Archive for February, 2008

Expectation and Desire

Maclin Horton

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I started to post this at my blog, but thought it might fit better here. On the way to work this morning I heard a fascinating story on NPR about the effect of increasingly structured "play" and quasi-play activities on the development of children.

I really dislike social "science" that proves the obvious, and I expect most readers of this blog already know, intuitively and by observation, what these people are saying. But it’s fascinating to see the educators coming around to it, and maybe it will have an effect. Be warned that you have to put up with a certain amount of psychologists’ jargon. Here’s one crucial conclusion:

It turns out that all that time spent playing make-believe actually helped children develop a critical cognitive skill called executive function. Executive function has a number of different elements, but a central one is the ability to self-regulate. Kids with good self-regulation are able to control their emotions and behavior, resist impulses, and exert self-control and discipline.

We know that children’s capacity for self-regulation has diminished. A recent study replicated a study of self-regulation first done in the late 1940s, in which psychological researchers asked kids ages 3, 5 and 7 to do a number of exercises. One of those exercises included standing perfectly still without moving. The 3-year-olds couldn’t stand still at all, the 5-year-olds could do it for about three minutes, and the 7-year-olds could stand pretty much as long as the researchers asked. In 2001, researchers repeated this experiment. But, psychologist Elena Bodrova at the National Institute for Early Education Research says, the results were very different.

"Today’s 5-year-olds were acting at the level of 3-year-olds 60 years ago, and today’s 7-year-olds were barely approaching the level of a 5-year-old 60 years ago," Bodrova explains. "So the results were very sad."

One’s heart bleeds for all the children, especially boys, who are diagnosed as hyper-active and given drugs to control it when they really needed just to be able to play.

Click here to read or listen to the whole story.

–Maclin Horton

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Newman’s Dream of Gerontius

Maclin Horton

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The Worst Barbeque Ever

Over on Maclin’s Light on Dark Water weblog a conversation that began about one of crunchy con man Rod Dreher’s snooty food posts ("crusted goat cheese…Halibut in an herbaceous cream sauce") has evolved into a discussion about barbeque and its regional variations.

Which brings to mind this tale, which is too long for a comment on LODW. Besides, it will be a welcome respite from the political talk which has come to
dominate this site lately.

I didn’t marry untilthe day before my 42nd birthday, when by grace and good fortune I wedthe very beautiful and much younger Michelle.

These days, with a van full of children, when we travel the strategy is to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible. Being cooped up in a vehicle brings out the worst in children: squabbling and sniping,
grumbling and complaining. If this post was titled "The Worst Road Trip
Ever" I could tell the story of the time Michael Seraphim, who we called "the horrible adorable baby" literally screamed the whole way from northeast Ohio to southeast Michigan. At night. In the rain.

As his nickname indicated, besides being a fussy baby he was also incredibly cute. Lucky for him. He is at present a thoroughly delightful two year old.

So for now we stick to the freeways.

But during my long bachelorhood the journey itself was to be savored. I nearly always travelled the side roads, beginning when I hitchiked around the country in my teens and twenties. This means, whether travelling by thumb or car, actually experiencing places, instead of just zooming by on the interstate.

One of the
delights of this slower, more leisurely way of travel is culinary; you are not limited to the chain restaurants that line the freeway exits. In the South and Mid-Atlantic this means barbeque, often no more than a smoky roadside stand.

There is the wonderful chicken stand along route 404 in Delaware’s flat countryside, a Kiwanis fundraiser, if I recall. I stopped once on my way to visit friends on Maryland’s coast and after tasting once the vinegary/peppery taste of the blackened chicken it became a regular stop.

Or the ribs at another makeshift stand in St Mary’s County in Maryland,
nicely charred- as good barbeque should be- with a sweet and tangy sauce. The only drawback is that the place is only about a mile from the Pope Creek crabhouse, on the shore of the mile-wide Potomac, which is another find. Decisions, decisions.

And so once, years ago, one of my trips to visit Maclin and Karen in Alabama. I was living in Virginia at the time, and drove down Skyline Drive to the Blue Ridge Parkway, which took me as far as northern Georgia. It’s a stunning drive, following the ridge line of the Appalachians.

