Bringing Up Baby

The elusive balance between love and discipline.

If the songs of Madonna and Britney Spears affirm the virtues of a good spanking from time to time, the idea of corporal punishment has become decidedly less vogue in the arena of childrearing. The trend towards pacifism found its ultimate expression this past week in a California bill to outlaw spanking by parents altogether. Widely dismissed as an excessive manifestation of the liberal nanny state, the proposed law receives a rare defense from Emily Bazelon.

Many cast a skeptical eye on the supposed link between child behavior and discipline in the first place. “There are so many things going on societally” points outchadosaurus, among them “parents … being lazy, short sighted, concerned more with being best friends than parents, selfish” that it’s impossible to cite spanking as “either the problem or the solution.” Isonomist- chalks up the escalating rate of juvenile misbehavior and violence to the disintegration of the two-parent household since the 1960s. Taking the interrogation of such a link further, Vepxistqaosani3 laments the general lack of respect shown superiors:

If the argument that spanking is ineffective be true, then it follows that American children should be better behaved today than in the past.

But friends and relatives who teach in the public schools assure me that this is not the case; that children today are far more disrespectful and unruly than ever. Who among us over forty can remember even the most notorious juvenile delinquent mouthing off profanely and obscenely to a teacher? But that is not even unusual today.

unempirical attacks the proposed spanking law as overly broad, and therefore prone to abuse by overzealous prosecutors. wolfmann questions the basic enforceability of yet more statutes aimed at regulating behavior within the home. Inquisitor14 blasts Bazelon’s article as “the worst kind of irresponsible indefensible social theory … especially as the author admits that there is not a preponderance of evidence on either side here.”

An advocate of the occasional smack to the backside, kjm rails against the underlying ego psychology of modern parenting:

Just follow a badly misbehaving kid thru a store while his mother is busy telling him, “Mommy said for you to stop that,” Mommy said for you to be quiet,” Mommy said you won’t get a candy bar if you don’t behave,” ad nauseum, and you pray they will pick the kid up and deliver two quick smacks to the backside.
A couple of swats on the hind end thru layers of clothes (the classic definition of spanking) teaches a child that he owes you and others around him respect and good manners and that, as a parent, it is your obligation to see that he learns this valuable lesson so that others will like him.
Letting a child grow up thinking he is the center of the universe, which many unspanked children seem to feel, is a disservice and poor parenting.

janeR agrees: “A sting to the behind is better than letting the child go beserk in a tantrum or run out into traffic if they don’t get their way.” Arkady makes a compelling argument for preserving parental authority in matters of discipline:

In short, there’s almost no reward or punishment that someone couldn’t see as doing a terrible disservice to the child. The “ban spanking” crowd wants to prevent other parents from using one tool that they don’t approve of, but they don’t seem to have considered that they could as easily have taken from them the tools they consider appropriate. Each parent decides what rewards and punishments to use. To the maximum reasonable extent, I’m in favor of leaving those calls to them, since they know their children best.

OskarS, a “25 year-old Swede who has never been spanked,” writes in to register strong opposition to any form of corporal punishment:

Since I grew up in a world were harming your child was illegal, this whole discussion is completely baffling to me. To say that you can’t raise a kid without spanking is so absurd that I can’t believe what I’m hearing…Now, you might say that I’m extremely pacifist, or that I’m too much of a bleeding heart liberal, that I’m out of the norm. I’m really not. Every single parent of small children I have ever known (quite a number of them) would say the exact same thing.

We don’t grow wilder or out of control, we don’t grow up to be criminals. For those of us who do it’s not because they weren’t spanked, it’s because of bad parenting. And having a lousy parent spank you would not help a whole hell of a lot.

Ouch. Ouch. Geoff, stop that! More in Family Fray. AC5:19pm PST

Sunday, Jan. 21, 2007

Information wants to be free. Labor wants to get paid. Is it any wonder nobody’s satisfied these days?

The American worker is sick of getting dumped on, judging from responses to Daniel Gross’ articles on Unwilling Americans who won’t do any Dirty Work. Sarvis, the Fray’s resident Upton Sinclair, expresses the prevailing anger most succinctly:

The government is more than happy to intervene in the “free market” for wages at the low end by allowing a steady supply of low-expectation immigrants to come in, by union busting, by disempowering labor wherever they can, by changing the rule on overtime, etc.

