Quotulatiousness

March 1, 2015

QotD: Being a house-guest in a family home

Filed under: Humour,Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I knew that if he slept at “Beggarbush” he would be up in time; I have slept there myself, and I know what happens. About the middle of the night, as you judge, though in reality it may be somewhat later, you are startled out of your first sleep by what sounds like a rush of cavalry along the passage, just outside your door. Your half-awakened intelligence fluctuates between burglars, the Day of Judgment, and a gas explosion. You sit up in bed and listen intently. You are not kept waiting long; the next moment a door is violently slammed, and somebody, or something, is evidently coming downstairs on a tea-tray.

“I told you so,” says a voice outside, and immediately some hard substance, a head one would say from the ring of it, rebounds against the panel of your door.

By this time you are charging madly round the room for your clothes. Nothing is where you put it overnight, the articles most essential have disappeared entirely; and meanwhile the murder, or revolution, or whatever it is, continues unchecked. You pause for a moment, with your head under the wardrobe, where you think you can see your slippers, to listen to a steady, monotonous thumping upon a distant door. The victim, you presume, has taken refuge there; they mean to have him out and finish him. Will you be in time? The knocking ceases, and a voice, sweetly reassuring in its gentle plaintiveness, asks meekly:

“Pa, may I get up?”

You do not hear the other voice, but the responses are:

“No, it was only the bath — no, she ain’t really hurt, — only wet, you know. Yes, ma, I’ll tell ’em what you say. No, it was a pure accident. Yes; good-night, papa.”

Then the same voice, exerting itself so as to be heard in a distant part of the house, remarks:

“You’ve got to come upstairs again. Pa says it isn’t time yet to get up.”

You return to bed, and lie listening to somebody being dragged upstairs, evidently against their will. By a thoughtful arrangement the spare rooms at “Beggarbush” are exactly underneath the nurseries. The same somebody, you conclude, still offering the most creditable opposition, is being put back into bed. You can follow the contest with much exactitude, because every time the body is flung down upon the spring mattress, the bedstead, just above your head, makes a sort of jump; while every time the body succeeds in struggling out again, you are aware by the thud upon the floor. After a time the struggle wanes, or maybe the bed collapses; and you drift back into sleep. But the next moment, or what seems to be the next moment, you again open your eyes under the consciousness of a presence. The door is being held ajar, and four solemn faces, piled one on top of the other, are peering at you, as though you were some natural curiosity kept in this particular room. Seeing you awake, the top face, walking calmly over the other three, comes in and sits on the bed in a friendly attitude.

“Oh!” it says, “we didn’t know you were awake. I’ve been awake some time.”

“So I gather,” you reply, shortly.

“Pa doesn’t like us to get up too early,” it continues. “He says everybody else in the house is liable to be disturbed if we get up. So, of course, we mustn’t.”

The tone is that of gentle resignation. It is instinct with the spirit of virtuous pride, arising from the consciousness of self-sacrifice.

“Don’t you call this being up?” you suggest.

“Oh, no; we’re not really up, you know, because we’re not properly dressed.” The fact is self-evident. “Pa’s always very tired in the morning,” the voice continues; “of course, that’s because he works hard all day. Are you ever tired in the morning?”

At this point he turns and notices, for the first time, that the three other children have also entered, and are sitting in a semi-circle on the floor. From their attitude it is clear they have mistaken the whole thing for one of the slower forms of entertainment, some comic lecture or conjuring exhibition, and are waiting patiently for you to get out of bed and do something. It shocks him, the idea of their being in the guest’s bedchamber. He peremptorily orders them out. They do not answer him, they do not argue; in dead silence, and with one accord they fall upon him. All you can see from the bed is a confused tangle of waving arms and legs, suggestive of an intoxicated octopus trying to find bottom. Not a word is spoken; that seems to be the etiquette of the thing. If you are sleeping in your pyjamas, you spring from the bed, and only add to the confusion; if you are wearing a less showy garment, you stop where you are and shout commands, which are utterly unheeded. The simplest plan is to leave it to the eldest boy. He does get them out after a while, and closes the door upon them. It re-opens immediately, and one, generally Muriel, is shot back into the room. She enters as from a catapult. She is handicapped by having long hair, which can be used as a convenient handle. Evidently aware of this natural disadvantage, she clutches it herself tightly in one hand, and punches with the other. He opens the door again, and cleverly uses her as a battering-ram against the wall of those without. You can hear the dull crash as her head enters among them, and scatters them. When the victory is complete, he comes back and resumes his seat on the bed. There is no bitterness about him; he has forgotten the whole incident.

