State of Education

I was born in California, and the first 12 years of my life lived there. The summer before my 13th birthday we emigrated to Washington, all six of us: my four parents, my brother, and I. Up until then we had gone to private school (in my case, religious private school) because my parents wanted to keep us out of the blackboard jungles of southern California.

When we arrived in Washington State the public school system was actually pretty darn good — the fellow students in my junior high were, for the most part, atrocious (as all junior high kids are) and my social register was somewhere beneath pond scum; but the educational offerings, while not as good as a private school, were pretty decent. My brother and I were as challenged as we wanted to be (which became “not much” and so between parent teacher conferences and report cards, the continual theme was “Bobbie could do so much better if she just applied herself”.)

As a twelve to seventeen year old student, I did not pay attention to educational funding or where public schools ranked within the state or the country; I wasn’t a taxpayer and I regarded school as a dismal use of my time (why couldn’t I just sit in a corner and read someplace?). When I finished college (the first time), left home to go create my own, and returned to the state with the intent to start a family, I still assumed Washington schools were “fine”, as they were when I was in school.

By the time my son was about 2 I was hearing, from the fellow mommy reports, that this was not so. Funding issues were brought to the forefront, and as someone who has voted in every election since 2000, I discovered a direct correlation with my vote and my taxes. I was paying for these schools now, so why was I hearing complaints from the field? Why were the local schools needing additional funding, seemingly each year, in the form of bonds and levies?

When my son entered Kindergarten, I resolved to be as involved in the school system as I could — PTA, volunteering, etc. Doing this as a single mother working full-time was difficult but necessary; there’s an unspoken “us vs. them” for the parents who contribute (in any form or fashion) vs. the parents who do not. This is not fair but it is true. With every PTA meeting and email from the school and school district, it became clear that as well-funded as our schools seem and ought to be, they are not. As we live in an area where the median house costs about $350k and nearly every high schooler drives his/her car to school, this is not what one would expect.

My son’s school — the one he is leaving — was built the year my brother was born. There are five or six portables that have been there at least twenty years, housing not only “electives” like music and computers, but also at least two grade-level classrooms. In my six-year tenure here, the PTA has paid for cement stairs and a ramp for easier access to the kindergarten area, fencing to protect the schooling area from bears and predators that walk on two legs (for we have had cases of child enticement), new landscaping, chairs for all of the classrooms, new sports equipment, stipends for the teachers annually to spend on school supplies, scholarships for children whose parents cannot afford the roughly $350/year in expected purchase of school supplies, materials, school party contributions, and field trip costs. That the direct community who benefits from this (parents of the local students) is the direct community who provides it, is a pleasant thing. The realization that we are fortunate and there are other schools in this district and throughout this state where they cannot hope to raise equivalent cash is not.

Washington state is unique in that it has a state constitutional mandate to *amply* fund education. Unfortunately it hasn’t and got sued (see the McCleary case) and lost in its own Supreme Court. Lawmakers are scrambling to figure out how, with the number of tax-reducing propositions on the ballot, they can achieve the now court-mandated requirement to fully fund education by 2018. This is not eased by Common Core State Standards (whether you’re for or against them — and my opinion is that at least there’s a standard now, even if it’s a low one — they do cost money in the form of teacher training, new materials, etc.). This is not eased by teachers unions (who fight legitimately for better benefits for people who are treated as babysitters and, for the most part, have the shittiest job around; on the flip side they protect those teachers who are not deserving of the pseudo-tenure said unions provide). I have participated in three ballot/levy votes here in our little area of Sammamish, including this last round. For this last round I knocked on 375 doors, I called 85 strangers, I emailed hundreds more. I wrote each week to the local newspaper to get them to print my letter urging constituents to vote, explaining the benefits of a properly funded and educated community to even those who do not, or no longer, have children in schools here. (I succeeded twice.) In this most recent effort, the operational expenditures the district needed to survive were approved. Our kids will have heat in their classrooms, they will have virus-free computers, they will have secure locks on doors.

But they will have this at 40 kids to a classroom, with some children being bussed in from 10-15 miles away, because the local bond initiative (to account for expansion) failed. We have a total of 300 brand new houses going up in the immediate area this year alone; the average house here has 4 bedrooms. The amenities keep expanding and City of Sammamish is spending a record amount of money on a local swimming pool and community center. If you want to go to a chiropractor, an orthodontist, a podiatrist, a personal tutoring service, a nail shop, a grocery store, a sports equipment store, or a gas station in Sammamish you have a choice of three of those (each) within a 3-mile-square area. What I do not understand is we fund all of these things through the local economy, and the demand is there for additional housing for families ostensibly with children– where are those kids going to go to school?

Already poorly-paid teachers, who will not be getting raises in exchange for some preservation of their retirement funds, will need to stretch their attention to an additional 10 or so students. The level of personalized attention is already small in a 30-student classroom (in elementary school, where that attention is needed as they build the foundations of study and learning practice). It will diminish that much more as the schooling populace swells. Sammamish, and the local school district, will not have the ability to put forth another bond measure for four years, meaning that the short-term decision-making of the paltry 34% of the populace that voted (yep, that’s right, only about a third of the voting populace voted, and while more than half voted for the bond, bonds require a supermajority (60%) which was not had) will have some long-term effects on the community as a whole.

