And why do they matter, these folks of no consequence?

27 Oct

Was reading The Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Blum. It is so nice. You know, they used to believe that you could tell whether a book was written by a man or a woman. I do feel it sometimes too – when a book is written by a very sloppy man, or a rather effusive woman, or an angry confused, and it shows. It does.

And sometimes you can feel the author is trying to hold her gender in check. And writes in intentionally clinical tones. This particularly refers to women. We do have a good deal of baggage on that front. Such as – we still apparently test poorly in maths when in co-ed situations. And it is indeed a biological need, for us females to be aware of men, and of power, and how best to gain favor and care for ourselves and offspring. We are aware even in our sleep. But this is another topic.

Anyway. This is one of those fine books where I was not even aware of the author’s gender or preferences, until I looked for the author’s name to note it here.

In the chapter concerning arsenic, a little story cropped up concerning a 16 year old boy who was filling cans with benzene solvent in a small garage in the Bronx. He expired from the fumes. The city toxicologist had invented a means to extract benzene from various organs of the dead boy. Due to this evidence, a public warning was issued that garage owners should ventilate their building when handling benzene.

I wondered idly whether people in the year 1923 should have been in any way bothered over the death of an unnamed 16 year old working in a garage.

And then, I realized with shame, that yes, indeed they should be. Ought to be.

It is hard to care, for one or for millions, when we are constantly bombarded with news of tragedies. It is hard not to feel numbed. It is hard not to want to put one in one cubby hole and the other into a lesser cubby hole.

But if the folks of no consequence were never given consequence, even in their death, why, what a stinking hellhole we all would be living in.

Public discourse/discussion: What is not profitable

25 Jun

Madame Josse: Paloma, tu es une petite fille très intelligente, mais on peut être très intelligent et très démuni. Très lucid et très malheureux.

Paloma: Je ne vois que la psychanalyse pour concurrencer les religions dans l’amour des souffrances qui durent.
Père Josse: Qu’est-ce qui te fait dire ça?
Paloma: Que ma mère nous annonce comme si c’était un motif pour faire couler le champagne à flot que ça fait dix ans pile qu’elle est en analyse.
Père Josse: Ben oui. Oui. C’est très bien, non?
Paloma: Non. Ce qu’elle ne dit pas, c’est que ça fait aussi dix ans pile qu’elle prend des antidépresseurs. Mais visiblement elle fait pas le lien. Elle fait le lien entre ses dix années d’analyse, ses trois heures par jour à pulvériser des plantes vertes et son impressionnante consommation de substances remboursées par la sécurité sociale.
                                                                             from  L’Élégance du hérisson , FILM
Madame Josse: Paloma, you’re a very intelligent girl, but you can be intelligent and helpless. Very lucid and very unhappy.
Paloma: Only psychoanalysis rivals religion for love of suffering.
Father Josse: Why do you say that?
Paloma: My mother wants to break out the champagne to celebrate ten years in therapy.
Father: But yes. Yes, that’s good isn’t it?
Paloma: No, she’s been on antidepressants for ten years too. But she doesn’t see the link. Between ten years in therapy, her love of her plants, and her mass consumption of prescription drugs.
Psychoanalysis is not profitable for solving problems of the public sphere.
(perhaps try Adler).
Paloma, from the Elegance of the Hedgehog

Paloma, from the Elegance of the Hedgehog

Edit: Recently came across a book by Julian Barnes that may illustrate a similar issue as above, called Talking It Over.

How we grow, and how we hope to grow

12 Jan

I feel fortunate and grateful every time I think of the excellent mommy friends I made in Doha – friends who share the same parenting values, making play dates so infinitely easier knowing that we set similar limits and allowances for our children. Now that we are back in Taiwan, I am experiencing some reverse culture shock. While we came expecting some approbation for our ‘scantily’ clad infants, what I was not expecting was how evolved many young parents are becoming, and how much I now notice some correlation between parenting and child behavior. I am also starting to get a feel for how the ‘traditional’ method of Taiwanese parenting and our school system may have an adverse effect on the long-term perspectives of children and teenagers. It is both fascinating, and worrying.

On to anecdotal evidence:

1. The aggressive-passive child After several days of delightfully healthy and varied Asian food, we decided we had enough virtue to go to McDonald’s. This McDonald’s I recalled had a fine soft-play climbing gym. It has, to my surprise, been replaced by a digital interactive floor game. The program is far too fast and busy for my (increasingly austere) taste. But Knox and Quin enjoyed stomping around busting projected balloons and whatnot. An older child was playing there as well. He seemed to not notice Knox and Quin at first.