“I like the morning,” he says, “don’t you?”

“Some mornings,” you agree, “are all right; others are not so peaceful.”

He takes no notice of your exception; a far-away look steals over his somewhat ethereal face.

“I should like to die in the morning,” he says; “everything is so beautiful then.”

“Well,” you answer, “perhaps you will, if your father ever invites an irritable man to come and sleep here, and doesn’t warn him beforehand.”

He descends from his contemplative mood, and becomes himself again.

“It’s jolly in the garden,” he suggests; “you wouldn’t like to get up and have a game of cricket, would you?”

It was not the idea with which you went to bed, but now, as things have turned out, it seems as good a plan as lying there hopelessly awake; and you agree.

You learn, later in the day, that the explanation of the proceeding is that you, unable to sleep, woke up early in the morning, and thought you would like a game of cricket. The children, taught to be ever courteous to guests, felt it their duty to humour you. Mrs. Harris remarks at breakfast that at least you might have seen to it that the children were properly dressed before you took them out; while Harris points out to you, pathetically, how, by your one morning’s example and encouragement, you have undone his labour of months.

On this Wednesday morning, George, it seems, clamoured to get up at a quarter-past five, and persuaded them to let him teach them cycling tricks round the cucumber frames on Harris’s new wheel. Even Mrs. Harris, however, did not blame George on this occasion; she felt intuitively the idea could not have been entirely his.

It is not that the Harris children have the faintest notion of avoiding blame at the expense of a friend and comrade. One and all they are honesty itself in accepting responsibility for their own misdeeds. It simply is, that is how the thing presents itself to their understanding. When you explain to them that you had no original intention of getting up at five o’clock in the morning to play cricket on the croquet lawn, or to mimic the history of the early Church by shooting with a cross-bow at dolls tied to a tree; that as a matter of fact, left to your own initiative, you would have slept peacefully till roused in Christian fashion with a cup of tea at eight, they are firstly astonished, secondly apologetic, and thirdly sincerely contrite. In the present instance, waiving the purely academic question whether the awakening of George at a little before five was due to natural instinct on his part, or to the accidental passing of a home-made boomerang through his bedroom window, the dear children frankly admitted that the blame for his uprising was their own. As the eldest boy said:

“We ought to have remembered that Uncle George had a long day, before him, and we ought to have dissuaded him from getting up. I blame myself entirely.”

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

February 24, 2015

The decline of teaching

Filed under: Britain,Bureaucracy,Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Oh, I don’t mean the profession of teaching … I mean the actual practice of imparting knowledge. As Joanna Williams explains, it’s the practical part that’s in steep decline nowadays:

After almost two decades working in the British education system, I’m still shocked when I meet teachers and lecturers who recoil at the prospect of actually imparting knowledge to their students. I cringed when the headteacher at my daughter’s junior school gathered all the new parents together to watch a sharply edited film showing that knowledge was now so easily accessible and so quickly outdated that there was little point in teaching children anything other than how to Google. When I find myself discussing the purpose of higher education, my proposal that the pursuit and transmission of knowledge should be the primary concern of the university is mostly met by looks of incomprehension that swiftly turn to barely concealed horror.

Teaching knowledge, as has been discussed before on spiked, has rarely been popular among the Rousseau-inspired, supposedly child-centred progressives of the educational world. It began to go more seriously out of fashion in the 1970s. Today, when every 10-year-old has a smart phone in their back pocket, actually teaching them stuff is seen as an unnecessary imposition on their individual creativity, serving no other end than future pub-quiz success. Working with children, rather than teaching knowledge, is considered altogether nicer; what’s more, it conveniently avoids the need for complex decisions to be made about what is most important in any particular subject. Rather than imposing their authority on children, teachers can be simply ‘guides on the side’, creating a learning environment through which children can determine their own path. What lies behind many of these entrenched ideas is a fundamental misunderstanding of what knowledge actually is.

Unfortunately, as a few voices in the educational world are beginning to make clear, left to their own devices children generally learn little and creativity is stifled rather than unleashed. Michael Young has been making the case for ‘bringing knowledge back in’ for many years now. More recently, people like Daisy Christodoulou, Toby Young and Tom Bennett have joined those chipping away at the child-centred, anti-knowledge orthodoxy. This is definitely a trend to welcome. And when knowledge-centred teaching goes against everything the educational establishment stands for, it is important to get the arguments right.

