Friday, September 20, 2013

Seven quick rants

Yeah, I know, Friday is supposed to be for pleasant randomness.  But what can I say?  I've been reading a lot of things lately that upset me/worry me/tick me off.

I've been reading a book about North Korea called Nothing to Envy.  It's pretty good, if a book about a communist dystopia that still exists in real life can be considered "good."  The famine parts are the hardest for me to read; I have a visceral fear of famine.  These two paragraphs about made my hair stand on end:

"Creditors were increasingly fed up with North Korea's failure to repay loans that had amounted to an estimated $10 billion by the early 1990s.  Moscow decided that North Korea would have to pay prevailing world prices for Soviet imports rather than the lower 'friendship' prices charged Communist allies.  In the past, the Chinese, who provided three quarters of North Korea's fuel and two thirds of its food imports, used to say they were close as 'lips and teeth' to North Korea; now they wanted cash up front.

"Soon the country was sucked into a vicious death spiral.  Without cheap fuel oil and raw material, it couldn't keep the factories running, which meant it had nothing to export.  With no exports, there was no hard currency, and without hard currency, fuel imports fell even further and the electricity stopped  The coal mines couldn't operate witout electricity because they required electric pumps to siphon the water.  The shortage of coal worsened the electricty shortage.  The electricity shortage further lowered agricultural output. . . . It had never been easy to eke out enough harvest from North Korea's hardscrabble terrain for a population of 23 million, and the agricultural techniques developed to boost output relied on electrically powered artificial irrigation systems and on chemical fertilizers and pesticides produced at factories that were now closed for lack of fuel and raw materials.  North Korea started running out of food."

Can you think of another country that runs a huge debt and trade deficit?  Perhaps one whose currency is becoming less and less valuable--a currency that is not, in fact, backed by anything?  One whose agricultural system requires vast quantities of oil, both for production and transportation?

Ding ding ding!  That would be us.

I looked up the page and imagined a world where oil was harder to get -- even, say, twice or three times the price it is now.  Do you know how much oil goes into every bite you eat?  I wanted to rush out to the yard and plant stuff that very moment.

The comment, on an article about genetic modification, which announced authoritatively that "the vast majority of plant life on this planet is toxic in its wild form; only careful breeding has made it possible for us to eat it."

Do they not know humans used to be hunter-gatherers, and that some still are?  It is in fact possible for a human being (not all human beings anymore; there are too many of us) to live entirely on wild food.  Very few plants are toxic.  A larger percentage just aren't nutritious to us, because our stomachs can't handle cellulose.  But most fruit, a wide variety of fungi, most seeds, most nuts, many kinds of tubers and roots, are perfectly suited for a human diet.

I suppose you all know that, but it was post it here or post it on the New York Times, and I try to stay well out of comment wars on news sites.  That level of stupidity really burns my cookies.

This article on HuffPo: Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy.  I'll save you the trouble of reading it: Millennials are unhappy because we think we're special snowflakes and were so disappointed to find out that the adult world contained actual work and we couldn't all start our dream jobs at 22.  Must be all those ungraded tests and unscored soccer games that taught us that everybody's a winner.

Turns out grades and soccer scores are both pretty meaningless and don't appear to be good for anyone, but have no fear, baby boomers!  Turns out that whole no-grades no-scores thing is something of an urban legend; I don't know anyone my age who experienced this.  And as a teacher, same thing.  Parents nowadays won't stand for no grades; they need something to use to compare their kids with other kids.

No point in trying to answer that dumb article, because it's already been done better than I could: this one gives the stats for what is really bothering Millennials (hint: unemployment, underemployment, debt) and this one is more poetic.  The comments on the latter article are very much worth reading, including the subthreads.  People have been posting their life stories, making me feel very lucky indeed.  We are homeowners at 27, we have kids, and we live on one income.  Apparently lots of people our age only dream of that kind of success.

The Dust Bowl.  Yeah, I know, it's okay to laugh at me.  It happened almost a century ago now and I shouldn't still be upset.  But I'm watching a documentary about it and this was so avoidable!  People knew the southern plains weren't suitable for cultivation.  But dadgum if they didn't go and cultivate them anyway.  Speculators told people the climate was magically becoming moister, that plowing the grassland up would somehow bring rain clouds, and that there was no better farmland anywhere for growing wheat.  So they plowed up everything they could, and when wheat prices crashed after the Depression they plowed up even more, because that's the only way a farmer has for dealing with low prices.  Then all it took was a few dry years, and there wasn't a patch of prairie anywhere to hold the dirt down.  It all blew away, and the farmers lost everything.

