to exist in your community a Men's Hospital or Clinic for Men's Medical Issues?
Well, you shouldn't.
As usual, many take these Biblical exhortations literally when they were meant figuratively, metaphorically, symbolically. No-one in their right mind could interpret this to mean that would-be missionaires should go around preaching the Gospel to snails or mosquito larvae. (Though St Francis of Assisi [1182-1226] was known for preaching to animals; and there are many stories and paintings depicting St Anthony of Padua [1195-1231] preaching to the fishes. I encourage you to do a Web search. It's wild -- and the pun is intended.)
Patriotism and public displays of religious obsession are forms of racism because their basic purpose is to say to the world, "I'm better than you, because my country is better than yours, and my religion is the only right and true faith. If you don't unquestioningly support my country and share my religious views, then you don't deserve to exist." For most people who don't need to defend their nation or their religion in this way, private feelings of patriotism and religious devotion are more than satisfying enough.
The disguised racism of excessive patriotism and religious zeal is just as real when Americans hide behind these false fronts as it is when they're invoked by Muslim extremists or radicals of any other nation or faith.
Oh yes, I almost forgot:
We also get a chance to see images, to get impressions. For weeks now I have noticed in virtually every speech, in states and cities all over the nation, when you see Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan on a stage, everyone behind the speaker -- probably VIP seating on a stage or platform -- is white. When you see Barack Obama or Joe Biden speaking, the audience behind them on the stage is, well, more colorful, more varied, more diverse.
It is inconceivable to me that the Republican party can survive, in some areas of America flourish, without being more inclusive. It is also surprising that Republican organizers don't realise that they're projecting an all-white image, and strategically place a couple of African-American or Latino or even Asian "ringers" behind their candidates. (I'm not recommending such image-manipulation, just saying that I'm surprised they don't do it.)
Taylor Swift and the rest of the young female singers have as their fans -- teenage girls.
You want a real revolution in music? Find and promote singers -- female or male -- who appeal to boys, and whom young females couldn't care less about.
Of course that won't happen, because the result would be inevitably, explicitly (and inappropriately?) erotic, or wildly absurd in a way the music business (as presently operating) wouldn't be able to control and manipulate.
Besides the obvious desire to avoid convicting innocent people -- especially if the death penalty is involved -- I have this semi-secret, deeply submerged, yet real, admiration for people clever enough to get away with stuff. I guess I realize at some level that a society as large as ours (America, Britain, any Western society) with complete and perfect suppression of crime would have to be a police state.
The more laws and order are made prominent,
the more thieves and robbers there will be.
Lao Tzu [Laozi](Zhou Dynasty, circa Fifth century BCE)
The Law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich, as well as the poor,
to sleep under the bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.
Anatole France [Jacques Anatole François Thibault](1844-1924)
The function of the lawyer is to preserve a sceptical relativism
in a society hell-bent for absolutes. The worse the society, the
more law there will be. In Hell, there will be nothing but law,
and due process will be meticulously observed.
Grant Gilmore (1910-1982)
Professor of Law at Yale, and elsewhere
The Ages of American Law. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977, pp.110-111
Oh, one more thing: if anyone ever steals my car, I want the bastard fried.
Oh, what I wouldn't give for a viable third party candidate -- with soul.
Here we have one of the iconic images of freedom -- a boy at the threshold of adulthood, sweeping carefree and gracefully along the sidewalks of his town -- completely and totally negated by his attachment to his electronic device, the already-ubiquitous symbol of human dependence and servitude. He might as well have a mechanical heart, or an oxygen supply on wheels that follows him everywhere.
How bloody sad.
I suppose I would have to tell him that 1) society isn't consistent or dependable, 2) children (and teens) are exploited and manipulated with no voice to question or complain, and 3) when it comes to a question of fairness vs making money, making money trumps everything.
Of course, there is the argument that Disneyland is actually designed (intended) for the 10-18 age group more than any other, and that people of that age benefit the most from what's offered, and therefore should pay top price. Fine. Then why don't adults, who by this logic are just going along for the ride (the pun is intended) pay less for their admission?
I refer back to 3) above: making money trumps everything.
This constant need to stimulate, to re-grab people's attention has devastating implications for everything from education to spirituality, even to sanity itself.
The trend probably originated with advertising-driven media programming, and now that those influences are in their second or third generation, it is a standard feature of parenting and general child-rearing. (I call it the "MTV attention-span" only because MTV is such a clear example of the short-segment dissemination of information.) Every segment of society seems to be concerned not with quality nor depth, but keeping people's attention. It's especially true in homes and schools. If a child claims boredom, the parent or teacher attending to the brat nearly always believes it is their duty to relieve that boredom and offer some alternative stimulation.
Imagine what this means with regard to reading a book, or for that matter, writing a book, or a play, or making a sculpture or going to an art museum to look at a sculpture!. With video-game apps for the smart phone, why bother? Imagine the incalculable loss when someone brought up this way will have no chance to learn to appreciate a Beethoven symphony, or even a piece of Jazz or Rock music that lasts longer than 3 or 4 minutes. Imagine a world without people who take time to contemplate, to meditate, who don't even know how, or to whom the notion of extended thinking never even comes up as an option. With that as a starting-point, the list of society's losses as a result begins to stretch into infinity.
It is coming to the point where everyone should study and understand statistics first, before being allowed to watch television.
So, the father tells his daughter it's time to build the roof. She has an inspiration, runs into the house, and makes her dad a peanut-butter sandwich. "You made this for me?" he says, deeply touched. "Well, you're making this treehouse for me", she replies. A really, truly nice moment.
The commercial ends with the voiceover reminding us, "Really choosy moms choose JIF."
What? There wasn't a Mom-sighting or any reference to one in the entire 30-second commercial until that last moment. Are we really so obsessed with mothers as family care-givers that we can't have even one father-child "story" without mentioning her?
I believe much of the depression that supposedly can be cured by the expensive drugs advertised incessantly (mostly) on weekend television is caused simply by having to live without society's constant approval.
I believe the extreme cases of this depression, this pressure from being different in a manipulative, controlling, media-saturated world, is at least part of what is behind the violence of young men who spray bullets into crowded movie theatres or school cafeterias.
This suggestion is both helpful and potentially harmful. In our society, characterized as it is by otherwise worthless people being able to vent their biases and share their impulsive thoughts with the world through (often anonymous) social media, suggesting that the unbalanced or those driven by ulterior motives should be among our crime-fighters invites trouble.
To say that the power to report to authorities what we don't like about our fellow citizens might lead to abuses and mistakes would be an understatement, at least. Extortion, revenge, defamation-for-the-fun-if-it, and scores of other possibilities arise when today's public is encouraged to "See Something, Say Something" to law enforcement many of whom are already looking to advance their own careers and influence.
This is a blatant exploitation of society's current obsession with Momism -- "The hardest job in the world" (also mentioned in the commercial) -- and, by the way, is unbalanced, unfair, and incorrect.
I don't follow sports too closely, but I do know that every time I've heard about Tiger Woods' childhood, or Venus and Serena Williams' family, it was the fathers who got kudos for their support and encouragement of these top athletes.
The main message here is not that giving moms credit for what they do should be stopped or minimized -- but that advertisers who go so far as to imply or suggest that moms are the only important parents should be boycotted, or at least ignored and ridiculed.
It is one thing to show your vacation snaps to Gran or your neighbor and expect them to be interested, but the whole world? My God, doesn't anyone need talent or ability or charisma any more?
Granted, there are some brilliant blogs, photos and videos out there produced and posted by teens and younger Internet users -- but I can guarantee they aren't likely to be preceded by the vacuous introduction, "This is Me!"
What can this possibly mean? I mean, what is the alternative? Synthetic avocados? Avocado light? Don't the avocadoes just appear on the trees and ripen? How does the "hand" figure into the growing process?
Advertisers have us by the ears (or worse!), and they're jerking us around like paper sacks, and we may have gone past the point of no return to sanity, simplicity and truth.
Why is it no-one is ever interested in contacting those who have not yet arrived, the as-yet unborn? If nothing else, we could at least warn them . . .
Three things occur to me that don't seem to be part of the national discussion:
2. Children -- particularly boys -- whose breastfeeding days go beyond when they learn to walk are probably in for lifetime problems. This is not necessarily because of the prolonged breastfeeding, but all the associated parenting behaviors that go along with the "attachment" approach. You think the attachment drive ends when the breast goes home to the bra? Think again. Also, I'm willing to bet that the percentage of boys who are allowed by their mothers to keep sucking is higher -- much higher -- than the percentage of girls.
3. Attachment mothers typically claim that extended breastfeeding is based on the needs of the child, and that the child will decide when it's time to stop. This rationalization needs to be exposed and truth told. It is the mother's needs (and desires) that are being satisfied when breastfeeding extends into toddler-hood and beyond. It is, in fact and by definition, a form of pedophilia. The fact that women derive erotic pleasure from breastfeeding is well known and widely documented.
Over a hundred years ago, Oscar Wilde wrote:
More recently, Edward, Duke of Windsor (for a short time Edward VIII) said,
Probably true then, certainly true today.
By the way, there is a very unusual (the word I'd use is "strange") book by Guru Rasa von Werder (pseudonym of Kellie Everts), called Breastfeeding is Lovemaking Between Mother and Child. Morrisville NC: Lulu Enterprises/lulu.com, 2007. This is not a book (nor an idea) to be read, this is a book (and idea) to be ridiculed.
The use of the phrase, "especially a kid's" is a much-overused technique of adding an irrelevant emotional "kick" to one's point, and it's used almost automatically by many people on television, in politics, and many other venues. It's reprehensible manipulation.
When you think about it -- and 99% of people who hear this technique don't -- the clear implication emerges that (to extend Hasselbeck's example) the survival of a child during heart surgery is more important than the survival of an adult. I don't want to get anywhere near a doctor who shares that opinion.
It's reminiscent of the "Baby on Board" window-placards and bumper-stickers of a decade or so ago. The slogan could only mean that for automobiles not displaying the sticker, any sort of reckless driving around them is OK.
I pray that one day idiots will somehow come into awareness of just how stupid they are.
If we believe in equality between women and men, which is what I have advocated and worked for since the 1970s, then this sentiment is unacceptable. Besides the fact that it is absurd on its face. At least for the moment, there are scores of countries around the world with male leaders; several companies, to say the least, are led by men; and men are prominent in the worlds of technology, fashion, farming, finance, and so on.
If anything, there is still work to be done to reach equality. But, as I've written elsewhere, I suspect that equality is no longer the real goal. Caltrate's transparent attempt to exploit recent advances in women's empowerment seems to indicate that the goal is domination.
If domination of society by men is wrong -- and it is -- then domination by women is equally wrong.
One blogger, who shall remain anonymous (at least here), posted this intriguing statement: "My 15-year-old daughter knows what NAMBLA is, and why it's so reprenehsible."
A response to this post says, "Good girl -- looks like you've raised an independent thinker."
Without making any judgment on whether NAMBLA is a good or bad thing -- an overwhelming majority of people believe it is worse than the Devil's Workshop -- how can a youngster who believes what 99% of the people around her think and say be categorized as an "independent thinker"?
Gives people like Galileo a bad name.
Leaving aside the facts that 1) Rosen was discussing Mitt Romney's claim that he consults his wife about economic matters; and 2) no matter how much work it is to raise children, that, in and of itself, doesn't qualify someone to be economic adviser to a president; the peripheral media frenzy that followed this dust-up was remarkable.
Most remarkable (and annoying) to me was the knee-jerk statement, heard from Republicans, Democrats, women and men, that "raising children is the hardest job in the world". (The unspoken yet universally-understood implication is that the child-raisers in this statement are moms.) Even President Obama told a TV station in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, "There is no tougher job than being a mom", thereby making it official.
The fact that no-one challenged this absurd claim reveals a spinelessness in the press and politics, and more importantly exposes a dangerous willingness to rubber-stamp any emotional position supporting women with children as if they were an endangered species.
I do believe that raising children is an important job, but the hardest in the world? Give me a (expletive) break. How about directing a company that runs food and medical supplies into war-torn Africa? How about administering an urban school system that is woefully underfunded and lacks critical community and government support? How about flying a jet aircraft with 380 passengers and crew through a lightning storm?
How about reality in public statements, and courageous people to call out those who abuse their privilege to speak in public.
(NOTE: all the jobs listed above can be, and probably have been, done by women!)
I don't know quite what to make of this. I mean, why not get rid of all the guilt? (Maybe there wouldn't be any Catholic left?)
On the other hand, if Catholicism is right in the first place, isn't de-guilting it hypocritical? Why not stand your ground until there's no-one left who attends services?
I think bullying is deplorable, as is any situation in which a person's status or self-worth is dependent on the suffering of others. I also think that bullying is a part of human nature in which otherwise weak individuals weasel their way into positions of power then take advantage of others for their own benefit. With that definition, all of a sudden we're talking about more than just the High School cheerleader who cyber-bullies the girls who are not part of her clique, or the stereotypical tough who extracts lunch money on a daily basis from the skinny kid with glasses on the way to school.
It seems only a matter of time before the aforementioned post-feminist moms bully knee-jerk politicians into banning (read: censoring) depictions of bullying in films and other media, as they have done with smoking and (in television advertising) alcoholic beverages. Lord, that would kill at least a third of the funny situations involving Nelson Muntz on The Simpsons (Fox TV). I doubt his character would survive. It might even doom the entire series! (Note that the main plot of "Bye Bye Nerdie" [11 March 2001] was a decidedly humorous take on bullying by new girl Francine, as well as Nelson and his gang.)
The call to stop bullying is emotional rhetoric, and is misguided. It is similarly pointless to call for an end to rape, child abuse, murder, indeed any human behavior, however heinous and despicable. Anyone whose goal is to "make sure this never happens again" is going to see it happen again, guaranteed. Trying to end behavior that is as old as humanity -- Cain killed his brother Abel very early in Genesis, you will recall -- directs our energy to futility.
What do we do, then? As for the perpetrators, we make sure they are appropriately punished. We also invest and engage in prevention strategies, not denying there is a problem, instead highlighting the consequences and offering reasonable alternatives.
As for the victims, we make it more important to prepare them to deal with the world than to protect them from it. For example, with bullying, we encourage the development of positive self-image in all types of children, athletic or clumsy, intelligent or thick, heterosexual, gay and Lesbian, lovely or plain, and we teach them strategies for communicating the response that bullying isn't going to work on them.
Oh yes, and we stop the vile media practice of glorifying the victim.
Why would the elimination of bullying be counterproductive? Because it would deny young people the opportunity of learning how to deal with bullying behavior. Make no mistake, there are bullies at every turn, in every social stratum and stage of life. Parents bully their kids, whom they regard as their property. Teachers bully students, a captive audience to say the least. Bosses and some co-workers bully their fellow employees, often because they are too lazy to work out problems in mutually-beneficial ways. Coaches bully their players, police bully members of the public (not just criminals, mind you!), drill sergeants bully their recruits. And extremists, both right and left, with media voices bully their listeners.
[added, 11 March 2012]: AARP Bulletin (March 2012, p.6) ran a story titled "Older Adults Can Be Bullies, Too", noting that "bullying also plagues senior centers, assisted living facilities and nursing homes". Between 10 and 20 percent of residents in senior care homes are mistreated by peers, according to Robin Bonifas, a gerontology expert at Arizona State University.
Put a stop to all of the above? It's not gonna happen. Prepare and educate thinking people to deal with (some of) the above, and support them when they do take a stand? It's worth a shot.
Consider just this example. If kids never develop the ability to stand up to bullies, we may lose the valuable services of the "whistleblower", that courageous individual who is willing to take great risks to uncover otherwise hidden wrongdoing. Most of the public seem to love characters like Norma Rae (1979 film), Karen Silkwood (subject of the film Silkwood, 1983), or Dr Daniel Ellsberg (the 1971 Pentagon Papers case); and there are many U.S. laws protecting whistleblowers from retaliation. Is this not standing up to bullies? Is this kind of courage and security of self not learned beginning in childhood?
Finally, where would the film industry be without portrayals of bullying? Virtually every film about Junior High school, or kids of that age, includes bullying as an important plot element; furthermore, it's often played for comedy and, in the end, we ultimately cheer for the underdog who gives the pathetic bully his comeuppance. That, alone, should be sufficient evidence that it's a basic human activity that's not going away.
[added, 27 September 2012]: After yet another weepy story about the effects of bullying on today's news, it came ever clearer to me that the widespread outrage over this centuries-old (and, yes, deplorable) human behavior has arisen along with the rise in the status of women in society, and, more to the point, the outrage seems directed to the bullying of girls much more than to the bullying of boys. (The bullying of girls, I hasten to add, is usually perpetrated by other girls.) There is no doubt this is a complex issue: the rise in women's status itself is a necessary and overdue development, though each and every aspect of that rise in status does not deserve a "free pass".
To the younger men: The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was a simple addition to the United States Constitution, first proposed in 1923 and, in 1972, passed by both houses of Congress and sent to the states for the required ratification by at least 3/4 of state legislatures. The deadline of 30 June 1982 mandated by Congress expired without the required number of ratifications.
The proposed Amendment stated, simply, that "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex." (It was followed by two sentences giving Congress the power to enforce the provision, and noting that the Amendment would take effect two years after the date of ratification.)
