April 19, 2010

Best for MY Kid!

"You'll know what's best for your own child."

Really?! Because I keep hearing that from various self-help people and even from nurses at the hospital. Also pediatricians. Maybe I'm just a hair on the old-fashioned side, but am I the only one who thinks that may be just a bit overplayed?
I'm trying to figure out where this comes from, because I hear it everywhere.

Look, I'll be the first one to cede the point that parents do spend more time with their children than anyone else (generally) and that there is a certain level of behavioral subtext and empathy that develops with that bond, but I'm also a firm believer in the power of expert knowledge. And yes, you may know your child better than anyone else does... but does that power negate the fact that you know jack about medicine other than what you read on the internet? And you want to tell your doctor in the face of the preponderance of evidence to the contrary and the combined knowledge of two hundred years of medicinal practice that vaccines aren't good for your kid? Really?!

This comes in under the same category as "I know my body" and all manner of psychobabble nonsense. I don't completely disregard the notion that a body's sensory inputs exist for a reason, but people are willing to put WAY too much emphasis on limited personal experience and anecdote for things ranging from self-diagnosis to all manner of hokum (*cough* Holistic Medicine *cough*) and hoodoo to the point where they're willing to ignore expert practitioners of the scientific process because it doesn't "feel right." Again, I'm not saying all doctors are perfect or even that there aren't agendas in play by various organizations (drug companies, for instance), but just being moron with an internet connection and access to Wikipedia doesn't make you qualified to pretend that you have an advanced degree and expertise in quantum physics, so why would you think that WebMD can make you a medical doctor?! Or a fully qualified teacher, for that matter?

Obviously, if you want to homeschool, I think that it can be done. And God knows that I've never made it a secret that I have almost no respect for the actual science of elementary education beyond basic crowd control dynamics. But at the same time, if you're not willing to give it the devoted time and effort that professional teachers do in terms of basic education, continuing education, pedagogy and subject matter expertise, why would you think that anyone would respect the fact that you "know your kids". I can know my daughter all I want, but that doesn't make me qualified to teach her French. First, I have to also know French... and well enough to TEACH it, at that.

Wow... this got long-winded and ranty. Circling back around, knowledge of one's kid(s) cannot replace subject-area expertise. It can yield a limited subset of results as far as the basic care, feeding and maintenance of one's kids, but for truly advanced results, see an expert.

Oh, and there's one quotation that I feel is rather poignant in this case... especially with regards to the true professionals in the practice of their trade. You see, your kid is a great kid, and I'm sure you love yours. I know I love mine. But let's not go pretending that your kid is such an individual that a pediatrician/teacher/obstetrician/baby furniture vendor has never seen one like yours before. Or...

"Listen up, maggots. You are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. You're the same decaying organic matter as everything else." - Tyler Durden, Fight Club

Posted by Vengeful Cynic at 11:20 PM | TrackBack

April 16, 2010

My Money's Worth

You know how most people had at least the occasional meal of bologna sandwiches and Koolaid during the summer when they were kids? It's like the All-American lunch. Except for me, because my mom was a health-food nut who wanted us to eat good, wholesome food. We weren't even allowed to have cereal with sugar in it like Frosted Mini-Wheats until I was in high school. So I kind of have this secret love of Koolaid and bologna, precisely because I was the only kid who had good healthy sandwiches and stuff.*

Anyways, the point is that I was looking out the window the other day and I noticed the neighbor kids were selling Koolaid. And here I thought, "man, that would be sweet!" and so I got a dollar worth of change (sometimes these kids can be real scalpers) and went to see how much Koolaid my modest fortune would buy. Lo and behold, $.50 bought me a whole Dixie Cup of standard-issue red Koolaid. And I stood there, surveying all that my riches had procured me and I sipped gratefully from my Dixie Cup...

And proceeded to spit it all over the street in front of the Koolaid Stand.

"Did you kids put sugar in this Koolaid?!"

At this point, the three fourth-graders looked askance at each other while the 7th-grade older brother of one of the kids laughed at them. Of course, not to be outdone, they all three attempted to blame the Kindergartener. And I wasn't going to let them get away with that.

"You mean to tell me that three 4th-graders can't figure out how to make Koolaid?! Maybe you SHOULD have left the Kindergartener in charge!"

Of course, at this point, I decided that this swill wasn't worth drinking without some sugar. "Alright guys, get me some sugar or I want my money back!"

"No way, man!" "Yeah, no way! All sales are FINAL!!" "Oh yeah, FINAL!"

