A Nine Year-Old With an Uzi?

On the news that a nine year-old girl accidentally killed a shooting instructor with an Uzi submachine gun, I could only sit back in slack-jawed wonder and shake my head in literal disbelief.  Seriously, who in the hell even considered that this would be a good idea?  The range owner?  The parents?  The dead instructor?  Certainly, common sense died well before the child took the weapon and it’s with that that the questions now arise once again about gun control.  But even before you get to the philosophical questions about the right to bear arms in America, what are some of the common sense questions that a parent should ask before allowing their child to handle a firearm, if at all?

As a full disclosure, I am a gun owner and have had each of my three children undergo basic pistol training with a trained instructor.

Re-setting the Home Page

As schools across the country struggle with budget issues, the majority are looking squarely at one line item for control – paper.  So information is now being made available via other means and it’s probably in your best interest to reset the browser’s home page to the school district website.  Kids still come home from school on the first day with a backpack full of paperwork and parents are used to sitting down and culling through the chaff to get to those single pieces of wheat which really do concern them, but it’s afterwards that the paper usage is being truly controlled to save money.  The upshot is that if you expect to see the information in the kids’ backpacks, then you’re liable to miss something important.

It was at a different event the other evening that someone shared a statistic that her spouse had picked up at a local school district staff meeting: if the district could cut it’s paper cost by 10%, the savings would be sufficient to fund the salaries and benefits of two additional teachers.  So the hunt for eliminating paper usage continues in an era of budgetary constraints and it’s showing up here – or not, actually – in the household.  School calendars sent to each household with a full complement of activities and events?  Gone.  Paper reminders from advisers?  Gone.  School planners for each student?  Actually not, since the much-smaller and less costly planner was a train-wreck for kids who don’t have the capacity to write in very small print; this led to the re-introduction of the older and larger planners.  If the schools are going to stress planning skills, then they have to at least give them something with which to work and the less-costly alternative was simply not functional.

The godsend however, is that the information is now being made available online and readily available, provided that the parents are willing to keep up with it.  Site tabs lead to school lunch menus and athletic calendars, directories and a full gamut of district policies.  Student and district achievements are touted routinely.  But the real value of putting the district site on the browser homepage is in those announcements that make you appreciate the heads up, such as the announcement that Youngest’s school would be the site for after-school SWAT team training.  Had I not seen the article yesterday morning, I would have been mightily surprised when one of Youngest’s friends told me last night that the SWAT team was there during his after-school football practice, a tragic training necessity given the times in which we live. 

So for the next number of years, the browser’s home page will be set to the school district’s site and the only question will be with what is it replaced when we’ve finally got the kids through the educational pipeline.  And for Middle, who might read this: whatever it is, it won’t be AARP.

Exposing the Kids to Reality

It was the other day that Youngest, now with a PS3, asked for permission to buy the Call-of-Duty: Black Ops game and my response was a firm no.  I understand that he’s played the game elsewhere, will certainly play it again at some friend’s house and that’s alright.  But I’ve made it clear that I won’t be purchasing such a game because I want him to understand that there’s a grim reality behind the virtual sterility of the two-dimensional game, a world of pain and loss that only the combat-initiated can truly understand.  It’s a function of my own father, who returned home from the first year of the Korean War a changed man who sold his hunting rifles and swore to neither fire a weapon nor sleep outside again.  It was this desire to teach the reality that led to a Swedish father’s trek with his two sons when they asked for a Call-of-Duty game.

This father took his two sons on a journey to the Middle East in early 2014 to show them the reality of warfare.  Much of the game – like other first-person shooter games – takes place in an urban wasteland of ruins and debris.  But it’s one thing to move among the virtual debris and fully another to see the rubble around you and recognize that it doesn’t go away as it does when the television is turned off; let alone the notion that the people there have to live among it with the knowledge that to them, that brick pile might at one time have been called home.  It’s an admittedly over-the-top exercise, an expensive lesson that does however, prove his commitment to his personal beliefs.  In the course of the two week excursion, they visited a refugee camp and had the figurative impact of young people paralyzed by taking rubber bullets to the spine with the commentary that these youngsters, their own age, would never again be able to engage in any of their favorite sports and activities.