I had been Legislative Advocate at my son’s Elementary school for five years. This last year, after the second failure of the bond (there was proposal A, and then when that failed a special election for proposal B), I gave up. It may be temporary, and I may just be suffering from fatigue of the situation; I increasingly feel that this society values an “every man for himself” view of education.

Well, if that’s how it’s going to be, that’s how it’s going to be. It’s just a sad state of affairs.

 

Sporting

NB: I may have previously mentioned that I’m not “into sports”, by which I mean I have not followed football or baseball or basketball teams. It’s only just recently that I’ve figured out when those seasons start and end, and that I have learned the rules of football (thanks to a SuperBowl party and the fact that my region’s team was in the SuperBowl this year. As the kids say, “Go Hawks!”) This post will therefore be unusual that it deals with sports. It will not be unusual in that it deals with gender perception and economics.

This past Wednesday some 700 thousand plus people descended on downtown Seattle to celebrate the Seahawk’s winning of the SuperBowl. Busses were jammed all morning, many folks did not go to work, kids skipped school; this was all for the privilege of standing along 4th Avenue, in the cold, hours on end, for a parade that ironically started late because those in the parade couldn’t get to their starting point because of all the people.

The parade seems to have made many people happy; my Facebook was replete with happy family photos of smiling, green-and-blue-dressed people, plus blurry photos of those in the parade. Everyone seems to have had a good time.

Nestled in that timeline, though, was a comment (actually two, from two different people), that the Seattle Storm (our local female basketball team) won National Championships twice, and no parade was had for them. (It should also be noted that the Seahawks paid for their own parade. )

In reviewing those comments the implication is, I think, that because it was a women’s team that won previously they were not “good enough” (not my words, just what I’m inferring from the context of the statement) because they were female. It doesn’t help that articles like this announced that the last time Seattle had earned a national title was when the Sonics won in 1979 (considerably before the Seattle Storm’s victories of  2004 and 2010 ). Forbes went so far as to acknowledge them and indicate they weren’t “counting” them. And yes, when the Sonics won in 1979 a parade was had.

There are two culprits here: sexism and economics.

Let’s take the simpler one: economics, specifically the concept of Supply And Demand. More specifically, there are demand differences between Women’s Basketball and Men’s Football. (It would have been nicer to have a Men’s Basketball team to weed out the gender variable, or a Women’s Football team, but alas we lost the former and the latter doesn’t really appear to exist except for the Lingere Bowl).

The Seattle Storm plays in Key Arena which holds  slightly over 17,400 seats; they play 34 games per season. 16 of those games are played “home”.  Ticket prices range from $16 to $155 with a mode of $28.  Let’s further say that 20% of anyone at an “Away” game is there for the Storm, and 80% of anyone at a “Home” game is. However, the Storm doesn’t actually sell all of the seats in Key Arena (they block off a portion, and they don’t often sell all the seats that are unblocked). 9,600 seats are actually available to sell and at times The Storm sells about 50% of those. Let’s assume similar seating volumes at away games, and or the purpose of this hack math, let’s say half of the time they’re at half, and the other half of the time they’re sold out, for a blended average of 75% capacity. So a back-of the-envelope dollar value for interest in The Seattle Storm would be about (9600*.75*.8*28*16)+(9600*.75*.2*28*18)= 2580480+725760=$3,306,240. (This obviously doesn’t include sponsorships, swag sales, etc.)

The Seattle Seahawks play in Century Link Field (the Clink) which holds about 68,000 seats and the Seahawks had sold out every one by July. The average ticket price was $220, they had 17 games in their regular season, and had 62,000 season ticket holders. Let’s just stick with the season ticket holders, as that is cash up front. (17*62000*220)=$231,880,000. (This also doesn’t include sponsorships, swag sales, etc.)

In short, there is a purchase-behavior disparity of 7000%.

That disparity is driven by not only volume (the Clink seating is 7x the amount in Key Arena used by The Storm), but also by price (average ticket price for the Seahawks is larger than the HIGHEST ticket price for The Storm).  Even if The Storm were to sell 100% of the available seats in Key Arena, they’d fall very short of economic comparability to the Seahawks in terms of fan fiscal investment.

But this isn’t telling us anything we didn’t already know: the demand for entertainment via male football is much greater than the demand for female basketball. The Sonics left in 2008 and their ticket demand is 44,000 season ticket holders, meaning that even if they sold at the same price as The Storm they would still outsell on overall ticket volumes. And so we can infer that demand for entertainment via male basketball is greater than the demand for female basketball.

And so we segue into sexism: essentially that people are making economic demand decisions based on gender preference in sports.  As a society we tend to like our sports hyper-competitive, confrontational, metricized and self-aggrandizing. Nowhere is this more evident than how we idolize the players, how we purchase team jerseys and say “us” vs “them” when talking about upcoming games. “We won”, “they lost” is how games are summed up; followed by an earnest delve into strategic review of plays, the metrics and statistics behind those plays, and player strength.

These are not things we encourage in our girls. Much has been made of now-pink Legos and Goldie Blox, of Sheryl Sandberg Leaning In and the overall interest in getting More Girls into STEM. We enroll our daughters in soccer just as readily as Girl Scouts, we tell them they can be anything when they grow up. A girl who is hyper-competitive though is deemed less attractive, a girl who is confrontational is deemed a bitch. (Let’s not even touch self-aggrandizing). Women’s basketball is not televised nearly as much, or touted as often, as men’s.

