The Good News, The Bad News

Two big stories of the day.

This morning, the chatter was all about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.  There lots of links to her article on Catholicism and criminal justice reform. Check out the commercial that got her the win.

And there’s the awful, awful news that Trump is going to get to nominate another Supreme Court Justice. Ugh. Do you really think that Roe v Wade is in jeopardy? I can’t imagine.

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Immigration Questions

Immigration isn’t a typical Apt. 11D topic. It wasn’t one of my policy areas, and it’s not a hot topic in my area of the country. But there is absolutely nothing else in the news today, so let’s talk about it.

Do you think that the United States should have completely free open borders? Do you think there should be numerical quotas on the number of people allowed in the country? What should be done with unaccompanied minors? Should there be background checks done on people coming over the border?

Should we allow entry to all people who are threatened with gang violence? With domestic violence? with rampant poverty?

Would you support an increase in taxes to support the education and support for new immigrants?

Tell me. I’m curious.

There is no ‘Word Gap’ (Too bad that we created so many bad policies based on this study)

Back in the 1990s, a team of researchers spent two and a half years visiting the homes of close to four dozen families with young children, starting when the kids were 7 months old. Equipped with tape recorders and notebooks, the researchers—led by two Kansas psychologists named Betty Hart and Todd Risley—spent an hour per week in each home, recording every word a child’s primary caregiver said to the child during the sessions. After transcribing each conversation and then analyzing the exchanges as a whole, the researchers (who have both since passed away) discovered major differences in the number of words spoken in middle-class families and in lower-income ones.

The result of their research was a landmark study published in 1995, which maintained that a typical child whose parents are highly educated and working professionals is exposed to roughly 1,540 more spoken words per hour than a typical child on welfare. Over time, they concluded, this word gap snowballs so much that by age 4, children in rich families have been exposed to 32 million more words than children in poorer ones.

The study was a sensation, with the media and policymakers fixating on the so-called “word gap” as a key source of longer-term academic disparities between poor and rich kids. It was immediately embraced by academic researchers, and was cited in more than 7,000 academic publications. It influenced welfare initiatives, government pilot programs, and grant campaigns. The Obama administration championed efforts to close the “word gap,” organizing a campaign to raise awareness of the issue and to encourage parents to talk more to their children.

Now, a new study has failed to replicate Hart and Risley’s findings, further complicating the legacy of this body of research and renewing a long-standing debate among researchers about just how large disparities of language and vocabulary are among different social classes—and how much those differences matter, if at all.

More here

The Other Families

With my special ed kid in high school, I started attending evening lectures and seminars about what to do when he turns 18. We’re not quite sure what supports that Ian will need as he gets older, so I am preparing for the worst case situation and the best case situation.

The worst case scenario is that he can never manage the real world on his own and will need full support for everything from work to food to housing. The best case scenario is that he can use his computer skills to find a proper job where they won’t mind his oddities, and he can live independently enough that he will only need light oversight from a family member.

Last week, I went to one talk where a social worker for the county gave us an overview of all the tasks that a special ed parent must do before the child turns 18, and then how they would have to manage the health, food, housing, transportation, employment, and social needs for their child. I knew some of those things already, but this was the first time that I got the broad overview.

It was horrific.

Until your child is 21, the school district is largely in charge of people with special needs. Not only do they have to provide the child with an education, but they also provide counseling, physical therapy, social groups, and transportation. They don’t necessarily provide health care, but in the special ed school that I taught at it in the Bronx many years ago, they wheeled in kids in wheelchairs who were semi-comatose and supervised them for the day. By law, they must care for all children until they turn 21.

Special ed parents talk about what happens when their child turns 21 as “falling off the cliff.” Services stop.

The woman from the county explained that parents had to manage all those aspects of their child’s life on their own. Yes, there were different bureaucracies with different pots of money that could help you, but the money was small and each bureaucracy had its own paperwork and quirks. It became very clear at this presentation that some parents, specifically the mothers, now had a full time job managing their child’s life.

It is a full time job just filling out the paperwork. And the quality of services is terrible. Yes, they’ll give your kid a lift to his job at the supermarket pushing shopping carts for less than minimum wage, but it takes 45 minutes for the van to arrive. At some point, the state will provide your child with housing, but there is a ten year waiting list for an apartment.

The woman explained that parents had to spend $5,000 on a lawyer to create a special needs trust and to get guardianship over the child-adult, which is necessary to pay their bills and to make medical decisions. She briefly mentioned that the difference between getting power of attorney versus the guardianship option, but told us to consult with a lawyer about these matters.

At one point during the talk, my face got all red as I realized the scope of work ahead of me, if we face the worst case scenario. I think I burst out with “THIS IS INSANE!” in the middle of her presentation.

How can anybody with a family with special needs ever vote for a Republican? I can’t understand how anybody would vote against their family’s needs in this way. We have no safety net in this country.

If some cells divide incorrectly in utero, you have spend the rest of your life out of the workforce, and instead your days become about managing paperwork just to get your child-adult out of the basement. A couple of wonky cell divisions means a substantially poorer family income and a lifetime of working your way through phone trees to find the right dispirited bureaucrat who will okay your transportation voucher.

If I knew all this twenty years ago, I might not have decided to be a parent. I probably would have anyway, because my kids bring me so much joy, but if I knew all this, I would have certainly paused and reflected on the risks.