William Kitchen’s book, Authority and the Teacher, is a useful addition to the debate. Kitchen makes a convincing case that ‘any education without knowledge transmission is not an education at all’. The central premise of his book is his claim that ‘the development of knowledge requires a submission to the authority of a master expert: the teacher’. Kitchen argues that it is the teacher’s authority that makes imparting knowledge possible; in the absence of authority, teaching becomes simply facilitation and knowledge becomes inaccessible. He is careful to delineate authority from power, and he locates teachers’ authority within their own subject knowledge, which in turn is substantiated and held in check through membership of a disciplinary community. Without ‘the authority of the community and the practice,’ he argues, the notion of ‘correctness’ loses its meaning and there is no longer any sense to the passing of educational judgements.

The bitter war between men and women

Filed under: Health,History,Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Sarah Hoyt recently reposted her rant (in her words) about the ongoing struggle between men and women:

I know this goes completely against everything you’ve ever heard and learned. History — and SF — is full of dreamers who are convinced that if women ruled the world it would all be beauty flowers and non aggression. (To these dreamers I say spend a week as a girl in an all-girl school. It will be a rude awakening.)

Dreamers of the Dan Brown stripe posit a peaceful female worship, with yet more beauty and flowers and non-aggression. They ignore the fact that 99% of the goddess-worshiping religions were scary. And don’t tell me that’s patriarchal slander — it’s not. The baby-killing of Astoreth worship has been documented extensively. (Of course, the Phoenicians were equal-opportunity baby killers.) The castrations of Cybele worship were also well documented. Now, I can hardly imagine a female divinity without imagining hormonal episodes requiring appeasement — but that’s because I’m a woman of a certain age, and that’s fodder for another altogether different discussion. Suffice it to say that the maiden and mother usually also had a crone persona who was … er… “not a nice person.”

Anyway — all this to say since I joined the MOB (Mothers Of Boys) the scales about such things as the inherent equality of men and women as far as their brain structure and basic behavior have fallen from my eyes. (Well, the scales that remained. My experience in school notwithstanding, I’d been TAUGHT that females were getting the short end of the stick and that’s a hard thing to overcome. Learned wisdom is so much more coherent than lived wisdom, after all.)

Again — indulge me — I’m going to make a lot of statements I can too back up, but which would take very, very, very long to document — so it will seem like I’m ranting mid air. Stay with it. If I feel up to it later, I’ll post some references.

Yes, women have been horribly oppressed throughout history including the rather disgusting Victorian period that most Americans seem to believe is how ALL of history went. I contend, though, that women were not oppressed by some international conspiracy of males — yes, I know what Women’s Studies professors say. I would however remind you we’re talking of a group of people — men — who a) have issues finding their own socks in the dresser they’ve used for ten years. b) Are so good at communicating as a group that they couldn’t coordinate their way out of a wet paper bag, or to quote my friend Kate, couldn’t organize a bonk in a brothel. (In most large organizations the “social/coordinating” function is performed by females at various levels.) c) That women being oppressed by a patriarchy so thorough it altered history and changed all records of peaceful female religion would require a conspiracy lasting thousands of years and involving almost every male on Earth. If you believe that, I have this bridge in NY that I would like to sell you. — Women were oppressed by their own bodies.

Throughout most of history women had no safe and effective means of stopping pregnancy. — please, spare me the “herbal” remedies. I grew up in a village that had little access to medicine. If there had been an effective means of preventing pregnancy we’d have known it. TRUST me. There are abortificients, but they endanger the mother as well. However, until the pill there was no safe contraceptive. The herbal contraceptive is a plot device dreamed up by fantasy writers. Also, btw, the People’s Republic of China TESTED all these methods (including swallowing live tadpoles at the full moon.) NONE of them worked. SERIOUSLY.

What this meant in practical fact is that most women were pregnant from menarche to menopause, if they were lucky to live that long. I’ve been pregnant. If you haven’t, take it from me it’s not a condition conducive to brilliant discourse or reasoned logic. On top of that, of course, women would suffer the evils of repeated child bearing with no rest. In effect this DID make women frail and not the intellectual equals of men. And it encouraged any male around to “oppress” them. I.e., when the majority of females around you need a minder, you’re going to assume ALL females need a minder. It’s human nature. Note that beyond suffrage, the greatest advance in women’s equality came from the pill. Not a coincidence, that.

