The Fountains of Boston: Childhood is a Commons

Am I the only one who thought of Huck Finn and the Mississippi when I read Efren Gerardino’s post about the river of his youth in the Philippines?  There was the absence of fences and boundaries, the openness and sense of possibility – an American story but also the story of childhood everywhere.  Efren remembered “the good life” even though he and his friends had very little, materially.  Childhood is a commons. Where it is abundant, children can feel rich so long as they have food to eat.

The commons of my own childhood was abundant in its own way. We lived in an old, close-in Boston suburb, with meandering streets that followed the contours of the land.  We played in the old aqua-duct, and at the swamp that formed a wooded basin behind the houses.  By unspoken agreement, the entire neighborhood was open to us kids.  We played football in one yard, wiffleball in another.  We didn’t know the owners, and no one seemed to care.


The Strange “Economics” of Breast Milk
December 1, 2006
By Jonathan Rowe

You probably heard about the woman who was kicked off a Delta flight recently for breast feeding her daughter.  She was in a window seat, next to her husband.  She was being discreet; nothing was showing. A flight attendant asked her to cover up with a blanket anyway.  The woman declined; and so off the plane they went.

The episode prompted nurse-ins at airports throughout the U.S.  The airline apologized; and I’m willing to believe that the flight attendant thought she was just doing her job. Still, there’s an issue here that goes beyond the lingering residues of prudery – namely, the pervasive bias in favor of commodities, and against anything people can do for themselves for free.  Has anyone ever been thrown off a plane for giving infant formula to a baby, which is inferior to breast milk?  I doubt it.


A Captive Audience of Kids

Corporations seek to dominate space. First it was physical space, and now it is mental space – what is called, in marketing argot, “mindshare.” The political Right seeks to cut taxes to shrink the public sphere, or “starve the beast” in Grover Norquist’s phrase. Put the two together and what do you get? You get corporations laying claim to common space, and to the minds of those who occupy it.

The latest example is BusRadio, a company in Massachusetts that is going to install special radio receivers in school buses, so it can fill the airspace in them with ads aimed at kids. School districts starved for funds will get a cut of the ad revenues. BusRadio will get a captive audience of impressionable kids that it can sell to corporate advertisers eager to get inside their minds. The compulsory school laws will become the means to corral these captive kids and deliver them to the sponsors.


Why Don’t We Share the Toys?

We were in the sitting area of my in-laws’ home in La Castellana, a municipality in sugar cane country on the island of Negros. The television was on, as it always seemed to be; and my son, who is three, was playing with two small trucks we had bought for him in Iloilo. A group of kids appeared at the door to see these strange visitors from the place faraway, and the little boy who, though distantly related to them, did not look much like themselves.

The kids’ eyes fixed right away on the trucks; Filipino kids don’t have many toys, and they prize them in a way most American kids can’t They made gestures to join my son in play, which he did not welcome. He became agitated, and concocted a rule, as he tends to do in such situations. Those toys were only for kids who were three, he said, by which he meant himself. He said this over and over. The kids didn’t understand the words, but they got the drift. They retreated, bruised. And I felt something I rarely feel regarding my son – namely, shame.


Clark, Texas Has a New Name

In Scripture, the bestowal of a name was an event of great importance.  A name was an expression of character; and humans earned new ones in accordance with their inner growth.  Jacob, after he spent an entire night wrestling with his demons, and finally prevailed over them, became Israel.  His old name meant  “to seize by the heel.”  His new one, “God will rule.”

The places where such events occurred acquired new names as well.  Jacob called the place of his new insight Peniel, which meant the “face of God.”  Before that, when he had set his head down on a pillow of “stones” – that is, hard tormenting thoughts – and had dreamed of a ladder connecting him to the Highest, he called that place Bethel, which meant the “house of God.


Bush and Kids: Standing Small

President Bush may be asserting friendship with “Old Europe,” as Donald Rumsfeld, his defense secretary, famously called it. But it is no secret that the Bush administration holds that part of the world in less than high regard. Time magazine reported that the Bush people frequently call their European allies “Euro-wimps.”

Well, guess what? When it comes to standing up for kids, those “Euro-wimps” have shown a lot of guts of late. The Bush people, to put it politely, haven’t.


Tough Love for the Obesity Lobby

The Bush Administration has a problem with personal responsibility. They make a big deal about it for nearly everyone — except themselves and the corporate big shots who finance their campaigns.

A case in point is the recent World Health Organization’s proposal to combat the spread of obesity, diabetes and related illnesses throughout the world. The WHO proposal — called officially the Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health — would encourage governments to adopt a number of common-sense steps, from better food labeling and limits on junk food advertising to the promotion of healthful diets with more fruits and vegetables, and less sugar. It also urges governments to make sure that schools promote such diets, not junk food and soda pop.


The Parent’s Bill Of Rights: Helping Moms And Dads Fight Commercialism

Paul Kurnit is the president of KidShop, an advertising firm that specializes in marketing to children, and he has plans for our kids.

“Kid business has become big business,” Kurnit says.1 To make kid business even bigger, he preaches what he calls “surround marketing”: saturation advertising that captures kids at every possible moment.2


Bush’s War on Children

Washington is awash these days with avowals of concern for children, especially on the Republican side. Whatever the issue, it’s really about the kids they say. President Bush referred to children 11 times in a single speech — on tax cuts no less. In a speech on federal money for churches — excuse us, “faith based initiatives” — the count was up to 35 (not counting “kids” and the like.)

“The values of our children must be a priority of our nation,” Bush said in a budget speech in March. But exactly what values was the President referring to? He gave the impression it was the traditional ones of hard work, abstemiousness and the rest. But look more closely at the administration, and a different meaning emerges.