Produced by Gary Drevitch
Slate jumps on the bandwagon of media outlets which have realized that no self-respecting kid collects baseball cards anymore, and repeats the argument expressed elsewhere that the road back for the industry must begin with the winnowing of competing brands, the dumping of costly holograms and other geegaws, and the return to cheap, simple packs of cards kids can feel comfortable reading and trading without the pressure of preserving a collection.
Anecdotal evidence (from us) says cardmakers may be making progress. Fellow and his friends at baseball camp last week were happy to put their quarters in a vending machine for a loose handful of random cards from as far back as 15 years ago. Of course, five-year-olds are not the most discriminating consumers, but at least they're on board with the concept that cards are cool. And we've recently spotted, along with (or instead of) the traditional small packs, larger packages with 40 or 50 new cards, which put a critical mass of cards in kids' hands more quickly. Clearly, they've realized that once you've got the boys sorting (see: Yu-Gi-Oh), you've got them for a while. And had it not been for Loving Mother's stern glare, we'd have bought Fellow three of them last weekend.
JUST WHAT THE CORPORATION FOR PUBLIC BROADCASTING NEEDS - ANOTHER PBS KIDS ANAL SEX SCANDAL
Melanie the Baby-sitter, star of "The Good-Night Show" on the PBS Kids Sprout network, was fired by the network after confessing that she'd appeared in some spoof public-service announcements, called "Technical Virgin," advocating anal sex for girls trying to avoid pregnancy. (You can see one of the spots here.) Tickle Me Elmo, indeed.
RIP, TEEN PEOPLE
Time Inc. pulled the plug on its badly listing Teen People franchise last night, preserving the brand as a Web site, but potentially putting 40-50 staffers out of work. (Details and rumors here and here.) Full disclosure: We were once an assigning editor at Teen People, under its initial regime, when it burst out of the gate, selling millions of copies and even taking a National Magazine Award for General Excellence, still the only such Ellie ever given to a teen book. And we're proud of that. But after every other publisher followed Time Inc. into the then-booming teen girl magazine market (now pretty much busted), TP tried to compete by upping the celebrity-gossip and dating-tips ante, and jettisoning much of the newsier material which had distinguished it in the market. And, predictably, it was all downhill from there. After hiring and dumping at least three top-editor teams, the magazine that shut down yesterday bore little resemblance to the one we worked at. (Of course, it doesn't help that the carcasses of the young celebrities that TP and its ilk once picked over exclusively are now beset by a flock of new grown-up celeb rags.)
We wish any old friends still at the shop good luck landing on their feet.
NOW, THAT'S PRECOCIOUS
Several readers have recommended that we share with anyone who may have missed it the Sunday Times piece on the remarkable 9-year-old cartoonist, Alexa Kitchen, whose work has been praised by no less than Robert Crumb and the late Will Eisner. Her latest book (packaged by her comic-publisher dad) is now on sale - a "how to" for kids called "Drawing Comics Is Easy, Except When It's Hard."
As a parent, our first instinct is naturally to resent the little girl's success, envy her parents, and bemoan our own children's struggles to draw rainbows on birthday cards. But we're not going to do that, at least not in this case, because Alexa's good cheer has won us over:
“I never expected to do anything like this. I never expected a single person would buy my book. It makes me want to hug this pillow so hard. It makes me want to burst it. It makes me want to hug the whole world and squeeze everybody.”
OK, FINE. BUT WE'RE STILL NOT BUYING ANY CAPRI SUN
Still working our way through the files from our recent vacation, and still trying to get our head around the Times' counterintuitive front-page Sunday Business article that corn syrup may not be so bad for you, after all - or at least, no worse than sugar. An All-Star roster of independent scientists and corn-industry spokespeople defended the processed goo, and shifted the blame for rising American obesity to food marketers who have radically increased the size of their sodas and snack packages over the years - though their ability to do so can be directly linked to the relatively recent easy availability of cheaper-than-sugar corn syrup.
But when we've reported on risky foods, the pediatric dietitians we've spoken to have been in almost total agreement that corn syrup, especially in beverages, was a major culprit in the country's fat-kid crisis, and that parents should read labels and avoid the sweetener as best they can. So, thanks anyway, but we're going to stick with water, Gorilla Munch, and organic ketchup for the kids - and you probably should as well.
CORPORATE SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITY: FREELANCE DAD'S FIRST-EVER LECTURE TOUR
If someone can come up with the funding, we're prepared to hit the road tomorrow to speak to couples in their early 20s who are so desperate to have children that they're unnecessarily seeking fertility treatments. Our message?: Trust us, kids: There's no hurry. And you prospective 22-year-old dads out there, we want you to ask yourself one simple question, and answer us truthfully now: Don't you want to see Spider-Man 3 on the big screen? Because, trust us, if you've got a newborn to watch over, you're going to have to wait for that bad boy to come out on Netflix, and that would be the real tragedy, wouldn't it?
