Tiger Mom Returns to Troll America

It’s like the answer to a question nobody asked: which “cultural groups” are best positioned to thrive in modern society? Well, if you live in America, the answer is apparently Chinese, Jews, Nigerians, Lebanese, Indians, Iranians, Cuban exiles, and Mormons—at least according to notorious “Tiger Mom” Amy Chua and husband Jed Rubenfield. Do you not count yourself among the ranks of the chosen? Well, don’t despair; someone has to rear the next generation of fry cooks.

Chua and Rubenfield make the case for their elite eight in a new book entitled The Triple Package that is currently being greeted with the sort of critical reaction that a new and revised printing of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf might receive. According to early reviews, the husband and wife co-authors combine the worst instincts of Malcolm Gladwell, with specious reasoning, pseudoscience, and anecdotal arguments. The net result is a book that emerges with the unpleasant whiff of eugenics wafting up from its pages.

Just what are the elements that compose the “Triple Package” that the earlier mentioned groups supposedly possess? Well, the magic ingredients are supposedly:

• A superiority complex

• Insecurity (aka an inferiority complex—dig the seeming paradox!)

• Impulse control

(Were you brushing Cheeto crumbs off your shirt when you read that last bullet? If so, you can forget about ever achieving anything meaningful in your life.)

You might remember Chua from 2011 when an earlier book of hers, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, became a sensation. In it, Chua criticized the lax methods of “western” parenting and touted her own harsh and uncompromising approach. Some of the highlights (lowlights?) included explanations of why she wouldn’t let her daughters participate in sleepovers and an anecdote about a time when she threatened to give away a cherished toy if her daughter couldn’t learn to play a piano piece to her satisfaction.

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother turned Chua into a lightning rod, attracting praise from some quarters and vituperation from others. Along the way, the book also moved a ton of copies, so it seems here that Chua, Rubenfield and publisher Penguin are hoping that lightning will strike twice.

Hopefully, they won’t be so lucky. Whatever one thinks of Chua as a person, the first-person viewpoint she presented in Battle Hymn was undeniably interesting. She portrayed herself in a way that rendered herself unlikeable to many readers, and while that was in many ways a knowing choice, it was still a bold one. And while her overarching conclusions were dubious, the contentions she raised were worth discussing, and the debate she provoked was worth having.

In contrast, The Triple Package is lazy fear-mongering garbage that belongs on the same shelf as Glenn Beck’s dystopian novels. It’s at once calculated to offend, while at the same time it contorts itself to ensure that its carefully selected list of superior groups includes representatives from almost all races and major religions. Relying on generalizations and cherry-picking, the three legs of The Triple Package tripod are monolithic thinking at its finest and most useless, and they end up supporting nothing more than a fairy tale—and if history is to be our guide, a dangerous one at that.

At this point though, I have to believe that Chua and Rubenfield are just deliberately trolling their fellow Americans. I can laugh at their antics, but many others won’t. The more serious debunking is already underway; Maureen Callahan at The New York Post has done a good initial takedown and I’m sure there will be many more to come.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I will take my leave. I have an unhappy toddler who has a date with the piano to practice his melodic minor scales, whether he likes it or not.

 

 

An Open Letter to Global Warming (Reprised)

I don’t know about where you live, but it has been a cold start to 2014 around these parts. This has followed up on a cold ending to 2013. Most of the last three weeks have seen temperatures of 20 below zero (Celsius), with wind chill values occasionally touching the -30s. A few parts of the country have seen -50 temperatures, and it looks like the cold trend will keep going for some time yet.

The one good thing about this weather is that it is conducive to Canada’s great national pastime—complaining about winter. And lately, if you partake in a group conversation about the cold and snow it doesn’t take long for some great wit to make the following observation:

“Global warming? More like global cooling if you ask me!”

(This is a sterling example of what is sometimes called “dad humour.” Another famous specimen of dad humour is the old chestnut, “Rap music? More like crap music if you ask me.”)

snow

In the thrall of winter. Can you spot the arctic hare?

