Friday, September 30, 2005

"It's fun to share!"

Bear with me here... The above title will seem off-topic for only a minute.

I am tired, so very tired, of children's television programming that attempts to convince children (who are not stupid, just uneducated) that doing the right thing is more fun than doing the thing they want to do.

I've found one short program on Disney that violates this apparently otherwise-inviolable rule: Captain Carlos. In CC, a young boy is hungry. He has some healthful (mistakenly termed "healthy," but that's a post for another day) snack or meal in front of him, but his little sister, who's in league with the Devil, tempts him with junk food. Carlos, however, makes the right choice... and the narrator actually points out that (for example) "Cookies may taste good, but they aren't so good for you" as Carlos scarfs his vegetable soup. It's not very compelling as television, but it has the virtue of being truthful...

...which "It's fun to share!" does not. It's not fun to share when you're three. And it's not fun to take off your shoes in airports when you're thirty-three, or forty-three, or however old the commenter gmat at 6:44 on this post at Belmont Club may be. gmat said, among other things, "The fact is, four years after 9/11, it is still more dangerous, even in Iraq, let alone the rest of the arab world, to be pro-American than to be anti-american. And I'm still taking my shoes off in airports," which might lead us to believe that our goal in Iraq was to feel better rather than to do what we believe is right. As it happens, the United States shares with every other sovereign nation the right (in its first sense) to do what it perceives is right (in its second sense - or I may have these definitions switched) for itself; and as it happens, what we are doing there is also what is right in a sense beyond our own national considerations. We are not acting to oppress; we are acting to create a pied-a-terre for freedom of the individual in a place where that freedom has controlled very little real estate.

The other night I was (again) asking my husband the eternal question, "Do these people actually believe what they say, or are they just saying it because it furthers their agenda in some way?" To wit, does Rangel really believe that Bush is this decade's Bull Connor? I understand he later "clarified" his statement by saying that he meant that "Mr. Bush, like Connor, had become a rallying point for America's blacks." Is that a clarification or a backpedaling? Or merely an acknowledgment that the most vocal sectors of the American black community have lost all sense of history? (I leave aside Major Owens's "'even more diabolical' than Connor" response to Republican requests that Democrats reject the statement).

Does Michael Moore really believe, as he said in spring 2004, that suicide- and car-bombers in Iraq are that nation's "Minutemen"? Or does he believe, as he says in his latest "Mike's Letter," that they're the terrorists we've known them for all along- "Our vulnerability is not just about dealing with terrorists or natural disasters" - when his purpose is to lambast Bush for appointing Brown to head FEMA?

And how about Hillary Clinton? Can we make sense of her recent statement at a Washington protest rally, that "we need to break our addiction to foreign oil" by remaining "absolutely firm in our opposition" to drilling in the ANWR? Her solution to the obvious conundrum contained therein: "The answer to our energy challenge does not lie under the plains of the arctic refuge, but in the minds that are ingenious in America." Relying on the appearance of sudden inspiration hardly seems reality-based, much less a point of national policy. In the interim, in these times before hydrogen can be produced economically, before the tremendous and so far insuperable problem of energy storage at least as efficient as that represented by a gas tank has been solved, how else can we wean ourselves from foreign oil besides by producing more oil domestically?

Again, probably a post for another day. For now, let me stand up and say, "Vegetables do not taste as good as chocolate. Doing homework before playing with friends is a complete bore. And it is not 'fun' to share. But some things we do because they're right." One such thing: not scrambling out of Iraq ahead of an election cycle, nor gauging either the importance or the success of our actions there by how popular those actions are.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

"Affirm the knight"

My parents are teachers. Now, at any rate. My mother trained as a teacher in college; my dad has become a teacher since his retirement from the Air Force some years back. They're about as dedicated as any parent could hope a teacher would be, and their dedication overflows into their grandparenthood, as well as their continuing parenting of their (very-)grown daughter here.

Recently they gave me a book called Why Gender Matters by Leonard Sax. As I have with so many parenting books I've received over my parenting years so far, I thanked them and put it on the shelf - until last night, when I was fresh out of new reading material and needed something, anything, to put me to sleep.

