MONEY Shopping

School’s (Almost) Out! Just In Time for Back-to-School Sales

BSIP SA / Alamy—Alamy

If you thought now was the time to relax and celebrate the end of the school year, J.C. Penney, Walmart, and Lands' End have a back-to-school sale for you.

Last summer, retailers raised eyebrows by rolling out back-to-school sales in early July, within a week or two of when kids escaped the clutches of teachers, principals, and algebra homework. “In seven and a half years, I’ve never once seen so much emphasis put on back-to-school before July 4,” National Retail Federation spokeswoman Kathy Grannis told AdAge at the time.

Fast-forward to June 2014, and retailers are at it again, pushing back-to-school sales earlier than ever. Consumers are getting the message that the time to purchase gear for the upcoming school year is before the current school year has ended. Like, now.

J.C. Penney began promoting back-to-school sales last weekend, according to Consumerist. Walmart already has a back-to-school web page for student fashions, backpacks, and other school gear, as well as another page devoted to back-to-college apparel and tech. Target just introduced a college registry program, so that students can try to get other people to buy them stuff. Apple’s back-to-school promotional deals are expected to be announced any day now. And Lands’ End? It started zapping customers with e-mails a couple of weeks ago, pushing the idea that early June is a fine time to buy school uniforms that kids won’t wear until around Labor Day.

It’s totally understandable why retailers try to move back-to-school shopping earlier and earlier each year. Families generally have finite resources they can allocate to back-to-school fashion and paraphernalia, and once the pencils, protractors, glue sticks, notebooks, and a few new outfits are purchased, their back-to-school expenditures are done (in theory). Retailers want to beat the competition to the punch, before the family’s back-to-school budget is depleted.

“Retailers are going to do what they can to try to get consumers into the stores to shop, but the fact of the matter is they might not have much luck,” Britt Beemer, chairman of America’s Research Group, explained to CNBC. “There aren’t any parents that I can find who have even thought of back-to-school shopping, because for most kids, they haven’t even gotten out of school yet.”

Still, even if shoppers don’t actually buy back-to-school stuff in June, the enticements may get them thinking about their needs for the upcoming school year. Panic sets in for a lot of overwhelmed parents, and they’re more apt to want to cross all of their children’s back-to-school items off their list as soon as possible. How can you relax on a summer vacation when you know there will be dorm rooms to decorate and Number 2 pencils that need to be purchased?

What’s more, early-season promotional efforts are limited mostly to the digital world. It’s much cheaper and easier for a retailer to send out an e-mail blast or put up a back-to-school web page than it is to rearrange shelves and create promotional sections inside thousands of stores. That’ll happen soon enough, of course, during the especially puzzling period when you’re likely to encounter Fourth of July, back to school, Christmas in July, and plain old summer sales in your local megamart, perhaps mixed in with the odd early Halloween aisle.

Of course, retailers risk some customer backlash by taking the expansion of shopping seasons too far. So-called “Christmas creep,” the phenomenon in which the Christmas shopping season kicks off in September and Christmas ads air within a few days of Labor Day weekend, has caused many an observer to groan in exasperation.

When the calendar says one thing and retailers are telling consumers something very different via sales and promotions, the result can be jarring, even off-putting. Yet retailers assume shoppers have short memories, and they hope that whatever bad feelings a too-early sale produces are outweighed by deals that are just too good to pass up.

TIME Television

We’re Getting a Half-Hour Version of Sesame Street

12th Annual Sesame Workshop Benefit Gala
Many of the Sesame Street characters at the 12th annual Sesame Workshop Benefit Gala at Cipriani 42nd Street on May 28, 2014 in New York City. Robin Marchant—Getty Images

They will air in the afternoons and stream online

Famed children’s show Sesame Street has finally succumbed to our shortening attention spans. PBS will begin broadcasting and streaming a half-hour version of the show this fall, the company said Wednesday.

For almost 45 years, Sesame Street has run only hour-long episodes, even as other children’s shows got shorter. But a jump in use of the PBS Kids Video app last year and slumping broadcasting ratings convinced the network to design a mobile-friendly version of the show.

“30 minutes is about as long as you can get [for mobile],” Lesli Rotenberg, PBS’s general manager of children’s programming, told the New York Times about the new format. “The hourlong show didn’t lend itself as well to that.”

