Wednesday, September 07, 2005
"Honey, Have Some Smokes. Do You Like Smokes? I Like Smokes."
I'm a big fan of Knowing Stuff. I prefer it greatly to Not Knowing Stuff. There are practical advantages to Knowing Stuff, like how to change a tire or how to swim or what to do in case of a nuclear detonation.* Knowing that type of stuff can save your life, which is great and definitely beats the alternative.

There is a whole 'nother category of knowledge that is a little less obviously useful, a little more esoteric; the type of knowledge that will only do you any good on Trivia Night at the kind of bar you might find in a strip mall.

This is America. We're a service society. We spend all our time doing our stuff so we must rely on other people to do everything else for us in the name of convenience like make our dinner quickly and inexpensively and then hand it to us through a window as we drive past, hopefully never having to come to a complete stop.

The same applies to Stuff We Need To Know. While the rest of us are out busting our humps doing yeoman's work folding sweaters at The Gap, there is a whole entire sector of society devoted to developing and disseminating all the Stuff We Need To Know. These people are known as virgins. Did I say "virgins"? I meant "scholars". They are scholars.

Every once in a while the results of some scholars' work will make its way into the mainstream and can actually be of some benefit. Like when we all found out that if we eat eggs, we will die. Until a couple of weeks later when we all had to eat six eggs a day to stave off certain and immediate death after the revised study (sponsored by your local Mega GloboChicken Farming Conglomerate Happy Family Inc.) came out and we all changed our habits accordingly.

The best kind of free-standing knowledge, the Knowledge For Knowledge's Sake, is rare and ephemeral. Perfect conditions have to exist in order to create it, like anti-matter or cold fusion. Instead of expensive equipment and purpose-built laboratories, Impractical Knowledge is born out of a perfetly timed nexus of Prestigious Universities, Lots of Free Time Between Useful Projects and a Big Fat Pile of Grant Money That Needs To Be Spent Before The End of the Fiscal Quarter.

Such were the conditions that brought us this study about very young children, alcohol and cigarettes. It's an absolutely perfect study as it tells us almost nothing at all, but does it in a very thoughtful and scholarly way. A sample of some of the very serious findings:

-Children of parents who smoke can recognize cigarettes.
-Children of parents who drink can recognize alcohol.

It doesn't say anything in any way about how early recognition is predictive of later behavior with regard to cigarettes or alcohol, either casually or in terms of addiction. No, that might actually be helpful.

What the study basically points out is that kids who have seen things can point them out if they see them again later. Even as an adult, I can do the same thing. For instance, I recognize stop signs 7 out of 10 times.

Oh! And also! Kids copy things their parents do.

Where I argue with the study is that they gave the kids dolls to "shop" for so we could get all concerned and gasp-y when the kids picked out a fifth of Johnny Walker Red and a pack of Kools for Barbie. I think it's important to note that the kids weren't buying for themselves. This tells less that kids will internalize behavior and apply it to themselves and more that they would throw a really bitchin' doll party.

One thing this study does is it makes me feel good about myself as a father. I know my kids are watching me closely and will learn from what they see from me. From my example I know my kids will grow up knowing how to swear profusely and play a kick-ass game of Freecell, often both at the same time.

I'm glad the people who put this study together were able to burn off a little piece of their government funding and/or private endowments before the tax consequences kicked in, but really, in all honesty, this has to be the least illuminating study since Cal Tech's 1997 4,000 page report "Earthquakes: Shaky or Not Shaky?" or anything ever published by the University of Colorado's Ursine Arboreal Fecalogy Department.

This post on the Narcissus Scale: 5.6


*= lie in a gutter and cover yourself with wet newspaper, thus rendering yourself impervious to all forms of radiation. I don't know why it has to be a gutter, but there must be something about it. Nothing seems to be able to kill homeless people. Something about gutter-living makes you immortal.


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