Should yours be a “big candy bar” house this Halloween?

Cute column in the Wall Street Journal asking the really important question: should your house be the house on the block that gives out regular-sized candy bars rather than miniatures?

Everybody who has ever thrown on a costume and gone trick-or-treating has a story about a Big Candy Bar House. It usually goes something like this: It was the end of the night. We’d knocked on every door in the neighborhood but one. When they opened it, we couldn’t believe our eyes: actual-size Kit Kats.

Big Candy Bar Houses become legendary, almost mythological, their locations closely shared among children and parents, like the House That Only Has Mounds, the Smug Dentist Who Gives Out Floss and the Beloved Neighbor Who Pours Wine Into Plastic Cups for Mom and Dad.

Is being a Big Candy Bar House show-offy, like building a basketball court and lazy river in your backyard?

My children are eager to join the list. We moved not long ago, and they’re looking to make a splash. I get it: Becoming a Big Candy Bar House would be a quick way to endear themselves to the local kids. They’ll go to school the next day as overnight celebrities. They’ll run for Student President on a Big Candy Bar ticket. They’ll be in the Yearbook as Most Likely to Hand Out Big Candy Bars. They’ll go to a good college and probably become doctors or Dentists Who Give Out Floss.

Conversely, if we give out a lousy treat—say, butterscotch menthol throat lozenges or Washington Commanders tickets—the kids will never live it down. They’ll be shunned on the playground. They’ll bumble through life and wind up working as newspaper columnists.

I feel fortunate to live in a blue-collar neighborhood, thus the parents where I live are easy marks for whatever Fox News-induced candy-and-abduction scare is being pushed by that network each Halloween season. Thus, almost no trick-or-treaters in my area.

All hail rainbow fentanyl!

It may not really be a thing, but stories about it save me from having to decide whether to give out big candy bars or not.

When a boomer starts a sentence with, “Well, when I was kid…” you know they are about to spout utter bullshit

I was riding in a car today with a fellow boomer and we happened to pass, within a few minutes of one another, two yards with trampolines with those giant 12-foot safety nets around the perimeter.

“When I was a kid, we played on trampolines without nets and nobody ever got hurt,” my friend observed knowingly.

I gave him an incredulous look. “Do you not remember that we spent three years of high school learning beside a quadriplegic former jock moving himself around the hallways with a mouth-operated joystick on his wheelchair? And he was the second person in our class to be seriously injured in a trampoline accident?”

“Oh, yeah,” my friend said. “I forgot about them.”

This kind of thinking is rampant among baby boomers who tend to have an idealized version of their own childhoods. You hear this total bullshit come out of their mouths all the time.

“My mother smoked and drank when she was pregnant with me, and I turned out fine,” usually comes from someone like a woman in her 60s who has zero contact with her three adult children she screwed up emotionally for life.

“My parents beat us kids all the time and we survived,” usually comes from someone like an elderly alcoholic biker whose life has been a series of dead-end jobs because he never outgrew his inability to control his anger and resentment when someone disagrees with him about small things or tells him what to do at work.

But this bit of stupidity is always my favorite: “We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on. Nobody had to know where we were every minute of the day.”

I have first-hand experience with this because my two best friends, Jake Surber and Jon Simpson, disappeared on Aug. 30, 1975, during a trip to the state fair. I was supposed to go with them, but my mother refused to let me go because she didn’t have the money.

Jake and Jon didn’t return home that night. Their bodies were found later in two different locations, both sexually assaulted and brutally stabbed. They thought at one time that the killer was found and prosecuted, but it turned out maybe they got the wrong guy.

So I’ve been especially attuned to crimes against children my entire life. There were a lot of child rapes and murders, and horrific parental child abuses, even during the so-called golden years about which baby boomers wax nostalgic. Those crimes simply did not receive the same media coverage they do now.

Children are definitely safer now than they’ve ever been, precisely because products are required to be (somewhat) safer, cars have three-point seatbelts and rear-facing child seats, head protection is more common when kids are taking part in risky activities, and parents can keep better tabs on them through cell phones and the internet.

The golden age of childhood that my contemporaries romanticize is a figment of older imaginations who have shitty memories. The only thing that often surprises me is how unaware they are when they do it until you point out to them the wide gap between what they believe and what actually happened.

Authorities in Missouri seek immediate closure of right-wing Christian ranch for boys

The Agape ranch boarding school in Missouri describes itself as “a non-profit boarding school designed to show God’s love to teen boys struggling with behavior issues that can threaten their future.”