The new half-hour shows will join PBS’ afternoon lineup starting Sept. 1. PBS will also stream more than just clips from the show for the first time in Sesame Street history: some episodes will be streamable via the PBS website, its mobile app and its Roku channel.

Hour-long Sesame Street episodes will continue to run in the mornings.

TIME Culture

The Female Superhero May Finally Take Flight

I Am Elemental action figures I Am Elemental

A successful Kickstarter campaign for female action figures and action movies starring women promise a future where girls can kick butt too

G.I. Joe was built to be a hero. His body is engineered for action, not posing. So imagine if certain parts of his anatomy were so large that he fell over. How would he get any world saving done? That’s not a question that anyone seems to be asking about action figures modeled after Wonder Woman.

Why do these heroines look a lot more like Victoria’s Secret models than strong women capable of rescuing civilization (or at least bending their limbs)? Dawn Nadeau, co-founder of I Am Elemental, a new toy company for girls explains it like this: “The few female action figures that are on the market are really designed for the adult male collector. The form is hyper-sexualized: The breasts are oversized; the waist is tiny. When you make the figures sit, their legs splay open in a suggestive way.”

What was missing, Nadeua and her co-founder Julie Kerwin realized, were female action-figures who looked as athletic, powerful and flexible as the male-oriented toys like G.I. Joe and Captain America do. Thanks to overwhelming support from a KickStarter campaign — the company reached its $35,000 goal in the first 48 hours after launching in May and eventually went on to raise almost $163,000 from supporters in all 50 states and six continents — I Am Elemental‘s first group of action figures will hit toy stores this holiday season.

The toys come at a time when female superheroes are starting to invade the zeitgeist but still play second fiddle to men, as with Jennifer Lawrence in X-Men: Days of Future Past or Scarlett Johansson in The Avengers. Most toys are byproducts of what’s onscreen and are a large part of their profit: Last year, the success of the Hunger Games franchise inspired a set of purple and pink Nerf guns and crossbows for girls called Nerf Rebelle. But the swell of financial support for I Am Elemental proves that there is a demand for more strong heroines in both toy stories and our culture.

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Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique in X-Men: Days of Future Past. Alan Markfield—TM and © 2013 Marvel and Subs. TM and © 2013 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

What’s different about the I Am Elemental action figures is that they don’t look anything like Barbie or, for that matter, Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique in X-Men, whose entire costume consists of blue body paint. The creators spent months perfecting the action figures’ measurements to make them as realistic, athletic and as non-sexualized as possible. “We were obsessed with the breast-to-hip ratio,” says Nadeau. “We were obsessed with the bum because so many of these figures have these incredible butt cracks on the back. We kept saying ‘Bridge the gap.” The result is a figure that’s decidedly feminine but could still leap into battle.

There are several action figures in the I Am Elemental sets. Each has a theme inspired by a historical muse (the first, based on Joan of Arc, is “courage”). And each figure in that set personifies a virtue and possess a power: For example, Persistence has the ability to push through any obstacle with super-strength.

Though all the characters are women, Nadeau says they hope the action figures can have a place in boys’ toy boxes too. “If you don’t over-qualify it and just say here’s a great toy play with it, the kids will be off and running. I don’t think everything needs to be gender specified,” she says. “I’d like to see them in the girl aisle and the boys aisle, next to Barbie and next to the Transformers. They should be in boys’ toy boxes too because 50% of the human population is female, and shouldn’t women be part of story lines that boys are creating?”

What toys girls play with when they are young affects how they perceive themselves and what they can accomplish later in life. In a recent study published in the Journal of Sex Roles, researchers asked one group of girls play with large-breasted, thin-waisted Barbie dolls and another group play with ambiguously shaped Mrs. Potato Head dolls. Upon interviewing the girls after they played, the scientists found that girls who played with Barbie believed they had far fewer career choices than those who played with Mrs. Potato Head. That was true even when Barbie was dressed up like a doctor.

It makes a compelling argument for giving girls tools to envision themselves as heroes. “Children feel so powerless, and that’s why they play. And the idea that you could be the person who could save the world is a very powerful story line and fantasy to have,” says Nadeau.

MCDAVEN EC005
Scarlett Johansson in The Avengers Walt Disney Co.