I remember many moons ago another similarly vicious cold snap. I recall that I spent a lot of time walking from place-to-place while it was ongoing, and the bedroom I slept in at the time had poor-to-nonexistent insulation, so the spell of frigid weather took a toll on me. I even pondered some half-joking thoughts about whether it might make sense for me personally to become a global warming supporter.

After mulling this thought in my partially frostbitten brain, I came to the realization that a letter of support to global warming from someone suffering through a deep freeze would be a funny exploration of recency bias. And pondering that a little further, I realized that such a piece would be a good candidate for submission to the “Open Letters to People or Entities Unlikely to Respond” department of the McSweeney’s website. So when I had my “Open Letter to Global Warming” written and bashed into form, I sent it off to them and it was accepted. Hooray!

Anyways, that would be the end of a relatively mundane story, except for one strange final twist. Not quite a year later, I discovered through pure happenstance that someone at the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) must’ve taken a shine to the letter, because a recording of someone reading it was broadcast during an episode of The Current—a weekday radio program. I even found a podcast of the episode online and was able to listen dumbfounded as some chap with an Australian accent gave my deathless prose a dramatic reading.

It was a surreal experience. The best part was that CBC made absolutely no attempt to secure my permission to use it or to inform me that it was going to appear on air. Now I know how contributors to Flickr must feel. But not to worry, as I vowed at the time, “the day will come when I have my revenge on Anna-Marie Tremonti.” In fact, this is the title of another humour piece/polemic I wrote, although I am forbidden from publishing it anywhere due to the contents of a restraining order that is still in force.

But enough of all that. In celebration of this fierce cold snap, I thought I would exhume “An Open Letter to Global Warming” from the vault to provide a little humour during this dark winter month. I don’t remember what rights (if any) I granted to McSweeneys, but I’m going to rerun it here anyways. Besides, they never paid me anything so I figure that entitles me to do what I want. If you’d prefer to read it as published on the McSweeney’s site, you can do so by clicking here.

An Open Letter to Global Warming

Dear Global Warming,

I know I’m not supposed to like you. I’ve heard about your grandiose plans to melt the polar icecaps and flood coastal cities, your aspirations to destabilize global weather patterns and throw fragile ecosystems into upheaval, and your desire to have all of us, by the year 2070, living inside geodesic domes, whence we will gaze wistfully out at moribund deserts and dream of greener times. I know everyone says you’re bad, but damn it, I don’t care, because after six straight days of minus-25-degree weather I’m ready to throw myself into your arms.

Being a man-made ecological phenomenon, you might have some difficulty in commiserating with my plight. You’ve never had to walk to get groceries with the skin of your face threatening to crack like old plaster because the only sound your car made when you tried to start it was the dry death rattle of an engine that refused to turn over. You’ve never had to shovel out a driveway while being lashed by blowing snow, with your teeth clattering together in uncontrollable Morse code, while your mind is preoccupied with the concern that your numb ears might have already succumbed to frostbite, and that they could be turning purple in preparation of detaching from your head altogether. If you had suffered through these things, you would not doubt my sincerity. This cold snap has turned me into a half-mad combination of Faust and Sam McGee; I’m willing to do whatever it takes.

I’ll start burning coal in my wood stove. I’ll buy the most inefficient SUV that Detroit has the gall to put on the market. Whenever a friend says something like “There’s not much snow anymore, not like when we were kids,” or the topic of climate change comes up, I’ll cite with authority one of the studies sponsored by Exxon that claim you don’t exist. So, please, let me join you over on the dark side. After all, there’s nothing (figuratively) cool about hypothermia, and the prospects of more arable land in the Arctic and balmy weather all year long sounds pretty good to me.

Sincerely,

Mike Ward

P.S. Please disregard my letter from last July’s heat wave. I was only joking.

**

First published on McSweeney’s.net, March 31, 2005.

New Year, Old Tricks

Well 2013 is gone and 2014 is here. As depicted in the comics sections of newspapers everywhere, we’ve reached the point where we can officially have a wake for the frail, bearded, stoop-backed old year that has slid into the dustbin of history. In its place, we welcome cherub-like and fresh-faced 2014, born with promise and hope. And with this year dawning so young and naïve, now is the time to resolve to Kick It’s Ass and take its lunch money. DO IT NOW. Don’t wait until May or June, the year will be far too strong and wily at that point; at best, you might be able to fight it to a draw.

