The Hess Report

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A Better Idea for Kids' Birthday Parties 

Maddie just had a rocknologous birthday party at Lucky Strike Lanes (Upscale Bowling!), courtesy of my brother-in-law, who is the Executive Chef at their Pittsburgh location. It really was a blast - way more kids than we had room for at a home-hosted party, nice atmosphere, and, well, bowling!

I think that Maddie had ten (eleven? twelve? Help me out, oh gracious editor!) of her friends there, plus a couple of stragglers. Of course, that meant at least ten presents from friends. Which is just fracking ridiculous.

Now, I understand how it works. Everyone goes to everyone else's birthday party, and the kid gets between six and twelve $10-20 gifts (although it's been creeping upwards lately, due to mommy-competition) from their attending friends. My question: why do we need to do this? It's not like any of these kids, including my own, need this kind of windfall. Most kids that I know today have, in a very literal way, more toys than they know what to do with. It's not like these kids' (including, once again, my own) parents and grandparents don't already shower them with a cornucopia of material wealth on their birthdays.

The kids birthday party is way overplayed. I'm sick of it.

There is word for the gratuitous accumulation of material goods: greed.

But, my kid's not greedy!

Right. Maybe not yet.

Here's the thing. As human beings, there is a vast range of things in which we can find joy and pleasure. Sometimes things are very easy to find joy in: getting a nice present, eating something delicious, having someone pretty fall in love with you. Some things are impossible for most of us to conceive of as joyful, but have perversely brought happiness to some: the industrialized murder of millions of Jews during WWII no doubt brought great happiness to the upper echelons of the Nazi party. But there are a host of other things that can bring us a sense of joy that we have to work for: building a strong family, winning a big game, working hard on a creative endeavor and seeing it pay off.

The easy things are like candy. It's not bad in and of itself, but if that is all you ever eat, you know what will happen. In addition to getting fat, you body will only able to react to an immediate sugar high of new consumption and less able to respond to the finer pleasures of an elegantly prepared meal.

In this area, we are feeding our kids nothing but candy. It's hurting them. And it's wrong.

A Kid's Birthday Party Proposal

Given That:

1. Modern middle class children already have more toys, clothes and material goods than they can conceivably use, and

2. These children will receive absolutely everything they need as gifts from their immediate and extended families on their birthdays and other gift giving holidays, and

3. We have a duty to teach our children to extract joy from life in ways other than the most simple and immediate,

I propose that:

1. All further kid's birthday party invitations contain the phrase (adapted appropriately): "In lieu of purchasing a present for (Maddie/Billy/Rashad), please have your child bring a (fleece blanket/pair of mittens/x cans of soup) that (Maddie/Billy/Rashad) will take to (local outreach charity) for donation."

2. A moment is taken to at the party to explain to the kids where the donations will go, and to thank them for helping.

3. Any presents that an enterprising parent ties to slip through (I just wanted her to have something to open!) will be retained, unopened, and donated to a local church's Christmas gift drive.

4. The parents take the birthday child to the local outreach center (if it's in a safe neighborhood), and let the child personally carry (if it's not too heavy) and donate the items.

Could our local North Hills Community Outreach have used $200 worth of blankets, hats and mittens more than Maddie needed some new toys? You're damned right, they could have. How many more parties will Maddie and Lucy go to in the coming year? Seven? Eight? Could the NHCO use that $100 worth of food more than the party kids could use a fairy coloring set or another action figure? The answer is obvious.

There are parents who will say: "But my kid loves that part of the party!" Well, they love candy, too, but should you let them gorge themselves sick on it? Right.

And this isn't to say that long-time playmates or a kid's best friend can't give them a birthday present. They can. But a present from a best friend will mean so much more when given and received apart from the wild excesses of a kid's party, don't you think?

So this idea of mine... just try it. Kids, unless they've already been spoiled by this kind of greed, are incredibly reasonable about this sort of thing and actually like the thought that they are helping people less fortunate than them. If your kid balks at this notion (and I mean, really really pitches a fit), then you need to ask yourself "What have I done?" And if mommy-competition (a scientifically documented fact, by the way) kicks in and kids start bringing two blankets instead of one, then all the better.