But no matter how popular I Am Elemental gets, it will never be as big as Marvel. The most popular action figures are based on blockbuster films, and Hollywood has been slow to correct the gender imbalance in summer blockbusters. Despite the success of films like The Hunger Games, Maleficent and Kill Bill — all of which feature powerful female protagonists — studios consider female-driven successes to be flukes rather than a formula for success: Recent studies found that women made up only 15% of protagonists and 30% of all speaking roles in the top 100 grossing films of 2013.

There have been plenty of women sidekicks on the big screen: Anne Hathaway as Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises; Halle Berry, Jennifer Lawrence and Ellen Page as X-Men in the X-Men films; Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow in The Avengers; and even Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts saved Tony Stark in Iron Man 3. But all of these women take a backseat to their more powerful, quippier and more heroic male counterparts. After all, these franchises aren’t named after the female characters.

Avengers director Joss Whedon, who tried and failed to bring a Wonder Woman film to the big screen in 2007, has expressed his frustration with the lack of female superheroes before. “Toymakers will tell you they won’t sell enough, and movie people will point to the two terrible superheroine movies that were made and say, You see? It can’t be done. It’s stupid, and I’m hoping The Hunger Games will lead to a paradigm shift,” he told Newsweek in 2013.

And even the female characters Whedon does get onscreen, like Black Widow, are too lame to attract some actresses. Emily Blunt says she was up for the Black Widow role in Iron Man 2 and the Peggy Carter part in Captain America and turned both down. “Usually the female parts in a superhero film feel thankless: She’s the pill girlfriend while the guys are whizzing around saving the world,” she told Vulture. “I didn’t do the other ones because the part wasn’t very good or the timing wasn’t right, but I’m open to any kind of genre if the part is great and fun and different and a challenge in some way.”

ALL YOU NEED IS KILL
Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow David James—(c) 2013 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.- U.S., Canada, Bahamas & Bermuda (c) 2013 Village Roadshow Films (BVI) Limited- All Oth

Blunt currently stars in Edge of Tomorrow (an action flick featuring Tom Cruise in a Groundhog Day-like battle sequence), in which she cuts an imposing figure as the best soldier on the battlefield. She even mercilessly kills Tom Cruise over and over again every time the two reach a dead-end in their mission and he needs to restart the day. She’s no pill girlfriend but Cruise’s equal — if not superior — in power.

Edge of Tomorrow isn’t the only film that promises a heftier role for women in action movies. At the end of the summer, Scarlett Johansson will play a ruthless warrior in Lucy — the success of which may be a litmus test for whether Marvel feels comfortable green-lighting a Black Widow spin-off. Jennifer Lawrence will star in another Hunger Games film next year, and producers have hinted that she could also headline her own Mystique X-Men film. The original ambassadors of girl power, The Powerpuff Girls, are returning to children’s television in 2016, the Cartoon Network announced Monday. Wonder Woman will wield her golden lasso on the big screen in the 2016 Batman vs. Superman movie, and — if fans get their way — maybe even carry her own franchise.

On Saturday, DC Comics President Diane Nelson promised greater female representation in upcoming movies: “At DC Entertainment, we talk frequently about how we heighten the presence of female storytellers and creators with our comic books — digital and physical. How do we bring the female characters to light more?” she said. “We have more work to do. But I think if we talk again in a couple of years, you’ll be pleased with the results.”

Maybe then they’ll make a Wonder Woman action figure with a normal hip-to-waist ratio.

TIME Parenting

Breaking News: Having a Father Is a Good Thing

Hey dads, they like you, they really like you!
Hey dads, they like you, they really like you! Jekaterina Nikitina; Getty Images

A new book 'discovers' the obvious—and the headlines follow. Enough already with the wonder of the dad

Science has a deliciously entertaining habit of stating the obvious. For every ingenious, truly groundbreaking insight that has a researcher sitting bolt upright at 3:00 a.m. entertaining dizzy visions of an inevitable Nobel, there other insights—researched, peer reviewed and published—that you don’t exactly need a double Ph.D to figure out. And so you get studies showing that “Moderate Doses of Alcohol Increase Social Bonding in Groups” or “Dogs Learn to Associate Words With Objects Differently Than Humans Do” or the breaking story that opened with the tantalizing headline, “Causes of Death in Very Old People.” Um, old age?

