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.

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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.

Talking about the medium chill and leaving work early … but still paying the bills

I am always tempted to complain, because it is hard to admit that you have it almost perfect, but my work/life balance is almost perfect.  I work short days, with fairly interesting projects at my day job, and hours with my wife and kids and time to write at night.  Oh, and I get paid enough not to worry about repo men and foreclosure.

Thank you Sweden.  Now if only you would learn how to smile …

The medium chill: This is a story from Grist last year, and I love it.  It goes into all the difficulties humans have with stepping off the fast track, eliminating possibilities and walking away from prestige and money.  And it praises relationships and time with family, while being realistic about the annoyances of being a little short of cash.  Even here in Sweden, E and I reach for the medium chill – small apartment, summer cottage with no water, no car, old stroller, not working 100 percent.  And we gain so much.  A quote:

That’s what consumer culture forever tells us: more money/stuff/status means fewer constraints, more freedom, more choices, thus more happiness. The entire economy runs on spending and debt, and for that to work everyone needs to think they’re not happy but could be happy if they just had more sh*t or a better job or a better house. Every “consumer” needs to be running on the treadmill, working toward the next thing.

But social psychologists tell a different story. They point out that there’s very little evidence that, once a certain base level of material security is achieved, more money and stuff make us happier. Gilbert offers one explanation: having fewer choices is often more conducive to synthetic happiness.

Her Key to Efficiency, Arrive Late, Leave Early:  This story tells an expat tale from Paris of a woman who discovered that she was more efficient with shorter work days.  Yes!  Having only six hours to get my job done means I leave very little time for screwing around.  Of course, it puts the pressure on too, but I’ll take that if I can unwind in the sun with my kids every afternoon.  Plus, there was this interesting tidbit about Dads. Once again, I find I am not unique:

More interestingly, she found a third category of men, who were successful in terms of performance evaluations and compensation, but who actually worked fewer hours and were unavailable for the office on evenings, weekends and vacations. These men subtly and skillfully chose the projects and clients that would allow more flexibility – and surrounded themselves with kindred spirits who would cover for one another. But they had also learned that it was better for their careers to remain discreet about their strategy, and so they weren’t role models for the rest.

Bring Back the 40-Hour Workweek:  From Alternet, via Salon, this is a look at why we had the 40-hour workweek to begin with.  And guess what? It was not just labor being lazy.  It was business figuring out that workers work best when they have shorter days.  In the short run, we only get a little more done in hours 40-60, and over the long run, it’s a disaster. :

American workers don’t realize that for most of the 20th century, the broad consensus among American business leaders was that working people more than 40 hours a week was stupid, wasteful, dangerous and expensive — and the most telling sign of dangerously incompetent management to boot.

Money Is the Root of All Parenting:  But don’t get poor!  Which seems obvious, but is perhaps a good message in the face of all these earthy work less links.  Lisa Belkin at the Huffington Post talks about reports that show that parents lose it more when they are stressed and angry (of course).  And how to avoid that?  Don’t lose sleep about the car repair bill.  Don’t get frantic about bank overdraft fees.

Hard to pull that off if you are poor.  So how to help the poor, or more specifically, their children?

What, then, is the alternative? They start with a few suggestions: “stabilize incomes, provide low-income credit alternatives to deal with the ups and downs of life, or ensure stable housing. These may not be “parenting” programs in the conventional sense of the term. But by freeing up psychic resources they allow people to be the parents they want to be, they allow more traditional parental skills programs to be more successful.”

Monday links: Talking about a revolution or business as usual?

Back in the 1990s, while I lived in post-war Croatia, I was on the edges of a proto-environmental, social justice movement that first blossomed in the anti-globalization protests in 2000 and now with Occupy Wall Street.  I am far from that life now (well, not if you consider pushing paternity leave a radical politics), but am fascinated by the change in tone in the mainstream press since OWS.  What seemed unthinkable in the 1990s and especially during the credit boom, which I covered as a newspaper reporter outside NYC, is not commonplace – open talk of socialism and the radical failure of market captialism.

Really?  Sometimes it becomes so clear what a bubble we inhabit in Sweden – a bubble of the good kind.

Capitalism versus the climate: Naomi Klein goes to a conservative conference and confirms all their fears.  Yes, to save the world we will need to drastically reject everything they stand for.  We will need to restructure the way the world works.  And the climate must go before all else.  Our survival depends on it.

Is This the End of Market Democracy?: This is notable because it appears in the New York Times, though on the campaign blog, which suggests to me that it got smuggled in somehow.  A Columbia journalism professor examines all the very respectable and mainstream economic figures who argue we need a major change, that the current system is more or less doomed.  Jeffrey Sachs invokes the success of “northern Europe” and its social democracy as a model. It ends like this:  “At an undetermined point in the not too distant future, however, as the “gale of creative destruction” blows through the heartland, the debate will become inescapable.”

What Future for Occupy Wall Street?: A look in the New York Review of Books at where OWS has come and where it is going.  Bascially, the story is not uplifting.  Police intimidation is working.  The lack of concrete demands and the insistence on radical consensus makes the movement hard to build.  But you have to admire that the core group is about more than moderately changing the status quo, it is about a moral call for a new kind of society.  And with a huge chunk of Americans under 30 in favor of “socialism,” who knows where it will go?

Bill Clinton:  Someone We Can All Agree On:  And for the counterpoint, we have Bill Clinton, the ultimate believer in working the system to make it all work.  This is the standard view – and one that is very compelling.:  we have to focus on what is achievable, we have to look at what Obama actually got done, we have to find people real, concrete jobs, not worry about all this hippie stuff on the edges, that you have to be realistic about the American culture, that the country is center-right, and so on.  I get it, I really do, Bill.  But is that reality or just the 1990s calling?

