30 April 2011

Digging in the Archives… ‘Idlers Hard at Work’

Spring has been slow about its arrival in Wisconsin this year. But, at last, today and yesterday have been beautiful. And even though there is a storm on its way this evening, it’s OK because it’s a spring storm unlike the wintery storms of the past week.

What’s the difference? Storms in the spring smell good.

With this in mind, I thought I would dig up something fitting the change in season. The following is a revised version of an article I wrote last semester for a magazine writing course in which I researched and wrote about gardening in Wisconsin.


* * *

I am an unapologetic idler. This is why, several years ago, my wife gave me a copy of Tom Hodgkinson’s How to be Idle as a gift. This is also why, several years later, I have yet to finish reading it. I pick it up every few months, read a chapter or two, and then put it away for an unspecified length of time. This is as it should be. For the true idler, the greatest joy is doing what you wish, when you wish, and how you wish.

Let’s get one thing straight, though. Idlers are not lazy slobs. Well, most of us are not lazy slobs. We do not wish to wallow in disarray or avoid accomplishment. For example, idlers don’t like a mess. “Mess ends up stealing time from you,” Hodgkinson explains. “One lets things descend into chaos because one can’t be bothered to clean up, but then wastes hours trying to find socks…. to be truly idle, you also have to be efficient.”

We, the idlers, simply wish to command our own time and activities. We seek to free ourselves from the botherers who schedule 7am working breakfasts and develop ad campaigns that instruct us to ‘Just Do It.’

No. You do it. I’m doing my own thing over here.

24 April 2011

You Wish You Could Be Wolowitz

Picture an engineer.

Let me guess. You’re thinking of someone like Howard Wolowitz (or any of the lead characters) from CBS’s Big Bang Theory – a rigid, awkward, neurotic dork.

Am I right?

* * *

The other day I was talking with a young engineering student at my office. We were discussing summer internship applications, cover letters, and the preconceptions people have about engineers. The conversation was, in a way, ridiculous because this student – except for being extremely bright and hard working – defies every single stereotype about engineers. She is funny, articulate, sociable, and creative. Plus (not that it should matter), she is an attractive and stylish she.

We talked about her various interests and some of the things she included in her applications. We discussed the logic test she took for one application and how difficult it can be to make yourself stand out with just a resume and cover letter. The conversation covered a wide variety of topics but I said her letters sounded great. I also mentioned I recently learned that, just like social science and humanities majors, engineers are among those who demonstrate strong improvements in writing during the first two years of college (particularly when compared with peers in, for example, business school). And I confessed, apropos of the rest of the conversation, that I was originally surprised by this finding.

Like most people, I imagined engineers excelling in math and technical diagrams rather than writing and communication. I did not think engineers were incapable of writing well. I just assumed it wasn’t the type of thing engineers and engineering departments were concerned with – too artsy and impractical.

Then I remembered something from my last year working at Berkeley.

16 April 2011

Nursing Our Young

Last week I did a little number about the way American women continue to be objectified and used in our national diatribe -- err -- dialogue. It was one of the occasional tangents I am prone to explore even though it has no direct relationship to higher education. Well, let me see if I can swing this puppy around and get ‘er back on topic without entirely abandoning the question of women in America….

Last month, researchers at Montana State University published the results of three studies that explored the ways in which breastfeeding mothers are objectified and judged. In the publication, Spoiled Milk: An Experimental Examination of Bias Against Mothers Who Breastfeed, they found that study participants (both male and female) considered breastfeeding mothers warmer and more caring than other women but also assumed them to be less skilled in math, less competent generally, and less desirable as potential employees.

As a feminist, a parent, and the non-lactating half of a couple that struggled with breastfeeding, I was pissed. Then, when I read that the study participants were college students, my initial anger morphed into frustrated wondering at what could possibly explain these students’ thinking. I concluded that, basically, they were not thinking at all. That really pissed me off.

09 April 2011

Girl Stuff

Yesterday my wife and I were in the car listening to the latest news about our looming budget crisis and the fact that negotiations were hinging on issues of funding for women’s health programs. We were both pretty annoyed. Then the newscast turned to a discussion of Planned Parenthood. This is when my wife’s blood pressure wound up like the RPM display on the dashboard.

“All women should be outraged!” she said. And she was right.

You see, Planned Parenthood receives federal money to support medical care to women. The problem is that Planned Parenthood also provides abortion services. Federal funds do not pay for abortions in any way. Private money covers the costs of these services. But, as some have pointed out, the fact that Planned Parenthood can use federal dollars to pay for wellness exams makes it a little easier to locate other funds to cover abortions. And, apparently, this conundrum is such a critical issue that the entire United States government may need to close up shop until we fix this particular problem.

Personally, when it comes to cutting Planned Parenthood, I think the whole thing is another lame-ass attempt to destroy important services without any regard for why those services were created in the first place. But I want to take a moment to note – very clearly – that the logic behind this particular argument is sound and the concern is legitimate. It’s a fair question and it requires a fair and thoughtful response. Everyone with a serious concern and a serious desire to work out a solution deserves to be heard.

That being said, I still think women – actually, everyone – should be outraged.

You see, every time programs like Planned Parenthood are made the target of partisan hackery, every woman in America is being used and abused on national television.