April 29th, 2008

to buy or not to buy?

To read or not to read?

I'm thinking not on Pamela Paul's _Parenting, Inc._. While I sympathize with her reaction to the Bugaboo, if I had it to do all over again (yes, I realize I do have it to do all over again, but I've _already_ bought everything, so it's a lot harder to justify), the Bugaboo would be hideously tempting. They're like paying extra for a car that will retain a substantial resale value. Seems pointless when you first encounter the concept, but over time, you start to get it.

But that's not why I'm probably not going to buy _Parenting Inc._ and probably won't read it unless it falls into my hands on a particularly boring day. No, it's the off-the-cuff errors in her Salon.com interview. Things like, "We forget that 20 years ago, there was no programming for babies." Weird. Must have been something about 1987, when Sesame Street, Zoom and Mr. Rogers, among others, were mysteriously unavailable. Not to mention the Disney Channel, which must have been on some kind of hiatus after it started in 1983. I could go on, but what would be the point?

She does recognize that services (postpartum doula, sleep coaches, etc.) are often very worthwhile and not that expensive, and notes they are probably replacing grandparents who don't have the expertise (in the case of lactation consultants, for example, since most of the previous generation used formula). What she seems to have failed to notice is what happened to the average age of grandparents when our generation started waiting until well into our 30s to have kids (or later) -- or, for example, that a fair number of grandparents are still employed full-time. No more stay-at-home women readily available to help out.

Maybe the book is better. The reviews don't suggest to me that this is anything other than a misguided screed against well-meaning parents who are just treating their kid the way they wish they'd been treated as kids. Sure, there are going to be some unintended -- and undesirable -- consequences. OTOH, look at all the unintended and undesirable consequences of cheapskate, punitive, detachment strategies from the second half of the 20th century.

David Anderegg, _Nerds: Who They Are and Why We Need More of Them_

See, with that title, it _should_ have been good, right?

I'm still not sure if the best clue for avoiding this kind of problematic book is the PhD listed as part of the author name or if it's just that he's a Freudian psychologist. Realistically, the latter, but if the former is a good metric, it would be _sooooo_ helpful. But shallow. Whether it's under the author's control or not is not the point; you really _can_ pick romance novels with some accuracy by cover art.

In any event, what went wrong? Anderegg consults (is that the right term) with troubled kids who are troubled, in part, by whether they are "nerds" or "geeks" or whatever. As a result, he feels compelled to define these terms (right there, that's a big warning sign), and his approach to definition is an interesting one which disallows fantasy footballers and fishermen who tie their own flies (is that the right verb? Sorry! I don't fish). The basis for disallowing them, given their behavior being geeky as all hell? Googling. Seriously. Whatever.

Anderegg takes those statistics that say our kids suck and are getting suckier at math and science and does not the slightest digging around to figure out whether they really do suck, or if it just so happens that, say, kids in Finland do marginally better. He uses as further evidence that Kids Today Avoid the Harrrrd (more in a moment) subjects the "need" to ship in Indians and Chinese to do our computer programming and so forth (or to outsource that work overseas), because you can't hire people in the US. Which is SUCH GODDAMN FUCKING BULLSHIT I WANT TO GO ALL COLUMBINE ON THIS MAN'S ASS. Seriously. The entire freaking H1-B visa program was suborned (and that's assuming it wasn't created with this purpose in mind) to undercut salaries in the US. And oh my god does it work.

As for the harrrrd subjects, he actually has the gall to discuss Lakoff and some other guy (name escapes) who wrote a little analysis in 2000 (yes, really, like 8 years ago) of words used to describe science and similar technical stuff and words used to describe mommy. At no point in this multi-page discussion does Anderegg ever say, like, Jung (he does elsewhere, and like all good Freudians, he loathes Jung), or, even more to the point, Yin/Yang or a variety of other very very very ancient dichotomies that assign the soft and squishy and lowbrow to women and the hard and highbrow to men.

His comments on what the implications of this dichotomy for teaching strategies are so incoherent I can't tell if they're just misguided or unbelievably stupid or both.

I suppose there's some value in this book. Somewhere. Anderegg is on the side of those kids who _could_ do well at harrrrd subjects, but choose not to so as to Be Cool, Get Laid, etc., and ultimately regret that decision when they are adults attempting to pay the bills. I know this guy who actually would say things like, if poor people just got computer science degrees, they wouldn't be poor any more. Which is insane, because if there were that many computer science degrees running around in search of employment, they would cease to be well-compensated. And this guy is a bit of an economics geek, too, which makes the whole thing extra special risible. I'd sort of like to take Anderegg aside and say, dude, rising inequality = reduced opportunity. This teenage gauntlet is Just Another Sorting Mechanism. You succeed in subverting it, and the pay differential will be fully eliminated. But again, what would be the point?

If Anderegg had treated nerd/geek persecution by "pops" (his term, and continually amusing to me in a way I'm positive he did not intend) as Just Another Example of Power Relationships In Action, I think it would have clarified things for him enormously. In practice (as in, in his office talking to the kiddies), I think he probably tends to provide real assistance by listening and helping kids think this whole thing through, and occasionally figuring out technical fixes (buy the kid jeans instead of just sweat pants) that he can sell the parents on. But he annoyed me, and he accepted age peer schooling on the surface (despite knowing a bunch of people who homeschool to _avoid exactly this kind of problem_) and otherwise exhausted my patience. There are probably some huge class issues at work here as well, given where he lives and works, and given my feelings about old money.

Besides. Dude seriously acted like the Greeks and Romans were cooler because their smart people got to be attractive. Never mind the MASSIVE ugly = evil = stupid = etc. going on in this mythos. And he conveniently left out/ignored Hephaestus, the prototypical Geek who lost the Hot Chick to the Jock (depending on which story you read). Probably because that would have messed with his uniquely American anti-intellectualism theory. But using the Hephaestus myth as a structure for a book about nerds/geeks and hot chicks and jocks would be a hella (ha! punny, too. Sorry.) fun read.

I, personally, think you should give this one a miss.