Local Voices

Kids and Happiness

By Kerry Healey   |   Thursday, August 19, 2010
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by Kerry Healey, 89.7 WGBH
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
 
Like most people in Massachusetts, I spent the last couple weekends happily sweltering at cookouts, swatting mosquitoes and greenheads, surrounded by family, friends and lots of voluble kids. As my own children have gotten older I find myself becoming increasingly nostalgic for the happy chaos of younger kids at summer parties-- the group hide and seek games, water fights, and impromptu baseball competitions, all framed by the deafening shrieks and prodigious mess of children’s happiness. Don’t get me wrong, even teens can be great fun, but the untrammeled joy of younger kids reminds me of all the happiness my own children gave me when they were younger.

But wait, now I read that this pastoral memory is probably just personal revisionist history: Scrooge-like economist, Bryan Caplan of George Mason University, recently published a screed in the Wall Street Journal pointing out that, at least empirically, having kids actually makes you less happy! Caplan points to research that shows that while marriage boosts your likelihood of happiness a remarkable 18%, a couple’s first child will decrease that benefit by 5.6% and each subsequent child leaves couples a marginal .6% less happy.

To add to this glum portrait, Caplan marshals data from studies of twins that show that if your parenting is generally OK, all the sacrifices that “good” parents make on their children’s behalf to shape their health, morals and values—limiting TV, attending every ball game, even moving to a better neighborhood—may have only marginal impact on the adult behaviors of your kids. In the end, he argues, that making your kids eat their peas or reading bedtime stories through bleary eyes is not as important as simply creating a loving and supportive home life. (As an aside, the same research found that parents do have a strong impact on their kid’s political and religious values, so rest assured you are not wasting your time in those arenas!)

Caplan’s take away message is that we, as a society, need to love and enjoy our kids more and not stress so much about whether we are perfect parents. He actually ends by advocating having a lot of kids. To me, the only statistic that really tells the story is this one: a 1976 survey by Research Analysis Corporation dared to ask 1,400 parents if they would have kids again if they could live their life over. A whopping 91% said “yes”. Put me in that column.

Big Government

By Kerry Healey   |   Thursday, August 19, 2010
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"Government needs more than its current two gears: inert and glacial."

Big Government drives me crazy: Some friends recently filed a 100 page application to form a non-profit—a 501c3 in IRS parlance—and have been not-so-patiently waiting to hear the fate of the charitable venture since. An anxious call to the IRS this week revealed the following Kafkaesque situation: application is stuck in “unassigned inventory”. Please, let’s contemplate this euphemism, “Unassigned Inventory”. The “I Haven’t Gotten to it Yet” pile might be more transparent. Worse yet, they won’t be assigned a person to whom they can complain until—yes, that’s right!—until the application is removed from “Unassigned Inventory.” Beckett or Pinter could have done something with this plot line!

Their Big Government story is surreal, but affects only a few people. Sometimes, however, our government’s sluggishness hurts thousands and costs the economy millions. When I was Lieutenant Governor, I advocated with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for an emergency review of draconian federal fishing regulations that would eventually drive hundreds of fishing families in Massachusetts into bankruptcy. I was told—with a straight face—that an emergency regulatory review would take three months. How long, one had to ask, would a “Take your sweet time” regulatory review take? Three years? Clearly, our emergency was clearly not theirs.

In May, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal struggled to gain emergency federal approval to build 80 miles of sand bar berms to protect the fragile Louisiana coastline--and his state’s fishing economy—from the on-coming black tide of British Petroleum. I read with horror, that he was delayed for weeks while the Army Corps of Engineers mulled over the merits of the plan!

Then there were the oil-clean up boats that lost critical days of operation while the Coast Guard checked to see if they had enough fire extinguishers and life vests on board. That’s days—not hours. How could this process take longer than the time it takes to board, inspect and count?

The bottom line is that some government regulation is necessary and good—for example, let’s all agree that we could have done with stricter enforcement of banking and mortgage industry regulations leading up to the global financial crisis. But there are times when standard operating procedure simply should not apply. Government needs more than its current two gears: inert and glacial. It needs to be nimble enough to actually respond to real national emergencies—like the BP oil gusher—not in months, weeks or days but in hours.

