Sunday, March 30, 2014

Chart: 2014 Pirates win Predictions

May the best fan win.  Charlie was closest last year by predicting 86 wins, the highest total of any of us.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Bullet Points Post March '14

I have some bits and bobs that I didn't think could stand individually as a post, but together, maybe they're something.

1.  In trying to describe to Paige Teddy's behavior in the 4:30-5:00 blood sugar witching half hour, I accidentally coined the word "appetude", which is a mashup of appetite and attitude.  Teddy is one of those kids who can behave horrendously when he's hungry.  What's amazifrustrating (not a typo) is that it takes an astonishingly small number of bites of food for him to make a Jekyll-to-Hyde transformation.  In fact, the next time he's sporting a bad appetude, I'm going to try to take a video so you can see how quickly he can recover.

2.  Late winter sun blinding you from reading the comics, son?  Don't worry about it.  Dad will build a sunshade for you out of sugary cereals.  That'll help.

 3.  This article about a new parenting study has quickly made the rounds among intelligent, well-read, discerning parents I know.  It's worth the read.  Tip of the blog to Seoul Foreign School's best English teacher.

4. Finally, who doesn't love a second-grader's polite note about something he wants packed in his lunch?  Pittsburgh Popcorn is pretty amazing.  I'd want their chocolate covered pretzel popcorn packed in my lunch, too.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Career Aspirations

The subject with his science fair project about
the impact of introducing drag on paper airplanes
Charlie (11) has long planned to be a professional athlete.  As solid as this plan sounds, we have been a little concerned that a child as, ahem, bulk-challenged as he is may not be NFL wide receiver material.  We've talked to him about having a backup plan, and to keep us quiet, he has settled on mechanical engineering.

Concurrently, he has angled for sports announcing jobs at school.  We were surprised at the very tail end of his fifth grade year to discover that he'd been standing up at morning assembly and giving a Pirates report for weeks, maybe since the season started in April of that year.  We don't know how it began; his principal happened to love him and to encourage bold students.  Now in sixth grade, he has become the backup announcements guy over the PA system in the morning.  When the assigned eighth grader cannot fulfill his duties, our guy makes the morning student announcements.  Naturally.  A sixth grader in a 400-student middle school.

Emboldened by his substitute spot, he pitched giving a Pirates update at his middle school.  His principal accepted his proposal, and he's chomping at the bit for the season to start so he can take to the airwaves.

The other day, he mentioned sports announcing as a fallback in case he's not drafted by the Steelers.  In ten years, I'll probably pull strongly for mechanical engineering, but from the safe vantage point of his (and my) relative youth, I love the idea.  He's particularly well-suited to it.  He loves sports and has narrated his way through his imaginary games for as long as we can remember.  He loves people and the storylines of teams and players.  He has a "Dad, remember the second spring training game we went to in 2007 when David Ortiz came to the plate..." kind of sports memory. He also reveres the history of sports.  For fun, he has watched DVDs of the Pirates 1971 and 1979 World Series games.  Ask him what the weather was like for game 2 in Baltimore in 1979; he might know. 

So, it's important for a young man to have choices.  So far, we have A) 6'1", 160 lb. wide receiver, B) sports announcer and C) mechanical engineer.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

All of my life decisions have been wrong.

Although I shouldn't give any time to prooftexting dirtbags, I was shocked at an Internet rabbit trail discovery this week and just had to share/vent.  So, :  A friend posted this note about the Mars Hill megachurch's pastor promising to make changes in his life.  This time, he has to make changes because his publisher might have bought a ton of copies of his latest book in order to manipulate bestseller lists.  I say that to distinguish from an earlier plagiarism scandal.  Needless to say, this beefy pastor is a real peach.  Anyway, in trying to find out more about this dishonest dude, I found myself watching this treatise on Stay-at-Home Dads:



Here, we find Father Frat and his lady wife telling us that a stay-at-home dad is "worse than an unbeliever".  Mrs. D. tells us that it's "hard to respect a man who won't provide for his family".  (As I typed that I couldn't help but think of this: "All the pain inside amplified by the fact/That I can't get by with my 9 to 5/And I can't provide the right type of life for my family", but that was written by a brilliant person.)  Then we get a nice dose of "Men can't raise children.  Silly.  Ha ha!"  But then it gets really specious.  On the face of it, what she says next might not be that ridiculous.  But wrapped in a spiritual church leader patina, it's flat out dangerous.  "As women, we're built to be home with our kids."  What I hate is that she makes this blanket declaration in the midst of talking about scripture, which makes it sound like she's saying Biblical.  Of course, she doesn't point to a verse that says "And God made the woman specially to stay at home while the man earned an honest wage for an honest day's pay."  One reason she doesn't is that THERE ISN'T ONE!