But the thing about these studies is this: somebody had to do them. Science is nothing if not persnickety about proof, and if you don’t have the data, you can’t officially establish the case. So the work gets done and the box gets checked and progress marches on. It was with that in mind that I tried to read with equanimity a Father’s Day gift from The Washington Post, which led its review of Paul Raeburn’s book Do Fathers Matter? with the headline, “Yes Dads, You Do Matter.”

And so, too, I tried to embrace the idea that Raeburn’s book needs to exist at all.

It’s not that the book isn’t a good, solid piece of science journalism. It is. And it’s not that Raeburn isn’t a good, solid science reporter. He’s been in the game a long time and is the media critic for MIT’s Knight Science Journalism Tracker.

The deeper question is: are we not yet past this? It’s a question Raeburn himself raises but seems to answer with an emphatic no simply by having written his book. There seems to be no killing the idea of dad the extraneous; dad the superfluous; dad, who’s nice to have around the house but only in the way that air conditioning is nice to have in the car — it makes things more comfortable, but you’ll still get where you’re going without it.

It’s as if the steady shrinking of the Y chromosome over the ages is somehow being mirrored by the dwindling relevance of the parent who carries this dying scrap of DNA. That vanishing Y, as recent studies have established, has been both arrested and overstated, but not before giving rise to headlines like “As Y Chromosome Shrinks, End of Men Pondered.” And that bit of silliness came from NPR, not, say, TMZ.

The idea of the father’s expendability has been exacerbated by the persistence of the doofus dad stereotype, something else Raeburn addresses: the well-intentioned bumbler who is still a staple of kid-targeted TV (thank you, Disney Channel). He’s the guy who can’t quite boil an egg and can’t be trusted to go shopping, but is eventually bailed out by mom or one of the kids, who set things right. Eyes roll, dad looks abashed and hilarity ensues. Except it’s not really funny—though not because it’s profoundly offensive or causes deep wounds to the sensitivities of a newly defined oppressed group. There’s enough elective umbrage at large already without adding one more voice of grievance to one more cable news show.

It’s just … off, somehow—like Jay Leno’s cringe-worthy performance at the 2010 White House Correspondent’s dinner, during which he made jokes about President Obama’s courage because (wait for it!) he invited his mother-in-law to live in the White House. There was a time, maybe, when the mother-in-law as harridan image was an apt—or at least fresh—source of humor, but that time is long past. Ditto dad as dunce.

Raeburn’s book is guilty of none of this. It’s stuffed with studies showing the vital role fathers play in their children’s lives from the moment of conception, through the mother’s pregnancy and onward. But there’s still a sense of wonder that comes with it. “The discovery of the father is one of the most important developments in the study of children and families,” is a nice line. But is it true? Is this really something that needs “discovering?” And do fathers really need a new book and a major newspaper reminding them that “You Do Matter?” Not on Father’s Day at least. And certainly not on one in the 21st century.

TIME celebrity

Watch Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban Sing ‘Amazing Grace’ at a Children’s Hospital

A rare glimpse into the couple's private life

Celebrity power couple Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban — whose celebrity couple name, we just decided, is Nikeith — visited Melbourne’s Monash Children’s Hospital last week to visit patients and lift spirits. Nikeith (okay, that works pretty well, right?) also performed a little impromptu concert. Urban grabbed his guitar and sang “Amazing Grace,” with his wife accompanying him on vocals.

Now, we must note that the crowd appears to be composed entirely of staff members rather than patients, but we’ll assume the kids were within earshot, or that they at least got to watch the show on a Jumbotron from another wing.

MONEY First-Time Dad

For Father’s Day, this Millennial Dad Wants Absolutely, Positively…Nothing

Luke Tepper

After four months of dad duty, this first-time father thinks fatherhood is its own reward.

This Sunday will be my first Father’s Day. And believe me (wife and world) when I say that this year, and every year after, I don’t want anything.

This isn’t a flippant decision, and I’m as much of a hedonistic materialist as any other red-blooded American. Books and ties and whisky are as important to me as they are to anyone else. I love sweaters and tickets to basketball games and urbane picture frames.

(One thing I would never, ever want is cash, like one father in Kit Yarrow’s piece.)