Redeye

By Carlo Rotella   |   Thursday, August 19, 2010
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I was on a redeye back to Boston from California that stopped in Las Vegas. Most of the people who got on there were part of an excursion group that had evidently misbehaved right up until the last minute. They came aboard talking loud, laughing, thickening up their Massachusetts accents to let everybody know that they were tribespeople on the way home.

One of them, a woman, stood unsteadily in the aisle holding up an enormous pill between thumb and forefinger. She announced, “I take this, I’m out cold. It’ll knock me right on my ass. Nothing and nobody’s gonna wake me up.” She swallowed it dry, her friends cheered, and she settled into her seat.

A couple of minutes later a trio of airline employees came down the aisle to the woman’s row. The man sitting next to her was toasted, nodding and grinning at nothing. The airline employees hauled him to his feet and started to lead him off the plane. The woman got up to tell them she was his friend, she’d make sure he was all right on the flight, but an airline employee said, “He’s in no condition to fly. If you want to stay with him, you have to get off the plane, too. You need to decide right now, and you can’t change your mind.”

The woman wavered, looking around. It was suddenly quiet. If they were taking people off for being drunk, there were a lot of other candidates, and nobody wanted to call attention to himself. The faces under the Red Sox caps were stony. She was on her own.

And she was stuck. Her friend was in had shape; he needed someone to watch over him. She made a snap decision: “Okay, I’ll stay with him.” The airline employee took away her boarding pass and the procession started up the aisle.

The woman was just turning to follow when she remembered that she’d taken the pill. She was drunk, probably broke, far from home, without a boarding pass, and worse than alone, and a dose of sleep potent enough to drop her in her tracks was already coursing through her body. She looked around. Nobody said a word. She might have enough time before it kicked in to get off the plane onto the concourse, settle her friend in a corner where he could safely pass out, and then get her own head down on something soft before she keeled over and smashed it on something hard.

I had my two-year-old daughter with me. She wore footy pajamas and had watched the scene with intense wonder. She looked up at me, expecting an explanation. I said, “She tried to take care of her friend, and she forgot to take care of herself, and now she’s in trouble. But if she’d just thought about herself and not taken care of her friend, she’d feel worse later.” My daughter was still looking at me, uncomprehending. I said, “It’s a thing that happens to grown-ups.” When the plane took off, she fell asleep. So did the drunks.

BP and Me

By Kelly Bates   |   Thursday, August 19, 2010
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I remember as a child watching a heart wrenching commercial that pulled me out of my small universe of simple play and minute to minute existence into an adult vortex of thinking about the world.

An older man in his fifties appeared on the right side of the screen walking down an urban highway. He had long hair and Native-American features. The scene pans to his feet and the cement underneath it which is laced with trash on what I understood was his ancestors’ soil.

For the first time, I saw the land not as the ugliness of the cityscape that numbed me into disrespecting it, but something alive, breathing, and with a heartbeat. A tear welled up in his eye and I couldn’t look at him in the face. I was ashamed of my betrayal of the environment.

I had let candy wrappers drift from my hands onto the street and set soda cans up against buildings. I barely noticed when the trash filled up and spilled over, floating abandoned items along dirty water collecting in the gutters. All my household trash went down an incinerator – I never saw it land. I never thought it had consequences.

The BP oil spill scared me because no one seemed able to fix it for so long, but disposing of urban garbage properly is always within our ability. I recycle, and my husband ardently composts, but I take short cuts that make me guilty because I now know the difference my decisions make.

The United States throws away enough office and writing paper annually to build a twelve foot wall across the country. And yet I take what seems to be an itty bitty piece of paper and slip it into the garbage rather than put it in the recycling. Instead of washing the peanut butter jar, I toss it into the trash instead of the blue box. Glass never wears out because it can be recycled forever. I lose the possibility of forever when I toss without facing the consequences.

