Sunday, April 30, 2006

Brainy Nonsense

The techno next door is keeping me awake for the 16th week running, but rather than get angry about it again I figured I'd spend this early-morning time (for which I'd be up anyway) paying attention to my poor neglected blog.

I drank my day away at a very fun end-of-year gathering on the lake. The food, company, and amusements were all brilliant and I was on the whole very happy. Some wrong turns en route to the house, however, led to heated tempers, which distracted the driver enough that she made some spectacularly reckless errors that would have proved painful had other people not been paying attention and shouting "BRAKES!" I say "other people" 'cos it sure as hell wasn't me--I forgot to eat before getting in the car and was at that point the mental equivalent of jell-o.

After I'd eaten though I realized that the person in question is routinely a dangerously distracted driver. She runs red lights, sits at green lights, crosses intersections without looking, gets lost easily and is known for her tendency to gradually decelerate on the freeway as her foot wanders from the pedal. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I was risking my life letting her drive as one day her errors might prove fatal.

What makes this somewhat funny is the fact that I believe a lot of this distraction is on account of a medication she takes to prevent it. The pill in question is called Aderol, and is prescribed by psychiatrists to patients who appear to have difficulty paying attention, or "Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)." Somehow it rearranges the taker's chaotic neurological firings into logical sequences that lengthen his or her ability to focus. Many hyperactive, disorderly, and ill-attentive children have shown marked improvements in their behavior and grades with the introduction of Aderol or other ADD medication to their cereal, and it is a well-known study aid among collge students around exam time.

That said. (Intro my opinion.)

ADD is a myth. It is a pathetic excuse for poor parenting and a child's genuine disinterest in academic pursuits. ADD's counterpart, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), is an indication of even worse parenting and a complete failure on the part of society to properly and effectively teach desirable behavior in children. In no way does a child's inability or unwillingness to pay attention to or care about academic pursuits indicate that there is something wrong with their neurological function or that they require mind-altering drugs in order to do well in school.

There are several behaviors that are mistakenly diagnosed as AD(H)D. I wish to itemize a few of them here and give my opinion on them.

Example 1: Apathy-Related "ADD"
Little Timmy is not doing too well in school. He is not interested in maths or history and he rarely does his homework because he's too easily distracted by the TV, the video game console, the dog, or even the carpet. His teachers have commented that Timmy seems distracted and irritable in class. Little Timmy's parents worry that he will not go on to be a brain surgeon like his father. Hell, at the rate he's going chances are he won't even pick up any literature more mentally taxing than People Weekly after he graduates.

Guess What, Mr. and Mrs. Brain Surgeon--Its OKAY!!

Timmy is not handicapped. He's not a bad child, he's not stupid, and there's nothing wrong with his teachers. Timmy is one of billions of human beings who just DONT CARE ABOUT ACADEMICS. Timmy doesn't read books because he simply doesn't enjoy reading. He doesn't pay attention in math class because frankly, math is the least interesting abstract concept in the history of thought. Timmy got in trouble for dicing the frog he was supposed to be dissecting because it is more fun to hack things to pieces than to identify their components. Timmy doesn't want to do his homework because its a FREAKING BEAUTIFUL DAY OUTSIDE. Lets face it--school is boring. Timmy has every right to be bored.

Something we, as a society, have lost appreciation for is non-academic intelligence. Timmy may be very capable in pursuits which we have deemed un-intellectual. Perhaps he has a knack for running, building cabinets, painting, or plumbing. The fact that Timmy has no innate ability for memorizing names and dates of historic figures does not mean that he is stupid--he just doesn't belong in the kind of school he is required to attend by law. It is unfortunate that many blue-collar type jobs are sneered at in todays society while pointless number-crunching money-moving jobs are idealized when its the blue-collar folks who are actually productive.

Schools today do not teach anything that will benefit most children in adulthood. They teach pointless abstractions (mathematics), generally useless trivia (history), and even leisure activities (literature). The second two have no practical value, and the first is really only useful in mechanical design, which most people don't do anyway.

If a child seems bright--not just to a parent's eye--but doesn't give a rip about school, chances are he's not learning anything that interests him.

No amount of Aderol is going to make Timmy like or care about school. It will only make him hyper-focus on whatever you put in front of him. That doesn't mean he's interested in it. You've just drugged him to make him conform to an education system that he has no business being in. Square peg, round hole.