Even the kindergartener got in on the action. "FINAL!!!"

Do I look like I'm going to get pushed over by a bunch of elementary school kids?!

"Last chance, guys... or I'm going to drive away all of your business."

"You couldn't do that!"

Just watch me. You see, I had some signs that my neighbors (the parents of these very same fraudsters) had placed in my yard to encourage people to honk at my house to celebrate my new daughter. In fact, two strips of duct tape and a cut-up box later and I had myself a little protest sign.

And so I marched back outside and picketed the Koolaid stand that had ripped me off with a sign that read "This Koolaid Sucks!" That's right, I was picketing a kids' Koolaid stand. You've met me, right?

Of course, the kids were livid. "You can't do that!" "Yeah! This is private property!" "I'm gonna go tell on you."

I reiterated my demands: "I want a proper glass of Koolaid or a refund, take your pick."

"We're not doing that!"

"Very well then, the protest continues." And so I walked up and down the street in front of their stand for about a minute while two of them ran off to tell on me. Unfortunately for them, my neighbors thought this was hilarious. Yeah, that's right, my neighbors are awesome.

When they returned defeated, they had an offer for me. "If you stop protesting, we'll give you a new glass of Koolaid."

"I believe that's what I've been offering... so let's see the glass."

At this point, one of the less ethical ones piped up, "You need to pay us another quarter."

"You little thieves, I'm pretty sure you're not even paying for the freaking Koolaid, the sugar or the water!"


I hefted my sign as if to return to my appointed rounds and they finally capitulated and filled me up a new Dixie Cup. And so it was with pride in my heart and Koolaid in my belly that I returned my sign to my garage, where it awaits another dishonest sales pitch in the neighboring front yard.

And to be fair, given that they're not quite bright enough to make Koolaid, I can't help but think that another unintentional scam is on the horizon. I just hope they don't try to make something tricky like lemonade.

*That said, my mom never bought us American Cheese, and I thank her for that. I mean, why would you want to eat plastic cheese?! It tastes like plastic!

Posted by Vengeful Cynic at 11:06 PM | TrackBack

April 09, 2010

Tangents and Asides

Upon further analysis and because Facebook comment threads suck, I thought I would do some further parsing of tangential things that keep coming up in relation to my thoughts on National Guilt:

First off, no matter how many good things your culture is responsible for, if there's something reprehensible attached to it, that's what you'll get remembered for.* The case of Nazi Germany is perhaps unique in this insofar as there's a clear line of demarcation as to when "Nazi Culture" began and when it ended and even a rather unique departure from "traditional" German culture as regards that, but a closer look isn't quite so black-and-white. I mean, it's not like Hitler invented antisemitism, the notion of eugenics or the concept of white supremacy... and as far as things like segregating Jews to ghettos goes, that sort of thing had been practiced in some form or another (in Germany and throughout Europe) for centuries before Hitler showed up on the scene. Hitler just took it from a nasty part of an estimable culture (much like it being a dark spot on of Martin Luther's noble character) and turned it into a defining feature of the culture.

I suppose that the same thing could be argued of Southern culture, with the pointed note that, as Wilson noted, while slavery didn't define Southern culture, it underpinned the society upon which it was based and created the very culture celebrated when people reflect upon the Antebellum South.

Now, in his long and rambling screed (and no, Spiff, looking at my original post I can't throw rocks), Mr. Camperman touches on the notion that a cultural touchstone (such as the Confederate Battle Flag) can be reclaimed and altered by future groups to mean a different thing, and I think I'm of two minds on that. On one hand, there are any number of Eastern Religions whose imagery was tainted by Hitler's co-opting of the swastika who would certainly like their imagery back and justifiably so... I mean, all of them were held in great contempt by Hitler and hold no truck with his party; why should he get to undermine a symbol of their religions. Also, some Eastern European noble families had it on their coats of arms, and they too would probably like to remove some of that ugly symbolism, unlikely though that seems. On the other hand, it's not exactly like anyone was using the Confederate Battle Flag for something inoffensive and peaceful before the Civil War. Due in no small part to the inextricable linking of slavery to the cause of the Confederacy, it seems very unlikely to me that attempts to reclaim it would be successful. Of course, this sort of thing is further complicated by the fact that those who would desire the Confederate Flag to be less controversial and more representative of some fictional idealized "Southern Culture" aren't the only party trying to utilize the flag to further an agenda and the other parties are perhaps more visible and likely to capture headlines what with their white hoods, robes and burning crosses.