In what surely must be starting to sound like a broken record when it comes to right-wing religious institutions which abuse children, Agape is being described by authorities in Missouri as a place so dangerous to kids it should be closed immediately:

The Missouri Attorney General and state child welfare leaders filed an amended complaint Friday afternoon, saying students must be removed from Agape Boarding School because of a long pattern of abuse.

The complaint, filed in Cedar County Circuit Court, contained additional details that the AG’s office said provided explicit evidence of systemic abuse of students at the unlicensed school near Stockton that has gone on for years.

Those new details also include allegations that Agape provided “incomplete information” to the state in recent days. And it said multiple people still working at the school are appealing their substantiated findings from the Missouri Department of Social Services that they physically abused students. State law allows the staffers to keep working while they appeal the findings.

The Kansas City Star has independently learned that Agape director Bryan Clemensen is one of those who was notified by DSS that he had a substantiated report of abuse against him. Multiple sources also said that Scott Dumar, the school’s longtime medical coordinator, also is among those appealing a substantiated DSS finding. Dumar is also one of five staff members who were charged last year with physical abuse of students.

Speaking of broken records, must anyone point out again that the reason members of the extreme religious Right see grooming sexual abusers behind every liberal curtain is because so many of the right-wingers turn out to be abusers themselves?

I should stress that many of these charges are still allegations. But it’s not every day that law enforcement officials seek the immediate closure of an established Christian boarding school, so they must feel something is terribly amiss.

If the allegations turn out to be true…well, the abuse of kids who’ve already had such tough lives must involve the worst kinds of people.

I was in foster care for the latter part of my childhood, and I had a couple of male authority figures who tried to take advantage of me at different stages of my adolescence. Fortunately, I was cynical and street smart enough to realize they were grooming me. I toyed with them by appearing as if I was falling for their ham-handed attempts to lure me through trust and deception. It was pedophile cat and mouse. Except the cat didn’t know the mouse was in control.

I should have contacted authorities, but it didn’t cross my mind at the time. I thought they were pathetic and put them out of my mind once I got rid of them by becoming angry and making it clear I knew what they were doing. Nothing chases away a pedophile faster than calling them what they are to their face.

But I also ached for the father figure I never had in my life, and I can understand how, if I were a little more naïve and trusting, those encounters could have gone south pretty quickly.

And to do these things under the guise of “God’s love”?

Horrible. Just horrible.

This article about the Trump family separation policy is just as jaw dropping as I’d heard it to be

I just finished writer Caitlin Dickerson’s exhaustive (and much talked-about) piece in The Atlantic about the insidious genesis and disastrous implementation of the Trump Administration’s family separation policy at the border. It’s a lot to digest given the byzantine nature of both the politics behind the policy, and the dizzying alphabet soup of federal agencies and programs involved.

I had no idea, for instance, of the myriad ways that immigrants seeking asylum at southern border — the vast majority who are not criminals, that is — can be handed off from the Border Patrol to ICE to HHS and elsewhere. The system already seems primed to lose track of people. Add into the mix an effort to purposefully yank screaming toddlers out of the arms of their mothers, and it’s easy to understand how people with nefarious motives could use the immigration bureaucracy toward amoral ends.

One part of the debacle that gob-smacked me was that I kept wondering, “Why had nobody thought to sit down and create a simple spreadsheet tracking the children who were taken away?” With just a few data points I could create one myself in an hour or two, and I’m no Excel expert.

I wasn’t the only one confused by that, as the Atlantic article makes clear:

[U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas John] Bash and other U.S. attorneys were flabbergasted by the ineptitude of those who had created the [family separation] policy. “I remember thinking, Why doesn’t someone just have an Excel file? ” Bash reportedly said. “I mean, it’s a large population in human cost and human terms, but it’s not a large population in terms of data management. We’re talking about a few thousand families. You can have all that on one spreadsheet with the names of the people, where the kid’s going. It was just insane. I remember being told that there was going to be a phone number parents could call and know where their kids were. And I told a public defender that and she was like, ‘This phone number doesn’t work, one. And two, most parents don’t have access to phones where they’re being held, or they have to pay for the use of the pay phone. So that doesn’t work.’ ”

Bash asked the Justice Department to launch an investigation into why parents and children were not being reunited expeditiously, still not fully understanding his agency’s role in the scheme. He created a list of questions that he wanted answered, which were shared with Gene Hamilton, Rod Rosenstein, and others at DOJ: “What technology could be used to ensure that parents don’t lose track of children?”; “Is it true that they are often pulled apart physically?”; “Why doesn’t HHS return the child to the parent as soon as the parent is out of the criminal-justice system, on the view that at that point the child is no longer an ‘unaccompanied minor’?” Rosenstein responded that the U.S. attorneys should try to find out what was going on themselves. The attorneys sent the questions to their Border Patrol counterparts, but their inquiries were ignored. “DHS just sort of shut down their communication channels to us,” Ryan Patrick, the U.S. attorney in South Texas, told me. “Emails would go either unanswered, calls would go unreturned, or ‘We’re not answering that question right now.’ ”

There wasn’t a way to track the children who were yanked from their parents because the Trump people wanted to inflict as much pain as possible. They didn’t want it to be easy, if possible at all, to reunite these terrified, damaged children with their loved ones. They fully expected — nay, they counted on it — that these children would never see their mothers again.