I can't really go through every point without boring you and making myself unduly angry, but Father Frat's bombshell at 4:00 is that if a man in his congregation stayed at home with kids while his wife worked, unless there were "extreme, extenuating circumstances", it would be a matter for church discipline.  Note to self: don't become a member of a church led by batshit crazy people.  They base their whole argument on I Timothy 5:8, a verse for which I checked a few translations.  I'm not a Biblical scholar at all, but In two mainstream translations (the New International Version and the New Revised Standard Version), the pronouns are all gender neutral.  The New American Standard, I uses male   possessive words in a way that feels very generic, but the subject of the sentence is "anyone".  It's not "a man" or "he".  It's "anyone who does not provide for his family...".  The NIV, which is used most commonly renders it this way: "Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever."  While this is grammatically incorrect, it's emphatically gender-neutral, which makes it a poor verse on which to base a far-reaching gender-based argument.

That's the problem with this clip.  Mark Driscoll and his wife wrap a personal interpretation of a verse of scripture in a whole mess of unsubstantiated opinion.  The other thing Father Frat repeatedly says is that "statistics show" kids need mom barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen raising them.  It's only credible to cite statistics if one also cites their source.  They treat the Bible as though it were written at the dawn of the streetcar era when suburban work/life divides became possible.  Or possibly in the 1950s when good roads and a postwar urban housing crisis kicked suburban development up ten notches.  Then they say that it's our perverted culture that leads men to make these horrible decisions that harm their families.  it's all very genderist.

It's hard enough to make a counter-cultural choice that we in our family feel is the best thing for everyone - mom, dad and kids.  It's harder still when celebrity pastors pump out BS like this.  Several people have called Newt Gingrich "a stupid person's idea of what a smart person sounds like".  I fear that Mark Driscoll can hoodwink thousands of people by being a stupid person's idea of what a holy man sounds like.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Minecraft with Love and Logic

Our boys have been intensely interested in Minecraft for around a year.  With cousins and friends who play Minecraft and the strange world of Minecraft parody songs (e.g. the Lady Gaga "Poker Face" parody "Creeper Face"), they've played a tiny bit and talked a bunch.  We recently gave them permission to buy the game.  It turned out they had enough saved between the two of them to buy one instance of the game, so they're sharing it.  The photos at right depict how happy they were to finally get it loaded on our family computer.

[Notes: 1) Very similar shirts are a coincidence. 2) Note the pride of place of Teddy's Seahawks football he bought with his own money.]

We don't have pictures of our faces when we discovered that Minecraft explained Charlie's slow progress on his science project.  It's that time of year in sixth grade, and both Paige and I had spent time helping Charlie structure his project and think about how to execute and document his experiments about the effects of adding drag to paper airplanes.  When he would show us his draft or his work product for what seemed like large blocks of time working on it, we found that he'd produced far less than we expected.  It kept being incomplete and we kept prompting him with the next step to improve toward a good result.  We went back and forth between a) sympathetic head-shaking about how hard it is to structure a full-on, open-ended, serious science project when a young man hasn't done that before, b) blaming the teacher for not giving enough instruction and c) blaming the boy for just not being able to focus.

When his mother woke up from a Saturday afternoon nap and went to check on him, and found that he was in the exact same place in his science project as when she'd fallen asleep, she asked him what was up.  First he said he “spaced out,” and when she replied that it had been a long time and he hadn’t made progress and he needed to tell her what he had been doing, he admitted that he’d played Minecraft during that time. 

He did own up to it when confronted.  That's what the cusp age of 11 looks like: devious enough to play video games instead of working on homework, but not so devious as to lie about it when he knows he's caught.  

It was an affront, though.  We felt like we really had to come down hard on this because we'd both been expending such effort to shepherd the science project along without doing the work for him.  We also looked back at the assignment packet for the science project and realized that if he'd been consulting that all along, he should have been able to make much better progress than he did ignoring it.  It wasn't the teacher's fault, after all.  We contemplated different lengths of Minecraft embargoes and settled on a month.  He was a little surprised at the length of time, but we hope that it really gets his attention.  We executed it by having him tell us his password and creating a new one until his month is up.  This seems to be a digital rite of parenting passage these days.  