Caleb touched on a point about this nagging need to revisit the Civil War that contrasts heavily with the perspective of Northerners and I think that it meshes well with Wheeler's notion that the Civil War is something of an anathema insofar as a great deal of the history written about it was dominated by the perspective of those who lost the war. In my stay in the North, the majority of those with whom I have interacted at an educational and cultural level seems to reflect a Lincolnesque mindset regarding the Civil War, that is, to the Northern mind, the Civil War needed to be fought to maintain the Union and it was a travesty that it needed to be fought at all. There was nothing grand or noble about it and certainly nothing to remain fixated upon... it was something more to be mourned than celebrated. By contrast, I think that in losing a war, I think there's a need to feel as though something was being fought for. Many have drawn parallels to Vietnam (which I cribbed shamelessly), and I think it's an apt comparison. In Vitenam, when that war is mentioned, according to the sources I've read, it's just the last in a series of repressive colonial actions that the Vietnamese felt they had to resist. This contrasts with the American account of the war where there is a memorial enshrining those same "colonial repressors" as heroes.** Now, getting back to the South, it is interesting how all of this washes with the fictionalized version of the Antebellum South and the whitewashed version of States' Rights that seems to reappear any time someone feels as though the Federal Government has gotten out of hand.

In the end I'm sure there's far more to talk about on the main notion of National Guilt, these asides notwithstanding. That said, I'm more than happy to discuss the actual details of the individual cases which could/should inspire National Guilt. And sadly, I think I've glossed over both the Inquisition and the French Revolution, but I guess we'll get to those some day.

*It's like that old joke: "I built most of the bridges in this town... spent years doing it and you never have to get your feet wet crossing a creek, but they don't call me Bjarn the Bridge-Builder. For that matter, I also placed at least half of the bricks in the city wall... never had an invasion since we finished it, but they don't call me Bjarn the Wall-Maker. I even saved a group of children from getting eaten by wolves, but they don't call me Bjarn Wolfsbane. But you get caught in flagrante delicto with one goat..."

** And I don't want to get into the "support our troops" argument, because I don't want to take anything away from the men and women who fought and died for their country, but at the same time, it's hard for me to respect something like Vietnam where American soldiers were asked to fight and die in a war whose very existence is cause for a debate of Just War Theory.

Posted by Vengeful Cynic at 01:39 AM | TrackBack

April 08, 2010

National Guilt

Note: this is unedited, raw from the top of my sleep-addled mind... caveat lector

Moving to Texas was a real shock to my system. Really, for any number of reasons, but primarily due to the change in social context. You see, I'm a Yankee... and with the exception of my brief stopover in Longview (6 1/2 years in exile), I've never lived south of the Mason-Dixon Line. And, perhaps more tellingly, my education up until that point had all been carried out in states with a very clear view of who was Right and who was Wrong as regards the US Civil War. So you could imagine my surprise when I arrived in Texas and there were people running around with Confederate Battle Flags all over the freaking place.

I don't know that the shock of seeing that really ever wore off... because where I came from, that thing was about one step short of a Swastika... and I can see the justification.

Yes, yes, I know... "the Confederacy stood for a lot more than pure inbred, racist slave abuse... the North's hands were dirty also..." I'm aware of the arguments. And really, it's not an apt comparison, but it's the closest I can get.

Of course, that got me to wondering: What did the heirs of other defeated causes do? I mean, it's not like the Germans and the South were the only two groups with some rather appalling moral baggage attached to them who lost a war. What about Imperialist Japan? South Africa?

And of course, that leads to still further scratching, because it's not like people going to war in the name of absolutely morally reprehensible causes is a new thing. I mean, look at the freaking Crusades: "we're going to kill the current occupants of Israel because Jesus used to live there... never-mind that was 1000 years ago and he lived there during an occupation by a pagan empire... we want it now!" Not to mention the whole business of the Fourth Crusade where they somehow managed to sack Constantinople.

But at the same time, almost nobody is really wringing their hands about the Crusades or the Terror of the French Revolution or the injustices perpetuated by Bloody Mary. Is there a Statute of Limitations on National Guilt? And what is it that drives countries like Germany to be inhibited to such an extent to where they actually limit free speech as regards their national guilt and ban the imagery of the bygone institution, whereas in the US, certain elements celebrate it? Actually, this sounds like it would be a great deal of fun as a study in Sociology. I mean, Historiography of "Revisionism" notwithstanding, how do people overshadowed by this sort of thing react and why is it so different from place to place?

