A Boy and A Band

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We took the boys to an East Village bar last weekend to watch my brother’s band. The fifteen year was sceptical of the oldies singing the Clash and Joan Jett. The twelve year old perched on a stool dead center in audience and loved every minute. Then we all went to a hipster joint down the street for micobrews and fancy burgers. It was a few feet from a favorite bar in the early 90′s.

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I have to run to the supermarket before the snow storm to pick up some last minute items. I’ll do a fun Thanksgiving food post later. In the meantimes, some links…

We’ve already chatted about the problems with having the university police investigate crimes, such as rape. Now, the pundits are agreeing with us.

This article about Asian-Americans and higher ed has been on the top e-mailed list at the New York Times all week.

The economics of indie rock bands.

I heart Japanese fart scrolls.

A Shakespeare First folio was discovered in a library in France.

Love IKEA’s new retro furniture.

#Ferguson

At 9:00 last night, Prosecutor Robert P. McCulloch gave a twenty minute explanation of events that led to Michael Brown’s death last August before finally saying that the Grand Jury found that there not enough evidence to bring this case to trial.

Lots of very reasonable people believe that this was a clear cut case of police brutality against people of color. I’m not sure. Mostly because I don’t know all the evidence. I wish this case had gone to court, because I think that there was sufficient evidence to merit a trial and a public trial would have given people the information that they needed.

I think the courts turned this Grand Jury into a full trial, but one that was protected by rules of privacy. The privacy was probably to protect Office Wilson and the African-American witnesses who confirmed his story. I appreciate the concern for those individuals, but the secrecy of those proceedings have created other problems.

Was this a case of a split second bad decision? Cops have to make split second decisions all the time. Sometimes people choose badly in those cases. Split second bad decisions aren’t necessary criminal, except if you can show that the bad decision was the result of historical personal and institutional bigotry. Was there evidence of historical personal and institutional bigotry? I don’t know.

Wilson shot the Brown twelve times. That’s a lot of bullets. A split second wrong decision means one or two bullets. Why all the bullets? I needed more information on this.

If this case had gone to trial, other issues would have become part of the debate. Cops have a wider legal latitude for self-protection than the general public. They can use lethal force if they believe that they are under imminent threat. Is that too much discretion? A trial would have brought up that discussion.

I’m just rambling here… Open thread..

How the Bill Cosby Story Unfolded

I’ve heard rumors about Bill Cosby for ages, but they benign rumors. There was a secret love child story that didn’t sound worse than an affair. But the rape stories and the pills were new to me and utterly horrific.

The way this story has unfolded was amazing. It wasn’t the result of a major newspaper and investigative journalism. Those guys totally dropped the ball. No, it was a remark by a comedian that went viral. Was it Buzzfeed? I can’t remember. I watched the video. Then the stories started slowly coming to light. Not with the aid of journalists or one lawyer. The stories snowballed. As individuals gathered their courage and told their stories to the press. This was a story that had no leader. There wasn’t a Gloria Allred in the background pulling the strings.  It was utterly the product of new media.

I liked Caitlin Flanagan’s article on this topic and why it was so hard to believe these women as individuals, until the pile of stories accumulated.

Schools as Medical Providers

I’ve done a few posts this year about the expanding role of schools as social service providers. Here’s another one….

The recent report on Adam Lanza’s mental health before he killed a bunch of school kids in Connecticut is pretty sad. The poor kid was a mess. Professionals told the Lanzas that their child needed immediate help and probably medication for a whole range of problems. He mostly likely needed residential treatment at some institution. These problems were obvious to everybody, but his parents.

His parents, particularly his mother, didn’t get him the treatment that he needed. They were in denial. And who can blame them? It’s a HUGE thing to get your mind around the idea that your child needs institutional care. So, they did things that made his mental problems worse. They let the boy isolate himself more and left guns around the house.

Let’s leave the gun thing aside for the moment and talk about the isolation. It’s very, very, very easy to become isolated when a child has any sort of disability. We touched on that a bit in the last comment thread. Between the child’s extreme behavior and the lack of community supports for people who aren’t average, the default is hermitry. It takes an enormous amount of energy and resources to prevent that from happening. I don’t blame the parents for sliding into isolation.