Modern society's insistence upon putting all children through an identical education system is less an effort to make us productive members of society and more an attempt to make us all conform to some silly ideal of how a human is "supposed" to think and behave. Fact remains, there is no "right" way to do anything, because "right," "wrong", and "supposed to" are abstract manifestations of the intellectual elite. People are different. Many people are not intellectual.

A much more effective education system that has, unfortunately, been abandoned in favor of state-regulated assembly-line style schooling was the apprenticeship system. Children who appear to have an aptitude for or interest in some field study under a master in said field until they can do it too. Likewise if the child is interested in academics he or she is sent to an academic institution, and if he or she has no apparent useful aptitude, interest, or inclination, he or she can join the military. Zing.

Example 2: Pain-in-the-ass Brat
Suzy Q makes noise. she bounces around incessantly, hits other children, makes farting noises with her hands and generally makes a nuisance of herself. She spends more of her day in time-out than her desk and has to take notes home to her mother regularly to have signed. She rarely finishes tests before turning them in and is distracted by shiny objects. She has difficulty carrying a conversation and shouts when she wants to be heard.

Two words--Bad Parenting. Suzy is one of millions of American children who have been raised by a television set, day-care center, and parents who's jobs or personal lives get in the way of establishing a good relationship with their daughter.

The constant flicker and color of the TV display have established a basis of activity to stimulate Suzy's mind and keep her interested, making sitting quietly while the teacher reads Where The Red Fern Grows intolerably boring. Nothing is moving! Where are the flashing lights? Dancing numbers and singing puppets? Chances are if she goes to any school that doesn't require its teachers to have a MFA in performance she is going to get frustrated. She will fidget, she will look around, she will tap her fingers and eventually ask, impatiently, for the teacher to pick up the pace already.

Many children who grow up in day care are loud. They have to be if they want any sort of attention from the staff--there are simply too many other children around for them to be heard any other way. Suzy has to compete constantly for any sort of attention, and when she actually gets it she's going to soak it up in a distinctly spongelike manner. Positive or negative--it doesn't matter. She craves any sort of attention she can get from grown-ups because by the time mommy and daddy get home at night, they're tired, hungry, and as much as they love their daughter, they just can't muster up the energy to play with or talk to her. Suzy may become angry with her parents for not loving her enough, and when she brings this up (in her day-care style) they may become frustrated and shout at her. Because mommy and daddy know that they're neglecting her, but they also know they can't afford to live in a nice neighborhood where Suzy is safe if they don't both work full-time. They feel guilty for not having a good relationship with their daughter, they hate the insane costs of day care, they have no idea what she's eating most of the time, but they can't find any other way to make ends meet. Suzy barely knows her parents and has never encountered real, consistent, understandable discipline from them. Sometimes she gets shouted at for talking, sometimes she's completely ignored, and on some occasions she's even encouraged to yell and run around.
No, Suzy is being raised in a group of thirty by one frazzled primary school teacher who simply does not have the opportunity to give any child individual attention unless there's a problem. (I have a new name for ADHD: SWS. Squeaky Wheel Syndrome.) At night she is entertained by children's television, the bright colors and flashing lights of which would give an adult a seizure. And in the morning she eats pink-marshmallow cereal because, though her mother knows it isn't good for her, she feels guilty enough for neglecting her child to buy her whatever she wants.

I recognize that "good parenting"--a situation in which the parent is in control of a child's diet, takes responsibility for the child's behavior, is helpful in the child's intellectual and moral growth, and inspires the child to imagine and hard to come by. its simply too expensive to raise children in America for a parent to leave work and do any of said raising. I recognize that education tailored to each child's strengths and interests is impossible in America because of rampant overpopulation, strictly enforced statutes of universal conformism, consistently under-staffed schools and under-qualified teachers...but is drugging children the right means of accommodating this problem?

So. The kids who are already here--i feel for you. I understand how hard it is to be you, with society and the media molding you one way and school expecting you to behave in another. I know your interests rarely include theorems, sentence diagrams, the life cycle of trees, or Willard Fillmore's contributions to the American welfare state. And you know what? This kind of knowledge won't get you anywhere anyhow. Its what you learn when you earn a liberal arts degree--the degree that overeducates and underqualifies you for every job on the planet. You might as well not learn it, without frustration or guilt.

