June 12, 2008

I have a helpful neighbour who likes to send me these snippets: sometimes uplifting, sometimes enlightening ... and sometimes crying out for rebuttal. History is re-written by the survivors.

TO ALL THE KIDS WHO SURVIVED the 1930's, 40's, 50's, 60's and 70's!!

Which omits the voices of all those who did not survive their childhoods, a much higher ratio then than now (in western countries, at least).

First, we survived being born to mothers who smoked and/or drank while they were pregnant. They took aspirin, ate blue cheese dressing, tuna from a can, and didn't get tested for diabetes.

Postpartum and perinatal mortality has fallen steadily in western countries, a direct consequence of better access to an ever improving health care. (This may start to change as resistant bacteria take up permanent residence in hospitals and as the wealth ratios start to erode access to quality health care for an ever increasing percentage of the population.) Well over ninety percent of modern chemicals have been discovered or invented and come into common usage after World War II, and later it was discovered and continues to be discovered that many of these chemicals can cross the placental barrier. Bioaccumulation was an unknown concept. No childbearing woman of the 1940s carried plutonium and DDT in her body. Today, almost everyone does.

However, while gestational diabetes is a different disease from types I and II diabetes, it does correlate with many of the same lifestyle factors that are associated with type II diabetes. No form of diabetes was unknown or particularly rare in the early postwar decades, but it is true enough that both gestational and type II diabetes are on the rise.

Then after that trauma, we were put to sleep on our tummies in baby cribs covered with bright colored lead-based paints.

And some children died, their voices unheard in this tribute. At lower levels exposure to lead is linked to decreases in developmental intelligence, as measured by modern abstract parameters ... but perhaps our modern educational standards were not nearly so all-important then, when horse-sense was seen as more valuable than a sheepskin diploma.

We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, doors or cabinets and when we rode our bikes, we had no helmets, not to mention the risks we took hitchhiking.

Hitchhiking would not have been nearly so prevalent during the 1940s and early 1950s, given the much smaller number of cars and the much higher percentage of the population which lived in rural areas or very small towns. Fewer cars means fewer car-bicycle collisions, easily the most dangerous of bicycle accidents. Childhood poisonings did happen, but the most damaging of early household products would have been aspirin and lye, both of which are not easily confused with other items, neither of which is particularly pleasant to the taste. Today's medications are often sweetened, and often look startlingly like candy.

As infants and children, we would ride in cars with no car seats, booster seats, seat belts or air bags. Riding in the back of a pick up on a warm day was always a special treat.

With far fewer cars on the roads, and at much slower rates of speed. There are a few places even today where time flows more slowly and bicycles far outnumber cars, and in one of those places I used to ride in the back of a pickup truck as well. Even so, for as long as there have been motor vehicles there have been deaths and cripplings caused by them. Remember, the earliest fatal air accident dates back to the Wright brothers.

We drank water from the garden hose and NOT from a bottle.

In some ways tap water is worse now, in some ways better. In the 1940s and 50s, parasitic infection was endemic; today, where proper sanitation exists, it is rare. However, few waters in the world remain even moderately free of chemical contamination. An irony of choosing to drink from a bottle instead of a garden hose is that likely as not, the bottle contains tap water ... further contaminated by the plastic of the bottle itself.

We shared one soft drink with four friends, from one bottle and NO ONE actually died from this.

Not during the many disease outbreaks and epidemics, I think. Outside those events, a group of friends close enough to share a soft drink are also likely close enough to share a common bacterial/viral pool. Curiously, this is no longer the case, for more reasons than can reasonably be listed here -- but they mostly come down to friends no longer sharing the same environment through the greater part of their day.

We ate cupcakes, white bread and real butter and drank Kool-aid made with sugar, but we weren't overweight because, WE WERE ALWAYS OUTSIDE PLAYING!