And now, of course, America's farmland is eroding more slowly, and into drainage ditches instead of in huge dustclouds, so no one notices.  But topsoil is one precious resource that we literally cannot live without.  Why do we give it so little thought?

So the Pope gave this interview, right?  I thought it was wonderful and really very comforting.  It felt like he has been sitting next to be in the pew, Sunday after Sunday, while our priest rants on politics and barely mentions Jesus.  He knew how I felt.  And he knew that focusing less on politics and more on Jesus doesn't mean dissenting from a single Church teaching or backing away from the responsibility to evangelize -- it means speaking the truth in love.

No complaints there.  But instantly everyone jumped all over it.  I'm not talking about the secular media; I didn't read any of that.  I mean the Catholics.  They felt angry, betrayed, like the Pope had handed a victory to the enemy.  Because apparently saying that you don't talk much about abortion or homosexuality is tantamount to stabbing all conservative Catholics in the back at once.  I spent a lot of time trying to answer these people on Facebook and I'm only just now trying to step away.  It isn't worth it.  It isn't worth more division.  Lord knows the Catholic Church in America has enough of that as it is.

Michael is at that stage where he can't make it through the day without a nap, but he always takes it too late in the day and ends up staying up till nine or ten every night.  I hate that.  The one thing of most value for keeping my sanity is having no-kids time from seven to ten pm.  And it's not like Michael is quietly sitting on my lap all that time -- he's tearing the house apart (which I like to tidy up before dinner so I can wake up to a clean house in the morning) and making a ton of noise and being super demanding.  Argh.

On the other hand, when one kid gets tough, sometimes the other gets easy.  Marko's bedtime routine is this: we read a book or two.  Then I tuck him into bed, give him a kiss, and ... leave.  That's it.  He goes to sleep.  Then he sleeps all night, and if he wakes up before me, he quietly comes out of his room and sits in my rocking chair until I get up.

And what's most encouraging of all is that he slept worse than Michael when he was that age.  He was up till 11 pm sometimes, and if he woke at night he screamed bloody murder.  And here he is at three and a half taking care of everything himself -- which he has for months now.  So maybe, just maybe, two years from now Michael will be doing the same.

John's had a lot of trips lately.  I won't say when, because I'm afraid of being burgled (hey burglars!  you ought to know our dog is very nervous and hates strangers!  just keep that in mind k?), but it has been a lot.  I've been keeping up with the home front just fine, really, but when he's gone, I just miss the guy.  When I feel like North Korea, the Dust Bowl, the Huffington Post, and Facebook are all out to get me, it's nice knowing he is on my team.  He gets all this stuff I'm upset about, gets why I'm upset, and for the most part agrees with me.  I'm a pretty opinionated person, and it means so much to me to have one person I don't have to argue this stuff with.


What would you like to rant about today?

This week's linky is here.


Conquistadora said...

Hey, I recently watched that same documentary and it was horrifying. o_0

Enbrethiliel said...


#1 -- I am growing more and more aware of all the stuff I use on a daily basis that I could never produce by myself, and it's making me try to find "natural" stuff to replace it. I haven't been using commercial shampoo and soap for a few weeks. Of course, this doesn't mean I'm the first producer of what I'm using instead. It's just interesting to think of how easy it actually is to live without a lot of "necessities." Now if I could only grow food . . . =P

#3 -- While I agree that the "no grades, no scores" urban legend is, well, an urban legend (LOL), there might be something to that generalisation about Millennials. Both France and Italy have both high youth unemployment and a lot of unfilled "menial" jobs. Believe it or not, young Italians don't want to be pizza makers any longer! And at least one business owner has gone on record saying that he prefers to hire foreigners because they are more willing to do the less glamourous work that most jobs do demand. I see something similar happening in the Philippines, where there is a shortage of accountants (to take one example) but also a surplus of people with Accounting degrees fighting for financial analyst positions which, according to a friend who has been a CPA for over two decades, they are simply not competent to take on.

Of course there are other factors, such as the fact that accounting jobs do not pay enough. I don't mean that they won't cover luxuries; I mean that they won't let you have a decent place to live and a small nest egg. Heck, I'm earning an above-average figure and the best flat I can afford will require me to share a bathroom with strangers! But right now a working class family at the turn of the twentieth century is laughing at me, because I still have it better than they did.

I agree that the relatively new monkey-on-our-back that is debt is a huge practical issue, but let's also look at one assumption that fueled the debt: the idea that people with good degrees are entitled to good jobs. That's a script people thought would be the story of their lives, and there may still be a big majority who cannot break out of that box.

