Right up until the day Mark Alexander murdered his father, he had been the model son. An only child whose mother left when he was very young, Mark did all that his father expected of him—and those expectations were extremely high.Both the Times article and the Mail article mention that recent research has shown that such toddler-training programs have little impact on a kid’s future success (parental involvement in a child’s education is much more important). So why is Kumon becoming more and more popular, especially when it’s quite expensive ($200 to $300 a month)? Perhaps it’s a combination of the aforementioned (and understandable) parental anxiety; the fact that some people have money to burn and their kids seem like the “right” thing to burn it on; and the fact that it’s not too difficult to convince parents that they need something for their kids no one’s ever needed before, simply by telling them that they do and by making the thing readily available.

On this last point: a few days ago, Forbes released its list of the Top Twenty Franchises to Start. A Kumon center was number 3. Numbers 1, 2, 4, and 5 were all fast-food and convenience stores, and I think that pretty much sums up what Kumon’s toddler program is offering: a quick fix that seems like a great idea at the time but could wind up having adverse consequences in the long run.On the Fourth of July, a thousand people gathered on the banks of Lake Wasilla for a Tea Party, one of those anti-tax, pro-liberty bits of street theatre that have been springing up around the country. The day before, three miles away, Sarah Palin, in her characteristic tumble of words, had resigned. At the party, from the flatbed of a tractor-trailer, a string of speakers preached resistance to a crowd that came bearing the standard liberty accessories: Gadsden flags, holstered sidearms, signs reading “DON’T TAX ME BRO.”

In the middle of all this stood a thirty-eight-year-old middle-school teacher from Hudson, New York. Adrienne Ross, the media director and New York organizer for the 2012 Draft Sarah Committee, had been in Wasilla for only two days. But she said she had already “witnessed history,” had a salmon bake—using Palin’s recipe—with the Governor’s hairdresser and confidante Jessica Steele, and, just that morning, met Palin’s parents and joked around with Piper. It was like going to Sarah Palin fantasy camp, and, regardless of Palin’s next move, Ross said, “I am exactly where God wants me to be.”Ross’s uncle is the New York Senate Majority Leader Malcolm A. Smith, and the rest of her family supported Barack Obama, but Ross fell for Palin during the Republican Convention. “It was an answer to my prayers, because I didn’t want to just vote against Barack Obama. With Palin, I was voting for someone.”Other Palin pilgrims at the Tea Party shared Ross’s fervor, if not her grace. “You better not call her a quitter,” said Nyla van Brunt, who had come to Wasilla from Mesa, Arizona, along with Brenda Peterman, a fellow-retiree. “That’s right,” Peterman warned, eyes narrowing beneath her visor. “Don’t write anything stupid.”