This father does understand that he and his wife are not the only adults having a conversation with their sons.  The reality is that the kids – all of them – are having an ongoing conversation with the media/entertainment complex and honestly, it’s occurring more readily with many than with the parents.  The great majority of fathers in today’s world spend less than a half hour each day in any meaningful interaction with the kids while the kids themselves are having a good six hours daily in some interaction with the media/entertainment complex.  That complex can be seductive and fun, requiring nothing of the kids apart from their brand loyalty and ongoing viewership.  The complex has no other role in raising the child and demands nothing, holds none accountable for grades or chores and will never, ever have to clean up the pieces when the child or teen does something that goes spectacularly, explosively wrong.  The only surefire option to competing with the complex is to go full-tilt Amish and for the great majority, that’s neither a valid choice nor even an option; what is required at the minimum is the understanding that the other conversations exist and more importantly, the ongoing effort to continually engage the kids whenever and wherever the opportunity arises.

We’ve had similar opportunities for mind-expansion in this household, although not to the extent of Mr. Helgegren.  The first was the decision to let Youngest watch Saving Private Ryan as a third grader.  I knew from conversations that he was playing Black Ops at friends’ houses, yet wanted him to have a sense of the reality of war and the Spielberg film was the closest that I could conceivably get short of taking the kids to an actual war zone.  The effect was what I hoped as he was clearly moved at the grinding violence of the film’s opening invasion sequence and it served as the departure point for further, later conversations.  The other major occurrence was the decision – only a few weeks after viewing the film – to take the kids to Athens’ Syntagma Square during the much awaited – and saved for – trip to Europe.  The demonstrations that year took off on the first leg of our trip to Rome and I made repeated visits on the hotel computer to the US State Department website to determine whether there had been a travel advisory issued for Athens.  Between that and touching base with the tour company’s guides in Athens, we decided to go ahead with that leg of the trip and while it was safe, it was eye-opening for the kids to see militarized riot police and to do so a full three years before the rest of America saw them in Ferguson, Missouri.

And that’s the point of exposing the kids to the reality.  It’s important that we as parents act in what has become an almost counter-cultural fashion because the culture now promotes behaviors and norms that are crass at best and detrimental at worst to the well-being of our kids.  There is liable to be blowback to our efforts at conversation and you might even wish to book tickets for a flight to Syria, one-way in the worst moments.  But understand that if you keep chipping away at it, keep making an effort, keep finding ways to expose the kids to reality, then there’s a decent chance that they’re going to actually listen and adjust accordingly.  Letting the kids’ reality be shaped by the media/entertainment complex is setting them up for future heartache, unprepared for what they actually see when the blinders come off and they have to live in the real world.

PracticalDad Price Index, August 2014:  Food Inflation Picking Up Again

The pricing was done for the August 2014 PracticalDad Price Index and a review shows that while the cost of the 47 item grocery marketbasket declined slightly, from July’s 110.20 to August’s 110.14 (November 2010 = 100), the Food-Only Sub-index of 37 foodstuff items rose by almost a full half point, from July’s 113.22 to August’s 113.71 (November 2010 = 100).  The upshot is that, when you consider the 37 foodstuff items alone, the cost of these has risen 13.71% since November 2010 and a full half percentage point in the course of a single month.

The foodstuffs (for a full listing of the PracticalDad Price Index marketbasket, see here) did not occur across the board however.  Produce and Dairy items decreased very slightly, but the rise was driven by a 2.6% increase in the price of meat – ground beef, hot dogs, eggs, tuna, cooked deli ham, chicken and fish sticks – from the previous month.  This is simply showing the retail effects of the supply issues in the economy as the national beef herds have decreased in size to levels not seen in 60 years and pork herds have been hit by PED, which has led to culling to control the disease.

One final comment on the results.  Over a year ago, I began to follow what I refer to as the spread and it’s this which is the final column in the chart.  The idea behind the spread is to simply note the differential between the rise in food prices versus the non-food prices within the basket.  What is notable about this is that the food prices have again been increasing and the spread between the Full Index and the Food-Only Index is rising, showing how food costs are now outpacing and driving the basket.

The results for August and the previous three months follow.


PracticalDad Price Index – August 2014
Month Total Index Food-Only Index Spread
5/14 109.85 111.54 1.69
6/14 110.53 112.65 2.12
7/14 110.20 113.22 3.02
8/14 110.14 113.71 3.57