Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Bowling 1, Health Care 0

I deeply admire Elizabeth Edwards. She speaks the truth when others pussyfoot around it. Read her Op-Ed piece, Bowling 1, Heath Care 0.
The vigorous press that was deemed an essential part of democracy at our country’s inception is now consigned to smaller venues, to the Internet and, in the mainstream media, to occasional articles. I am not suggesting that every journalist for a mainstream media outlet is neglecting his or her duties to the public. And I know that serious newspapers and magazines run analytical articles, and public television broadcasts longer, more probing segments.

But I am saying that every analysis that is shortened, every corner that is cut, moves us further away from the truth until what is left is the Cliffs Notes of the news, or what I call strobe-light journalism, in which the outlines are accurate enough but we cannot really see the whole picture.

Why aren't we having substantive discussions about the state of our health care system and the way it distorts our markets and private lives? How many people die from lack of access to medical care versus acts of terrorism?

Why, in an election year, is Hillary going on about bitter-gate instead of speaking as thoughtfully and eloquently about health care as she did in 2004's Now Can We Talk About Health Care?
Think for a moment about recent advances in genetic testing. Knowing you are prone to cancer or heart disease or Lou Gehrig's disease may give you a fighting chance. But just try, with that information in hand, to get health insurance in a system without strong protections against discrimination for pre-existing or genetic conditions. Each vaunted scientific breakthrough brings with it new challenges to our health system. But it's not only medicine that is changing. So, too, are the economy, our personal behaviors and our environment. Unless Americans across the political spectrum come together to change our health care system, that system, already buckling under the pressures of today, will collapse with the problems of tomorrow.

Twenty-first-century problems, like genetic mapping, an aging population and globalization, are combining with old problems like skyrocketing costs and skyrocketing numbers of uninsured, to overwhelm the 20th-century system we have inherited.

The way we finance care is so seriously flawed that if we fail to fix it, we face a fiscal disaster that will not only deny quality health care to the uninsured and underinsured but also undermine the capacity of the system to care for even the well insured. For example, if a hospital's trauma center is closed or so crowded that it cannot take any more patients, your insurance card won't help much if you're the one in the freeway accident.
This is a very real worry in LA as one trauma center after another closes for lack of funding. Hospitals are closing their emergency rooms and even the ERs that are open have difficulties finding people willing to work in them. The number of uninsured people in LA is staggering. Each insured person supports another uninsured one. If our ERs are overwhelmed on an ordinary night, what chance do they have in the event of a catastrophic natural disaster like an earthquake? We are all at risk, insured or not.

Why is the media feeding us pap about the candidates' wardrobe and font choices instead of showing us the real differences between their health care plans? OK, anyone can have a plan, but it is another thing to get the nation behind them to carry it out. But maybe we can hear about their very different approaches and core philosophies instead of their haircuts and how much they paid for them. Is that too much to ask from the mainstream media (MSM)?

I will quit ranting now, but do read Elizabeth Edwards and Hillary Clinton in their own words.

You will notice this blog has been notably lacking in sewing and knitting content lately. I had a flare-up and have been resting and reading instead. Mark surprised me with a fantastic convalescent present--more on that later.

When I finished reading Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future by Bill McKibben, my first reaction was that I learned nothing new. On second thought, he makes a good point about the old-fashioned notion that the public airwaves are a shared public resource and the people who run radio and TV stations have a responsibility to the citizenry that grants them the airwaves. I have long shared his opinion, but rarely hear that point of view. (Perhaps because the MSM doesn't want us to notice?)

Overall, Deep Economy is a good read, though I do not share his sanguine view of the future of Bangladesh. OTOH, it is a relief to read good news from Bangladesh amid all the doom and gloom about global warming and sea level rise.

In The Black Swan, Taleb mentioned that he stopped watching TV and reading the day to day news. In the time he saves, he is able to read 2 books a week or 100 books a year. After 20 years, that really adds up.

I resolve to read more, even when my health is going along swimmingly.

Katy emailed me a reading suggestion (The Ten-Year Nap), which I am reading instead of packing. I must put it down. If you read a good book recently, please share in the comments.

(Katy completed a triathlon last weekend and will compete in an even longer one in 2 weeks. She sounds apologetic for not having more sewing projects to share. Go to her blog and congratulate her.)

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Bulk Goods

I sometimes shop at the El Segundo Whole Foods on my way to work. Shopping there need not to be "Whole Paycheck", particularly if you shop the bulk bins. They are the best value in the store.

The first time I brought in my own jars and asked the guys at the butcher counter to tare them, they looked at me blankly. Now, they don't even blink. Why put your food in a plastic bag, then go home and decant from the bag into a rigid container and throw away the plastic bag? I am lazy.