I realize that I’m a new father and don’t really have a lot of legitimacy among those who’ve been parenting for decades. (Although all of the hard work is front-loaded.) Maybe a nice chunk of new-fangled technology makes the veteran dad’s day a bit easier. Do I really want to eschew the thrill of opening something wrapped?

In a word—yes.

Why? Well, a little over four months ago I was in a hospital room at two o’clock in the morning. My responsibilities at that time included making sure the lights stayed dimmed and repeatedly counting to 10.

My wife was also in the room on that day. Her responsibilities were a little different. She spent the better part of five hours actively pushing our son out into the world.

Subsequently, she’s been his sole source of food, enticed him (every night) to sleep, and administered medicine when he was sick. She hasn’t had a full night of rest since he was born (and it’s not like pregnant women sleep that well anyway) and has watched over him for his entire life.

Of course I’ve helped. I’ve fed him occasionally and risen pre-dawn every so often. I’ve held him as he wailed in the doctor’s office after getting his shots. I change diapers.

But I’m a supporting character (the Tonto to her Lone Ranger) in the story of how he’s made it this far.

Which brings me back to Father’s Day.

Receiving a present from my wife (or my son when he’s older) will just feel rather silly. Almost like Randy Brown (Who? Exactly!) earning a championship ring for being on the same team as Michael Jordan.

The existence of Father’s Day is not written on the heart of man by the hand of god. It became a national holiday about 50 years after Mother’s Day, and President Obama’s birthday predates it. So, it’s not like I’m breaking Tevye-like tradition here.

This Sunday I will think about my kid and my new family, and relish my luck and good fortune. That is my present.

MONEY Odd Spending

What You Wish You Could Give Dad on Father’s Day — But Shouldn’t

Your dad might really be in need of a hearing aid, a fitness regimen, or some form of anti-snoring assistance. But Father's Day is probably not the day to tell him.

Father’s Day is an excellent opportunity to give your pops something he’ll really love. And, like all gift-giving holidays, it’s also a great chance to send him not-so-subtle messages about his lifestyle and habits via passive-aggressive presents.

This might sound like a funny prank, but be warned: While you may wish to give such gifts, it is not advisable to do so. Handing Dad a cheeky present is all fun and games until he turns the table on you. And make no mistake, he will.

When he does, you better brace yourself (especially millennials out there) because he has more ammo than you can possibly imagine. By the time Dad was your age, he’d already moved out of his parents’ home, got a first job (maybe even started a business), found a partner, and had a child or three. He’s the spitting image of the American dream—he’s bullet proof! You? Maybe not so much. Your latest brilliant idea involves buying your dad snarky presents on the day established in his honor. So if you go this route, don’t be surprised when your birthday present from dad is an all-expenses-paid trip to boot camp, a job search guide, or “How to Get Married Before It’s Too Late.” Remember: You started this.

So you probably shouldn’t go there. But if you were to do so, here are some ideas.

Protein Powder and Fitness Magazines

A huge tub of whey and a subscription to Muscle and Fitness might be a great gift for a dad who’s already extremely into working out, but could seem a little sarcastic if your father’s workout routine consist of one sit-up per day (when he gets out of bed). Another, more covert option? A Fitbit or other wearable fitness gadget. Everyone loves new toys, and dad will be forced to go outside for a while in order to play with this one.

Anti-Snoring Gift Box

If you really want to make your point about Dad’s power to wake the entire house with one deep unconscious inhale, be sure to give dad a real sampling of anti-snoring products. That means anti-snoring spray, anti-snoring nasal strips, an anti-snoring pillow, and my favorite: an anti-snoring jaw strap. Who cares that many snore stopping products might not actually work? As the Joker said, it’s about sending a message. Put them all in a pretty basket, with a bow on top. Dads always appreciate good presentation.

Soap

For whatever reason, giving nice soap (as opposed to other personal hygiene products like toothpaste or shaving cream) is actually pretty standard Father’s Day fare. This is good because you can achieve your objective—more, or at least better, bathing by the old man—without causing offense. Well, not too-too much offense. The standard route is an organic soap sampler, but if you’re interested in giving the clearest possible hint, it’s hard to beat a single bar of Dove in an otherwise empty box.