However, the people who think that women were oppressed by an international historical cabal rule the establishment. Including the educational establishment. I find it hilarious that in their minds men/boys are so powerful that they must be kept back and are suspected of being criminals just because they have a penis. This is attributing to them god-like powers to rival what any Victorian housewife would believe.

Anyway — these people have decided all efforts must be made to equal male and female performance in school. Since, in practical fact, this is impossible because males and females develop at different paces and favor different areas, they’ve settled for hobbling the all-powerful males.

You see this everywhere from Saturday morning cartoons to kindergarten to all the grades beyond. In cartoons these days, the girls ALWAYS rescue the boys. (They do it while keeping impeccably groomed hair, too. Impressive, that.) And in school all the girls are assumed to be right and all the boys are assumed to be wrong.

February 12, 2015

QotD: Poverty-stricken Little House on the Prairie

Filed under: Economics,History,Quotations,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Consider the Little House on the Prairie books, which I’d bet almost every woman in my readership, and many of the men, recalls from their childhoods. I loved those books when I was a kid, which seemed to describe an enchanted world — horses! sleighs! a fire merrily crackling in the fireplace, and children frolicking in the snow all winter, then running barefoot across the prairies! Then I reread them as an adult, as a prelude to my research, and what really strikes you is how incredibly poor these people were. The Ingalls family were in many ways bourgeoisie: educated by the standards of the day, active in community leadership, landowners. And they had nothing.

There’s a scene in one of the books where Laura is excited to get her own tin cup for Christmas, because she previously had to share with her sister. Think about that. No, go into your kitchen and look at your dishes. Then imagine if you had three kids, four plates and three cups, because buying another cup was simply beyond your household budget — because a single cup for your kid to drink out of represented not a few hours of work, but a substantial fraction of your annual earnings, the kind of money you really had to think hard before spending. Then imagine how your five-year-old would feel if they got an orange and a Corelle place setting for Christmas.

There’s a reason old-fashioned kitchens didn’t have cabinets: They didn’t need them. There wasn’t anything to put there.

Imagine if your kids had to spend six months out of the year barefoot because you couldn’t afford for them to wear their shoes year-round. Now, I love being barefoot, and I longed to spend more time that way as a child. But it’s a little different when it’s an option. I walked a mile barefoot on a cold fall day — once. It’s fine for the first few minutes, and then it hurts like hell. Sure, your feet toughen up. But when it’s cold and wet, your feet crack and bleed. As they do if the icy rain soaks through your shoes, and your feet have to stay that way all day because you don’t own anything else to change into. I’m not talking about making sure your kids have a decent pair of shoes to wear to school; I’m talking about not being able to afford to put anything at all on their feet.

Or take the matter of food. There is nothing so romanticized as old-fashioned cookery, lovingly hand-prepared with fresh, 100 percent organic ingredients. If you were a reader of the Little House books, or any number of other series about 19th-century children, then you probably remember the descriptions of luscious meals. When you reread these books, you realize that they were so lovingly described because they were so vanishingly rare. Most of the time, people were eating the same spare food three meals a day: beans, bread or some sort of grain porridge, and a little bit of meat for flavor, heavily preserved in salt. This doesn’t sound romantic and old-fashioned; it sounds tedious and unappetizing. But it was all they could afford, and much of the time, there wasn’t quite enough of that.

These were not the nation’s dispossessed; they were the folks who had capital for seed and farm equipment. There were lots of people in America much poorer than the Ingalls were. Your average middle-class person was, by the standards of today, dead broke and living in abject misery. And don’t tell me that things used to be cheaper back then, because I’m not talking about their cash income or how much money they had stuffed under the mattress. I’m talking about how much they could consume. And the answer is “a lot less of everything”: food, clothes, entertainment. That’s even before we talk about the things that hadn’t yet been invented, such as antibiotics and central heating.

Megan McArdle, “When Bread Bags Weren’t Funny”, Bloomberg View, 2015-01-29.