I do use plastic bags for wet produce, and I try to rinse out old ones and bring them back for reuse. I store them in the car inside one of several canvas bags that I use to haul groceries home. Mark argued that I waste water to clean the bags. But I lived in a student-run coop at Berkeley and the kitchen manager had thoughtfully posted the energy and water budgets for plastic bags as well as foods. The water you use to rinse that bag is much less than the water used to transform petroleum into a plastic bag.

If you are a new reader, you may want to read about a very real danger of "conventionally grown" food in What we eat. Whole Foods promised no antibiotics in their meats, ever. That's important if, like me, you are allergic to antibiotics commonly found in animal feed.

Mark is usually in charge of cooking. His recipes are nutritionally sound and tasty, but I couldn't face the greatest hits night after night. I left work 2 hours early one night to shop, cook and store some different foods.

Southern style greens with onions, carrots and bacon. It's based upon a recipe from Alice Waters' Chez Panisse Vegetables cookbook.

My mother's "Double Soy" recipe with baked tofu and edamame.

Steamed and broiled baby artichokes.

I also made minestrone soup with the rest of the greens and beans from the Whole Foods bulk bins. Soak the beans overnight. Not only will that save 15 minutes cooking time, it will also save about 25-30% of the energy required to cook them.

I learned to reuse plastic bags and to bring clean jars to the store for bulk goods from a former employer. As a nineteen year old, I ran errands for a disabled forty something woman in Berkeley. I think she paid me $7 an hour, but I learned priceless lessons from her.

She taught me how to live green and frugally. She taught me the importance of shopping locally to keep $ recirculating in the local economy as much as possible. She taught me how to take business to people whose values were a fit for mine.

She taught me about consumer rights when she had me return merchandise that did not work as advertised. She sent me to Kinko's to photocopy her financial papers, knowing that I would peek. Not only did she not mind, but she explained her investment strategies to me.

She taught me that a true rate of return has to factor in taxes and inflation. She even taught me an important lesson about preserving capital when she temporarily cut my hours because she had a bad investment quarter and needed to pare down her expenses across the board.

She taught me the importance of accumulating capital when young, to guard against disability and other setbacks later in life.

In retrospect, I could have worked for her for no pay and still come out ahead.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Homework détente

Oona over at Hopeless but not serious posted about Homework plagiarism. How much should parents help their child with homework?

It is no secret that I fall squarely in the camp of minimum involvement. But she makes some interesting counterarguments that hadn't occurred to me.

What if your child is the only one that is turning in her own work? What if she is being graded on a curve against the work of everyone else's parents? Do K-5 grades have any lasting impact upon one's life?

Clearly, we have a collective responsibility to practice homework détente.

Go over there and join the fray. And don't let the grammar police give you stage fright. :-)

The Black Swan

I just finished reading The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Amazingly, I had never heard of him or the book before serendipitously finding it in the new books section at the library.

The title refers to the commonly held European fallacy that, because a black swan hadn't been observed, then no black swans must exist. Black swans became synonymous with things that don't exist. So many people fall for this "round trip" reasoning error. Black swans do exist in Australia, a place Europeans had not visited yet when they coined the phrase.

Like The Corrections, I almost stopped reading the book after a couple of dozen pages. But I am glad I continued reading, because both books got better and better. In fact, you might do better to skip the TBS's prologue and short autobiography (the despised narrative!) and dive into the evisceration of the ubiquitous Gaussian bell curve in part 3 and then go back to read from the beginning.

Here is a delicious passage from the end of chapter 8:
My biggest problem with the educational system lies precisely in that it forces students to squeeze explanations out of subject matters and shames them for withholding judgment, for uttering the "I don't know."
Or from the beginning of chapter 18 about the phoniness of invoking quantum mechanics and Heisenberg's uncertainty principle for systems that have nothing to do with quantum scales and observables. (Quantum mechanics has great predictive value precisely because the quantum scale world follows such nice and neat statistical distributions.)
But political, social, and weather events do not have this handy property, and we patently cannot predict them, so when you hear "experts" presenting the problems of uncertainty in terms of subatomic particles, odds are the expert is a phony. As a matter of fact, this may be the best way to spot a phony.
Taleb is an excellent spotter of bullshit and you should read The Black Swan.

Finally, I want to close with a passage from Daniel Stern's "Crib Monologues from a Psychoanalytic Perspective", chapter 9 of Narratives from the Crib.
The pleasure principle in psychoanalysis can be interpreted very narrowly in terms of excitation which disturbs a resting equilibrium by adding a quantum of energy which is experienced as unpleasure and pushes the psychic system to discharge energy equal to that introduced into the system. The discharge of energy and the return of the system to equilibrium will be experienced as pleasure. Or, the pleasure principle can be interpreted more broadly and without the energy metaphor in terms of psychic systems at equilibrium, in states of perturbation and disequilibrium, and in terms of the motives and moves to reequilibrate the system at an old or new point of equilibrium. And this, of course, brings us to the narrative, its elements and its engine.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Who does more housework?

