You may remember Michael Merzenich as one of the major researchers mentioned in The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge.  Merzenich is no doubt a better researcher than a speaker; this lecture is not nearly as good—and certainly not as comprehensive—as the book.  But it will take less than 25 minutes of your time, and is worthwhile if only for his explanation of the dangers of white noise—continuous, disorganized sound—to an infant's brain, and for the hope he holds out to those of us who grew up with the depressing idea that once you reach adulthood (or perhaps early teens, or even age six, depending on who you believe), you are basically stuck with the brain you've got.

Michael Merzenich on re-wiring the brain


(Granchild warning:  I don't know if you consider "crap" objectionable, but there are a few instances between 17:00 and 18:30.)

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, April 9, 2011 at 10:04 am | Edit
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The United States is a pretty good place to be if you're a girl.  When we think of girls in need of rescue from sexual oppression, other countries come to mind, such as Thailand, Afghanistan, China, and many places in Africa.  Yes, there is sex trafficking in America, brought nearer the surface through big events like the Super Bowl, but it's not generally a place where to be born female is to be born into especial danger.

And yet there is a form of sexual slavery here that endangers our girl children, and that it is not on the order of life under the Taliban is no excuse for not fighting it where we can.  Jennifer Moses, writing in the Wall Street Journal, exposes one battle front in Why Do We Let Them Dress Like That?  Why do so many barely-teens adorn themselves like a child molester's dream?  And why are their parents complicit?

Why do so many of us not only permit our teenage daughters to dress like this—like prostitutes, if we're being honest with ourselves—but pay for them to do it with our AmEx cards?  I posed this question to a friend [who replied,] "The girls in the sexy clothes are the fast girls. They'll have Facebook pictures of themselves opening a bottle of Champagne, like Paris Hilton. And sometimes the moms and dads are out there contributing to it, shopping with them, throwing them parties at clubs. It's almost like they're saying, 'Look how hot my daughter is.'" But why? "I think it's a bonding thing," she said. "It starts with the mommy-daughter manicure and goes on from there."

I have a different theory. It has to do with how conflicted my own generation of women is about our own past, when many of us behaved in ways that we now regret. A woman I know, with two mature daughters, said, "If I could do it again, I wouldn't even have slept with my own husband before marriage. Sex is the most powerful thing there is, and our generation, what did we know?"

So here we are, the feminist and postfeminist and postpill generation. We somehow survived our own teen and college years (except for those who didn't), and now, with the exception of some Mormons, evangelicals and Orthodox Jews, scads of us don't know how to teach our own sons and daughters not to give away their bodies so readily. We're embarrassed, and we don't want to be, God forbid, hypocrites.

I wouldn't want us to return to the age of the corset or even of the double standard, because a double standard that lets the promiscuous male off the hook while condemning his female counterpart is both stupid and destructive. ...  But it's easy for parents to slip into denial. We wouldn't dream of dropping our daughters off at college and saying: "Study hard and floss every night, honey—and for heaven's sake, get laid!" But that's essentially what we're saying by allowing them to dress the way they do while they're still living under our own roofs.

Brava! to Ms. Moses for exposing the problem and taking a stand against encouraging our daughters to think of themselves as prey.

On the brighter side, Heather reports that, thanks to the near-hysteria over sun exposure, it is now much easier to find modest bathing suits for girls than it was when she was a child.  An SPF-50 bikini serves no purpose.  I can't wait to see Faith's new purple shorts-and-shirt combo suit this summer!

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, March 27, 2011 at 1:38 pm | Edit
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Life is different for a newborn in a large family.  I feel rather ridiculous applying the label "large" to a family of five, but even three siblings is sufficient to give a baby quite a different experience from most American babies.  The first- and even second-born can easily become the focus of a great deal of parental attention and anxiety—which can be both a blessing and a curse. The third child, however, breaches the one-to-one parent/child ratio.  Many parents of one or two children choose to encourage their kids to be competent and independent at an early age, but once a third child enters the family, that's no longer a choice, but a necessity.

There's a lively discussion currently going on at Free-Range Kids about children who have too much done for them, and I was struck by the following comment: (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, February 27, 2011 at 5:43 am | Edit
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Faith's two older brothers are off helping Daddy work on the car, so she had luxury of playing with Dad-o's gift all by herself.  The three wine corks will no doubt eventually become part of some craft project, but for now they are building blocks.  She carefully set down her baby doll—lovingly wrapped in a warm purple blanket—and made a tower, standing the corks all on end (no problems with this two-year-old's coordination).  Then she piled them like a woodpile (her family heats with wood), then stood them side by side to make a fence.  Next she laid them down, like sleeping people.  Then end-to-end to make a snake.  Finally, she arranged the corks in an L-shape.

"What's that?" I asked.

"Dat mine dun (gun).  Mine OWN dun!"

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, February 19, 2011 at 10:07 am | Edit
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I suppose it's cheating to make two posts in a row about someone else's post, but I can't pass up this great Conversion Diary guest post by Simcha Fisher.  Her analogy between childbirth and the Child-birth (Christmas) is an imaginative tour de force worthy of Ray Bradbury.  (If her writing is less brilliant and esoteric than Bradbury's, it is still excellent, and definitely more uplifting.)

It would be stretching "fair use" too far to quote as much as I'd need to to make her point.  Go to the original and follow her from Advent (third trimester) through Christmas (birth, and the first few weeks after) and Epiphany (the light at the end of the tunnel) to Ordinary Time (the return to normal life, with a big difference).  Enjoy!

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, January 17, 2011 at 9:44 am | Edit
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Two, apparently unrelated, stories shook my complacency this morning, particularly in their juxtaposition.