[For a more potty-mouthed take on this non-trend, we refer you to our good friends at Stay Free.]
AND NOW A MESSAGE FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION
Reserve your copy of this book today, and it'll screw up all of your Amazon orders through next February.
IT'S COOLER BY THE LAKE
We found ourselves this weekend visiting friends in the northwest corner of Connecticut, and were pleasantly surprised to discover how much Litchfield County resembles Tuscany. As it happens - and we swear it was strictly a coincidence - the Times Escapes section also visited the region on Friday.
AMERICAN HISTORY THE WAY IT OUGHTTA BE
A co-worker forwarded this site to us the other day. Apparently a New Hampshire-based cartoonist has produced a long-running strip in which the statue of Revolutionary War-era Brigadier General John Stark relates his heroic exploits at the Battle of Bennington. Stark argues that his success led directly to the defeat of the British. The strip's conceit, and Stark's argument, hold up remarkably well. Not for children, but well worth a look.
NOTES (AND NOTES, AND NOTES) ON CAMP
Slate last week offered a package of articles on the American sleepaway camp tradition. Since our own experiences as a camp counselor were as positive as our experiences as a camper were negative, we identified most with Seth Stevenson's "Minor Gods: Why Camp Is for the Counselors," in which he reports:
. . . . A few kids, though, started to buy what I was selling. They'd break up cliques on their own, and they'd take the shy kids under their wings. When I saw small triumphs like this, I felt like Gandhi and John Lennon rolled into one. It was a soul-thrilling feeling. . . .
I remember the first time I got a night off that summer in Maine. A group of us counselors drove out to the one little pub in town, and we got drunk and played pool all night, relishing our time away from the kiddies. It was fun. But we soon realized we weren't Gandhi in that pub. . . .
After that, on our nights off we mostly just sat on the empty dock in the moonlight, our bare feet dangling in the water.
Sounds about right.
HELL IN A HANDBASKET WATCH
From the lead story in yesterday's Times Home section, "The Allure of the Tool Belt," about the supposed frequency of contractor-housewife affairs, especially in the Hamptons:
“Nobody knows,” [R. Couri Hay, the society editor of Hamptons and Gotham magazines,] said. “The contractor isn’t going to tell because the husband is writing the check, the wife isn’t going to tell, and you get a better job because she’s providing a fringe benefit. Everybody wins."
AS AN ALTERNATIVE, BUY THE REAL THING FROM AMAZON FOR 60 CENTS AN OUNCE, AND SMEAR A DAB BEHIND YOUR EARS AND NECK. THE EAU USUALLY STAYS ON OUR HANDS FOR ABOUT THREE DAYS, SO YOU SHOULD BE SET FOR WHATEVER EXCITEMENT THE EVENING HOLDS IN STORE FOR YOU
This outfit is peddling the essence of Play-Doh in a cologne spray, for "highly creative people" who have hopefully come up with different means of attracting people to them than their scent.
NORMALLY, WE'D MAKE SOME SNIDE REMARK ABOUT THE ANONYMOUS MOMS WHO TROLL URBANBABY'S MESSAGE BOARDS AT ALL HOURS, SEEDING PANIC AND INSECURITY IN THEIR PEERS, BUT WE'RE GOING TO REFRAIN. BECAUSE WE'RE NOT ANONYMOUS. AND THEY SCARE THE CRAP OUT OF US.
If you live out of town, and you're curious as to what parenting is like in the big city (that is, the Upper East Side), New York magazine this week takes you on a guided tour of the complicated psyche of the typical (upper-class) Manhattan mother, via her UrbanBaby.com postings. Brace yourself: Her husband's cheating on her. Her toddlers are pissing her off. And she's just about ready to sodomize the nanny in the Starbuck's john.
HER APPLICATION ESSAY BLEW YOUR KID'S TALE OF HELPING OUT AT THE FOOD BANK A COUPLE OF AFTERNOONS A WEEK OUT OF THE WATER
The New York Sun has the amazing story of incoming MIT full-boat scholarship freshman Cristen Chinea, whose mother spent years as a public drunk in Union Square Park.