We make these choices, and display our preferences, by our societal expenditure. The Seattle Storm will have a parade when the larger group decides that the athletic achievements of women is as representative and worthy as that of men, and that will have to come from increased ticket sales, which will in turn have to come from increased demand.

Beyoncé and Lean In

I was listening to NPR the other day (this seems to be the thirty/forty-something ubiquitous intro to a story) about Beyoncé’s new album, and how Twitter trended when it dropped, and there as an awful lot about how She Is A Feminist and This Album Is A Tribute To Feminism. Naturally, it being NPR, the second person they interviewed pooh-pooh’d this, pointing out that in her videos apparently Beyoncé is gyrating in such a way that she is gyrating for men, and therefore it isn’t any different than any other oppressed-female gyrations. This is all very normal and to be expected anytime someone declares something “feminist” or “the new feminist”, women will gather on either side and debate earnestly. None of this really irked me until this lady (Tanya Steele, which is a fantastically appropriate name) pointed out that when women were telling her about how they feel Beyoncé’s gyrations/music/etc. made them feel empowered, and/or they felt it was a good example of feministic power, she had to “walk them back” and “explain it to them”.

It took a while for me to sort through why this irritated me. I don’t normally engage in discussions on feminism or women’s issues, it wasn’t part of my educational background and it just really doesn’t come up. I’m more likely to get into an economics debate. (NB: I have not taken a single women’s studies class. I do however own a vagina, and have friends who own vaginas, so I think I’m somewhat qualified to discuss the condition of having a vagina and the thinking that may or may not go along with vagina ownership.)

Merriam-Webster defines Feminism as: “The belief that men and women should have equal opportunities”. (It also defines it as an “organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests”).

Beyoncé and Steele

As best as I can tell, Ms. Steele’s contention is that when women view Beyoncé’s new album, and more specifically her videos in which she “gyrates” (I have not seen them nor is it really necessary to do so to illustrate this particular point), as “feminist”, they are incorrect. Her reasoning is Beyoncé is gyrating sexually, as to appeal to and/or entice men, and therefore is acting like someone who has to sublimate their own needs/desires in order to attract someone else, and therefore that isn’t beneficial in any particular way to her gender representation.

This reasoning is highly subjective. First, it assumes a knowledge of what is in Beyoncé’s head as she’s gyrating on the screen. I am willing to wager as she was gyrating, under a myriad of hot lights, multiple takes, makeup touches, reminders on choreography, adjustments to the mic, etc. that what was in her head was,  “I am working, I am working, I am working, I can’t wait for a hot bath and a glass of wine, but I am working.” Beyoncé’s reputation in the industry, even for one who doesn’t follow it altogether much, is one of extreme professionalism and hard work. Her personal wealth is such that she never, ever has to work again, independent of that of her husband. Beyoncé works if she wants to work, she busts her butt because she wants to, and she gyrates because she wants to.  Second, it assumes that Beyoncé’s gyrations were intended for the sole or at least primary benefit of a male and/or lesbian observer (and/or customer. Remember kids, she’s selling a brand.) The assumption is she is gyrating sexually, she is therefore objectifying herself sexually for a sexually interested party. Demographics aren’t readily available for her album but I’d be willing to put the $20 down to say it trends female more than male. And they are not all lesbians. Third, Beyoncé has gone on record, on multiple occasions, for “loving being a woman” and “enjoying her curves” and “dressing sexily”.  It would be a little disingenuous then to expect her to stand in a full-length evening gown when singing songs about seducing her lover.

The fact of the matter is, some women like to exhibit and some do not. Because Ms. Steele does not see value in exhibition she would like others to not see value in it as well. This is human nature, but it is unreasonable to then have to explain to someone why something they like, that you don’t, that doesn’t cause you any personal harm, is “wrong”. If a male person sees Beyoncé gyrating and from that infers all women should gyrate, then it is NOT Beyonce’s gyrations that are to blame. It is his rationale that “female person gyrating on TV = all women gyrate for me” that is wrong. To assume that Beyoncé’s gyrations set feminism back in any way is tantamount to saying that “because a woman dresses XYZ way she is asking for it”. You can’t have it both ways: either the observer is responsible for their own behaviors or they are not.  I prefer to think that men, and women, are rational human beings capable of using their brains and if they are NOT, it is not the fault of society or other folks. Your brain, and your actions, are your own to manage.

Lean In

The larger discussion, though, is how women are perceived in society and, in terms of Lean In, how we perceive ourselves (vs. how we “should” perceive ourselves, as best as I can decipher it).  While the “Beyoncé is/isn’t a Feminist” debate is exciting mostly because it can be and mostly because of the method in which she chose to drop her album, the “Lean In” concept is trickier and, I think, longer lasting. The basic takeaway I had from reading Lean In is that women don’t get opportunities as much as men do because either a. we would if we spoke up but we don’t speak up, or b. we need to speak up more so men get used to it and therefore will “see” us in the roles we want.