Yesterday in an interview he said he was against auto industry bailouts. He cited his own experience in Western Pennsylvania as the steel industry there failed in the 1970s, and now, decades later, it has turned out "just fine. The market is working like it's supposed to", he says, and the economy in the areas around Pittsburgh is stronger and more diversified than ever.
On the issue of the American family, however, he seems reluctant to let social trends -- the "market", as it were -- continue on the road to more diversity. Wearing his "social conservative" hat, he warns we need to "restore America" and return to what he sees as traditional, heterosexual, father-involved families. His argument is that this configuration would be good for the economy.
He is right to encourage heterosexual, father-involved families. He is wrong to discourage most other family configurations, including single-parent, grandparent-involved, two-woman or two-man parenting, and any other healthy situation in which young people are cared for and encouraged by older folks as they develop.
If we're going to trust the free market, then let's trust the free market (as long as we keep a close eye on those who would unfairly manipulate that market).
I often wonder what the response would be like if someone posted "Fred's Preschool and Nursery". The response, I mean, besides the visits from Child Protective Services and the calls from suspicious neighbors.
Victims' advocates with widely-broadcast and heavily sponsored television shows must be boycotted and shamed as hypocrites, hate-mongers and manipulative con-artists.
The people I'm referring to are often former prosecutors such as Nancy Grace (" Nancy Grace" on CNN), former judges like Jeanine Pirro, who is also a former prosecutor ("Justice With Judge Jeanine", Fox TV), psychologists like Dr Phil [McGraw] ("Dr Phil", syndicated with occasional specials on CBS), and pseudo-psychologists like the infamous Dr Laura [Schlessinger](Sirius satellite radio). (I refer to Laura Schlessinger as a "pseudo-psychologist" because her doctorate is in Physiology with a dissertation on insulin's effects on laboratory rats. She earned her Marriage, Family and Child counseling license at the University of Southern California -- gasp: my alma mater! -- after she began broadcasting advice on the radio.
One exception to the above is John Walsh ("America's Most Wanted", Lifetime Cable, after being cancelled from Fox TV in 2011 after 23 years on the air), as he is neither a former prosecutor nor a psychologist (or even a pseudo-psychologist). Walsh sadly lost his six-year-old son, Adam, to a kidnapper-murderer in 1981, and often reminded viewers that this was, at least in part, his motivation for hosting and promoting the show. He is, by his own statements, a victims' advocate for this reason. His anger and subsequent attempts at crime prevention -- or at least the punishment of criminals -- is understandable. Unfortunately, Walsh and America's Most Wanted used sensationalism and hype that went far beyond the show's objective, as stated on its Wikipedia page: "to profile and assist law enforcement in the apprehension of fugitives". They had to approach it this way, since the show needed to entertain people enough to ensure it would continue. (Yes, the public ate it up on Fox for 23 years, and still do on Cable.) Aside from the legally-required disclaimers about defendants being presumed innocent until proven guilty, the assumption underlying every featured fugitive on every show was that they were guilty, that they were the "bad guys", and that the "good guys" (i.e., law enforcement) needed the public's assistance to rid society of the scourge. Of course, many of the fugitives featured on the show were, indeed, "bad guys". The problem, as noted elsewhere, is that the sensationalism and hype leaves the impression on gullible viewers that the world is full of criminals, and that anyone charged with a crime is automatically guilty and needs to be taken off the streets.
These highly-paid media "athletes" routinely go far beyond helping and healing in their arrogant quest for ratings and audience share scores that keep their programs going. They represent a fundamental conflict of interest -- ethics and honesty vs self-perpetuation through sensationalism. They are not examples of constructive motivation. They capitalize on the defensive motivation of their viewers and listeners, enriching themselves in the process. Worst of all, they function as opinion-makers, shaping gullible people's attitudes at all ages and levels of development with their abuse of the staggering power of mass media.
If anyone needs further evidence that these people are popular figures, as opposed to serious professionals, consider that many of them choose to use first names after their titles: Judge Jeanine, Dr Phil, Dr Laura. This invites comparisons with Dr Nick [Riviera], an occasional character on The Simpsons (Fox TV) whose medical outlook is, well, less than serious. By comparison, the real doctor in The Simpsons fictional town of Springfield is Dr Hibbert who, like most reputable caregivers, uses his last name for professional purposes.
My critics and/or those who don't understand my positions fully may be relieved to know that it is compulsory heterosexuality that I oppose and despise as counterproductive (at best) and destructive (at worst). The term, by the way, was coined by Adrienne Rich in her essay "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence" (1980).
Since one of the tenets of compulsory heterosexuality is the assumption that all non-heterosexual expressions of sexuality are not normal, and since society is rather rapidly moving toward acceptance of gay sexuality, albeit a relatively narrow definition of "gayness", it may be time to revise the term to reflect today's obsession.
I feel the dysfunction of today's society is better described as "compulsory parenthood". In this twisted view, people can be gay or straight as long as they become parents before too much time passes in their lives. Symptoms of this malaise are celebrity adoptions, the slobbering attention given to famous people and their partners (including gay men such as Elton John or Neil Patrick Harris, or lesbians such as Rosie O'Donnell) when they add babies to their families, and the knee-jerk reaction of television audiences at every announcement of an impending or recent birth.
Starving children in third-world countries (including Appalachia and Brooklyn)? Most people couldn't care less. Young people reaching puberty and dealing with adolescence? Only criticism and fear-based jokes.
Rejoicing at a new birth is not the problem. Welcoming a new life is a good thing. Raising children is a blessing (and a responsibility). The problem is that society's obsession with children and parenting is so over-the-top that young people cannot help but get the idea that becoming a parent is an absolute requirement before they can make any claim to adulthood in Western society.
In a media-driven culture, this is one of the techniques used to keep the masses predictable (i.e., to maximize the potential for marketing and profit): take ordinary activities that everyone agrees are positive and helpful to society, then hype them to the point that average people -- especially young people still developing into adults -- assume there are no alternatives. Another key technique is to take the basic human drives, most notably sex, and simultaneously forbid them and sensationalize them.
Aside from notions like being productive and trying to stay out of trouble, any broad-based societal requirement that is presented as a norm that every growing person must conform to is potentially destructive. Such expectations discourage true diversity, and encourage only minor variety that is not far removed from the supposed ideal. Instead of all the millions of colors in PhotoShop's pallette, we get only various hues of green to work with.
Currently, there is an advertisement for Best Foods mayonnaise portraying a mom who looks very much like the Duchess of Cambridge (the former Kate Middleton), and a spot for energytomorrow.org with an announcer who is the spitting image of Hillary Clinton, complete with stringy hair and pantsuit.
There is no pithy point to make here -- it's just interesting.
The word "severely;" has never been more appropriately used. Let's hear it for Freudian slips.
This is either high farce or the contemptible efforts of otherwise worthless human beings to control the behavior of someone they have demonized. Note that Sandusky's trial has not yet begun and consequently he is presumed innocent for the moment. Yeah, right.
I would bet more money than I have that these "concerned citizens" are moms whose lives are as empty as their heads.
I realize that by writing a comment like this, I could be tarred with the same brush, in the fashion of labelling people as "Communist sympathizers" in the 1950s, so I'll make my position crystal clear (again): I don't condone child molesting, and I'm not trying in this particular case to suggest that Jerry Sandusky's alleged crimes should be excused. I'm just railing against the idiocy that would suspend his Constitutional right to due process and the well-established principle of presumption of innocence in favor of trial by media circus. Otherwise, why not just let the vigilantes loose on him, or create a new Klan with blue hoods and sheets (the symbolic color of child abuse victims) instead of white who can lynch cleanly, without the bother and expense of a judge, courtroom, and jury.
The sacraments of this new religion are Patriotism, Marriage, Children (particularly babies and toddlers), Sports, and Juicy Scandals.
The prophets (including the false ones) are the TV talk-show hosts, radio shock-jocks, and politicians. The martyrs are the endless parade of abducted and abused women and children, and the devils are the abusers, murderers, ponzi-schemers and money-scammers.
Omnipresent saturation advertising is the Holy Communion.
The Scriptures are being written even now and will contain the myths of larger-than-life figures such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffett, Oprah Winfrey, Rupert Murdoch, Hillary Clinton as well as Bill Clinton -- or whoever eclipses them as time goes on. Pointless or avoidable wars will be prominent in these (virtual) writings, and all of current and past history will be dutifully manipulated and revised as necessary.
A new set of Commandments are on the way. It's a sure bet that "Truth" will not be among them.
Oh yes, the Supreme Being. Surprisingly it is gender-neutral, and while it is the same the world over, it goes by a variety of names and symbols:
Does this mean that in today's world intense feelings about one's (traditional) God, or pride in one's country are wrong, or that we shouldn't love and care for children and fight abuse of all kinds? No, of course not.
What's wrong, and what makes the use of media an opiate, is the fanaticism of many who wear their religion and/or patriotism and/or parenthood on their sleeve. Why is such hyper-expression necessary in a society where neither religions nor national identity nor procreation are seriously threatened?
Let's be honest: overindulgent expression of patriotism or trumpeting one's religion or framing every conversation in terms of one's children (or grandchildren) is public "code" for the private feeling that We are better than Them and, in effect, They don't deserve to exist.
This is why we see videos of U.S. Marines urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters while commenting, "Have a great day, buddy."
Why do they need to do this?
One of the great crimes of our time is justifying customs (mores) and laws by those manipulative judgments of the past.
Someday, if I feel like it, I'll offer some examples.
Maybe it's just me, but talking about "cutting" in the context of urology makes me nervous. I wonder if I should speak to him . . .
Concerned men (yes, they were all men, as women were still struggling to get voting rights and other forms of equality) began to realize that, while girls were nurtured at home with family, boys -- especially those from families without a lot of money -- had to be prepared early to go out into the world and begin earning their living. This, of course, was the era in which Scouting, the YMCA and YMHA, and other boys' social organizations flourished. Father Flanagan founded Boys Town in Nebraska, and others such as Father Peter Dunne (Newsboy's Home in St Louis) and Cal Farley in Texas did likewise.
Advice for would-be men was appearing in magazines, newspapers, and in books such as the series produced by Rev Dr E.E. Bradford, a noted clergyman in England. I recently obtained one of his books of poetry, simply titled Boyhood and published by Kegan Paul in 1930.
I bring this up only to point out a reference that seems quite funny today because of changes in the language in the intervening 80-plus years. (I do, however, take the points made in Bradford's writing quite seriously, as I think today's split-second society has a lot to learn from him and the Edwardian and Victorian periods in general.)
I suppose the best thing is just to let the following poem amuse you by itself, without further comment from me. It is found on p.27, at the beginning of Chapter XV, "Worldly Wisdom":
In the meantime, however, every day of imbalance is a day too long. Attitudes become habit, and habits sometimes even become laws, and laws in most cases might as well be written in stone. I propose the following principles (and others in the same spirit, whether stated or not):
I may add to this list from time to time.
The bottom line of the Penn State allegations is this: if Jerry Sandusky abused one, or a hundred, boys in violation of the law, he deserves to be punished as the law provides.
In addition to the alleged abuse itself, the cult of football at Penn State may have encouraged delays in getting the alleged crimes reported, and may even have resulted in a cover-up. This means I need to state another bottom line: if officials at Penn State failed to meet their obligations under the law in this case, they also deserve to be punished as the law provides.
It is the understatement of the decade that the firestorm of media comment does not stop at these bottom line issues. That's because virtually everyone agrees that any individuals who broke the law should be punished, and stopping there would leave no material for the talking heads. The activite du jour of the past decade has been trial in the court of public opinion, a circus that often overshadows the more mundane and traditional trial in a court of law. Fugeddabout traditional justice.
Since this scandal allegedly involves children, women have been particularly vocal and, more to the post-feminist point, irrational in their comments, often rising to the point of rabid foaming at the mouth (the pun-metaphor is intended). Leading the pack (that pun also is intended) is Sarah Palin, who, in typical femacho style, said that former Coach Jerry Sandusky "should be strung up from the highest tree, and I'll bring the rope". The use of the lynching image is obviously only semi-serious, but since when did joking about the death of a human being become acceptable? Having gone this far down the slippery slope of "anything-is-permissible" reactions to child-adult sexual contact, we as a society are coming perilously close to approving of the death penalty in such cases. Of course, society can do what it wants to do. I don't think it really wants to be that insane.
I probably should restate the bottom lines: If Jerry Sandusky abused any boy in violation of the law, or if any Penn State officials failed to meet their legal obligation to report the events, they should pay the penalty that the law provides.
The firing of Penn State Head Coach Joe Paterno apparently goes beyond the bottom line. The real reason for his firing probably was the university's "cover our asses" attempt at damage control. Be that as it may, a number of commentators have supported his firing, some even calling him a "bad person" because, in their view, he failed to meet his "moral obligation". These people, one of whom was Whoopi Goldberg of ABC's morning show "The View", have every right to dislike Joe Paterno and to hold the opinion that he could have done more, but to use the reason of "failure of moral obligation" to support his firing is a dangerous stretch of legal logic.
Any "moral obligation" is a highly subjective value judgment that almost always has its proponents and opponents. If a "moral obligation" has no opponents, then it should be made into a law through the usual checks-and-balances process that removes the subjectivity. In any case. where "moral obligation" is the transgression, anything more than disapproval of individuals or the community is overreaction.
I, for one, believe that Joe Paterno did what was legally required of him (there seems to be no dispute on this point), and was fired unjustly. Said differently, I believe that Paterno had no "moral obligation" to do anything more than what he did in reporting the alleged crime to his superiors within the university.
Other comments fueled by outrage that smells like righteous indignation pushed the post-feminist envelope even further. When part of a telephone interview between sports broadcaster Bob Costas and the alleged child-abuser Jerry Sandusky was played on "The View", the co-hosts focused on Sandusky's explanation that he was ":just horsing around" with the boy in the Penn State locker room shower. Co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck fired back, as it were, saying that even that would be unacceptable. Star Jones, a former prosecutor (and former co-host on "The View") commenting on NBC's "Today", like Palin verging on the femacho, said that man plus boy plus shower equals handcuffs plus jail plus court -- then added, "And that's the way it should be."
Another "The View" co-host virtually shouted her vitriolic contempt: Joy Behar asked, "Why is [Sandusky] still out on the streets? He should be behind bars". Well, perhaps it's that little technicality of our legal system which guarantees the right to be "presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law". When and if Sandusky is proven guilty and sentenced to jail, I will then fully support Joy Behar's view. Until then, her view (another pun, I admit it) is frankly un-American.
These pronouncements, offered as if they were America's shared opinions, represent an attempt by women to make new rules that constrain the behavior of men. Any man still living who grew up before 1970 or so in Scouting or the YMCA or just the neighborhood swimming pool -- or, in some places, the ol' swimmin' hole in the woods -- will tell you, if they're willing to be honest on a subject like this, that men and boys horsing around, even sometimes in the nude, happened at least occasionally, and no-one thought anything of it, other than good, clean fun (once again, the pun is intended).
Men, once the fog clears and they realize what's happening, will resist and perhaps bring their lives back to the "good clean fun" that their grandfathers enjoyed. For now, women who aren't satisfied with equality but want control will continue to conjure up rules out of thin air, ignoring men's history (because they're unaware of most of it) and creating new suckers.
Men's liberation. What a concept!
It is not so much the paternity question itself, but the public's utterly hypocritical attitude toward it. Here we have a pop singer whose every song (except some on the recent Christmas album, perhaps) oozes seductive come-ons and thinly veiled sexual references designed to arouse the passions of young women (and, likely, a fair number of young men) to the point that they idolize him and, oh yes, buy his albums. A woman (who is barely three years older than he) then claims that he fathered her young child, withdrawing her claim after a suitable period of public discussion had passed and after Bieber said he would take a DNA test.
The public in a single, panting breath seems to defend Bieber as the paragon of driven-snow purity (he even claimed to be a virgin which, of course, is irrelevant at best, even if true) and at the same time demonizing the woman as a child molester if her claim is true, since Bieber is 17 and, therefore, by society's reasoning, not capable of sexual consent.
So, a baby-faced mid-teenager can sexually seduce (in song) his paying public and claim both virginity and victim status (at least until he turns 18) when someone is thought to have participated physically in his seduction. That's Western Culture in the media age, Virginia.
It is absurd that people on the public airwaves (radio, television) feel they cannot use a particular word in serious commentary or discussion. Granted, the above word used as an insult or epithet is deeply offensive, and people should be ashamed to use it in that way, on the public airwaves or anywhere else. The mere use of that word, or any other for that matter, in a serious discussion is a different matter, and suppression amounts to nothing less than censorship and revisionist history.
Dvořák's "Nigger" Quartet was known as such for the first few decades after it was written in 1893 because it was thought to be based on the music of the American blacks which the composer heard and appreciated during his years here. (More recent scholarship has noted that the rhythms and harmonies are also similar to folk songs the composer would have known from his homeland in Eastern Europe, so may not be based on American folk music after all.) The use of the original subtitle carried no negative connotation at the time. Changing the subtitle later to "American" probably was a good idea, but refusing to discuss its original name in today's culture is unacceptable.