I seem to recall a government in the 1930s that thought taking newborns and toddlers away from undesirables and placing them with “acceptable” families in the homeland was good family planning.

I will admit here that I’ve always considered immigration to be a lesser issue, at least in terms of broad goals for a more just domestic society. Americans spend so much time being distracted and divided by the billionaire-funded right-wing echo chamber that has all of us fighting over immigration and abortion and drag queen story hours. Fighting about those important, but ultimately peripheral issues, keeps all of us from truly reforming laws related to Wall Street and the billionaires; from transforming the system so that Fox News and OAN and the people who pull their strings are no longer in charge.

If we did that rising up and taking power from the people who really hold it in this country, then many of these other issues would eventually become less controversial and easier to solve in rational ways, away from the white-hot cauldron of manipulated public opinion.

Now that I’ve read Dickerson’s heart-breaking article, however, immigration has moved up my list of motivations for the upcoming elections.

We cannot let the Trump monsters who pushed these inhumane policies — many of whom are federal career bureaucrats still employed at DHS, HHS and the Justice Department — from holding power. Because they are waiting for their chance to do it again. Next time, however, they will have lessons learned; namely, to first get rid of any of the people who stood in their way last time.

You can read Dickerson’s article at this link.

Two PA judges, who sent kids to prison so the judges could get kickbacks from private kids prison, ordered to pay $200 million

As someone who spent the latter part of his childhood stuck in the foster care system, I can attest to sense of helplessness you have when the state has total control over your life.

In some ways that state control was an improvement over my emotionally and sexually abusive alcoholic parents, but in other ways you understood that all it would take is one judge having a bad day and you could be sent to some horrible institution, no question asked.

So I’ve followed the Pennsylvania Kids-For-Cash scandal closely, mostly because there but for the grace of God go I (or any foster kid, really):

Two former Pennsylvania judges who orchestrated a scheme to send children to for-profit jails in exchange for kickbacks were ordered to pay more than $200 million to hundreds of people they victimized in one of the worst judicial scandals in U.S. history.

U.S. District Judge Christopher Conner awarded $106 million in compensatory damages and $100 million in punitive damages to nearly 300 people in a long-running civil suit against the judges, writing the plaintiffs are “the tragic human casualties of a scandal of epic proportions.”

In what came to be known as the kids-for-cash scandal, Mark Ciavarella and another judge, Michael Conahan, shut down a county-run juvenile detention center and accepted $2.8 million in illegal payments from the builder and co-owner of two for-profit lockups. Ciavarella, who presided over juvenile court, pushed a zero-tolerance policy that guaranteed large numbers of kids would be sent to PA Child Care and its sister facility, Western PA Child Care.

Former Luzerne County Court Judges Michael Conahan, front left, and Mark Ciavarella, front right, leave the U.S. District Courthouse in Scranton, Pa., on Sept., 15, 2009. The two Pennsylvania judges who orchestrated a scheme to send children to for-profit jails in exchange for kickbacks were ordered to pay more than $200 million to hundreds of children who fell victim to their crimes.

Ciavarella ordered children as young as 8 to detention, many of them first-time offenders deemed delinquent for petty theft, jaywalking, truancy, smoking on school grounds and other minor infractions. The judge often ordered youths he had found delinquent to be immediately shackled, handcuffed and taken away without giving them a chance to put up a defense or even say goodbye to their families.

“Ciavarella and Conahan abandoned their oath and breached the public trust,” Conner wrote Tuesday in his explanation of the judgment. “Their cruel and despicable actions victimized a vulnerable population of young people, many of whom were suffering from emotional issues and mental health concerns.”

If the world made sense, these two judges would die in prison.

One might. The other was released early because of COVID.

You can read the rest of the AP article here.

America’s crisis in parenting and child care

I’ve never understood conservatives’ visceral opposition to universal child care and robust programs to make sure that parents and children get adequate nutrition and early childhood education.