Here I think I need to step aside and explain something in my own, personal world that means my subjective take on this is going to be just that — very subjective. I am 5’10” tall. I have never been of slight build. Physically, I do not appear meek or weak or shy. Further, I am the daughter of two strong-minded, outspoken women, and two male engineers. I don’t think I’ve ever had a problem asking for something if I wanted it, and/or providing a rationale on why I should have it. (True story: when I first moved to San Diego 15 years ago, I worked for a company that believed you should get personality tested before you got a position within the company, so everyone knew how to work with you. The sociologist who reviewed my results said that I was a bit like an elephant: when I entered a room everyone would know it, and if my foot fell it would be a resounding stomp, whether or not I intended it to.) A casual reading of my employment reviews would validate this: the best term I think that has ever been applied to my attitude is that I was “highly apolitical”. Time has allowed me to learn how to say “No”, for example, in sixteen different and appropriate ways, but the long and the short of it is if I want something I will ask for it, and if I am told No and I don’t understand why I will press.

Which I guess makes me rather “mannish” in the workforce.

So when Sheryl Sandberg talks about not even thinking about asking for something until it became a really big issue (e.g., preferential parking for expectant mothers) I must confess I don’t understand. When one of the most intelligent, driven women I know in my social circle tells me that until she read this book she would have thought twice, or not at all, pursued a particular project because she wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing so, I am aghast. This book wasn’t particularly instructive to me. It was however, revelatory.

Leaning In Objectively

There is an old joke that PMS is “when women act like men do all the time”. I don’t really think this is accurate and in any event because of better things and better living through chemistry it doesn’t apply to me. However I do think that women can be raised, or conditioned, to not ask for things they want.  It is kind of bittersweet that a Pantene commercial illustrates the deltas in how some women perceive themselves (as well as how they perceive society perceives them, etc.)  It’s entirely possible I am perceived as a bitch, that I’m bossy, or that I’m self-promoting. The question becomes though: what is the end result of my efforts? If I get the promotion, or the project, or the job, or the budget, have I failed still because I ruffled a feather or two? If the tenet is that “men do it all the time” do feathers get equally ruffled? We are told that men “ball-bust” each other and the sting doesn’t last; why must I assume it does if I engage in it as well (abiding thoroughly by the rule that if you dish it, you need to take it).

Bottom line: if I earn what I was after, does it matter if I’m “liked” as much as if I had stayed put? And does it matter, to me, to be liked by someone who would  rather I had stayed put? Like blaming Beyoncé for the perceptions that men may have of other women because of her gyrations, I don’t know that you can blame the woman who gets the project, or the raise, or the bonus, and possibly irks someone, because she asked for and earned it. If there’s anyone who needs to own that, it’s the one who is irked.

Cliché

Clichés, as a rule, bother me. This has to do with my innate dislike for anything that must “be accepted”. The absolute BEST way to get me to not read a book, not see a movie, not do something, is to tell me I MUST read XYZ book, I MUST see XYZ movie, I MUST do whatever. It just won’t happen. If I’m in “polite” mode I will dither, if you are family I *may* humor you, but otherwise it’s just not going to happen. This explains why I still haven’t seen the “Breakfast Club”, why it took some serious cajoling to read Lean In (yes, yes, blog post coming about it eventually), and why, at 40, I don’t know if I own a hairdryer because I simply refuse to use one.

Clichés are the verbal “you must”. It suggests that there is something out there you must do, or must allow, because it just *is*. The absolute worst one, in my opinion, is “Everything Happens For A Reason”.

Please. Just… don’t.

Things happen because they happen. There is little reason in someone going in to a school and shooting children, there is little reason in the antics of Congress (these days), there is little reason in Wall Street (as evidenced by a DOW nearing 16k whilst we have the hurdles we have. There need not be, and frequently there is not, a reason.

Saying “Everything happens for a reason” is a way of accepting a lack of control; it means “I can’t see a good reason for this to happen in a logical world so I will abuse this platitude and hope this changes the subject and/or gets the person who is trembling with doubt, pain, or hurt to stop it long enough for me to be comfortable”. Looking for “reason” where no good one is, is insanity. Or optimism.

I’m more of a fan of “It is what it is.” “Que sera, sera”, however sung by Doris Day, is accurate. Things happen: this much is true. Entropy increases. Time marches. But the notion that there is some underlying reason causing a typhoon to kill off five thousand people, or a tsunami and earthquake to hit the site of a nuclear reactor, is asinine.

OK: Point and counterpoint. Correlation and causality. That is to say, YES, ultimately there is a cause to every effect.  A ginormous typhoon hit the Philippines because global warming has warmed the atmosphere and waterways in that area to a devastating effect and the bomb that would go off there went off with a bigger bang; people tend to build nuclear reactors near waterways in order to easily flood the site to cool it down. But when people say “Things happen for a reason” they do NOT mean, “things happen because a series of events led to them”, they mean, “there is some good reason for this to have happened” and “good reason” usually infers somehow, somewhere, there is benefit.

You will notice that very rarely does anyone say “Things happen for a reason” where something happens that is obviously beneficial. “Things happen for a reason” is not applied to the lottery win, or the quick reflexes that get you OUT of a car accident, or the “A” you got on your Chemistry final. No, then you take the credit: you studied, you had quick reflexes, YOU picked the lucky number. So if it’s good, you controlled it with your abilities and your skills; if it’s bad there must be some better reason for you to have fallen on misfortune.

I have been in plenty of good circumstance that was of my own doing, and nearly as much malfeasance that was as well. I do not attribute this to “fortune”, I attribute this to the way things are. It is what it is.

But it may not have happened for a “reason”.

Smart is Not Socially Apt, per Modern Media

NB: The Editor pointed out I had an unclosed bracket and offered up a Tropic Thunder comparison that was too good to pass up. Fourth paragraph. Enjoy.