When I see a McDonald’s bag in the middle of the street, I realize we may be choosing guilt and abandonment over fixing the problem and changing our habits against the land. I blamed BP, but I must blame myself. There’s an active spill in Boston and it comes from our pockets and our garbage, and it needs to be capped immediately.

Women and Sports

By Kelly Bates   |   Thursday, August 19, 2010
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"Men are frustrated that many women don’t follow professional sports. What they don’t understand is when professional sports are segregated, it’s a turn off."  

In these weeks of the Red Sox and World Cup, I remember days of playing sports as a young girl on the streets of Manhattan. I was serious about my handball. I’d get a ninety nine cent blue rubber ball from the candy store and step into school yards where I’d beat almost every boy to their total embarrassment.

I trained with boys and learned to exceed their expectations of me. I eventually graduated to volleyball thanks to intensive coaching from my father who never uttered the phrase you play like a girl. I played to learn. I played to win. And then I played without men.

In high school I was asked to play in a volleyball league – a girl’s league of course, because there wasn’t a co-ed option. When I went to college, sports became a male universe and no one cared about girls’ volleyball or any girls teams for that matter.

My boyfriend watched professional sports on TV and I saw no women on the teams. I started to tune out sports altogether. It wasn’t on purpose, but very unconsciously my brain started to associate sports with men. Men are frustrated that many women don’t follow professional sports. What they don’t understand is when professional sports are segregated, it’s a turn off.

At my son’s pre-Kindergarten graduation, I asked a table full of female teachers whether they’d be interested in professional sports if they saw women and men playing together. They all said yes. When you don’t see yourself in the game; it’s not as interesting to watch it.

Some people think women would spoil the game. They wouldn’t play as hard or be as strong. When I played guys on the handball court, my game got better, and before long I was as good as them, and even better in some cases.

Women will rise to the occasion when they are welcomed, seriously trained, and expected to succeed.The world, every country, state, school, and the Olympics should consider the radical idea of co-ed teams with equal numbers of women and men for all sports. It would create equity, new fans, and new excitement for the game. That’s the day I would spend long hours watching every play of a game, cheering even louder, and doing high fives when he and she are making baskets.

Taking Issue with the Electoral College

By Kelly Bates   |   Thursday, August 19, 2010
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Our Country can take a simple idea and make it complex. I have a deep abiding respect for our founding fathers that came up with great ideas for how our country should run. But I also recognize they made some mistakes. Certainly making a slave three-fifths of a person in our constitution was one, and denying women the right to vote was another. But I take special issue with the obscure and quite bizarre Electoral College system that we use to elect Presidents.

In just one year, election campaigning will start in earnest for the 2012 Presidential election. It feels like yesterday when Obama and McCain were touting the slogans “Change we can believe in” and “Country first”. Yet in the blink of an eye, a new Presidential season will be upon us.

The Massachusetts legislature is considering a bill that calls on our country to adopt a national popular vote system. Changing this system may prove difficult, but it’s certainly not impossible and it’s worthy of every voter’s serious consideration.

The United States elects our President not by direct election where each voter casts a ballot and whoever gets the majority vote wins. That would be too easy and too democratic. Instead, each state has a number of electors equal to its total Congressional representation. Most states award all electors, usually state elected officials or party leaders, to the winner of the popular vote in their state, regardless of whether the winner was ahead by one vote or by millions. The founders didn’t trust ordinary voters to make their own decisions. They were also concerned about the fate of smaller states that have smaller populations.

Because of this, Presidential candidates only campaign in the states that are equally divided between Republicans and Democrats, so called “battleground” states. More than 98% of all campaign events and spending take place in only 15 states. And Massachusetts isn’t one of them. That is not fair to our state, our voters, and our democracy.

Four times in history, the candidate who placed second in the popular vote actually won the presidency under the current system. The most recent example was in 2000, when Presidential contender Al Gore won the popular vote by over 500,000 votes, but ultimately lost to George Bush who had more electoral votes.

In order for the system to change to a popular vote, states representing a majority of the Electoral College will need to pass laws like the bill in Massachusetts. Five states have already passed the popular vote proposal. Every vote and every state should count. Let’s see if Massachusetts agrees.

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