This is more of a punishment than a consequence to use the language of Parenting with Love & Logic.  It is, however, a punishment that hits right at the disobedient behavior.  We hope that the next time he's tempted to play when he's supposed to be doing something else, he remembers that we can take it away.  In fact, still on our agenda is a discussion with him about how tempting it is to lose oneself in a digital escape rather than keep plugging away at something that bores, taxes or tires us.

An unintended benefit of this is that little brother gets to keep playing while big brother is grounded from Minecraft.  That means he can jumpstart his skills and creations, which can only help the never-ending race-without-a-headstart that he lives every day being four years younger.

This all broke last weekend.  When people asked Monday how my weekend was, I told them that my oldest child chose that weekend to become a pre-teen.  As the car chinks its way up the first incline of the parenting-a-teenager rollercoaster, I'm grateful to share it with a partner with whom I can work together on the bewildering new challenges.  Please keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle until it comes to a complete stop.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Hold on a minute, Pharrell

Everyone thinks of Pharrell Williams as the music impresario with the crazy hat at the Grammies.  He's certainly prolific with the catchy hooks.  He's worked with Madonna, Gwen Stefani, Kanye West and Justin Timberlake

His biggest hit - Happy - bubbles with positivity.  Heck, it's on the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack.  It shows real mucisianship and features an inclusive call to join in Mr. Big-hat's fun:

Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
Because I’m happy  
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do

Three songs before "Happy" on his album "G I R L", however, we find "Hunter".  The song is so generally sexually forward that it might have been on George Michael's 1987 album "Faith".  Our culture is that much more saturated with sex now than when "I Want your Sex" and "Father Figure" dominated MTV (a cable network that used to show music videos to teenagers whose parents were at work).  Maybe "Hunter" doesn't even stand out in today's pop music.

One line, however, brought me up short.  In the middle of his promise of pursuit, he intones:

If I can't have you, nobody can.

Excuse me?  In the middle of a pop song, however sexual it is, I was shocked to come across the most classic threat of a domestic abuser.  It's not right to just throw off that line in the midst of a pop song.  I might be even more sensitive to this if I had a daughter, but I can tell you that my sons won't be allowed to buy "Hunter" for their iPods.  

No one else seems upset by this.  Reviewers say "Hunter" evokes the musical styles of the Bee Gees and Prince.  NPR says "Even when Pharrell dares to come off as slightly predatory, as in "Hunter" — about tracking a woman — it's all done in the mildest manner possible."  
Again, excuse me?  What makes the jealous murder threat mild?  Does this song make anyone else uncomfortable?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Joss Whedon's "genderism" speech wants to replace the wrong word



A speech by Joss Whedon at an event in November 2013 called Make Equality Reality made the rounds on social media with people generally applauding.  This is impressive given that the speech is nearly 15 minutes long.  Online sharing culture doesn't seem to have a 15-minute attention span, but then, this got shared mostly as an Upworthy link.   Maybe Upworthy users are willing to take on longer chunks?  Anyhoo, having seen the speech back when it circulated, I wanted to write about it then, but a) the holidays intervened and b) sometimes a blog post that feels really big is harder to sit down and write.  

Quick highlights: Whedon says that feminism is an outdated word and that we should say "genderist" instead.  He doesn't claim to have invented that word, but he trumpets it and gets a big ovation for his trouble.  Quick analysis: Whedon stops far short of usefully contextualizing "genderist".  Yes, women are people, and people should not be trafficked, harassed or ignored.  That sets a pretty low bar, and it misses the opportunity that a new word creates.  In two different summer issues of The Atlantic plus a December New York Times blog post, there were actually more nuanced and complete examinations of gender and equality issues.  I wished Whedon had delved more deeply like those essays did instead of abandoning his crescendo by following it with a faux low-self-esteem promise to fight quietly in the corner with his ink-stained fingers.

If Whedon had read the articles I cited above, he might have said something different and more useful. 


Whedon offers "genderist" as an alternative to "feminist" (a fact I'd forgotten in the months since seeing the video), but I think that's off target.  I'm not sure there's that much wrong with "feminist".  What I'd told myself he'd proposed when I forgot what he actually proposed is that we should swap out "sexist" for "genderist".  That makes more sense to me.