More later. I'm writing on a tablet, which is hard. And which explains any typos!

Charming Disarray said...

"It felt like he has been sitting next to me in the pew, Sunday after Sunday, while our priest rants on politics and barely mentions Jesus. He knew how I felt."

This is why I like him, too, and how I took that statement. It was so comforting because yes, sorry, it does get exhausting to here about abortion and homosexuality day in and day out, year after year, often at the expense of so many other things. I think Pope Francis is very wise and is standing by calmly while people continue to tie themselves in knots. I find it comforting that he's in charge, and I'm trying to ignore the people who are now insisting he's some of radical. He's not.

Sheila said...

Here in America, unemployment is high everywhere, and even menial jobs have no trouble finding people to hire. This despite the fact that the minimum wage -- $7 an hour -- is admittedly impossible to live on, so the people who take these jobs need government aid to survive. And with inflation the way it is, I don't expect this to change.

One of the articles I read said something very true: the author said sure he's entitled. He's entitled to be able to work his butt off and as a result get a place to live, food to eat, and be able to pay the doctor if he gets sick. Everyone should be entitled to that. But instead we're spending all our money on gas to get to work or health insurance (because it's now illegal not to have it).

I think part of why millennials are so mad is that we were sold the college-equals-career myth, our parents insisted we go because we would get good jobs, and it's Just. Not. True. I would think by now we'd have figured it out, but no, people are still flooding into colleges they can't pay for. Me, I'm hoping my kids become mechanics or farmers or computer programmers. No degree required.

Enbrethiliel said...


I have a proper keyboard again! (Cue audience groaning)

The system you have in the US sounds like it could implode at any minute. Government aid and inflation seem to go hand-in-hand, which means the latter negates the former in no time. As for raising minimum wage . . . I read another article whose author pointed out that given a) the ease with which someone can be trained to do a minimum wage job, and b) the huge numbers of people competing for those jobs, it's just not feasible to raise the wages. To put it bluntly, if you're earning minimum wage, you're dispensable and paid accordingly.

Granted, this wouldn't be a problem if inflation didn't compound things, or if people continued to live at home or in extended family settings (which are perfectly decent setups!), or if [insert economic factor of your choice here].

I think the main reason the college-equals-career myth is still going strong today is that a lot of parents don't have skills worth teaching to their children. Someone who owns a farm (to take our favourite example!) would have to teach his children how to manage it, but someone who owns, say, a market research firm won't worry about training his children to take over the family business until they are teenagers. If at all. So what to do with them in the meantime? Send them to school: that's what! =P The real myth seems to be that what you need to know to make a living cannot be learned from your parents, but can be learned from schools, the king of these being college.

A friend of mine learned to build houses when he was a teenager because his father worked in construction. Today, he could build his own house from the ground up if he wanted to. Of course he'd need help (LOL!), but the point is that not a lot of modern men can confidently say the same about themselves. If you don't know how to build a house (or rebuild a fixer-uppper), then you have to rent or to put yourself at the mercy of contractors. And it seems to be getting worse and worse now that a lot of basic home repairs are being outsourced to professionals.

#6 -- That's great news about Marko! And it's fantastic for putting Michael's sleeping issues in perspective. =)

#7 -- I'm quite opinionated as well. If you haven't noticed, it's because I tend to be guarded when I don't know who is reading or listening. It's not fun to have to watch everything you're saying in order not to start a war (or just rub people the wrong way), and I long for people with whom I don't have to be in eternal combat.

Sheila said...

About to implode any minute? Yeah, pretty much. Though my husband thinks it will just continue its long, slow suffocation. Either way. I honestly do not see a "recovery" in our future. Call me a cynic, but there's a reason we want a farm, and it's not sentiment.

Very true about parents not teaching their kids. For one thing, it's illegal for kids to work for pay (and not socially accepted to just bring them along to the office more than once a year). For another, it seems like wasted effort when odds are good your kids won't want to do what you do. But a lot of it is just a belief that Education is something you get from professionals.

I mean, my neighbor is a mechanic. He owns his own business. He got home from work with his son, and mentioned to me that he had to keep his son at work with him after school. But he was mad, because his son hadn't done his homework at the shop, because he was too busy fiddling around trying to fix a lawnmower.