And More Gossip From the Mechanic

Last night, Jonah drove home from an evening of Fortnite at Jimmy’s house and announced that there was a bad smell coming from the car. Bad smells aren’t enough to move us to deal with car problems. But when black smoke started coming out from under the hood this morning, we agreed that prompt action was needed.

I wasn’t in the mood for prompt car action, because I had a full day of work planned out. Instead, I had to drive 30 minutes to the mechanic and pick up a spare car from my parents. Any trip to my parents now requires an additional 30 minutes on simplistic tech problems and lunch and tea. On the way back, I had to pick up groceries.

The day is shot. Ugh. Might as well blog.

When I dropped off the car, I had to do some mandatory chit-chat with Jimmy the mechanic. Jimmy fixes my extended family’s fleet of Toyotas and Subarus. He’s honest and hardworking and worth the 30 minute drive.

Jimmy was in a bad mood this morning, too. His best worker, Dave, quit, after working with him for eight years. Dave went to work for a dealership where he will get paid more money and get health insurance and benefits. As a small business owner, Jimmy can’t offer health insurance. His own health insurance is 20K per year.

Jimmy needs to find a replacement and is stuck. He had one guy for two weeks, but he showed up late every day and he only lived a block away. He fired him. He said that all the guys coming out of tech school are terrible. They don’t want to work hard or get dirty. I guess tech schools aren’t attracting the highest quality workers. I also guess that not too many people are willing to work at a job without health insurance.

Anyway, this gossip is interesting mostly because it is almost the exact same story that I heard from my contractor two weeks ago.

I’m interested in these stories not just because I think it’s a sign that there is great unraveling of the economy. I’m paying attention, because it’s personal. I can’t imagine that Ian is going to be able to attend a traditional four-year college. His reading skills aren’t on grade level, and he certainly could never manage the social skills of dorm room.

He does, however, have mad computer and engineering skills, so I’m started to dip my big toe into information about technical schools and community colleges. What’s the best way to get him in a cubicle with a computer? There are lots of stories about how vocational schools are the wave of the future, but I suspect it’s more hype than reality.

Weed and Teenagers

I’m going to express my unpopular opinion. I’m not excited about the legalization of pot, which is likely going to happen soon in New York and New Jersey.

Yes, I know that the enforcement of these laws is especially tough on minority communities. I know that regulations reduce the amount of bad drugs. I know that it brings in a lot of revenue for cash-strapped state legislatures. But it just sucks for the parents of teenagers.

I am extremely grateful that Jonah survived high school, got into a great college, and has a super demanding major that makes him study on Saturday nights. Because I’ve seen how things can go south.

Yeah, I’m in a UMC suburb, but those kids get in trouble, too. Big time. And it’s pot that fueling the trouble, not the Bud Lights that they get from a big brother. Since the kids are all under 18, they aren’t getting jail time, but they are still going on probation, going before judges, getting suspended, selling, and upgrading to more serious drugs. It’s not making the papers, but it’s happening.

The parents sit in the bleachers at football games and whisper about these matters. They share tips for finding the stashes under the beds and spy on the kids on social media. They trade the business cards of lawyers. They warn each other about the instigators who seem to be at the center of the action.

Teenagers are dumb, and their brains are too sensitive to chemicals. Most parents have given up on trying to stop the Juuls, but aren’t ready to deal with the new problem of legal weed. I’m so, so, so happy that Jonah is sweating it out in his bio classes and that Ian is immune to teenage vices, because our suburban town is going to go up in smoke very soon.

The Dark Web?

I’m working on a book proposal right now. I do this from time to time, but I’ve never gotten very far. I think book proposals are like relationships. They fizzle when things aren’t quite right. I’m in the honeymoon stage of this book proposal relationship, and things are flowing. My goal is to finish it by Friday of next week, and then send it out to people.

Since this book would seem to fall into the dreaded “self-help” section of the book store, I went to Barnes and Noble yesterday to check out other books in that category. It’s a rather huge section that includes everything from celebrity guides to losing weight to guides on how to be successful without any effort.

Lumped in with the books in the self-help section was Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life. I don’t know much about Peterson, other than he is hated by a lot of people that I follow on Twitter. I guess he’s a conservative, but I don’t know much more than that. Because his book was 40 percent off and seemed be less badly written than other books on that table, I bought it. I’ll skim it today.

Bari Weiss wrote an article that also blew up some steam on Twitter yesterday, called “Meet the Renegades of the Intellectual Dark Web.

Along with Peterson, other thinkers represent the new Intellectual Dark Web or the IDW, Weiss explains.

Most simply, it is a collection of iconoclastic thinkers, academic renegades and media personalities who are having a rolling conversation — on podcasts, YouTube and Twitter, and in sold-out auditoriums — that sound unlike anything else happening, at least publicly, in the culture right now. Feeling largely locked out of legacy outlets, they are rapidly building their own mass media channels.

These thinkers are making serious cash by saying controversial things, I guess. Weiss champions them as heroes who are fighting the good fight against political correctness.

The other big news yesterday was that Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino, came out with a new blockbuster video, “This is America.” I watched it. I can only watch it once, despite the great dancing. Commentary here and here and here.

Today’s ideas are angry, divisive, lucrative, polarizing, violent. In some ways, I’m intrigued, because it’s all new and I like new things. But it’s also a little frightening, I suppose.

UPDATE: Read Henry Farrell on the IDW. Also interesting.