December 26, 2014

Coming up next on Moral Panic Daily, the war on “gendered” toys

Filed under: Media,Randomness — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

If you’ve had kids of your own, you may have been briefly concerned about imposing gendered expectations on your children by giving them stereotypical “boy”- or “girl”-coded playthings — or more likely, been accosted on that issue by someone who doesn’t have kids. Get ready for more of it, as it’s apparently the next imaginary crisis western society is facing:

“Tis the season for anxious parenting,” writer Elissa Strauss announced last Friday in The Week. The cause of this parental stress may not be obvious at first glance. Rather, it is quiet, insidious, and, apparently, it lurks worldwide.

It is — get ready, innocent holiday shoppers — an army of sexist, “gendered” toys, ready to oppress children around the globe. Sadly, these toys, much like, say, Victoria’s Secret models, face a rather odd conundrum: They are both victimizers and victims at the same time. These inherently sexist toys, you see, are also forced to live in a virtual apartheid of equally sexist, restricting, and gender-segregated toy store shelf arrangements. It is, as modern feminists like to say, a bit of a double bind.

Remember the children’s book Corduroy, where the underprivileged bear with the broken overalls lives on the same shelf as the fancy doll and the gigantic lion and the unintentionally spooky clown that looks like it’s about to murder them all? Well, friends, in our age of inequality, this diversity is apparently no more. Strauss explains further:

    Thanks to the feminist revival of the past half-decade more and more parents now hesitate to buy their daughters a doll or sons an action figure. In Australia, activists are calling for a ‘No Gender December;’ in the UK a campaign called ‘Let Toys Be Toys’ is pushing for gender-neutral toys; in Sweden some toy stores are now gender neutral; and here in the States resistance to the pink aisle is growing louder and louder.

Interesting! Since I do almost all of my shopping online, thereby avoiding — and this is quite purposeful, friends — any type of toy aisle altogether, I did what any good writer investigating a potential international scourge would: I took my three boys to the local Target toy section. This, in case you don’t have kids, is a very brave thing to do.

My goal was to investigate “the gendered tyranny” of the toy aisles, as Australian academic Michelle Smith recently called it. I’ll start by saying this: There was a certain tyranny in the Target toy section, but I’m not sure if it was gendered. Here are the toys my kids descended upon within approximately 15 seconds:

  1. A giant plastic castle, concocted by the Fisher Price “Imaginext” brand, which has a lion’s mouth as a gate. Every time you open the gate (“Click!”) the lion lets out a roar (“RARGHGH!”).
  2. A “Let’s Rock” Elmo, which says the following, over and over: “ELMO’S GONNA ROCK! YEAH!” (Maybe this one was broken, but seriously, that’s all it said.)
  3. A four-foot long Star Wars light saber, which makes a rather realistic light-saber “Woooooosh!” sound. This toy is also useful for knocking all the other toys off the shelves.
  4. “Click! RARGHGH! Click! Wooooooosh! Click! ELMO’S GONNA ROCK! YEAH! RARGHGH!”

I’m sorry, what was I saying again? My ears are bleeding. Oh, yes. Among the colorful rows of the Target toy section — I’m sorry, I mean “the highly gendered amusement prison bounded by proverbial pink and blue bars” — two aisles stood out. Both, unsurprisingly, were an explosion of purple, sparkles, and several alarming and unearthly shades of pink.

December 24, 2014

Repost – Hey Kids! Did you get your paperwork in on time?

Filed under: Bureaucracy,Humour — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:03

If you hurry, you can just get your Santa’s Visit Application in before the deadline tonight!

December 23, 2014

Creepy Christmas “traditions” – Elf et Michelf

Filed under: Cancon,Government,Liberty — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:06

Published on 14 Dec 2013

Foucault’s take on the elf on the shelf through an imagined conversation by @DrLauraPinto

H/T to Anthony L. Fisher for the video link:

Dr. Laura Elizabeth Pinto, a digital technology professor at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, thinks Elf on the Shelf poses a criticial ethical dilemma. In a paper for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Pinto wonders if the Elf is “preparing a generation of children to accept, not question, increasingly intrusive (albeit whimsically packaged) modes of surveillance.”

Sensing that she might come off as a humorless paranoid crank, Pinto clarified her position to the Washington Post:

    “I don’t think the elf is a conspiracy and I realize we’re talking about a toy. It sounds humorous, but we argue that if a kid is okay with this bureaucratic elf spying on them in their home, it normalizes the idea of surveillance and in the future restrictions on our privacy might be more easily accepted.” (Emphasis mine).