WELCOME BACK TO FREELANCESTAMPS.COM
It's becoming a theme here this week, but the US Postal Service has unveiled another cool set of stamps for the summer: DC Comics heroes. But while it's cool to see Plastic Man, one of the funkiest heroes of all time, immortalized on postage, you realize that when you've got to call on Supergirl and Hawkman to fill out your roster of 10 characters, DC's stable of heroes just isn't so deep. Still, fun stuff.
IF SHE APPLIES HERSELF, ONE DAY YOUR OWN ARTISTIC PRODIGY CAN PEDDLE KANDINSKY KNOCKOFFS IN FRONT OF AUNTIE ANNE'S PRETZELS AND THE BODY SHOP
Several years back, preadolescent Romanian immigrant Alexandra Nechita was turning media heads with her monumental, derivative paintings. The press called her "The Petite Picasso" and undiscriminating stars like Whoopi Goldberg, Phil Collins, and Stephen Baldwin added her artworks to their "private collections." Was this the future of American painting? The jury's still out, but the Boston Globe reports that you could have met the now-21-year-old artist and perused her works this past Saturday at the Burlington Mall - as it turns out, the same place Basquiat got his start.
"NOTHING BUT GRAPES AND SUNSHINE" - AND MAYBE A LITTLE SILICONE
The Times reports that the Sun-Maid raisin girl has received her inevitable corporate makeover. According to the company's Web site, the original Sun-Maid girl, Lorraine Collett Petersen,
was discovered in May 1915 "drying her black hair curls in the sunny
backyard of her parents’ home in Fresno, California. She was then asked
to pose for a painting while holding a basket tray of fresh grapes."
And that image, of Petersen in a loose-fitting peasant dress, had, with
the occasional updating, remained the raisin maker's symbol, until this
year, when company president Barry Kriebel
demanded that she be given breast implants and squeezed into a shiny
spandex blouse - you know, the kind commonly worn by migrant grape pickers.
It's all about Sun-Maid's
core audience: families with children under 10. Company research showed that 97 percent of consumers who eat raisins recognized the Sun-Maid girl and felt she embodied freshness and wholesomeness. That’s why the new digitally animated raisin girl mimics the old portrait still featured on the box. The animated version is more contemporary, with a California-style tan and a wider, whiter smile. . . “She’s doing everything we want her to do,” Mr. Kriebel said.
We'll just bet she is, Barry, you sick, sick man.
AND NOW SOMETHING MORE WHOLESOME FOR THE UNDER-10 MARKET
The U.S. Postal Service has released its new "Wonders of America" commemorative stamp series, highlighting 40 natural and man-made superlatives from across this great nation. The stamps combine retro styling, valid postage, and golden teaching opportunities -- all for just 39 cents each. Or, see the whole collection for nothing here.
PICTURES ARE READY
As we've always said here at FD.com, it's not (all) about our kids. But for those of you who may be interested in seeing Small Fellow and Tiny Girl - or are related to them - we have created a sleek new photo site, which replaces the clunky old photo site. The page has been updated with shots from the recent summer vacation; images are in chronological order, so the newest material is on the bottom. You can see the pictures here or by clicking "See the Kids" at the top of this page. Help yourself.
WAL-MART TO KIDS: TAKE ALL YOU WANT; WE'LL MAKE MORE
The nation's largest retailer has decided that first-time offenders under 18 and over 65 should be able to steal anything in the store worth $25 or less with impunity. As the Times article suggests, a major reason Wal-Mart made the switch was to save local police departments the trouble of repeatedly sending officers to the superstore to haul in preteens who'd filled their pockets with Mentos. But whatever the reason, we appreciate Wal-Mart's show of faith in America's youth, and in the concept that everyone, as long as they're not between 18 and 65, deserves a second chance. And to demonstrate our support for the new policy, we plan to send Fellow in this weekend to pinch some beach chairs and beef jerky for us.
WE NOW WELCOME OUR GUEST BLOGGER, THE GHOST OF HENNY YOUNGMAN:
"YOU SAY YOU'LL TAKE MY WIFE OFF MY HANDS FOR A WEEK FOR $50,000? WHY NOT TAKE HER FOR GOOD - PLEASE - AND I'LL GIVE YOU $50,000 !"
This appeared on our mailbox the other day:
<<Subject: Fox TV show would like to talk with you
Date: Wed, 5 Jul 2006 11:37:36 -0700
From: Scott McConnell <email@example.com>
I'm a casting director for the hit Fox show "Trading Spouses" and we're looking for a well-to-do urban family to come onto the show. The family must be a husband and wife and at least one child between the ages of 6 and 18, and no children under the age of 6. It helps if the family (especially the mom) is colorful and with strong personalities. The family selected that appears on the show receives up to $50,000 for a 7-10 day shoot.>>
IN MEMORIAM: ALEX TOTH
Cartoonist Alex Toth passed away recently at age 77. In a long
career, Toth did character designs for such animated shows as "Space Ghost" and
one of our all-time favorites from the late 60s, "The Herculoids." If you don't recall the Herculoids, they were a kind of alien/prehistoric Fantastic Four* - a gang of creatures, each with
a different power or skill (including Gleep and Gloop, shameless knockoffs of Al Capp's Shmoo), who teamed up to thwart evil threats to the planet Quasar and protect their human friends, Zandor, Tarno, and Dara.