I laughed at that, and pointed out that learning to fix the lawnmower would probably do him a lot more good in life. But I'm afraid he may have thought I was saying his son wasn't smart. Book learning is respected and lawnmower fixing is not. However, you'd probably get a better job from the latter. Last time our car had a major fixing job, we got charged $100/hour for the labor alone. I was like, "I'm in the wrong line of work!"

When I went to college, Christendom wasn't even advertising that it would give you a job. It promised to "teach you how to think," and the general attitude was that you were materialistic and money-grubbing even to ask the question what your career could be. At the same time they did say (falsely, though maybe they didn't know that then) that businesses love people with liberal arts degrees because "they know how to think" and hire them right out of college. In retrospect, I think a liberal arts degree used to be a class marker, which it isn't now.

In any event, learning how to think is great, but $80,000 great? Even if you have to borrow the money? I think you could patch together a self-directed education that could teach you how to think which didn't cost so dang much.

I've seen you pull back when people you disagree with "enter the room." I just go in guns blazing .... but you have also seen how little it helps and how exhausted I get. No winning, I guess.

Belfry Bat said...

Re. Lawn-mowers and fixing/making things: Ahah!

This is part of an interesting pattern (the same one that sank the Delian League Science and Engineering Research Program and gave Marx an excuse to stand things on their heads): something happened such that ordinary people, in a clumpy way, have become disdainful of useful work. I know I suffer a similar problem myself, even... I claim the poor excuse that when a mathematician or physicist produces something "useful", things tend to explode.

But, anyways, for whatever reason, be it hygiene or assembly lines or automated manufacturing (do distinguish the last two: a.l.s don't need to be automated, nor do automata need to be microspecialized)... so the result is that people forget that the reason for some jobs' paying well is because the work itself is dull and the worker's time is how he feeds himself. So we make factories first, and then we ask China to make factories to make things for us, and then...

I wonder if this isn't a particularly diabolical invention, this disdain for doing useful things: as a way to distract/subvert the Truth that some things we do — sin — do harm us and make us who do them unfit as ordinary company.

Sheila said...

I cannot understand how someone who does something useless to society, like an advertising exec, can get paid six figures while, say, a university adjunct professor can be paid $25,000 a year or less. And respect commensurate with pay.

Al Javier said...

On 5: Honestly, I seem disjointed from your experience. Here in suburbia, in Southern California, the priests don't talk about abortion or SSM, or contraception all that much, except if it has something to do with the parish bulletin's events. I mean, at most the "political" sermons are once a year, usually around Election Day. When I was younger, I used to be outraged that they don't talk about these more, yadda yadda yadda.

Now I do. Because a), talking about these things may not be appropriate in a context where young children are about, and b) Everyone pretty much knows the Church's stances on these things, but not the why, which is of course Christian doctrine and practice, which is drowned out if there is too much politics. I This Sunday, I went to a Tridentine Mass. What did the priest preach on? On the necessity of forgiving others. The Sunday before that, it was about the necessity of giving money to the missions. And the Sunday before that, it was how, even if we cannot approve of the sins our relatives do, we are still called to love them, to care for them, to treat them with Christian charity.

Now I'm not saying no "political" preaching at all. But let's face it, how often is a general election? Once every two years. And talking all politics, all the time is kinda pointless when most people will only put the content in practical action for a microfraction of the time.

So yes, I'm bewildered that a priest would talk politics all that much, if it's not part of his apostolate (in which case, he likely would not be in a parish that often).

Now my opinion on what the Holy Father said? Not the way I'd say it, but I agree. Partly because talking like a Jesuit would get me inane comments from my colleagues at law school and at dinner parties. Partly because I'm no Jesuit. But without Christianity and its core message, being pro-life, opposed to SSM, etc. is an ideology. Now there's nothing wrong with an ideology in itself, but we must not make idols of it, and there's always that risk. That's what the Holy Father seems to say, and I agree.

Enbrethiliel said...


What's really funny is that someone on this thread has seen me with guns blazing and likely can't believe what I'm saying about myself now. =P If I explain that I'm only like that when I feel comfortable with people, will it be taken as a compliment?

Back to the point . . . My university's slogan (not a motto, but a slogan) was: "It makes you think." And I used to muse, "Yes, but how?"

Nearly ten years removed from my uni experience, I can say that my degree has been "useless" in nearly every sense but that of (you got it) a class marker. There were some things I definitely could not have done on my own, because they depended on my meeting some wonderful and unique professors. But I paid much more than US$80,000 for that privilege. Those were some really overpriced introductions! (There's also that rankling detail that the reason my tuition fees were so high was that international students were seen as a source of financing, because local students were all studying on loans. Well, at least I don't have the debt, right?)

