Would you please pass the grain of salt?

manners6Does the NYT publish stories, such as this one about providing “etiquette” lessons for upper-middle-class children, purely to provide fodder for the eye-rolling among us? It’s hard to come to any other conclusion, given the highly mockable content.

Obviously as a cranky and childless old queen, I have no experience with and therefore plenty of insight into the raising of children (to quote Fran Lebowitz, I am “familiar with reproduction only insofar as it applies to a too-recently-fabricated Louis XV armoire…”) – and I will say this: I have no issue with the idea of etiquette lessons for children. While the larger purpose of etiquette (or more precisely, good manners) is to be respectful of others and to do what you can to put others at ease, there are certainly a variety of helpful rules surrounding the use of eating utensils  or the writing of thank-you notes, for example, that go a long way to rounding out the education of any child.

But what is apparently being taught to these children (and for a pretty penny, I might add) is simply how to behave themselves with a bare minimum of restraint – which is far different than “etiquette.” Now, I could go on and on about what the hell do these parents expect when they keep the TV on during dinner. And  think that it’s AOK to ignore those around them in favor of texting some inconsequential message composed of indecipherable acronyms and emoticons. And that paying a few hundred bucks to some self-professed (and, I’m guessing here, not especially qualified) “expert” with a penchant for groan-inducing wordplay (“Etiquette Manor”? Just no.) to spend a couple of hours teaching your kids that it’s impolite to scream and yell in the middle of a restaurant. And that none of this is a substitute for a parent teaching through both instruction and example that different situations require different behavior. And I guess to some extent I already have.

Instead, I’d just like to call out a couple of the gems served up by these “experts.”

“These days, you have to teach kids about return on investment,” said Robin Wells, the founder of Etiquette Manor in Coral Gables, Fla [ed.: Florida. Of course]… So, even as she imparts lessons about using forks and the importance of looking the waiter in the eye, she does so by framing the lessons in a constructively selfish way for the children.

Yes, that’s perfect. Don’t be polite or respectful or gracious because it’s appropriate or kind or a way of making others feel at ease. Do it for the “return on investment.” Seriously, parents, please steer clear of any expert who talks about ROI to your kids – they are not helping. And I guess “constructively selfish” is better than plain old “selfish”? Yeah, I’m not buying that either.

When it comes to children, she said, long gone are the days when you could tell them that they have to behave a certain way “just because.”

Incorrect. I have verified this very fact with people who are actually raising children. And by “verified”, I mean I have speculated about the responses of my friends who are parents.

“Say the words ‘manners’ or ‘etiquette’ to kids these days, and they run the other direction,” (Faye de Muyshondt, the founder of Socialsklz) said. She prefers teaching the children that they are “building the brand called ‘you.’ ”

No. NO. N-O.  Do not ever teach children that they are “building the brand called ‘you’” – the likely result will be your very own little Patrick (or Patricia) Bateman. Or, even worse, a child who grows up and willingly chooses to pursue a career in marketing.

Also? If someone names their etiquette learnin’ company “Socialsklz,” that should tell you just about everything you need to know about this person’s actual grasp of the subject matter.

The only person in the article who comes off reasonably well is one Joseph Kowal, owner of Chenery Park restaurant here in SF, where there is a weekly “family night” and children are expected to comport themselves with some civility.

He recalled one child who wouldn’t settle down, and he threatened to tape the child’s mouth. The child told him to go ahead and try.

“I went to my office, got some blue painter’s tape, came back and ripped a piece off,” he said. The kid piped down.

Now that is a teachable moment.

Oh, STFU, Ross.

Christ, what an asshole

In the ongoing competition to see which NYTimes columnist I can’t stand the most, the insufferable Ross Douthat once again grabs the lead from the always annoying David Brooks – though not by much.

In yesterday’s commentary, Douthat trotted out the Republican talking point, which compared Romney’s 47% comments to Obama’s “guns or religion” “gaffe” during the 2008 campaign. Frankly, the only thing the two commentaries have in common is that they were perceived as gaffes. But to portray them as similar in any way beyond that is intellectually dishonest. Douthat himself even seems to acknowledge this by linking to William Saletan’s excellent piece on Slate that points out the specific and glaring differences – namely, that Obama’s comments were part of a conversation in which he acknowledged not just the difficulty but also the necessity of appealing to blue collar, disaffected voters; Romney has simply written off half of the voting population as undeserving moochers – not to mention that his trope about them not paying taxes is a bald-faced lie, since he conveniently overlooks the payroll tax that all working people pay.