Please try it. If you have kids and think this is a good idea, I encourage you to send a link to this post to other parents you know who might find it interesting. I'm pushing for it at our house. I'll let you know what happens.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Mother Finds Child and Friend Dead; Video Games Clearly Responsble 

Okay, that title is over the top. The actual headline from WTAE News reads:

Mom Finds Son, Friend Dead; Video-Game Dispute Blamed

Hmmm. Not much better, really.

Full story here:

Funny, but after reading that, I missed the part where the Video-Game Dispute took on corporeal form and killed these men. Maybe I'll go back and read it again...

Just a minute...

Nope. Still don't see it. If disputes like that were really to blame, we'd have millions of murders like this every year. But we don't. You have to love how the reporter also refers to the nasty crew as teenagers. Technically accurate, but certainly giving a false impression. Two of the three involved weren't even minors, they were 18 and 19 years old. At least one of them had a gun. I guarantee you he didn't buy it from a legal dealer, nor did he have his concealed carry permit. When you read "teenagers" you think 13-16 year olds. Kids. The reporter knows this and is trying to make the story really hit home for us. Bravo!

Also fun is how the police claim (without any kind of stated source) that the three "teens" were friends. Really? When was the last time you shot and killed your friends? I'd be forced to ask the age old parental question: "Sweetie, if they want to shoot you, are they really that good of a friend?"

So let's rewrite that headline, in a way that no news organization would ever see fit to do:

Two Men Dead; Stupid Crazy Idiot Who Can't Tell What's Worth Killing For And What Isn't Blamed

Now that's an honest headline. But it doesn't make anyone think the story might be anything other than the same old stupid crap that we know goes on almost every day in parts of the city like North Braddock, and no one would read it.

What are those reporters smoking?

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Everyone Nose That 

Around 7:40 this morning, I noticed the unmistakable smell of an electrical fire. It was our Indigo digital press, a several hundred thousand dollar piece of equipment. The pressman had already shut the thing down and was on the phone to get a technician out to our shop. The smell was so strong in the prep/data center room where I work that I considered stepping outside until they had the problem resolved.

"Smells just like a smoked power supply," I said.

After the tech had arrived and had a chance to check things out, I popped my head in to see how bad it was. It turned out he needed my help. It seems that Ray (our Indigo technician) can't smell very well. So, he put me to work, climbing all around the machine.

"Smell this," he said, pointing to different exhaust ports and fans. Then, he'd open a panel.

"Smell that."

"Oh yeah? Smell this!" said I, letting rip a gigantic- er, no, that didn't happen.

But he did have me smell a bunch of stuff on the press, trying to find out which component had fried. After a few minutes, I narrowed it down to the cooling fans on a series of power supplies. It's too bad someone didn't suggest smoked power supplies in the first place!

Ray ended up going over the whole machine, but his final diagnosis was, you guessed it, the very power supplies my nose had singled out.

Now, I'm not saying anyone else couldn't have done it or that I have a super-nose or anything. Just that you don't get asked to do diagnostic sniffing that often, and when you do, it's kind of fun.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Short Synopsis of a Very Big Problem 

Maddie was building a castle out of blocks on the living room floor, and she overheard political!Joy and I talking about Iraq, etc. She asked:

"Is Iraq bad or good now?"

"They're on our team, now." Mental correction. "We're on they're team. We're helping them."

"Then who are we fighting?"

"We're helping Iraq fight two other countries with bad governments: Syria and Iran."

"Why are they fighting Iraq?"

"Because they don't like the new government in Iraq. They're afraid of it, and they're trying to ruin it."

"Oh. And we're helping Iraq against those other guys?"



As I stepped outside, I heard her singing "God Bless America", which I don't know if she's ever even heard at home. Must have learned it at school, so at least it's good for something.