If you want families to stay intact and healthy to the point that they are able to bring up children who will be law-abiding taxpayers who contribute innumerable ways to a better society, those early, formative years are the most crucial for governments to fund fully so that they are not paying for crime and prisons later.

Reporters Cassandra Robertson, Tara McGuinness and Monée Fields-White have an article in The New Republic that uses new parents Diana Apresa and her husband Michael Romo as examples of parents who, after spending the huge sums of money that having a baby costs up-front, are then faced with the no-win situation of losing all or part of one parent’s income because to take care of a child because no affordable child care options exist:

Apresa and Romo are among the more than 12 million working parents with kids younger than six—a segment of the population that contends with a unique, economic double bind: without an option for paid leave, parents must find childcare in order to work and provide for their families (right after covering the exorbitant health costs for giving birth). But skyrocketing childcare costs often mean there’s nothing left over anyway. And the government—both at the state and federal level—has often left these families behind without any comprehensive solution for this unique stage of life.

The downstream consequences of this policy failure to support families are impossible to overstate. Early childhood is a critical time—children’s brains are forming more than a million neural connections per second as they approach three years old. Research has shown how poverty and low incomes can have a significant, negative long-term impact on a child’s wellbeing, while a recent study for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that monthly cash payments to mothers during the first year of their children’s lives led to faster brain activity, “a pattern [positively] associated with learning and development at later ages.” The impacts also matter for society at large. The earliest years of a child’s life are hugely consequential. Care and family income are critical drivers here. Yet these earliest years from zero to five—the years that arguably ought to draw the most robust policy response—are also the most vulnerable, and served by piecemeal policy interventions that are not fully funded.

It’s time for a new approach to support families.

Today, U.S. spending on early childhood education and childcare as a percent of GDP is among the lowest in OECD countries. It is one of only two that does not cover health care costs, and we are the only high-wealth country without any type of guaranteed paid leave.

Good article that examines thoroughly the options available for this country if it truly cares about children and the parents trying to raise them. It’s not just the right thing to do morally. But it will save society much grief later on. Pay now, or pay later.

You can read the rest of the article at this link.

Unvaccinated Oregon boy nearly dies from tetanus that could have been prevented with a simple shot

Now comes this from Linda Carroll at NBC News about the case of a 6-year-old boy’s harrowing brush with death because his parents refused to have him vaccinated against tetanus:

An unvaccinated Oregon boy almost died from tetanus, the first case of the bacterial infection in the state in 30 years. The 6-year-old’s harrowing illness and painful, two-month treatment — which cost close to a million dollars — were detailed by doctors in a case report published Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The boy became infected in 2017 after cutting his head while playing outdoors on the family’s farm. His wound was cleaned and stitched by his family at home, according to the Oregon doctors who treated the child and wrote the CDC report. All seemed fine, until six days later when he started crying and experiencing involuntary muscle spasms and clenching his jaw. Soon he was arching his neck and suffering back and muscle contractions throughout his body.

When he began to have trouble breathing, his parents called for emergency services and the child was airlifted to a pediatric medical center. Upon arrival at the hospital, the child was alert but unable to open his mouth due to lockjaw and severe muscle spasms, critical care pediatrician Dr. Carl Eriksson of the Oregon Health and Science University and the OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital told NBC News via email.

“He required mechanical ventilation (a respirator) through a breathing tube in his mouth, and multiple medications to control severe muscle spasms, pain and agitation,” Eriksson said.

We live in a world where some legislators are trying to pass laws that could criminalize parents getting medically-sound treatments for transgender kids, but parents like these can escape jail time for nearly killing their son, and then leave the taxpayers and hospital on the hook for their stupidity.

You can read the rest of the article at this link.

I did not know the basis for “Go Ask Alice” was basically a con job

If you’re a person of certain age, chances are you were assigned the 1971 book “Go Ask Alice” in middle or high school. The book was used by educators everywhere as a cautionary tale against rebellion and drugs. Kids loved it because of it contained swearing and frank expressions of sexuality.

I don’t recall reading the book, but I remember seeing it everywhere.

I also don’t remember the attendant controversies. Publishing industry drama is rarely on a teenager’s radar. Apparently it was a big deal.

From Wikipedia:

Upon its publication, almost all contemporary reviewers and the general public accepted it as primarily authored by an anonymous teenager. According to Lauren Adams, Publishers Weekly magazine was the only source to question the book’s authenticity on the grounds that it “seem[ed] awfully well written”. Reviews described the book as either the authentic diary of a real teenage girl, or as an edited or slightly fictionalized version of her authentic diary. Some sources claimed that the girl’s parents had arranged for her diary to be published after her death. However, according to Alleen Pace Nilsen, a “reputable source in the publishing world” allegedly said that the book was published anonymously because the parents had initiated legal action and threatened to sue if the published book could be traced back to their daughter.