Even more enraging though is Douthat’s conclusion that “elite” Democrats AND Republicans hate the working classes, just for different reasons. According to him:

What does it say that rich Democrats can’t fathom why working class Americans might look askance at an elite that’s presided over a long slow social breakdown and often regards their fundamental religious convictions as obstacles to progress?

First of all, I don’t know what “long slow social breakdown” he’s referring to. If it includes things like higher divorce rates, increased infant mortality, teen pregnancies and the like, these are “red state” problems. That is, the states who claim to be most concerned about “social” issues and “family values” are the ones doing everything they can to prevent women from having access to family planning and birth control services; with the highest rates of divorce; who are willing to take to the streets in protest over the VERY IDEA that all people should have access to healthcare; who insist that “abstinence” is the only method of birth control that should be taught. So, it’s unclear to me how this “social breakdown” can be pinned on Democratic “elites.” (Also, nice use of the Republican-approved code-word “elite,” Ross…)

Or is he making a veiled comment about opposition to gay marriage? Or the teaching of creationism? Or climate change denial? Because these are but three of many, many examples I can point to where it’s a fact that the “fundamental religious convictions” are obstacles not only to progress, along with the practice of fact-based science, but to the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that are foundations of the American form of government. When there is a portion of the population that believes that their religious views trump the views of other religions or of the Constitution itself, then yes, they are demonstrably obstacles to progress in this country. Democrats don’t suggest that anyone shouldn’t follow the religion of their choice – all we ask is that the laws of this country remain secular. If you don’t support same-sex marriage, don’t get gay married! If you are opposed to abortion, don’t get one! But don’t use your religion to instruct the rest of us on how we can or cannot live our own lives within the boundaries of secular law in this country.

Of course, none of this is much of surprise from Douthat, given that his most recent book would steer us back to a Eisenhower-era of Christianity, when it was “a driver of assimilation and a guarantor of social peace, and its prophetic role, as a curb against our national excesses and a constant reminder of our national ideals.” To paraphrase my comments about that, “Oh brother.”

Oh, and just to be clear, I’m not giving David Brooks a pass either. I was actually somewhat impressed with his column, “Thurston Howell Romney”, if only for the title. And he goes on about how Romney’s remarks further drive home the fact that he is completely out of touch with the vast majority of the American population, portraying retirees, the poor, veterans and other members of the 47% as freeloading victims.

But Brooks can’t leave well enough alone and ends with this observation re. Romney: “Personally, I think he’s a kind, decent man who says stupid things because he is pretending to be something he is not — some sort of cartoonish government-hater.”

Really? A man who is willing to say anything, to adopt any position, to pretend to be something he is not, all in service to getting himself elected to the presidency? That is not only unkind and indecent, it is craven, disgusting and un-American.

Headline of the Day

Really, NYTimes? Though I guess it’s better just to write the headline and let the chips fall where they may – the jokes just write themselves.

We can’t have that now, can we?

Sources at the White House indicate off-the-record that Elizabeth Warren will indeed be “unofficially” leading the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  According to the NYT, the unofficial nature of her appointment will avoid a likely bruising confirmation hearing in the Senate – because heaven forbid a fierce advocate of consumers should lead an agency charged with protecting consumers.

Unsurprisingly, the financial services industry is not pleased:

But she has drawn fire from financial institutions for her persistent attacks on abusive, deceptive and unfair lending practices.

And I see their point – I mean really, if the banks and lending institutions are forced to curtail these practices, how will they continue to rake in money with which to line their own pockets? Those poor, marginalized bankers – always gettin’ the shaft from The Man.

Yes, that is unfortunate.

Interesting article in the NYTimes about “ethnic theme parks” in China. Apparently, they provide an opportunity for the Han majority to see some of the traditional ways of life of some of China’s many ethnic minorities…  This was my favorite paragraph:

The most famous park, the Nationalities Park in Beijing, is a combination of museum and fairground. Ethnic workers from across China dress up in their native costumes for mostly Han tourists. (For a while, English signs there read “Racist Park,” an unfortunate translation of the Chinese name.)

Theme Parks Give Chinese a Peek at Life for Minorities

Well, I’m glad we got that straightened (ahem) out…

Correction from the NYTimes:

An appraisal on Dec. 31 about David Levine, the caricaturist for The New York Review of Books who died on Dec. 29, may have left the incorrect impression that the Russian writer Aleksandr Pushkin, the subject of one of Mr. Levine’s drawings, was homosexual. The description of Pushkin as “a gay man” was a reference to his demeanor, not his sexual orientation.

NYTimes via The Awl