Meanwhile, at the upper income levels…. oh wait, they pretty much intervene there too - by enforcing immigrant quotas at the top end, by blocking out qualified competition for doctors and lawyers via licensing rules, by keeping the rules lax for executive pay accounting and disclosure, by keeping shareholders weak, etc.

The government works very hard to keep low wages low and high wages high. So, the next time you hear some nincompoop neocon bleat about “free markets” feel free to haul off and kick their teeth out.

Revrick, the Fray’s resident William Jennings Bryan, lays out his own critique of 21st-century capitalism:

In the grousing of CEOs and their political friends about the supposed shortcomings of American workers, we hear strong echoes of the pornographic mind at work. In the imaginings of these CEOs and their political mouthpieces, labor should be compliant and submissive always willing to give access to their bodies in service of their capitalist desires. And, if need be, any resistance should be beaten out of the laboring masses, using whatever threats or coercions are necessary to win their conquest.

Having served a working-class congregation, where I’ve heard union workers describe the wage and benefit cuts demanded by bosses as ‘getting reamed,’ with its thinly veiled allusion to homosexual rape, there is a primitive, but real understanding that this is not just a matter of dollars and cents, but also of violence done to bodies in service of abstract capitalist goals.

I can recall reading in the local paper on an almost weekly basis, the fatalities which occurred in the Pittsburgh area steel mills: the falls from catwalks; the carbon monoxide poisonings in furnaces being relined with bricks; the burns from molten metal.

Closer to home, the son of one of my church’s members used to earn his paycheck collecting trash until one foggy morning a driver pinned him against the garbage truck, severing his leg.

Who would willingly perform such work without substantial compensation for the risk? Who would willingly endure loss of fingers and repetitive motion injuries in meat-packing without a pay and benefits package worthy of the risk? Who would descend into mines or break their backs harvesting tomatoes without wages to match the suffering?

In the pornographic mind of CEOs there is a compliant and submissive work force eager to throw their bodies into serving their goals. Illegal immigration is the product of that pornographic mind, because now there is at ready-hand a vulnerable, easily threatened and coerced population which will let the bosses have their way.

A good share of the discussion focuses on the travails of specific trades. Arlington2 looks at the changes in his local construction industry, where “carpentry, framing and roofing are no longer trades that pay living wages.” I’ve written an overflow column  to do justice to the debate on the contemporary trucking industry.  My favorite post of the discussion comes from therealFerdinanda, who looks at the comparative state of American farm workers:

If you want to talk about why Americans won’t work farm jobs […] the real question is, why are we allowing human beings to be treated this way? Backbreaking work, low pay, poisonous chemicals probably every day. It’s obscene. We *should* be paying more for our food. […]

Farm workers get dumped on because they have no power, NOT because they have no skills. This economist idea that people get paid what they’re “worth” is what we call a partial truth. It’s only true if people have the power to organize, and even then it’s still only part of the story. […]

Social networks, higher education, references – all of these things are socially rationed, ie, given only to the rich or connected. […] This is a form of labor organizing too, we just don’t think of it that way because we’ve all been brainwashed by the right. […]

In contrast, in many places there is no freedom to organize, and that’s one of the reasons “globalization” is screwing Americans. People in China and many other places are not free. Therefore, it is not free trade. And it’s not fair trade either. Willingness to work one’s way into an early grave should not be viewed as a “comparative advantage,” but rather as proof of injustice. They don’t call it the dismal “science” for nothing.

With all these populist firebrands flying, will nobody stick up for the big guy? Leave it to rob_said_that, with his glowing tribute to Budweiser’s August Busch III, “a one-man mechanized army.”

I’m not personally worried about the labor situation in the United States. I hear there’s call-center work to be had in India, so I’ve got something to fall back on. But for the rest of you suckers, get in on the debate in our Moneybox Fray. Your livelihood could depend on it. GA3:15am PT

Thursday, Jan. 18, 2007

Christopher Hitchens’ latest on Patrick Cockburn’s account of the “calamitous mismanagement of the Iraq War” inspired a very detailed and thoughtful semantic parsing of the terms commonly used thus far to characterize the conflict.