But so far as the notion of national guilt is concerned, I take no shame in cribbing these remarks of Richard von Weizsacker, President of West Germany as perhaps the most productive I've ever seen:

We need and we have the strength to look truth straight in the eye–without embellishment and without distortion. ... The greater honesty we show in commemorating this day, the freer we are to face the consequences with due responsibility. …

There is no such thing as the guilt or innocence of an entire nation. Guilt is, like innocence, not collective, but personal. … The vast majority of today's population were either children then or had not been born. They cannot profess a guilt of their own for crimes that they did not commit. No discerning person can expect them to wear a penitential robe simply because they are Germans. But their forefathers have left them a grave legacy. All of us, whether guilty or not, whether old or young, must accept the past. We are all affected by its consequences and liable for it.

I really have to agree that there is no such thing as a national guilt, but only individual guilt. And what's more, it's probably a good and honorable thing to acknowledge the sacrifices made by the grunts in the trenches in the name of God and Country, regardless of the nobility of the cause that God and Country called them to. I mean, after all, there is the alternative of something like Vietnam where, to all appearances, the cause itself wasn't particularly good or noble... and look at what a failure to honor those who suffered and died did to this country.

But at the same time, I think the Germans have a point in their banning of the symbolism and paraphernalia of Nazism... because there IS a difference between honoring the sacrifice of the men and women who tried to do their duty, between honoring those who did the best they could with what they knew and believed in their hearts at the time and with glorifying institutions like the Confederacy which, in the words of Ulysses S Grant, fought for a cause which was "one of the worst for which a people ever fought.”

And I just noticed the date that he gave them: May 8, 1985 ... the 40 year anniversary of the surrender Nazi Germany. Which, unbeknownst to me, means that I was married on the 60th anniversary of that rather auspicious day. Not sure what to make of that... but there it is. And I suppose I should note that the nutjob Governor of Virginia set this whole conflagration off, but I don't really think he deserves credit for anything other than returning these notions to the fore of my mind.

Posted by Vengeful Cynic at 12:33 AM | TrackBack

April 07, 2010

Grokking Babies

So, imagine you're a computer science guy and that the things that happen to you are supposed to be a logical (or at least, predictable) result of the things that you do and the things that you observe others doing. This carries the most weight in the land of computer programming, where you write programs and they do what you tell them to. Of course, in real-world dividends there are good examples as well... such as the stork whom, if you pay him a certain sum of money he will, having been correctly bribed, deliver a baby roughly 9 months later. In the same fashion, computer programs, properly fashioned, will do what you have told them to do. And, unlike storks, if they don't do what you expected them to, there are error logs and outputs that explain what you actually told them to do and how they faithfully carried out your erroneous instructions.

On the other hand, you have babies. I should point out at this stage that I have no doubt that there are a great number of varied inputs into my poor little daughter's brain between me and my wife and her own internal processes of "I'm hungry", "my butt is wet", "my tummy hurts because I have to fart and nobody will smack me on the back to work it out" and "that big ugly man is nice and warm and I want him to hold me to make me warm." Oops, I almost forgot, "those mean people are taking away my warm, well-padded diaper and exposing my butt to the cold air! I hate that!"

The problem is that while the inputs are many and various, her output is somewhat binary: either she's crying or she's not. Well, that's not exactly fair... she can be crying, screaming bloody murder, crying while making sucking motions with her tongue out, sitting quietly with her eyes open or sleeping. The problem is that the outputs don't map directly to the inputs... in fact, I'm beginning to suspect that even an indirect mapping would be something more happenstance than reality.

Now, I know that some of you are going to point out that as a member of the fairer sex, I shouldn't be demanding logical correlation and causal relationships between inputs and outputs ... and you'd be right. But at least, however unreasonable, grown women can send mixed signals that don't send chills up my spine (usually) and consist of more than screaming, crying and making faces.

Others will correctly point out that given the neurological and physiological development of my daughter, I would be somewhat unreasonable to demand reason and/or cogent communication... and I suppose I have to agree. The problem, gentle reader, is that though I may agree that my daughter, while an excellent specimen of 2-week-old baby should not be required to transcend her already excellent developmental accomplishments, it still doesn't do anything for my state of mind that she can't seem to correlate inputs to outputs in a manner that I can understand.

Come on Grace, write it to a log so Daddy can analyze it. Actually... when you put it in that context, I think I'm looking at this all wrong. I blame the test tools for failing to properly analyze the baby output. This is all the fault of my co-workers for not programming proper baby output analysis.

Posted by Vengeful Cynic at 12:59 AM | TrackBack