First (h/t MMG), this disturbing TED talk by Hanna Rosin:  New data on the rise of women.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, January 12, 2011 at 4:03 pm | Edit
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Perhaps the worker at Babies R Us had noticed me walking up and down the aisles, examining the toys, sighing, and putting them back.  Or perhaps she was just doing her job.  But when she asked, in a friendly manner, "Are you finding what you're looking for?" I hesitated, then replied, "No."

"What are you looking for?"

"A toy not made in China."


(Today's Mallard Fillmore comic strip.)

She was certain she could help me, but as she checked toy after toy her astonishment grew.  She discovered one item—alas, for a much older child than our six-month-old grandson—made in North America, and I pointed out the one toy I had found that was made in Thailand.*  Other than those two, everything was from China.  Every.  Single.  Toy.  Clothes are made all over the world, judging from my label-reading experience:  Honduras, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Domincan Republic....  But not toys.

I was not surprised, having been through this drill before, but the helpful salesperson was astonished, and even called a supervisor for help.  Perhaps that's one reason China has a virtual monopoly on children's toys, and agri-business rules our food supply:  we don't know where things come from.  I left empty-handed; our grandson will have to make do with something more creative.


*Alas, my sources in Thailand tell me that as far as the safety of children's toys goes, this is no more reassuring than "Made in China." But at least it broke the monotony.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, December 18, 2010 at 9:42 am | Edit
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Blackberry = Crackberry?  The iPhone is more addictive and targeting children!  Well, maybe that wasn't Apple's intention, but they did make their phone so easy even tiny kids can use it.  My brother tipped me to a New York Times article on parents who use their iPhones to pacify whining offspring, and the toddlers who consider the phone to be the best toy in the toybox.

Instead of writing about how impressed I am with the tiny kids' abilities (and I am), or how depressed I am about yet another video addiction in chidren's lives (ditto), I'll use the context to mention our own toddler/computer story.

One day Heather discovered two-year-old Faith sitting at the computer, typing away in their Open Office word processing program.  She assumed Jon had set it up for her, but that was not the case.


No one knows how she did it.  This is no consumer-friendly iPhone, nor even Windows, but a Linux-based system only a geek could love.  Go, little geeklet!

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, December 11, 2010 at 6:13 am | Edit
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Don't you just love it when an otherwise obscure reference clicks in your mind?

First, one of my favorite non-family blogs, The Occasional CEO, has a post entitled Steampunk in Pictures.  Steampunk, Wikipedia tells me, is a subgenre of science fiction.  Wait—I cut my teeth on science fiction, and I'd never heard of it?  Turns out steampunk came of age during the 1980's and 90's, when our kids were cutting their teeth and I was too busy to keep up with that part of my former life. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, December 5, 2010 at 3:12 pm | Edit
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In case you haven't seen it, check out the 12 Composers of Christmas.  (H/T musician friend Sarah D.)

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, December 3, 2010 at 9:10 am | Edit
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You’re surprised I waited so long for this one, right?  I value home education so highly that my gratitude for that privilege almost goes without saying.  (But gratitude should never go without saying.)   Because my joyous thanksgiving for the legal protection that homeschoolers now enjoy cannot be overstated, I will understate it here.

Educational opportunities have expanded for everyone, not just homeschoolers, over the last 50 years. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, November 21, 2010 at 6:07 am | Edit
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By now you’re tired of hearing me say this, but you won’t believe…

…the things one couldn’t do without a Y chromosome when I was growing up.

My own parents were great—and a bit ahead of their time—at encouraging me not to be fenced in by my sex.  I had backhoes and construction sets as well as dolls for toys.  I was encouraged to climb trees—and mountains.   But society at large was still severely restrictive.

In sixth grade I expressed the wish to be an astronaut, and was emphatically told by my (male) teacher that girls could never be astronauts, because all astronauts had to be test pilots, and test pilots were only men.  (Take that, Sally Ride!) (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, November 19, 2010 at 6:32 am | Edit
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Think “reproductive freedom” and what comes to mind?  Birth control?  Abortion-on-demand?  The freedom, in short, not to reproduce while indulging in the activity specifically designed for reproduction?

What I’m thankful for is the inverse.

My generation grew up in the days of Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb and fears that the world would outgrow its food supply by the mid-1980s.  It was seriously suggested that giving aid to distressed peoples was morally wrong, on the grounds that helping them now would only enable them to reproduce and then more people would starve to death later. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, November 16, 2010 at 6:22 am | Edit
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There’s no doubt the sociological upheavals caused by the so-called Women’s Liberation Movement have done much harm, but one great thing to come out of that time is a greater closeness between fathers and their children. 

My father was always actively involved with his children—unusually so for that generation, I believe—even before my mother’s early death forced him to take on double parenting duty.  And yet in his journals of our early years he always refers to the times my mother was not at home as times when he was “babysitting the children.”  No one I know with young children in this century would even think such a thought, much less express it.  How can one “babysit” one’s own child? (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, November 13, 2010 at 6:18 am | Edit
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A couple of generations ago, overseas travel for pleasure was only for the rich.  Even business travel was uncommon, unless one was a missionary or in the military.  Today we visit our family in Switzerland more frequently, with less effort, and possibly even with less relative expense than my family travelled from New York to Florida to visit my grandparents when I was young.

Telephone service was once so expensive that long distance calls (remember long distance?) had to be kept brief—as in just a few minutes.  Overseas calls were out of the question most of the time.  Today our grandchildren have long conversations with us on the phone, and we can call Switzerland at six cents a minute.  Skype costs even less (less as in free); the quality may not be as good as I'd like, but it allows us to see each other.  The long-dreamed-of video phone is here! (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 6:37 am | Edit
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