PostcardHappyNewYearOldManKidScytheHourglass1910

So what will the New Year hold for me?

Well first off, I think it’s going to be a year of living frugally. No more impulse purchases, no more tiny luxuries, and no more $1.40 workday coffees bleeding my coffers dry. It’s time to save, save, save. I’m going to redirect the fruits of my thriftiness into high-value investments: equities, fixed-income vehicles, and commemorative coin pressings. The battle against an indigent retirement starts NOW.

At the same time though, I’m not going to deny myself. Life is just too short, and I’ve never heard of a happy miser (in the works of Charles Dickens or otherwise). If I see something and I want it, why shouldn’t I buy it? If I’m always forcing myself to go without, I’ll breed resentment and push myself ever closer to launching a pyramid scheme or living a life of crime to get the things I want. I look terrible in orange; I don’t care if it is the new black. I can’t let this downward spiral happen, so I’m going to have to strike a balance.

Another area where I want to improve is my physique. It is going to be a year of getting in crazy-good shape here in 2014. It’s going to be about eating clean, exercising like a fiend, and looking like a dream. There’s still only 168 hours in a given week, so it’s not going to be easy. I’m going to have to go to bed later and wake up earlier, all while getting more sleep in between. I’ll have to shed fat and build muscle at the same time, and I’ll have to work at simultaneously building up strength and endurance. It’s going to take a lot of sweat and sacrifice day-in and day-out, but I know that this year I’m primed to make it happen.

That being said, I’m not going to be afraid to indulge occasionally either. What’s the sense of living if you can’t relax enough to eat a piece of fudge cake every now and again? And if on occasion at my appointed workout times I find myself worn and tired, or I have more fulfilling things to do, you’re not going to find me at the gym. Deep-down, there’s something pathetic about these endorphin-addicts who claim they “never miss a workout.” What really keeps them going: love of fitness or their own simple vanity? Some of them need to take a long look in the mirror…and then step away from it. No sir, you’re not going to find me snared in that trap of narcissism.

Lastly, this is going to be a year where I give more of myself to others. It will be a time of personal growth for me, one that will see me become more patient, tolerant, self-reflective, and understanding. I’m going to keep marching forward in the battle to be more selfless, giving a greater share of my time and energy for the betterment of my family, community, and the broader world.

However, I’m also going to have to carve out more “me-time.” The work of becoming self-actualized is a solitary endeavour, and it’s going to require shutting out the world for a substantial portion of each day so I can develop my own interests, talents, and perspectives. It can be hard to do this, because there are always other people looking to intrude, trying to have their needs and demands given primacy. I’m going to have to find the strength to turn them away, and risk catcalls and accusations of being “selfish” and “aloof.”

Where I live, we’re buried in the depths of winter right now and locked in a frigid cold snap, but my being is kept warm with the inner fire of excitement and new purpose. As the calendar page flips over, I don’t see mere boxes, numbers, and dental appointments that need to be rescheduled; rather, I see the future—and an unbroken vista of limitless possibilities.

Just like I did last year.

Duck Disaster

I don’t watch much television these days unless the letters N, F, and L are prominently involved, but even I am dimly aware that Duck Dynasty is a huge phenomenon. A show has to have made the big time to take up a good portion of a display wall at Calendar Club all by itself during the Christmas retail rush.

Of course, as many know, controversy overtook Duck Dynasty this week. Phil Robertson, patriarch of the Robertson family of duck-call manufacturers, was quoted in GQ magazine making remarks that were perceived to be disparaging towards gays. The A&E channel, which produces and airs the series, quickly condemned the elder Robertson’s remarks and they announced that he would be taking an extended hiatus from appearing on the show.