Later, a game came on where the goal was the step on the eggs while birds flew around. He started pushing Knox because he wanted to step on all the eggs in a nest himself, calling: “You should step on the birds! Don’t step on the eggs!” (he didn’t bother Quin because she was just stomping about rather aimlessly). Knox came over to us crying. He appeared bothered that someone was being aggressive. Mike told him that “If someone is pushing you, just push back.” Which Knox went back and did, but he appeared to be not enjoying it at all: he seemed to be crying more because he had to push the other kid to defend himself.

Mike stood up and went to sit in the middle of the floor, at which point the child got up and left. He came back when Mike moved to the margins. Starting pushing again. Mike sat closer. The child went to his parents.

Mike was very upset that the child’s parents were not there to intervene. I was more upset at myself that I did not know what to do in this situation.

While parents generally believe the sun shines out of their children’s bottoms, I really do believe that Knox’s stressed crying when he pushed the other child back comes from a reluctance to deal violence as well. I do not want that sentiment to go away, but I was momentarily frozen – I did not know what to do. How can you preserve the peaceful nature of a child while teaching them to defend themselves? How can you also give a stranger’s child the opportunity to practice peaceful ways of interaction? I know that violence only begets violence. And I have done ‘walking away’ with Knox from violent children before. But I do not feel that that is the solution. Walking away from this child will not be helpful to him in any way. He obviously craves being alone to have the game to himself. He is so isolated he does not see the value of the company of this other child. What he needs is the ability to connect with other children.

You may think right now I am making a mountain out of a mole-hill. But putting aside the fact that I was not happy that the child he was hurting was my own, and the morals of picking on those who are younger. I do not consider such behavior normal.

It is not normal; it should not be considered normal that a child will devise a twisted logic to justify his actions of actual aggression. It should not be considered normal that a child will, at his young age, feel the need to be less than honest with himself. And it should not be normal that the child is so fixated on winning all of a game (that is designed for several children to play together), that he cannot see the value in another child.

I have seen some different forms of violent children. Some because they do not know their own strength, some because they do not seem aware of what they are doing, some have an irresistible urge that they need to learn to grow out of… this is slightly different. This appears to be a child who feels the need to hide his intentions and sense of rejection. A child who is afraid of adults but will pick on someone smaller. This child could be over-fatigued and out of his mind. But I feel that he needs positive connection with others, to develop his sense of self and honesty with himself.

It is a pity that children’s rejecting behaviors because of some inner need actually cause us to react in a way that exacerbates the situation. We walk away. We criticize and we punish. And those who need the most love are even more isolated than before. I feel that I will eventually learn how to react in this situation. I know I must. Right now I am not there yet. Any suggestions?

Update 11th Feb, 2015: Found this article that seemed pertinent to this situation. I suppose there is not much we can do when it concerns someone else’s child, but to protect ours.

(other anecdotal evidence, to be continued…)

Please don’t sell me your fantasies, I want to make my own

29 Aug

Knox is a very sweet child. He will consider everything I say to him. Even commands of things he dislikes “You have to brush your teeth.” he will consider if I insist enough, or word it right.

I have never felt very comfortable with telling children fantasies. As stories, yes, but fantasies, no. Even before I knew of Montessori.

I was always greatly impressed with adults who can go up to children and with great assurance spin the most outrageous nonsense. I felt they must have an extremely theatrical spirit. If a child related to me their fantasies, I would look at them, slightly frightened, somewhat interested, and allow them to go on. I would try to tease out the truth in their tales, with questions; why they would wish to say these things that are completely unrelated to reality – perhaps some of it is related to reality? These are so called cases of children who are repressed and find outlets in imagination. But the children who are most eager to tell tales tend to be those who are healthy, hale, with generous parents, instead of (as in stories) the poor and downtrodden. Even Sarah Crewe, the virtuous-despite-being-pampered-and-indulged, dropped her fantasies of her doll once she became poor. In fact, if you listen, their tales are always based on something, rarely completely original. They are part and parcel of tales told to them, or shown to them. I cannot profess to have met one who, before puberty, has created truly original stories.

And now that I have my own child, I feel even more strongly that I cannot bring myself to tell him tales, to speak of fairies and goblins and even witches as truth. You see, he believes me when I tell him the names of animals and what they do, he believes me when I show him dinosaurs, even if he will never see one alive. He will believe me if I tell him of leprechauns. And for me to do that, I feel, would be betraying this trust he has in me.

