Archive for November, 2012

Over the years, I’ve tried various approaches to grading, from spreading things out to allowing for relatively intense periods of grading followed by relative peace. This week, though, I have run into a perfect storm of grading. Due to rescheduling some things early in the semester, I moved one of my exams from before Thanksgiving to the week after Thanksgiving, where it was met with a paper assignment and another exam. In a two-day period, then, I collected 20 papers in one class and gave 61 combined exams in two other courses, totaling 81 things to grade and, thanks to the impending end of the semester, not a lot of time to grade them. In response I have stocked up on bottled water and canned goods in hopes of hunkering down and surviving the storm.

Is it Christmas yet?!

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Women’s roles have changed a great deal in the past 50 years while men’s, well, haven’t. Women are attending college and getting jobs in ever-increasing numbers, even if they don’t get paid the same amount as men once they get those jobs. On top of all of this, there has been a decline in the number of men who want to get married. Why? Because women! At least that’s the argument that Suzanne Venker makes in a Fox News opinion post. Apparently, a few men she knows claim that they don’t want to get married because “Women aren’t women anymore.” She writes:

Contrary to what feminists like Hanna Rosin, author of The End of Men, say, the so-called rise of women has not threatened men. It has pissed them off. It has also undermined their ability to become self-sufficient in the hopes of someday supporting a family. Men want to love women, not compete with them. They want to provide for and protect their families – it’s in their DNA. But modern women won’t let them.

It’s all so unfortunate – for women, not men. Feminism serves men very well: they can have sex at hello and even live with their girlfriends with no responsibilities whatsoever.

It’s the women who lose. Not only are they saddled with the consequences of sex, by dismissing male nature they’re forever seeking a balanced life. The fact is, women need men’s linear career goals – they need men to pick up the slack at the office – in order to live the balanced life they seek.

So if men today are slackers, and if they’re retreating from marriage en masse, women should look in the mirror and ask themselves what role they’ve played to bring about this transformation.

Fortunately, there is good news: women have the power to turn everything around. All they have to do is surrender to their nature – their femininity – and let men surrender to theirs.

To summarize, women have gained equality with men, who have done nothing to change the way they want to interact with women, but this equality is bad for women because no man wants to marry a woman who is equal! Hanna Rosin, the author Venker criticizes, responds at Slate, stating:
Unfortunately, Venker is somewhat enigmatic about how to reverse this problem, beyond a few vague clues. Women, she says, “have the power to turn everything around” (Duh, of course, we have ALL the power). “All they have to do is surrender to their nature – their femininity – and let men surrender to theirs.” Surrender to my femininity. Surrender to my femininity. I get the general idea but what does it mean, like, in practice? Not wear pants so much? Let my hair grow. Ask my boss to pay me a little less? Open to ideas.
Of course, since she is a working woman trying to knock men off of their pedestals when she should actually be raising a family, it is hard to believe that Venker came up with this idea on her own. As you can see below, it actually originated with noted gender scholar Archie Bunker in the 1970s:

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Patrice Wilson, the man behind Rebecca Black’s internet sensation “Friday,” is back with another internet sensation. To anybody who has heard “Friday,” which is basically everybody at this point, Nicole Westbrook’s “It’s Thanksgiving” will probably sound familiar. Just in time for Thanksgiving, I thought that I would take a few minutes to break down Wilson’s recipe for terrible songs with tens of millions of YouTube views. First, though, let’s revisit Rebecca Black’s Friday, which is actually worse than I remembered:

If you haven’t slipped into a coma, here is Nicole Westbrook’s “It’s Thanksgiving” for comparison:

Since your ears are probably bleeding, it is fortunate that the rest of this post will be in text form. What does it take to write a song and make a video that is so reviled that people can’t turn away? This appears to be Wilson’s recipe:

  • One earnest young girl who likes to sing. This girl’s parents must have enough money to pay for a vanity song and music video.
  • Kids to play the earnest young girl’s friends. These kids must be excellent actors because they have to appear as if the video they are in is not completely ridiculous.
  • Discussion of the passage of time. “Friday” includes such informative lyrics as “Yesterday was Thursday, today it is Friday… tomorrow is Saturday and Sunday comes afterwards.” No doubt looking to build on his past success with the use of calendars, “It’s Thanksgiving” embraces the entire year, with a chorus that states: “December was Christmas, January was new year’s, April was Easter, and the fourth of July but now it’s Thanksgiving!” Wilson is also planning for the song’s longevity by setting this video in the future – Thanksgiving will be on November 28 in 2013.
  • Rapping. It should be noted that no actual rapper would be caught dead reciting these lines.
  • Poor grammar. “Friday” includes the brain-cell killing “We we we so excited. We so excited.” These lyrics are displayed on the screen so that viewers can be sure that there is, in fact, no “are” in the lyrics.
  • The seemingly random appearance of Patrice Wilson himself. In “Friday” he appears in a car with a brief rap in a scene that is completely unrelated to the rest of the song. In “It’s Thanksgiving” he plays a larger role, singing the chorus and joining Nicole Westbrook’s party. None of the kids seem to be concerned with the fact that an overly-excited adult dressed as a turkey has crashed their party.
  • Combine the above ingredients in a video and bake for three and a half to four minutes. Serves tens of millions.