As for the Barbara Walters "controversy", she uttered the word on her ABC program "The View" while talking about criticism of Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry (currently governor of Texas) for owning (or leasing) a vacation property that was originally known as "Nigger Head Lodge". It is well worth noting that Whoopi Goldberg, one of the retular panelists on the program, had said the same word in the same context just seconds earlier. Another regular panelist, Sherri Shepherd, hit the roof, blasting Walters for saying the word. She explained that when Goldberg said it, "it was fine", but to her ears, Walters "said it in a different way".
What rubbish. Rather than Walters having to defend herself -- which she did in a most elegant and low-key manner -- Shepherd should have been booed by the audience for attempted arrogant suppression of free expression in a serious discussion.
On the other hand, it was "good television" -- at least by today's abysmal standards.
I claim this as "wisdom" even though it was generated by my subconscious. I would have preferred to have come up with it in the daylight, so to speak.
The scenario of the dream was loosely related to a film I viewed yesterday, THAT'S WHAT I AM (2011), a parable set in a middle school (8th grade) in 1965 in which the basic dignity of students, as well as a teacher, is challenged because they are perceived to be "different". In the dream, I am an English teacher reading a book for my students, and the idea is presented there that 21st Century society is dominated by images presented in advertising, on the Internet, and by "produced" programs on television and theatres, unlike all previous history, when society was determined -- dominated, if you will -- by real people living in one's family and community.
If, as the dream suggests, Photography -- i.e., processed imagery -- is the architect of society, then the position and development of the individual in such a structure needs complete re-evaluation if that individual is going to survive as an individual.
This worries me, to say the least.
Several interviews with organizers and participants alike have focused on the status in today's society of the "geek", and the consensus is very disturbing. All seem to agree that, in the words of one woman, "Geek is the new chic."
Oh no! Are there no outcasts or misfits in society any more? Does everyone have to fit in? I've said it before regarding ethnic diversity, and I'll say it again in the context of geekdom: assimilation is 1) bad, and 2) the death of whatever is assimilated.
Sameness is oblivion. Differentness must be celebrated, blessed, and encouraged.
I don't know the original meaning or context of the quote, but somehow it has the hallmarks of being profound. (The show where I saw it has many, many such quotes and sayings, on T-shirts, on wall posters, coffee cups, and so forth. It's a very worthwhile [and fun] show all 'round.)
The owner of the Monroeville restaurant, Mike Vuick, does not blame the children, but believes the problem is actually the parents. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Vuick said of uncooperative parents, "their child, maybe as it should be, is the center of their universe, but they don't realize it's not the center of the universe."
Of course the problem is the parents, and the general reaction in the U.S. seems to agree. A poll on the Website of local Pittsburgh TV station WTAE found that 64% of about 10,000 respondents favor the ban on children. Predictably, in the station's reportage ( http://www.wtae.com/video/28509309/detail.html) news reader Wendy Bell said that the station had been getting "some phone calls from angry mothers out there" -- no mention of any fathers! -- and all the disgruntled parents mentioned or quoted in the story were mothers. One mother, Stephanie Kelley, said it was "an ignorant decision . . . I am offended. It's like you're being discriminated against because you have children."
Am I the only one who sees this woman's claim of discrimination as false logic? Parents are not being discriminated against. They are being scolded, even punished if you will, for their flawed skills as parents. And it is not the parents themselves who are banned from the restaurant -- only their (potentially) noisy kids are not welcome, so that everyone else may enjoy the dinner and ambience that they are paying for.
My idealistic (unrealistic?) bias would encourage change in a different way, as I believe children should be integrated in age-appropriate ways into the larger society as early as possible. To me, parents whose kids (of any age, not just under 6) begin to cause a disturbance in a public place ought to leave immediately and take the kid with them. (I saw this solution in action all the time, for example in our church, while I was growing up in the 1950s.) When this does not happen voluntarily, the management then should show them the door. The ban on children is an easier alternative, but a fundamental change in the parenting styles that predominate in the U.S. today is really the solution -- to kid noise in restaurants and a lot of other problems.
(As a postscript, I will say that America is not the only place where I have noticed this problem. At a very pleasant rooftop restaurant at a hotel in India last March, I had to ask the waiter to pack up my food and deliver it to my room, because there were kids running around as if it were a playground, and the management had not done anything about my first complaint. Ironically, it was [after about two weeks] the first really good Indian food I had found on that trip.)
(Information in this post is from the Associated Press and several Web sites.)
One's motherhood qualifies a person in only one area of expertise: motherhood. Of course, it is not the fact of being a mother than I object to, but rather the explicit use of that fact by women who try to use the phrase to their advantage. It is an unfair advantage. In order to "compete" with it, a woman who is not a mom must go out and become one. A man cannot compete with it at all.
If it's a politician, I simply won't vote for her (regardless of her other positions). If it's a merchant, advocate for a charity, or advertising spokesperson, I won't buy the product or service. Even an educator employing the phrase should not be trusted. Formal education is fundamentally different from child-rearing.
Every man -- and woman -- who sees the use of "Because I'm a mom" for the trick that it is should reject it and the mom who's trying "put something over" on us.
Another curious thing in a similar vein is the apparent fact (or is it just my perception?) that most, if not all, laws relating to child abduction or sex offenders that are named for a specific person bear the name of a female: Jessica's Law, Amber Alerts (California), Megan's Law are the ones that come to mind. It seems like the last time a boy was the motivation for a law or cause was in the tragic murder of Adam Walsh in the early 1980s, an event which prompted his father John Walsh to launch the long-running (and recently-cancelled) TV show, "America's Most Wanted".
I'm not saying the predominance of females in such news or legislation is wrong or inappropriate. It just seems strange that there is such an apparent gender gap.
Again, this could just be my perception, or the fact that I get my news from a relatively narrow spectrum of sources, or any number of other explanations.
I don't much like conservatives in general, especially those as extreme as Coulter, but I don't worry much about her, either. Like other extreme "commentators" on both political sides, her money is made by "preaching to the choir", which doesn't translate directly, as far as I can tell, to laws or social policy. The most obvious device or characteristic of her message that lets us know she's irrelevant is her use of ad hominem attacks. In her interivew on ABC's "The View", she referred to President Obama as "that beanpole in the White House", explaining when questioned that he's "tall and thin". This comment, and many others by her and people like her, is a result of her inability to control her own tendency to demonize rather than thoughtfully criticize. If one can get beyond her strident style and unrealistic assertions, she is easy to ignore.
I do listen, however, to what she says, and her appearances to promote her book have showcased her ability to tar her opponents with her own brush like never before. This is the old technique of extremists, who don't bother with truth, accusing the other side of doing, saying, or believing exactly what they, themselves do, say and believe.
(I must make it clear that I have not read the book, and am not commenting on its content, except as it was reported by Coulter herself and the interviewers I saw her with.)
Coulter's own summary of the book is, "The Republicans are the party of peaceful order, and the Liberals are the party of noisy, violent mobs.". When "The View's" audience (on the 8 June 2011 broadcast) heard this, they hooted and booed, perhaps realizing just how disingenuous the statement was.
In an interview with George Stephanopoulos on "Good Morning America", she claimed that "We [Republicans] don't elevate our leaders, there isn't a sort of Messiah worship -- a mob characteristic -- we're worried about being consistent, we aren't comfortable with contradictory thinking."
From Coulter's own Web site: "Their [i.e., Liberals'] myths, slogans, demands for immediate action, messianic goals, demonization of opponents, creation of political idols and occasional resorts to violence -- all this is classic herd behavior."
From the book publisher's website, they quote Coulter as writing, "Just as fire seeks oxygen, Democrats seek power", and pointing out "the left's demonization of its enemies and idolization of its leaders".
From the Los Angeles Times Web site, Carolyn Kellogg quotes the book publisher's website as saying, "Miss Coulter portrays liberal thought in America as the result of mob behavior, including such groupthink earmarks as the creation of messiahs; a fear of scientific innovation; myth-making; a preference for images over words; and a casual embrace of contradictory ideas."
The truth, of course, is that both sides are guilty of all of the above. For Ann Coulter to claim that she is describing only Liberals is manipulative in the extreme. Oh yes, I forgot -- she's a lawyer by training.
An amusing spoof is available, for those so inclined, at http://restoringtruthiness.org/2374/ann-coulters-new-book-was-originally-an-autobiography The article, titled "Ann Coulters New Book [Demonic] was Originally an Autobiography", claims (in jest) that the original content of the book shifted, but the copy editor failed to change the title.
And the beat goes on . . .
The lack of respect and support for the developmental stage of adolescence in Western society is appalling. Why is there no public outcry about this disgrace?
A Toronto couple, Kathy Witterick and David Stocker, decided when their third child was born on New Year's Day 2011, that they would not reveal to those outside the immediate family the child's gender. In their eMailed announcement, they explained, "We've decided not to share Storm's sex for now -- a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation." In effect, they're saying it's nobody's damn business -- and they're absolutely right.
It should not surprise me, or anyone, that the entire Western World has protested. (An NBC poll found that 11% supported the decision, 89% "thought it was a bad idea".) NBC and other news organisations have trotted out experts, including child psychiatrists, who say that the Witterick-Stocker decision goes against what we currently know about child development. The basic argument of the experts who object to this family's approach (and I've seen no psychologists/psychiatrists being interviewed who are in favor of it) is that gender is not a matter of choice, that male and female brains are in many ways different -- and characteristic of the person's gender -- at birth.
True, physiological gender is not a matter of choice, and male and female brains are different in some basic ways. What the "experts" are ignoring, however, is individual variation, the famous "bell curve". They are also failing to distinguish between physiological gender and gender identity. Unless we are prepared to call the world's transsexuals, "macho" lesbians and effeminate men freaks, we must realize that people whose gender identity trends towards the edges of the bell curve thrive when they're allowed freedom to be themselves, and suffer when society relentlessly pushes them into narrow boxes labeled "male" or "female". In fact, when society tries to box its children, all suffer, including those who otherwise would fit nicely into the boxes.
Now, here's the funny part. While interviewing an opinionated (and, in my expert** opinion, narrowminded) psychiatrist named Dr Harold Koplewicz, NBC showed this picture of the proud father holding Storm, while the mother looked on.
Was the strategic finger position intentional? One can imagine that these parents might just have that kind of sense of humour.
**P.S. Yes, with a doctorate in Educational Psychology (Child/Adolescent development), I can claim to be an expert on this subject.
One reason child predator laws keep getting proposed and passed and are so popular in the media and with the public is that "ordinary citizens" are able to criticise and in some cases control the behavior of other people, almost as if they are part of the law enforcement machine itself.
If you doubt this, just watch the talk shows and pseudo-journalism of commercial television in America and Britain when these subjects come up (and they do come up, nearly every day). When you hear someone talking about pedophilia or predators, just try to imagine that same degree of smug hatred used when talking about industries that pollute rivers, or televangelists who bilk millions out of their dim-witted followers, or health insurers and pharmaceutical companies that overcharge for every service and product they produce.
I'm not suggesting that everyone should talk about all forms of evil with smug hatred. My preference is that people who watch television and consume the news should demand more emphasis on constructive ideas and actions, positive human achievements, uplifting stories.
OK, I'm not holding my breath until this happens.
And what was his motivation? Hatred of Islam, according to his Web site ( http://www.doveworld.org/about-us). As a result of his action, I now hate him. Should I give him, or his church, the same treatment he gave the Holy Qu'ran? Or does the "golden rule" not apply to him? Oh yes, that same Web site is also littered with solicitation of donations to his enterprise. How crass and utterly contemptible.
Jones should be tried for treason, for putting our troops at increased risk in Afghanistan. As it was, a dozen or so innocent people in Mazar-i-Sharif and Kandahar were killed -- KILLED -- as a direct result of his action. He should also be tried as an accomplice in their murders.
I would like to get him in a dark alley myself, as I was travelling in a significantly Muslim country (Sri Lanka) at the time and, as an obvious American tourist, could easily have been the target of retaliation. To make matters worse, his name differs from mine by only one letter!
Here's what I recommend. Those of us who are outraged beyond belief at his unholy actions should charter a jet and send him and his 50 co-conspirators to Kandahar with bulls-eyes painted on their sorry asses, and let the Afghans who meet them at the airport have some meaningful target practice.
Gago: "My son's 28, you're, what, 40?"
King: "I'm 36."
Gago (with obvious disgust): "I'm driving around with a child molester."
Several things are happening in this exchange. Gago is using an emotional term ("child molester") incorrectly, to say the least. The fact that she could use, or would even think of such an epithet in the first place derives from the tendency of (Western) society to regard older and older individuals as still being children. Even in that context, however, a "child" of 28 is simply absurd. Also, there is no indication that he was under duress to participate, hence there was no molestation involved. Furthermore, it seems obvious that Gago's attitude is one of over-protection, not simple concern for her son's well-being. Even if the man is totally "whipped" (i.e., controlled by women, in this case his mother), this level of over-protection goes beyond the pale. Simply put, his mother has no business speaking for him here.
Most importantly, mass-culture, in this case the script for a television show, is furthering the demonization of a lowest-pecking-order group of people. This is not that much different from the routine beatings, even occasional murder, of those believed to be child molesters by fellow-inmates (often encouraged by guards) in prison settings.
Why should you care? Because -- depending on your politics or religious views or other peccadilloes -- you may be next (see entry for 8 March 2011, just below).
Some details: the sex offender in question is wealthy U.S. financier Jeffrey Epstein. There is no allegation or implication that the money was used for any purpose related in any way to children, sexual activity or the promotion or support of Mr Epstein's criminal past. The "problem" seems to be only that Mr Epstein is a "convicted sex offender", also known as a "registered sex offender".
The fact that these labels can be used to affect and, indeed, prevent business activities and other behaviours unrelated to any sex offense or other crime is not a big deal when considering the situation of one or two individuals, unfair though it may be in fact.
The problem for the wider society is this: Who's next?
When one type of social undesirable is allowed to be ostracised, demonised and, in effect, assassinated beyond any legally-allowed punishment, both history and mass psychology tell us unequivocally that other types of individuals or groups will be similarly targeted when their enemies -- in many cases "enemies" whose real motivation is that they can profit from their victims or from exploiting their victims' situations -- realise that the society is willing to turn a blind eye.
Today, Good Morning America featured a follow-up to an earlier story (a week or so ago) on "Tiger Moms", who bring up their kids under very strict rules, including enormous pressure to excel in school. The previous story and today's follow-up were reported by JuJu Chang, who says she, herself, was raised by a "Tiger Mom". She says she firmly decided that she will not raise her own children in this way.
Today's follow-up featured interviews with three teens, apparently of High School age (they each looked about 15) -- a female (Asian) raised by a classic "Tiger Mom", another female whose parents were described as "Hippies", and a male raised by "Helicopter Parents" (who "hover" protectively over their kids). Note that all three of these descriptions were used by the teens themselves. Note also that all three teens talked about their moms only, not a word about dads; and each teen rated her or his mom with an "A" or "A+" grade, indicating their approval of the ways they're being reared.
The core of the interviews, in my opinion, was when the interviewer asked the "helicoptered" boy about his social, non-school life. He matter-of-factly portrayed his mother as "protective" and freely described his limited social circle and his fear of going anywhere outside of home or school alone. His uneasiness in the larger world, he said, was because he always felt like he needed to be protected, to be watched. He did not seem troubled by any of this. By comparison, the young woman with "Hippie" parents said she felt just the opposite -- no fear in public and, indeed, an eagerness to "explore the world".
The fact that the lives of children with "Helicopter Parents", and even those with "Tiger Moms" (are there no "Tiger dads"?) can be pathetic has never been more clearly demonstrated. Bluntly, that poor boy is in trouble, I guarantee it. If he ever leaves home, he won't last a New York minute.
Immediately after the above-noted segment the network broadcast an advertisement for a new Disney animated film, to open in theatres on 11 March : "Mars Needs Moms", known in Britain as "Mars Needs Mums". (Perhaps its only saving grace is that it's in 3-D.) Our culture has gone beyond absurd. 'Nuff said.
And the absurdities just keep on comin'.
At the White House state dinner for Chinese president Hu Jintao on Wednesday, 19 January 2011, U.S. President Obama announced a minor, but crowd-pleasing agreement between the two nations to extend China's loan of several giant pandas to a Washington DC zoo:
Obama failed to explain just when children "graduate" into becoming visitors themselves. Age of consent? (16 in Washington DC) Age of majority? (usually 21) Age when they have to begin paying adult admission? (usually 12 or 13) When they're old enough to die in the military? (18)
The thing that bothers me the most is that Obama went for the "Awwww" response twice in one sentence: first children ("Awwww") and then pandas ("Awwwwwwwwwwww"). You can't get more condescending than that.
News Item (China Daily (online), 22 December 2010): A Dutch Website is under investigation by authorities after "pedophile hunter" Yvonne van Hertum claimed the site hosted exchanges of child pornography. She based this on information obtained when the hackers group Anonymous hacked the site some time earlier.
Without comment on the collateral issues, let's focus for a moment on the basic element of both stories: hacking a Web site without a warrant or other official sanction. In the first case, the hackers were the alleged criminals, in the second case, those whose Web site was hacked are the subject of criminal investigations.
A double standard which condones otherwise criminal activity when the target of such activity is a social problem generally regarded as heinous is the proverbial slippery slope. Today its use against "Group A" is allowed, tomorrow against "Group B", and down the line, people begin to realise that basic rights in a free society, once lost, are very difficult to get back.