One could argue that the millions of adults walking around with NSA-trackable and criminal-hackable smartphones in their pockets are far more influential than a seasonal doll in setting the example to the next generation that surveillance is inevitable and Big Brother is not to be feared. Still, Pinto has a point when she writes:

    What The Elf on the Shelf represents and normalizes: anecdotal evidence reveals that children perform an identity that is not only for caretakers, but for an external authority (The Elf on the Shelf), similar to the dynamic between citizen and authority in the context of the surveillance state.

December 21, 2014

Repost – “I want an Official Red Ryder carbine action 200-shot Range Model air rifle”

Filed under: Humour,Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

ChristmasStory-blog

H/T to KA-CHING! for the image.

December 18, 2014

QotD: Fear and fairy tales

Filed under: Media,Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

The timidity of the child or the savage is entirely reasonable; they are alarmed at this world, because this world is a very alarming place. They dislike being alone because it is verily and indeed an awful idea to be alone. Barbarians fear the unknown for the same reason that Agnostics worship it – because it is a fact. Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.

Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms him for a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors had a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear.

G.K. Chesterton, “The Red Angel”, Tremendous Trifles, 1909.

December 12, 2014

Modern parenting: just go right ahead, dear, Mommy’s got your back

Filed under: Randomness,USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:04

Amy Alkon didn’t enjoy her most recent flight … but not because of the TSA goons, scheduling issues, or the ordinary wear and tear of flying. It was an encounter with the most modern, up-to-date parenting style:

I’ll take snakes on a plane. Snakes are quiet.

Last Saturday, I woke up at 4 a.m. to fly to an event across the country. “I’ll sleep on the plane,” I told myself. And no, I wasn’t being naive.

I came prepared: I had my “asshole-canceling headphones” (big Bose over-the-ear “cans”), industrial-grade earplugs to wear underneath, and an iPhone with selections of white noise.

The cute blonde 3-year-old seated in front of me wasn’t a screamer. She was a talker — in a tone and volume appropriate for auditioning for the lead in “Annie.”

I figured she would quiet down after takeoff. She did not. And, sadly, even $300 worth of Bose technology was no match for this kid’s pipes. After about 20 sleep-free, “SUN’LL COME OUT TOMORROW!!” minutes into the flight, I leaned forward and whispered to the child’s mother, “Excuse me, could you please ask your little girl to be a little quieter?”

“No,” the woman said.

No?

No?!

Lucky me, seated behind another proud purveyor of “go-right-ahead!” mommying. And in case you’re wondering, I didn’t ring the call button to “tattle” on her. Those uniformed men and women walking the plane are flight attendants, not nursery school dispute resolution experts. Also, a mother who sees no reason to actually, you know, parent, is unlikely to start because a lady with a pair of wings pinned to her outfit tells her she should.

We experience more and more of this these days — parents who apparently see any correction of their children’s behavior as a form of abuse. We have “parents” like this in my neighborhood. Throughout the day, through closed windows, you can hear this horrible high-pitched screaming. No, nobody’s taken up urban goat slaughter. Those are the impromptu audio stylings of their 3-year-old going underparented.

December 10, 2014

US child poverty is bad … but nowhere near as bad as they say

Filed under: Media,USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:04

Tim Worstall debunks a headline statistic from earlier this month:

We’ve a new report out from the Mailman School of Public Health telling us that in some urban parts of the US child poverty is up at the unbelievable rates of 40, even 50% or more. The problem with this claim is that it’s simply not true. Apparently the researchers aren’t quite au fait with how poverty is both defined and alleviated in the US. Which is, when you think about it, something of a problem for those who decide to present us with statistics about child poverty.

[…]

Everyone else [in the world] (as well as using a relative poverty standard, usually below 60% of median earnings adjusted for family size) measures poverty after the effects of the tax and benefits systems on alleviating poverty. So, in my native UK if you’re poor you might get some cash payments (say, unemployment pay), some tax credits, help with your housing costs (housing benefit we call it), reduced property taxes (council tax credit) and so on. Whether you are poor or not is defined as being whether you are still under that poverty level after the effects of all of those attempts to alleviate poverty.

In the US things are rather different. It’s an absolute standard of income (set in the 1960s and upgraded only for inflation, not median incomes, since) but it counts only market income plus direct cash transfers to the poor before measuring against that standard. Thus, when we measure the US poor we do not include the EITC (equivalent of those UK tax credits, indeed our UK ones were copied from the US), we do not include Section 8 vouchers (housing benefit), Medicaid, we don’t even include food stamps. Because the US measure of poverty simply doesn’t include the effects of benefits in kind and through the tax system.