Daddyland does not fade in February when Sweden gets sick

I finished my ”real” parental leave about 17 months ago now, which makes me melancholy to even express out loud. I still work part-time, and I take lots of parental leave days – all those long winter and summer breaks, all those long spring weekends up in the country – but I am far into the typical Swedish working parent path.

Note: this is the library, not our house

But it still pays off, those 18 months home with the kids.  They still echo through our daily life, and I hope they always will, even when the whole family gets sick for a week with a high fever then interminable ache and illness, like happened two weeks ago.  No, especially when the whole family gets sick for a week (or when your never-sick daughter gets four separate illnesses in a month – February is rough in Sweden).

It is wonderful as a dad to be able to stay home and care for two sick kids and a sick wife and still get my work done (I could get paid to stay home with the kids but I find the process so bureaucratic that I would rather work – plus I kept thinking that they would get better the next day … they didn’t.) It is wonderful that after the apartment descended into chaos for three days, that it actually got cleaner the last three days, as I turned back into the midday tidying machine. It is wonderful that my wife and I can share household burdens, that we can switch kids and switch doctor trips and switch swim class pickup.

In very basic ways, I still feel like I am on parental leave. My priorities are unaltered, and I spend as much time with my children each day as I do at work. Like always, I know this is the reality of American moms, and I know more and more American dads are staying at home.  But I am a working dad.  And I still feel like this.  And this still seems like the way forward into the digital age – with everyone home at least sometime instead of no one home anytime.

Monday links: French parents, the return of the Yellow Wiggle, the end of war and writing with children

Why French Parents Are Superior:  This is a Wall Street Journal story based on a book by Pamela Druckerman, an American mother who lives in Paris.  As of now, there are 571 comments on the WSJ story alone.  The essence is that the French raise better behaved, more respectful children than Americans.  She attributes this to more discipline and boundary setting.

Please.  I might buy this on face value except that she pushes the “cry it out” method with babies.  Huge red flag.  So that got me thinking, and I read the comments, and I realize that Swedish kids are also more respectful and better behaved than the imaginary, spoiled American kids she talks about.  And the Swedes co-sleep, stay at home with their kids longer, and value both mothers and fathers (umm, the French do not, well, not nearly as much).  So what’s the explanation then?  I have no idea.  A northern European conformity?  Just not being American?

Or maybe the book is just a good way to get the American chattering classes, well, chattering. Like with Tiger Mothers, and Wolf Fathers, and all that.

Writing with Children: A nice essay on one novelist – and mother – and her journey in her writing life as a new parent.  I happen to have the opposite experience of the author – having children opened up my writing life and forced me to focus (and I was home as much as many Moms) –  but that takes nothing away from it.

Welcome back, Yellow Wiggle: I sometimes ponder starting a blog about children’s TV shows: their mythic value, the songs, the pop references, the plot structure … the gossip.  And here is some good gossip.  The original Yellow Wiggle is back after years of absence due to illness.  It’s like Blue’s Clues going back to Steve, after Joe.  Except Steve would be old and bald.

I don’t know.  I don’t like it.  The new Yellow Wiggle, Sam, was just fine.  And do the Wiggles really have magic to rekindle?  What’s this about?  Are there money woes in Wiggle land?  Did Sam do something really, really awful to Henry the Octopus?

John Horgon on erasing war from the human condition: John Horgan just wrote a book called “The End of War,” and this is not the only book like this out there right now. This makes me happy. I used to work in post-war grassroots peace projects, and I always liked to think we could go this way as a species. It seems counterintuitive, what with Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, drone assassinations, the militarization of American life, but a good argument is made by both Horgan and the author of the other book, Steven Pinker, that an ever-more-connected and democratic humanity has the potential to move past violence, and, in fact, is already doing so (even if the results of the remaining violence are streamed ever more directly right onto all our various screens).

Returning to Daddyland as Sweden falls dark

I’m back in Daddyland.  Well, I never left my real Daddyland, that world of the preschool drop off and pick up, of the part-time work, of the increasing commitment at work, of paternity leave fading into the rear view mirror of my tricked out stroller (Ahh, I wish…).

This day to day Daddyland is also a place of five week winter breaks, ten week summer vacation and four weeks more of winter holiday coming up (we were thrifty with our parental leave days and they are good until the kids are 8).  It is a place of six-hour work days, lots of time in the sand box, and the joy of a cottage in the country with a yard filled with strawberries, wild strawberries, raspberries, cherries, gooseberries and apples, not to mention the blueberries covering the forest floor.

But now I am back in this virtual Daddyland, to go with my real Daddyland.  I’ve been busy writing a book proposal, which I will post parts of, and have gone all political on masculinity, fatherhood, Occupy Wall Street, journalism and democracy and the yawning economic and social horror of the U.S., a place I want to move back to someday but only if my kids have a future beyond fast food and debt.

Yes, I am still addicted to socialism, except now that I’m back at work at my techie day job, I’ve also got these techie, business phrases for it now – how my time in the sandbox made me more innovative, more creative – exactly the skills we need in the already-here, turning out scary digital age.

But I’m also tired of just writing all day at work and writing all evening at home.  So maybe I’ll actually post more photos, links, music.  And I’ve still got those kids, with every day built around them (we have been crafting a lot lately … yes, crafting, and I am not a crafter, though I may give Martha Stewart a run for her money after this winter is over).

Then there is the challenge, ripe for justified moaning, of living in shy, sweet, reserved, sort of awkward Sweden through the brutal winter dark.

Oh, and I’m on Twitter now too.  And you can “subscribe” to me on Facebook.

Now if only my daughter will stay asleep long enough for me to finally post this …