Don't miss this morning's Marketplace Morning Report interview with Frank Stafford, an economist at the University of Michigan, Who does more housework?
Frank Stafford: Well, the new finding actually is we looked back to 1996, where we had single women, single men living on their own, had never been married before. And then as you go forward 10 years to 2005, some of the women had gotten married and their housework went up from about 9.5 hours a week to 16 hours a week. But what's different is that if you look at the young men, the bachelors had gotten married, their house work went by up about 2.5 hours.
Stafford: Yeah. There is a little bit of a bias. Men tend to report more housework hours than they do when you get a better measure of their housework.
Listen to the whole story, or read the transcript in the link above.

Edison's mother

Iris' new haircut was quite the schoolyard sensation this morning. Kids, mothers and teachers alike were fascinated with her asymmetric wedge. They all professed astonishment that she did such a good job on her own. I heard from another mom how some girls in her class surrounded her as her teacher approached. When she arrived, the girls jumped aside and yelled, "Surprise!". Iris was so pleased with all the positive attention.

She was not so happy yesterday, when she walked to school by herself. We were simply too mad at each other for our usual morning walk. The school says that kids in K-3 should be accompanied by adults to campus, but I think she was safer walking alone than with me at that point. (Don't forget that Ramona Quimby was allowed to walk alone to Kindergarten--how quickly parenting ideas of safety change.)

I won't bore you with the details of how I was pushed over the edge so I will tell you another story.

I carry exactly one ergonomic pen and pencil in my purse. Why? If you knew how many germs are carried on publicly shared pens, you'd carry your own pen, too. I also need to limit the weight of my handbag because of arthritis so I don't carry spares.

The other evening, I reached into my bag to for a pen so I could sign something and what did I pull out of my bag?

Pen and pencil parts.

But not enough parts of either to put together one usable Frankenstein writing implement.

The ink cartridge was rolling loose in the purse.

With bite marks on the ink case indicating that this was no accident.

I looked at Iris.

She looked back with her big brown eyes.

"What happened here?"

"How am I going to be an inventor if I don't take things apart?"

Sigh. Mark and I do give her broken things to take apart, like an old clock. We figure, if they are already broken, it doesn't matter if she can't put them back together again. I guess we should set clearer limits on what she can and cannot take apart.

It is a good thing I carry a leopard print purse. No one can see the ink stains.

I am one of the 20% of middle-aged Americans with a disability. Through trial and error and word of mouth, I found some products that make my life easier. I have no connection with these companies, etc.
  • Active Forever offers a ton of stuff for those with limited mobility. I love my Smart-Clip Allview Mirror so much, I bought 2 more as gifts. Just like their website says, it gives a wide angle view for those with back and neck mobility impairments.
  • A secretary recommended the Pentel Ergotwist pen and it is the only one I can comfortably use. It's the cheapest of the "arthritis pens" recommended by mySimon.com. It is also pretty heavy, which explains why I don't want to carry more than one. Now if only Mark and Iris would only carry their own pens and pencils and not keep borrowing mine (and not replacing it when they are done).

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Weather and Beauty

Speaking of weather and news readers and the importance of looks, Daisy Fuentes got her start in television as the weather personality at WXTV. I found this on her Yahoo movies bio:
A neighbor employed in fashion asked a 16-year-old Fuentes to serve as a substitute for a sick model at a photo shoot, launching a career as a print model. While still a college student and not yet out of teens, she landed a gig as a weather girl at Manhattan's Univision affiliate (WXTV Channel 41). Switching to rival Telemundo, she graduated to news reader.
Yes, she became a news anchor at 19 while still a college student.

Years ago, she was interviewed on a late night talk show. I was surprised to learn that she wasn't given a weather forecast to read; she had to write her own forecasts. She was worried about appearing like a fool, so she would buy several newspapers and read all the weather forecasts. She then forecast the average of the temperatures she read. She had stumbled upon ensemble forecasting!

She designs clothes, too.

Spring Shearing

Remember Trail of Destruction? Take a look at this.

She said that she was just going to snip off a few split ends, but then she had to straighten it out. And then she had to straighten it up a bit more. And so on.

Her hair looked like this last week. (They are getting centered at the beginning of Tae Kwon Do class, this being LA and all.)

The Iris wool. Should we send it to her aunt for spinning into yarn?

Spring shearing 2007 at Common Threads Farm.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Bullshit on my mind

A friend sent this comic along with some other jokes today. How did he know I had bullshit on my mind?

If you know where this comic comes from, please leave a comment so I can attribute it correctly.

