Gender and toys

Interesting story in the NYT about gender and children’s toys.  Something I notice a lot about in my house filled with Star Wars legos, dinosaurs, My Little Pony, Barbie, etc.  Anyway:

Aliceana and her parents, Brittany and A.J. Belling, make up one of many families that are fed up with the strict princess dresses for girls, action figures for boys stereotyping that they say still pervades children’s toys, clothes, costumes and other merchandise.

Retailers and manufacturers in the $22 billion toy industry, along with media companies, are starting to heed these concerns. Not only are toymakers more wary of marketing some items only to boys or only to girls, they and major store chains are creating gender-neutral or androgynous labels and store aisles.

In August, Target announced that it would no longer use signs to label toys for girls and boys in their stores. For the first time this year, the Disney Store is banishing girl and boy designations from its children’s Halloween costumes, labeling all outfits “for kids.” It also has switched to generic tags on lunchboxes, backpacks and other accessories.

Amazon no longer uses gender-based categories for children’s toys. Next spring, Mattel is introducing a line of action figures based on a new franchise, DC Super Hero Girls. And on Monday , the TV series “Supergirl” debuted on CBS.

“The gender barriers are breaking down, and both manufacturers and retailers are not labeling toys like they used to,” said Jim Silver, the editor in chief of TTPM, a toy review website. “The industry’s learned that you shouldn’t be labeling for a specific gender. There are so many girls who want to be Iron Man and Captain America, and boys who want to play with Easy-Bake.”

That said, I suspect this is mostly about labeling.  I have no interesting in pushing my daughter towards pink, being a princess for Halloween (again), loving Barbie and My Little Pony, etc.  She’s all over that on her own.  She’s also never had much interest in Legos.  Until this:


Some toy makers have made some efforts to change that rigid assortment — but not without controversy. Lego’s “Friends” line, introduced in 2012 to appeal to girls, upset consumers because of its pink and purple blocks, curvy figurines and themes like hairdressing and horse riding.

But, most telling:

And despite the recent changes, a stroll through the toy section at a Target or a Toys “R” Us is still a gender-specific experience. At a Target store in Brooklyn, there were the “Frozen” princess dresses, My Little Pony figurines, and the convertible-driving, glitter-haired Barbie dolls in one half of the children’s section. Then there were the separate aisles of Roboraptor robot dinosaurs, Star Wars spaceships and Nerf guns.

I’m totally for kids playing with whatever toys they want.  And yes, I know that society encourages boys and girls in different directions.  That said, I still do think there’s something more to my boys’ love of dinosaurs (and Sarah’s total disinterest– other than the “How do dinosaurs…” books) and her total love of Barbies, etc.  Mostly, though, I wanted to write a post where I could include the adorable photo above.

Photo of the day

Telegraph’s pictures of the day have some nice wave/surfing shots from a giant swell hitting Portugal:

Surfer Sebastian Steudtner from Germany rides a big wave, while a crowd watches from the cliffs at Praia do Norte in Nazaré as the first big swell of the year arrives

Surfer Sebastian Steudtner from Germany rides a big wave as his tow-in jetski rides to safetyPicture: Pedro Miranda / Demotix

Kasich– too sane for the GOP?

I enjoyed John Kasich’s interview on NPR this morning while driving my oldest to school. He marked how much more sane and reasonable Kasich sounded than his other competitors.  Yes, I explained, that is why he is near the bottom of the polls.  The GOP primary electorate is many things.  Sane and reasonable are not near the top of that list.  From NPR:

“Look, we’re hearing all kinds of crazy things right now on the campaign trail,” Kasich added. “One of the guys wants to abolish Medicare and Medicaid. Another guy wants to deport 10 million people out of America.”

There, Kasich was referring to retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who recently talked about replacing Medicare and medicaid with private health savings accounts, but later insisted he wasn’t proposing the elimination of the programs. Kasich also sounded like he was calling out Trump, who has repeatedly talked about deporting millions of immigrants who are in the country illegally.

But Kasich refused to attack them directly. When pressed on who he was referring to, Kasich said, “Everybody wants me to start attacking people by name. You all figure out who I’m talking about.” …

The battle for the Republican nomination is fought state-by-state. Kasich has not been investing much in Iowa, which is dominated by religious conservatives who would not be likely to support him. New Hampshire is friendlier territory for more mainstream, establishment Republicans like Kasich.