For a few reasons, but mostly because we cannot stomach the idea of paying $80 for what would be about 3 channel’s worth of consumption, the male person and I do not have cable. This is not out of some holier-than-thou quest for a more wholesome home environment as much as an exercise in opportunity cost; we have Netflix and RedBox and so forth. As such, we are “discovering” TV shows that others have long and since discovered, and re-discovering ones we had mucked about with in earlier years.

Let’s face it, most TV is drivel.  Everyone has this opinion, for the most part, it’s just their definition of drivel varies. For example: I think any show featuring the Kardashians is not worth the effort it takes you to push the buttons on the remote control, never mind the time it would suck from your life to actually watch it. I’m sure there are others who would much rather watch the Kardashians than, say, 60 Minutes. You’d have to pay my father to watch a football game, but he happily watches The Daily Show. The presence of 500 channels worth of 24/7 programming means that our tastes are such that we like about 10% of it at best, but that 10% is different for each person. (For a truly excellent podcast on why you have to pay for ESPN, even though you don’t watch it, go here.)

Out of this drivel, though, comes definitive trends in programming. This year it appears to be a slough of “I’m dealing with my older parents” sitcoms, in previous years it has been the waves of Laws and Orders, NCIS, CSI; then there’s the ER/Chicago Hope/House/Scrubs medical vein (pun intended).  And within these aerie are typified characters and situations: the older, hardened cop who’s actually quite sensitive despite his drinking problem, the tougher, young female cop/lawyer who wants everybody to take her seriously, the angsty interpersonal relationships that form between coworkers (because no one on TV has the sense to NOT dip their pen in the company ink), the inevitable will-they-won’t-they that means they eventually do, after 4-5 seasons, but then it nearly immediately blows up because Someone Messed With The Formula And The Ratings Are Down So Please Fix It Now.

Into this context I bring you the recent epiphany I had, which is we apparently can’t have socially intelligent characters with high IQ’s. Let’s take two shows: The Big Bang Theory, first aired in 2007, and Bones, first aired in 2005; one is a nominal comedy with some small dramatic parts, the other is a drama with some small comedic parts. Both feature many intelligent characters, but the most intelligent (based on IQ’s indicated in exposition or comparison) are Dr. Sheldon Cooper (BBT) (IQ: 187) and Dr. Temperance “Bones” Brennan (Bones) (“my IQ is quantifiably higher than yours”, and the like) .

Social (and other) media have picked up on this (I am not suggesting anything new here) when each character has been individually investigated (e.g., tv reporter/blogger asking the writers/producers) for Asperger’s Syndrome. (Interestingly enough, NEITHER show confirms this for these characters even though the actors themselves admit to playing them that way; in BBT’s case Jim Parsons, who plays Sheldon Cooper, has stated he believes Sheldon is an “Aspie” but Bill Prady and Chuck Lorre vehemently deny it). The message is muddled, but constructively: super-smart people are really socially awkward, possibly because of a “syndrome”, but we won’t confirm it because then we are Labeling People. Or, as my Editor points out, “You can’t go full genius“.

As though making a series of jokes around IQ (“I’d have to lose at least 60 IQ points to be considered smart,” Sheldon derisively mentions in one episode) is not a label of sorts.

These are not the only two shows to do this; the new Sherlock Holmes BBC series features an Aspergian Sherlock (again, as characterized by the actor playing him) (190 IQ). Numb3rs featured a brilliant mathematician (“genius-level IQ”) who was hindered, if not completely inept, at interpersonal relations. Criminal Minds also had a brilliant young person, IQ 187 (Dr. Spencer Reid) who is, you guessed it, socially awkward. Message received: we can have kinda-smart, socially normative people, but we cannot have super-smart, socially normative people.

There’s a couple of hypotheses for this: H1 is that we cannot have hyper-smart, socially normative people on TV because that would make them appear cocky, even if they weren’t actually, and that would make them a less liked character (both by their peers and by the viewers). Indeed, it is Sheldon’s awkwardness that allows his friends (even his fellow PhD’s) to feel like they can compete with, or even succeed against, him on some plane. Penny (the non-PhD, “normal” person across the hall) calls him sweetie a lot and tries to explain awkward situations to him (when he’s being earnestly lost) and snipes at him with double entendres when he’s being earnest and coming off as an ass. The other 3 characters (2 PhD’s, one ME) spend entertaining minutes trying to explain on Sheldon’s level (with whiteboards and references), discover  they can’t, and give up/go to the movies without him/let him go to the comic book store/play Xbox with him.

I think it’s really interesting to note that Dr. Brennan’s friends and coworkers take on a more protective role and do not deride or smugly note her awkwardness, they just “try to work around it”. Angela (her best friend) calls her “sweetie” rather a lot and spends time trying to explain how a social situation may be interpreted, most of the lab staff shrug their shoulders and get on with work; her love interest gets to be the Protective Male Person With A Gun and, again interestingly, a lot of time is spent on him not letting her have one (despite her declarations she’s an excellent shot. She’s so learned in other things, including a 3x black belt, that this is not implausible). Maybe if he gives her the gun she won’t need him, so let’s not let her have the gun.