But to those adults thinking of having children--stop. Think. Can you afford to have kids and raise them too? Can you be home when they're home? Can you say No without crying? Can you keep them out of day care? Can you help them with their homework? Can you play with them outside? Can you be present to influence their growth and development? If you're not sure, or if you're sure you can't...maybe you should reconsider. Our population is in no danger of collapsing. Why have kids just so they can be drugged and brainwashed by governments and corporations?

Sunday, April 16, 2006


There really is nothing quite like watching hundreds of schoolchildren being beaten, gassed, and shot at by police and military officials to make you feel guilty for being Western. I don't consider myself racist and I don't condone anyone harming anyone else for any reason, but nevertheless I feel like my very existence as an educated, white American is so unfair that it's wrong in light of other people's misfortune.

Today I watched a film entitled "Witness to Apartheid" for my African History class. It consisted of interviews and live footage of large-scale political violence in South Africa in 1985. I don't know how readily available this film is and if anyone else has seen it but the images it shows are utterly terrifying, and made more so by the fact that they're real. To say the least it'll stay with me for a while. The race-based violence, consisting almost entirely (in the film) of white military attacks on peaceful black protests was so nonsensical that you'd think it impossible. They were shot because they wanted equality, the ability to have a job, the ability to provide for themselves and their families, the ability to be educated and fed and left alone. It never occurred to me until today that I should appreciate the fact that it is safe for me to go to school. That I don't wonder if my class is going to be disrupted by armed men and my classmates and I hauled to jail because they caught wind that we disagreed with public policy.

If anything in this country we are wary of our schoolmates who might get disgruntled for no readily apparent reason and bring a gun to school. But at least in that situation there's an outcry. There's a public inquiry. The law gets involved and there are criminal repercussions. In South Africa, under Apartheid, there was nothing. Not even an attempt at or pretense of justice. No comfort for the bereaved and often no medical aid for the wounded. Doctors who offered their services to those hurt in these clashes would be jailed.

One's own problems seem so petty by contrast. I wonder where I'll be in five years, if i'll be making enough money to make ends meet. A small part of me fears I'll be so unsuccessful that I'll end up on the street, but I don't really believe it. I join the rallying against injustice in my own country, but where does it stand in comparison? Millions of people forced into cramped, unplumbed, unelectrified, fenced and frequently firebombed camps because folks of the opposite color believe they're somehow better than them. Laws enacted against them to prevent them from getting jobs because white folks fear they'll work for cheaper and their employment would be at risk. White people convincing themselves--or being outrightly told by their politicians and teachers--that black people are happy in their situation, or that they're genetically inclined toward violence so they must be strictly supervised for their own safety.

I don't have a leg to stand on in complaining. I'm never going to be rich or famous, beautiful, brilliant, or any way special. I don't expect i'll ever have a beautiful house or be able to keep a good companion. These are things I think and worry about because they're what my society values. The thing we seem to fear most here is mediocrity, the quality of not being better than those around us. But I really should appreciate my sensibly-shod, bodily-clad, overweight American mediocrity.

I'm not going to fall down on my knees and thank my maker for the bounteous gifts i've received in my life because frankly that's selfish. One of the most obvious debunkers of religion is the abject horror of so many people's daily lives in light of our own roofed and furnished existence. The fact that most of it is inflicted on them by other humans only heightens my awareness that we are floating through the universe unsupervised. Justice is a nice idea that we came up with to make sense of the anger we feel when we are harmed. I am not thankful for the life I lead because the only reason I know it is pretty easy is because I see people who don't have things as nice as I do. Because people exist who know nothing but suffering. I don't appreciate it. I feel bad for it. Bad that I didn't...i dunno, pay extra for it somehow. Bad because I don't deserve it, just like black South Africans don't deserve to be punished for wanting it. Bad because I'm one of the "haves" and I still manage to be discontent, angry, and afraid though I know others have it much worse. Bad because I'm wealthy, which is interesting, because I'm not.

I know that Apartheid ended. It shouldn't have ever started, but it only took about a century of enforced represison of an entire race for a few people to finally warm to the idea of inalienable human rights. Things aren't vastly improved, but they're a little better. They've gotten worse elsewhere and when that improves they'll suck further somewhere else again, but at least one situation had the capacity to get a little better. It is a strange, frustrating world we live in.