For TJA, to call the war “mismanaged” overlooks the fact that “the initial idea was so flawed that such mismanagement was likely if not certain.” cwg agrees that “the mismanagement, though disastrous, should be seen as secondary to the hubris and hypocrisy of the invasion itself, which was executed without significant political opposition or analysis by the MSM.” By jerseyman’s definition, however, all wars are inevitably mismanaged to some degree, making this criticism so broad as to be useless:

Every campaign, by every general; every war, by every nation; all of them have been an accumulation of errors, disasters and fiascos.

As the great Lombardi said of football: “the side that makes the fewest mistakes wins”.

US forces, since the end of WW2, have been fighting under the twin burdens of politically correct rules of engagement and instantaneous criticism driven by electronic media 24 hour coverage.

Could the American Military “beat” the insurgents? For that matter could the US military wipe out the Islamic radicals? With a free rein and no concern for collateral damage I’d say obviously.

In place of concrete, measurable benchmarks of progress, the Bush strategy has been one of perpetual deferral, claimsO_Hellenbach:

My particular favorite line in the administration’s ongoing obfuscation and denial about the situation in Iraq is the one that goes, “the next three [or six] months will be critical.” The idea that something is critical means that at the end of the period some kind of resolution has been reached, or some kind of result will occur or not occur that will allow somebody to make some kind of judgment about it. Yet it never does. The phrase simply becomes a way to put off answering any questions. Since the occupation began, we’ve passed any number of supposed critical three-month periods without comment or even any memory that somebody said that the critical period had passed–much less with any resolution or conclusion or evaluation.

Varian fires back forcefully at O_Hellenbach’s “Are we there yet?” approach that

represents … all the impatient, largely irrelevant questions which should be answered in [times of] war: “as long as it takes.” You’ve bought into your own antiwar propaganda to an extent that you don’t realize that people like Hitch think that friendly control over the key state in the Mideast and hanging what may be an insurmountable defeat on the jihadists is well worth a few years and a few thousand troops (as much as we regret the loss of each one). That’s what some of us commit to when we support a war. We don’t expect every war to be a 6-week air campaign followed by 100 hours of ground fighting before we declare “victory.”

The above is but an excerpt of the fiery volley between O_H and V. The full version can be found in the Fighting Words Fray. AC4:27pm PT

Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2007

Amidst the rush of current events and social trends, it’s easy to overlook one of Slate’s finest departments—Robert Pinsky’s weekly Poems selection. Its corresponding Fray suffers doubly from unjust obscurity. Throughout the week, its regular contributors swap verse and run an ongoing poetry workshop. Most valuably, this merry band of literary die-hards do an excellent job of examining and explaining the merits of Pinsky’s often challenging selections.

Uncharacteristically for the Fray, some of the strongest writing emerges in praise of the featured authors. Take Ted_Burke’s appreciative critique of this week’s poem, Death’s Doorman, by Daniel Bosch:

It’s a scene any introspective sort will recognize or feel empathy for; one is alone in a cold, dark room, staring out of the window, gazing at the stares and the spectral clouds passing over the face of full yellow moon, contemplating what there is beyond this existence. Is there something one goes to and finds an ironic eternity tailored by one’s decided deeds on earth, or is there only dust, silence, a blank slate of non-being?

This isn’t comedy for self-infatuation by default, but exactly the kind of exercise the mind plays at when there isn’t the opportunity to engage with the world beyond one’s own skin, and it’s not uncommon to wonder, once one is done with the cerebral gymnastics to sort through their obsessions, loves and losses, to finally ask the variations on The Question: when does this all end? What will I say if there is someone /something waiting for me? What legacy will I leave? What will the consequences of what I chose to do and refused to do? […]

