Wednesday News Chum: Children and Education, Barbie and Teen Driving

Ah, Wednesday lunch. Time for some chum to chew upon. I’m not sure if there’s a theme in these items yet — perhaps you can find it.

  • From the “Government Intrusion” Department: The New York Times has an interesting article on the National Children’s Study. This is a multi-billion dollar study authorized by Congress whereby the National Institutes of Heath will be following newborn children from before birth to age 21. The study’s goal is to examine how environment, genes and other factors affect children’s health, tackling questions subject to heated debate and misinformation. To do this all sorts of data will be collected. For exampel, quoting from the article, for one pregnant woman… “Researchers would collect and analyze her vaginal fluid, toenail clippings, breast milk and other things, and ask about everything from possible drug use to depression. At the birth, specimen collectors would scoop up her placenta and even her baby’s first feces for scientific posterity.” Here’s another quote, regarding the specimens collected: “Specimens include blood, urine, hair and saliva from pregnant women, babies and fathers; dust from women’s bedsheets; tap water; and particles on carpets and baseboards. They are sent to laboratories (placentas to Rochester, N.Y., for example), prepared for long-term storage, and analyzed for chemicals, metals, genes and infections.” It sounds like quite an effort, and for some, quite an intrusion. So, the real question: to what level are intrusions appropriate (with informed consent, of course) in the name of science?
  • From the “Pick a Career” Department: You know that flighty-blond Barbie. She can never seem to settle on a career, be it Astronaut or Doctor. So what is she doing this year? Voters have made her a news anchor and a computer engineer (the latter, the article notes, was designed with the help of the wonderful organization SWE). An interesting article in CurbedLA notes what careers were not chosen: in particular, they declined to allow her to pursue a career in environmentalism, surgery, or architecture. With respect to the latter, the Mattel spokeswoman stated that Barbie’s target audience (girls aged three to eleven) could not understand the complexities of an architect’s career. (Oh, SWE, did you hear that? Perhaps we need Civil Engineer Barbie). The article also mentions a professor at University of Buffalo, who put together an “Architect Barbie” exhibition at the University of Michigan as a response, with students and faculty creating their own archiBarbies (including a pregnant Glass Ceiling Barbie).
  • From the “I Picked The Wrong Day To Become a Woman” Department: More bad news for the girls out there. According to the Chicago Tribune, Allstate Foundation’s “Shifting Teen Attitudes: The State of Teen Driving 2009” report indicates that 27% of girls admit to speeding at least 10 miles over the speed limit, vs. 19% of boys. Also, 16% of girls report that they are very aggressive while driving, up from 9% in 2005. Meanwhile, 13% of teen boys admitted to being very aggressive while driving, vs. 20% in 2005.
  • From the “School Days, School Days” Department: A trio of interesting articles related to high school…

    In Arizona, school officials in a Tucson suburb took notice of the long bus rides… and decided to do something about it. According to the NY Times, they outfitted the bus with free WiFi. Surprise, surprise. The bus has become rolling study hall. Although some students do play games, many use the time to get a jump on homework assignments, do research, and yes, socialize on Facebook.

    In Utah, the school districts are facing a significant budget shortfall. One legislator’s solution: Make 12th Grade Optional. Basically, the proposal would offer incentives to encourage students to graduate early. The thought behind this is that most seniors take their senior year off. Hmmm, perhaps in Utah.

    But eight states are going even further: they are permitting students to enter community college after 10th grade. These states (Connecticut, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont) are introducing a program allowing 10th graders who pass a battery of tests to get a diploma two years early and immediately enroll in community college. Students who pass but aspire to attend a selective college may continue with college preparatory courses in their junior and senior years. Students who fail the 10th grade tests, known as board exams, can try again at the end of their 11th and 12th grades. The tests would cover not only English and math but other subjects like science and history. The new system of high school coursework with the accompanying board examinations is modeled largely on systems in high-performing nations including Denmark, England, Finland, France and Singapore. It’s a pilot program. I’m not sure it’s a good idea, but then I’m a traditionalist.

Hmmm, I guess this post did have a theme after all.


