Not much to say this week given that Sam's "Papa," my father, is gravely ill and in the hospital. Sam has handled things much better than the rest of us --I'm constantly surprised by her easy going nature and adaptability. Here's some pictures:
One of the things I love about kids (well, my kid, anyway) is that something as ordinary as a pile of leaves becomes the subject of great glee when you just run through them. It also gave me a chance to play around with some different camera settings, like using a slow shutter speed to blur the action or a fast shutter speed to freeze it and suspend dozens of leaves in the air for easy inspection.
Again, sorry for the short update, but hopefully things will be normal again soon.
No, it's not an hors d'oeuvre cookbook for cannibals. Consuming Kids is a book about the multi-bajillion dollar industry of marketing all kinds of things --clothes, hair care, food, violence, lifestyles-- to kids and teens. Now that my own daughter is old enough that I'm reasonably sure she's not going to die of SIDS or get carried off by a hyena, I'm starting to worry about these things.
While Consuming Kids deals with an inherantly interesting, even sensational topic, the presentation is actually pretty tame and almost academic. The author, Susan Linn, devotes each chapter to a specific topic like violence, food, smokes and alcohol, marketing in school, and so on, always dealing with how marketers try to get at kids and the parents who control their money. While I appreciate her restraint and thoughtful presentation of the topics, Linn could have punched things up a little with more narratives and more entertaining descriptions of the situations and absurdities inherent in treating children like little adult consumers. The most entertaining and snappy chapter of the book is the first one, where Linn describes her experiences infiltrating a conference for marketers specializing in children. The rest of the book kind of bogs down in statistics and dry expositions that probably belie the author's true outrage.
Still, if you read through them, all those statistics and expositions are convicing and thought provoking. I found myself periodically looking up from this book to reflect on my own experiences being marketed to and what I plan on doing to insulate Samantha from it. In short, I came away from reading this book with some solid and well defined intentions that I've already started putting into place. Things like limiting television time and content (thank God for TiVo, which lets you skip commercials), limiting brands and movie/TV tie-ins when possible (this means you, Elmo), and even resolving to make our house soda-free to set a good example.
In a way, this kind of sucks. For example, I was just talking with someone the other day about how much I'd like to show Samantha classic Disney movies like Sleeping Beauty or Snow White --movies that are really magnificent in terms of film making and animation. I also want to take Sam to Disney World, which is within driving distance for us and which I think she'll soon be old enough to enjoy. The problem is that I fear unleashing the marketing juggernaut that Disney has linked to all these classics. I want to watch Alladin with my daughter, but I don't want her to throw a screaming hissy fit when I won't buy her ten thousand and one pieces of Disney Princesses junk.
Parenting is just going to get harder, I know. Baby-snatching hyenas I can deal with; nobody's spending billions of dollars a year to convince Sam that she needs to be dragged off by carrion eaters. Fatty foods, alcohol, and skank-tastic clothes for pre-teens? That's another story, one that's told pretty convincingly in this book.
Valentine's day was earlier in the week and Sam seemed to enjoy it. There was a heart-shaped cake, gifts from both sets of Grandparents and one Aunt, a Valentine's Day card exchange at the Mommy & Me class (Elmo, Dora, and strangely enough that stoner Spongebob Squarepants seem to be the favorites this year), and a balloon. I didn't get her anything, though. Valentine's Day is supposed to be for lovers and I'm really not sure where this idea of giving Valentine's Day gifts to children came from. Hippies, probably. Communist, capitalistic hippies working at Hallmark and/or Nickelodeon.
As you can see, we took Sam to feed the ducks at the park near our house. Now, you need to understand that these ducks are rough. During an earlier trip to this park, Ger and I walked around a bend to find three ducks blocking the path. They just stood there and looked at us with their cold, dead eyes. We took a couple steps back and turned around, only to see three more ducks waddle out from behind some bushes and trap us. We had to give up all our bread.
And indeed, these ducks were like little bulls when they saw that Sam had bread. One of them kept pecking me on the butt to get my attention. I was kind of afraid that Sam might freak out, but she thought the honking swarm of feathers and webbed feet around her was a hoot. Indeed, she walked right up to them and flung food right in their faces. I plan on letting more bread go bad so we can go back.