Perhaps part of the reason is that I myself was never regaled consistently with fairytales from a young age. I only began to hear of such things when I first came to the US, around the age of 5 or 6. Of course there would have been the odd Hans Christian Anderson before that, but his stories are nearly always short and never wove a world, and one can safely ignore the talking animals. For when a child comes across a real goose, he/she quickly finds it a dumb animal. It cannot possibly converse like a human, but it has no need. You see, a goose in real life, with it’s rather large bosom, small smooth white feathers all over, and vicious little eyes, is so far removed from the affable and often silly creatures in the stories, that the sight of one immediately dispels the vision of the other.

So when I first heard of fairies, I was past the age of being inculcated. And however much I tried later on to believe in magic, however much I wished and willed it, I could not bring myself to believe in it. You know why I must believe in it: The prime creed of magic, as illustrated by Peter Pan’s Tinkerbell, is that you must believe in it first, for it to be true. Fairies only live if children believe in them. As an adult now on the other side, you can see what absolute nonsense this is, and can even call it entrapment. But then you would be relegated, in the stories, to the gruff and sadly out-of-it Mr. Darling.

I wonder if this gullibility is something you’re born with. This trust in the mystic. I have the greatest faith in humanity, for this reason I feel passionate about education. I believe that anyone of average intelligence can, in the right environment, grow into reasonable, loving, productive individuals. I believe that even the gullible can have their minds fortified with a good appreciation of the scientific method, perhaps a foray into the fields of research, a healthy, stress-free dose of the humanities at an early age to spark curiosity and the joy of learning. A sound, inquiring mind is possible. I believe there are those who, naturally, will find it difficult to believe in things simply told to them, even under such indefectible constructs as that narrated above (“Faith first is necessary”).

Should I convince Knox of santa now, he will eventually (my guess is around the ages of 8~10) come to realize the falsehood. And oh, when he does, how the trust will crumble in the other things! Perhaps even religion!

where hope for man continues

28 May

There are gentle giants among us

whose height we do not see

who haul the great work of our civilization

and tend the gardens of our humanity

We hope to see them often

we long for ones to laude

but the gentle giants among us

their worth is in their love

their work is quiet tending

they do not long for thrones

but all their wish and yearning

is in the others height

And to grow a human is to

let yourself subside

so that we are not aware

when we’re tended, by and by

Who are these giants, that save us

from the chaos of our vice?

How do they rise? What made them be?

Where is the gentle giant in me?

I have a dream

17 Jan

Ihaven’t written on this blog for a while, and that is because I’ve been engrossed in the Montessori method. It’s an educational theory based on scientific observation of children. The goal is to help foster peaceful, independent learners and thinkers. So far in this journey in life, I have never met with something, however much I support it, that I agree with 100%. I am surprised to say that I think : Montessori could be it.

Today I was pushing a double stroller with our 2 year old and 5 month old in it, along the fine fair winter Doha weather. The roads are under construction, and there are a lot of too narrow sidewalks and makeshift bridges. Time after time, strangers would come up and help me carry the stroller over the bad spots. I thought of my husband at work, how he was doing, how nice it would be to concentrate on adult work and contributing to a community, and how nice it is being with our kids. And I was struck with an image of what the world could look like – what do you think it could look like, if children were more a part of our world.

If they could work alongside us.

If we designed all our public areas and homes to be also accessible to children.

If all parents could take their children to nursery where they worked.

If what we consider part time hours are regular hours, and the pay adequate for both parents to work, and have plenty of time to be with their children as well.

This is a video of Montessori classroom moments. It illustrates the beauty of a proper environment, in which you can almost hear the child humming with happiness from their purposeful activities.

I don’t think I can quite put in words precisely what it feels like. But I would like to be a part of making that a reality.

If enough of us hold a vision in our heads, we can change the course of humanity.

Should I let my child use an iPad? A response

15 May

Originally posted on When the diaper leaks:

Recently read this article from Children’s MD blog. They usually have very good posts, but I disagree with this mom doc’s opinion on allowing children to use ipads.

Children’s short attention span and immature working capacities often make it difficult for adults to do the tasks that need to be done. Offering them a distraction may seem like the way to go. I am sure there are electronic programs/apps that are quite good, I have simply not met any yet that I have found truly challenging in a way that has helped me learn in a lasting manner.

