July 10th, 2010

Australian for child-rearing.

From the Economist's Democracy in America blog:
There's reason to believe that contemporary American child-rearing gets some things better than other countries. There's also reason to believe it gets other things worse. On the one hand, American gender roles are relatively egalitarian. However limiting and intellectually repressive parenthood may be in America, it's much more restrictive for mothers in traditionalist gender-segregated societies like Japan, Italy and Greece. That comes out in childbirth statistics: women in Japan, Italy and Greece have simply stopped having children. In other societies with gender-segregated traditional family roles, like Vietnam, higher birthrates result from intense Confucian pro-natalist social pressures that leave women extremely unhappy, and birthrates there are likely to drop rapidly as women achieve greater social independence. American women, meanwhile, are still choosing to have kids, and that's partly because they can continue to have careers, and their male partners share at least some of the child-rearing duties.

On the other hand, as Ms Senior writes, America's lack of paid parental leave or subsidised day care makes parenthood much more stressful than in similarly wealthy France or the Scandinavian countries. In part, the anxiety and over-protectiveness of American parents criticised in Lenore Skenazy's FreeRangeKids blog stems simply from the absence of such support systems. But it's always seemed to me that this anxiety is also driven in part by high levels of inequality. In a society with a large gap between excellent and inadequate schools, parents face tremendous psychological pressure to raise and educate their kids the "right" way. In societies with a more egalitarian distribution, parents don't reproach themselves so much for laying off the kids a bit.

This, I believe, also explains why in highly egalitarian Australia, child-rearing consists of turning the tykes loose barefoot in the backyard for 12 years and hurling them slabs of meat thrice daily. They seem to turn out pretty well, actually.

For jab2: Paul the octopus picks Spain in the final.

Octopus Paul, soccer oracle of the German aquarium Sea Life, predicts a victory for Spain in the World Cup final between the Netherlands and Spain. (Roland Weihrauch / EPA)

From http://www.latimes.com/sports/la-sp-world-cup-notes-20100710,0,2593817.story:
Reporting from Johannesburg, South Africa — Paul the octopus has spoken — sort of — and he says Spain will win Sunday's World Cup final.

The mind-bending mollusk, who has yet to miss a World Cup prediction, ignored a tank marked with a Dutch flag Friday and instead descended on one with a Spanish flag, reaching in to grab a mussel and devour it as TV cameras from Germany, Great Britain, Taiwan and elsewhere looked on.
CNN says it's probably just trained behavior:
"Looking at the series of predictions, it appears that this may have been a learned task," said Dr. Jean Boal, a marine biology professor at Millersville University in Pennsylvania.

Boal, who has worked with cephalopods for more than 20 years, believes that Paul's first pick may have just been pure luck and that he has been picking the German flag since his Euro 2008 days because the sea creature has learned to do so.

"It's a simple form of conceptual learning," she said.
Nonetheless, there have been death threats from crazy fans. Chris Matyszczyk at CNET reports:
Unfortunately, when it came to last Wednesday's semifinal, he chose Spain over his home nation. He was right. But this, naturally, has led to an outpouring of socially-networked angst and bile, demanding his instant and painful demise.

Just one symbol of this feeling is a German Facebook group called "Die Krake Must Weg", which seems to be something of an opposite feeling to the English "The Kraken Wakes".

Yes, some outrageously heinous Germans want him kaput. Indeed, even FIFA.com, a site as pure as the intentions of all its referees, reported its own concern about Paul's fate.

It quoted German newspaper Der Western as saying there are "a host of comments on Facebook, Twitter...suggesting Paul should be fried, barbecued, or turned into a seafood salad or paella." Some, FIFA.com noted, have gone further in their abject cruelty. They want to throw him into a shark tank.

But it isn't just the Germans. Argentina, which was destroyed by Germany, has also turned to Facebook demanding the pulpo should be pulped.

His handler, though, is confident that any Web-based nastiness will not ultimately afflict Paul's well-being. He told the Telegraph: "There are always people who want to eat our octopus, but he is not shy and we are here to protect him as well. He will survive."

In an attempt to gain a stay of execution, Paul has predicted that Germany will win the entirely unimportant third place game against Uruguay on Saturday.

However, all those who are offering socially-networked death threats to this charming and highly intuitive octopus might bear in mind that he's only expected to live until the ripe old age of 3. And he's already 2.