With this in mind, why don't we see men with yarmulkes in television commercials? Why are there so few overweight people (except in weight-loss advertisements), compared with the high incidence of obesity that goes along with self-indulgent affluence? When groups of people are seen in print or television advertisements, why don't we see all-Hispanic, all-Asian, or all-black groups at least once in awhile? (For decades, and still today, all-Caucasian groups frequently are used.) Why are obvious gay or lesbian partners invisible when trying to sell products? Why do we so rarely see disabled people in commercials?
Besides simply being unfair, the lack of a diversity of people-types in advertising suppresses the flowering of diversity in the culture, and makes children who are different, or feel different from what they see, begin to question their own worth.
Everybody is missing the obvious solution: when a voice becomes too extreme, too strident, too violent for reasonable discourse in a civilised society, the supporters of that voice -- the people who agree in general with that person's views and philosophy -- need to speak up and complain and, if possible, point out alternative ways to express shared views.
At one point, when the students are out of the room, Bart's teacher, Edna Krabapple (voiced by Marcia Wallace), comes on to the new substitute in a very seductive manner. He politely declines her offers, saying, "I'm sorry Mrs Krabapple, you're very nice, but it's the children I love." Lisa overhears this from the hallway, and sighs happily.
Lisa confides in Marge (her mother) that she deeply admires Mr Bergstrom. Marge's response is to remind Lisa that Homer has good qualities, too. Lisa seeks out Mr Bergstrom on several occasions, speaks with him alone, and confides in him. Again, he always responds appropriately for a teacher, but it is obvious that he is not distant and uncaring, like most other teachers Lisa and her classmates have known. When the regular teacher comes back suddenly, Lisa is distraught that she may not see Mr Bergstrom again. (Remember as you read this that Lisa is not yet 8 years old. She celebrates her 8th birthday later in this second season.) She goes to his apartment house and asks the landlady where Mr Bergstrom is. The landlady tells Lisa that he is probably at the train station, and in the process expresses her own admiration for the man. Lisa says, "I see he touched you, too", and they both sigh.
At the train station, Lisa catches Mr Bergstrom just before he boards the train. Alone on the platform, they have a touching good-bye scene, with the teacher holding Lisa's hands, then hugging her. He gives her a note, saying that this is all she will ever need. "Goodbye, Lisa, honey. Just read the note." Lisa runs alongside the departing train, like so many romance movies of the 1940s, and Mr Bergstrom is gone. Lisa reads the note: "You are Lisa Simpson", it says simply.
The show's original broadcast date was 25 April 1991. That script could not be written for any American TV show today. There are so many things in it that the public just doesn't accept anymore. What a great pity.
[added on 15 January 2010]: Maybe I should start a list here of films or television shows that once were produced without question or comment, but could not be made today because of changed attitudes in society.
In addition to the 1991 episode of The Simpsons mentioned just above (and any number of other shows or situations depicted in that show over the years), I would add:
One of the minor reasons for suggesting this is that I'm just fed up with heterosexuals flaunting their parenthood, with every other comment being about what their kids had for breakfast, or how they got potty trained six weeks earlier than most other kids their age, and so on ad magnam nauseam. Parents who invest their entire worth in their kids are boring at best, and are almost certainly doing their kids, as well as their viewers who see them as role models, a very big disservice.
More importantly, openly gay and lesbian anchors on the morning programs would reflect the current reality of our social progress and provide the viewers some perspective on how to live differently. (The ability to live differently is going to be one of the most valuable, and vulnerable, human experiences of the next few decades.) It is not enough to have heterosexuals sympathetically interviewing gay celebrities -- as was the case this morning on the Today Show, when Meredith Vieira was interviewing Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir -- though this is definitely an improvement over the treatment of gays in the past which, in many cases, was silence.
It's time to take the next step. Without naming names (ahem, Good Morning America!), the first step could be for certain anchors who are already part of the show's lineups to let us know about their own gay identities, as many of us have suspected. Come on, networks, Get Glee!
People who are society's current outcasts, particularly those whose sexual behavior or preferences allows them to be demonized without any measurable opposition, know well how this cycle works, and it has been so throughout our sorry national history. So, apparently, a U.S. representative had to be shot, and several of her supporters killed as they came to meet and greet her, before it dawns on people that hate-rhetoric is uncivilized, and has grave consequences. This is both reprehensible and par for the course.
Note that regulation or censorship as a solution is not acceptable. Vocal opposition to hate-mongers, including boycotts of their sponsors and media outlets, will turn the tide when it is motivated by compassion and when viable alternatives to the vitriol are proposed and encouraged.
In one astounding example of just how mechanical people are with their ability to hate, one U.S. Representative (not involved in the Tucson shooting incident) on a talk show said -- and I will have to paraphrase, as I don't have his exact words -- that the level of hateful rhetoric on both sides [right and left] has to be toned down, even if this particular incident was not politically movated but was carried out by this deranged, evil monster [the alleged shooter]. In one sentence he calls for less-hyped rhetoric, and he demonizes the man accused of the shootings, even though that man might well have been delusional and insane. Only in America. Oh yes, also Britain, and, well, pretty much everywhere else where human beings haven't fully evolved yet.
It is such a common behavior that it was included as a plot element in the 1948 film, THE BOY WITH GREEN HAIR. Dean Stockwell, as Peter, would go walking with Pat O'Brien, as Gramp Fry, and everyone in town would ruffle his hair. Peter would frown, and pat his hair back into place. Of course, soon after, his hair turned green overnight, leading to the central theme of the film -- people's treatment of someone who is different.
I've noticed, however, that no-one ever does this with girls. I wonder why that is. I also wonder why adults ruffle boys' hair in the first place.
I think there's a lot to this -- folklore, psychology, maybe even some primordial needs -- but, like so many things that I don't know much about, I'm going to leave it there.
Under the section titled "Content", which is at the top of the page, I found their claim that the film had
(I presume any Christian would know the difference between "exclamatory" profanities and whatever the opposite is, as well as the difference between profanities and obscenities.)
I realize I'm losing my objectivity as I write this, so I'll just leave it at that . . . except to express my amazement that someone (probably a volunteer? I mean, what business would pay people to do this) sat in a darkened room with a tablet and pen, and counted up obscenities.
Oh, my God. It just hit me. What if they were wrong, and there were 12 profanities? Could they be sued when a child who has seen the movie grows up and, oh, I don't know, spits in the street or farts in a nice restaurant and blames it on her boyfriend?
* * * * *
Wait. Regarding the same Christian Web site film review mentioned above, I've just found something else -- something much more serious. The following statement they make begs for some comment:
The suffering they refer to is the physical abuse and aftermath that Bobby, the central character of the film, struggles with and, in his own way, overcomes. The Web site's statement, however, can be critiqued without knowing any of the background.
It's quite simple. Faith is itself a type of "magical thinking" that people use -- often quite effectively -- to solve their problems. Until the sovereign Lord can be seen, the source of power must be placed in the same category as Iceland's unseen Huldufolk, Ireland's leprechauns and any culture's ghosts. Medieval Christian revisionists, after all, made the "Holy Ghost" part of the trinity, so my association of these cultural traditions is not so blasphemous.
Oh yes, the point that "suffering is real". Yes, it is. My view is that almost any means of dealing with suffering -- including Christian faith, but not, by any means, only that -- is worth employing provided that it does not sanitize nor compound the problem, and the suffering person retains the benefit inherent in having suffered. (Yes, I said benefit.)
1. Be suspicious of every situation in which someone is trying to sell you something. In other words, always be suspicious.
2. I wonder if left-handed Catholics cross themselves "backwards"?
rockerdriver has added a comment in the blog below the video: "This will always be the most beautiful song in the universe! If not for Jesus Christ it never would have been written!"
First of all, it's not a song. Second, if it really will "always be the most beautiful", then why don't all composers just give up and become electricians?
Finally, "If not for Jesus Christ it never would have been written" -- Right, but if not for Jesus Christ, the Templars and other "Christians" wouldn't have slaughtered hundreds of thousands of people (mostly Muslims, by the way) in the Crusades that began in the 12th Century and continued through most of the last millennium.
Using Jesus as a reason (or excuse) for human accomplishments (or mistakes) works both ways.
Young people in their early teens -- 13, 14, sometimes even younger -- can be tried and punished as adults for serious crimes, The assumption underlying this barbarity is that "They are old enough to know what they were doing". Youngsters of the same age may not, however, say "Yes" in sexual situations. The assumption underlying this anomaly is that "They are incapable of giving informed consent". Quite simply, one of those ideas has to be wrong.
On a similar note, many in America vigorously resist sex education in schools and embrace the notion that persons under 18 -- or in some people's opinions, even older -- are "children" and, consequently, are not supposed to be sexual. Girls of 12 are being impregnated by boys of 13 (for example), in cities and rural areas all over the country. Quite probably, one of these scenarios is faulty.
Some in America hold the (blatantly ignorant) opinion that it is impossible for an adolescent to know that she or he is lesbian or gay. Gay and lesbian adolescent suicide rates are considerably higher than those of their straight counterparts. Quite obviously, one of these things has to be an illusion.
In the first place, I wouldn't have the motivation in that direction. Men today typically don't even consider that they could be teachers of young adolescents (my occupation in the first decade of my working life). What High School counselor would even suggest this option to a boy? That's a woman's profession.
Second, if I somehow were so motivated and could envision myself as a Middle School teacher, it would be exceedingly difficult for me to get a job. Again, the society regards teaching as a woman's profession.
Finally, if I ever did get such a job, I would be under much more scrutiny -- even suspicion -- than any of my female colleagues. "Why did he become a teacher?", would be the common whisper. "He must have ulterior motives."
Unfortunately, when the teaching profession is not gender-balanced, students and our society are the losers.
The customers learn to be satisfied with mediocrity. They should be learning (but probably aren't) that they are paying many times what it would cost them to make the same hamburgers and tacos at home. All this as they exercise their freedom (?) to become obese and dependent.
The employees -- mostly teenagers in their first job -- learn that work is not a place for creativity or individuality. They wear uniforms, for God's sake. They learn that self-expression is not welcome in the workplace ("Do you want fries with that?" is their script). They work ultimately for "The Man", as the counter-culture (no pun intended) used to say. They are the robots of today, as society waits for the truly mechanical ones to become affordable.
Fast food is a direct product of society becoming too big. The familiar franchises flourish worldwide, making literally billions of people feel more comfortable with social structures that don't even know that individuals exist. These companies, in their own self-interest of course, also serve to perpetuate this Super-Sized culture that long ago became too big for human consumption.
Have you ever noticed that the black hand is almost always the one in front (i.e., closer to the camera)? Go ahead, do a Google Images search on the simple term "handshake" and count 'em up for yourself.
Oh yes, and they are always men's hands.
The only point I want to make is that we must pay attention when clichés are used. They tend to manipulate our minds and push us away from diversity and into conformity.
It is difficult to find fault with a charity that helps children, but why do so many celebrities, news organisations, politicians and businesses choose them, and only a very few others, as their "pets"? What about other causes that one never hears about? Homeless men. Human rights violations (other than the celebrity-studded "Women's rights in Muslim countries" cause). AIDS and other diseases all over Africa? Persons (OK, almost always men) falsely accused of crimes?
This is not to say that the short list above, and many other worthy causes, do not have their supporters, nor that glamorous charities for children or any other cause shouldn't get their fair share. Of course they should. It's just that as I hear more and more famous people pushing their favourite causes, I begin to think (cynic that I am!) that they may be motivated more by the career boost, as well as tax benefits, of trumpeting their support for sentimental favourites like charities that benefit children, or finding a cure for breast cancer. Shouldn't we be equally concerned for people of any age who are in distress? Shouldn't we be lobbying for a cure for "all" cancer?
Turner Classic Movies and the Warner Archive recently made available In the Mood [aka The Woo Woo Kid](1987), which I've wanted to see on DVD for a long time. The film tells the true story of Ellsworth 'Sonny' Wisecarver and his troubles with Los Angeles-area law enforcement in 1944. Sonny is played artfully, passionately and believably by Patrick Dempsey (who was 21 when the film was released). Dempsey gets us on Sonny's side, and never lets us go! The film's opening narration sets the stage pretty well:
In Sonny's day, the weight of the legal system came down on him, as he was sent California Youth Authority (in effect, a prison for juveniles) where he was supposed to stay until he turned 21 (six years). The women he was involved with -- he married the first one -- faced charges related to helping a runaway. The first woman was given probation, and charges against the second were ultimately dismissed.
In the 66 years since Sonny Wisecarver's momentous 15th, society has done a complete about-face and, in my opinion, has gone far beyond what is needed to address even its own redefinition of the problem. If a Sonny Wisecarver ran away and had a sexual relationship with an adult today, Sonny would be regarded, perhaps even hailed, as a victim. The adult almost certainly would go to jail, and would be required to register as a sex offender, effectively a lifetime punishment. The harshness of the punishment and disapproval of society, moreover, would increase if the participants were both male, or if the liaison involved an underage female and an adult male.
Once more, let's take a look at the Sonny Wisecarver case: girls as well as middle-aged women swooned, boys and men expressed open admiration, and newspapers focused on quotations from Sonny's two adult partners that described him as more of a man than their husbands ever were.
My point has to be this: neither the hoopla of 1944 nor the overreaction of 2010 is an ideal social reaction to sexually intimate behavior between an adult and a mid-teenager. By the same token, such behavior cannot simply be ignored in a society such as ours. Perhaps a solution between 1944 and 2010, so to speak, is what we need. But how will our society's hysterical approach to such matters ever allow us to find it?
Postscript: To illustrate society's ambivalence between viewing this case as serious or frivolous, consider the taglines on the video release artwork, presumably from the mid- to late-1990s, posted at IMDb (click here to view the artwork; taglines are above the title and just below the photograph of the girl kissing Patrick Dempsey): "Lock up your mothers -- It's the Woo Woo Kid. He's more of a man at 15 than most men are at 35."
The fact that boys were used to tell the story seems completely natural and appropriate. On re-visiting my article now, however, it crossed my mind to wonder whether the same story could be told with girls as dramatis personae. The more I think about it, the more improbable the idea seems. Not only would it not work as an allegory, it would raise a number of issues never intended by William Golding, the story's original author.
What does this mean? Neither you nor I have enough time to consider that question. Perhaps an enterprising doctoral student might consider it as a dissertation topic . . .
Aside from the fact that this is another example of creeping "mom power", it is one further indication of our society's ambivalence about childhood itself.
Are teenagers children, or are they adults? 13-year olds pay adult prices at movie theatres and amusement parks, but in most areas can't drive until they're 16, can't buy tobacco or legally have sex until they're 18, and can't drink alcohol until they're 21. Much more importantly, teenagers and sometimes even pre-teens can be charged and sentenced as adults in criminal cases.
We really need to make up our minds about this. Children are not only unprepared to assume adult responsibilities when the time comes (if it ever does in our society!), but they are actively confused by their "handlers" about what adulthood means.
As for Trick-or-Treating on Hallowe'en -- ENOUGH RULES ALREADY. Let it be about creativity, spontaneity and (non-destructive) hooliganism, as originally conceived by those in the great beyond who only get one "night out" each year.
Recently I acquired a DVD of 39 episodes of The Jack Benny Program, a very successful and popular television show of the 1950s and 60s. (I must have seen some of the original broadcasts when I was growing up.) In a 1951 show, Jack's featured guest Dorothy Shay introduces a hilarious sketch in which Jack comes out with a group of his musicians dressed as hillbillies, along with Lynette Bryant. According to the www.tv.com/ description of a subsequent show on which Lynette Bryant also appeared, she was 10 years old at the time.
While Jack and the musicians ham it up, the girl stands there doing nothing. At one point in the sketch, Jack introduces everyone and, when he comes to her, he says, "And this is mah wife!" The audience erupts in hysterical laughter (and I fell off my La-Z-Boy). The line is nearly as funny as his legendary response when a robber demands "Your money or your life", and Jack says, "I'm thinking it over".
After the sketch, Jack brings the young actress out for a curtain call and kisses her on the lips.
It would be absurd to suggest that anything other than good, clean fun was involved in that spoof. Still, it goes without saying that such a joke -- the concept of any female under 18 (let alone 10!) being the wife of a 39-year-old man (!) -- would not be viewed today in the same way it was in 1951.
This simple comment instantly emasculates these young men, now in their mid- to late-20s, reducing their real accomplishments to the equivalent of childish attempts to please their mother.
SHE'S DEAD. Get over it, and give these guys the credit they deserve for inventing and accomplishing their own lives, without Diana's hovering ghost having to approve everything.
The great tragedy of my life is that (so far) I have never been a long-term resident of New York City. I'm jealous, Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg, and I have been ever since my first visit when John V. Lindsay was mayor.
As small consolation, I did see Marlene Dietrich live in concert once, and I shook hands with Jerry Morris (not on the same occasion). [An explanation of why the last item is important is available on request.]
Centuries have come and gone, and things have changed. Today, sadly, Islam is just as bad as Christianity.
OK. Let the death threats begin . . .