"This planet has, or rather had, a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn't the small, green pieces of paper that were unhappy.

"And so the problem remained; lots of the people were mean, and most of them were miserable, even the ones with digital watches." -- Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Saturday, April 15, 2006


my stomach bug has been replaced with a mild head-cold. this is getting annoying. So still kinda dizzy, but now in an inner-ear sort of way.

Thursday, April 13, 2006


I've caught some sort of stomach bug that's kept me from eating for three days. I've been drinking water and some drinks with sugar in them but the mere sight of food makes me queasy. As if i wasn't before, i feel like an utter space cadet today. Dizzzzzzzzy.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

rope? check. square hat? check.

that's right friends and neighbors--i'm graduating from university in less than a month. i've already gotten my sexy black dress and its matching square of cardboard, my drawer pull and yes, two lengths of yellow nylon rope. seriously, i look like a drapery store just threw up on me. But What is it with these horrible "gowns" you have to wear? They're about the least flattering garment known to man--i look like a bag lady in it (by which i mean a a bag), they're itchy as hell and made of the least comfortable fabric possibly ever, and they're made on the cheap to low quality standards but you pay a fortune for them. I guess its the university's way of screwing you over one last time before they let you go. This dress alone is a good reason to not go to grad school.

You know who looks good in a mortarboard and gown? Me neither. I look like i'm wearing a tent. They should come with anchoring stakes and a lantern. And the flat cap with a tassle...just a bizarre, bizarre tradition.

I think the concept of honor cords is funny--i get them because i'm graduating magna cum laude. What better way to identify your honor graduates than to...dangle rope around their necks? the damn rope is so slippery you can't even tie knots in it. Useless. and its got even more tassles on the ends--i guess they assume students with high GPAs have cats they need to entertain. I know my cat will certainly enjoy them--indeed, they're the only components of this $40 purchase that'll actually be used more than once. Terrific.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


I saw a butterfly today while walking between classes--it was happily flitting along near the center of campus and I turned my head to look at it. I say "turned my head" but my body came along too and I made a complete u-turn in the middle of the path to follow my new little friend as it ambled toward some flowering shrubs. I very nearly climbed into the brick-lined planter over who's wall it flew but was stopped short by good sense. and the fact that there was a professor watching me.

Monday, April 03, 2006


I rarely buy national brand products at the store. I'm happy with my Top Care Ibuprofen and my K-Mart brand shoes. Not only am I a cheapskate, but i've actually developed a taste for the cheap. I don't just eat Piggly Wiggly cottage cheese, I actually Prefer it to the Breakstone's variety. Publix-brand tonic water tastes better because its two dollars cheaper than Schweppes or Canada Dry. Food Lion tater tots fry up just as greasy as Ore Ida's, and i don't care what you say, Bi-Lo cotton swabs are just as q-tippy as Q-tips.

That said.

About a month ago I splurged. I had an "impulse buy" which is to say I'd wanted it for a while, told myself i didn't need it, but bought it when my conscience wasn't looking. Its silly. Its overpriced. Its advertised.

Its lemon-flavored toothpaste.

Everyone I've mentioned this to so far has given me a look of utter repulsion. Lemon? Toothpaste? Why that's just...wrong. My own mother even gave me the Look--that mom-look of simultaneous distaste and disappointment--when she saw it on my countertop. But Crest must have heard there was a market for it, because they produced it and even had the gall to make a TV advert about it. It had something to do with it being refreshing like lemonade.

It is not refreshing like lemonade.

It is, however, very nice toothpaste. It tastes half minty half lemony and is yellow with sparkles. It looks, in essence, like something a four-year old would put on her purple light-up Barney toothbrush.

I don't understand folks's automatic dislike for the idea of lemon toothpaste. I love Lemon-flavored gum (though I have only found it in France--anyone care to mail me a packet of Hollywood Citron?) and nobody seems to mind lemon-scented dish detergent. They make lemon Skittles, candied lemon wedges, lemon Jolly Ranchers, and if you're lucky you might even find an actual lemon on the rim of your glass. People Like lemons. much more than most folks seem to like South Carolina, in any case. Just not my yellow toothpaste.

I'll stand up for you, lemon-flavored toothpaste. Its you and me against the world.