The US measure therefore isn’t the number of children living in poverty. It’s the number of children who would be in poverty if there wasn’t this system of government alleviation of poverty. When we do actually take into account what is done to alleviate child poverty we find that it’s really some 2-3% of US children who live in poverty. Yes, that low: the US welfare state is very much child orientated.

(Emphasis mine)

November 30, 2014

Medium.com goes all “Rathergate” on a 1970s LEGO letter

Filed under: Business,Europe,Technology — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

I managed to miss the initial controversy about a typographical hoax that might not have been so hoax-y:

According to the website of the Independent newspaper, LEGO UK has verified the 1970s ‘letter to parents’ that was widely tweeted last weekend and almost as widely dismissed as fake. Business as usual in the Twittersphere — but there are some lessons here about dating type.

Lego Letter to Parents circa 1970

‘The urge to create is equally strong in all children. Boys and girls.’ It’s a sentiment from the 1970s that’s never been more relevant. Or was it?

Those of us who produce or handle documents for a living will often glance at an example and have an immediate opinion on whether it’s real or fake. That first instinct is worth holding on to, because it comes from the brain’s evolved ability to reach a quick conclusion from a whole bunch of subtle clues before your conscious awareness catches up. It’s OK to be inside the nearest cave getting your breath back when you start asking yourself what kind of snake.

But sometimes you will flinch at shadows. Why did this document strike us as wrong when it wasn’t?

First, because the type is badly set in exactly the way early consumer DTP apps, and word processor apps to this day (notably Microsoft Word), set type badly — at least without the intervention of skilled users. I started typesetting on an Atari ST, the poor man’s Mac, in 1987. The first desktop publishing program for that platform was newly released, running under Digital Research’s GEM operating system. It came with a version of Times New Roman, and almost nothing else. Me and badly set Times have history.

In the LEGO document, the kerning of the headline is lumpy and the word spacing excessive. The ‘T’ seems out of alignment with the left margin, even after allowing for a lack of optical adjustment. The paragraph indent on the body text has been applied from the start, contrary to modern British typesetting practice; the first line should be full-out. The leading (vertical space between lines of text) is not quite enough for comfort, more appropriate to a dense newspaper column than this short blurb.

There’s also an error in the copy: ‘dolls houses’ needs an apostrophe. Either before or after the last letter of ‘dolls’ would be fine, depending on whether you think you mean a house for a doll or a house for dolls. But it definitely needs to be possessive.

It wasn’t just that the type looked careless. It was that it stank of the careless use of tools that shouldn’t have been available to its creators.

November 20, 2014

Are you as smart as a Neanderthal parent?

Filed under: Randomness — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

In The Federalist, Rachel Lu says that Neanderthals were better at parenting than modern humans:

Is it just me, or has the world gone completely crazy when it comes to childrearing?

You know what I’m talking about. Once upon a time, people expected to get married in early adulthood and have kids at reasonable intervals. Parents stayed married and paid the bills, while kids played in front yards and freely opened sidewalk lemonade stands. Children fit naturally into the rhythm of American life.

Nowadays, we treat children like a deathly plague, unless of course you’ve decided you want one. Then they become a luxury good worth tens or even hundreds of thousands. Once acquired, they must be treated like prize poodles, feted and protected at every turn.

The traditional family model has largely been put through the shredder, much to the detriment of children. We try to make up for this by hovering over our kids every second, and sending the police after parents who still think it’s fine to take their grandparents’ more laid-back, “let the kids play” approach.

In other words, our ideas about family are a huge, hairy mess. It’s strange we would have so much trouble figuring out a thing that’s been done since Neanderthal times. Then again, maybe that’s the real problem. Unlike Neanderthals, we’re obsessed with figuring out how to do this. We’ve fought tooth and nail to free ourselves from the natural implications of our biology and, as a reward, we now have to plan every detail of family formation. There’s no taking comfort in “the done thing” anymore. Parenthood today is all about doing it right.