P.S. As Georg Brandes said, "It would be as impossible for me to attack Christianity as it would be impossible for me to attack werewolves." (Selected Letters of Friedrich Nietzsche, Brandes to Nietzsche, 23 November 1888)
Social networking is just one of many media-driven pressures on modern society to develop, think and behave in "acceptable" ways. This is part of the overall " dumbing down" of our culture that has been well-documented by Mark Bauerlein* among others, but the pressure toward conformity is more than mere dumbing-down, and much more serious.
Commerce -- the process of selling things to as many people as possible -- is ideally positioned to take advantage of these trends, as homogeneity -- sameness -- in the culture makes product development and marketing much easier.
But the individual is the (very big) loser.
*Mark Bauerlein. The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin.
I wonder if we've got it wrong . . .
This, as I've written before and will again, is very bad news.
Even more useful, religion of feelings that can vary from person to person is true religion. These various versions of religion are not always compatible. When they conflict with each other, the religion of feelings must prevail.
Islam, Evangelical Christianity and some forms of Judaism are examples of religion of rules. Unitarianism, the original version of Christianity and perhaps Presbyterianism and the like are examples of religion of ideas. Buddhism, Transcendental Meditation and study of The Tao are religion of feelings.
Some examples. Movies must have noise, special effects, and explosions, while those films with serious themes or well-crafted stories and characters have a tough time finding an audience.
Sporting events must have all the "bells and whistles" that once were novelties -- the seventh-inning stretch, the organ playing "charge", the "wave", the mascots -- or the fans don't think they're getting their money's worth.
People can put up with bad music (or maybe they don't know the difference these days?) at Summer outdoor concerts, as long as they have fireworks.
Tragic deaths are followed by candlelight vigils, and "spontaneous" memorials appear, consisting of cards, photos, candles, balloons, flowers and stuffed animals. The size of the memorial seems to be in direct proportion to the amount of publicity the tragedy has had.
Congregations in churches applaud at weddings when the groom and bride kiss. If this didn't happen, it seems the wedding wouldn't be complete and, presumably, would have to be done over.
Broadway and (gasp) even London stage shows fully stage, block and script their curtain calls. If anything should be left to the moment, it is the acknowledgement by actors of their audience's applause. On the contrary, the manufactured "spontaneity" oozes and drips from the performers onto the gullible theatregoers who, if they go again in a week or so, will see the same phony show of "gratitude". Gone are the days of the likes of Al Jolson, asking for the house lights to be turned up, and then, honestly and sincerely, interacting with the audience.
And popular music, all based on one or two rhythmic patterns and harmonic progressions of no more than three chords -- except Rap, which uses no actual music at all -- has for several decades been nothing more than entrepreneurs copying the real pop music geniuses of the past, like Michael Jackson and . . . well, Michael Jackson.
The solution? Teach kids to reject the ideas that (financial) success is everything and that copying what's been successful in the past is the path to greatness.
An SUV, its back door conveniently open, waits for him in the parking lot, and in a single, fluid motion he jumps in and shuts the door behind him. We see him arrogantly sticking out his tongue at his pursuers as the vehicle pulls away.
Guess who's driving?
Yes, of course, it's Mom.
About two-thirds of the way through the commercial, I said to myself, "Before this is over, the Mom is going to show up". Sure enough, for a second or two just at the end, Mom appeared in the doorway behind the boys, for no reason at all, serving no purpose.
I've discussed this issue before in this "column", but never before has Mom's omnipresence seemed more silly and pointless.
There is so much wrong with that concept that I can't even begin to comment.
He said, "Swing music represents a regression to the primitive tom-tom-tom. A rhythmic sound that pleases savages and children alike, the main effect is to narcotize them. It acts as a narcotic and makes them forget the reality. They forget the depression, the loss of their jobs, [and] all terrible things that beset them. It is like taking a drug."
And forgetting these things (temporarily) is a bad thing? No-one ever claimed, though Brill clearly is implying it, that Swing Music caused permanent loss of memory. Of course, the same things have been said about jazz, rock-and-roll, heavy metal and rap (though I must say that rap music deserves its critics).
Cut to inside the school, as the boy approaches his locker, pauses, then realizes he has forgotten his combination. He appears dejected, shoves his hands in his jacket pocket, and discovers something there . . . a packaged Rice Krispies Treat, on which is written his locker combination along with a smiley-face from Mom. The tagline is, "You're never too old for a little something sweet."
This is an example of child abuse, perpetrated for the sole purpose of making the mother feel better because her child is still dependent on her. (A common complaint of mothers is that they regret their kids can't remain small -- and dependent -- forever.) The abuse is subtle, and its detrimental effect will be felt years later, but it is abuse nonetheless, as it robs the young person of a critical opportunity to take responsibility for his own actions and solve a problem himself. If he doesn't learn it now, when will he? Or, more to the point, when will his mother let him?
The company (Kellogg's) shares responsibility for this type of abuse, as they are choosing to portray a mother's meddling in the development of a young adult as a recommended way to relate to her son and continue to feel instrumental to his well-being.
For this, and a million other reasons in advertising and elsewhere, you can just kiss American youth goodbye, as their future becomes more and more hopeless.
It seems now to be an idea whose time was not necessary. Except, consider this: what if someday in the not-so-distant future the trajectory of women's power in our society continues to the point where men might actually need such an amendment to retain or regain their equal rights.
Those sexist windbags who shot down the amendment (by a razor-thin margin) in its original form in 1982 might have wished they'd supported it when they had the chance.
In a discussion about Father's Day on the ABC network morning program The View (originally aired during the week of June 9, 2010 and re-broadcast today), co-host Sherri Shepherd mentioned that she had heard some little boys "moon" their mothers on Mother's Day. She commented that she would really like her son Jeffrey (who is five at the moment, born 22 April 2005) to do that. No-one at the table batted an eye. The only comment was, "don't you see his butt often enough?", which was spoken as a throwaway joke.
For anyone who knows what "mooning" is, you will also be aware of the sexual content of the act. For those who don't know what it is, let's just say that if an adult had a photograph of anyone under 18 doing it, he or she could be prosecuted for child pornography and required to register as a sex offender for life.
In other news, or rather on another installment of The View, which aired around 20 February 2008, the discussion was about women who go around naked in front of their young sons. The same Sherri Shepherd reportedly said, "I am flying home to see my kid, and I cannot wait to take my clothes off . . . right now [age 2] he just goes, 'mommy boobies', and he laughs".
This account was posted to The Huffington Post (www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/02/20/sherri-shepherd-i-cannot-_n_87603.html), and went on to say that Shepherd is not so liberal when the subject is fathers who might go around naked in front of their daughters, which she believes would be traumatizing. In her case, however, the blog notes, "My breasts do not traumatize my kid."
What, in God's name, is going on here?
So much for Disney® innocence, eh?
In my opinion, the kiss itself is a mere blip on the radar, remarkable only for the transparent attempt to raise eyebrows and, inevitably, get publicity for the performer.
The reporter's apparently unscripted comment, however, was what really caught my attention. He asked, rhetorically, if Cyrus might be a Lesbian -- so far, so boring -- but then went on to comment to the others at the news desk, "Can we even talk about this now? Is she eighteen yet?" The consensus was that she was seventeen (she was born on November 23, 1992, which, by my abacus, makes her eighteenth birthday later this year, so they are right), so it was inappropriate to discuss her sexuality.
Another astounding leap of logic in a country that never stops leaping. Give me a break. The young woman herself, and her promoters, made a conscious and deliberate decision to portray same-sex female sexuality in front of thousands and, by YouTube extension, millions of people. There is no other way to interpret a ten-second lip-lock in the classic ballroom-dance "dipped" position. We can bloody well talk about it, and her age is (or should be) irrelevant.
But what of this "new society" in which the child is the central focus? Is this conducive to healthy child development? Probably not, unless we are prepared to support a nation of self-centered, bratty adults who see themselves as victims, compulsively overindulge in everything from food to prescription drugs, and continue throughout their lives to seek the unconditional affection that was lavished upon them when they were children, then denied them from adolescence on. (See comments below, entered on Mother's Day, 9 May 2010, including observations from the late 1920s by behaviorist John B. Watson on this topic.)
In case the reader needs evidence that ours is a child-obsessed society, consider a survey published in an American regional magazine this month, in which women (the theme-topic of the entire issue) were asked to share their opinions on a range of topics.
"Who is your hero?" was answered by the following: 1. My dad; 2. My husband; 3. Oprah; 4. Jesus; 5. My children; 6. Mother Teresa; 7. Michelle Obama. Children as heroes for their mothers? This may be the ultimate narcissism.
"What's your proudest moment?" is perhaps the clincher for evidence of the child-obsession of today's women (i.e., today's society, as most men lack the cojones to question the trend): 1. Children and grandchildren; 2. Adopting children; 3. Children's college degrees. First of all, these are not so much moments as they are stages of life, but that's nit-picking. The fact that all three of the responses involved children is the key point. This is well beyond the borderline of obsession.
Other responses include these, to the question " What makes you laugh?": "The funny things that come out of children's mouths"; and "Children. Kids are so truthful and funny." (No further responses to this question were offered.) And the following solitary entry under the category, "Additional comment on the survey": "Be independent, but remember family comes first." Can they have it both ways? Furthermore, in a society as conformist as ours is today, what constitutes this independence that the survey is suggesting?
In fairness -- and hope? -- I should note that no claim to scholarly accuracy or a representative sample was made, and there was no indication of who conducted the survey, their methods or their credentials. Maybe this was just a popular magazine article, after all, concocted by the publication's editors and writers to present what they believed their readers wanted to believe. Yeah, right.
Then the news program where I heard the report mentioned the fact that she and her family had spent over $500,000 defending her. My reaction changed to outraged, which soon escalated to infuriated as I remembered just how easy it is for such charges to be brought against someone, especially a teacher, and how difficult it is for those innocent of such crimes to ever recover their lives anyway. HALF A MILLION DOLLARS!
All my adult life, I have believed that when a state or federal prosecutor chooses to bring a defendant to trial and then loses, the government ought to pay the defendant's legal fees, just as when the defendant loses, she or he must pay the penalty set by law for the crime. Such an approach, if nothing else, would certainly change the face of law enforcement in America, by making the state accountable for its prosecutions and, perhaps, for its occasional excesses and mistakes.
Half a million dollars. I just can't get over it!
When you get a little deeper into the idea, you begin to wonder why the "holiday", which is celebrated in many countries around the world, came into being in the first place. In ancient times, also in the Spring, goddesses representing women, such as Cybele and Juno, were honored in festivals, obviously in celebration of the miracle of procreation. The tradition as we know it, however, is relatively recent. Were mothers mistreated, or ignored, or forgotten about? Was motherhood considered menial, or taken for granted?
The marking of a special day of recognition for mothers developed around the same era as the dawn of feminism itself. My guess is that the grand subconscious of society began to feel that as industrialisation was giving more and more importance to work done outside the home -- in other words, "men's work" -- the roles typically ascribed to women needed to be highlighted. So far, so good.
In today's world, however, we must ask if we have gone too far, or continued the "Hallmark moment" too long. Recently I ran across an essay written by John B. Watson, the psychologist who developed the philosophy of behaviorism. As long ago as 1928 he observed that mothers were getting too much attention, and that this was encouraging over-mothering, leading him to use terms like "loving our children to death", and to warn that there are "serious rocks ahead for the over-kissed child". He also noted that public response to his ideas on this subject was emotional and widespread. Apparently the notion that motherhood was "sacred" had already taken root.
Like the necessary, righteous fight for women's equality in society and the essential, beneficial programs of affirmative action for education and jobs, pedestal-motherhood must continually be re-evaluated as the need for over-compensation wanes and the ideal, organic balance becomes reality.
As for Dr Watson's essay, it is from his book Psychological Care of the Infant and Child, New York: W.W. Norton, 1928, and was reprinted as "Against the Threat of Mother Love", pp.470-475 in The Children's Culture Reader, edited by Henry Jenkins, New York/London: New York University Press, 1998.
It was common knowledge in the 1960s, as black people (finally!) began participating in society as equals to whites, and not just their servants, that darker-skinned people -- especially males -- were less equal than others. Lighter skin was viewed even by blacks themselves as more desirable. What they really meant was that lighter skin was more acceptable within the gradually eroding prejudice.
It is astounding that such superficiality would still be evident today, but I use this specific example to highlight a much larger problem with mass advertising. The elements of each advertisement are chosen -- always deliberately with respect to every detail: there are no accidents -- based on the instincts of the agency people and available market research as to what is best for that particular ad. No thought is ever given to the broader questions of whether the ad promotes stereotypes or is representative and fair, unless of course the market research says that's important to selling the product.
The result is that we have relentless images of bumbling fathers and other incompetent men while women are cool and in control; girls, not boys, always win when the family plays board games; all romantic relationships are heterosexual; we rarely (if ever) see males in teaching or care-giving situations; and black husbands and boyfriends are virtually always darker than their partners.
This is not trivial. Advertising is more pervasive (I'd rather say intrusive!) than it ever has been in the past, due to instant, world-wide communications media. As children and teens develop, whether we like it or not, they learn most of their attitudes from these media depictions. It does not bode well.
(By the way, I use the term "people of color" because not all such folks are African American. Use of that latter term is just political correctness, which I don't bother with.
Of course, all human beings are people of one color or another, but the point I'm making in this journal entry requires a distinction between Caucasian whites -- who still, whether we like it or not, hold the power in Western society -- and non-whites.)
On 19 April 2010 there was a feature about "unschooling", a technique used by some parents in place of home-schooling (and in place of public or private formal schools) to educate their children through experiential and self-guided learning. (I'm not an expert on the topic, so please visit en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unschooling as a place to start if you don't know what unschooling is.) As he introduced the piece, host George Stephanopoulos unabashedly declared, "I think it sounds crazy". (So much for objective journalism, eh?)
On 21 April 2010, the same program had a feature about Jordan Romero, a California boy who happens to be 13 years old and is attempting to climb Mount Everest in Nepal, as part of his goal to conquer the highest peaks on each of the seven continents, and to be the youngest person ever to do so.
In both cases, the GMA host noted that people were questioning whether this was really "responsible parenting", including a moment in which Stephanopoulos held up a ream of paper, noting that this was "just some of the eMails" they had received on the subject.
Here's my response to would-be critics:
It's none of your damn business.
Who asked you, anyway?
Most of these people are doing what we used to call "preaching to the choir". Their rhetoric is not well-suited to winning over skeptics or those who are undecided, but to inflaming those who already believe to even greater frenzy of believing. I saw this kind of approach every Sunday as I was growing up, in the fundamentalist church we attended. These days political pundits like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, and radio-therapists like Dr Laura Schlessinger (is she still around?) are the cases in point.
I never quite understood why articulate people seem to waste their time explaining things to those who already agree with them, until I immersed myself in this particular dialogue (again, see below, 11 April 2010). It is now obvious to me that the best application of "preaching to the choir" is when you've got something to sell or, more to the point, an enterprise that needs the (financial) support of lots of people. For the church I went to, the more people the bigger the collection. For the abovementioned pundits, the better their ratings, the more star power (i.e., income) they have.
I'll call it the "hate state". Can you imagine the opposite? People whipping other people into a frenzy of liking each other, and tolerance, and getting along? I'm not holding my breath until that happens!
Clinton was highlighting the common practice of "demonization" in which opponents are marginalized and portrayed as less than human, unworthy to exist. "We shouldn't demonize the government or its public employees or its elected officials," he said. "We can disagree with them, we can harshly criticize them. But when we turn them into an object of demonization, we increase the number of threats."
In my lifetime, I've seen the technique used against Germans and "Japs" (World War II), Russians (1950s and 1960s "Cold War"), and more recently Moammar Qaddafi, Saddam Hussein, the Taliban, and most obviously, Osama bin Laden. And it's not just limited to government or foreign enemies. It's also used here at home in the so-called "culture wars" and has a long, despicable history. Blacks were demonized in the South well into the 20th Century, John Wayne shot Indians (in films) for very little reason, and Anita Bryant warned that homosexuals were corrupting our youth. Demonization is the mental transformation that leads to animal-rights activists throwing blood on women wearing fur coats, people killing abortion doctors, and Jihadists flying planes into 110-story buildings in lower Manhattan.
The fact that the radio-talk sewer, in the person of Rush Limbaugh and others, got defensive immediately about Clinton's words only proves his point. In a stunning perversion of logic, Limbaugh "warned" that "future acts of violence would be on the former president's shoulders". This is the Mafia threatening those who don't pay their protection that they are going to be hurt!
Demonization should raise a red flag for all of us. The person or group that resorts to this method of getting their way is the ultimate playground bully who is at once desperate and stupid. Causes that cannot be championed by discussion and reason deserve to fail, and it is the duty of those who value truth and fairness to see that they do. Thanks to President Clinton for pointing this out.
This kind of behavior regulation is absurd, and the Web magazine broadsheet ( www.salon.com/life/broadsheet/2010/04/06/student_professor_sex seems to agree. This is just another case of a corporation -- in this case, arguably one of the premier educational institutions in the world -- engaging in CYA ("cover your ass") tactics to avoid lawsuits.
The real losers here may just be Yale's students, who will learn that having the university protect and make decisions for them is more effective -- or at least easier -- than learning to protect themselves and make their own decisions. It extends the mistake our society already makes with adolescents well into the first decades of adulthood.
