Even as a child, I was vaguely annoyed by the LEGO kits that allowed you to recreate something you’d seen on TV or in the movies. The greatest thing about LEGOs is that you can use them to build anything your imagination can create. Castles, cars, airplanes, you name it: If you had the blocks and a mild spark of ingenuity, you could do just about any damn thing you pleased.
But the LEGOification of every aspect of popular culture is, in many ways, the exact opposite of the triumph of imagination. This ideal asks you to take something endlessly changeable and shove it into a tiny mental space already dominated by every other facet of popular culture. It’s a perversion of the LEGO ideal, a slap in the face of everyone who grew up tinkering with their building blocks in the hope of creating something new and exciting, something just for themselves or their friends.
Also, if you could get off my lawn, that would be great.
Sonny Bunch, “Knock It Off with the LEGOs, Jerks”, Washington Free Beacon, 2014-02-19
February 19, 2014
February 13, 2014
In the Washington Post, Jacob Sullum illustrates the weird disproportionality of the sentences handed out to child porn offenders versus the sentences received by actual child abusers:
The legal treatment of people caught with child pornography is so harsh that they can end up serving longer sentences than people who actually abuse children. In a 2009 analysis, federal public defender Troy Stabenow shows that a defendant with no prior criminal record and no history of abusing children would qualify for a sentence of 15 to 20 years based on a small collection of child pornography and one photo swap, while a 50-year-old man who encountered a 13-year-old girl online and lured her into a sexual relationship would get no more than four years.
Under federal law, receiving child pornography, which could mean downloading a single image, triggers a mandatory minimum sentence of five years — the same as the penalty for distributing it. Merely looking at a picture can qualify someone for the same charge, assuming he does so deliberately and is aware that Web browsers automatically make copies of visited sites. In practice, since the Internet nowadays is almost always the source of child pornography, this means that viewing and possession can be treated the same as trafficking.
The maximum penalty for receiving or distributing child porn is 20 years, and federal sentencing guidelines recommend stiff enhancements based on factors that are extremely common in these cases, such as using a computer, possessing more than 600 images (with each video clip counted as 75 images), and exchanging photos for something of value, including other photos. Federal agents reportedly found 200 child porn videos on Loskarn’s hard drive when they arrested him on December 11.
Ninety percent of federal child-porn prosecutions involve “non-production offenses” like Loskarn’s: downloading or passing along images of sexual abuse, as opposed to perpetrating or recording it. As a result of congressional edicts, the average sentence in such cases rose from 54 months in 2004 to 95 months in 2010, according to a 2012 report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC). The penalties have become so severe, the commission noted, that judges frequently find ways to dodge them, resulting in wildly inconsistent sentences for people guilty of essentially the same conduct.
Some of my utility bills come with return envelopes (yes, even in this day of internet banking, lots of bill payments still go through the old-fashioned mail system). At least one of them uses the back of the return envelope to print Child Find alerts, with a photo and information about the missing child. This seems like a good idea, although the most recent example seems to be a bit of a stretch:
First, the information says that the missing child was twenty years old when last seen … have we officially decided that childhood lasts into the twenties? Second, the missing person has been missing for a pretty long time — since 1988 — and it seems unlikely that this photo will have much more than a casual resemblance to her current appearance (assuming that she’s still alive, of course).
February 11, 2014
James Delingpole isn’t kidding:
If I’d been anywhere near Denmark that day, I too would have eagerly dragged my kids along to the zoo’s operating theatre to witness the ghoulish but fascinating Inside Nature’s Giants-style spectacle.
Why? Well, partly for my entertainment and education, but mainly for the sake of my children. I know we all love to idealise our offspring as sensitive, bunny-hugging little moppets who wouldn’t hurt a flea. But the truth is that there are few things kids enjoy more than a nice, juicy carcase with its guts hanging out. Dead birds are good; dead badgers are better; a dead giraffe is all but unbeatable.
You first tend to notice this trait on family walks. Desperately, you’ll try to keep your reluctant toddler going by showing it lots of fascinating things. Sheep or tractors may do the job, just about. But not nearly as well, say, as a dead rabbit with its belly distended with putrefaction and flies crawling over its empty eye sockets. It’s your child’s introduction to a concept we all have to grapple with in the end: what Damien Hirst once called “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living”.