I blame everyone else.

We need systems in place, so that the burden for caring for children with extreme issues doesn’t fall solely on one or two people. It’s American individualism gone terribly wrong.

The report highlights the school district’s errors.

The OCA report is also critical of the educational professionals that dealt with Lanza, designing an individual educational plan for him after he was withdrawn from the normal high school classroom setting at his mother’s request.

The report found records indicating that the school system “unwittingly enabled Mrs. Lanza’s preference to accommodate and appease AL through the educational plan’s lack of attention to social-emotional support, failure to provide related services, and agreement to AL’s plan of independent study and early graduation age 17.”

Somehow, school districts have become responsible for health care related issues of children between 3-21. They hire neurologists and psychologists to diagnose everything from anxiety disorders to OCD to bipolar disorder. It’s nearly impossible for pediatricians to pick up on any problems in their five minute yearly visits. Now that school districts are responsible for educating kids regardless of their disability, they have gotten in the mental health field.

Schools do not want this responsibility. They HATE this responsibility. It’s expensive to them and outside their mission of educating typical children. So, they do whatever they can to evade this responsibility. When faced with a passive and oblivious parent, like Lanza, they do the side step away from these responsibilities as fast as they can.

Now, maybe schools shouldn’t be in the business of treating the full range of problems associated with autism, cerebral palsy, or selective mutism. Teachers don’t attend medical school. Many problems simply cannot be addressed by a 23-year girl with BA in education from a less selective college.

The problem is that somebody needs to be involved. We cannot let families float along without any help. They need more guidance. They need financial support for expensive services. They need professionals in their homes. I would say that this responsibility should fall with the social workers at state child protection departments, but they have proven incompetent too many times. New systems need to be established.

We shouldn’t do these things to avoid another Sandy Hook. Most people, even with severe mental health problems like Lanza, won’t commit a mass murder. We need to guide parents, and maybe even force them, to let their children enter state-run mental health centers, because it is simply the right thing to do.

Is the Internet a Cure for Loneliness?

At Salon, Toni Telfer has an article about the Internet and loneliness. Is the Internet a refuge for lonely people or does logging onto the computer take us away from other activities that would make us less lonely?

My philosophy about blogging and the Internet in general is Real Life First. I say yes to all social engagements or as many as possible. If I have to choose between a diner date with neighbors or participation in an online thread about gerrymandering, I choose the diner. If those priorities are kept in order, then the Internet is a great place to form a community.

When Ian first started having problems, I had to turn to the Internet for answers. When I was stuck at home and missing academic discussions, there was the Internet. In those cases, I had unique problems and unique interests, so I needed a larger sample size than my community to get answers.

In a few cases, online friends have become real friends, because we live close enough to meet for coffee. Some of my real life friends appear in the Apt. 11D comment section. The lines aren’t that clear anymore.

I think pretty much everybody here understands the “Real Life First” rule. This debate about virtual communities versus real communities was a bigger deal about ten years ago. Robert Putnam had some bits about this in his “Bowling Alone” book. It was funny to see this topic brought up at Salon again. I wonder if it is a real problem.

Lifestyle Links

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Alright. It’s hopeless. I’m in a domestic mood and can’t bear to write about politics or policy right now. I surfed around for hours yesterday looking for something juicy, but I kept getting hung up on the pretty girlie stuff.

I’m about to lose all my male readers. Oh well. Here are some girlie things that I found yesterday.

I got started at the New York Times article about how celebrities are expanding their world domination by starting lifestyle brands. There’s Gwyenth Paltrow’s Goop, of course — a silly, silly, tone deaf website and newsletter that I love to hate. (It’s losing money. shhhhhh.) The article mentioned other celebrity brands, including Blake Lively’s Preserve. I’m not exactly sure who Blake Lively is, but I loved the photographs on her website.

And I’ve been cooking a ton lately. I’ve had to move some of my CSA vegetables onto a shelf in the garage, because the damn squash take up too much real estate in my kitchen.

Squash is good. But it’s a pain to cut up. I love Martha’s short cut to cooking spaghetti squash. You don’t even cut it in half. Just piece it with a fork and throw it in the oven for an hour. When it’s done and cooled a bit, then you cut in half and take a fork to the flesh. It’s pretty much fool proof.