If you have enough people on Facebook or Twitter, you’re bound to see an outcry about this decision start appearing in your newsfeeds. The accusations about thought police, political correctness overreach, oversensitivity, and the spinelessness of A&E will fly. It will be argued that the Robertsons have never made any bones about their Christian worldview; the talk about what is and isn’t sinful is just an extension of that. Phil should have the right to say what he believes.

And you know, they’re absolutely correct. Phil Robertson should be free to talk about his faith, and his personal beliefs—however unpopular or unappealing they may be to some—if he chooses to do so.

Except he kind of was able to do that, now wasn’t he? The outcry isn’t over him being denied the opportunity to express his views, rather it’s over the punitive measures he now faces for doing so. But that being the case, it needs to be remembered that there is a difference between the meanings of censor and censure. Freedom of speech doesn’t always mean free from consequences.

Phil Robertson has a right to free expression, but the companies he associates with also have the right of free enterprise. Duck Dynasty isn’t the public square; it’s a corporately produced TV program.  Insofar as the show is concerned, Phil Robertson is an employee of A&E. And you can wager that he has a contract that stipulates that he not engage in behaviour or make comments that could prove injurious to the program, cause it to lose sponsors and so forth.  A&E foots the bill; they get to make the calls. Furthermore, Phil isn’t being denied free speech because he has plenty of other avenues available to him. He could express himself through self-produced webisodes or he could crowd-fund his own series if he convinced enough of his pissed-off fans to pony up some cash for it.  

From a crisis management standpoint, A&E has handled this situation well. They demonstrated moral leadership by being decisive about removing a key figure from one of their top properties, and they were unequivocal about condemning statements that were out of step with their corporate values. Which is wise, because shows come and go in popularity, and today’s first family of reality TV can be tomorrow’s Trivial Pursuit answer—to wit: the Osbourne family. But people remember how media outlets comport themselves.

A&E’s swift response also earned some quick praise from GLAAD, which quickly became part of the story. And by phrasing the elder Robertson’s departure as “a hiatus”, they left the door open for his eventual return.

Which is probably what will happen. I don’t know if Phil Robertson will find his way on to the “contrition and apology” circuit, but I imagine that even if he doesn’t he’ll be back on Duck Dynasty after some time has passed. And I’m sure most fans of the show will welcome him back, just as most will keep watching while he is gone.

However, any show with an audience as big as Duck Dynasty’s almost certainly counts some gay, lesbian, and bisexuals amongst its viewers. Not to mention liberal-minded fans and even Christians who would prefer to see their faith served up with a more tolerant outlook. Will they remain onboard as watchers? It’s likely that many will, despite some reservations.

Still, it’s hard not to shake the feeling that this is a breakpoint for the program. It will keep going, but for many its charm won’t ever be quite the same. It’s even possible there will be a few less Robertson clan calendars, bobbleheads, and books on sale in mall end-caps come next Christmas-time.

Free eBook Promotion: December 18-22, 2013

Hello sports fans, just one quick bit of eBook news before I promise to crank out a more fulsome post on a topic of great interest and importance. The eBook I have spent an eternity slaving over, 25 Principles of Health and Weight Loss is going to be available free on Amazon for the next five days. The last day of the promotion will be Sunday December 22.

You can click here to visit the US Amazon site for the book, or navigate there by clicking the thumbnail image in the right menu bar. For Canadian and overseas visitors, the eBook is also available in your respective Amazon online stores (but I’m not going to put all the links in here). I have a page on my site here dedicated to 25 Principles, so if you’re interest is piqued you can learn more about it there.

Right now, 25 Principles is exclusive to Amazon and it is set-up to work on all Kindle-enabled devices. If you’d don’t have a Kindle e-reader, have no fear. You can pick up the Kindle App (which is available for download free of charge) and read on your PC, or on most tablets and smartphones. Because I am pro-consumer, I have disabled the DRM on the eBook, so you can keep multiple copies of it on different devices simultaneously. The nice part of this is that if some kind soul were to buy you a Kindle for Christmas (only six shopping days to go!) you will be able to port a copy of the book over to your new eReader.