This, no doubt, is one of the reasons for the enduring popularity of Roald Dahl. Dahl’s brilliant insight is that children, au fond, are horrid little sickos who like nothing better than stories about giants who steal you from your bed in the night to murder you, and enormous crocodiles that gobble you all up. His is a natural world red in tooth and claw: Fantastic Mr Fox really does slaughter chickens — because he’s a fox — and when he gets his tail shot off you know, much as you might wish it otherwise, that it is never ever going to grow back.
Which reminds me: one of the stupidest mistakes made by Copenhagen Zoo was to have given that two-year-old giraffe such an affecting name. “Catomeat” might have worked. But to call a giraffe you’re planning to chop up and then chuck into the lions’ den “Marius” is surely asking for trouble. I wouldn’t want to execute a giraffe called “Marius”, would you?
I do, though, think that as a culture we need to be more grown-up about this sort of thing. If we’re going to have zoos and safari parks (as I believe we should; most of us will never have the money to enable our kids to see these wonders in the wild), then we have to accept the consequences. One of these is that sick, inbred, overpopulous or dangerous stock (like the six lions recently put down at Longleat) will have, on occasion, to be culled. Yes, it’s not ideal, but that unfortunately is how the world works. With animals, as with humans, the deal is this: none of us gets out of here alive.
January 31, 2014
Of all forms of the uplift, perhaps the most futile is that which addresses itself to educating the proletariat in music. The theory behind it is that a taste for music is an elevating passion, and that if the great masses of the plain people could be inoculated with it they would cease to herd into the moving-picture theaters, or to listen to Socialists, or to beat their wives and children. The defect in this theory lies in the fact that such a taste, granting it to be elevating, simply cannot be implanted. Either it is born in a man or it is not born in him. If it is, then he will get gratification for it at whatever cost he will hear music if hell freezes over. But if it isn’t, then no amount of education will ever change him he will remain stone deaf until the last sad scene on the gallows.
No child who has this congenital taste ever has to be urged or tempted or taught to love music. It takes to tone inevitably and irresistibly; nothing can restrain it. What is more, it always tries to make music, for the delight in sounds is invariably accompanied by a great desire to make them. I have never encountered an exception to this rule. All genuine music-lovers try to make music. They may do it badly, and even absurdly, but nevertheless they do it. Any man who pretends to a delight in the tone-art and yet has never learned the scale of C major any and every such man is a fraud. The opera-houses of the world are crowded with such liars. You will even find hundreds of them in the concert-halls, though here the suffering they have to undergo to keep up their pretense is almost too much for them to bear. Many of them, true enough, deceive themselves. They are honest in the sense that they credit their own buncombe. But it is buncombe none the less.
H.L. Mencken, “The Allied Arts: On Music-Lovers”, Prejudices: Second Series, 1920.
January 28, 2014
January 26, 2014
Rick McGinnis on the ways parents are “encouraged” to become helicopter parents, for fear of social disapproval or intervention by local government child protective services:
Seven years ago, a New York City columnist named Lenore Skenazy wrote a column about letting her nine-year-old son Izzy take public transit home by himself. Within days, she was at the centre of a media furore that saw Lenore dubbed “World’s Worst Mom,” and found herself made a standard bearer for whatever pushback is happening against an increasingly supervised and circumscribed style of parenting that Skenazy certainly wasn’t the first parent to notice.
Making lemonade out of lemons, Skenazy turned the whole incident into a blog called Free-Range Kids, which led to a book with the same title, and later a TLC TV series that brazenly went to air as World’s Worst Mom. (It was called Bubble Wrap Kids when it aired on Slice in Canada. Take from that what you will.)
I applaud Skenazy for her bravery, having noticed long ago that the childhood my own kids were experiencing was a far cry from the largely unsupervised version I lived through in the urban ‘70s, which was by comparison of meagre freedom and liberty compared to that lived by my own parents, or by almost anyone who grew up in the country.
On the old blog, I posted this graphic which shows the rapid decline in children’s freedom of movement through the last few generations. This is in England, but the same clearly applies in Canada and the US:
Defenders of this overprotective parenting insist that they’re doing it out of love for their kids; that the world has changed; that it’s better to be safe than sorry. Cautious rebels against the helicopter parenting status quo admit that they’d love to be bolder, but they’ve read stories on the internet about child protective services being called on parents who let their kids play outside alone or walk home by themselves. What side you fall on in the debate depends on whether you’re more scared of society or your government.
