Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Update on Christopher Dodd's Christmas Presents

From Dan: I spoke with the folks at Scale Model Toys at the New York Toy Fair. They reported that Christopher Dodd, the former Democratic candidate for President, did not contact them about buying Christmas presents from them. Dodd had quipped at a debate in Iowa in December that he would only buy toys made in Iowa for Christmas. Scale Model Toys is, by my reckoning, the only company still making toys in Iowa. So what did Dodd give his children for Christmas? Luckily he's not going to be the nominee and we won't have to worry about the Drudge Report bringing this scandal to light!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The New York International Toy Fair

From Dan: Millie and I just returned from two days at the NY Toy Fair, America's largest gathering of toy people, with about 35,000 attendees.

Walking Toy Fair, which takes place in Manhattan's Javits Center, takes all day. There's booth after booth of toys: new, old, weird, and familiar. As always, we were on the lookout for great new toys. This year, however, we also made a point of talking to our existing suppliers about toy safety. It was certainly a hot topic. Unlike years past, this Toy Fair had many booths of toy testing laboratories and XRF device manufacturers. We were impressed by several of the toymakers we talked to, including Dave Schylling at Schylling Toys, who has enhanced their testing and quality assurance processes. The responses we got from each company will definitely be guiding our buying decisions this year.

Also on the positive side, we saw many toy companies developing "green" toys, which is now apparently a new category. Quite a few amounted to little more than greenwashing, including one company that called its toys fair trade, but admitted upon being pressed that they have no Fair Trade certification but treated their Asian employees very well. A couple of other companies had organic stuffed animals that looked kind of like oatmeal-colored Happy Meal toys.

Several companies, however, were doing some cool stuff, including making toys in Canada or the US from recycled materials. We hope to have some of these to show you later in the year. Plan Toys and Haba have expanded their lines with some nice new stuff and we found a new source for some of the wooden toys we used to buy from Small World Toys before they crashed and burned last year.

We also observed a mushrooming trend of web-enabled toys similar to Webkins (which are, in our son Riley's opinion, dumb.) Look for a barrage of these to hit toy stores very soon. All of them offer your children the opportunity to connect with virtual friends via interactive websites and get a jump start on the Facebook generation. Go play outside!

All in all, it was a great trip. Millie and I had fun in New York--we even got to see Wicked on Broadway. (It turns out the wicked witch isn't so wicked after all!)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Floating Plastic Inevitable

From Dan: I just finished reading The World Without Us by Alan Weisman. Although it wasn't the best choice from a mental health perspective during the coldest days of this Minnesota winter, it was a very thought-provoking mind experiment. Perhaps I should have read it on the beach in Mexico.

A chapter in the middle about the longevity of all things plastic did remind me of Mexico, though. We saw all manner of floating plastic trash washes up on the beach daily, to be cleaned up by hotel and resort employees, or, in the case of a nature preserve we visited, by nobody. It turns out that all the world's oceans are swimming with a growing miasma of bottle tops, plastic bags, toys, nets, bottles, and flip flops in various stages of disintegration as their polymers are broken down by UV radiation. It turns out that the swirling currents in the centers of the oceans concentrate this garbage into a colossal vortex of floating plastic.

Another article, Moby Duck, from the January 2007 issue of Harper's Magazine, recorded how a container of PVC toy ducks spilled in the Pacific seeded beaches on 5 continents with globetrotting tub toys. Here in Minnesota, at the headwaters of the Mississippi, we don't really think about how our yogurt cup or Sponge Bob figure might find its way to a Yucatan beach or how our grass fertilizer may be contributing to the dead zone, an area the size of New Jersey where no fish lives off the coast of Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico.

The World Without Us reaffirmed for me that the world is a lot more interconnected than we generally perceive. It also made the point that much of what we value most is the most impermanent and much of what we value least, like plastic junk, is the most enduring.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Yikes! Democracy in action!

From Dan: We just returned from our local caucus with our three kids. Although it'll probably telegraph exactly which party we're with, we have to say that it was a crazy and exhilarating experience. Our neighborhood community center was PACKED with people and they were still pouring in as we left. It felt like the democratic process was reawakening after a decade or so on hiatus. It was the first time in a long time that I felt truly excited about our system of government.