So with the new year fast approaching and many of us gearing up to turn over a new leaf (yadda, yadda, yadda) here’s a chance to get a head start on thinking about making those positive changes.  The best part is it won’t cost you anything!

80s/90s Cartoon Follow-Up: Reader Challenge!

I just wanted to offer my thanks to all the people who took the time to stop by my little corner of the internet over the last two days to read about how Bucky O’Hare corrupted the millennial generation. Thanks as well for all the likes, shares, reposts, follows and comments. I’d also like to extend my appreciation to the Freshly Pressed team over at WordPress for electing to feature me. I didn’t know much about Freshly Pressed until recently, but they are doing a great job of featuring a terrific cross-section of thought-provoking posts. Check ‘em out, and follow them on Twitter (@freshly_pressed) if you aren’t doing so already.

I was surprised by some of the twists and turns the comments took; more commenters than I ever would have expected seemed to approach the post as a serious piece of social commentary. But that’s fine; it certainly yielded some interesting viewpoints!

I don’t know if the post that made it to Freshly Pressed is representative of what this blog is going to be like, but before we leave Gen Y kids entertainment behind, I thought we could do something that would be unambiguously fun. It’s a little bit of a challenge, one that I thought I would open up to anyone still reading.

Reader Challenge: Do You Recognize The “Mystery” Cartoon Described Below?

There was an early 1990s cartoon show that I remember watching as a kid. I think I only saw one episode before it was replaced by something else (can cartoons be cancelled after just a pilot?). I’m pretty sure it aired after-school, around maybe 4 p.m. I don’t know what year it was broadcast, but I’m thinking somewhere between 1990 and 1993.

The protagonist on the show was a kid who was a vampire. I think he was a person-vampire most of the time; I don’t remember or know if he changed into a bat during the episode I watched. He was part of a family of vampires and his friends may have also been vampires or other supernatural beings. I don’t remember his name, what he looked like, or too much else about him.

Now, I have a better recollection of the villain of the show. He was called “Garlic Man” and he was out to get the vampires. He wore a superhero type costume and his head was (appropriately enough) a giant bulb of garlic. He had some sort of Igor-like henchman too I believe. He also apparently had some sort of Dr. Who-like powers of regeneration or resurrection, because towards the end of the episode he was blown up in an explosion—in what I remember was a fairly-dramatic turn for a comedic cartoon. However, his sidekick was able to save a lone clove of garlic after the dust settled, and he then proclaimed, “Garlic Man shall rise again!”

The identity of this show has been bugging me for the last 15 years or so. I’ve tried all manner of Google and Wikipedia searches but I’ve never been able to turn up any further details about a cartoon that matches what I’ve just described. I once even thought about writing in to the Onion AV Club when they had their “Ask the AV Club” feature but I never got around to it.

Anyways, I would really like not one day going to my deathbed still wondering what the name of this show was, or questioning if it actually existed at all. If anyone knows the name, history, or has further details about the mystery show in question, I’d be grateful if you could share them with me.

You can leave your answers and any links to corroborating evidence in the comments for this post or you can email them to me at mike [@] mcwardwrites [dot] com. There may or may not be a prized involved for any (or maybe just some) respondents who can figure out the correct answer to the mystery show (if it did in fact exist). We’ll see where this goes and maybe revisit it in a future post.

Happy Hunting! And here’s one last video to help keep you inspired:

(So lemme get this straight: There’s a gorilla on the show, but the character named Kong is a guy and not the gorilla. OK.)

Why every generation (except mine) is doomed

These are troubled times. There are a myriad of pressing problems facing society, with no easy or obvious solutions. Throughout human history, older generations have put their faith in the young to make the world a better place. But today that faith is being shaken.

Reports back from the front-lines (in this case, office-environment workplaces and bureaucratic institutions) are that the so-called “millennial” generation is self-absorbed, difficult to deal with, and generally can’t be counted on to bring items to the office potluck, even if they say they will and write their names on the sign-up sheet on the bulletin board in the hallway. How are we going to address climate change and income inequality, if tomorrow’s emerging leaders can’t even muster up the energy to make a chickpea salad? You don’t even have to cook anything for Chrissakes; you just chop some things, add a can of rinsed chickpeas and put it in the fridge!

