Tuesday, April 08, 2008

A Few Things on a Few Things

Just a few observations on a bunch o' stuff....

Iraq War

Today, for the first time in seven months, General David Petraeus testified before two Senate committees (Senate Armed Forces and Foreign Relations) in Washington, D.C., on the progress in the Iraq War. Petraeus counseled "patience" and warned against the premature withdrawal of U.S. troops, lest it damage the security gains he says have been made since the surge of troops last summer. Petraeus would like to suspend any further troop withdrawals for a 45-day "period of consolodation and evaluation." After that time, Petraeus says that there will be enough information to "determine when we can make recommendations for further reductions." (At which point, I'm pretty sure he'd come back to the SAF committee and counsel patience and ask for another 45 days. And another. And another. And another.) When asked about the explosive violence in Basra and Baghdad, Petraeus blamed the Iranians for their support of insurgents. Interesting. How come no one ever talks about Saudi Arabia's underground support system for insurgents? Or Pakistan's? Could it be because we're not trying to go to war with those countries? I wonder. Petraeus did admit under some intense questioning that we have made little forward progress in Iraq since the surge, only managing at best to keep the entire situation static. Judging from the violence, more than one senator offered, that stasis appears to be coming to an end, doesn't it. Not surprisingly, Petraeus declined to say.

Under questioning from the senators, neither Petraeus nor his sidekick du jour, Ambassador Ryan Crocker, would venture a guess as to what would happen if we stayed in Iraq. Would things get better? When would things get better? If they were getting better, how the bejeebers would we even know? And what about Erica's baby? (Sorry, that last one was a hold over from an old episode of All My Children.) Neither Petraeus nor Crocker could or would say. In their own words, they coudn't "predict the future." Except they proceeded to do exactly that by telling us what would happen if we pulled out of Iraq. I will spare you their answers. Go to MSNBC or CNN, where transcripts of both hearings can be had, if you're desperate for the convoluted drek. I'll just sum up their responses by playing my favorite FedEx commercial:

Teen Beating Videos

No, the plural is not a typo. It's apparently a trend. In the wake of the highly publicized Florida video that came to light a couple days ago, which showed the savage beating 16*-year-old Victoria Lindsay suffered at the hands of six female schoolmates, ages 14 to 17, I "googled" "teen beating video" so I could get the details for this post. I hit a motherlode. Apparently, these little bastards are beating the crap out of each other left, right and center, on camera, then posting it to YouTube and MySpace. The beating of Miss Lindsay didn't even pop up first. Another beating in New York State actually was at the top of the list involving several high school girls luring another girl to an isolated location, then beating her.

One of the many things that disturbed me (and, believe me, it was tough to settle on just one to blog about) was when one of the news commentators remarked at the end of the news pieces, "Where are the parents?" I felt like yelling at the screen, "Same place you are, dumb bitch. WORKING!" I'm getting really tired of this common refrain. "Where are the parents?" Words spoken by people who either have no teenagers (yet!) or who have no idea what their teenagers are getting up to. Are our teenage children really to relinquish all responsibility for their actions? Are they to take no ownership of their rash, impulsive, violent acting out?

The parents were most likely working. Putting food on the table, a roof over the heads, and clothes on their nasty, violent, cruel, vicious ungrateful little backs. I'm sure that the parents had no freakin' clue what their kids were doing, and here's a hot news flash for that bleach-blonde know-it-all piece of prompter trash. Most parents don't. And here's another hot flash. Most parents are loving, caring people, who want the best for their children, want them to be productive members of society and are doing the best they can.

Teenagers are, by biological predisposition, a secretive, illogical, clinically disturbed lot. The residual hold-over of the infant ego, and the burgeoning, but not fully formed adult id, coupled with a frightening quantity of sex hormones make for one deadly dangerous cocktail. In spite of creating a MySpace page and the dutiful monitoring of visited websites, and the many efforts to keep tabs on my own kid (who as far as I know, never beat anyone to a bloody pulp) during the day when I was (guess what!) working, she still managed to ditch class, cut school, start a smoking habit, and get a serious boyfriend behind my back, all at a time when I thought she was way too young*. Where was I? Working. Struggling to pay the rent and the bills. Trying to go to school so I could make more to better pay the rent and the bills. Did we talk? Sure. She claims there really wasn't a lot about her adolescence she didn't tell me. I have said to her, "I'm sure there were secrets you kept from me." "Actually, Mom," she has said, "there weren't, really. I told you almost everything." So, if we're to take her at her word... look where it got us. It is well worth noting that in the case of the New York teen victim who was beaten, even she never told her parents what happened. It only came to light after the video surfaced.