Cooking Lessons

The offensiveness of cooking lessons really depends on how hard everyone else in the family laughs during the reveal. If it’s more of an “ahhhhh” reaction with lots of head nodding (and maybe a few snickers), then you’re all clear. If everyone spits out their soup guffawing over dad making anything other than reheated Mac N’ Cheese, then your message will get through. But don’t expect any gifts from dad next Christmas. Or ever.

Hearing Aid

There’s no subtlety here. This is something many fathers need but do not actually want because it suggests they’re getting a littttttle over the hill. However, if you’d like to avoid yelling whenever pops is in the room, you might just have to force the issue. Before you do, though, consider this: Does your dad actually want to hear everyone’s dinner-table squabbling at family gatherings?

MONEY Shopping

Just Plain Awful Father’s Day Gifts, and What to Buy Instead

There are the Father's Day gifts that you think are funny or cute or clever, and then there are the Father's Day gifts that dads actually like and will use. Which kind are you giving dad?

Here’s a list of common Father’s Day gift categories that dads really don’t want, followed by what you should buy instead:

Gag Gifts
You might be tempted to have a little fun with dad on Father’s Day by purchasing something silly and embarrassing like “meggings,” denim swimwear, or another joke from this list of gifts so bad they’re awesome. You might think it’ll just be hilarious to see the look on dad’s face when he opens up an inflatable toupee, or a “Senior Moments” memory workout book, or adult diapers, or something else that makes a show of how old your old man is. Ha-ha-ha. Joke’s on you, uncool, bald, pathetic, incontinent old man! You know, dementia and death are probably right around the corner! Ha-ha-ha.

Granted, some dads might think this stuff is really a laugh riot too. But … probably not. Same goes for gag gifts that burp and fart. We don’t want them, nor do we appreciate the message sent when we’re given them. As one dad blogger put it on his list of Father’s Day gifts dad doesn’t want, “I understand that I don’t hide my body’s venting. But I realize every Father’s Day that’s how you see us. I’m just a cartoon fart machine to you.”

What to Get Instead: Almost anything, really. Heck, even some stupid “World’s Best Dad” T-shirt or mug—often on Bad Father’s Day Gift lists themselves—would be way better. Far better than that, though, would be something genuinely thoughtful and practical. It doesn’t have to be something the average person would consider a “gift.”

If you’ve noticed your dad’s wheelbarrow wobbles, or his favorite work boots have no more tread, or his college alma mater baseball hat is falling apart, go and get him a new replacement. Save him the trouble of a trip to the store. The elimination of a headache or a chore is a wonderful gift the average dad deeply appreciates. Above all, be sure that whatever you do or give implicitly demonstrates you see him as more than just a silly old fart machine.

Useless Gadgets
Just say no to anything that you’ve seen in the Sky Mall catalogue, and anything that you imagine might has or ever will be in the Sky Mall catalogue. Again, this basically comes down to knowing who the gift recipient is: Is your dad (or spouse) really the kind of person who would want—or even know what to do with—a wrist fitness monitor or a voice-activated golf cap?

Most dads hate to see money wasted, and hate it even more when the money is being wasted in their honor. Think about that before presenting dad with a dubious doohickey that’ll sit unused, unopened, indefinitely.

What to Get Instead: Some piece of technology that’s actually useful, and that dad actually wants. Dads aren’t tech idiots. They just like what they like, and they’re skeptical (for good reason) about the value of any hot new “must have.” Father’s Day, which should be a day of relaxation and enjoyment, isn’t the day to prod dad into embracing something unfamiliar. That’s sorta like giving a high school student homework on the day he graduates. It’s cruel.

If you know your father (or spouse) well, you should be in tune with his likes and dislikes, and what’s in his comfort zone. In some cases, it’s a great idea to give dad the newest version of his favorite e-reader or tablet, or perhaps even to splurge on the 70-inch HDTV you know he’s been dying to see in his living room.

If you’re pursuing this route, go the extra mile and make dad’s transition to the new tech as smooth, simple, and easy as possible. That might mean importing his contacts or e-book library, or taking care of the wiring and installation of the TV or video game system (yes, some dads are big-time gamers). Remember, Father’s Day isn’t the day to give dad extra work to do. Speaking of which …

Gifts That Put Dad to Work
Whereas moms may get “a dozen long-stemmed, obscenely expensive flowers” for Mother’s Day, the corresponding gift for fathers, according to Detroit News columnist Brian O’Connor, is “an entire flat of tomato seedlings from the farmer’s market for you to plant, weed, water and fertilize for the next three months.”

