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These kids these days

There's a column by Joseph Epstein in the Weekly Standard entitled "Kindergarchy". Epstein makes several points in the article, some of which I disagree with, especially the idea that it was just as fun to be a kid when he was growing up as it is now. I wish my childhood had the internet; that would've been a lot more fun.

The most interesting point, though, is his theory that the lavish attention centered on children and child-rearing has no real effect on outcomes.

Let me quickly insert that I had the excellent luck of having good parents. Neither was in the least neurotic, both were fair to my brother and me, neither of us ever doubted the love of either of them. I can also say with no hesitation that my parents' two sons were never for a moment at the center of their lives. The action in their lives was elsewhere than in childraising.

In my father's case the action was at his business--"the place," as he sometimes called it. A small businessman, he came most alive when at work. Without hobbies or outside interests, he worked a five-and-a-half day week, and didn't in the least mind if he had an excuse to drop in for a few hours on occasional Sundays.

My mother, who was not in any way a trivial person as the following details might make her seem, played cards at least three afternoons a week. She kept up a fairly brisk social round. She was at home to provide us lunch when my brother and I were in grammar school, and she cooked substantial dinners, baked, and was a careful housekeeper. Later she took an interest in charities and paid for and helped organize occasional fundraising luncheons. When her children were grown, she went to work in her husband's business as a secretary-bookkeeper-credit-manager, at all of which she did a first-class job.

When I was a boy my parents might go off to New York or to Montreal (my father was born in Canada) for a week or so and leave my brother and me in the care of a woman in the neighborhood, a spinster named Charlotte Smucker--Mrs. Smucker to us--who was a professional childsitter. Sometimes an aunt, my mother's sister who had no children, would stay with us. We seldom went on vacation as a family. When I was eight years old, my parents sent me off for an eight-week summer camp session in Eagle River, Wisconsin, where I learned all the dirty words if not their precise meanings. None of these things made me unhappy or in any way dampened my spirits. I cannot recall ever thinking of myself as an unhappy kid.

My mother never read to me, and my father took me to no ballgames, though we did go to Golden Gloves fights a few times. When I began my modest athletic career, my parents never came to any of my games, and I should have been embarrassed had they done so. My parents never met any of my girlfriends in high school. No photographic or video record exists of my uneven progress through early life. My father never explained about the birds and the bees to me; his entire advice on sex, as I clearly remember, was, "You want to be careful."


After the age of ten, I made every decision about my education on my own. The one I didn't make, at ten, was to go to Hebrew school in order to be bar-mitzvahed; this was a decision made for me and was nonnegotiable. But my parents felt no need to advise me on what foreign language to take in high school, where I ought to go to college--though my father paid every penny of my tuition and expenses--or what I ought to study once there. That I was a thoroughly mediocre student seemed not much to bother them. Neither of my parents had gone to college, and my father never finished high school, moving to the United States and going off on his own at 17, and so they did not put great value in doing well at school.

At roughly the age of 11, I had the run of the city of Chicago, taking buses, streetcars, or the El with friends to Wrigley Field, downtown, or to nearby neighborhoods for Saturday afternoon movies. Beginning at 15, the age when driver's licenses were then issued in Chicago, I had frequent use of my mother's cream-and-green Chevy Bel-Air, which greatly expanded my freedom. I don't recall either of my parents asking me where I had been, or with whom, even when I came in at early morning hours on the weekends.

When we were together, at family meals and at other times, we laughed a lot, my parents, my brother, and I, but we did not openly exhibit exuberant affection for one another. We did not hug, and I do not remember often kissing my mother or her kissing me. Neither my mother nor my father ever told me they loved me; nor did I tell them that I loved them. I always assumed their love, and, as later years would prove, when they came to my aid in small crises, I was not wrong to do so.

I did not seek my parents' approval. All I wished was to avoid their--and particularly my father's--disapproval, which would have cut into my freedom. Avoiding disapproval meant staying out of trouble, which for the most part I was able to do. Punishment would have meant losing the use of my mother's car, or having my allowance reduced, or being made to stay home on school or weekend nights, and I cannot remember any of these things ever happening, a testament less to my adolescent virtue than to the generous slack my parents cut me.

The older I become the more grateful I am to my parents for staying off my case. Yet they were not unusual in this. Most of the parents of my contemporaries acted much the same, which is why very little anger or animus on the part of my friends against their parents was in evidence. Some parents were more generous to their kids than others, a few mothers showed anxiety about their sons and daughters, but no parents that I knew of seemed oppressive enough to give cause for feelings of revolt on the part of their children. Free and almost wildly uncontrolled though it may seem today, my upbringing was quite normal for middle-class boys of my generation.

My own parents were both similar to and very different from Epstein's. Their goals in life centered around their children and they made most major decisions with my brother and I in mind. Yet, they also gave me independence and let me make my own decisions. There were times they knew I was making a mistake, told me so, but let me make that mistake anyway.

Parenting does seem to be different today than even when I was growing up just over a decade ago: more intense, more hands on, and more high-stakes. Yet I'm not sure the kids are turning out any different.

O Hai Guise

Looks like we're back. Sorry about the outage.


