Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons To Watch The World Cup

June 30, 2010

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

This week’s list is inspired by my newfound (and bewildering) fascination with the World Cup. Bewildering because like most Americans, I have a hard time getting terribly excited about this game. Although my son’s interest in football has forced me to learn way more about this sport than I ever imagined, I myself am not an avid football fan. My best sports continue to be pool and bowling.

But this World Cup has been amazing not just for the quality of football played, but the things it has revealed “off the pitch,” so to speak.

Here are five reasons to watch:

1. It allows for a global redistribution of power. Granted, it doesn’t take much to animate my inner Marxist. But you’d have to be pretty hard-hearted not to feel inspired when countries like Ghana and Paraguay make it into the quarter-finals. Because soccer is a truly global sport, there’s always a bit of an upstairs/downstairs quality to the matches every four years. But this year, the balance seems particularly tipped towards poorer countries. To wit: while five out of 8 quarter-finalists this year hail from the Global South (Argentina, Brazil, Ghana, Paraguay and Uruguay), only two did in 2006 (Argentina and Brazil; I’m not sure how to “count” Ukraine). In a world marked by growing income inequality, this is a welcome turn of affairs. Viva la Revolucion!

2. You get to see a nation’s true colors. Again, this has always been true, but national personality has been super-sized this time around. Take the gutsy, aggressive, free-wheeling Argentine team and their pop-star-like coach, Diego Maradona. Argentinians have long been famous in Latin America for their over-sized egos and brazen self-confidence. (And yes, some of my best friends are Argentine. Really.) Or the spectacularly haughty French team, which went on strike – how French! – to protest the explusion of one of their players after he swore at the team’s Manager. (Mon Dieu!) Slate even ran a piece by Anne Applebaum analyzing the ways different countries have responded to the Vuvuzela and what that says about national character.

3. New words get invented. While we’re on the topic of the vuvuzela, let’s talk about the way in which – over the course of, what, three weeks? – this word has managed to insinuate itself into all of our consciences. Inspired by the word and concept of “vuvuzelas,” Schott’s Vocab blog at The New York Times went so far as to launch a contest where readers were asked to list their favorite sounds, descriptions of sounds and onomatopoeia. (The prize? A set of vuvuzela-canceling headphones. Brilliant!)

4. It produces great ads. Much like the Superbowl in the U.S., the World Cup leads to some top-notch advertising. If you haven’t seen the Nike World Cup Ad – Write The Future – promoting the event itself, it’s a must. Another must see (which I linked to a few weeks back on my Friday Pix list) are the string of World Cup moment re-enactments in Lego that have been running at The Guardian. (Here’s the now-classic botched England save in USA v. England, rendered in Lego.)

5. You learn about ethics. You know when a world-famous philosopher – Peter Singer – uses a World Cup goal as a “teachable moment” about ethics and cheating that the sport has transcended low-brow entertainment and is now a form of art.

*****
Yesterday, I was over at http://www.PoliticsDaily.com talking about how scientific advances are changing our understanding of what “having it all” means for women. Have a look.

Image: 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa by phallin via Flickr in a Creative Commons license.

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iPhone 4: Way Cool But Is Anyone Recycling Their Old Ones?

June 28, 2010

Last week was quite a week for novelty and inspiration. Alongside the USA’s dramatic victory over Algeria in the World Cup and the longest tennis match in history, Apple also rolled out the latest incarnation of its incredibly popular iPhone.

In Japan, where the launch for the iPhone 4 began on Thursday morning, Apple’s exclusive wireless carrier had sold out by early afternoon. In the United States, more than 600,000 pre-orders for the new phone crashed the system on Wednesday. One eager soul in Dallas camped out at an Apple store a full week before the launch. Some in the telecommunications industry are expecting that Apple will sell 9.5 million of them by the end of June. (Compare that with the first iPhone release in 2007, when it took about 2½ months to sell 1 million.)

In my own neighborhood here in London, there was already a queue around the block by the time the Vodaphone Store opened at 10 a.m. Men and women in suits tapped out texts on their soon-to-be-outdated iPhone 3G’s. Mums sipping Starbucks tried to keep restless toddlers in their strollers. In short: Dozens of people delayed the start of this stunningly beautiful June day by several hours, all so that they could be the first to get their hands on this latest i-toy.

Read the rest of this post at www.PoliticsDaily.com

image: iPhone 4 line on launch day at San Francisco Apple Store 125 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

June 25, 2010

Every Friday I point you to some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

1. As someone who’s been pondering middle age quite a bit lately (here and here), I was quite taken with this post by Raina Kelley at Newsweek where she lays out some mid-life crisis rules to live by. (Note to self: No naked skyping!)