November 15, 2014

QotD: Women, careers, and equality

Filed under: Business,Economics,Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

So what do you do about women who freely make choices that perpetuate structural inequalities? Do you stop them from making the choices? Neither Harvard, nor Kantor, seems to have a good answer. But that is the core dilemma. Maybe women drop out because they have a deeper biological connection to their kids. Maybe they do so because they’re raised to be nurturers, or maybe because they don’t feel the same personal anguish that a man does when he gives up on the dream of a top-flight career. Maybe if men felt they had the option to stay home, more would. And maybe women find the role of breadwinner more stressful than men do — all the women I know who are the primary earners are neurotic about it in a way that the men I know don’t seem to be. I’m not talking about the fear that your partner will resent your success; these are women married to admirably feminist men. I’m just talking about a near-constant fear that you will not be able to provide, and your family will end up horribly destitute. I’m not saying that men don’t experience that worry, but they don’t seem tormented by it the way the women I talk to are.

Or maybe it’s that women just don’t want it badly enough. In my experience, one of the reasons that women drop out of finance, and 80-hour-a-week fields more generally, is that they just don’t want it as badly as the men. In their 20s, they’re happy to work those kinds of hours, even at tasks they find boring. They do well at them, too. But a lot of these jobs aren’t actually that rewarding as work: The investment banking associates I observed seemed to spend most of their time on basically clerical tasks, tabulating data and proofreading PowerPoints. And eventually most of the women seem to say “You know, I just care more about relationships than I do about success.” There are always exceptions on both sides: women who will sacrifice anything for the career they feel called to and men who would rather be home. But on average, the women I talk to just aren’t nearly as willing to sacrifice close friendships, and family relationships, for the sake of their jobs.

We can say that they shouldn’t have to, of course, but the sad fact is that there are trade-offs in this world. In your 20s you can finesse them — work super hard and also have a roaring social life — because you have boundless energy and no one depending on you. This is the age at which young women write furious articles and Facebook posts denouncing anyone who suggests that women opt-out of high pressure jobs for any reason other than the rankest sexism.

As you age, your body refuses to cooperate with your plan to work from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. and then hang out with friends. Your parents start to need you more, if only to lift heavy things. And of course, there are kids. You start having to make direct trade-offs, and then suddenly you look up and you haven’t seen your friends for two years and your mother is complaining that you never call. This is the age at which women write furious articles defending their decision to step back from a high-pressure job and/or demanding subsidized childcare, generous paid maternity leave and “family friendly policies,” a vague term that ultimately seems to mean that people who leave at five to pick up the kids should be entitled to the same opportunities and compensation as people who stay until 9 to finish the client presentation. These pleas usually end (or begin) by pointing to the family-friendly utopia of Northern Europe, except that women in Europe do less well at moving into high-test management positions. Whatever the government says, someone who takes several years off work is in fact less valuable to their company than someone who doesn’t.

Megan McArdle, “Harvard’s Gender Bender”, Bloomberg View, 2013-09-10

October 31, 2014

“Candy … is essential to understanding the history of how Americans eat”

Filed under: History,Media,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 06:56

Virginia Postrel talks to Samira Kawash about her book Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure:

It was, Kawash writes, the “first ready-to-eat processed food, the original ancestor of all our fast, convenient, fun, imperishable, tasty, highly advertised brand-name snacks and meals.” For more than a century, we’ve simultaneously gorged on the stuff and felt guilty about it. It’s an intensified version of our ambivalent and fickle attitudes toward abundant, convenient, mass-produced food in general.

“The candy that gives us some of our happiest experiences is the same candy that rots our teeth, ruins our appetite, and sucks tender innocents into a desperate life of sugar addiction,” she writes. “Candy joins the ideas of pleasure and poison, innocence and vice, in a way that’s unique and a bit puzzling.” Candy is, one might say, both trick and treat. With Halloween in mind, I interviewed Kawash by e-mail.

Question: When and how did candy become associated with Halloween? Was trick-or-treating just concocted to sell candy?

Answer: Would you believe the earliest trick-or-treaters didn’t even expect to get candy? Back in the 1930s, when kids first started chanting “trick or treat” at the doorbell, the treat could be just about anything: nuts, coins, a small toy, a cookie or popcorn ball. Sometimes candy too, maybe a few jelly beans or a licorice stick. But it wasn’t until well into the 1950s that Americans started buying treats instead of making them, and the easiest treat to buy was candy. The candy industry also advertised heavily, and by the 1960s was offering innovative packaging and sizes like mini-bars to make it even easier to give out candy at Halloween. But if you look at candy trade discussions about holiday marketing in the 1920s and 1930s, Halloween doesn’t even get a mention.

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