Can't argue with this. In fact, modern white bread is healthier than the original WonderBread, because the 1950s drive to refinement is now balanced with enrichment of the core ingredients, making it far less likely that children on a bread-and-butter diet would suffer from vitamin deficiency diseases. And why did sugar become the demon, long before the diabetes rise? It takes so few calories of sugar to sweeten so much!

We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on. No one was able to reach us all day.And we were OK. We would spend hours building our go-carts out of scraps and then ride down the hill, only to find out we forgot the brakes. After running into the bushes a few times, we learned to solve the problem.

Obviously the writer was not among the many children of those times who held jobs or were apprenticed. Even today, rural children commonly have a measure of responsibility unknown to their city-dwelling counterparts.

We did not have Playstations, Nintendo's, X-boxes, no video games at all, no 150 channels on cable, no video movies or DVD's, no surround-sound or CD's, no cell phones, no personal computers, no Internet or chat rooms. WE HAD FRIENDS and we went outside and found them!

More than half the children in the western world don't have most of these things either. Of the ones who do, they also have the time to use them ... something that they would seem to have in common with the writer. What they don't have in common with the writer is a stable growing-up environment. The average period between household moves is now less than five years. If friends are made during those five years, what happens when the family moves away?

We fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones and teeth and there were no lawsuits from these accidents.

How many children grow up today with a decent climbable tree within walking distance of their home? Very few accident lawsuits involve trees. In fact, by far the greater number of injuries generally don't lead to lawsuits. I have been bitten by dogs and fallen off horses, and it would never occur to me to sue ... but then again I have never been bitten by a dog or fallen off a horse where the greater part of the responsibility was not mine. If a person determines to raise the big hunter cats on their property without taking measures to confine them properly, and someone outside the property were hurt by one of those cats, I would expect the law to hold the cat owner accountable. However, private lawsuits are the logical outgrowth of societal structures which translate personal value into monetary terms; and in one form or another, from the diyeh of Islam to the wergild of the Vikings, they have been around as long as traceable human society.

We ate worms and mud pies made from dirt, and the worms did not live in us forever.

Well, the earthworms didn't ...

We were given BB guns for our 10th birthdays, made up games with sticks and tennis balls and, although we were told it would happen, we did not poke out very many eyes.

Accidents have happened and will always happen. In a responsible gun society, gun education will minimise accidents.

We rode bikes or walked to a friend's house and knocked on the door or rang the bell, or just walked in and talked to them!

Presumably the friends didn't live miles and cities away; and there would always be a non-working parent at home.

Little League had tryouts and not everyone made the team. Those who didn't had to learn to deal with disappointment. Imagine that!!

Even where they are valued, the prestige of team sports is not granted to everyone. Then, the division between those who belonged to the in-crowd and those who did not was based on merit (which to some extent depended on free time available for practice, and thus implicitly demographic). Today, the division is overtly between those who can and those who can't afford it.

The idea of a parent bailing us out if we broke the law was unheard of. They actually sided with the law!

Before Watergate, authority was far more trusted. Still, I somehow doubt the eye of the law was ever entirely demographic-neutral. As one example, ask how fairly the law treated black victims of white criminals. Do you side with a law that does not side with you?

These generations have produced some of the best risk-takers, problem solvers and inventors ever! The past 50 years have been an explosion of innovation and new ideas.

Message to the new generations by the majority baby-boomers: why try? You won't ever measure up to us. You can't even outvote us!

We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and we learned HOW TO DEAL WITH IT ALL!

*cough* Actually, that generation didn't. Rather, it discovered how to borrow credit against future generations: societal, environmental, economic. Before World War I, the much more common pattern was to invest in future generations, rather than to leave behind a growing list of problems for future generations to deal with.

If YOU are one of them CONGRATULATIONS!

You might want to share this with others who have had the luck to grow up as kids, before the lawyers and the government regulated so much of our lives for our own good. While you are at it, forward it to your kids so they will know how brave (and lucky) their parents were.

Kind of makes you want to run through the house with scissors, doesn't it?!

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