2. If you’re a mom, a wife or both, be sure to check out this CafeMom quiz that lets you rank yourself as a parent and a spouse. (Hat tip: Motherlode)

3. I laughed out loud at his essay in McSweeneys where the author writes from the perspective of life as a comic sans font. Hilarious! (Hat tip: Writer Abroad) Also in McSweeneys, Eloise (of story book fame) turns 23. (Hat tip: Communicatrix)

4. Writers will wince in recognition at this arch  blog by a literary agent entitled SlushPileHell, where the agent lists – and then disses – the kinds of claims authors make in their cover letters. Ouch! (Hat tip: Lisa Romeo Writes)

5. A new (to me) blog on creativity which a thoughtful reader pointed me towards: Strangling My Muse.

6. Finally, I really enjoyed this essay in the Brown Alumni Monthly by Jamie Metzl on the perils of wikipedia fame.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons To Be Pessimistic About Middle Age

June 23, 2010

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Last week, I gave you five reasons to be optimistic about middle age. In brief: you’ll live longer, your brain will keep developing, you’ll be happier, your divorce may not be all that bad, and you’ll make loads of new friends on the AARP Facebook page.

But in addition to being an optimist, I’m also a realist. As promised, then, here are five reasons to be pessimistic about middle age:

1. Social services can’t keep up with aging population. Yes, people are living longer. That’s the good news. But the general aging of the population will also place enormous burdens on social services, including health care delivery, informal care-giving and the pension system. So a lot will hinge on just how healthy this new crop of centenarians is. About 80 percent of seniors have at least one chronic health condition and 50 percent have at least two. In theory, the health care reform bill passed last year in America should help address some of these problems. But some experts warn that our public policies  – including health care reform – just aren’t up to the task of ensuring that our aging population gets the medical care it needs. In the worst case scenario – not only in the U.S. but in other countries as well – the old and the young will enter into a zero-sum conflict, fighting for scarce health care and economic resources.

2. Suicide rates are up among middle-aged Americans. Alongside all the research discussed last week showing that happiness peaks at 50, a curious and sobering counter-trend has also emerged:  For the second year in a row, middle-aged adults have registered the highest suicide rate in the United States, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A variety of hypotheses have been tossed out to explain this trend, including easier access to guns and prescription drugs as well as higher rates of depression among boomers. One sociologist at Berkeley speculates that it’s a combination of having grown up during an era of cultural turmoil (the 60’s), together with greater competition for resources (due to baby boom) as well as the stresses induced by an extended period of young adulthood. Whatever the cause, it’s certainly nothing to be cheery about.

3. Midlife Crises Cost More. I noted last week that with the advent of a happy middle age, there may be fewer midlife crises. But for those boomers out there still looking for Plan B, it’s gonna cost them. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, mid-life crises – whether it’s traveling the world, playing the stock market or starting one’s own business (I’ll grant you, these are a bit tamer than some crises one might imagine!) – have all gotten quite a good deal more expensive in the last few years. Add that to a general unease in this age bracket about market volatility and you’ve got a recipe for widespread economic anxiety at middle age.

4. You’re more like to get an STD. So…late divorce isn’t so bad after all, as we learned last week. But sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are actually more of a problem for middle-aged populations right now than they are among the young (at least in the United States.) The highest number of newly acquired cases of HIV/AIDS have been found in middle-aged adults, ages 35 to 44. Next highest age group? Ages 45 to 54. The least affected group is the youngest group between the ages of 25 to 34. Some of this is because women over 50 – no longer afraid of getting pregnant – cease using condoms. So if you are planning on getting back out there with your new-found freedom, by all means come prepared.

5. Who wants to multi-task? One of my favorite cantankerous chroniclers of middle age is Howard Baldwin over on Middle Age Cranky. In a recent post, Baldwin wonders who really wants to learn that as we age, our brains actually improve their ability to problem solve and multi-task? Doesn’t that just mean that boomers will have fewer excuses available to them when they want to plea a senior moment? Just sayin’…

Image: condom display by vista vision via flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Why Best Friends Are Bad For Girls

June 21, 2010

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Best friends are bad for you.

So says an article published in the New York Times last week. Titled “A Best Friend? You Must Be Kidding,” it describes a new trend among some educators and child psychologists who are actively discouraging children from having best friends. The concern is that forming exclusive one-on-one friendships in childhood encourages cliques and bullying. Some camps have even gone so far as to set up “friendship coaches” to help campers become friends with everyone else.