Death’s Doorman by [Daniel] Bosch, turns this theme into a two voice theater piece, and it works, surprisingly enough, for such a gimmick-tending conceit. I well imagine the introspective sort I described earlier in the bathroom, late at night (although a sunny mid afternoon would do just as well) staring at the mirror , envisioning all sorts of after life scenarios, asking every question , poetic or merely dumb, that he or she can muster, trying to arm themselves with a knowledge where an unavoidable fate can be made tolerable. It’s as if the interlocutor is trying to reserve the best seat on the last plane out of Hicksville. What returns , we see, are one word answers, like echoes coming from a long, deep cavern, warbling refractions of what he or she had just asked, the keywords distorted and changed. […]

This becomes a brief and bitter comedy, and is something Samuel Beckett would have written as one of his radio plays, the usual scenario of a character frozen in habit or ritual, redundantly trying to revive some earlier sense of coherence from situations or things. Bosch’s second voice offers no inside information, provides no clues, but rather deflects the inquiries with accidental puns. This is a piece that doesn’t so much end as stop, cold. It seems that this inquiry could go on indefinitely, right to the grave, as the peculiar narcissistic loop provides just enough variation in the malformed responses, the echoes, that one can proceed with it forever as if they were indeed closer to a Big Secret. Bosch is wise to leave the scene when he does, leaving us with a funny, if minor dramaturgy. One can, of course, seize upon any of the questions and their responses and find layers of implication and hence unearth every deferred meaning, but I think that’s part of what makes the poem work so well. Bosch plays on the human brain’s insistence on making utterances contain more than surface references, and it is a nice trick he’s pulled. The character, the interlocutor , is trapped in infinite regress with his questions, and the reader, as well, might be compelled to parse each pun and skewed return. This might, then, be a comedy with two acts performed simultaneously.

MaryAnn zeroes in on the poem’s blend of technique and impact:

I especially like how the sound of the truncated, abrupt short lines of the doorman throws me off balance, how it echoes the harsh reality of what he is saying.

I don’t understand all of the “stanzas,” but then death (and his doorman) are not comprehensible, are they? If anything, I would have preferred some scatological language from this smart-mouthed doorman. After all, isn’t death ultimately an obscene thing? […]

This poem did have an emotional impact on me. It reminded me, in a very hard-nosed, postmodern poem, that there is no explanation for death, no way of learning about it except to push pass the doorman and go through the door.

Sometimes, the strongest responses are also the simplest, as with richrd’s free-associative reply:

I once knew a doorman for a very chic club.
He’d get me in even though I was on the c minus list.
But he spoke with a heavy Irish brogue and I most of
the time I couldn’t make head or tail of what
he was trying to say. Anyway he got fired and I lost my “in”.
This poem reminded me of him.

If you’re an amateur writer looking to unearth the secrets of readin’, writin’, and rhythm tricks, consider spending some time in the Poems Fray. It has all the virtues of a writers’ workshop, minus tuition and compulsory attendance. GA12:42am PT

Monday, Jan. 8, 2007

In a recent entry on his Human Nature Blog, William Saletan called attention to the “Ashley Treatment“—a medical procedure designed to freeze the physical development of brain-damaged children. SpecialParent, whose child is a candidate for the treatment, writes in to defend the procedure from its detractors:

We were overjoyed to learn about the “Ashley Treatment,” or growth attenuation. […] A billion dollars could not bring as much happiness to our child in goods and services as being small and cuddled like the baby she believes she is. Attenuating her growth would not violate the Hippocratic Oath; to the contrary, NOT attenuating her growth would knowingly cause her increasing distress and unhappiness as her “activities” became limited per her size (“activities” including cuddling and holding and carrying, given her immobility), not to mention the increasing chance of injury to her during care and transfers. Like some children with brain damage, her head is infant-sized and will never grow. While we don’t care if society is uncomfortable seeing an adult with an infant-sized head, we do care that her tiny nasal passages already labor to provide enough oxygen to a child. And what about her infant-sized feet that do not grow with the rest of her, how will they support an adult body? Given the stature of other family members, she may very well be six feet tall in adulthood.