A recent episode of So You Think You Can Dance reminded me of the relatively unknown style of dance known as "popping". Long before Youtube, a clip of a talent show circulated around the internet the old fashioned way and made David Elsewhere a legend (he's the guy in orange).

You might remember this Mitsubishi Eclipse commercial with a girl in the passenger seat popping to the song "Days Go By" by Dirty Vegas.

On one of this season's audition shows for SYTYCD, Robert Muraine entranced the judges with his popping.

The crowd reaction in the clips is interesting. The audience at the Kollaboration talent show went crazy when David Elsewhere got into his routine. Similarly, the judges on SYTYCD went absolutely insane from Muraine's routine. Even these judges who've seen all different types of dancing before were shocked at this combination of rhythm, contortion, self-aggrandizing humor, and what can only be described as "special effects". It takes people by surprise.


A great moment from last night's Spelling Bee:

There was another funny moment when the same contestant, Sameer Mishra, was given the word "esclandre" in a later round. He innocently repeated it back in an exaggerated Italian accent and the crowd erupted in laughter. Sameer went on to win the whole thing.

Subway disallows homeschoolers from contest

The radio shows have been talking about Subway's refusal to allow homeschooled children from participating in its "Every Sandwich Tells a Story" contest. The fine print reads:

Contest is open only to legal US residents, over the age of 18 with children in either elementary, private or parochial schools that serve grades PreK-6. No home schools will be accepted.

There's no explanation given as far as I can tell. Sure, Subway is a private entity and can exclude anyone they wish to, but so can I exclude them from associating with me. No more Subway for me.

5th Blogoversary

I almost forgot, but it happened a couple of days ago.

Wow, 5 years, and during that time, lots and lots of arguments written, new people met, and great friends made. Here's to five more!

In other news, in just a few days, I take the biggest exam of my life.

Commercials of Note

A few ads have caught my eye recently. As everyone knows, iTunes makes great commercials. I often find new music in them. Here's one:

Another uses Coldplay's new single, Viva La Vida.

The trailer for Gears of War uses "Mad World" in a perfect melding of song and video.

Extended version here.


Friendly reminder: today is the big fundraising day for Amit Singh. The best way you can help him win the election is to send a few bucks his way.


From last night's Spurs-Hornets game:

For those who might not get it, Eva Longoria is Tony Parker's wife.

The Greentech Business Revolution

Nice interview with Vinod Khosla:

Q: Can I close it up with one question about the valley in general? What is the future of Silicon Valley and its competitive state versus the rest of the world?

A: I think the most powerful social force we have when it comes to solving our problems and multiplying our resources is the entrepreneurs and technologists and scientists. And the culture of Silicon Valley. It is the solution and may be the only solution. Policy can help. But policy doesn't work without technology innovation.

Look, cement's a classic example. We're trying to do cement that would be cheap enough to give away for free if carbon had a price. That could change the world's carbon picture, with one technology. If solar thermal is cheaper than coal, which is possible over the next five to 10 years, then coal would be in a very different place. Those ideas come from technologists and scientists and serious entrepreneurs. And that's why I'm actually hopeful that we can change the picture.

Amit Singh for Congress

My friend Amit Singh is running for Congress in Virginia's 8th District. In the past, he's been a commenter on this blog and his DC condo served as Hotel Catallarchy for Catallarchicon I back in 2005. I can't go into any more details about what took place on those premises because he's running for Congress.

He's running as a Republican though with a definite libertarian streak. You can read more about his positions at his website. On May 15th, he's having a fund raiser which is described here. There's also a video of Amit and Ron Paul deciding on what to eat for lunch. Paul gives an Oscar-worthy performance if Oscars were given for Youtube videos.

I'll be conducting an interview with Amit in the very near future. In the meantime, those of you in the DC/Northern Virginia area should check out his website.


UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon just made a speech I watched on CNN and said that pretty much every first world country has pledged aid to Myanmar, but the Myanmar government is resisting aid workers from entering the country. He pleaded with the Myanmar authorities to cooperate. Reporters asked Ban about sanctions which he brushed aside to focus on humanitarian efforts for the present time.

Packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes

ASME's top 40 magazine covers

I like this one the best:

Whole list here.

Why is oil so expensive?

Because it's scarce, says David Strahan (no relation to Michael).

The idea that oil companies are somehow 'to blame' for record oil prices and rising fuel costs is seductive but absurd. For all their power and profits, the international oil companies are in fact in trouble. They may still be swimming in cash, but no longer in oil. Despite vast investment in exploration and production, these days they generally fail to replace the oil they produce each year with fresh discoveries, or even to maintain current levels of output. Shell's oil production has been falling for six years, BP's seems to have peaked 2005, and this week even the mighty Exxon was forced to admit its output dropped 10% in the first quarter of the year.

None of this should come as a surprise since all the evidence now suggests the world is rapidly approaching "peak oil", the point when global oil production goes into terminal decline for fundamental geological reasons. Annual discovery of oil has been falling for over forty years, and now for every barrel we find we consume three. Oil production is already shrinking in 60 of the world's 98 oil producing countries – including Britain, where output peaked in 1999 and has already plunged by more than half. When an individual country peaks it only matters for that country – Britain became a net importer of oil in 2006 – but when global supply starts to shrink the effects could be ruinous for everybody.