The reaction to this article has been both fast and furious. Last I checked there were some 387 comments on the post, most of them negative. “God, spare us the over-anxious theorists and control freaks,” wrote one commenter. Others noted the “Orwellian” nature of the anti-Best Friend movement, decrying the “pathological adult over-thinking” that lies behind it and denouncing it as yet another version of the “Nanny State.” It is an idea “beyond stupidity,” wrote someone else.

Well, call me a stupid, Orwellian, pathologically over-thinking adult (it’s OK, I’ve been called worse), but I found myself nodding in agreement while I read this article. So let me go out on a limb and tell you why I think the New York Times story has it right: Best friends aren’t great for kids. Especially for girls.

Read the rest of this story at www.PoliticsDaily.com

Image: Best friends dec 1999…and forever by Irina Souiki via flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

June 18, 2010

Every Friday I point you to some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

1.Well, folks. Sandra Tsing Loh has once again knocked it out of the park. Here she is in The Atlantic, talking about how women these days are married to their houses.

2. One of the main ways that I stay connected to U.S. politics (and American pop culture) is by watching The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. If you’re also a fan, then you’ll also love this interview with Daily Show correspondent Samantha Bee in Salon about Bee’s new memoir.

3. Like Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project fame, I also embrace novelty and love working with others. Be sure to read Gretchen’s post on the power of creative collaboration, which includes a link to the comic she co-created with Chari Pere entitled “Gretchen Rubin in The Quest for a Passion.” Lovely.

4. If you follow the World Cup – and even if you don’t – you must watch this hilarious rendering of last week’s famous World Cup match between England and USA…in lego. (Courtesy of The Guardian)

5. Finally, another must-see video of what the help desk was like in the Middle Ages.

If you enjoy my Friday pix, please do follow me on Twitter! I’m there posting links like these all week long!

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons To Be Optimistic About Middle Age

June 16, 2010

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

This week’s list is inspired by a barrage of recent scientific studies offering good news about middle age.

Middle age has long been conceptualized as that phase of life where we cease thinking about our potential as human beings, and start focusing on our limitations. No more. While not everything looks rosy (stay tuned for next week’s tip list), there are at least a few trends out there that do bode well for those of us hovering at the mid-point of our lives.

Here are five reasons to feel optimistic:

1. People are living longer. According to scientists, more people than ever before are living to older adulthood. In the U.S., the average lifespan has risen 30 years since 1900. And today’s older adults are better-educated, healthier, more active and more affluent than any previous generation. Plus, as I pointed out last week, the labor market is becoming more diverse and there will be more jobs for the over-55 set. So there’s lots more time – and more to do.

2. Our brains keep evolving. New research also shows that – contrary to the long-held view that our brains get fixed in early childhood – circuits in the adult brain are, in fact, continually modified by experience. The result? In some respects, we actually think better in middle age. Specifically, inductive reasoning and problem solving improves in the middle-aged brain. We get the gist of an argument better. We arrive at solutions more quickly. Even financial judgments peak in middle age.

3. People are happier over 50. This is also both surprising and welcome news. A survey of more than 340,000 people published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that overall feelings of wellbeing improve as we pass middle age. Specifically, levels of stress, worry and anger all dropped significantly for people in their fifties, while levels of happiness and enjoyment increased. While the study wasn’t designed to identify the causes of increased happiness, scholars speculated that with age comes greater wisdom and emotional intelligence. A similar study carried out in Canada also found that self-esteem is highest among middle-aged boomers. The corollary of all this research? We can probably expect to see fewer mid-life crises.

4. Even divorce can be positive. As the endless analyses of Al and Tipper Gore’s break up tell us, late divorce (i.e. divorce in marriages 20 years or longer) is increasingly common. But it’s also not necessarily a bad thing. A large number of articles that followed on the Gores’ split emphasized late divorce as a form of autonomy and self-actualizationespecially for women – rather than just sticking it out for longevity’s sake. For me, at least, that was the first time I’d seen divorce as a cultural trend discussed in positive terms.

5. The AARP has had a makeover. Yup, that’s right folks. The American Association for Retired Persons (that’s AARP for all those in the know) has had an on-line overhaul in order to cater to the digital demands of the over-50 crowd. So for all you aging Facebook-ers out there, you have a new on-line hang out.

Image: AARP by Somewhat Frank via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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