I’m not really a fan of treating spaghetti squash as a pasta. It’s a vegetable, dammit, so dumping tomato sauce and a meatball on top  is time consuming and kills the taste.

Last week, I took the shredded squash and sautéed it with butter, parmesan cheese and a bunch of fresh herbs that were still growing in my garden. Here’s another Martha recipe.

This week, I’ve made brussels sprouts, too. (Roast ‘em with lots of salt.) Braised chicken and turnips. (Cook with white wine, chicken broth, and honey.) Pork and mashed potatoes. Tonight is a leftover night.

So, this past week has been a lot of cooking and cleaning. I’m rubbing lotion into my cracked hands. I’ve also been going to a lot of local school functions, too. I think that giving back should start locally. And that’s an important part of modern lifestyle.

A House

Sorry for the blog neglect. I’ve been getting my hands dirty for the past few days.

A couple of years ago, a family friend passed away. It is a complicated story. I’ve told part of Aunt Theresa’s story on the blog. (I can’t find the link, because I have to head back to Westchester in 30 minutes.) Let me briefly tell the rest of the story.

Aunt Theresa, a single former teacher, got sick about ten years ago. Multiple myeloma and Parkinson’s. A bad combination that usually knocks people off in a year. But with a lifetime of good Italian food, she lingered on for years and years. All of her other friends pretty much abandoned her, leaving just my mom. My mom and dad took her to her doctor’s appointments, managed the house, and paid the bills. Towards the end, when the doctors told my mom to arrange for hospice, Aunt Theresa ran out of money. In order to keep Aunt Theresa in her house and out of a horrible nursing home, my parents took out a loan on their own home to cover what was supposed to be two months of nursing care. Her final asset, the house, was worth a lot of money, so they would recoup their money as soon as they sold the house, after her death.

Well, Aunt Theresa lived for another two years. And then after her death, her will became tied up in the courts. In her will, she left a hundred bucks to half a dozen old Paesan living in the hills around Naples. The lawyers had to coax the old paesan out of the hills and into the city to sign paperwork. Since she left her assets to my mom and two other non-related people (who have been totally useless), the courts demanded family trees and signed paperwork from very distant relatives to show that they wouldn’t contest the will. Aunt Theresa was a late in life child to two illiterate Italian laborers. There isn’t much paperwork or evidence that they ever existed.

Meanwhile, this house has been rotting up in Westchester. Pipes burst. Water came in through the attic. The ceiling in the dining room fell in. The place that was extremely dirty to begin with, became even dirtier. And my parents were still owed a great deal of money.

On Thursday, my mom got a call from a lawyer. The court finally approved the will, so she could put the house on the market. My mom wants this burden sold quickly. I ran over there on Friday and cleaned and cleaned. We removed light fixtures that were caked with twenty years of dust, washed them out, and put in new light bulbs. I went to IKEA for new bedspreads and picture frames to cover the old wallpaper. We removed nasty carpets from two bedrooms. It’s actually an adorable tutor in a fancy area of Westchester. With some basic staging, the house will sell quickly. Hopefully. It needs two new bathrooms, but the location is awesome.

I took a few pictures of the half finished house…  Continue Reading →

The Social Media of Love

For someone who has been happily married for seventeen years, I am strangely fascinated by online dating websites. A number of my friends use Match.com. My neice and my nephew are the product of that website. I am addicted to other social media applications. Being rather boy-obssessed in my youth, a younger version of myself would be all over those websites. Perhaps it is not so strange.

Tinder sounds particularly interesting. Instead of reading though essays and plugging in all sorts of variables about dating preferences, you swipe through pictures of potential partners. It has nearly 50 million users. I was talking about this application with some 20-somethings a few weeks ago, and they all whipped out their phones to show me the app.

There is something offensive about judging people simply on appearances. People aren’t dresses that you flip through on a rack in Macy’s. How can really tell if someone is cool or not based on a five second swipe on a dating website? But maybe Tinder is onto something.

