Floating cherry blossoms in the Swedish spring

Floating cherry blossoms in the Swedish spring

Every winter I’ve been in Sweden has been subtly different from each other. Same for spring. They interact and create a new season – so this is the spring of cherry blossoms I’ve never seen before and lots of early mosquitoes. I love cherry trees and the way the flowers float along our fence line, even though the effect comes totally because the lower parts of the trees are dead, killed off by some insect or disease. (The photo doesn’t really convey this affect but maybe it will let you imagine the trees in context of our clearing in the forest, with the river glistening in the background).

It’s enough to make your body start to forget winter, and you remember why you need all these long weekends in spring and the long summers, not to be indulgent but to stay truly alive.

The bliss of no TV commercials for my children

This story is a year old but I’m going through my backlog of saved links, and it’s a nice look at the screen problem and the commercialization problem and the violence problem with kids media.

Electric Youth: Why Susan Linn and the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood Terrify Child Advertisers – Boston Magazine – bostonmagazine.com.

I love that Sweden does not allow commercials aimed at children.  We only watch the public kids channel anyway – and shows streamed from the US without commercials – but I only appreciated the quiet we live in when we visited Turkey earlier this year and the kids saw all these commercials for toys, and they were both fascinated then bored and kind of horrified.

“Oh, no!  Not commercials again!”

They’re still plenty affected by consumerism, but it comes through friends and merchandising, which seems less harmful to me.  So my son loves Star Wars because that’s what his friends play.  So my daughter wants to watch Winx Club (she doesn’t get to) because that’s what her friends play at school.  I can deal with that. It’s better than getting the messages mainlined from the amoral heart of the advertising industry and the timeless world of international toy conglomerates. Instead, they get the characters and stories filtered through play, transformed into a mythic shape, and I don’t care what the mask of the heroine looks like at that point.

Breaking down the rise of suicide

Sociologists in general believe that when society robs people of self-control, individual dignity, or a connection to something larger than themselves, suicide rates rise. They are all descendants of Emile Durkheim, who helped found the field in the late-19th century, choosing to study suicide so he could prove that “social facts” explain even this “most personal act.”

via Why Suicide Has Become an Epidemic–and What We Can Do to Help – Newsweek and The Daily Beast.

This is an amazing magazine story, and it’s the flip side to the recent essay I wrote about guns in the Morning News.  I argued that gun violence is rooted deep in American society, but focusing on a lot of the same societal markers, this essay addresses what in our modern, digital society is making suicide the leading cause of death for some demographics.  And the causes are not complicated.

The fear of riots reaches our neighborhood

I got this e-mail from the US Embassy the other day, just after I reassured my mother that we were far from any trouble.

On Sunday, May 19, more than 100 cars were set on fire by rioters in the northern Stockholm suburb of Husby in protest over a police shooting. Similar incidents occurred on the nights of May 20-23, spreading into other areas near Stockholm. Swedish police have made several arrests and consider the situation contained. However, due to the potential escalation of the riots, the U.S. Embassy cautions U.S. citizens to avoid the following areas during the next several evenings: Husby, Tensta, Kista, Rinkeby, Fittja, Jakobsberg, Solna-Hagalund, Sollentuna, Skogås, Hagsätra, Skarpnäck, Vårberg, Skärholmen, Jordbro, Fruängen, Salem, Farsta, Rågsved, Bredäng and Älvsjö.

Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence. We recommend that U.S citizens avoid the areas where such demonstrations are occurring if possible, and, as always, exercise caution in the vicinity of any parades or protests. We also advise you to stay current with media coverage of local events and be aware of your surroundings at all times.

Included in the list of neighborhoods is the one just across the “big road” from us and where my daughter goes to school.  There have been no problems there at all, and we love the “immigrant school” in the neighborhood (the one where all the kids speak great Swedish because what else would they speak?  It’s too diverse).

I can’t decide whether to be offended that the US Embassy lumped every immigrant-dominated neighborhood together or acknowledge they are being realistic and that the US Embassy has not caused the social divisions and unrest in Sweden.

Then last night a preschool burned down in the other direction in a rich neighborhood, and even if it’s only an accident, which it seems to be, it’s got people jumpy.  But maybe it will also get their attention, just like the kids burning cars want, and deserve (because even if the kids are basically criminals, it takes a lot of neglect to produce a core of tough, drug-addicted young men to burn all those cars).

Sweden turning to 24-7 child care

Preschool is a route out of poverty, it gets women in the workforce, and it reduces financial burdens on the working poor.  It also can help mitigate developmental differences that come from growing up in poverty, which means better qualified workers in the long run.

Norfors summed this up when she wrote: “Without preschools, we would not have among the highest female and maternal employment rates in the European Union, or the lowest levels of child poverty.”

This is absolutely true, and it is a huge improvement on the American system, which makes families—especially those less well off—scramble at best and dump their kids in dangerous child care at worst. But the Swedish policies also shine a bright, pragmatic light on the price that young children and their parents are paying all over the globe as work speeds up, even in the midst of a global slowdown.

via Mom’s at work? Sweden’s solution is round-the-clock preschools – Quartz.

This is from a post I wrote recently for Quartz.  It’s based on a USD 16 million grant the Swedish government has for expanding childcare hours.  I’m all for it, of course, especially compared to the Hell of American Daycare, as the New Republican recently put it.  But I still stand by my ambivalence that all these kids need to be mainstreamed into child care so early.

I still want three years of parental leave.  But what Sweden’s got is still the best around.

the unspoken rationale for America’s crappy social safety net

On the contrary, much of the unspoken rationale for America’s crappy social safety net—with work-based healthcare and no day care and so on—is the continuing image of the 1950s family as an ur-standard. You don’t need day care because mom’s at home; you don’t need government healthcare because all the daddies work. Articles like Drexler’s, which erase the past, paradoxically keep those antiquated gender roles around. The “traditional” family is always something we’ve just left behind, always something we’re just adjusting to. The truth, though, is that these changes are of long standing, and the adjustments we need to make have little to do with the ambivalent feelings of male millennials, and a whole lot to do with policy changes that are long, long past their time.

via Hey, the Gender-Role Revolution Started Way Before the Millennial Generation – Noah Berlatsky – The Atlantic.’

It’s tough in the US because the society hasn’t moved en masse but here and there, region by region, class by class. How do you judge how people perceive a massive social shift?  In Sweden, they instituted nation-wide rules in the 60s and 70s and everyone shifted accordingly, even if it’s slow going.