The most difficult challenge it proposes is that parents need to exercise real diligence about what their children might read or hear in what passes for education these days, while asking them to relax their fears and anxieties about what kids will see or experience on their own. He also admits that even the once-great but ever more obscure authors of the canon can’t be accepted unquestioningly, noting that while Dickens’ novels are still as compelling as they ever were for the child patient enough to tackle them, he was also the author of an apparently dismal Child’s History of England that managed to be both vigorously written and factually abysmal, made so by Dickens’ urge to be that most contemporary of things: politically relevant.
Esolen writes at a gallop, weaving anecdotes from his own childhood and career as an educator without stumbling to cite Department of Education statistics or Findings from Studies and Think Tanks. Genial but polemical, it’s the sort of book that goes over best if you already share the bulk of its assumptions about education, culture, and politics, but it’s also rife with a nostalgia for boys running through empty woodlots that’s straight out of Rockwell and Mark Twain.
What’s needed now is a way to acknowledge that technology and the internet, reduced leisure time, and a more invasive social bureaucracy are as real now as stickball, parades, church-going, and intergenerational households were then. If someone can see their way through the thicket of imperatives and distractions, digital or otherwise, and come up with a few suggestions for concerned parents that aren’t basically Luddite, this unwillingly overprotective parent for one would be happy to hear them.
H/T to Kathy Shaidle for the link.
January 12, 2014
“Oh, certainly, you could produce quantities of infants — although it would take enormous resources to do so. Highly trained techs, as well as equipment and supplies. But don’t you see, that’s just the beginning. It’s nothing, compared to what it takes to raise a child. Why, on Athos it absorbs most of the planet’s economic resources. Food — of course — housing education, clothing, medical care — it takes nearly all our efforts just to maintain population replacement, let alone to increase. No government could possibly afford to raise such a specialized, non-productive army.”
Elli Quinn quirked an eyebrow. “How odd. On other worlds, people seem to come in floods, and they’re not necessarily impoverished, either.”
Ethan, diverted, said, “Really? I don’t see how that can be. Why, the labor costs alone of bringing a child to maturity are astronomical. There must be something wrong with your accounting.”
Her eyes screwed up in an expression of sudden ironic insight. “Ah, but on other worlds the labor costs aren’t added in. They’re counted as free.”
Ethan stared. “What an absurd bit of double thinking! Athosians would never sit still for such a hidden labor tax! Don’t the primary nurturers even get social duty credits?”
“I believe,” her voice was edged with a peculiar dryness, they call it women’s work. And the supply usually exceeds the demand — non-union scabs, as it were, undercutting the market.”
Lois McMaster Bujold, Ethan of Athos, 1986.
December 26, 2013
In other words, while it’s true that there are fewer guarantees than there used to be, it’s not true that everyone in the good old days had an easy path to lifetime employment. Those people were always a lucky minority. They still are, if a somewhat smaller one. Most people in the generations before the millennials had to struggle. They were afraid they wouldn’t be able to make it. They, too, were woken up in the wee small hours by their own economic terror. The reason your parents’ lives look so carefree to you? Well, in part because Mommy doesn’t usually tell little Timmy that she’s having night terrors over how to get him outfitted for school if the old minivan finally gives up the ghost. But mostly because all this was taking place when you were 6 years old. And everything adults do looks easy when you’re 6.
Megan McArdle, “Hey Millennials: You Got a Raw Deal. Get Over It”, Bloomberg.com, 2013-09-18
December 21, 2013
In the Guardian, Sam Leith says the push to eliminate gender stereotypes from toy stores is really for the parents, not for the children:
My daughter wasn’t yet three when it started. First she refused to wear anything that wasn’t pink. Then she announced that she wanted to change her name to Cinderella Barbie Sleeping Beauty. This was an achievement.
We owned no Disney princess DVDs, had never uttered the word “Barbie”, and she wasn’t yet at nursery so it couldn’t have come the route of the nits.
Are the spores of this stuff, I wondered, in the air?
Now my son is two and a half. Dollies delight him not, no, nor fairies, though by your smiling you seem to say so. The two things in the world that interest him most are fire engines and (oddly) zebras. He has a special dance that he does on sighting a fire engine. When he wakes up in the morning and you ask him what he dreamed about, he says: “A fire engine and a zebra.”
