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Daily Bloggerback
Best of Blogs Round-Up: March 14, 2006

Quote of the day: "The fruit of a good dormroom wank would overshoot the distance between a certain Harvard undergrad fantasizing about his sperm nestling into another man's unexpelled shit and a certain Senator "working to defeat a measure that would stiffen penalties for violent attacks on gays and lesbians" en route to a presidential bid." —Laura Turner, Liberalism Without Cynicism.

Featured Blog I: Imagine
Dubliner's New York Stories

[Twenty Major, a nascent favorite in Daily Bloggerback, just won three Irish Blog Awards--Best overall blog, best blog post, and, reproduced below, most humorous post. Congratulations TM from CN.]

I'm not sure if I mentioned this but for a while I lived in New York. From the end of 1979 to December 1980. Here are some extracts from a diary I kept there.

January 14th 1980: It's a funny place this, the car horn seems to be a means of communication although I can't quite decipher its intricate speech patterns. Saw Woody Allen. Ran after him so I could trip him up, lost him the crowds though. Met the neighbour. Seems all right. A bit fucking speccy though, the four eyed cunt.

Feb 27th 1980: Damn, it's cold here. Lost one of my gloves. Ran into the neighbour earlier who said his wife found it but donated it to a tramp who lives outside the building. I fucking hate tramps and I include his poxy wife in that.

Feb 28th 1980: Met the neighbour, asked him to please ask his wife to give me back my stuff if she finds it. The glove was monogrammed for fucks sake. He laughed. Said nothing but we'll see who's laughing, English wanker.

March 19th 1980: Got talking to a bloke in work, Mark, who has some really strange ideas about life. He's not exactly somebody I'd go out for a drink with. He's one of those people who'd think he was your best friend or something and would turn up at your door with the latest Styx LP.

April 11th 1980: Met the neighbour and his wife in the lift. Was very polite despite feeling very poorly. Think it was a hot dog and the 9 pitchers of beer I had. Didn't appreciate their looks of disgust when I farted though. Fucks sake, it wasn't that bad. Like either of them has never farted. By the looks of them I'd say they eat each others poo.

May 19th 1980: Was on the phone with my dear old mam when someone started hammering on the front door. It's the wife from next door. "He claaaazy, go maaaaaaad" she shouts standing there stark naked and let me tell you that's the last thing I need to see. "Fuck off", I said and shut the door.

May 20th 1980: Neighbour wakes me early, pounding on the door. Wants to know what his wife said. Told him to fuck off and if his wife comes around here nude again I'll call the police. He tells me seeing his wife naked is like having an affair with her. Told him I'd rather have an affair with a decomposing goat. He poked me in the chest. I clipped him around the ear. He tried to punch me. I kicked him in the balls and told him it was war. Which it is.

June 30th 1980: That bloke in work is mental. Always reading the same book. Decided to wind him up a bit. Told him my neighbour knew him and was always saying bad things about him and how he was a mentalist and a window licker. He doesn't believe me though.

July 25th 1980: Told Mark in work that the neighbour told me that when Mark was a lad that he got caught wanking with another lad from his school and that the neighbour was going to call everyone in his yearbook to tell them he was a benny. He looked a bit worried about that. Think I might have struck a chord.

August 21st 1980: Not even on speaking terms with the neighbours now. Saw them going into their apartment and didn't say a word. Coughed and made the cough sound like 'cunts' though. heh.

September 26th 1980: Told Mark I heard the neighbour writing a song about him last night. I didn't catch all the lyrics but it was all about him being a big gayer and liking the cock and so on. Told him that he should really do something about it or everyone would know he was a massive gayer who liked the cock. He seemed a bit introspective, a bit withdrawn.

October 1st 1980: Told Mark the neighbour is sending me anonymously typed letters saying that he's going to release that song soon. Showed him one of the letters. Offered to try and mediate with the neighbour on Mark's behalf. He seemed relieved. Told him I'd get back to him as soon as I had any news.

November 18th: Let Mark stew for ages. He's been asking every day. Told him last night I saw the neighbour and begged him to drop the song. I implored, pleaded, even supplicated to give him a break but he wouldn't do it. I told Mark I told him 'Think about this poor guy' and that the neighbour just laughed.

December 1st 1980: Saw Mark outside my building. Avoided him. He's gone even more mental these last few days.

December 6th 1980: Told Mark in work that I'd met the neighbour and that the neighbour said he was going to do a live TV show in which he was going to perform the song about Mark for the first time on December 9th. He seemed very upset. Told him the neighbour called him a 'ball-licking fistaholic'. I was sure I saw tears.

December 8th 1980: JOHN LENNON SHOT DEAD IN NEW YORK CITY. MARK CHAPMAN ARRESTED.