Watching these videos, and especially Wilson’s enthusiastic turn in “It’s Thanksgiving,” I have to wonder whether he is in on the joke. As an adult without any visible head injuries it seems that he must recognize that these songs are terrible. A secondary question is whether the young girls who sing these songs and the parents who pay for them recognize how bad they are and the negative attention that they will receive if the songs catch on with the internet-viewing public. Nicole Westbrook’s friends and family members are probably never going to be able to hold a turkey leg at a Renaissance Festival without mocking her.

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Unlike those cited in my previous post, it turns out that you can talk about the dangers of kids playing football without mentioning sex or gender at all. It turns out that tackle football for kids might not be such a good idea, though it is unlikely to change any time soon. As Fatsis notes:

Science or no science, the real reason 5- and 6-year-olds will keep padding up and hitting is consumer demand. If Pop Warner offered only flag football, its executive director, John Butler, candidly told the panel, “90 to 95 percent of our members would drop out” and play for independent teams “because whether it be kids or parents, they want to play tackle football.”

I wonder if switching to flag football would allow more girls to play, since they wouldn’t have to overcome gender stereotypes about toughness and masculinity. Unfortunately, an increasing number of girls would probably be used as evidence that flags instead of tackles feminized the sport.

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After several classroom conversations about gender roles, one of my students sent me a link to a news story about a nine-year-old named Sam Gordon who has been tearing up the competition on the football field. Unlike the highlight reels put together for a number of high school students, the purpose of this video wasn’t to draw the attention of college coaches. The purpose was to motivate Sam to focus on doing well on each play, as Sam’s dad notes in the linked article. Why is this news? Sam is a girl.

In terms of gender roles, the video, in which Sam runs past opposing players but also gets tackled by, and tackles, them, is interesting. Sam’s dad has apparently taken the video down, but here is another version with different music:

More interesting to me than the gender roles depicted in the video, though, are the gender roles depicted in responses to it. The Yahoo article that I linked to includes several asides asking whether it is appropriate for a girl to play with boys. For example, see the following paragraph:

It may be real, but is it appropriate? This is a 9-year-old girl playing against bigger, stronger boys. She even had a trainer who put her through agility drills and plyometrics. Gordon is not even 60 pounds, and there’s a kid on her team who weighs more than 150. (His nickname: Tank.) In an era of concussions and frequent ACL tears, it’s fair to ask: What are the adults thinking?

It is well known, of course, that only girls can be injured playing contact sports.

Another highlight is this sentence: “A lot of people won’t accept a 9-year-old girl playing tackle football, and perhaps with good reason. But it seems Sam loves it.” In the video below, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith unequivocally states that girls should not be playing football because it might make boys hit them outside of the game, somehow. Another commentator talks about his daughter playing football as a sophomore in high school and lasting three games before hurting her shoulder.

Christian Fuaria says that he wants his daughters to be able to play sports as long as they are watched over by the right kind of coaches (probably men) and as long as they are young (because it is cute when they are kids). The Memoirs of a SLACer Award for Excellence in Masculinity, though, goes to the commentator who asks whether it is fair to boys to have to play with girls since they are conditioned from a young age not to hit girls, giving girls an unfair advantage. Just like all of those advantages they have in the workplace.

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Question: If you give an exam but forget to delete a note to yourself that indicates which answer is correct on one of the multiple choice questions, what percentage of students will answer that question incorrectly anyway?

Answer: 25%

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I recently saw an interesting article via Facebook about the potential for “net-zero” homes, in which the goal is to produce as much energy as you consume. While the up-front costs seem rather large (and are certainly out of reach of most American households), I expect that we will see more people using techniques like these to offset their energy costs as fossil fuel prices rise. Matt Grocoff, who also drives a Chevy Volt presumably powered by the solar panels on his roof, says:

The technology already exists, and it’s proven to be affordable if you look at the total time value of that money. A typical mortgage is for 30 years, for instance, so if you look at the cost over a 30-year period, going net-zero is actually far more affordable than not doing it.

