Monday, December 3, 2007

Uh Oh

We've noted that Mike Huckabee's chances of winning the Republican nomination depend largely on his views on illegal immigration. This article doesn't make us sanguine about those chances:

Groups that support a crackdown on illegal aliens haven't settled on their champion in the race for the White House, but there's little doubt which Republican scares them most - former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

"He was an absolute disaster on immigration as governor," said Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA, a group that played a major role in rallying the phone calls that helped defeat this year's Senate immigration bill. "Every time there was any enforcement in his state, he took the side of the illegal aliens."

As Mr. Huckabee rises in the polls, his opponents are beginning to take shots at him on immigration. Just as problematic for the former Arkansas governor, however, is that the independent interest groups that track the issue are also giving him the once-over, and don't like what they see.

"Huckabee is the guy who scares the heck out of me," said Peter Gadiel, president of 9-11 Families for a Secure America, a group instrumental in fighting for the REAL ID Act that sets federal standards for driver's licenses.

Some leaders said Mr. Huckabee reminds them of President Bush, who pushed for legalization of illegal aliens and a new supply of foreign guest workers, despite his base calling for better border security and enforcement.

"I would say that Huckabee comes from the same perspective on the issue that George W. Bush came from - that out of a strong sense of compassion, he tries to identify with someone who comes to the United States, even if they came illegally," said Steven A. Camarota, research director for the Center for Immigration Studies.

Huckabee gives a defense of his position in the article.


Failure to Launch

My final column in the series I've been doing for the local paper was on a book, Boys Adrift, that I posted on about a month ago and appeared in yesterday's paper. I'd like to link to it but I can't find it on the their web site so here it is:

In the movie Failure to Launch, Matthew McConaughy plays a 35 year-old man named "Trip" still living with beleaguered parents who are growing increasingly desperate to have him leave the house. Unfortunately, McConaughy is in no hurry to give up this comfortable arrangement, and so the parents hire the services of a professional "interventionist" (played by Sarah Jessica Parker) to woo him out of the nest.

The movie is humorous, but Leonard Sax, a family physician and research psychologist, takes the theme seriously. In his book Boys Adrift he cites considerable evidence to support the claim that there's a growing and worrisome epidemic of boys and young men who seem listless, alienated from school, and unmotivated toward doing the things that one must do to achieve success in life. It's not that these boys aren't bright, many of them certainly are. It's not that they're completely unmotivated, many of them are highly driven, though not toward goals that parents and teachers would prefer or toward goals suitable for meaningful employment, marriage or fatherhood.

Sax assumes that boys themselves haven't changed much in the last thirty years but that their environment has. He discusses five changes in particular that have had a profound effect on young males and which he believes to be largely responsible for the lassitude many of them exhibit. Not every boy is affected to the same extent by these five factors nor do the five affect every boy, but, Sax argues, enough boys are harmed by at least one of them to have created a serious problem for many parents and teachers, not to mention the boys themselves. He concludes the book with some advice as to what parents might do to help their drifting sons.

The five factors Sax discusses are these:

Pedagogical changes: Many schools, Sax maintains, particularly in the early grades K through 2 or 3, are not structured to accommodate the normal need for boys of that age to be running and playing outdoors. Consequently, some boys fall behind early, and develop a dislike for school that they never overcome.

Video games: Sax points out that gaming often takes over a boy's life. He can have success, power, and thrills through video games that other activities can't come close to providing. As a result he's often motivated to do nothing but play the game and this he might do for hours every day to the exclusion of more important activities.

Medications for ADHD: Adderall and Ritalin are often over-prescribed and are now believed, according to Sax, to be damaging to a boy's brain.

Endocrine disruptors: Some of the chemicals which leach out of the clear plastic bottles which package so much of the liquid we drink mimic female hormones. Some scientists believe this might be at least in part responsible for the decline in male fertility in much of the developed world. It has also, Sax suggests, had a number of other side effects harmful to male development.

Revenge of the forsaken gods: Recent generations of boys are unique in our history in that many have grown up without positive male models in their lives to pass on what it means to be a man. They have few masculine heroes and many boys are isolated from older men and surrounded instead only by their peers. Such boys tend to become either "slacker dudes" or they seek to emulate Akon, 50 Cent and other thugs.

Sax doesn't mention this but one reason for the dearth of heroes in some boys' lives is that our media is simply uninterested in telling the stories of the heroism occurring almost daily in Iraq and Afghanistan. We read and hear plenty about the flaws and foibles of our sports and movie stars, but we rarely see specific accounts of the tremendous courage and toughness displayed by average young men who do absolutely astonishing things under the unimaginable strains of combat. Boys need to hear those stories, and our media are failing our society by refusing to publicize them.

There's much more to each of these five factors than what I've sketched above, and the material Sax lays out for the reader in each of the chapters devoted to them is often fascinating.

Perhaps the most interesting section is Chapter 6 in which Sax shares e-mails and other correspondence he has received from parents, girlfriends, and wives of boys and young men who exhibit the characteristics he describes in the book. The e-mails are riveting in their pathos and their tragic accounts of wasted lives.

If you're a parent, grandparent, teacher, or one who simply cares about boys, Boys Adrift is a must-read. It may be the best Christmas present you can give a parent of a boy you care about.