Result. Rang the lads. Told them I'd be home by the end of the week. That'll teach you to give my glove to a tramp, Yoko, you cunt.

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Featured Blogger II: The Feminine Miss-tique, Cont.
What David Brooks Missed in "Unequal Childhoods"

David Brooks has discovered Annette Lareau’s book Unequal Childhoods. Through the miracles of modern blogging those of you who missed the column can read it in the body of Laura’s post on it. If, like Laura, you’re unnerved in some way by Brooks’s interpretation, don’t let that put you off the book. He is right about several things, the main one being that the book is brilliant, and should be read by just about anyone interested in family life. If you’re a teacher of poor children it will help you understand what’s going on in the children’s lives; if you’re a teacher of wealthy children it’ll probably confirm what you already know. If, like me, you’re a parent, it’ll help you reflect on your own situation. I don’t do anything radically different because of reading the book, but there are several ways in which I treat my children somewhat differently; in particular giving them more unsupervised time, and being (even) less interventionist when they are at odds with each other which, as if by magic, is much less often.

So what does Brooks get right?

The greatest value of the book is in displaying so much of the texture of individual family lives; displaying and making sense of the texture of real human interactions is what the best ethnographies do, and this is one of the best ethnographies. She makes a division of the childrearing strategies she encounters into two ideal types; “concerted cultivation” and “accomplishment of natural growth”. The families she describes in the book each fall very firmly on one or the other of these types, and the division is a clear class division. But your family may not. Reflecting on my childhood (aspirant middle class, UK, born 1963) I find more of accomplishment of natural growth than of concerted cultivation. I definitely wanted to see a methodolgically impossible follow up study comparing families across countries and across different times (was concerted cultivation the norm in middle class families when my dad was growing up? I don’t believe so). Still, the distinction is clear and useful.

Lareau is a sociologist, and is reluctant to make normative comment on the practices she is analyzing. But she makes two really valuable points, one of which I already understood, the second of which I had spent several months grasping for, and only crystallized for me when she made it. Brooks gets the second, but not the first and, therefore, not the importance of the second.

The first point is that the traits that the different parenting strategies foster only have the impact they do on children’s life chances through interaction with a contingent social structure that values some traits and not others. This is the key point that Brooks neglects. Here is Lareau:

This kind of training developed Alexander and other middle-class children a sense of entitlement. They felt they had a right to weigh in with an opinion, to make special requests, to pass judgment on others, and to offer advice to adults. They expected to receive attention and to be taken very seriously. It is important to recognize that these advantages and entitlements are historically specific…. They are highly effective strategies in the United States today precisely because our society places a premium on assertive, individualised actions executed by persons who command skills in reasoning and negotiation.

The point that Brooks emphasizes is that it does not follow from the fact that one strategy of parenting confers better prospects for worldly advantage than the other that it is a better strategy of parenting. A great deal of value is realized in the relationships in both kinds of family, and, as Brooks say, a great deal of current value is realized in the Accomplishment of Natural Growth homes. Siblings fight less, there is a great deal of unstructured time, there is much less exhaustion and competitiveness. Here, again, is Lareau:

(Accomplishment of Natural Growth) parents… organised their children’s lives so they spent more time in and around the home, in informal play with peers, siblings, and cousins. As a result, the children had more autonomy regarding leisure time and more opportunities for child initiated play. They were also more responsible for their lives outside the home.

The working class children:

played outside, creating their own games… They did not complain of being bored…also appeared to have boundless energy. They did not have the exhaustion that we saw in middle-class children of the same age.

In both kinds of family:

There were episodes of laughter, emotional connection, and happiness as well as quiet comforts in every family. Harold MacAllister and his mother laughed together as he almost dropped his hotdog but then, in an awkward grab, caught it. After a baseball game Mr. Williams rubbed Alexander’s head affectionately and called him “handsome”…. These moments of connection seemed deeply meaningful to both children and parents in all social classes, even as the take different shape by social class, in terms of language, activity, and character.

So, there’s a lot of good and not a little bad in both kinds of familial relationship (and those in between). The poor parents face enormous barriers (about which Lareau is very articulate) in providing well for their children materially and educationally, which results in their children having less access to future advantage. But that doesn’t make them bad parents. (Only one parent in the book struck me as really parenting badly, though I found myself hoping that all the upper-class parents would read it and reflect a bit on what they were doing).

One final word: Brooks’s final sentence is, as one of Laura’s commenters (def, #22) points out, disgusting, and has nothing to do with the book. From the fact that A has out-competed B to reach a certain position, it does not follow that A is not, having achieved that position, exploiting B. It’s the kind of thing that you say when you want to shield people from subjecting their own advantages to moral scrutiny.

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