Now Marks & Spencer has joined a growing number of retailers in announcing that all its toy marketing will be gender-neutral. Does that mean my next child will grow up free of these obsessions? I’m not counting my fluffy pink chickens.
I don’t want to troll all you good people by trying to make the case that marketing toys by gender is a positive social good to be applauded. But I think there is a case — a pretty strong case — for not getting ventilated about it. And — not to make the perfect the enemy of the good — for seeing the battle against it as a sideshow, and potentially one that could distract us from the main event.
December 8, 2013
Drew Magary got the list of things his daughter wants for Christmas this year. He explains why she’s not getting some of her wishes:
Now I’m the parent and it’s my turn to engage in the futile task of managing my child’s expectations. This is the actual wish list that my daughter, who is 7, handed me a few weeks ago. It’s completely unreasonable and I have no way of explaining this to her without being a dick, or without her thinking I’m pulling some reverse-psychology shit on her. Let’s take a look at this thing, item by item.
“A little thing that can turn into anything at anytime.” The fuck is this? What am I, Galactus? Do you understand the catastrophic universal implications of possessing a shape-shifting, time-traveling device? Even Rob Gronkowski knows that isn’t to be toyed with. You could turn it into a separate moon any time you like and then the Earth would be fucking DESTROYED by the additional gravitation. You cannot be trusted with this at age 7. If such a thing existed and were affordable, I wouldn’t have children. I would have a SPACE BROTHEL. There’s a reason that we have the laws of physics in place. And you expect this thing to be portable as well? You cannot have this.
“1,000 bucks.” This is Christmas, not an Italian wedding. Uncle Vito isn’t gonna slip you an envelope in between stints at the raw bar. We put thought into our gifts here. You want cash? Clear the spiders out of the attic. I’ll give you three bucks for it. A thousand dollars. Jesus Christ. I’m sorry, but you cannot have this.
“Monster High ear buds.” This is Monster High, and it’s completely fucked. It’s like someone at Mattel held up a market research study and screamed, “Our Barbie dolls aren’t causing as much body dysmorphia in children as they used to! MAKE ME A LINE OF BULIMIC VAMPIRE DOLLS OR YOU’RE ALL FUCKING FIRED.” How are these toys even legal? It’s like handing your child a Steve Madden ad. Anyway, these are cheap, so maybe I’ll get them if you are good. FUN FACT: A child could go on a five-state killing spree and no parent would be heartless enough to actually bail on Christmas presents. The nice list has worse grade inflation than Harvard.
“A pet puppy. Border collie with a peacesign coller, and a leash.” NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. Hell no. Do you see any borders in this house that need patrolling, apart from the bathroom door when Daddy is having his alone time? No. Do you see any sheep that need herding? No. Are you gonna give a shit about walking it or feeding it after, oh, three days? No. All of the work will be left to me. This site says, “Border collies can become aggressive due to fear. … Do not approach or handle your dog suddenly from behind.” Great. Fucking great. That is the exact wrong breed for a human child. Children will sneak up behind dogs and bash a tambourine into their heads because that’s funny. You cannot have this dog.
November 13, 2013
Apparently Coghlan Fundamental Elementary School in Aldergrove has had a rash of injuries to kindergarten students recently, so the solution is to ban all physical contact between students:
A letter went out to Coghlan kindergarten students’ parents on Friday, one of those types that often sit in backpack over a weekend or are put aside to be read later and somehow never are.
Julie Chen found the letter, explaining a new no-touch policy for kindergarten students, on Monday morning as she was packing lunch for her five-year-old daughter.
It reads, in part: “We have unfortunately had to ban all forms of hands-on play for the immediate future … we will have a zero-tolerance policy.”
Penalties for making physical contact with a schoolmate include being grounded during play time and/or a trip to the office “for those who are unable to follow the rules.”
“I read the letter, it said there had been quite a few injuries, I said, ‘OK,’ and kept reading,” Chen said. “When I saw no hands-on would be allowed, I just got mad, I got so upset.
School employee Arthur Bourke drove up in his van and was happy to defend the policy.
“I don’t know how anyone would be against this,” Bourke said. “They’re trying to make it safe for everybody.
“They do a terrific job here of making sure everyone is safe.
“It’s something we have to do — if we don’t control it, it will get out of hand.”
The letter to parents cited “several injuries” in the past few weeks.
