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Comments: Week of July 19, 2010

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1. In last week’s cover story, Jennifer Senior explored the correlation between children and parental unhappiness (“All Joy and No Fun,” July 12). The article launched conversations across television and radio, as well as, of course, the web. Many of the online discussions expressed relief that occasional feelings of unhappiness with parenting were normal. “Don’t get me wrong, I love my daughter. But it’s somehow reassuring to know that it’s supposed to be miserable at times,” wrote Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing. “My kids have many little ‘jobs.’ However, it is not and will never be their job to make me happy,” wrote blog Mom in the City. “If people go into parenting thinking that their kids will make them happy, then they are setting themselves up to be hugely disappointed. Let’s be honest, it’s not always fun when you need to put the needs of someone else above your own wants, but that’s the choice we make.” Others zeroed in on their favorite factoids scattered throughout the piece. The relative happiness of Scandinavian parents prompted Dylan Matthews to write a guest post for Ezra Klein’s blog that crunched the numbers comparing parental happiness in social-welfare systems, concluding that “having a kid will hurt your happiness the least if you’re in a country with a social-democratic or conservative welfare regime.” The Freakonomics blog at the New York Times highlighted how parenting can reduce moment-to-moment happiness while increasing long-term reward. But Gwynne Watkins, writing in Salon.com, took issue with the idea that parenting is something to be appreciated only in retrospect. “All I can think in response is, You’re doing it wrong,” she wrote. “If you’re having a baby for reasons of self-gratification, of course you’re going to be miserable … It’s hard enough without the added pressure of making every moment enriching and significant.” “Because we have, in effect, made parenting a profession, we are determined to do it right,” agreed Lisa Belkin at the Times’ Motherlode blog, where she tied Senior’s exploration of unhappiness to “helicopter parenting.” “We need to prove we were right to sacrifice our careers for this. Or maybe we need to prove we can do this and pursue a career. Now that parenting has become a verb—an active, measurable, competitive thing—it brings with it an infinitely expanding job description. We create one for ourselves, different from our neighbors’, or even our partners’, but always broader than the ones our parents used decades ago. We recognize it as helicoptering when we see others do it, but from the inside it feels like what a good parent does. And it is, in part, what is making us overwhelmed and unhappy.”

2. In a conversation on the Times’ website with fellow columnist Gail Collins, David Brooks reacted favorably to Christopher Beam’s profile of him (“A Reasonable Man,” July 12), calling it “admirably gentle and forgiving.” The same could not be said of the reaction it drew from many of his peers online. “An excellent profile,” wrote John Hudson at the Atlantic Wire, adding, as a backhanded compliment, “It’s clear that Beam admires Brooks’s softer, milquetoast demeanor.” “This quite good profile of David Brooks made me feel sad for him,” wrote Jonathan Chait on his blog at The New Republic. Obviously, every column Brooks writes is not a failure. But many of them are. Brooks is very good at making observations, but not especially good at making arguments. He’s miscast in the role of an op-ed columnist. But what happened is that the New York Times needed a conservative who liberals would find amenable. From the perspective of the Times, he’s quite valuable, even though he’s in a role that misuses his considerable talents. The sad thing is that Brooks understands the dilemma.” Some were more supportive of the beleaguered pundit. “David Brooks is the perfect right-of-center columnist,” wrote a commenter on nymag .com. “He’s agreeable, but one doesn’t forget that he is in fact a real conservative. Who says those types have to be bombastic and unreasonable? Moderation—a value that was once ubiquitous, and now a rare commodity in the GOP.” “It remains to be seen if calm, in the long run, is stronger than anger,” noted Andrew Sullivan at the Atlantic. “I suspect it is.”


3. Urban-planning geeks were fascinated by Robert Sullivan’s article on the MTA’s plans to overhaul the bus system into a sleeker, faster alternative to the subway (“Subway on the Streets,” July 12). “Fantastic story,” wrote Reuters blogger Felix Salmon.This can really happen, people!” “[The article] hits its stride in its discussions of the conflict between politicians and city planners,” wrote bloggers at 2nd Ave. Sagas. “Usually planners want to be more ambitious than the politicians, but New York’s transit-phobe politicians have embraced calls for a more encompassing plan.” And a vocal faction of bus-deniers came out on nymag.com. “Buses are a horrible transportation solution,” wrote one commenter. “Streetcars and light rail need serious consideration. A goal for many Americans like myself is to have a choice of efficient transportation and less reliance on fossil fuels. Buses have zero part in this solution.”

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