I sit here, looking at as many recent TV characters as I can find, for one who is both very intelligent and also socially competent, and come up dry. Dr. House has a drug addiction and the bedside manner of a troll, of the only other two – people on Bones, one turned out to be a sociopathic cannibal and the other was English and they killed him off (Mr. Nigel-Murray. I liked him a lot.) in order to provide a reason for Bones to feel vulnerable, jump into bed with The Male Person With A Gun, and get pregnant, thus creating another twist in the “will they or won’t they” plot.

H2, and others have suggested this, is the reason our most intelligent characters must be socially awkward is we (the viewer) cannot handle the idea of someone so smart and seemingly without flaws — we will lose interest, we will want to compare ourselves to that character and we will come up lacking. We will close the book, if you will. I think it’s a good point but I don’t know that it is true for all: I would like to see what a good writer could do with an intelligent character that DIDN’T have some sort of crippling social deficit.

To be fair, we have the exact opposite on TV currently too: the Jersey Shores, the Kardashians, etc. — all full of presumably socially “current” or apt people with combined IQ’s equivalent to a bag of Doritos. Clearly someone is watching that. So I wonder what would happen if we could somehow have a brilliant Kardashian?

Hey — I like science fiction, too.

All-Inclusive

Greetings from my mother’s house, where there is plenty of food, coffee, wine, heat, and relaxation. Except there is no internet.

Because of an eccentricity of where they live, my parents are in a pocket where there’s no easily-accessible internet. There are no cable services here, so nothing to bundle. The phone service does not offer traditional internet but does offer an Air Card, however said Air Card doesn’t like to work with my two laptops and so when I am here I can either tether to my iPhone or elect to go without. Therefore this Sunday morning finds me internetless, with coffee, and a large selection of magazines. I tethered to bring you this rant. You are so very, very happy about this, I can tell.

By virtue of some excess mileage points my parents have subscribed to a variety of magazines, some of which I have historically subscribed to and some that never held much fascination for me (Redbook, anyone?). Buried in the four-inch deep stack I found an old friend, a copy of the latest edition of Money Magazine. Back in my formative twenties (oh, so very long ago) I subscribed, gave up, and re-subscribed in my early thirties. (I followed this pattern with Martha Stewart Magazine, too). The reason for the spotty subscription is simple: after about two years, the content is not new. The same old concepts get recycled and rehashed (here’s how you figure the trade-off in percentages when evaluating interest on debt borrowed vs. money saved!); after a couple of years it’s like watching a predictable movie.

As it has been about six years since my last venture through Money Magazine I opened it with honest curiosity. I can tell you right now, just to ruin this particular feature, that yes, there was very little new content. OK, fine. But here’s what struck me: I am not this magazine’s audience. Not at all. This was driven home in the first five minutes of perusal, and it’s something that either was not made clear in my previous reviews of it, or has changed recently in the editing.

Like this:

The cover is telling me how to reach $1M, 5 best moves to climb to real wealth, etc., all standard personal-finance magazine stuff. So far, so good. The first ad on the inside is for a Mazda, all edgy and black. That’s fairly neutral. The next one is for Capital One, ok, appropriate for a finance mag. Then we have the table of contents, another bank ad, and then the first non-bank, non-car ad? For Axiron, a low-testosterone treatment. A really hot older guy is showing staring off into middle distance as he applies it (it goes on your underarm area, like a roll-on deodorant) and the fact that his arm posture during this is like a man flexing his bicep is not lost on me. The only other picture of him is playing baseball (very, very manfully).  Everything else is tiny letters telling you how to get this to boost your testosterone.

Aside from the dubious joy of seeing a hot guy battling the failings of time this tells me that I am, if I am reading this magazine, somehow interested in this.  Ergo, if I’m male, I may have a testosterone deficiency. If I’m female, my husband obviously may have one: look at how manfully the hot guy is flexing.  In truth I am neither of these things, and this ad alienates me.

But hey, it’s just one ad, so let’s keep reading.

Letter from the Managing Editor (Craig!) telling us to not worry much and be a little happy.  Standard stuff.  Then the write-ins from readers. Nathan, Anu, Jared, Christopher, Jared. All dudes. The Facebook quotes are even more interesting: these are online responses to “Best Money Advice Now”. Cavonta (assuming female here) tells you to fold it up and put it in your pocket (saving). David talks about equity in your company to make real money (strategy). Rachel tells you to learn to cook (spend your money on experiences). Michael tells you to leave emotions out of investment decisions (strategy).  Marina tells you (I kid you not) how to shop (spending again). The message? Strategy is for men, and then how to employ that strategy is for women.

Next ad, T. Rowe Price. Very tastefully done, nice coloring, no humans. As a bank should be.

Next, the advice column: what to do when your boss takes the credit you deserve. Margot, Tom, Randy, Craig, Paul, and Ron all responded (although Margot got to advise first). Margot’s advice was about placating (work it out with your boss and ask them to share a little of the love), and the remainder included strategy on how to get the credit.

Next ad: Angie’s List. Something everyone can use (I don’t use it but they have a nice black and white pic of Angie, talking about authentic reviews and uses).

Then we have an Ad for Mutual of America, about retirement. Who’s in it? Grandpa and grandson at baseball. No one else (aside from some other little male children, in soft-focus in the background) is visible. An article about car insurance, some Q&A, an ad for CFP’s, and now we come to:

CIALIS! Free trial for 30 days. There must be a modeling agency for seriously hot older guys because here’s a different one, arm around his female person (wife? Girlfriend? Friend’s wife? We don’t know, no rings are visible and he is not looking her in the eye, incidentally). And then many little words about how you too can have sex-on-demand again. If you’re a guy. Or a wife with a guy who needs it.