The arguments that parents will stunt their children’s growth willy-nilly are exaggerated and ignorant. Before our child’s growth might ever be attenuated we will have to convince an ethics panel of dozens of medical professionals, who will be looking for every reason why not. There will not be growth-stunting clinics on every street corner. The arguments that we should let nature take its course, that we shouldn’t fix the child to compensate for society’s shortcomings, or that we shouldn’t take any measures for “convenience” are hypocritical. Babies are created and selected by fertilization, birth dates planned, induced, born by C-section, fed formula, and scheduled for convenience. As they grow older, their short stature is enhanced, tonsils are removed, and plastic surgery performed to correct anything nature didn’t do right or to be more acceptable to society. […] No matter how utopian our society, our daughter would still be happier child-sized so that she can be close to us, as I imagine Ashley will be. […]

Thank you to Ashley’s family for voluntarily subjecting themselves to worldwide public scrutiny. They have given us hope that our child may be happy and healthy in life, and that’s what every parent wants.

Fraysters have taken positions for and against the use of this procedure, but both sides seem to agree that the whole concept is unsettling. Eigenvector (not a fan), exclaims: “this is not Eugenics, this is something out of an H.P. Lovecraft story.” Caromer (a supporter) concedes “‘pillow angel’ is a creepy term.”

To marylb, the case of “Ashley X” says more about the medical profession than about parents:

To me the issue is about the medical community acting on expediency, which is ethically troubling. That parents of children with needs are left with few alternatives is certainly true, but does that mean the known reality of these children growing up should be altered? Where is the line drawn for the medical community if indeed expediency is factored in and the medical world tries to make up for lack of services? Where is the definitive line drawn that controls the medical concept?

I only know that I don’t know the answer.

Amen to that. If you have thoughts on this subject, please share them with us in the Human Nature FrayGA12:05am PT

Sunday, Jan. 7, 2007

Responding to Daniel Gross’ largely optimistic assessment of Whole Foods’ potential for profitability despite recent declines in its stock price, some Fraysters took great interest—and in some cases, pleasure—in analyzing the chain’s downturn.

In this top 10 list of reasons not to buy Whole Foods’ stock, baltimore-aureole points out the “inherently limited … number of people willing to pay $5 a pound for tomatoes which are indistinguishable from non-organic,” the absence of “local advertising,” “lousy locations,” and the need to shop elsewhere for mainstream and practical items such as “diet coke, chicken nuggets, and detergent, etc.” johnboy779 highlights the affordability of Trader Joe’s “as a significant reason why Whole Foods is taking such a hit” in his hometown of Madison, Wisconsin. messyONE unleashes an extended diatribe over its “cramped, dirty, and crowded” shopping venues and the frequently “rotting produce” in its bins, while diogene cites larger economic trends for the chain’s recent slump: “meager economic recovery of the past 5 years has been consumer-driven all the way, and the consumer–even the affluent consumer–is feeling more than a little tapped out by now.”

Pondering the connection between food and spirituality, revrick seeks to explain Whole Food’s success in appealing to the holier-than-thou “devotees of vegetarianism and organic foods”:

The whole premise behind stores like Whole Foods is that it manages to pull off making two contradictory claims at once. On the one hand, there is Thorstein Veblen’s conspicuous consumption at work here. Shopping at Whole Foods says to the world, “I’m so rich, I can blow scads of money buying over-priced produce.” On the other hand, there is a gnostic, elitist denial-of-the-world ethic involved as well. “I shop at Whole Foods, because I am a spirtually evolved sort, who can discern the difference between the pure and the impure, the superior and the inferior. Lesser breeds shop at Redners, I get what’s good at Whole Foods.”

Thanks to Food TV, says marylb, we’ve witnessed the popularization of gourmet tastes that will continue to fuel the growth of high-end food purveyors in suburban and rural middle America. On the other end of the demographic spectrum, Isonomist- praises the adaptability of Whole Foods to the urban market of New York City:

WF took a risk parking themselves in our gentrifying neighborhood, because there’s literally no parking anywhere nearby. So you can only buy what you can carry home, unless you want delivery. They’ve attenuated the selection, there’s no bulk section and you could probably fit the whole grocery section into one corner of your local WF. They just know what we feel like eating, and what we’re willing to pay for it. Doesn’t sound like much of a model, but in practice, it’s the most popular square footage in our area of town.

For the detractors in the crowd, it’s worth checking out this March 2006 Slate article on Whole Foods and “the darks secrets of the organic food movement” Promptly report to Moneybox Fray afterwards to share your thoughts. AC11:05am PT