As archaic as it is, our minds are used to learning by doing, by feeling the rough grooves in the alphabet blocks….etc. Children feel and remember these sensations much more strongly than we as adults do. It is the building blocks of their memory and their connection to our world and humanity…

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To my friend (from the past, whom I still recall with fondness)

2 Feb

I remember you, again

my old friend, a stranger

across the spider’s universe

a woman, a speaker

of undefine-able beauty

and exquisite love… you say

your troubles are borne from life, and men

or one, who does you ill, yet I recall

the strength of your voice, in the darkness

luminescence strong

defying the laws of common energy, you shine, and yet

you will not admit it. Oh, I do not even

remember your name, now that the door

to that era is closed. But I pray, if I pray,

to no god that will listen, but one that is borne

on the wings of good will, and kindred spirits, that

you thrive, and live, a peaceful life

perhaps no more words of eloquent pain will you spin

but that means you are ok

and the troubled times are behind us.

2 Feb

Originally posted on The Idealogue:

Dear Ms. Hussey,

I was reading your paper ‘Are Social Welfare Policies ‘Pro-life’? And I have a question concerning the distinction of the efficacy of the policy.
I believe there is a distinction between basic welfare and more advanced social assistance. As in: there may be stages in women’s economy of their choices that can be reflected by the amount, and kind, of social assistance available.

Hypothesis of stages:
1. Women who do not regularly use contraceptives (reflection of lower access/awareness or greater masochism) who do not abort due to lack of abortion resources and/or hope for planning of future (such as Emily Oster’s study of how awareness of AIDS does not lower risky sexual behavior due to low prospective of future life quality in certain communities )

2. Women who do not regularly use contraceptives but abort to increase future prospects.

3. Women who regularly use contraceptives and…

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How I feel about race

1 Feb

Brent Staples, a writer at the New York Times, said that he whistles classical music when walking on the streets at night – to assuage the fears of white people. It sounds funny… and sad at the same time, that even today being black in America still provokes fear or loathing in (what should be) ordinary white strangers. However, I cannot be too quick to judge – I found my own shoulders tightening when traveling in the more ‘predominantly black’ communities of NYC.

Being ethnically Asian, I do feel that I am better off than my darker skinned peers, who are clearly distinguished, and frequently emotionally discriminated, upon sight. In several studies, doctors have been shown to diagnose and prescribe medication with racial bias… until asked to reconsider whether race had influenced their decision. Time and again in the justice system, racial bias has put more African Americans in jail than normal conviction rates would suggest. (In this article, authors Lilienfeld and Byron suggest ways to prevent that).

Xenophobia is ingrained. In his book The Third Chimpanzee, Jared Diamond cites studies that show people who grew up among mono-ethnic societies frequently find difficulty later on in life to distinguish individuals from different races. Thus my favorite Stormfront quote “…besides, [Asians] all look the same.” I have the same difficulty: growing up in two different communities – one predominantly Taiwanese and one predominantly White (with some Hmong), I frequently have difficulty distinguishing one black person from another. In the beginning of dating a black boyfriend, I had some trouble picking his face out from his friends at first, which I covered up with myopia. Xenophobia is ingrained, but not impossible to overcome. With time, it is possible to rewire your brain to see these distinctions, as I had.One seems to need to be continuously reconditioned, however, when taken out of the environment again. Such as: When I see Bollywood posters, I still cannot readily tell that the leading female is a different one in the other movie, despite being able to do so while I was in India for a month.

Diamond also mentions studies that show we have a preference to mate (and marry) people who look like the people we grew up with, which may be why mixed children (and communities, chicken and egg?) are still not as prevalent in such a diverse country as the U.S. as one might expect from random mate choice.

In dealing with the dilemma of my natural biases, I may overcompensate: When narrating incidences in my life, I am intensely focused on not mentioning race, or descriptive words relevant to race, instead focused on obliterating the need to mention race at all. On ‘my own people’ or Eastern Asians I am less concerned, and readily make distinctions between Chinese, Taiwanese, Korean and Japanese. However, I do not make clear distinctions when it comes to Filipinos, Indonesians, Islanders…etc. Besides knowing less about them from a cultural perspective and feeling the need to tread cautiously on such distinctions, Taiwan is a place where many migrant workers come from these nations, and they are frequently discriminated against, which makes me more cautious not to do. In actuality, some of my friends may find this disrespectful, as they may feel they are quite proud as a Filipino or Indonesian. For me, I change the tact according to listener… if I suspect that my distinction of the nationality may make my listener think less of the subject, I would do away with such national distinctions altogether, instead saying that he/she is a ‘foreigner’, and or qualifying a description of them with the great things that they do.

In a way, rewording the narration in this manner has helped me see strangers in a different light, and helped me realize that I still frequently function by racial biases – without being aware of it. As in many things, it takes work to overcome yourself and live consciously.


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