(There’s three pages of small print about the boner medication, flanked by a small ad on Weber Grill’s new REAL GRILLING cookbook.)

A couple more small articles, and then an ad for the Alzheimer’s Association.  Now we have hot older guy number 3, looking at himself in the mirror, wondering about if he has Alzheimer’s or not.

A fluff piece on underwater/waterproof cameras, an ad for GoToMeeting (which I have used) AND HAS WOMEN IN IT, OMG! WOMEN! All with long, straight hair, and an equivalent number of bearded, hipster-looking guys. In the meeting, on the screen, someone named Ted is offering Community Management Certification to lady with straight hair number one. Oh, okay. So it’s okay that she’s in some form of technology; she’s doing something “nice” like Community Management. It’s not like she’s a DEVELOPER, or anything. That said, there’s a nice quote from a CEO named “Wendy” about how useful it is.

I am looking at hot older guy number 4, the first non-white hot older guy, in an ad for a shingles vaccine.  Some small articles on the cost of medicine, an ad for CDW done in all red and white, and then an article on how to split the check.

With your “buddies”.

An ad for the magazine itself, and then “How to tell your kid you’re cutting him off”. Presumably female kids don’t need to be cut off.

Then an ad for Edward Jones, with hot older guy number 5 (we’re back to white), who actually believes the retirement goals his financial advisor is helping him with.

At that point, we were at page 35, about 1/3 of the way through the magazine. There were more hot older guys, there were more ways to feel comfortable about your manhood, how you were going to look after your wife and the grandkids, how to marshal financial decisions while grilling meat and talking sports.

I am not a raving feminist (yet), but it bothers me that a genre I’d consider to be (or need to be) gender-neutral (finance) is in fact, male-oriented, still. This is not expecting to pick up an issue of Deer Hunter magazine or what have you and see equal representation of girls and guys, (or Martha Stewart Mag, for that matter). Fiscal responsibility and interest is not something that should (or does) fall along gender line patterns; the knowledge that one of those Jamie Lee Curtis yogurt ads that help your “digestive tract” would kill off subscriptions of the magazine saddens me.

I do not want a magazine that is female-financially-geared in response. It would be needlessly redundant: a LOT of the articles and content in the magazine, particularly if you haven’t read it before, are useful regardless of your gender (and sometimes, your age). But the ad choices in this latest edition are so ruthlessly targeted it’s something I noticed before my first cup of coffee was through, and overshadowed my interest in what the thing actually had to say.  I didn’t expect a nail-polish ad, or an ad by Revlon or for tampons; but having Grandma at the baseball game would’ve been nice. Maybe having a female in the shingles or Alzheimer’s ad? (Not that I’m wishing shingles or Alzheimer’s on anyone, it’s just one of the few ads that targeted an ailment that isn’t gender-specific).

A lot of magazines, particularly in-print magazines, are worried about subscribers and leverage ad sales in order to keep their magazine afloat. I get that, it’s part of the mixed-revenue model a magazine uses. I’m just wondering at what cost are they placing these ads, for their “desired” audience, and missing a wider audience (that is growing).

Or maybe that’s why all the older guys in the ads are hot.

News at 140 Characters per Second

A couple of days ago, I was eyeballing my Twitter feed and it “exploded” — tweets came at a furious pace, retweeting, modified tweeting, quoted tweeting, fresh tweeting. Tweets with links, tweets with emoticons, serious tweets and facetious tweets. All of them (barring Sponsored Tweets, which are something I’d pay to NOT have to see) were about the Fed’s Q&A session.

I didn’t have to watch it (I caught clips later). I had, quite literally, a play-by-play review from journalists, editors, friends, co-workers, and friends-of-friends of every question, position, response, and impact. “Knowing”, as I do, most of these sources, I could tell who was being predictably circumspect, who was flying off the handle, and who was simply “reporting”. I had a dozen neatly arranged bits of data at my fingertips.

This is the same Twitter feed that gave me an equally determined and detailed vision of “Sharknado”, the deliberately cheesy SciFy flick. (It was what it sounded like: Sharks. In a Tornado.) Quite possibly the best thing I read about that was that the special effects were akin to dropping 3 bowling balls in a bucket filled with a 50/50 mix of “Motor Oil and Kool-Aid” (that, from NPR).

I’ve heard Twitter criticized as the medium of the vapid, a haven for narcissists, a cocktail party happening at 140-character snippets. These are, actually, all accurate impressions. Twitter is chock-a-block FULL of vapid narcissists (um, hi!) and is very much like a cocktail party. The trick with a cocktail party, though, aside from eating a bit beforehand and judiciously measuring your alcohol intake, is to not stick yourself with a group of people who 1. don’t tend to agree with you, unless you’re that rare creature who can handle an honest debate, and 2. find the group of people with the discussion base that interests you. If that happens to be the Kardashians, well, enjoy. I won’t be with you, though.