November 7, 2013
Wendy McElroy talks about the plight of poor children in the early days of the industrial revolution in Britain:
Parish workhouses existed in Britain long before the Industrial Revolution. In 1601, the Poor Relief Act paved the way for parish officials to collect property taxes to provide for the “deserving poor.” In 1723, the Workhouse Test Act was passed to prevent false claims of poverty. Any able-bodied person who wished to receive poor relief was expected to enter a workhouse; its harsh conditions would presumably act as a deterrent. About the same time as the Industrial Revolution (circa 1760-1840), attitudes toward the poor underwent their own revolution. The Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) not only bled Britain of money; they also created a flood of injured and unemployable men who returned from battle. Those men had families who were plunged into poverty. Between 1795 and 1815 the tab for Britain’s poor relief quadrupled. Meanwhile, the cost of mere subsistence soared because of political machinations such as the Corn Laws, a series of trade laws that artificially preserved the high price of grains produced by British agriculture. Many people could not afford a slice of bread.
But sympathy for the poor was in short supply. Historian Gertrude Himmelfarb’s definitive book The Idea of Poverty chronicles the shift in attitude toward the poor during that period; it turned from compassion to condemnation. An 1832 government report basically divided the poor into two categories: the lazy who sucked up other people’s money and the industrious working poor who were self-supporting. The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 instructed parishes to establish “Poor Law Unions” with each union administering a workhouse that continued to act as a deterrent by ‘virtue’ of its miserable conditions. Correctly or not, statesman Benjamin Disraeli called the act an announcement that “poverty is a crime.”
Pauper children were virtually imprisoned in workhouses. And nearly every parish in Britain had a “stockpile” of abandoned workhouse children who were virtually sold to factories. Unlike parents, bureaucrats did not view poor children as loved or otherwise valuable human beings. They were interchangeable units whose presence was a glut on the market because there would always be another poor child born tomorrow. Private businessmen who shook hands with government did not have clean fingers, either. Factory owners could not force free-labor children to take dangerous, wretched jobs but workhouse children had no choice and so they experienced the deepest horrors of child labor. The horror was not because of the free market or capitalism; those forces, along with the family, were among the protectors of children. Child laborers were victims of government, bureaucracy and businessmen who used the law unscrupulously.
October 13, 2013
September 11, 2013
In the latest Libertarian Enterprise, L. Neil Smith calls for “Public schools delenda est” in response to Benedikt’s paean to the glories of government-run schools:
Which brings us to the subject of today’s diatribe, an article I was directed to (hat-tip to Tatiana Covington) on Slate.com, awkwardly entitled, “If You Send Your Kid to Private School, You Are a Bad Person — A Manifesto”. This unintelligent but very revealing piece, posted Thursday, August 29, 2013, was written by somebody called Allison Benedikt, who slings a keyboard like some breathless high school cheerleader, but is apparently a movie critic for the Chicago Tribune.
As Joe-Bob would say, check it out.
What this little death-dealer proposes — “demands” would be more accurate — is that all private schools be outlawed (whoops there go the First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and Tenth Amendments) and everybody forced to send their children to, and participate in the public school system. (Later in the essay she denies wanting to outlaw private schools, but, as we all know, consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.)
This is, given the unignorable temper and tendency of our times, exactly like seeing the private structure of the Internet demolished, and then being compelled at bayonet-point (Why is it that liberals never seem to remember that the law, no matter how noble it may sound or high-minded its intentions, consists of nothing but brute force: guns, clubs, noxious sprays, and tasers?) to go back to the United States Postal System or the good old mercantilist Bell Telephone monopoly.
“Progressives”? I call them regressives.
What’s more, she issues this bizarre edict — which she labels a “manifesto” — not for the sake of your children, nor even for their children down the road. In words straight from an Ayn Rand villain’s mouth (what critic says real people don’t talk like this?), she says this: “Your children and grandchildren might get mediocre educations in the meantime, but it will be worth it, for the eventual common good.”
Yes, she openly admits that your progeny will probably suffer, educationally (and no doubt otherwise — look at the extracurricular activities she admits to), as a result of being forced back into the public system as it exists and operates today. she waxes positively lyrical over the egalitarian ecstasy of attending school with individuals more likely to knife somebody for a pair of shoes than she is.
She keeps congratulating herself on how well she turned out, even as she almost brags at how badly educated she is — and demonstrates it with her writing. Would she brag if she knew she’s an enabler of democide?