But to get specific, the basic idea is this: People like to say that old houses need to breathe. And frankly, I’ll just say it: That’s bullshit. They breathe just because that’s the way they were built. They had cedar shingles on the roofs, no insulation, and they were leaky. And it’s a good thing they were because people were heating with coal-fired, pot-bellied stoves. You can only imagine the indoor air quality in those days. But today, regardless if you’re heating with a gas furnace or geothermal system, you want to keep that energy inside the house, where it can keep you warm, and then use a little bit of energy to ventilate the home.

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Here is a song that Eddie Vedder says “benefits from scenery passing by at 40-60 mph (on the way to a demonstration or voting booth!)” in the liner notes for Pearl Jam’s Riot Act. That sounds like a good plan for the morning.

Happy election day!

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One interesting aspect of the political spectacle surrounding this year’s presidential election is the percentage of whites, particularly white males, who prefer Mitt Romney to Barack Obama. Tom Scocca of Slate takes a look at the polling gap between whites and non-whites. He writes:

White men are supporting Mitt Romney to the exclusion of logic or common sense, in defiance of normal Americans. Without this narrow, tribal appeal, Romney’s candidacy would simply not be viable. Most kinds of Americans see no reason to vote for him.

This fact is obfuscated because white people control the political media. So we get the Washington Post reporting that the election is “more polarized along racial lines than any other contest since 1988”:

Obama has a deficit of 23 percentage points, trailing Republican Mitt Romney 60 percent to 37 percent among whites, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News national tracking poll. That presents a significant hurdle for the president—and suggests that he will need to achieve even larger margins of victory among women and minorities, two important parts of the Democratic base, to win reelection.

That’s not polarized. Polarization would mean that various races were mutually pulling apart, toward their favored candidates. “Minorities” is not a race (nor, you may have noticed, is “women”). Minorities and women are the people standing still, while white men run away from them.

Scott Lemieux, over at Lawyers, Guns, and Money, points out that the media presents Obama’s support differently because of who does, and who does not, support him. While Politico claimed Obama does not have a broad mandate based on his supporters, Lemieux argues that “if Romney ekes out an electoral college and popular vote victory, we’re not going to be hearing about how Romney’s mandate is too narrow because it’s so dominated by white men.”

Of course, all of this would be moot if whites would just listen to Chris Rock’s assertion that Obama is white:

He makes some good points. Chris Rock is black, though, so I’m guessing that whites are unlikely to listen to him.

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In his 1988 book Constructing the Political Spectacle, political scientist Murray Edelman argues that, because nonvoters are a larger political grouping in the US than any single political party, the media needs to use “much coercion, propaganda, and the portrayal of issues in terms that entertain, distort, and shock to extract a public response of any kind” (Edelman 1988:7). Further, he says that the media isn’t concerned with facts, but with perpetuating competing ideologies.  If the media was worried about facts, he says, “false meanings would be discredited in time and a consensus upon valid ones would emerge” (Edelman 1988:3).

I was reminded of Edelman’s work while reading a Deadspin post about critics of Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog. Discussing this criticism, David Roher states:

Scarborough’s comments illustrate the central and most pernicious bias in political media: not toward one candidate or another, but toward a toss-up. Forecasters like Silver and Wang strive for precision in addition to accuracy. If accuracy is how close the average dart is to the bullseye, precision is how close each dart was to the others. We don’t yet know whether they’ve been accurate, but we can already safely say that they’ve been precise, as their predictions heading into November are essentially the same as they were months ago.

The political media hate precision: No one tunes in to a boring horse race. The volatility of day-to-day polling allows them to explain how the contest (in which, till recently, no actual votes had yet been cast) has been lost and won and lost again with each news cycle—an endless series of decisive revelations and foundational truths about the candidates or the public. If the narrative had followed Silver’s and Wang’s graphs, there would have been little to no hubbub over Bain’s outsourcing, “You didn’t build that,” the 47 percent, or the first debate. And what fun would that be? Both the Romney and Obama camps are happy to play into the toss-up narrative, as Obama needs his presumed majority to actually go to the polls on election day, and Romney wants to give his base confidence and hope. It’s the rare thing that everyone can agree on this year.

In five days the election will be over but the debates over the same old political issues – tax cuts, abortion, military spending, health care, etc. – will undoubtedly continue, thanks in part to the political spectacle.

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