But one thing my university does have going for it is that anyone can walk into a lecture, listen and take notes. This includes students not enrolled in the paper, random people with time to kill, even homeless folk who want to get in from the cold. Then you can go to the university library and read whatever you want. All that knowledge is available for the taking, entirely for free . . . but of course, the pieces of paper that are the degree and the transcript will cost you. Not so in the Philippines. [Inhales and tries not to sound ranty] Here, you need a student ID or a visitor's pass even to enter any university building. It's a just security thing, but it also sends out the message that learning is only for those who can afford to pay for it. Where would Christendom fall on this spectrum?

Anyway, I agree with you that learning how to fix a lawnmower would be an invaluable addition to any boy's and girl's education. (Hey, it's science!) Maybe the insistence on book learning over practical know-how is another class marker. The father may do well for himself now, but imagines that if his son gets an office drone job, the boy will do even better in the future.

Oh, man! My captcha is "70 eduInfo"! LOL!

Sheila said...

See, I met my husband in college so I can't exactly regret it. Also a bevy of my best friends. But it shouldn't be that expensive to just mingle with like-minded people, right?

There were non-students who sometimes attended lectures, but it wasn't common and I couldn't tell you what the rules were. I know I was able to audit any class I wanted, provided the professor gave permission.

With internet access, you can learn pretty much anything you want to know. But if you don't have a piece of paper to prove you know it, you still won't get much respect for it. A friend of mine suggested that we should have an exam at the end of college for each major. It's your chance to prove you know what you were supposed to have learned. And people could homestudy their way through the material and still get a degree, provided they passed the test! It would also solve the problem of people being skeptical about a Christendom degree because they have never heard of the school and suspect it might be some "fake" college.

Of course, it might cause problems of "teaching to the test" and so forth.

Funny class issues: poor people (around here at least) eat white bread, use plastic diapers and give their babies formula, wear shoes 100% of the time -- all those things that proved a generation ago that you had arrived and weren't just white trash. Meanwhile rich people eat brown bread (which costs more), use (expensive) cloth diapers and breastfeed, and sometimes go around barefoot. There's a sense that they know they're not poor, and they have the confidence to mess around a bit. And of course these choices are affirmed by experts.

So a college-educated person like me might think, "Wouldn't it be nice if my kids could get a good career without having to go to college? Something everyone needs so they wouldn't get laid off all the time?" but a working-class person only thinks, "College is my kid's ticket to the upper class." It isn't, any more than wearing shoes on the beach impresses people with your wealth. But they wouldn't dream of doing differently.

Enbrethiliel said...


A few months ago, I read a great analysis of a TV feature about women who had "made it" in the US senate, smashing through that glass ceiling that had kept out their mothers. The analyst pointed out that, individual achievement aside, these women senators had only been pursuing the trappings of power. These days, no one thinks that power lies in the senate; but a great many people think that power lies in banking, which is currently still a male-majority profession. So guess where the next generation of women are going to be smashing through glass ceilings? But that's too easy. It would be better to predict where the men will go once the women pour in, because all the women have been doing for about half a century is following the men around.

(The analyst said that the real mistake was women wanting to get the vote, or uni degrees, or jobs outside the home, or [fill in the blank] in order to be taken seriously. What women should have done was insisted that we already deserve to be taken seriously, whether or not we have the right "accessories.")

Anyway, this seems to be what is happening among the lower classes. They've finally been able to afford the trappings of those who have "arrived," only to find out that the people they aspired to be have moved on to something else. But instead of realising that all they are chasing are trappings, they go on chasing what they don't have.

Anyway, there are still a lot of things I aspire to have, but I try to ask myself once in a while whether I want them in order to say I have "arrived" or because I really do value them in and of themselves.

Sheila said...

I try to question. I'm not into a numerical income, I really don't care because the value of the dollar is variable anyway -- I bet we make more than my parents did at the same age, but if we can't live on it, it's no better off.

On the other hand, I've heard some questioning of the ideal of a large house, and people say that we should learn to be content with smaller houses .... and I still want a bigger house. I DO have a small house, and it's kind of claustrophobic, especially with kids. I know square footage is a luxury, but it sure would be nice to have one room of the house for the kids to play, and a separate one for all the fragile stuff. Or separate bedrooms for the boys so I can get Michael out of my room without him keeping Marko up.

But at the same time ... I'd rather have a big family and a small house than be all alone in a big one. I should count my non-material blessings, even the ones who break my stuff and are eating me out of house and home.

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