Atlantic June 2013 Cover
The Atlantic's The Gay Guide to Wedded Bliss, June 2013
The cover of the June Atlantic touted "What Straights Can Learn From Same Sex Couples".  Liza Mundy's article inside carried the title "The Gay Guide to Wedded Bliss".  In addressing the critics of same-sex marriage, who consider it an assault on traditional marriage, Mundy poses a provocative question with a provocative answer:
What if same-sex marriage does change marriage, but primarily for the better? For one thing, there is reason to think that, rather than making marriage more fragile, the boom of publicity around same-sex weddings could awaken among heterosexuals a new interest in the institution, at least for a time. But the larger change might be this: by providing a new model of how two people can live together equitably, same-sex marriage could help haul matrimony more fully into the 21st century. 
The part about same-sex weddings increasing interest in heterosexual marriage was just a fun perspective I hadn't considered before.  The article talks about wedding officiants finding themselves more busy than they've been in a long time with both same-sex weddings and weddings of heterosexual people jealous of the fabulous events celebrating their same sex friends' couplings.  The big point here, however, concerns marriages not weddings.  Same-sex marriage offers "a new model of how two people can live together equitably".  Drilling down to detail, Mundy says: 
Same-sex spouses, who cannot divide their labor based on preexisting gender norms, must approach marriage differently than their heterosexual peers. From sex to fighting, from child-rearing to chores, they must hammer out every last detail of domestic life without falling back on assumptions about who will do what. In this regard, they provide an example that can be enlightening to all couples.
Here we see where Mr. Whedon could have gone in his speech.  In novelty marriages dotted around the landscape for decades, bold men and women have stepped out and determined that wives can work full-time and men can work less than that and can do laundry and shop for groceries.  In the main, however, especially when children enter a marriage, many couples seem to have shrugged and decided that dad will work and mom will trade career for kiddie carpool et. al. at least for the 25 years it takes to raise a family.  In a same-sex couple, the "default settings" are absent.  Each party and the unit itself have to examine skills, leanings, priorities, personal preferences and make definite choices.  Straight couples could have been doing that kind of joint work to big decisions, but it hasn't felt very mainstream to do so.
The Atlantic's Masculine Mystique July/August 2013

Then the July/August Atlantic featured an essay in which Stephen Marche reframes the dialogue prompted by Anne-Marie Slaughter's seminal "Why Women Still Can't Have it All" the summer before.  He says we've viewed the conflict incorrectly:



 The central conflict of domestic life right now is not men versus women, mothers versus fathers. It is family versus money. Domestic life today is like one of those behind-the-scenes TV series about show business. The main narrative tension is: “How the hell are we going to make this happen?” There are tears and laughs and little intrigues, but in the end, it’s just a miracle that the show goes on, that everyone is fed and clothed and out the door each day.
Marche goes on from this framework to explain his own personal experience with his marriage taking on the economy.  He left a job at City College in New York when his wife was offered a dream job as editor in chief at Toronto Life magazine.

 [I]n my marriage, the decision came down to brute economics: My wife was going to make double what I made. Good schools and good hospitals are free in Toronto. These are the reasons we moved. And if I were offered a job where I would make double what she does, we would move again. Gender politics has nothing to do with it.
Marche's experience presents the economic reason why defaulting to gender roles feels like less of an option for many these days: it's "genderist" to think that the woman must always be the trailing spouse.  This angle also plays up how we don't know the shelf life of certain role decisions we make.  Some event might come along to upset the apple cart and make whatever we'd chosen for a season not be right for a new season.

Finally, speaking of upset apple carts, John Major shared his story with the New York Times parenting blog about what happens to a stay-at-home-dad when the marriage to a breadwinner wife ends.  [Tip of the pen to reader Azure for sharing that one with me.] Spoiler alert: a man who has not been in the workforce for several years and finds himself needing to fight for his rights in a divorce settlement and make his way back into the workforce looks an awful lot like the more familiar woman who has not been in the workforce for several years who finds herself needing to fight for rights and get back into the workforce.

I think it would be cool if "genderist" got adopted.  Yes, I am a man who cooks most of the dinners and loves to bake.  If you think that's weird, you're being genderist.  Yes, my wife is a lawyer at a big firm who makes more than I do.  If you think that's not right somehow, that's genderist.  It's genderist to expect things to be as they have always been in gender roles.  That works as a new word with a more equal-footing meaning than sexist has had.  I find myself referring to sexism against men as "reverse sexism", which is kind of like saying that racism against whites is "reverse racism".  It's not.  It's just racism.  But being a sexist has come to mean pre-judging or boxing in women.  Genderist could apply more equally to broad brush statements about both men and women.

You're welcome, Mr. Whedon.