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Interesting Findings And World Unfolding Through My Eyes.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

On Motherhood

Cruella de Ville has nothing on childcare guru Claire Verity, according to parents. But generations of children were raised using the techniques she champions and they turned out ok, so what's the fuss?

It's rare that parents agree when it comes to the best way to raise children. Usually it's a debate which divides people with - and without - kids like nothing else.

But one woman is uniting parents across the UK in a way rarely seen before, according to some childcare organisations. Claire Verity's strict tough-love mantra appears to have provoked universal horror and disgust.

Claire Verity's been a nanny for 24 years
She is one of three experts used in the Channel 4 programme Bringing Up Baby. In it six couples with newborns are given a mentor who favours one of three childcare methods.

Ms Verity's tough approach includes leaving your baby outside "to air'', cuddling them for only 10 minutes a day and ignoring them if they cry.

Routine is everything and nothing must get in the way of it, especially not emotions.

Social commentators have branded her approach a "regime of rigidly timetabled neglect". Parents have jammed internet chatrooms to denounce her methods. There has been a flood of complaints to the television watchdog Ofcom and even the government.

Celebrity clients

It's not only parents that are rallying against her, other childcare experts have waded into too. The "queen of routine", Gina Ford, has sent a letter to the NSPCC protesting about Ms Verity's methods.

For Ms Ford to be "the voice of reason" will be seen by some as bizarre in itself. Her own strict approach to raising children is viewed as extreme by many and polarises opinion among parents.

Nannies and children

"When Gina Ford is the liberal voice in a debate you do begin to wonder what's going on," says childcare historian, Hugh Cunningham.

But some people must agree with her methods, she has been a freelance nanny for 24 years. She has reportedly worked for Mick Jagger and Sting and charges up to £1,000 a day. But trying to find her supporters is not easy.

"People like Gina Ford polarise opinion, it's a love-hate thing, but we've never seen a reaction like this," says Carrie Longton, co-founder of the parenting website

"Almost everyone using our chatrooms is violently against her and they are reacting with such fervour. The odd person that does speak up for her just questions why people are getting so hysterical and isn't actually saying they agree with her."

Channel 4 has also come under fire for "sensationalising" Ms Verity's techniques to boost ratings. Some have questioned whether she even uses them herself. The channel insists no method is used in the show that Ms Verity would not use with her private clients.

'Fascistic mind frame'

But interestingly Ms Verity adheres to methods that were developed by a man who became a national hero in his native country of New Zealand, and whose legacy is still far-reaching in the country.

The child welfare reformer, Sir Frederick Truby King, developed his "scientific" childcare regime in the 1920s and became renowned worldwide.

"It was a time when people, largely men, started claiming the way to raise children was using science," says Mr Cunningham, a professor of social history at the University of Kent.

She's being attacked for promoting an outdated method of parenting but that implies that other so-called experts are legitimate
Professor Frank Furedi
"Before it had been about a mother's instinct, but these experts didn't want things like emotions to get in the way. Their approach was much like how you might raise a young animal."

The scientific approach, advocated by King and others such as JB Watson in the US, dominated childcare for decades. It only really started to be challenged after World War II, says Mr Cunningham.

"After the war people started to believe that using such an authoritarian way of raising children led to a fascistic mind frame. A wave of democracy spread through attitudes to childcare."
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Posted by Ajay :: 5:48 PM :: 2 comments

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Listen Little Girl!

A little girl in pigtails came up to me last week while I was sitting in the café. I looked at her and smiled. She smiled back, and then, with nothing else to do, I returned to my writing while she was standing right next to me, staring at me.

“Excuse me.”

“Yes, little girl?”

“Are you a Christian?”

Oh Jesus, I thought. I was never that great with little kids and now I really had to come up with something good, something tactful, something to keep myself calm while, at the same time, not making her run off screaming devil and crying hysterically.

“Why?” That was the best I could do? Okay. Okay, I asked why, that’s okay.

“Because, if, if you’re not, you’ll go to hell. I don’t want you to go to hell.”

“I don’t believe in hell.”

Her mouth dropped open and I looked around to see who my audience was. I had two gray-haired women staring at me, one through her spectacles, the other one from over her spectacles’ rims.

“But there is a hell.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Why not, it’s in the bible.”