When it comes to geniuses, a few archetypes generally come to mind. They're often characterized as under appreciated geeks with hearts of gold (think the entire cast of Revenge of the Nerds) or as slightly spaced out but cuddly old men (think Einstein). Or they're quixotic coyotes forever trying to nab that pesky road runner. In any case, the word "noble" probably applies, at some level, to most conceptions of the intellectually gifted.
This is not true of John Nash, the subject of the biography A Beautiful Mind. He's a total a-hole.
In fact, judged by the contents of the quite detailed book, Nash is a grade A jerk, the kind of guy you'd rather punch in the teeth than appreciate or get to know. Here's a guy who constantly belittled those around him, refused to support his illegitimate son in any way, demeaned his wife, harbored jealous grudges against those few who bettered him, periodically erupted in violence when thwarted, and was generally contemptuous of you or anyone like you. Really, his ego, misogyny, racism, arrogance and general prickishness knew no bounds.
Thing is, the same could be said for his intellect and his ambition. He was apparently one of the most brilliant mathematicians of the last century, and his character is made more interesting by the fact that he often went about solving mathematical problems in unique and revolutionary ways that broke new grounds in various fields. I can't imagine what it would be like to be that smart, but it's fun to try. The author of his biography, Sylvia Nasar, does a great job of making his life's story interesting, even before we get to the part where the brilliant mathematician tragically plunges into the dim depths of schizophrenia, only to slowly awaken years later just in time to receive a long-overdue Nobel prize. Though age and mental illness have mellowed him greatly, Nash was an interesting character all through his life (and he is, in fact, still alive). Nasar makes this all accessible by stitching together many fascinating episodes into one whole narrative, repeatedly using themes of "genius, madness, and awakening."
Parenthetically, this book is much more complete than the 2001 movie of the same name. In fact, there's really very little overlap between the two. The movie contrives scenes for the sake of drama and totally glosses over critical aspects of Nash's life, such as his bisexuality, the ignoble way he treated his first family (including an illegitmate son) in Boston, or even that whole "math" thing he was so good at. Also, Nash's general "jerk-ishness" is really toned down in the movie, despite being on center stage in the book. And that whole "imaginary best friend/roomate" thing from the book? Apparently never really happened in the book or real life, dramatic as the reveal was in the movie. So even if you've seen the movie, I recommend the book; there's lots more to learn. The only downside of the book relative to the movie is the conspicuous absence of Jennifer Connelly.
I know I've gone on and on about this in recent weeks, but every week I'm amazed all over again at how quickly Sam's language skills are growing. And I doubt it's just her --from what I've read, most kids go through a linguistic blitzkrieg at this age. Sam continues to parrot words and sounds back at us, and she'll even do the same with the television set or other people out in public. What's amazing is her hit rate with using new words correctly. It's not like she's saying "purple monkey dishwasher" the first time she decides to ask for help working the latch on her new bath toy. She says "Daddy help boat, please," which is a sentence that she has never, ever said nor even heard before. How did she do that? The human mind is so frickin' cool.
Actually, she doesn't say "Daddy help boat, please." That may be what it sounds like in her head, but what comes out is actually closer to "Dadda hep bow pees." She has also developed a habit of inserting a little "Hmmmm" sound to serve as a placeholder when she doesn't know the word for something. This leads to requests like "Mama hmmmm pees" that send us into a long series of inquiries trying to figure out what she wants. Cup? Doll? Yogurt? Ball? Socialized medicine?
These little scraps of Samineese are a language that only Sam, Ger, and I seem to speak fluently, though I've noticed that other parents can sometimes make pretty good guesses, too. To test your own Samineese fluency, I've prepared this little game where you try to match "What is said" on the left with "What is meant" on the right. I've done the first one, "Doo" for you. Grab a black permanent marker and do the rest by just drawing directly on your computer moniter.
The answers are at the bottom of this news post. Don't cheat!