Not long after Go Ask Alice’s publication, Beatrice Sparks began making public appearances presenting herself as the book’s editor. (Ellen Roberts, who in the early 1970s was an editor at Prentice Hall, was also credited at that time with having edited the book; a later source refers to Roberts as having “consulted” on the book.)[54] According to Caitlin White, when Sparks’ name became public, some researchers discovered that copyright records listed Sparks as the sole author—not editor—of the book, raising questions about whether she had written it herself.Suspicions were heightened in 1979 after two newly published books about troubled teenagers (Voices and Jay’s Journal) advertised Sparks’ involvement by calling her “the author who brought you Go Ask Alice”.

I bring all this up because New Yorker writer Casey Cep takes a look at the ongoing questions about “How a Mormon Housewife Turned a Fake Diary Into an Enormous Bestseller.”

If you had twenty dollars and a few hours to spare during the fall of 1970, you could learn about “The Art of Womanhood” from Mrs. Beatrice Sparks. A Mormon housewife, Sparks was the author of a book called “Key to Happiness,” which offered advice on grooming, comportment, voice, and self-discipline for high-school and college-aged girls; her seminar dispensed that same advice on Wednesdays on the campus of Brigham Young University, a school from which she’d later claim to have earned a doctorate, sometimes in psychiatry, other times in psychology or human behavior. “Happiness comes from within,” Sparks promised, “and it begins with an understanding of who and what you really are!”

Such an understanding seems to have been elusive for Sparks, who was then calling herself a lecturer, although she would soon enough identify as a therapist and occasionally as a counsellor or a social worker or even an adolescent psychologist, substituting the University of Utah or the University of California, Los Angeles, for her alma mater, or declining to say where she had trained. But, wherever she studied and whatever her qualifications, Sparks was destined to become best known for being unknown. Although her book on womanhood was a flop, she went on to sell millions of copies of another book, one that even today does not acknowledge her authorship, going into printing after printing without so much as a pseudonym for its author. “Go Ask Alice,” the supposedly real diary of a teen-age drug addict, was really the work of a straitlaced stay-at-home mom.

I think it’s hilarious that the whole thing started to unravel because Sparks, the moralizing anti-drug housewife-turned-crusader, was greedy for attention and couldn’t keep her mouth shut.

You can read the rest of the New Yorker article here.

BTW it’s a common misconception that Jefferson Airplane’s hit “Go Ask Alice” was based on the book, when it was actually the other way around: the publisher picked the name because of the song.

There was a made-for-TV movie of the same name starring William Shatner and Andy Griffith. Weirdly, it has a not terrible rating from IMDB. As usual with movies of this kind, the bad reviews are more interesting than the gushing ones.

See page below from TV Guide.

Calamine lotion craze invades TikTok

These things are funny until you think about how we’ve not even begun to scratch the surface of the stupid things people will do in the future because they saw it on TikTok:

Women around the world are smearing calamine lotion all over their faces before applying makeup — a “beauty hack” that’s gone viral on TikTok that they say helps dry out oily skin, repair acne scars and keep their makeup in place for hours on end.

Some are using a sponge or a makeup brush to dab on the over-the-counter product commonly used to soothe rashes and other skin conditions that cause itching, such as chickenpox. Others wasted no time, pouring the pink lotion directly onto their face and rubbing it in with their bare hands before applying foundation and other makeup right on top of the thin crust.

“I cannot see my pores anywhere,” one TikToker said in approval, claiming the product made her skin appear “super matte.” Other beauty enthusiasts on the platform have hailed calamine as a primer — claiming it helps their makeup stay put in the summer sun and throughout 12-hour workdays.

TikTokers say they are “obsessed” with the discovery and the hashtag #calamineprimer has about 3.5 million views on the platform. But dermatologists and makeup experts are warning that those jumping on the trend could risk worsening skin conditions and long-term damage.

“It just doesn’t make sense to use calamine lotion and risk drying out the skin and damaging the skin barrier,” Azadeh Shirazi, a dermatologist practicing in the San Diego area, told The Washington Post.

You can read the rest of the Washington Post article by Jennifer Hassan by clicking here.

I feel sorry for kids today.

When I was in school the only things you had to worry about were not farting in class, not tripping going up the stairs in school and sending your books flying, and trying to fit in somewhere during school and on weekends.

Now, for many kids anyway, being a kid is suddenly a 24-7 job of thinking of ways to do funny or cool things on social media.

It must be exhausting and crazy-making.