To some extent Twitter is a very personalized “news” feed, and I say that with “air quotes”/aka. “Bunny Rabbit Ears” because “news” is something as a concept that is bastardized near and far. Al-Jazeera Egypt is now even subject to scrutiny in its authenticity, I’ve heard Fox News called “Faux News” and even CNN has had criticism. I personally float to the Economist and the Guardian, because if you’re going to get brutally fair journalism you’re going to get it from a race that self-flaggelates as a cultural point of pride. It’s further personalized by the fact that  you’re unlikely to “follow” anyone who irritates you or annoys you, much as you’re not likely to grab your wine/vodka tonic/beer/margarita/iced tea and stand next to that asshole you wished the hostess wouldn’t invite to her party. You can safely intake your news with whatever bias you prefer, and get it that way.

An interesting thing that happens, though, in the Twitterverse, is the concept of the “retweet”. You may not stand next to the asshole at the party, but his voice can carry. You can attempt to tune it out, but someone may (conspirationally, mischievously, inaptly) repeat exactly what he said in a “You wouldn’t believe what [the asshole] just said” sort of way. Ladies and Gentlemen, enter the retweet. Retweeting is not limited to “hey look this person thinks like I do” but can also be an entrée to “Holy shit can you believe this douchebag just said that?”. In a world where you are not tolerant enough of the douchebag to follow him/her, chances are someone in your Twittersphere is, and will let you know what s/he said. Twitter is therefore no more, or less, useful than any other medium of news delivery we have had to date. It’s just delivered in an abbreviated fashion.

That may be a blessing.

 

The Hazards of Knowing Not Enough

Every year, I go through this work frenzy as the holidays arrive, and every year, I unreasonably think that things will be magically calm and collected come 1 January. It’s a pipe dream, and it’s been a consistent one of mine for the last 8 years. It never, ever works out that way. If insanity is doing the same things over again and expecting a different result, then I’m clearly insane. This year the frenzy is exacerbated by bold new initiatives and moves within the company, a couple of reorganizational moves, a shift in focus, and the realization that I will never, every clear out my email queue. It was not helped by 3 days of snow, one of which without internet. This is all by way of explanation to the extremely weird mood I was in today, and what it resulted in, which has left me most thoughtful, if not slightly irritated at the time I wasted.

As the snow is melting I’m back in the office, with a quick trip to run errands, and one of those was the post office. At said post office there were two warmly-dressed folks, mid-30’s, with posters of our President, with a Hitler moustache. Now, I’ve seen these before, when I went down to Olympia for Focus Day last year (and will be there again this year!), and at a couple of grocery stores. I get that they are exercising their Free Speech* rights and that’s cool — democracy is the celebration of all of the freedoms, not just the ones you like.

As I went in to the Post Office I realized I had left my phone in the car, so I went back to the car to retrieve it. Upon opening the door the man said, “We’re over here!” to me, and I looked up and said, “Yes, I know”, and proceeded to rummage through my car for my phone (it wasn’t there, I had left it at home, which is a frustrating thing). “They’re trying to kill us,” he said, and I made a very big mistake here. I asked, “Who?”

Man: “Obama and the Republicans. They got together with the banks and are trying to kill us!”

Me: “So, a Democrat president and a Republican congress got together with the banks to… kill us?”

Man: “Yeah!”

Me: “The government can’t even deliver the mail properly.”

Man: “That doesn’t matter. They’re trying to kill us!”

Me: “…”

Man: “The Russians are putting up a colony on the moon. They’ve announced it.”

Me: “Okay, how is *that* a bad thing?”

Man: “It isn’t!”

Me: “I don’t understand where you’re going with this? Kennedy said in ’62 we’d get to the Moon and did, now the Russians are going to build a colony — wouldn’t that drive innovation? Isn’t that a good thing?”

Man: “It’s not about that!”

Me: “Did you vote?”

Man: “It’s not about that!”

Me: “Yes it is. There are two ways to change things in this country. You vote, or you vote with your feet.”

Man: “Politics is not about personalities.”

Me: (Internally: WTF?)

Me: “You just said politics is not about personalities…”

Man: “Yeah!”

Me: “You’ve pasted a Hitler moustache on the President… aren’t you evoking a personality for that?”

Man: “No, it’s because he’s trying to kill us!”

Me: “I think you need to work on your message.”

Man: (sarcastically) “Oh you win!”

From here I walked into the post office thinking that aside from opening my mouth (mistake one) was that I thought this person wanted to actually engage in any sort of discussion or debate. He’s mad, he’s pissed, and he’s probably got just enough information to be dangerous but not effective (like most of the rest of us).  Spending any amount of time discussing it with him was leaving me lost, and clearly leaving him frustrated.  A waste of time for both of us, and that’s a shame.

I got my stamps, exited, and his female companion (compatriot? Colleague?) smiled at me. She asked if I wanted a flyer and I said No, indicating I think she probably already knew that. She said she didn’t.

I’m not sure if there’s training around this sort of communication technique but it can’t be one of persuasion — only confusion. Which is quite ironic, as that appears to be part of their chief complaint.

*ME: big fan of Free Speech, and *all* that it entails. But there’s a certain amount of explanation that goes with Free Speech — it means people can say all kinds of things that you don’t like. Now, if they say stuff about YOU and it isn’t true then it’s slander and you can prosecute (Obscenity and Libel make the cut, too). But Free Speech means they can scream at the top of their lungs about something you don’t like or agree with, and you have to deal, and vice-versa. If someone wants to paste the facial hair of a bloody mass murderer on a photo of the President — and this is not the first President to get that treatment — then I can’t do anything to stop them. It’s their right. There is no compulsion on my part, however, to agree with them, and I should’ve simply ignored them. That’ll learn me.