In the meantime, here's some pictures:
As you can see, Sam has learned to eat a banana by herself, though she has yet to learn how not to run while eating that banana so that it doesn't break in half and falls to the floor and gets cat hair all over it. But furry bananas aside, with Sam's illness long gone, her apetite has returned to make up for lost time. Saturday morning I watched in shocked fascination as she ate a whole banana, a fist full of Cheerios, a cup of creamed wheat (with raisins), half a cup of applesauce, and about six or eight grapes. She then wiped her mouth, looked me in the eye, and said "Yo-guh" like a thirsty cowboy demanding wiskey from the barkeep in a John Wayne movie. So I brought her about half a cup of yogurt and set it down quickly, lest I draw back a stump. When she was done, Sam set the spoon down, belched loudly, and asked to be let down so she could run around and burn all those calories off. Why didn't anyone tell me kids ate this much?
And now the answers to the Samineese Challenge:
How did you do?
When I hear about a new book I want to read, I often add it to my Amazon.com wishlist. I was just looking through said wishlist and noticed what a wide, weird array of things are on there:
- What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy by James Paul Gee
- Mind Wide Open: Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life by Steven Johnson
- Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter by Steven Johnson
- Attack of the Bacon Robots (Penny Arcade vol. 1) by Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik
- House of Leaves : A novel by Mark Z. Danielewski
- The Areas of My Expertise by John Hodgman
- The Lady Tasting Tea: How Statistics Revolutionized Science in the Twentieth Century by David Salsburg
- Chance : A Guide to Gambling, Love, the Stock Market, and Just About Everything Else by Amir D. Aczel
- Human Cognitive Abilities : A Survey of Factor-Analytic Studies by John Bissell Carroll
- Got Game: How the Gamer Generation Is Reshaping Business Forever by John C. Beck and Mitchell Wade
- Llama, Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney
- The Cult of Personality: How Personality Tests Are Leading Us to Miseducate Our Children, Mismanage Our Companies, and Misunderstand Ourselves by Annie Murphy Paul
- The Skeptic's Dictionary: A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions by Robert Todd Carroll
- The Hedge Knight by George R. R. Martin
- Spam Kings: The Real Story behind the High-Rolling Hucksters Pushing Porn, Pills, and %*@)# by Brian S. McWilliams
- The Road to the Dark Tower : Exploring Stephen King's Magnum Opus by Bev Vincent
- The Art of Fiction : Notes on Craft for Young Writers by John Gardner
- Dungeons and Dreamers: The Rise of Computer Game Culture from Geek to Chic by Brad King and John Borland
- Joystick Nation: How Videogames Ate Our Quarters, Won Our Hearts, and Rewired Our Minds by J. C. Herz
- The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn by Diane Ravitch
- Taking the Red Pill: Science, Philosophy and Religion in The Matrix by Glenn Yeffeth (Editor)
- Competency-Based Recruitment and Selection by Robert Wood and Tim Payne
These books came to my attention through various places: seeing them advertised, seeing them on talk shows, reading about them on friends' blogs, and God knows where else. I have no idea how some of them ended up on there. Looking the list over, though, it seems to be a pretty good representation of my major interests: video games, I/O Psychology, the Internet, science, and llamas.
About the only thing missing is web design, probably because I get most of my info on that online. And I guess there's not a whole lot of fiction on that wish list, even though I obviously read a lot of that. Most of my fiction reading, though, it is following authors I like or just picking up random stuff.
I've mentioned that one thing Stephen King does well is build up a slow burn and then have things explode towards the end of a book. In Cell, he does just the inverse. You open up the book and immediately see that King has his arm cocked way back and he's holding that proverbial pile of you-know-what that he immediately flings into the fan. By the end of page 7 the world is ending in violence and madness as cell phone users are infected with a kind of insanity-provoking thought virus. Unfortunately, the energy doesn't hold up and book ends abruptly in an unsatisfying sputter.
One of the other things King usually does really well is develop characters that you feel that you know and sometimes care about. Not so here, as all the characters are pretty uninteresting and not very well developed. For example, one Amazon.com reviewer noted that if you replaced half of the "Clay said" with "Tom said" most readers wouldn't notice the difference. King is also flagrant in his over reliance on a know-it-all 12 year old to narrate key plot points that the boy should have NO way of knowing. The kid sees like one or two things and then immediately infers a host of truths about the world's conditions just because King apparently can't think of a better way to communicate them to the reader. It's quite annoying, made doubly so because of the ineffective techno babble that makes no sense, even in the context of a horror novel.