Wednesday News Chum: Interpreting Science, Bad Adults, and Round Monopoly

Surprisingly, there hasn’t been that much news from the lunchtime news reading of late that has been chum-worthy — which usually means a theme hasn’t emerged. However, I do have some mini-themes to share with you:

  • From the “Leave Science to the Scientists” Department: In Steve Allen’s book Dumpth, he talks about how society today has lost the ability to do critical thinking. Two articles I’ve seen demonstrate this. The first, concerning the media’s favorite non-politician, Sarah Palin, highlight how she dismisses scientific findings on climate change (a much more accurate term than “global warming”) as “snake oil”. She said the government’s approach to climate change “didn’t make any sense because it was based on these global warming studies that now we’re seeing (is) a bunch of snake oil science”. Politicians are quick to remind us that it is difficult for normal humans to comprehend the workings of the political machines (the usual analogy is the making of sausage). Similarly, politicians should leave the understanding of scientific research to the scientists who have technical degrees. In particular, Ms. Palin’s education is in journalism and sports, does not have the training to judge or recognize truly snake-oil science. I’m sorry, Ms. Palin, I’m more likely to trust the Secretary of Energy’s opinion, as he has a technical PhD and has won a scientific Nobel prize.

    Related to this is another article related to the obesity “epidemic” (hmmm, does this mean you can catch it by contact?): It appears that a recent study has found that sitting in front of the TV doesn’t make you obese. It is the commercials. Oh Stan. Paging Mr. Freberg. Sigh. This goes to show that advertising, surprise surprise, works. You advertise junk food, and kids will eat junk food. The way to get rid of this is to ban all advertising. Let’s see that get through congress!

  • From the “What Adults Do To Kids” Department: Two small articles highlight some bad things that are happening to our kids today. First, an 11-year old girl has given birth. Read that again slowly. Eleven years old. That’s far too young, and I’ll relatively sure the father was not the same age, but was older. Another story tells of a father (an Iraqi war vet) who waterboarded his 4-yo daughter because she didn’t know her alphabet. Both of these are horrific stories — and as a father of a daughter, they just make me cringe. I just don’t understand how adults can do these things to children.
  • From the “Going in Circles” Department: Monopoly has to be one of the most well known board games around (I’m not saying that it’s good or strategic, just well-known). It has also inspired the most variants. But in general the base game has stayed the change: pass go, collect $200; jail in the corner square, free parking, and funny money. That’s changing. Hasbro has issued a 75th anniversary edition with a round board and no money, just an ATM machine. No pewter pieces, either. Inflation has also hit the game: pass go, collect $2,000,000.

Monday News Chum

It’s Monday, the election is over (but for the electoral college)… this must mean it is time for a mostly non-political news chum:

  • From the “Gift that Keeps On Giving” Department: A reminder for those giving gift cards this year: Be careful about the retailers you use, because if the retailer goes belly-up, the gift card may be worthless. This happened to folks with The Sharper Image earlier this year, and given today’s news, I’d spend that Circuit City card sooner than later.
  • From the “Room 222” Department: The economy is not only affecting gift cards. Schools are also feeling the pinch–private schools in particular. Parent’s can’t afford the tuition, and the income from and value of the endowments are way down. Will the parents move to public schools? Unknown, but if they do, the budgets there will be tighter as well. Further, fundraising won’t be as easy… as bake sales are now subject to school nutritional rules. That’s right: no more selling those homemade or purchased cookies or brownies or cupcakes. Food served at school must be healthy and nutritious. So keep your eye out for more carwashes.
  • From the “Pata Pata” Department: Today’s news also brings the report that Miriam Makeba has died. I learned of Ms. Makeba when Pata Pata became the new dance at CHK/GHC in the early 1970s. What I never understood was why an African song became popular at a Jewish summer camp… and it is still popular these days!
  • From the “Sorry, Tiffany” Department: There’s a hot new name for babies: Barack. Evidently, this is something that happens most election years: there were lots of Dwights and Lyndons (although I’ve never met a Lyndon) back in the 1950s and 1960s. We haven’t had odd names for president’s in a while; after all, John, James, Richard, William, Ronald, and George are always popular. Folks also use last names as first names, so there is also a rash of “Obamas”. This explains why Clinton was also a popular first name. Still, some names just never caught on, such as Nixon or Bush.
  • From the “Another Sign of the Economy” Department: Lastly, want to get your child a classic toy, something just inducted into the toy hall of fame. Go outside and get him a stick. Yup, the humble stick, as well as the skateboard and the baby doll, have been inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame. Previous inductees range from the bicycle and Mr. Potato Head to Crayola crayons and the cardboard box. The stick is a special addition. Curators praised its all-purpose, all-natural, no-cost qualities and its ability to serve either as raw material or an appendage transformed by imaginations into something else.