Oh yes, if you're tempted to think that I take this position because I think professors having sex with undergraduates is a good thing, then you're part of the problem. I've said (in writing) for years that we need to spend more time and energy preparing young people for life, and not worry so much about protecting them from it. Sooner or later, they're going to have to live on their own, right? Oh, wait. We'll always have lawsuits for our society of victims to fall back on, so maybe they will always be able to depend on someone. Unless they want to become lawyers . . .
One of our candidates for public office is promising to make the government run more like a business. I saw the same thing happen at the university where I studied and worked for decades.
For some institutions like government and academia, the logic of the "business solution" is a fallacy. The primary goal of the typical business is to make money. It follows, then, that if you can conform all the component systems to that one goal, you are more likely to make more money. Originality is encouraged only as it contributes to the bottom-line of measurable productivity.
The goal of a government or a school is fundamentally different. Those institutions must serve and prepare their component parts -- i.e., people -- to reach their separate goals, by nurturing and enhancing their individual and often very different strengths.
Running a government or school like a business may work, but it will change the nature of the government or school at its very core. Diversity and individuality will suffer and, in extreme cases, be lost completely. When you hear that politicians "waffle" on issues, or that academic freedom is in danger, you can expect that someone is pushing an "assembly-line" mentality.
Some people act as if society needs to be controlled, which is understandable when society gets too big even to comprehend. Such people are acting from a defensive motivation. Others act as if the most important thing is to encourage and facilitate. These people are acting from a constructive motivation.
Pushing a "business model" too far in a government or academic institution is more defensive than constructive.
(I first encountered the seminal and brilliant dichotomy of constructive and defensive motivation in graduate school, in the work of Stanford University professors Lee J. Cronbach and Richard Snow. For a developing and, in time, more detailed discussion of these constructs as I understand them, please see my essay on the topic, linked in the main menu of this Web site.)
Normally such a dry, technical paper would be read and critiqued primarily by scholars, but this one drew the attention of conservative talk-radio (in the person of Dr Laura Schlessinger, among others) and ultimately became apparently the first scholarly research to be condemned by a Congressional Resolution (H.Con.Res. 107).
In a particularly smarmy retraction under pressure, the American Psychological Association, which publishes the journal in which the article appeared, claimed that they may have erred in publishing the article, despite the fact that it went through the usual several-month process of peer review and met all editorial and scholarly standards.
After reading a slew of opinions, professional and "popular", on both sides of this controversy, I finally arrived at a clear, simple picture of what is going on.
No-one supports child sexual abuse. I don't. Yet I've always been puzzled about why some who speak out against it are so angry, seemingly unreasonable in their hatred, and so extreme in their views on what should be done to adult perpetrators.
I now see that their motivation really has little to do with child abuse itself. Their objective is to control the socialization of youth, from cradle to mid-adulthood. They see this as necessary to restore society to an ideal that they believe is being lost, but which may never have existed except in fantasy. Nothing less than "our entire way of life" is at stake in their minds, and they've learned that framing the issue in terms of the exploitation of innocent children is a way to further their agenda without measurable opposition.
Exploitation and abuse of children, and anyone else in society, is unacceptable. Paradoxically, high emotion and demonization perpetuates the problem by stifling thoughtful examination of alternatives and possibilities and creative solutions that otherwise would flow naturally from the culture's innate process of self-preservation.
Her inflection of "weird" left no mistake that she thought this was somehow unnatural. I could hardly believe that average, middle class people have come to the point where they can speak such an opinion out loud, without thought of being contradicted. Our society is in more trouble than I thought.
One of the most vocal opponents of the legislation, often expressing hatred himself in his rhetoric even on the floor of the House of Representatives, is Rep John Boehner (R-Ohio). His response to news of the violence that he may have helped create was that such behavior is "un-American". Don't be fooled. This is "code" for "right on, guys, just don't get caught". The hatred and violence, on the contrary, is very American, or more precisely, has become the American way to deal with many emotional issues. Anonymous hatred and threats is the unchallenged norm in issues such as pedophile priests or restrictions on sex offenders.
Among critics of the cowardly, hate-filled actions, the consensus is that hate speech and violence beget the same, and such behavior replaces, even stifles, reasoned discussion of different viewpoints by well-informed people. It doesn't matter whether the public is more or less evenly divided, as is the case with Health Care laws, or virtually unanimous in opposition, as is the case with child sexual abuse. Every issue needs full and open discussion, without those who have something constructive to say being intimidated into silence by thugs with bricks and blog-anonymity.
The issue of child sexual abuse is an emotional one for most people in our society. This includes America and Britain (but not so much the rest of Western Europe; they don't tolerate it, but also don't obsess about it). My own position has been posted on this site and elsewhere since I began posting on the Web: I advocate complete abstinence from sexual contact between adults and persons under the age of consent, as I believe harm to both parties is inevitable. I also advocate restraint when such behavior is discovered, since studies show that more harm to children comes from overreaction by parents and community than by the contact itself.
The expressions of the fringe I mentioned above go far beyond overreaction. Usually with protection of anonymity on a blog provided by an already-sympathetic Web site, they spew venom at their demons, human beings unknown to them except by reports in the media or "exposés" by religious or conservative-political leaders who are often well into mental illness themselves. It is not unusual to see near-illiterate posts that use words like "scum", "pervert", or "baby-raper". Some call for life imprisonment, others actually advocate a death penalty. Most insidious of all, many of the posts advocate the suspension of Constitutional rights, such as freedom of the press and free speech. This is simply, unequivocally, un-American. Sometimes the reports or exposes aren't even true. Sometimes, as in the case of U.S. Representative Mark Foley of Florida, the behavior, while it may appear sleazy, isn't even illegal.
Among the many problems these individuals have is that they seem to need to demonize someone else. They have an irrational need for a scapegoat, probably for insecurity or even guilt of their own. A hundred years ago, depending on the region in which they lived, their counterparts then thought blacks or the Irish or Hispanics were "less than human". Fifty years ago, it was homosexuals, Communists or atheists who were fair targets for humiliation and imprisonment. The vitriolic outbursts of these people are probably partly a backlash to the countercultural 1960s, and compensation for the fact that slurs against racial minorities, homosexuals, Communists and atheists are no longer tolerated by most of society.
As further evidence of their distance from reality, they almost always call for tougher and tougher laws, in order to "put and end" to the victimization of children. To any sane person, it is not a "news flash" that crimes, both mundane and the most horrible, will always be a part of society. If the cowards who simply rant and vent had any guts, they'd get together and creatively devise preventive strategies to minimize the occurrence of behavior they don't want to happen.
I encourage these people to seek professional help, and their families and friends to carry out interventions and provide support for their full recovery from the debilitation hatred causes. I also encourage anyone who is slandered by these hate-filled people to show no mercy in suing them for all they're worth.
It seems to me that moms have always taken care of babies and children. If this is true, then spotlighting it in this way can only be a subtle way of reinforcing the idea that men have no business interacting at all with children. It also implies that until she came along, nobody cared about children growing up at all. That lie ignores the contributions of men throughout history who have taken apprentices, or functioned as "big brothers", or simply befriended growing boys. In case anyone doubts this premise, Hollywood films of the 1930s and 1940s are full of such stories. (A list will be provided upon request.)
(I'm not ignoring girls here; in Western society before the 1960s, girls usually were cared for by mothers and grandmothers, within the family at home, until they were young adults and, typically, got married. I'm not saying that's the way it should be, but there's little doubt that it's the way it was. Girls without family support were much less common than boys left on their own, even in their early teens, to make their way in the world.)
Bullock's statement is doubly disingenuous, since her character in the film takes care of a strapping, late-teen athlete -- not a baby or child in any sense.
I won't put words in anyone's mouth. People say what they mean in acceptance speeches, and all I can -- or should -- do is observe and comment. I'm just looking forward to the day when the reference isn't "moms that take care of the babies and the children", but instead people will express their gratitude for "the women and men who sacrifice of themselves so that kids, whether their own or not, can have a better life".
Already we see two major differences between then and now: the girls and boys are seated separately, and the teacher is male. Of course, very soon, Tom needs to be punished again, and this time the teacher whacks him with a stick, in full view of the other students!
Throughout the film we are aware that Huckleberry Finn (Jackie Moran) doesn't attend school at all, and nobody seems to care.
Aside from the fact that corporal punishment is no longer a "feature" of schooling in Western culture, the other differences made me wonder which approach is better: the method shown in rural 19th-Century Missouri, or today's completely gender-integrated, compulsory-attendance schoolrooms with all-female teachers.
No answers right now, just food for thought.
Last week the cleverness was, "People say our church is full of hypocrites. It's not true -- we have plenty of room for more."
What they're saying, of course, is that there is room for visitors and new members, but it is easy -- and, I must say, tempting -- to read this as an admission that the people in many Christian churches are, in fact, hypocrites!
From now on this beats this
(He doesn't look too happy, does he? Oh, well.)
Happy New Year!
(P.S.: I'm indebted to the late, great Benny Hill for this idea!)
Are women as effective being role models for boys as men are (were)? The basic truth is that we don't know. As a developmental psychologist, I can tell you that there is almost no published research that answers the question one way or the other.
I first noticed this as a beginning graduate student in the early 1970s when some of the points I was trying to make in papers for classes needed research references. I couldn't find any, though professionals and ordinary citizens alike often expressed the assumption that a boy growing up without a strong male role model was missing out, at least, if not at risk.
My conclusion at the time was that the research wasn't being done because it was such an obvious part of the fabric of human life that research was seen as unnecessary. It seemed to be taken for granted that boys needed male role models duing childhood and adolescence, and girls needed female role models. The women's movement rightly pointed out that children also needed strong, effective images of the opposite sex, an idea which I supported (and still support) totally.
The shift was gradual, but over time women claimed that they could raise boys alone just as effectively as in a two-parent household, though external male role-models such as uncles or "Big Brother" program volunteers still were seen as desirable for boys' optimum development. Gradually this morphed into today's widely-held assumption that men are not needed at all as salient role models during children's development. This belief saturates movies, television and (especially) advertising.
As noted, in the early 1970s I assumed the research about male role models wasn't being done because everyone assumed they were necessary, either as fathers or in the form of surrogates. Today the research still isn't being done, and now I have to assume it's because it isn't politically correct to question the dominance of women in the raising and education of children.
I didn't anticipate a complete take-over of child-rearing by women, but I was well aware of the decline of positive male role models in society. Films were a great interest of mine, and as I learned more about film history, I noticed that they (perhaps predictably) were mirroring the deteriorating image and position of men, so I put together a survey of father-son relationships in movies and got it published in a popular British cinema periodical:
The title is a play on the words of Pete Seeger's famous anti-war (or pro-peace, depending on your point-of-view!) song of the 1960s, "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?". Reading the article again after 35 years is eerie and, to be honest, discouraging. I ended the piece with an optimism that was characteristic of my outlook on everything back then. I am sad to say that, while the deterioration of men's position has accelerated, the optimistic predictions of a turn-around "when society again finds its balance" are nowhere near fruition.
An interesting footnote to all this is that, when I entered my article's title into a Web search engine to see if it might come up as a "hit", it didn't -- but there were literally scores of pages of "hits" leading to articles written in the past two or three years that used the same title. Some of the articles are about deadbeat dads, others are about how difficult it is to attract men into the (Catholic) priesthood these days -- yes, those kinds of fathers! -- and quite a few make virtually the same points that I was making in 1974: the image of men has been suffering, and the development of boys is suffering as a result.
Recently, while researching some obscure movie shorts from the 1920s, I ran across the following letter among the correspondence of Mr Ivan Kahn, who was a Hollywood agent, talent scout, producer and director of the 1920s through 1940s. (He died in 1951.) I will let the letter speak for itself. Get ready!
[Letterhead:] Wheaton College "For Christ and the Kingdom" Wheaton, Illinois Office of the President October twenty-six 1937 Mr Ivan Kahn Twentieth Century Fox Company Beverly Hills, California My dear Mr Kahn, Your telegram dated October twenty-first has just come to my attention. I am very thankful to be able to inform you that we do not have dramatics on the Wheaton College Campus. I should consider it a disgrace if any of our graduates became moving picture actors, or actresses. I should be deeply grieved if any action of mine would be contributory to any such results. Our young people are not open to the sinister influence of your scouts. Very sincerely yours, [signed] J. Oliver Buswell Jr [President]
Today on Good Morning America (ABC-TV in America) there was a segment in which they looked back to the Fall of 1995, when Shannon Faulkner fought successfully to gain entry to The Citadel, a (previously) all-male military college in South Carolina. Shortly after her formal entry, she dropped out, citing a near-emotional collapse, a weight gain to nearly 200 pounds (which, by the way, she seems to have maintained as evidenced in her interview for today's program), and the fact that she was unable to form any friendships with other cadets.
GMA showed footage of the reaction of the cadets upon learning she had dropped out: they went running through the halls and courtyards of the institution, cheering and celebrating as if they had won the big football game. An article on the National Organization for Women (NOW) Web site (http://www.now.org/nnt/11-95/shannon.html) reports the sight (which they called "appalling") of "cadets cheering, hugging one another, riding mattresses across the floors and jogging through the streets in formation chanting 'We are . . . all male.'"
Such a sight may be appalling with respect to the deserved advancement of women in our society, but it also may speak volumes about how important it is -- or was -- to the people involved to be a part of a male-only structure. Without hesitation, it also begs the question of whether the women of Mills College, which still in 2009 is all-female (though they have co-ed graduate programs), or other similar institutions would have the same reaction if the situation were reversed.
Just how important have all-female or all-male social situations been to people who have been a part of them throughout history? I feel sure if we interviewed those still living who have had those experiences, they wouldn't have changed them for the world.
That doesn't make mixed-sex institutions wrong. But it does make us -- or at least me -- think long and hard about where our mixed-sex-mandatory society is going, and whether we shouldn't keep including some all-female and all-male options available.
There is no way he can receive any semblance of justice in this situation. Every aspect of the case is different today than it was then. The laws are different, the players (except for Mr Polanski, of course) are different, and society's attitudes toward men having sex with sexually mature but underage girls is different. True, it was a crime then and it is a crime today, but in the late 1970s a new response to this kind of crime was just beginning. Then society's attitude was closer to disgust while today it is well within the realm of hysterical hatred. That hysteria has put the crime, and its punishment, on a par with murder. It is common, for example, to read blogs or other internet postings written by people advocating execution for "child molesters".
If Polanski is returned to Los Angeles to meet his "justice", he likely will be judged and punished by today's standards, not those operational when the crime occurred, unless he can argue successfully his claims of judicial and prosecutorial misconduct. That won't be easy. Courts don't apply the same rules to cases of this type, reasoning that the crime is so heinous that judicial standards need not apply.
One more note: it is common to hear newscasters today say that Polanski fled from a charge of "rape" of a child. The truth is that the charge was "statutory rape" or, even more accurately, "unlawful sex with a child under 14". I'm not making the distinction to excuse the crime, but rather to criticise some members of the media for their all-too-common attempts to sensationalize their stories.
In recent interviews, the girl involved says she has forgiven Polanski, and has put the incident, which everyone agrees was unfortunate, far behind her. Los Angeles law enforcement should do the same.
Most current accounts of his life focus on his career as an organist. He played in theatres to accompany silent films, then that career ended when he was 16 with the advent of "talkies", which he said at the time "would never catch on"! In his later years he returned to silent films, providing the music for them once again at the Silent Movie Theatre, a Los Angeles venue dedicated to preserving the art form. In a remarkable full-circle, at his 90th birthday party at the Palace Theatre in Los Angeles in 2002, he played the accompaniment to Buster Keaton's 1926 film "The General" just 76 years after he did the same for the film's debut engagement in Pasadena. That party, by the way, filled the Palace to capacity. I was lucky enough to have a seat there for that memorable night.
In the 1950s he became the "house musician" for the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team, playing organ during games at the stadium for many years.
The real substance of Mr Mitchell's career, however, has to be the phenomenal success of his Boys Choir, variously called the Mitchell Singing Boys, Bob Mitchell Boys Choir, and other names. It began as the Choir of St Brendan's Church (Los Angeles) in the early 1930s, and soon thereafter was finding its way into Hollywood films. Mitchell's choir performed in over 100 films before changing times and tastes spelled the end of the organization in the 1980s.
There is no question for those who knew him even marginally that the Choir was his life's work. When I was a music student in the 1960s, I followed the choir for a year or so, learning more perhaps from observing their performances and rehearsals than any class I had in music education (which was my undergraduate major). They were best known for their movie appearances, but the life of the choir was much richer than that. I heard them in concerts at school and community auditoriums, at the Founders Church of Religious Science (Los Angeles), at Catholic masses, and at High Holy Days and regular shabbat services in Synagogues and Temples. I even attended a live radio broadcast over KFI in Los Angeles, a show they did in front of a live audience. Those days are long past, of course, but I doubt that any boy who ever sang in those select groups will ever forget them.
The obituary in the Los Angeles Times ends by noting "Mitchell is survived by several cousins". The Daily Telegraph (which incorrectly noted his death as being on 1 July) ends with the archaic code, "Bob Mitchell never married".
