Brain Damage 

And why it's so popular

I just finished watching Katie Couric talk to a brain doctor about what happens if little kids watch too much teevee. News isn't good, Young Mom ... especially if your idea of parenting is Lilo and Stitch for breakfast, Jimmy Neutron all afternoon and an hour of Bill O'Reilly before beddy-bye.

If I have this right, when babies are born, they have a collection of brain parts sitting there in their widdle noggins, not yet entirely hooked up to one another. (If brain science isn't your best subject, think of it this way: they already have the 42-inch flat screen, the surround-sound system, the DVD-VCR combo, the deluxe cable package and the satellite dish—only most of it isn't quite plugged together. That's why they drool so much, understand? The part that regulates nasty liquid production isn't connected to the part that determines when and where it's proper to open the valves.)

Going on, the means by which everything gets properly attached are what the brain doctors call "synapses." You might consider synapses as the associative neuro-physiology that links different areas and functions of the brain together as a kid's expanding experience dictates, but I find it easier to think of them as teensy cable guys who spend their time pulling wire from one lobe to the other. There's millions of 'em, these synapse fellers, and they aren't totally done until late in a kid's teens—if you're lucky. Their heaviest workload, though, comes in a child's pre-school years. From birth to age five or six, they're working overtime humping that brain wire. This is why your darlin' can go from taste-testing kitty litter to counting to "lebenty-two," almost over night.

Only the synapses insist on working at their own pace—not too slow, and not too fast—which is why it's not good to plant Snook'ums in front of the tube until his first day in kindergarten. Teevee tends to change directions much quicker than real life does, ya' noticed? And when the kid's primary download is coming in a Rug Rats format, those synapses apparently don't have time to complete the hook-ups properly. Doc Brain told Katie they're now pretty sure it can result in developmental and learning problems, including ADHD.

In other words, kids with too much teevee in their diet might end up with attention spans no longer than the average Mountain Dew commercial. All of which makes perfect sense to me. It really comes as no surprise that a child suckled at the glass teat might develop some difficulties with real time.

But you have to wonder, if over-exposure to teevee can harm a kid's mental development, what's going on in the brains of those lost souls who spend two hours a day hunched over a radio, listening to Limbaugh?

So, Young Mom, as to the healthy development of your pumpkin's intellect, it's a bleak landscape out there. I ain't no brain doctor, but it's obvious to me that a good many parents will continue to use the Nickelodeon Network as their first-call baby-sitter, simply because most of them couldn't care less if their children come out as stupid as they are. Or even stupider. What else would explain Little Britches Rodeo and giving skateboards as birthday gifts?

Happily, though, as to the swillage of right-wing radio, there is now an antidote. I know you know this, but I'm gonna tell you anyway: a liberal radio network—featuring the perpetually bemused Al Franken—has been birthed and now operates on about six stations.

Unhappily, I must tell you I fear liberal radio may have a short life span. And here's why: Since even before the conservative infestation of radio talk shows, I had a hunch those folks who can't get through a day without having the constant yak of disc jockeys in their backgrounds are not ... shall we say ... members of society's top tier of thinkers. Follow me? I'm trying to be as nice about this as possible, but let's face it ... your average intellectual giant has enough of his own thoughts on his mind that he doesn't need to fill the void with somebody else's.

Of course, there are other reasons a person might glue himself to a radio talk format all day, every day. Loneliness, perhaps ... or an excruciatingly boring job ... or because he doesn't know which button switches channels. But basically, we must assume these people would rather have other people do their thinking for them, if for no other reason than that is precisely what has happened. Really, in what other world would being labeled a "Ditto-head" be considered a compliment?

Now, sometime back, right-wingers recognized there was this immense demographic of ... for lack of a better word ... vacuous zombies just waiting for someone to come along and fill in the empty spaces. It could even be said that Limbaugh, Liddy, Savage ... the rest ... co-opted the synapse function in the minds of those adults who had skipped class the day God handed out robust intellects. But it worked out well for the right-wingers because, suddenly, somebody was listening to them (instead of laughing at them like before), and it worked out well for the zombies because, suddenly, they considered themselves deep thinkers. (And with no previous experience in the practice, how were they to know otherwise?)

But I'm afraid it won't work with liberals. If liberals were the sort to revolve their intellectual stimulation around a radio program like flies on bad Spam, they wouldn't be liberals. No sir, liberals are liberals precisely because they pay attention to more than one thing. Indeed, they might listen to Al Franken's show now and then, but the next day, they're as apt to read a novel, study some history, listen to some Mozart on the NPR station, take their toddlers to the zoo, write a letter, mow the lawn, enjoy a play, plant a tree ... who knows, they might even go to work! (Yes! Imagine that! I know it's hard for a Limbaugh fan to understand, but some people have the sort of job that precludes listening to a radio all day.)

On the other hand, can you imagine a Ditto-head missing an episode of Rush? Why, I'd rather try to separate a rottweiler from his ham bone.

In short, liberal talk radio will never match markets with right-wing radio, simply because liberals generally have something else to do with themselves. It's called "a life." It's as healthy for adults as it is for children, and the reason you don't hear much about it from Limbaugh is that liberals are so much better at it than right-wingers.

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