That was the main route, anyway. I also took a lot of forays on back roads
that ran in the same general northeast to southwest direction, sort of
like a jazz musician playing variations on a melody.

On one of these riffs I drove along a stream at the bottom of a narrow holler in North Carolina when I saw it, the barbeque epicure’s dream, a small rundown joint with a hand-painted sign: "BARBEQUE". Oh boy, I thought, this looks like the real thing. There was no smoke rising, the usual telltale sign, but it was late in the afternoon. No doubt the barbequer’s work was done for the day.

So I
walked into the place, expectantly. I was the lone customer. The interior did not disappoint: funky and worn-looking, just what one would hope it would be.

So I ordered some ribs, french fries and hush puppies and settled in with the newspaper I had picked up earlier, imagining the delights that soon were to be mine. As this was the Carolina uplands, the sauce would probably be sweet and spicy, not the tangy mustardy kind you got in the piedmont.

When the proprietor proudly arrived with my platter of ribs I stared dumbly
at it. These were unlike any ribs I had ever seen. Not a trace of char on them, and smothered in a wet red sauce. The fries were limp and soggy, the hush puppies sorry-looking and greasy.

I ventured a taste. And nearly gagged. They were very fatty, and apparently boiled. The sauce, I believe, was Open Pit, straight from the bottle.

They were inedible, and I left a bill to cover the cost and hurried out when no one was looking.

I suppose I could draw some profound moral lesson from this experience, a Forrest Gumpish "Life is like a barbeque joint: you never know what you are going to get". But the best I can come up with is the obvious: sometimes what looks like a dumpy greasy spoon is just a dumpy greasy spoon.

Daniel Nichols

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Catholics for Obama?

Sort of interesting piece at Slate arguing that the politically and/or socially conservative Catholics who left the Democrats during the Reagan years may and should return to vote for Obama. I say "sort of" because I don’t think he makes the "should" part of the case very convincingly. He speaks of the Catholic vote as if it were composed entirely of people who take the teachings of the Church seriously and also think pretty hard about politics. My possibly too-cynical view is that that’s true of only a minority of the people who get counted as "Catholic" in these numbers.

I pretty much agree with Rod Dreher’s opinion: why not just say "I’m a Republican who’s sick of the Republicans, and want change. Obama is a likable, decent guy, and I’m willing to take a chance on him"?

Maclin Horton

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Love Not in Vain: The Open Secret

Maclin Horton

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As you know, I have been supporting Ron Paul for president, even contributing financially to his campaign. I have long planned on voting for Dr Paul in Ohio’s March 4 primary.

I had thought that this would be a symbolic act, as I assumed that the nomination would be settled by then. While this is apparently true regarding the Republican contest- barring a near-miraculous surge for Dr Paul, who has been a disappointment in the primaries- it is far from true in the Democratic primary, where Mrs Clinton and Mr Obama are in a very tight race.

Now, Ohio’s primary is "winner take all", so a vote for Dr Paul would not even add to his delegate count at the convention, where I hope at least to see a speech or two that speaks the truth about the war.

The prospect of the Clintons returning to the White House is one that fills me with nausea and dread. I know, I have decried the demonization of Mrs Clinton here, but I cannot imagine how 4, or God help us, 8 years of Clinton rule could be anything but disastrous, not least because of the poison it will inspire on the Right. It is hard to see how an Obama presidency could be worse, and it is easy to imagine that it could bring about considerable good.

And so my dilemma: should I vote in the Democratic primary, which I am free to do as a registered Independent, and try and keep Mrs Clinton out of the White House? Or should I vote for the man whose positions on the issues are closest to mine?

I have never had much use for strategic voting, have voted for third party candidates, and have sat out elections rather than vote for the "lesser evil".

But we do not live in ordinary times. Our nation is in terrible trouble, and a McCain vs Clinton contest is perhaps as bad a choice as could be offered in such a crucial election. McCain is promising more war, for ever and ever amen. And Mrs Clinton would initiate the Age of Nausea.

What should I do?

Daniel Nichols

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