Archive for November 19th, 2009

Down with the GDP

| November 19, 2009 | 6 Replies
Down with the GDP

In the November, 2009 edition of The Atlantic, Megan McArdle reminds us why we need to wean ourselves of using the GDP as an indicator of economic health. Here’s a sample:

GDP does not, and cannot, reflect the waste of enormous effort, and precious natural resources, that went into building something that suddenly no one wants. Moreover, it misses many other aspects of our existence. Strip-mining a picturesque mountaintop, or clear-cutting a primeval forest, shows up in GDP only as a boost to output. Meanwhile, in India’s national accounts, all of Mother Teresa’slabors among the poor would have had only the most minimal possible impact. GDP can record how much money we spend on health care or education; it cannot tell us whether the services we are buying are any good.

So how do you accurately measure a nation’s health? One alternative is the HDI.

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On helicopter parenting

| November 19, 2009 | 6 Replies
On helicopter parenting

Many parents are starting to wake up to the insanity of “helicopter parenting,” always striving to hover over their children, even as they get to be teenagers, in order to protect them from largely-imagined evils and to push them to be hyper-competitive. Helicopter parenting takes many forms, including over-scheduling children with enrichment activities and classes and fretting at each and every indication that a child is less than perfect.

When I was a child, I was fortunate that my parents sent me off to take guitar lessons for a half-hour per week. I appreciated that opportunity. Other than that one activity, though, I was pretty much on my own. I played a bit of soccer in grade school, but my parents almost never went to the games or practices, nor did I expect them too. Nor did most other parents attend most of of the games. There were no such things as “select” leagues, where parents would convince themselves that their child was the next Pele, justifying three games every weekend in far flung locations, some of them out-of-state.

As a child, I was allowed considerable time to do whatever I wanted, or to do nothing at all. When I was in the mood to play sports, it was usually a pick-up game, where the children knocked on doors to round up other players, choose the teams, gather their own bats and balls, officiated their own disputes and tend to their own minor injuries. During the summer we sometimes played sports most of the day, yet there were no parents anywhere to be seen. We were allowed to make lots of mistakes, thus allowing us to really learn many things, including how to really understand other people.

This was a refreshingly wonderful way to handle things, when looking in retrospect. This was much better than having 20 parents each driving one-hour round trips to watch their 15 fourth graders play 50 minutes of officially refereed soccer. To be sure, I think that team sports can be a good thing. It’s all the hovering parents that seems creepy. If most of the parents had shown up and shouted constant encouragement at my games as a 10-year old, I wouldn’t have felt loved–I would have wondered what was wrong with all of them. After all, it’s only a game, especially for young children.

Whenever you find middle or upper class families these days, things are entirely different than they were for me. Many parents simply won’t leave their kids alone; they are too terrified that if left to their own, their children will lose their competitive edges and miss out on the best college, the best job, or the best spouse. The schools that are “good” are too often those that dump several hours of daily homework on small children. Children are too often deemed to need special camps and tutoring, instead of allowing them to explore such things as cooking in their own kitchens and critters in their own back yards (or nearby creek), on their own. And the whole sordid phenomenon of helicopter parenting is thoroughly permeated with rampant consumerism.

Image by Troon Lifeboat (creative commons)

This week, Time Magazine has taken on helicopter parents in an impressively detailed article titled “The Growing Backlash Against Overparenting.” One of the people featured in the Time article is Lenore Skenazy, who advocates “Free Range Kids.”:

[T]oo many parents, says Skenazy, have the math all wrong. Refusing to vaccinate your children, as millions now threaten to do in the case of the swine flu, is statistically reckless; on the other hand, there are no reports of a child ever being poisoned by a stranger handing out tainted Halloween candy, and the odds of being kidnapped and killed by a stranger are about 1 in 1.5 million. When parents confront you with “How can you let him go to the store alone?,” she suggests countering with “How can you let him visit your relatives?” (Some 80% of kids who are molested are victims of friends or relatives.) Or ride in the car with you? (More than 430,000 kids were injured in motor vehicles last year.) “I’m not saying that there is no danger in the world or that we shouldn’t be prepared,” she says. “But there is good and bad luck and fate and things beyond our ability to change. The way kids learn to be resourceful is by having to use their resources.” Besides, she says with a smile, “a 100%-safe world is not only impossible. It’s nowhere you’d want to be.”

In the Time article, you can read that there has been a 25% drop in playtime (for 6-to-8 year olds) from 1981 to1997, while the amount of homework has doubled.

As Sting sings, if you love them, you’ve got to set them free. Otherwise, they’ll never learn to think for themselves and they’ll never turn be allowed to turn into the persons they were destined to become. Because the central message of helicopter parenting is that you don’t trust your children, helicopter parenting is a better way to ruin your child than to help your child. It’s a way to prevent your children from learning by playing, failing and then playing and failing some more. It’s a way to stifle cognitive development, by stealing play time from them.

It too often seems that all of this attention is forced onto children by parents who are working long hours away from their children and trying to make it up by lavishing perfection on their children. Regardless, too many of those who engage in helicopter parenting are not really hovering about for the sake of their children, no matter how much they protest. Rather, as the Time article suggests, they are focused solely on melding trophy children as an attempted display of their own parenting prowess.

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U.S. falling far behind on the green race

| November 19, 2009 | 2 Replies
U.S. falling far behind on the green race

Robert F. Kennedy recites some startling facts demonstrating that if you want to see how to really invest in one’s economy, you should follow the lead of China, not the United States:

The Chamber has continued to argue, idiotically, that energy efficiency and independence will somehow put America at a competitive disadvantage with the Chinese. Meanwhile, the Chinese have shrewdly and strategically positioned themselves to steal America’s once substantial lead in renewable power. China will soon make us as dependent on Chinese green technology for the next century as we have been on Saudi oil during the last.

While the U.S. is busy using massive amounts of tax dollars to prop up corrupt Wall Street banks, China is weaning itself off of fossil fuels.

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The Onion examines Obama’s overuse of teleprompters

| November 19, 2009 | Reply
The Onion examines Obama’s overuse of teleprompters

The ever-vigilant Onion Network News examines President Obama’s apparent over-reliance on the use of teleprompters:


Obama’s Home Teleprompter Malfunctions During Family Dinner

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Use nudity when potentially child-killing chemicals don’t garner enough attention

| November 19, 2009 | Reply
Use nudity when potentially child-killing chemicals don’t garner enough attention

Back in September, Senator Al Franken and Rep. Steve Israel has introduced the “Household Product Labeling Act,” which will enable consumers to determine whether potentially harmful chemicals are present in the household cleaning products they use. Here’s the full text of the Senate version of the Act. Here’s the problem:

In many households across the country, the entire family pitches in on household cleaning chores. The effort is obviously intended to keep everyone healthy by cutting down on germs, bacteria, and mold. But unfortunately, many of the ingredients in commonly used cleaning products may be dangerous themselves. Current law requires that product labels list immediately hazardous ingredients, but there is no labeling requirement for ingredients that may cause harm over time.

Many chemicals contained in household products have been shown to produce harmful health effects. Consumers have a right to know which of these potentially harmful chemicals might be present in their kitchen and bathroom cupboards. This information is particularly important to families with small children, who as we all know have more direct contact with floors and household surfaces. This legislation simply makes that information readily available to consumers, giving them the opportunity to make an informed choice about the chemicals they bring into their homes.

This is an incredibly important bill, because consumers should have a right to know the chemicals to which they are exposing their families (see here for related post). How do you promote a bill when the “mere” sickness and death fail to attract enough attention? A private company called Method decided to shoot this clever (and somewhat provocative) video:

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