What to Get Instead: Feel free to buy those tomato plants—or some other gift that’s really something of a project—but volunteer to take responsibility, or at least share the responsibility, for them. Not just on Father’s Day, mind you, but for the long haul. Come harvest time, make dad his favorite homemade sauce, or if you can’t cook, slice those tomatoes up and serve them with fresh mozzarella, basil, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar.

Gifts That Tell Dad He Should Change
Even worse than gag clothing gifts for dads are some of the clothes that givers actually expect dad to wear—and that cause him extraordinary discomfort as a result. Sure, traditional dad fashion may be embarrassing (black socks and sandals anyone?), but it’s even more embarrassing to see a blissfully uncool, out-of-it dad try to pull off donning the latest trends, be it skinny jeans, floral prints, or whatever else someone deems as “hip” at the moment. Or rather, to see a dad being forced to wear such clothing because one of his children decides it’s in his best interest.

Father’s Day is about fathers. It’s about celebrating who they are, not who you think they should be. The day you’re honoring your father is not the day to implicitly send the message that you think he should be more fashionable, or lose weight (would you buy your mom a treadmill for Mother’s Day?), or learn to cook, or try some cocktail that’s all the rage, or stop snoring, or change in any way. Yet some gifts unsubtly send just those messages, and they come across not as helpful, but as disrespectful and insulting.

What to Get Instead: His tried-and-true favorites. Whatever brand of cigars, Scotch, craft beer, sunglasses, or sandals he favors is a can’t-miss gift. Stop fooling around and get the man what he likes. By doing so, you’ll demonstrate you know him well, and that you accept and love him for who he is.

Or you could just get a “World’s Best Dad” T-shirt. At least he can mow the lawn in the T-shirt without drawing snickers from the neighbors. That’s more than you can say for skinny jeans.

TIME Children

Why Polio is Doomed and Gun Violence Isn’t

It's hard to spot the heroism—but it's there
It's hard to spot the heroism—but it's there Randy Plett; Getty Images

It shouldn't take too much courage to stop a scourge that is killing children. Washington's gun cowards could take a lesson from the heroes battling polio

A century ago, the quickest way to diagnose polio was with the belly button test. A doctor would ask a suddenly feverish, bedridden child to lift her head from her pillow and look at her belly button. If she couldn’t do it—if the muscles in her neck and stomach and pretty much anywhere else could no longer contract and lift the way they should—the odds were that the news was bad. Within the day, the child would be paralyzed.

There has always been a particular ugliness to polio—a virus that robs a child of the simple ability to move at what should be the most restless, kinetic, exploratory stage of life. Mercifully, in most of the world that ugliness is gone—though not everywhere.

Meantime, in the U.S., a new kind of horror has taken polio’s place: the school shooting. This one also strikes at children and defies what should be one of childhood’s givens: that school is a place for learning, a place for play, a place that counts as a so-called safe space, even before we became a nation that required such formally designated asylum zones.

Both polio and school shootings are acts of violence—one viral, one human. But only one, polio, is doomed to lose, as I realized yesterday when I attended a briefing by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative at U.N. Foundation headquarters in New York, just a day after the latest school school shooting, this one at Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Ore.

The big players at the polio conference were familiar names: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Rotary International, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the international consulting group Global Health Strategies. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the progress that is being made to eradicate the last case of polio anywhere on the planet—making the disease only the second one, after smallpox, to have been vaccinated into well-deserved extinction.

The polio hunters are tantalizingly close to their goal: In 1988, polio was endemic to 120 countries and claimed 350,000 people—overwhelmingly children—each year. In 2013, there were only 416 cases worldwide and the disease was endemic to just three countries: Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. But the year-to-date-numbers are higher in 2014 than they were last year, thanks mostly to attacks on polio workers by extremists in Pakistan and unrest in Syria, Egypt, Iraq and elsewhere, which is allowing the virus to slip across borders.