And speaking of toys, a popular toy is the toy train… and a popular toy train is Thomas the Tank Engine. You could have seen a full-size Thomas last weekend at OERM’s Day Out with Thomas. But don’t fret. You can still see Thomas tomorrow, Veteran’s Day, as well as next weekend November 15-16. As an added bonus — no extra charge — if you come tomorrow you can see me and nsshere as we work as Thomas Car Attendants (alas, you won’t be able to see gf_guruilla, as it looks like she has to stay home with pneumonia). So if you’re in SoCal, and not working (or able to take a vacation day), come on out to OERM in Perris, CA and say “Hi”. Go for an early or late ride and save $4 off the tickets.


Engineer Bill Has Taken His Last Train

Sob. “Engineer Bill” Stulla has died at age 97.

Folks who read this journal should know by now about Sheriff John. John Rovick was one of the better known children’s television hosts in the 1960s in Los Angeles. Along with folks like “Hobo Kelly” (Sally Baker), “Engineer Bill” Stulla, and others, they entertained and educated millions and millions of children. Well, Engineer Bill has just passed (although I think Rovick and Baker are still alive–we lost another one, Paul Winchell, quite a few years ago).

In memory of the good times he brought, I invite you (if you’re old enough to remember children’s television hosts on local TV stations), to share your favorite memory of children’s television, be it in Los Angeles, or other cities (Wallace and Ladmo, Capt Sacto, or the numerous skippers, captains, clowns, or cowboys out there). Did you watch Dusty’s Treehouse? That’s Cat? C’mon, share your memories and have a cold glass of milk for Engineer Bill.

Green Light.


Loss of Innocence, Take 2

Yesterday, I wrote about the loss of innocence of our youth, as demonstrated by schools prohibiting obviously fake weapons (utility belts, phasers, etc.) from Halloween costumes. Today’s Washington Post brings an article about different loss of Halloween innocence.

When you were young, how did you dress? A ghost with a sheet. Perhaps a superhero. Today, how are preteens dressing? How about a micro-mini black skirt and a form-fitting black and white-striped spandex top held together with black laces running up the flesh-exposing sides, with thigh-high boots? What about the Aqua Fairy, a vampy get-up with a black ripped-up skirt, black fishnet tights and blue bustier that comes in medium (fits a child of 8), large and preteen. The Funky Punk Pirate Pre-Teen, with an off-the-shoulder blouse and bare midriff? The Fairy-Licious Purrrfect Kitty Pre-Teen, which, according to the package, includes a “pink and black dress with lace front bodice and sassy jagged skirt with tail. . . . Wings require some assembly.” A “deluxe” sequined Dorothy dress that, unlike the chaste, high-necked one in the little girl size, was lower cut and had two strategically placed poofs of fabric? The Prisoner, a slinky spandex number with a little button at the throat and open chest like a ’70s disco halter dress? The Raggedy Ann, a blue mini dress so mini that the lacy underskirt barely dusts the bottom of the fanny. Other girl and preteen costumes mentioned include the Major Flirt in army green, the bellybutton-baring Devilicious and a sassy, miniskirted French Maid, pink feather duster included.

Mind you, this is for pre-teens. Not your 18 or 20 year old girlfriend, your sexy wife… but your 11-13 year old daughter [or even younger!] (at least my daughter is dressing reasonably, adapting her renfair outfit). Scary is out, and sexy is in (and parents are scared). As an aside, I wonder if this is because Paris Hilton and Brittany Spears have made sexy the new scary. Anyway, our society is so… so…. I can’t think of the right word. On the one hand, we decry child predators, worry for our children, make all sorts of laws to keep predators away, and even modify LiveJournal :-)… but then we let companies market sex to those that shouldn’t be worrying about it. Yet another loss of innocence, indeed, but I think this one is happening before the maturity to handle it is present.