An article in the New York Times said that appearances matter more than other variables that can be plugged into a database.  Appearances can give you thousands of subconscious clues about a person’s identity.

Services like eHarmony, OKCupid and Match.com have proclaimed that their proprietary algorithms could calculate true love, or that math equations could somehow pluck two strangers to live happily ever after. That appears to be more fiction than fact.

All that really matters, according to scientific researchers I spoke with from Northwestern University and Illinois State University, at least in the beginning of relationship, is how someone looks. (Of course, these companies disagree.)

About twenty years ago, I sat down at a table in the grad school library with my friend Tracy. She said “hey” to a guy across the table, and they chatted and laughed about something long forgotten. Later, I passed her a note, “blue eyes, wow.” Of course, just by being in a grad school library together, we had a lot in common. But the blue eyes. They hooked me. And I married him.

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Call yourself a “Digital Prophet?” First up against the wall.

“The large increase in support for legalization [of pot] over the past decade was concentrated among Americans who watch a lot of TV.” Dude! Because potheads watch TV. TV doesn’t make people support pot. Dumb study.

A good friend teaches at the North Star Academy, which is featured in this article about high intensity charter schools. Can’t scale those puppies up.

How wealth doesn’t insulate a family from racism.

The Other Side of the Spectrum

Marie Myung-Ok Lee wrote a very nice piece about the politics of autism in Salon. She’s the parent of a severely autistic child. She says with all the attention paid to higher functioning autistic types, people forget about the families who are struggling with kids with severe needs.

Autism is often described as a spectrum. On one end, there are quirky, brilliant people who hold fabulous jobs and lead successful lives. On the other end, there are people who can’t communicate, who require extensive and expensive services, and who may even be of danger to themselves and others.

I actually think of autism more as a tree. Even those who are higher functioning have very different talents and challenges. But, still, there is no question that some people with autism can successfully navigate the modern world, while others require intensive support for their entire lives.

Lee proposes creating new terminology to separate the extreme ends of the spectrum. She doesn’t want people distracted by the Seinfelds and the Zuckerburgs. In order to really support families like hers, she wants a laser focus on the extreme needs of non-verbal, lower functioning kids. She would like greater awareness of the environmental causes that might be underlying the growth of autism.

I think that’s a mistake. The more people that are in the autistic tent, the more money goes to research and schools. All those cars with puzzle piece bumper stickers benefits kids on both ends of the spectrum. Lower functioning kids and their families need more help. No question about it. I just think that cutting loose half of the autistic population won’t help that cause.

What’s the Real Mom Problem?

Last night, I had an anxiety dream. I have finally graduated past the old anxiety dreams of showing up unprepared for the final exam of a class that I had forgotten to attend. I guess that’s progress. Last night’s anxiety dream was that I had been called up for jury duty, and I had nobody to watch my children. Also, all the Kinex, Duplo blocks, Lego, and Little People toys had gotten mixed together, and I had to sort them all out.

Those aren’t real anxieties anymore. I still have toy bins for when the younger cousins come to visit, but maintaining order in a tiny city apartment isn’t an issue anymore. Also, if I got called up for jury duty, I could leave Ian alone for a short while, until Jonah came home on the school bus. I could probably flash the special needs card to get out of jury duty all together. The brain must retain the old anxieties until new ones show up. I look forward to the eating cat food to pay for college dreams.

Over the weekend, Heather Havrilesky wrote about about how society views parents, especially women.

…some combination of overzealous parenting, savvy marketing and glorification of hearth and home have coaxed the public into viewing female parents as a strange breed apart from regular people. You might feel like the same person deep inside, but what the world apparently sees is a woman lugging around a giant umbilical cord.

Ten years ago, I would have enthusiastically linked to the article. I found parenthood a huge shock at first. But, yesterday, I was skimmed the article with a big “meh.” You don’t like how society views women with kids in their 30s, I thought. Wait until you’re forty, and you become invisible. Besides, who cares what other people think about me?

I really enjoyed KJ Dell’Antonia’s response. She said that the biggest problem for mothers, isn’t society’s perception of women as breeders. The biggest problem for mothers is the lack of support, especially for those with lower incomes. Society expects women to raise children to become productive citizens, but without any help. That’s a problem.