THIS IS NO JOKE: FELLOW WOULD DRINK (DECAF) ICED COFFEE EVERY DAY IF ANYONE WOULD LET HIM
Starbucks has apparently decided to put its public image at risk and try to make a few bucks hooking the next generation on its overpriced caffeine delivery systems: While the company has always claimed a longstanding policy of not marketing to young people, new products like Bananas & Creme Frappuccinos - recently launched at the Phoenix Zoo (!) - are quite understandably making people wonder about the company's evil plans for our youth.
WHY DON'T YOU START BY TEACHING TODDLERS THAT TALKING ENDS WITH A G?
Allow us to introduce the Talkin' Sipster,
a new $6.99 Playtex product which
serves no possible consumer need. This spill-proof sippy cup "talks to your
toddler, helping them learn new sounds and letters," because Lord
knows, you can't be bothered to talk to her while she's drinking milk.
Near as we can tell, Playtex is hoping that you or a sitter will screw
up and put the cup's detachable bottom - which houses its
electronics and speaker - in the dishwasher or microwave, thereby destroying it
and disappointing your child so much that you have to run out and buy a
new one. Frankly, it's not such a bad business plan. . .
"MR. SPEAKER, THIS ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT
TUNA SNEAKS INTO OUR COUNTRY FROM SOUTH OF THE BORDER, TAKES THE SHELF
SPACE OF OUR PROUD DOMESTIC TUNA, AND THEN INFECTS OUR WOMEN AND CHILDREN
WITH MERCURY. I SAY TO YOU THAT THIS IS NOT WHAT OUR FOUNDING FATHERS INTENDED WHEN THEY WROTE THE CONSTITUTION."
Although parents and women of child-bearing age are already limiting their and their kids' intake of white tuna, a new warning from environmental watchdog group Defenders of Wildlife claims that tuna imported from Latin American countries like Ecuador and Mexico have a much higher mercury concentration than fish caught elsewhere, so . . . you already know the drill: read your labels to see where your tuna was caught, stick to the domestics, limit servings to once a week, but don't forget to give your kids fish for the omega-3 fatty acids, etc., etc., etc.
WE NOW RETURN TO OUR REGULARLY-SCHEDULED BLOG, ALREADY IN PROGRESS
The FD family is back from a week's vacation at Cape Cod, and feeling not the least bit refreshed, thanks for asking. Highlights of the week away included:
* Mystic Seaport: We stepped aboard the Amistad -
well, it's actually a recreation of the Amistad, but they shrewdly
don't tell you that until you've already contributed some cash for its upkeep - as well as a (real) whaling ship, where Fellow and Tiny spent the
better part of the afternoon climbing in and out of the sailors' filthy bunks.
* Whale Watch!: The FD Family spotted 11 humpbacks this year, plus a basking shark with a big green maw that could have swallowed the family whole, had it been a carnivore. (It isn't.) (And that's not our photo.)
* The Cape Cod League: Tickets are always free for this longtime summer showcase of the country's top collegiate players, which has 10 teams across the Cape. The players lodge with local families, carry their own bags, and do skateboard tricks with neighborhood kids after the game. We took in a Bourne Braves-Brewster Whitecaps clash, which ended in a 2-0 victory for the visiting Braves. As the game progressed, we and Fellow snagged front-row seats in the cozy bleachers and watched the action up close. And if there's a better bonding moment than filling out a scorecard with your son for the first time, we're unfamiliar with it.
"M IS FOR THE MANY PILLS I BRING TO HER,
O MEANS ONLY THAT SHE'S GROWING OLD(ER)"
Sixty-two-year-old child psychologist Patti Farrant has given birth to a baby boy in London, making her the kingdom's oldest mother ever. We don't begrudge anyone the benefits of reproductive technology (the baby was conceived via fertility treatments) but we find it dubious at best that a bird who already has three grown children (albeit from a previous marriage) sees a need to give birth at 62, an age at which, if she beats the odds, she'll likely only be of any material use to the child until it turns 14. But what truly gets our knickers in a bunch is that Farrant, being a child psychologist, really ought to know better.