That’s part of the reason the group assembled yesterday—to review their plan to push back against the resurgence, a plan that is breathtaking in its scope: there are the 105 million doses of oral polio vaccine that have been administered in and around Syria; the 3,176 hard-to-reach communities in Nigeria that are now being reached by health care workers bringing oral vaccine; the 2,000 health camps that have been held to educate and vaccinate in the ground zero state of Kano in northern Nigeria and the 10,000 more that are planned; the millions upon millions of children in 126 countries who will be receiving at least one dose of the injectable form of polio vaccine, which uses a killed virus and thus eliminates even the small risk of the weakened virus used in the oral version escaping into the wild.

And then, of course, there is the sheer, literally death-defying brass of the vaccine workers who regularly trudge into the Pakistani tribal areas, knowing that some of the workers who have come before them have been gunned down in drive-by shootings, and that every day they go out with their vials of drops there is a risk they won’t come home. But they go all the same.

Eradicating a viral disease is nothing less than an act of hunting molecules—protein particles so simple they don’t even qualify as technically alive—and destroying them anywhere they are hiding in the world. That’s an almost surreally difficult thing to accomplish, yet that’s what the Gateses and Rotary and WHO and others have decided must be done. And so they’re doing it.

And then, on the other side of the decency and courage arc, are the gun cowards. They are the American legislators who dare not cast a vote that will anger the National Rifle Association; the governors who walk away from the problem even as the children in their states—whose welfare they have sworn to ensure—are being murdered; the political parties that, if they acknowledge the problem at all, consider it too radioactive to take up this year, this session, this electoral cycle.

“‘No Way to Prevent This,’ Says the Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens,” wrote The Onion, in a brilliant riff on the what-can-we-do faux-helplessness of the political class. But in case they’re really wondering, here’s what they can do: they can think less about locking down their base, expanding their majority, dodging the 30-second attack ad and more about the simple safety of children. Because here is a hard fact: there are babies and young people alive today who will be dead soon because of the choices now being made. If that isn’t enough to turn an election night victory into ash, America’s politicians are beyond help.

TIME human behavior

Study: Kids Know When Adults Are Keeping Secrets

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Father and daughter having a talk Nick Daly—Getty Images

A new study from MIT shows that kids won't trust adults who don't tell them the whole truth

Lying about Santa Claus, how babies are born or whether there are cookies in the cookie jar could get parents into trouble. Children are extremely perceptive: past studies have shown that kids can tell when adults are lying to them. But telling children only part of the truth can get adults into trouble too. New research suggests that youngsters can tell when people commit “sins of omission” and even learn not to trust those people.

Researchers at MIT studied how 42 six and seven-year-olds evaluated information. They conducted two experiments. In the first study, the children were separated into two groups: one group got a toy that had four buttons, each of which performed a different function—lights, a windup mechanism, etc.; the other group got a toy that looked the same but only had one button, which activated the windup mechanism.

After the two groups of children had played with their respective toys, the researchers put on a show: a teacher puppet taught a student puppet how to use the toy, but only showed the student puppet the winup function. For the kids playing with the one-button toy, this was all the information; but for the kids playing with the four-button toy, the teacher puppet had left out crucial information.

The researchers then asked all the children to rate the teacher puppet in terms of how helpful it was on a scale from 1 to 20. The kids with the multi-functional toy noticed that the puppet hadn’t told them the whole story and gave it a lower score than the children with the single-function toys did.

The second experiment began with the same premise—splitting the children into two groups, letting them play with their simple or complex toys and then giving a puppet demonstration. But then after the demonstration, the researchers brought out another, totally different toy and gave it to both groups of children. This toy had four functions, and the teacher puppet demonstrated only one.

Children who had the multi-functional toy in the first part of the experiment—and therefore had seen an incomplete demonstration from that teacher puppet before—explored the toy more thoroughly than the children who only had the single-function toy. These children, it seems, had learned to not trust the teacher because of the first uninformative demonstration.

“This shows that children are not just sensitive to who’s right or wrong,” lead author Hyowon Gweon says. “Children can also evaluate others based on who’s providing information that is enough or not enough for accurate inference. They can also adjust how they learn from a teacher in the future, depending on whether the teacher has previously committed a sin of omission or not.”

So watch what you say parents: if you lie to your kids—or even keep secrets from them—they’ll learn to not trust you.

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