He has been clear that it’s an important state for his campaign. But even in New Hampshire, Kasich is stuck in the middle of the pack. Trump and Carson dominate there, too.

So, what gives?

“Well, I think the people are unsettled,” Kasich said of GOP voters’ reticence to support establishment candidates. “I think they’re saying, ‘Ok, we’ve tried these folks and it hasn’t worked. And so, therefore we ought to look somewhere else.'”

The problem is that Kasich’s candidacy is predicated on his long record in government. He talks up his experience in Washington during the 1990s, when he was chairman of the House Budget Committee and the federal budget was balanced.

Of course, when you are looking to lead a party that has spent decades trying to make government not work and that is constantly telling us how horrible government is, perhaps it is not so surprising that this party’s activists don’t actually value successful government service.

Short version: you reap what you sow.

Men’s biological clock?

Interesting Wonkblog post on the issue.  I did find these two charts particularly interesting:

So, obviously, men don’t fact the same biological constraints as women do, but male fertility definitely decreases:


The science of the male ‘biological clock’

Studies indicate that a man’s age can affect his fertility in three main ways. The older the father, the harder it may be for a couple to conceive a baby. Older fathers are also more likely to see pregnancies result in miscarriages. And the older age of the father can potentially trigger health problems in a child, too.

Unlike women, who are born with a finite number of eggs, men continue to produce sperm throughout their life, and some can father children into their 60s and beyond — an age where women’s clocks have totally stopped ticking. George Lucas, Steve Martin and Rod Stewart all famously fathered children in their late 60s. But for most men, testosterone declines as they age, which can lead to decreased libido and erectile dysfunction. And as they get older, men also see a decline in the quantity and genetic quality of sperm.

“The aging male, at least from a reproductive perspective, is not as good when he’s older as when he’s younger,” says Alexander Pastuszak, an assistant professor of urology at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and a specialist in male fertility and reproductive problems.

Processed meat and cancer

I don’t think of myself as a big processed meat eater, but I imagine all those slices of pepperoni pizza add up.  That said, the latest research reporting that processed meat causes (not correlates with, causes) cancer is not about to have me give up my pepperoni pizza. Vox’s Brad Plumer puts it in proper context:

In the United States, a person’s lifetime risk of getting colorectal cancer is roughly 5 percent. The IARC says that eating 50 grams of processed meat per day (about one hot dog or two bacon strips) will boost that to around 6 percent, on average. If you chow down even larger helpings of processed meat, then your risk goes up even more. But that should provide some sense of scale here…

So keep this all in mind whenever you hear that the WHO has classified some new substance as “carcinogenic” or “probably carcinogenic.” It’s one thing to establish causality. It’s another thing entirely to tell us what the risks actually look like.

And Drum’s take:

In other words, the WHO took care to explicitly say that processed meat didn’t rank alongside smoking when it comes to cancer risk.

Colorectal cancer is fairly common as cancers go, but it still affects only about 4.5 percent of the population. What’s more, an increase of “18 percent” does not mean your cancer risk skyrockets from 4.5 percent to 22.5 percent. It means that if you eat a few ounces of processed meat—bacon, bratwurst, ballpark franks, spam1every day, your lifetime risk of getting colorectal cancer goes up from 4.5 percent to 5.3 percent.

That’s not nothing. You’re probably better off taking it easy on the spam. Nevertheless, not everything in the category “causes cancer” is created equal. If you’re really worried about cancer, cut out the smoking, the drinking, the overeating, and the city living. Once you’ve done that, then it’s time to decide if you also want to skip the bacon.

So, yeah, you may not want to eat bacon every day, but the occasional amount– as I assume most people consume– certainly doesn’t seem worth worrying about.  And even the every day there’s probably a lot of other things to worry about more.

Money and politics

Nice post from Megan McArdle on what money in politics can and cannot buy:

Where are all those shadowy billionaires we were warned out? The ones subverting American democracy with their ill-gotten lucre? The lucre is being spent, in vast amounts. But $200 million in PAC funds is no match for a billionaire openly campaigning to get a hold on the levers of political power, and a neurosurgeon on book tour. No wonder Larry Lessig’s single-issue campaign to get money out of politics isn’t going anywhere.