I am reminded of the ending of James Hilton's Goodbye, Mr Chips in which Chipping's colleagues from Brookfield boys public boarding school are standing around his death bed, reminiscing and remarking how sad it was that before his beloved wife was killed in the war (World War I) they hadn't had any children. Chipping comes briefly awake and, in perhaps his dying words, says, "Oh, I had children. Hundreds of them. All boys."
Such is the legacy of men like Chipping and Mitchell. They leave behind hundreds of lives changed for the better.
When Jackson's troubled personal life is discussed, people inevitably want to talk about what made it so difficult for him to find happiness. Jackson's own explanation is usually taken as the cause: pressure (including beatings) from his father to perform and the fact that he missed his childhood by having to work all the time.
Carole Lieberman, M.D. added another possibility when she, quite predictably, was asked to comment on one of the wall-to-wall coverage TV shows. She claims that Jackson was sexually abused as a child, because his brothers brought women back to their hotel rooms when the Jacksons were on tour together.
What? This has to constitute the weakest attempt to serve up a definition of sexual child abuse in the history of psychiatry.
No-one seems to care about the possibility of psychological abuse from making a 10-year-old sing lyrics about passionate heterosexual love years before he might be ready to understand it. This kind of mistreatment is common with young pop singers and actors. It is particularly abhorrent when we find out as they become adults that the youngsters actually were going to be gay all along. Why don't we ask Neil Patrick Harris, Jodie Foster, Clay Aiken, Ricky Martin, Chad Allen, Glenn Scarpelli -- all of whom are living openly gay lives -- or the dozens of other actors and singers who may or may not be out of the closet, how they felt about "playing straight" and by implication letting everyone assume they were, in fact, heterosexual. They should be angry as hell at their managers, and indeed at the public for requiring the charade.
I'm not saying Michael Jackson was gay, but he wasn't your garden-variety heterosexual either, was he? The point is that we should consider what effect it has on young performers to expect them to perform as heterosexuals long before they understand what that means.
By the way -- Carole Lieberman, M.D. was the expert witness who filed the first complaint with Child Protective Services that launched the investigation in 2003 that led to Jackson's 2005 trial. The concept of professional impartiality takes another major hit!
This morning, less than 24 hours after his death, it already seems to me that the inevitable is happening, that some higher plan is playing out the way it has to.
It is well known that many people whose lives make an impact on the popular culture die early, and that their death gives them a status in popular memory that they couldn't have had if they had lived a more normal lifespan. Think of James Dean. Edith Piaf. Martin Luther King Jr. Judy Garland. Will Rogers. Joan of Arc. Abraham Lincoln. Jesus. Elvis Presley. Then compare these with Katharine Hepburn. Al Jolson. Helen Keller. Norman Vincent Peale. Ronald Reagan. All these people are deservedly respected for their achievements, but those in the first group have an extra something often called "cult status", and several also had premonitions of their own end. Martin Luther King Jr, for example, in his "I've been to the mountaintop" speech to the Memphis sanitation workers the night before he was shot, told his followers that they would reach the promised land, even though "I may not get there with you".
I expressed these ideas in eMail to a friend the morning after Michael Jackson's death. Later that day, the media began carrying stories about Jackson's own premonitions of death, as reported by his former wife Lisa Marie Presley on her MySpace blog:
Years ago Michael and I were having a deep conversation about life in general.
I can't recall the exact subject matter but he may have been questioning me about the circumstances of my Fathers Death.
At some point he paused, he stared at me very intensely and he stated with an almost calm certainty, "I am afraid that I am going to end up like him, the way he did."
I promptly tried to deter him from the idea, at which point he just shrugged his shoulders and nodded almost matter of fact as if to let me know, he knew what he knew and that was kind of that.
. . .
As I sit here overwhelmed with sadness, reflection and confusion at what was my biggest failure to date, watching on the news almost play by play the exact Scenario I saw happen on August 16th, 1977 [the date of Elvis Presley's death] happening again right now with Michael (a sight I never wanted to see again) just as he predicted, I am truly, truly gutted.
Do people decide when they "need" to die? Suicides do, of course, but what of self-destructive abuse of drugs? What of those who ignore common rules of good health and smoke or drink excessively, or fail to get medical checkups? And what of those who qualify as "none of the above", but still, inevitably, die?
It is tempting, at least to me, to think that aside from disasters such as hurricanes, plane or car crashes, plagues and the like, something unknown, perhaps unknowable, inside us all makes the decision when it is time to leave this life.
Yes, I believe Michael Jackson decided it was his time, and I also belive that if he did, he had the right to do so.
Rest in peace.
This graphic usually is used as a school-crossing sign. (I've always considered it a bit sexist, as it apparently depicts a big boy guiding a smaller girl to school. It is difficult to imagine such a sign with a big girl and little boy, but that's a subject for another time.) In this case, I found it in the middle of the park, to indicate a walkway between the park itself and the parking garage.
An urban commentator had added a single word which redefines the people depicted as an adult man and a smaller woman, perhaps a child.
Urban commentators can express, often without being aware of it, the prevalent notions in society. With a few strokes of paint, we see that any man extending his arm to any female -- or perhaps any child -- is to be treated with suspicion, since it is common knowledge (!) that the only thing on his mind is . . . Well, you can read the sign.
Malcolm in the Middle episodes, for example, originally were 22 minutes long in their first runs on the Fox network. Sampler CDs distributed by Fox for Emmy consideration in Seasons 5 and 6 of the show (2003 and 2004) contain these full-length episodes.
The syndication on Fox and their companion FX cable networks had the shows pared down to 20 minutes 45 seconds, leaving 9-1/4 minutes (31%) of the half-hour slot for advertising. In April 2009, when FX began broadcasting the shows in their widescreen versions, they cut them even further to 20 minutes 15 seconds, leaving nearly 10 full minutes (33%) of a half-hour slot for advertising.
I realized this when I viewed episode no.129, "Mrs Tri-County", recently, and noticed that the brilliant ending I remembered was totally gone. In the episode, Lois participates in a "beauty pageant", and Reese, after reading the Judges' Manual, deludes himself into thinking he has a perfect face and decides to embark on a modeling career. In the end, a pageant "coach" informs him that the criteria noted in the Judges' manual apply to middle-aged women. "If you want to have a sex-change, come back in 20 years and we'll talk", the coach tells him.
The syndicated (read: mutilated) version ends with the family -- minus Reese -- around the dinner table celebrating. There is no mention as to why Reese is absent. In the original, the final scene comes full circle when Lois complains that Reese is sulking, and missing the celebration, after which we see Reese in the empty pageant auditorium, tears streaming down his face, picking up discarded roses, and fantasizing that an audience is cheering for him as a beauty pageant winner. (It's a brilliant bit of comedy writing, and an Emmy-worthy performance by Reese [Justin Berfield], in my opinion.)
Sometimes I think those who produce television shows, not to mention the writers and actors whose work is butchered, should herd the advertisers into a dark alley somewhere, and cut off a leg and four fingers from each one, to see if they can function properly without 30% of their bodies. They could, of course, but they wouldn't want to!
When I was an undergraduate in the 1960s, I wrote a piece of music as a setting for the words of a poem by Edgar Allan Poe. (Miraculously, the piece was performed in public.) Even that song was better than Rap.
Rap is not music. In most cases, it's not even the poetry that it could be.
Rap is garbage.
(Maybe someday in the future, I'll write more about how garbage, untreated and undisposed-of, is a health hazard. For now, I will just be satisfied knowing that the driver of the above-mentioned Lexus will be deaf in ten years.)
Speaker Pelosi said that she was thinking about Obama's mother, "what a great person she must have been to have taken this extraordinary talent, this highly intelligent little boy, and instilled the values and the discipline and the focus to become who he is, a person, again, with great intellect, great vision, a strategic thinker, good judgment and the eloquence to lead a nation and to give people hope".
This is pro-motherhood, sexist drivel. Even the Virgin Mary couldn't be credited for developing all these qualities in a child; moreover, if I'm not mistaken, Obama has said many times that his grandmother was influential, if not the most important caretaker, in his upbringing.
A statement like Pelosi's unfairly discounts the inevitable contributions of Obama's teachers, other family members, peers, and perhaps most importantly, those adults unknown (to us) who were his role models and mentors as he developed. He is, after all, not a sixteen-year-old, home-schooled debating champion. He is in his late 40s, having learned and developed what skills he has every step of the way, during most of which journey his mother was not a direct influence on his life.
I believe his mother would have been proud, of course; but responsible for his total character? Absurd.
Even an offhand comment by any of these people can set or modify behavior patterns for thousands, even millions, of people.
For better or worse (obviously, I think worse), they are today's teachers, community leaders, clergy, village idiots, parents, scoutmasters, shopkeepers and sages. Where these kinds of people used to be "touchable", i.e., immediately accessible in our communities and usually available for dialogue and clarification of their pronouncements, now all we can do is watch and listen.
We must learn to filter their input, even as we try desperately to reach within ourselves to draw out our own, true, unique way of being.
Not that she is one herself. Sarah Palin is about as far from being a feminist as the typical televangelist is from being a Christian.
These things don't mean that she shouldn't run for Vice President, only that she should be recognized as the opportunist she is.
I admire the ability of wide-audience writers to encapsulate complex ideas in this way. It's perfect in every way. Congratulations. I will buy his new book, Guyland, next week.
Continual stimulus from parents and approval for even the simplest things robs kids of spontaneity, builds dependency and inhibits creativity. These deficits surely will follow the children into adulthood.
Today, in a television commercial for Rice Krispies, a smothering mother is giving her preadolescent girl a bowl of the cereal as a bedtime snack. When the girl finishes the bowl, the mother says, "good job". How absurd. If that's the definition of a "good job", what could the mother possibly say to compliment the child if she built a treehouse?
We need to reject overprotection with the same energy that we use to protest neglect. Both are crippling our children.
(added 21 December 2011): This is not a new idea. Dr E.E. Bradford, in his 1930 book Boyhood (London: Kegan Paul), wrote:
No, No, NO.
If restraining and restricting paparazzi is justified at all -- and I think they absolutely should be restrained and restricted when they invade the personal "space" of celebrities or anyone else just for their own profit -- then restrictions should apply whether or not children are present.
This is another example of using children as an emotional device to modify societal behavior. This tactic needs to be vigorously ignored.
Whenever you hear the terms "family-friendly" or "kid-friendly" you should recognize them as code. People who are committed to "the establishment" -- often social conservatives, but not limited to them by any means -- have for decades attempted to exert their influence over others to try and control society so it doesn't seem so threatening.
The last couple of decades have seen the advent of their solution: claim that a particular type of behavior or social situation needs to be "family-friendly", and the problem is solved. Who can argue with the concept?
I can. Lots of adult behavior is objectionable, rude and self-centered, even anti-social at times. This doesn't necessarily mean that children should be sheltered from it. The concept of what is harmful to children has undergone a radical shift since the 1950s. For thousands of years before that, children experienced the world gradually as they grew up, seeing in the adults they encountered both positive and negative behaviors and learning lessons from both extremes. Can the wisdom of many cultures over many centuries be entirely wrong? Or have modern-day do-gooders finally discovered a foolproof gimmick to mold society in their desired image?
The control of society by forbidding behavior that is offensive only to a portion of the people doesn't work. The (thankfully) short-lived U.S. Prohibition laws proved that. The current movement to sanitize our society is, quite simply, an assault on personal freedom. The call for a "kid-friendly" or "family-friendly" world is just another way of marginalizing people in favor of what is perceived as "the majority".
First, stimulation. Where are the ideas about how to be different, and the value of being different, coming from? What credible role models -- not people hyped by the media, but real-life heroes of being different -- are available to today's youth? And where or when are the opportunities for discovery and experimentation?
The lack of opportunities leads into the question of time. More than ever, a person's daily free time is being filled with culture-approved (indeed, culture-provided) stimuli -- which is to say that free time is disappearing. Advertising appears everywhere, in every possible medium and format, and each unit of advertising draws some attention from the consumer who encounters it. This means that some time is consumed. A great deal of what used to be a person's free time -- i.e., time to be alone, to think, to dream, to plan -- is now taken up with electronic gadgets, most notoriously the cell phone, but also game machines, hand-held internet, digital cameras, devices that play (culture-approved) music, and so forth. The vast majority of the content of cell-phone conversations, MP3 music and internet browsing is drivel which merely occupies time, without contributing to the development or enhancement of the person who takes it in.
Perhaps most damaging is the trend toward entertaining education, that is, the use of media-inspired techniques of transmitting knowledge and learning to youngsters. ("Knowledge" here means facts, information; "learning" refers to critical thinking and other processes people use to make sense of the world.) Individuality takes its biggest hit in schools, particularly public schools.
It is assumed, perhaps correctly in the "MTV generation", that attention spans are short. Instead of using methods and curricula to help to lengthen those attention spans, to counteract the influence of the media that pervades all our lives, educators often pander to the shortcomings and use artificial stimulation to keep children's attention and, perhaps, achieve short-term learning goals.
I fear the long-term effects of these techniques and trends will produce some unanticipated, and very undesirable, results. As an educator it is distressing to say this, but I can see no hope for the majority of children in school systems. All I can do at this point is encourage parents with money somehow to find, or build, independent schools that acknowledge these problems and have strategies to counteract them, and in the process give their few, lucky students some chance at individuality.
Reject all ads that show people in obvious heterosexual situations, unless the ad is for wedding services or other services or products that are pertinent only to heterosexuals; reject the ads especially if the ad shows, or implies, that the use of the product or service results in enhanced heterosexual relationships.
Reject all ads that use children as a "device" to play on the emotions, grab attention, or try to convince you that the message is important because children are involved.
Reject all ads that show women being smarter, more clever, or more competent than men, or show minorities being more competent or successful than caucasians.
Now count up all the advertisements that are left, and calculate the percentage. It will be less than 5%, I assure you, perhaps a lot less.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with showing heterosexual relationships while adversiting your product, children are often an important focus of some ads, white people often are less competent than others, and women can certainly be smarter than men. The point is, however, that the situations outlined above are almost always the case, since each ad is created without regard to the "body of work" of all advertising, and the writers and executives who produce the advertisements always want to appeal to the majority consumer, or use the techniques that tug on the most effective emotional "strings".
The resulting image -- the "blueprint" for some as to what a human being is or should be -- is heavily unbalanced, and leaves any who might feel differently about themselves with doubts and a sense of inadequacy.
So, reading about the horrors perpetrated by Charles Manson in the 1960s, or the impossible achievements of Helen Keller (1880-1968), or the possible, but nonetheless amazing, accomplishments of William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951) all can give us insights into what we can do (or avoid doing) to make our lives a good example for future readers.
Caution: when looking at the lives of other people, famous or infamous, it is important to look at the larger context -- childhood development, social context of the time and place, successes and failures and how the person handled each, not just individual actions, achievements or failings -- as we evaluate what is valuable about their experiences and what might be usable in our little lives.
Also on the Obama side, critics are faulting him for his association with 1960s radical William Ayers. Their primary reasoning is that Ayers has refused to apologise for the positions he held 40 years ago.
I would not apologise for, nor renounce, any position I had at any point in my life unless I came to realise I was misinformed, or unless that position was taken for selfish reasons such as self-enrichment or conformity. Even when I might feel differently today, that was then, and to say I was wrong then judging by today's standards would be an insult to my integrity.
Of course, integrity means little to many so-called patriots today. Otherwise, they would see beyond the extremely short visor of "political correctness" and would realise, among other things, that in times like the 1960s -- yes, I was around then -- extreme resistance was for some the only thing that could penetrate the extreme suppression that was racism, sexism, class-ism and all the other mechan-isms that were designed to keep a few in power, and keep the rest of us down.
If extreme resistance then seems like terrorism now, here's a sober warning: history will repeat itself, with the many rising up against the powerful few.
Last week, the local paper had a nearly half-page picture of one of the current contestants, David Archuleta, and an article that discussed, among other things, the fact that he may be too humble for the competition. (To me, that would be a point in his favour. But that's just me!)
The article also mentioned a YouTube video of a performance he gave on television about five years ago, when he was 12.
In the song, he sings about his "girl", who left him, and he wonders who's loving her now. There is no way to avoid the fact that this is a sexual song, in both content and delivery. The singer is 12 years old.
I'm not concerned that a song like this might be inappropriate for a 12 year old singer. My concern is that it indicates a nearly-psychotic split personality on the part of the culture we live in. Society encourages and rewards children and young adolescents who portray themselves as fully sexual -- as long as it's heterosexual, of course -- yet descends like a ton of bricks on any actual sexual behavior that might involve these moppets or their friends. Besides being confusing to kids, this evil double standard destroys lives and families.
Apparently, this phenomenon is relatively new, beginning sometime in the last 40 years or so, but has come to the point where implied [hetero-]sexual references are required for a child singer's work to be marketable. No, Virginia, an astounding voice isn't enough!
The fact that the content must be heterosexual deserves a further comment. What about the sexuality of the singer? What happens when a boy or girl with a stupendous voice is compelled to deliver lyrics that express quite mature feelings about the other sex, but that singer is, or will be, same-sex-oriented? If you think it doesn't happen that way, think again, and revisit the early albums of Michael Jackson, or the songs sung by Ricky Martin and Menudo, or the album cut by the 1980s TV sitcom actor, Glenn Scarpelli.