That book was not the right choice. It scared the bejeebers out of me: I railed against the mismatch between kindergarten teachers and their boy students (virtually all K teachers are women and have been trained to do things like speak gently and encourage kids to use lots of color and to draw human figures; boys physically do not hear as well as girls, and their retinas have more "motion-detecting" cells and fewer "identification" cells, such that they tend to draw relatively monochrome pictures of things in motion rather than nice families in their pretty gardens). I boggled at the difficulties of keeping boys interested in art and music, the girls in athletics, math, and science, when a "gender-neutral" approach is the norm. The chapter on teenage sexuality was so horrifying that when I finally fell asleep, it was with my "self-esteem script" for my daughter running through my head. I'm shuddering right now. As Dr. Sax terms it, the teen sex paradigm has changed from the female to the male: even as recently as ten years ago, the female paradigm was more common, in which the girl demanded, and got, at least a verbal and time commitment from the boy before she'd have sex with him (and of course this was back in the day when "having sex" included oral sex, which this book scarily informs me is now "second base" or "equivalent to kissing" to today's teens). The new male paradigm is, as my husband said this morning, a teenage boy's dream: sex with not only no explicit or implied commitment but actually designed and planned to mean a lack of commitment. "Hooking up." Fear it, if you're a parent.

Fear it for your daughters because any fool knows that it isn't all that fun for a girl or woman to perform sexual acts on a boy or man who doesn't give a tinker's damn about her. Fear it for your sons because this is all the warm-up they get in the desperately important "finding a surrogate mother" sweepstakes - let's face it, wives, that's what we are in one vital respect: we are typically our husbands' only truly intimate emotional connection and support besides their moms. And as Dr. Sax points out, single heterosexual men are sicker, unhappier, and shorter-lived than their counterparts with wives or partners.

I'm perhaps halfway through the book so far, and am growing increasingly nervous about the next ten or fifteen years with these kids of ours. How do we teach our daughter that she's "above rubies" and need not "drop to the broadloom" in Mark Steyn's humorous formulation for anyone unless she gets what she wants - love - beforehand? How do we socialize our sons, foster young men who respect women and have an appropriate outlet for their natural aggression?

As one guidance counselor says in the book, you may not be able to turn a bully into a flower child, but you can turn a bully into a knight. Affirm the knight, she says. I'd add that you may not be able to turn a flower child into a truck driver, but you can turn a flower child into an emotional Rock of Gibraltar for all around her.

I want my sons to be manly, my daughter to be womanly. I want them to have courage, to know when it's time to stand up and be counted, to feel deeply but to know when their feelings are not the most important factor. How can I affirm the knight in my sons? I sure hope there are some answers later in the book, because my confidence is at an all-time low right now.

On the other hand, there's this story, courtesy of Instapundit:

When their homes began to sink in Katrina's floodwaters, elders in the quarter here known as Uptown gathered their neighbors to seek refuge at the Samuel J. Green Charter School, the local toughs included.

But when the thugs started vandalizing the place - wielding guns and breaking into vending machines - Vance Anthion put them out, literally tossing them into the fetid waters. Anthion stayed awake at night after that, protecting the inhabitants of the school from looters or worse.


In the days after the storm, the Samuel J. Green school also served as their base for helping others in the neighborhood.

They waded through filthy water to bring elderly homebound neighbors bowls of soup, bread and drinks. They helped the old and the sick to the school rooftop, so the Coast Guard could pluck them to safety by helicopter - 18 people in all.

The knight was in the ascendant at that school. There's hope.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

For the love of God

I started to title this entry "The wrath of God" but thought better of it; it's too easy to write off a disaster like that witch Katrina as "God's wrath" and stop thinking about it, except, depending on your temperament, to wonder (again) why God allows terrible things to happen, or to wonder why we theists insist that God is Love manifest when terrible things happen.

So instead I'm sending an appeal: for the love of God, for the love of humanity, please don't use this. Don't use this awful tragedy as a smackdown of your favorite Bozo-the-Clown doll. There's plenty of blame, too much blame, to go around: the city and state governments failed their citizenry, some of the citizenry did incredibly foolish things and may cost others their lives, and still other portions of the citizenry are now behaving like rabid dogs and armed two-year-olds, making the horror more horrible. There is no need to begin the accusations so soon. Let's bury the dead first, and pump out the bitter water, and tend to people's hurts. And let's learn: let's learn how to prepare for a foreseeable catastrophe, and how to help others caught up in it. Please. For the love of God.