Here it goes. Now I have to look like a jerk and be a pain in the ass with a little girl in pigtails. “I don’t read the bible.”

“You should. You’ll go to hell if you don’t.”

“You forget, I don’t believe in hell.”

“Just because you don’t believe in it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”

“Do you believe in Lala land?” I asked her.

“What’s Lala Land?”

“A lot of people already live there and they don’t believe it.”

“Is it in the bible?”

“I don’t know, I don’t read the bible.”

“Do you go to church?”

“Not your church.”

“But you go to a church?”

“Listen little girl…you’re really cute and all, but I don’t believe in Jesus.”

I was getting tired of her mouth dropping open. I was working on a great idea for a story. All I had so far was: “Though he was blindfolded and sitting in the middle of a park, thousands of miles (he thought) away from everyone, he could smell her fragrance in the air.”

“Jesus loves you. How could you not believe in him.” I looked around for help. I saw a Hassid in the corner and tried to pawn her off on him, “look, over there. He doesn’t look like he loves Jesus, either. Why are you picking on me?”

“I’m saving you.”

“I don’t have time to be saved today. Maybe next Friday.”

She ignored me. “Jesus loves you.” She stared at me a second before she said, “I just want to give you this.” She handed me a pamphlet of with a giant church on it. It kind of looked like Epcot with a giant cross on top.

“That’s alright. I’ve got one already.”

“No you didn’t. I never gave you one.”

“Can we just say you did so that we can save a tree? I’d hate to waste a tree on Jesus.”

“Jesus made the trees.”

“Jesus made the trees.”

I took out the Environment Colorado flyer someone had handed me earlier and gave it to her, “then save them, by God, they’re precious.” I handed it to her – there was a big, glossy tree on the front.

“Just…take it.” She put the pamphlet on my table and pushed my head back, saying “Go with Jesus,” before walking off with the Environment Colorado flyer.

On my way out, I dropped the pamphlet in the recycling bin and saved a tree in the name of Jesus.

Posted by Ajay :: 9:54 AM :: 0 comments

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Dragonfly or Insect Spy?

Vanessa Alarcon saw them while working at an antiwar rally in Lafayette Square last month.

"I heard someone say, 'Oh my god, look at those,' " the college senior from New York recalled. "I look up and I'm like, 'What the hell is that?' They looked kind of like dragonflies or little helicopters. But I mean, those are not insects."

Out in the crowd, Bernard Crane saw them, too.

"I'd never seen anything like it in my life," the Washington lawyer said. "They were large for dragonflies. I thought, 'Is that mechanical, or is that alive?' "

That is just one of the questions hovering over a handful of similar sightings at political events in Washington and New York. Some suspect the insectlike drones are high-tech surveillance tools, perhaps deployed by the Department of Homeland Security.

Others think they are, well, dragonflies -- an ancient order of insects that even biologists concede look about as robotic as a living creature can look.

No agency admits to having deployed insect-size spy drones. But a number of U.S. government and private entities acknowledge they are trying. Some federally funded teams are even growing live insects with computer chips in them, with the goal of mounting spyware on their bodies and controlling their flight muscles remotely.

The robobugs could follow suspects, guide missiles to targets or navigate the crannies of collapsed buildings to find survivors.

The technical challenges of creating robotic insects are daunting, and most experts doubt that fully working models exist yet.

"If you find something, let me know," said Gary Anderson of the Defense Department's Rapid Reaction Technology Office.

But the CIA secretly developed a simple dragonfly snooper as long ago as the 1970s. And given recent advances, even skeptics say there is always a chance that some agency has quietly managed to make something operational.

"America can be pretty sneaky," said Tom Ehrhard, a retired Air Force colonel and expert in unmanned aerial vehicles who is now at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a nonprofit Washington-based research institute.
Robotic fliers have been used by the military since World War II, but in the past decade their numbers and level of sophistication have increased enormously. Defense Department documents describe nearly 100 different models in use today, some as tiny as birds, and some the size of small planes.

All told, the nation's fleet of flying robots logged more than 160,000 flight hours last year -- a more than fourfold increase since 2003. A recent report by the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College warned that if traffic rules are not clarified soon, the glut of unmanned vehicles "could render military airspace chaotic and potentially dangerous."
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