This same question can be extended to acting roles, in which actors who become gay or lesbian adults must play heterosexual roles in order to get work. Suddenly the list gets much longer, including such brilliant performers as Jodie Foster and Neil Patrick Harris. I'm sure there are scores more, both famous and obscure, and in each instance, the child is forced to give up part of himself or herself. It's not that they have to play heterosexual roles, or "sell" a song about an other-sex relationship -- any singer or actor should be flexible enough to do that -- but that they have to do so while the public assumes they are "straight" themselves for as long as the deception continues. How many times have we heard a talk-show host asking a pre-teen girl actor, "Do you have a boyfriend yet?" I pray for the day when one of them finally says, "No, turkey, I'm a dyke and I plan to drive trucks for sport."
Child singers have been popular ever since the advent of mass-distribution recording devices in the early 20th Century. Virtually all of the artists were boys, except for one very famous girl, Mary O'Rourke, who had a long career as "Master Joe Petersen" until [s]he was discovered to be, by that time, a young woman. My research indicates that the subject matter of the songs recorded by boys very rarely involved romantic interpersonal references, focusing instead on religious themes, nature, community or friendship.
I'm not suggesting that we have to return to those days, though I do enjoy the sounds of those voices more than today's kids trying to channel the great Aretha Franklin or Elvis. All I can do is point out the mad discrepancy between how the society encourages kids to appear, and what the society allows them to do.
I've just seen the 21st Century take on that idea:
Isn't that great?
(In the spirit of "credit where credit is due", I found the above at http://www.ghisler.ch/board/viewtopic.php?p=135196).
Take a look at this Web document, then come back, and let's talk.
What we have here is an attempt to smear an entire collection of ideas -- those proposed by Judith Levine in Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex (Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press, 2002) -- by trumpeting the fact that one of the people whose writing Ms Levine quoted has been arrested on child pornography charges.
I'm not going to mince words here. This is third-grade logic. It's comparable to accusing the entire United States Senate of lewd conduct just because Sen Larry Craig was arrested for soliciting sex in an airport men's room.
This article reeks of the revenge mentality that produced it. It is obvious that the Concerned Women (through their spokesperson in this article, Robert H. Knight!) have hated this book from the day before it was published, and are jumping on the chance to criticise it with the ever-present tar-brush of "child pornography".
The fact that the writer quoted by Judith Levine was arrested does not necessarily mean that what he wrote is invalid. Even if that were the case, it would not automatically invalidate the many other points Ms Levine's book makes.
One big problem with the Concerned Women's approach to these issues is that they fundamentally misunderstand them. They believe that simply because the book discusses pedophilia without condemning it outright, that it is pro-pedophilia. I have read the book, I have met and talked with Ms Levine, and my assessment is that the book is not intended to encourage pedophilia. It is intended to encourage a more sensible approach to child development and nurturing by examining the harm we are doing to kids by over-protecting them.
An even bigger problem with Concerned Women for America and other groups and individuals like them is that the subtext of all their work is suppression of elements of society that don't look, feel and smell like "Concerned Women for America". Fifty years ago, these Concerned Women were complaining about how homosexuals were causing the Fall of our Empire, just like they did (or so they believe) in Ancient Rome. Many of them still believe this, though they are now disguising their hatred by campaigning overtime against "child molesters". A hundred and fifty years ago, these Concerned Women -- or their great-great-grandfathers, since women weren't really taken seriously on public matters then -- were warning that any freedom for "negroes" would tear our society apart.
My first reaction is to ignore these idiots, but instead, I will recommend that we ridicule them, expose them for the simpletons they are, and propose and implement positive and constructive alternative positions. I will try to do my part.
Scholars like those still exist, but with so many more people being educated in the modern world -- with the inevitable "dumbing down" of the content and nature of that education -- real scholarship and true academic freedom are in serious danger.
Another related aspect of this dilemma is the fact that the scale of the society we share is so much larger now than even 100 years ago. Increased numbers complicated by the advent of instantaneous worldwide communication makes many feel that control of this monster is more important than allowing any freedom of expression and inquiry. In other words, political pressure on scholars to stay within tolerable boundaries, even to produce results that support the status quo, is present and increasing.
This unacceptable situation needs a number of aggressive solutions. I will propose two here: one for implementation in middle schools, and the other for budding graduate students in university.
Middle schools, sometimes called junior-high or prep schools, teach children who are beginning to develop physically, socially and, most importantly, mentally. The early signs of special kids who could become creative thinkers, even philosophers and inventors of things and ideas, can be observed at this stage of development. We need to train and deploy special types of teacher/counselors in our schools who can recognize these signs and whose primary job is to foster and encourage and mentor these young people during this critical period of their development. And then student and mentor, master and apprentice, need the freedom to navigate their own course, and the support of the community at every turn.
What I'm proposing is a return to the methods of Socrates and the Medieval schools of art and A.S. Neill where the only things that guided a person's education were talent, originality and commitment. I'm not proposing this for all students. That would be monumentally counterproductive. But for those who would receive this kind of educative attention, we would have to agree that the freedom to be an explorer would dominate the process and that rules and regulations would be minimized.
As for scholars who aspire to education beyond undergraduate college, I propose that accomplished "artists" of the world of research -- and not only those affiliated with universities or other institutions -- get involved with those new scholars in a sort of recruitment effort, helping some of them find issues and develop projects that go beyond the minimum necessary for achieving a degree. I want us to generate research that moves us toward new insights, that proposes radical ideas (and then tests them for practicality, rejecting the failures), that assures the future of energetic, vigorous, and above all, free scholarship.
In both the middle-school effort and the graduate-student "recruitment", not everyone will be involved. Many students will still have an education that prepares them for routine jobs, and many graduate students will still do routine research and get their degrees to secure lucrative careers or enhance their status in jobs they already have.
Yes, I'm proposing the development of an elite here, rather like a coach nurturing a future Olympian, or a master musician guiding a protégé. This elite will need true academic freedom which, of course, comes with its own set of standards, checks and balances, since it is a community of scholars who both create and evaluate, and build upon the excellence of those who have gone before.
Make no mistake. This is essential. Without it those who would control and suppress will win.
***** Update as of March 2010 *******************
Apparently, the site has moved, or another site has taken up the cause:
Click here to read what the original site had to say, verbatim, complete, unedited.
The Web page asks for readers to sign a petition to require Amazon to "stop marketing molester materials". I regard it as predictable because 1) anyone can put up a Web site (that's one of the things that's so brilliant about the Internet), and 2) there are a lot of people who feel threatened by anything even remotely related to their definition of "child molestation". I regard it as insidious because, quite simply, it is un-American.
My comments have nothing to do with their antipathy toward child molesters. That position is defensible, and anyone who shares it has every right to hold the opinion and to publish, even advertise, their views.
My quarrel with this site is that its authors are attempting to deny to others the same rights that they are using to post their views and appeals. On top of that, they are using overstatement that often crosses the line into untruth. Finally, they have failed to mask the fact that their campaign uses the same ploy mentioned in my post from yesterday (see especially the cartoon), namely cloaking the issue in the guise of "Save Our Children", when the real goal, in this case, is to rid society of homosexuality.
This site is the Web-era equivalent of book burning and the Salem witch-hunts. It should be ignored. If their tactics weren't so harmful to everyone concerned, I would recommend reading it for a good laugh. These are people who, if our schools still offered them, wouldn't pass a high-school Logic course, and would never prevail in a by-the-rules formal debate.
Then yesterday, I happened to find an issue of our local university's student newspaper, in which a first-year law student writes about H.R. 1955, the bill passed by the House of Representatives in October which is now before the Senate. The bill would create a commission to investigate Americans who "adopt or promote an extremist belief system" for the purpose of "planning or threatening the use of force" in order to advance "political, religious or social change".
As the writer of the article points out, this is nothing less than a return to the 1950s House Un-American Activities Committee and the red-baiting led by the infamous Sen Joseph McCarthy.
By the way, the vote in the House to pass the bill was reportedly 404 to 6!, and only two of the current presidential candidates -- Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich -- so far have spoken out against it.
The idea of any sort of love (ερως [eros]) between teacher and student (pedagogical) will no doubt raise 21st Century eyebrows. The word can include sexual desire, but does not need to imply that. Even so, just taken to mean "romantic" or "passionate" (in the sense of intense) love, it still is cause for pause when the pair is a teacher and a student (of any age).
An interesting thing about the term is that the idea is by no means new, and, while it once was common for teacher and student to form a strong, affectionate relationship often lasting entire lifetimes, it is not at all common today. Before I go too far, let me say that just a few months ago I wouldn't have been able to approach an in-depth discussion of this topic. The reading I've been doing lately has been expanding my horizons in this regard, as I mentioned in the 16 January 2008 post. Even this won't be in-depth; the issue is still developing for me.
It seems that, if affection between teacher and student (and, of course, vice versa) was common in former times and is not now, it may just be a factor of the difference in scale. Much of the education of truly ancient times -- Greek, Roman, Middle Eastern, for example, before the First Millennium -- was carried out in very small groupings, if not on a one-to-one basis. Even more recently, the practice of apprenticeship, as well as the sociology of the boarding schools of the upper classes might still allow or even encourage closeness between the ones imparting and the ones receiving the knowledge. Henry James described the interaction this way:
The sheer size of the culture today, coupled with the fact of compulsory education introduced in the last (i.e. 20th) Century, probably makes emotional closeness between teacher and student a drawback, even a relationship to be avoided. Some critics of the Henry James story noted above, in fact, have carped that the "love" mentioned by James so often must be sexual, even though there is no overt hint of that in the story. Their criticism is probably due to the mistake of viewing 19th Century ideas and writing style through today's blinders (!).
The question remains, what are we giving up, if anything, compared with what students -- those fortunate enough to have the opportunity of formal education -- used to get?
I can relate one personal experience which doesn't answer the question, but certainly puts it in perspective. In 1984, the founder-director of a very famous, and very good, boy's choir was charged with molesting some of his group. (This was during the hysteria of the mid-1980s, which saw the McMartin trials in Los Angeles and the witch-hunts in Bakersfield and elsewhere, almost all of which proved groundless.) He assured the Board of Directors that he would resign if convicted, and he was, and he did, ending nearly 20 years of creative work. (He was, by the way, exonerated on appeal, but not after spending time in prison. The entire charge against him, by the way, involved a kiss on a boy's forehead, and patting a behind, football-player-style, for less than a second.)
Very shortly after the conviction, he conducted his last concert with the group. I was in the audience that afternoon, and the atmosphere was like no other I have ever experienced in a public venue. (Click Here to read the Op-Ed piece I submitted to the Los Angeles Times.) The music, while not flawless, was certainly world-class, and from the first note until the final, extended, standing ovation, everyone on either side of the podium knew the full meaning of just what we were seeing. It was the classic instance of "not a dry eye in the house".
While the audience was applauding, and weeping, the boys and young men of the choir, in an astounding and apparently spontaneous gesture, gathered around the director and hugged him as if he were their dying grandfather. No doubt that is very much how they felt. They knew they might never see him again. It was as vivid a display of pedagogical eros as I will likely ever see in my lifetime. That scene was the picture used the next day in the local newspaper report.
As I said, this doesn't answer the question of what today's kids might be missing, but for one group of boys and former boys (the lower voices of the choir were sung by choir alumni), they got training, life experience and, apparently, affection that they were reluctant to give up.
The trend in the delivery of education, at least to children and adolescents, for the last few decades has been toward making it an all-female business. We must have women as teachers. We must not exclude nor discourage men from this profession.
In the United States providing extra help to children from upscale families (i.e., those who can pay for it) has become big business. A nationwide company called Sylvan Learning Centers runs advertisements on television offering their services. I've seen dozens of different commercials for their services and not one shows a male tutor working with a student. It would appear that all Sylvan staffers are females. In addition, all of the parents portrayed in the ads as involved in the hiring or evaluation of Sylvan tutors, or receiving the good report cards from the children, are mothers.
This is unacceptable to me as an educator. I wrote a letter to Educate, Inc., Sylvan's parent company, which you can read by clicking here.
There has been no response, and the 100% female content of their advertising has not changed. Once more: female teachers are a good thing. An all-female teacher corps is not. Just imagine the outcry (justifiably) if men controlled education, and actively marginalized female teachers.
To me, one of the most interesting episodes reported in the Gospels was the occasion of the Christ family's Passover visit to Jerusalem when Jesus was 12. When the family left Jerusalem to return home, Jesus was not with them. Three days later, they found him surrounded by men in the great Temple. Here was a Jewish boy, about to become a man (at 13), discussing ideas with the Doctors -- some texts render the Greek term as "Teachers" -- and impressing them with his insights. Take whatever you want from this important story. Just be sure to remember it whenever you hear the nonsense that today's pre-adolescents are too young to think for themselves, and are not ready to make any of the decisions that affect their lives.
No, today's pre-adolescents are not Jesus, but like the whole story of Christ's sojourn on earth, this episode is a metaphor for human behavior, human interaction and, in this case, intergenerational respect.
To read the text here, click Luke 2:39-52
Also, many artists have rendered this significant scene. To access thousands of such images, click Jesus.
For most of my academic and professional career I've been struggling to understand why the socialization of boys is so bloody difficult, and getting more so all the time. The reason crystallized for me this afternoon: in the gradual movement of society over the past several thousand years into a much larger and much more complex machine, many rituals and customs associated with coming-of-age have come under suspicion or simply have been forgotten, often in a seeming effort to standardize the socialization of youth and control their innate enthusiasm. In short, they've thrown the adolescent out with the bath water!
At this point let me make it very clear that, as of this moment -- Saturday 2007.01.12 01:28 GMT -- the highly original phrase just above is mine, alone. If you use it without attribution, I will come and get you! I will explain it fully on these pages and elsewhere, and I will milk it for all it's worth. It's brilliant! if I do say so myself. For now, as to what it means, I'll just leave you with the [rhetorical] question: What ever happened to the genius of apprenticeship?
What we have to do now is re-visit all our knowledge about socialization in all cultures, even other species, throughout history, and separate what we're not willing to accept today from what will still work (and is desperately still needed). I accept the challenge. Put me in, coach.
I've been working on making an index for some very rare scholarly journals from the 1960s-1980s. This means, of course, reading -- or at least scanning -- each page looking for names, places and ideas to put in alphabetical order with their volume and page references, so that researchers can find information from the journals without reading through each issue themselves.
I've never done this kind of work before, and it's a revelation for many reasons. First, it's bloody time-consuming! But more importantly, it gives me a much different, and deeper understanding of the material than reading alone. In a way, I suppose it's teaching me a new way of reading.
Another result of this particular "exercise" is that I'm having another look at the era when the journals were published. I lived through that era and was pretty involved in a lot of the turmoil and ecstasy, but now I'm looking at it from the vantage point of 30-40 years later. In the articles that deal with the tactics of police and other official agencies against adults who had relationships with children, the details are nothing short of shocking. Leaving aside the eminently debatable question of sexual activity -- that's always a conversation-stopper -- if you just look at the police abuse of their power, suspension of the usual procedures that preserve the rights of suspects and witnesses, exaggeration and outright lying about the scope and nature of the problem, most thinking people will wonder how they ever got away with it.
It should be noted that public "servants" who abuse their authority, especially when it is for their own advancement or satisfaction, never really get away with it. Coincidentally, just a few days ago I was watching one of the late-night talk shows, and the truth of this situation was presented concisely by the actress Glenn Close, in her character Patty Hewes, speaking some lines from her television show "Damages" (2006-07 season), in which she is referring to the risks inherent in a woman threatening the power held by a man.
Worst of all, perhaps, is the climate of fear they created which remains to this day. Who suffers? Children, of course. During their childhood and adolescence, when their teachers, parents and mentors should be safely and gradually preparing them for adulthood, the establishment is "protecting" them, and keeping them insulated from the society which they will one day enter, totally unprepared.
While I agree with the following point, it is not my original idea; I read it several times in the journals I mentioned above, and will no doubt encounter it again: keeping children ignorant of life, their bodies, their potentials and their feelings until a "magic" age of adulthood -- whether it's 21, 18, 16, or whatever -- is child abuse and has lifelong negative consequences.
Geez, that sounds good, and the authors go on to make several points based on that premise throughout the book.
The problem is that this "famous phrase" isn't in the Constitution, it's in the Declaration of Independence! In fact, neither the word "pursuit" nor "happiness" appears anywhere in the Constitution.
I simply felt duty-bound to write them a letter and point out their serious error. Click here if you want to read my entire rant. You'll see that I asked O'Reilly if he could imagine someone claiming "pursuit of happiness" as a Constitutional right. I speculated that he probably wouldn't like that scenario. Understatement.
I am now up to Chapter 3 (page 15), but O'Reilly and Flowers already lost me on page xvi (the "Preface" section, which they call "Welcome") when they talk about a particular court case involving a teenager's rights to privacy, and they introduce their readers to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in this way:
What ever happened to:
I must say, however, that it has been fascinating. Many of the books on my shelves (or in boxes or drawers) I have owned for thirty years or more. Often, while reading those books, I would make notes in the margins or mark passages that were meaningful. To revisit those notes and markings has been both a trip back in time and a mind-expanding preparation for whatever writing and thought and conversation comes next. The perspective of thirty years or more is an enrichment of my experience that I simply didn't give much thought to. I'm eagerly looking forward to exploring that perspective.
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