The truth is, my kid is a good kid. She works hard, she loves the world, and most of the world loves her back. She's decent and caring, she has a penchant for social justice and she's a registered Democrat (insert my grateful weeping here). She's trying to put a life together that will carry toward her future. That's more than you can say about a lot of kids her age. And for it all, I will take neither the credit, nor the blame. From the youngest age, her father and I tried to teach her right from wrong. The lessons seem to have taken. In any case, by age 14 or 15, she would have known, as I'm sure every one of these girls who now face felony assault charges knew, that luring a classmate to an out-of-the-way destination, then beating her into unconsciousness, waiting for her to wake up, then beating her again, was, in fact, wrong. They came up with a rationalization, I'm sure. But it was wrong. Most of their parents would think and teach it was wrong. We're not blaming the parents here. We're blaming the eight kids (two boys were also arrested for acting as look-outs). Hopefully, they'll get two smackdowns -- one from the criminal justice system, and one from their parents.

*Update: I originally posted Lindsay's age as 13, based on the initial reports of the case. She is, in fact, 16. As of Thursday, April 10th, the Lakeland DA's office planned to charge her attackers, all between the ages of 14 to 18, as adults with several felonies that, should they be convicted, might earn them life sentences (though this seems unlikely).

Jamie Lee Curtis & Chutes 'n' Ladders.

I've always liked Jamie Lee Curtis -- always connected with her in interviews and onscreen. We're from the same place and time. She was born here in L.A., twenty days after me. She and I cut our hair boy-short within months of each other (1984) and for exactly the same reason (bad perm). I saw her with her newly adopted daughter, Annie, at the LA Zoo when I was about 23 months pregnant. (Oh, alright, it only felt like 23 months. It was probably closer to 7. Does make you wonder, though, how elephants handle it.) Annie's adoption had been all over the papers, and I wanted to congratulate Curtis, but thought better of it. As happy as I'm sure she was at Annie's adoption, I wasn't sure how her personal struggle with infertility might make my present state of extreme pregnancy awkward or painful for her. Infertility sucks, and as my fertility-challenged acquaintances have often reminded me, the cure for those hard feelings is not necessarily to be miraculously found in motherhood. So I decided to just let her have her day at the Zoo with her new baby girl.

Anyway, she was talking to Oprah about how, approaching fifty, she's truly beginning to come completely into herself, without the debris and baggage we all carry in our twenties. She's a smart woman, full of smart ideas that so closely jibe with mine. Life is hard, she told Oprah. It's meant to be, otherwise, how do you know if you've made any progress? She told the story of a nameless game company she was associated with briefly which produced a popular children's game. The game, though she mentioned neither the company nor the game by name, was clearly Chutes 'n' Ladders. She was telling the marketing executives how much she'd loved that game as a kid because you could be winning the whole game, then one false roll, and you'd hit the big chute that took you from the tippy-top to the very bottom, and you'd lose. Even as a child, she said, she equated that game with life. (I guess when your father is a bit of rakish alcoholic, life probably is a lot like Chutes 'n' Ladders.) The marketing exec told her that so many modern mothers complained that their children threw tantrums when they lost the game, the game company was pressured into altering it, without the big chute.

And maybe this ties the second bit in with this one. Maybe society -- schools, teachers, game companies, Presidents, neighborhoods, and, yes, even parents -- expect so little of our children, that we don't teach them the hard lessons anymore. If learning to be a good winner is important, isn't learning to be a good loser equally so? How are we to teach our children to survive failure and loss if we fail to let them do so in small-world applications?

I don't think there's a rash of teen beating videos because some numb-nuts game company executive decided to bow to a few clueless mothers. But maybe the fact that we as an entire society have decided that our kids don't need to know how to trevail adversity or conquest, that they must never know disappointment or lack, that they must always have what they want when they want it -- especially if "all their friends" have it, too -- that's making these things more likely.

Our parents, the children of the Depression, had no problem saying "no." They had no problem dealing with our misery at losing Chutes 'n' Ladders, when victory seemed so firmly in our grasp. We who were raised after the Depression have had it pretty good. Kids raised in the properous Clinton Era have had it great, and are only just now starting to realize what we who've lived longer know the truth. Prosperity is like the Pacific tide -- it ebbs and it flows. We can help it along, certainly -- a little globalization here, some ill-advised warfare there -- next thing you know, it's just an awful, awful mess. But even without the war and the changing economic landscape, our kids need to know how to lose -- at Chutes 'n' Ladders and at everything else. They need to try and fail. They need to risk looking foolish.

If we -- not just parents, but whole societies -- can work to teach the children in our village that life is not a fountain of providence or entitlement, but something we have to work at and be careful with, maybe they'll gain enough perspective that they won't feel the need to beat smaller, more helpless versions of themselves to smithereens.

Just a thought or two.


*You're never old enough to take up smoking. Ever. Period.

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