P.S. to geah: I don’t think you can blame this one on the trial lawyers, the DNC, or even Hillary Clinton. Bill, maybe. 🙂


A Loss of Innocence

When you think of Halloween, what comes to mind? Costumes, perhaps. Dressing up as a pirate with a sword. Perhaps your favorite Star Wars character with a blaster. Batman, with his utility belt.

Think again. As society has gotten increasingly scared of children with weapons, they are banning the weapons that are associated with costumed characters. Don’t believe me? Read the New York Times. Today there was an article on the subject, talking about a Halloween parade at a local elementary school. Quoting from the article:

As parents snapped photos and chased the characters they loved most with video recorders, boys and girls dressed in traditional costumes that should have included toy weapons looked as if they had been frisked and disarmed during circle reading time.

The parade included a devil with no pitchfork, a Power Ranger without a laser blaster and a pint-size Batman who had been told to leave his utility belt at home.

This year’s parade on Wednesday will look much the same.

“We send out letters a few weeks before Halloween telling parents that their children cannot wear masks or bring weapons of any kind to the school,” said Kenneth Smith, the principal at Strathmore.

But it gets worse. St. Gabriel School, a Roman Catholic elementary school in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, has gone so far as to ban costumes entirely. I see this as yet another step in the loss of innocence. I remember when I was young (sonny!), we would just wander the neighborhood for hours… and our parents wouldn’t worry. We didn’t use seat belts, car seats. We never heard of predators. We had pure play time, mixing chemicals in the garage, banging rocks with hammers to see what would happen.

Have we destroyed the innocence of our young? How far will we go? Is a life without any risk, without any imagination, a life at all?


Categorizing Things

Back when I was 10 or 11, I got a cassette recorder (this was around 1970, folks). I immediately commenced recording (what they now call “burning”) all my “records” (those black vinyl discs, remember those) to tape. I then had to organize my tapes… and that’s the subject of this post.

My first organization system was simple sequential numbering. I numbered all my records, 3″ reel-to-reel tapes, and cassettes. This lasted until I had around 40-50 tapes. By that time, I had gotten into computers, and I came up with a complicated hexidecimal system. Music cassettes were all Axxx, with appropriate subcategories (A0 was popular music, A6 was show tunes, A8 was prerecorded cassettes) and comedy cassettes were Cxxx. I recall that reel-to-reel tapes were Exxx, 8-tracks were Dxxx. I forget what I allocated to Bxxx and Fxxx. Records had a more complicated system 00xx(yyy.n), where xx was the EBCDIC of the first letter of the artists name, yyy was the first three letter of the artist, and n was a sequential numbering). I’m looking right now at an old Blood Sweat and Tears album that is numbered 6, 22, and 00C2(BLO,1). I kept a full index file with the contents of everything, except for the records.

This lasted, surprisingly, until I got into college. By then the hex system was too cumbersome. So I created version 3.0 of the numbering syste. This got rid of numbers, sort of. Everything was put into broad categories and relabled. “*” was popular music; “B” was Beatles, “SS” was Stage and Screen, “:-)” was Comedy, etc. Tapes also had a sorting code, so John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Double Fantasy” was catgory B, sorting code L1. That system lasted until I gave up on cassettes.

Nowadays, I’m still “burning” records, this time to CD. But unlike the past, I don’t number things. I keep things on my CD shelves in alphabetical order… but still divided into rough categories. There is popular music, show tunes, comedy, Jewish music, folk, etc.

Perhaps I’ve grown out of the categorization, although being organized is still important to me (ask anyone who’s transferred stuff to me and had me regularize filenames). Perhaps it is what is behind my highway pages (as I’m into the numbering more than collecting route photos). Perhaps it is behind how I tag posts, or how I color-code people on my friends lists (yes, there is a rhyme and reason behind it). But numbering and categorizing things is an odd comfort. It’s also something I think kids today will miss, as they don’t have “physical” collections of their hand-recorded music anymore: they have MP3, organized into folder by their iPods and iRivers, that they can sort everyway from Sunday on artist or genre or the color underwear the band wore when they recorded the album. Yet another part of childhood killed by technology.

So what was your categorical obsession?