I won't say much about the ending for fear of spoiling it for anyone who does read the book, but suffice to say that it's extremely open ended and doesn't resolve much. We're left completely hanging as to the fate of the principle characters or the nature of the Pulse that kicked off the end of the world in the first place. My guess? King just got tired of writing and decided to wrap this sucker up.
On a side note, while reading the book I kept thinking that King was trying to make some points, or at least parallels, about the Iraq war but from a point of view that you might not think of. The heroes are, in effect, insurgents fighting against an occupying force of "phone crazies." They use guerill tactics and improvised explosive devices like car bombs. The phone crazies, on the other hand, start their occupation of the world with extreme --and overpowering-- violence, but then take on the role of liberators who want to free the "normals" from their perceived insanity by organizing an event where they are brought into a collective (pure democracy?). Only toward the end the phone crazies start to unravel and the situation deteriorates. Ah, maybe I'm really reaching here, but these kinds of parallels just kept coming up.
One of my favorite things about parenthood is watching my kid evolve and turn into a bona fide little person capable of reason, emotion, curiosity, empathy, humor, and desire. And now I get to add one more word to that laundry list of traits: guile.
Sam has become quite the sly little fox in the last couple of weeks. Ger told me about an episode where Sam wanted to go upstairs ("oopah gate!" means "open the gate blocking the stairs!" by the way) but Ger was busy with something at the moment. After giving it some thought, Sam came over to Ger and said "Pee-pee!" which is what we're trying to teach her to tell us when she needs to use the bathroom. Deciding that this was a much more dire request, Ger dropped what she was doing and took Sam upstairs to her bathroom. Only once she crested the stairs, Sam ran right past the bathroom, heading instead to her bedroom where she could retrieve a stack of books. These she gave to Ger so she could read them, which had been her aim all along. Pee-pee indeed. Pee-pee like a fox.
Thing is, we've kind of caught on to this kind of duplicity now, but Sam hasn't caught on to the fact that we've caught on. Coupled with her growing rebelliousness and rapidly escalating language skills, this leads to some interesting conversations like this one:
"Hi, Sammy, what are you --AHH! OW! That hurt! Am I bleeding? Sammy, take a time out!"
"Yes! Go, go stand against the wall and take a time out."
"Ha. Nice try. If you need to go, you can go after your time out."
"I'll read to you after your time out. Stand against the wall."
"Yes, Samantha. Take your time out."
"Grapes? Why do you want grapes?"
"That's very nice, but no, not even if you say please."
"No blankets during time out. Stand against the wall."
"You've got to be kidding. No. Take your time out, Samantha."
We went on like this for quite some time. The attitude I've taken, though, is that I've got more patience than she does, and the only way to win these battles it to outlast her. Sometimes I pack a sack lunch and a sleeping bag, because while eventually effective, this tactic can take a while.
Here's some pictures. Sam often wears a kind of a bland expression in front of the camera, but this week I seem to catch her being more expressive for some reason.
I'm not the only one who has fun conversations with Sam, though. Here's one that took place between Sam and Ger:
"Sammy, what should we have for dinner?"
"Haha! Funny, but seriously --what do you want for dinner?"
"Eet eet cake! Eet eet cake!"
That's what my daughter is doing with the gift of language. Trying to weasel out of punishment and get treats when she doesn't deserve them. She'll make a marvelous Senator some day.
For like the last week I've had two songs stuck in my head. The first is "When the Children Cry" from 80s hairband White Lion. Probably because of VH1's recent "I Love the 80s" marathon where the song was featured on a glamrock ballad compilation at every commercial break. The second song is "Let's Go Ride in a Car" from the Sesame Street Sings Karaoke DVD. Probably because Samantha loves it and listens to it as often as we'll let her.
The thing is, I sometimes have both of these songs in my head at the same time, resulting in something like this:
When the children cry
Let them know we tried
Then let's go driving in an automobile
Let's take a ride in a car
Beep, be-beep, be-beep,
Beep, beep, beep,
Beep, be-beep, be-beep, beep
Beep, be-beep, be-beep,
Beep, beep, beep, beep
Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep.
It's driving me freaking crazy.