Our ability to thrive in later years depends on what we’re exposed to as young children. Fortunately, a comparative handful of us came of age in an era where our culture supported the growth of caring and empathetic minds. You only have to look at some representative children’s programming from my formative years to see why my peers and I have grown into such well-adjusted adults. For exhibit A, I will proffer the theme song to Dr. Snuggles, a cartoon from the early 1980s.

(Right away, you know that this was a program from a gentler time, as today a show entitled “Dr. Snuggles” would sound far too suggestive to be greenlit in this troubled age of paranoia and cynicism.)

Pretty good huh? A couple of notes the children’s choir hit are getting a little close to dog-whistle register, but that’s a minor quibble. Anyways, this intro has some positive messages for young and impressionable minds. The big theme is that if you work hard and become a Doctor, you’ll be permitted license to indulge in all sorts of eccentric behaviour without question. You can get around on a pogo-stick; hang out with a badger that wears overalls, and even pilot rocket ships that have been improbably constructed out of wood.

Dr. Snuggles was one among many great and positive cartoons from the early to mid-1980s that touted important virtues like getting along with others, trying your best, and not causing a ruckus. Other similar shows included The Get-Along-Gang, Care Bears, Kissyfur, and The Gummi Bears. The latter three shows all featured gentle and friendly bears as the principal characters. Of course, in real life, most bears are large, brutishly strong, eating-machines, but these children’s programs helped a generation view them in a different light.

Unfortunately, the era of “caring and sharing” cartoons was not long-lived, and it would be replaced but a few years later by a New World Order in children’s programming that fetishized violence and militarism. And leading this vicious vanguard was a war-like rabbit:

WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT. So now (in the early 1990s), tomorrow’s leaders were growing up with a program that brazenly celebrates war, violence, and horrible rap-rock music, the last courtesy of a theme song recorded by some downmarket Faith No More knockoff. They’re watching a show where each week there will be the implied deaths of dozens, if not hundreds, of presumably sentient amphibians in space combat, all celebrated by the bloodthirsty cry of, “let’s croak us some toads!”

Why are Bucky O’Hare and his cohorts in the sinister S.P.A.C.E organization (including the human child Willy DeWitt—presumably some sort of mercenary soldier), so committed to war? Haven’t they ever listened to Edwin Starr? Sure, I’ll grant that the toads (as depicted in the opening them) seem like they could be trouble. They apparently have a formidable space-navy and their uniforms and regalia have a distinctly imperial look about them.

But in this conflict, someone should’ve tried to be the bigger person (or animal, I suppose). Why couldn’t the S.P.A.C.E crew and a delegation of toads have gotten together at a neutral malt shop to talk over their differences? They might have found they were more alike than different, maybe even discovered they had a common foe they could have turned all their advanced weaponry on—like drug dealers. You never would have seen the Get-Along Gang becoming locked in an intergalactic war as these critters have managed.

Bucky O’Hare was the apex of early-1990s cartoon violence. It also represented part of a bizarre counter-trend to the “bear sanitizing” movement of the 80s, wherein animals that are generally feeble and unthreatening in the real word were portrayed as tough and menacing in animated form. For other examples, you can look to other mayhem-fueled cartoons like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Battletoads, and Biker Mice from Mars—dystopian nightmares all.

Is it any wonder that “millenials” today are aloof, difficult, and impossible to build consensus with? Of course they’re going to be unwilling to try and understand the viewpoints of others, or engage in the difficult slogging work of forging compromise. They’ve grown up being taught that if you find yourself at odds with someone or with a group, that you should just blast them with an energy beam weapon.

Let’s face it: if you were a child of the 70’s (or earlier) it’s too late for you. If you were born in the last half of the 80s onwards then you came into this world too soon.  It’s going to take the people born in the narrow “golden window” of 1980-1984 to dig global society out of the mess it’s fallen into, and we’re going to need all the empathy and conflict-resolution skills built during our youth to do it. Godspeed Dr. Snuggles, we could really use your help now.