How are Trump and Carson doing it? It’s that free media. While campaign ads may work (campaigns are certainly convinced that they do), they’re no match for getting your face on the nightly newscast. People tune out advertising, even when they haven’t gotten up to get a snack or go to the bathroom. It’s much better to have your candidate talked about on the program itself. And boy, we’ve certainly been talking about Donald Trump…

This doesn’t quite mean that money doesn’t matter. It tells us that money is at best an amplifier. It cannot make a terrible candidate into a winner, and it cannot overcome broad and strong democratic preferences. [emphasis mine] And frankly, I don’t find that surprising, because it’s consistent with what I know about lobbying. Ask a lobbyist, and you’re apt to hear that money can get you in the door of a lawmaker’s office but is not getting you out with much unless you can also explain to this politician how your proposal is going to a) make people better off and therefore b) encourage more people to vote for that politician. In Washington, the ultimate currency remains votes, not cash…

Meanwhile, we should also count the cost of some of those campaign reforms: They’ve helped sideline the political parties’ establishment leadership, and helped create the current partisan gridlock that so many people lament. People keep asking why John Boehner can’t control his caucus, even though the answer is obvious: He has neither carrots nor sticks with which to keep them in line. He can’t use earmarks to give anything, and he can’t take anything away, because parties no longer control either ballot access or fundraising the way they once did. What’s left? Jawboning them about the good of the party, which he has tried, endlessly, with little success. At this point, both the Democratic and Republican parties look more like heritage brands than the powerful institutions they used to be.

One by one, we’ve stripped away the means that parties used to control their membership: replaced party bosses with primary elections, limited the ability of big donors to directly fund and influence campaigns, cracked down on earmarks and other pork-barrel policies, torn down the congressional institutional structures that used to let a few powerful politicians essentially control what bills made it to a vote. Each step was hailed as a progressive move toward a more flourishing democracy, and perhaps they were. But the more perfect our democracy gets, the more it seems to tend towards chaos. Witness the astonishing longevity of Trump as an electoral force.

So far this election season, the good news seems to be that all that outside, unregulated money isn’t nearly as powerful as people thought. Oddly, that may also be the bad news.

I would not at all conclude from this that unregulated, non-transparent, outside money is somehow a good thing.  Not as horrible as some fear is not the same thing as good for our democracy.  And many political scientists– myself included– would like to see more of the money power actually centralized in the parties.  Among other things, parties are accountable institutions in the way Super Pac’s are not. Anyway, overall some good points on the limits of money in politics.

If we want better teachers we need to teach them to be better

Definitely one of the most influential books on my own thinking I have read in recent years is Elizabeth Green’s Building a Better Teacher.  This recent NPR story on teaching nicely encapsulates some of the key points about how we approach teaching wrong and what needs to change:

Deborah Ball realized years ago she had a problem.

It was around 1980. She’d been working as an elementary school teacher in East Lansing, Michigan for about five years. But she felt like she just wasn’t getting any better at it…

Ball is now the dean of the School of Education at the University of Michigan, and kind of a rock star in the field of teacher education…

“I’m really trying hard to dispel this idea that teaching is this thing you’re born to do and it’s somehow natural to everyday life,” Ball says. “I don’t think either of those things is true.” [emphases mine]

What Ball is trying to model at U of M is a system where future teachers have to demonstrate they can do some core things — like present a math problem, and lead a discussion about it — before they’re safe to practice.

“Nobody goes out in a pilot school and is told: ‘Go out in the plane today! Try it out. See how it works,'” Ball says.

What Ball is trying to model at U of M is a system where future teachers have to demonstrate they can do some core things – like present a math problem, and lead a discussion about it – before they’re safe to practice.

She says pilots, doctors, plumbers and hairdressers don’t learn on the job. And teachers shouldn’t either.

Yes!  Of course, many countries that out-perform us understand us and approach teacher training in a far smarter way.  There’s plenty of problems in American education and this is no magic bullet.  But suffice it to say, we could dramatically improve teacher quality (which definitely does matter), by thinking and acting a lot smarter about how we train (and continue to train) our teachers.

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