Katy wrote that it looks like Maxine, the snarky Hallmark lady. This isn't the Hallmark I grew up with. It looks like I should start shopping there.

Speaking of the importance of looks

In monetary terms, beauty pays more than anything.
Read the rest of the interview with Isabella Rossellini.

Obligatory Earth Day Post

The Beach Cities Health District installed vegetable gardens at area schools, complete with drip irrigation, organic soil and fertilizer. Each classroom takes care of a raised bed of vegetables. Today, Earth Day, the kids began to harvest the fruits of their labor.

Free-range tomatoes! (Look ma, no cage!)

Organic strawberries.

Look at the size of these radishes.

Thanks to Janel Bagby from Beach Cities Health District and parent volunteer, Kim Dunn. (Parent volunteer, Lisa, and another BCHD employee did not arrive in time for the picture.)

Iris came home talking about how spinach is the most nutritious vegetable and how she wanted to try it. I found some spinach in the freezer and made creamed spinach out of it. She took one bite and pushed it away. She did eat her soba and tofu though.

Frickin' Freakonomics

That whole How Valid Are T.V. Weather Forecasts? story just sets my teeth on edge. It is another example of "gotcha" news stories about how scientists are idiots that can't get anything right.

For starters, the statistical methodology was not explained. How does J.D. Eggleston define "Degrees Missed"? You need to put a sign on the temperature deviance in order to rule out systematic bias. If there a consistent temperature bias, could he and his daughter have placed their backyard thermometer in a place that gets radiated heat from a rock or their house foundation? Was their house at a higher or lower elevation than the official elevation for their city? This matters because meteorologists use the predicted height at 850 mb and extrapolate downward to the official elevation.

If you want to know the value added by a forecast, you take the difference between the forecast and no forecast.

What does that mean? You can set the baseline as either persistence (what was the weather like yesterday?) or climatology (what was the average on this date over a long period of at least 50 years?). Then calculate the differences between the actual observed weather with the forecast and also against no forecast. The change in forecast skill (hopefully, a reduction in error) between the forecast and no forecast is the true value-added of the forecast.

Studies that handle statistics more carefully show that today's 15 day forecast is about as accurate as the 3 day forecasts made 30 years ago. This is primarily due to improvements in numerical weather prediction and the use of satellite data.

What methodology did they use for verifying rain forecasts? Did it rain in their backyard? That's not meaningful. The precipitation forecasts give a probability over a broad area. Their home could be in a micro-climate. In addition, how does their methodology handle when the forecasts were off in the timing of the precipitation, but not in the areal extent?

Furthermore, TV weather readers are as likely to be meteorologists as the news readers are likely to be journalists (whatever that means now). Most majored in communications, not meteorology. No professional qualifications are needed to read the news on TV other than good looks.

Some weather readers sought and received the American Meteorology Society (AMS) Seal of Approval or "Certified Broadcast Meteorologist" (CBM) designation. The AMS Seal of Approval was so contentious among AMS regular members, that the program is being phased out. The CBM designation was an attempt to tighten up the standards.
The main difference between the two programs is education and the exam. To apply for the CBM, applicants must hold a bachelor’s or higher degree in atmospheric science or meteorology (or the equivalent) from an accredited college/university. Current AMS Sealholders (those that earned the Seal prior to January 1, 2005 ) are not required to meet this criteria. These Sealholders may qualify for the CBM designation if they pass the written exam. All CBM applicants must pass the written exam to earn the CBM designation.
Go read the requirements; you could get the seal of approval by sending in videos of yourself reading the weather and looking good while doing it. Even with those loose requirements, most weather readers don't even hold that qualification. Current seal holders can get CBM designation by passing a multiple choice exam with a score of 75 or more. They better hurry because this deal expires next year.

Digression about TV weather forecasts:
A while back, Bulletin of the AMS (BAMS) published study of TV forecasts. The study determined that TV forecasters overplayed the likelihood of extreme events, particularly precipitation, for ratings. They would play teasers all night long, "Is there rain in your commute tomorrow?" and make people wait until the 11 o'clock news to say that there was a 10% chance of precipitation.

I am a regular member of the AMS that qualified under this category:
hold a baccalaureate or higher degree from an accredited institution of higher learning in some other science or a related field and be currently engaged in a professional activity in which his or her knowledge is applied to the advancement or application of the atmospheric or related sciences
If I recall correctly, another regular member of the AMS had to vouch for my scientific competence and that my job was substantially meteorology before they admitted me. They'll let anyone in. ;-)

Why is Eggleston so deeply involved with his daughter's science project?  Like I blogged about earlier, Mark and I were probably the only parents in Iris' first grade class that let her turn in a diorama that SHE created.  Don't be a helicopter parent.  Let kids do their own homework.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Blog for Fair Pay for Women, Friday, April 18

I am not much of a joiner, but I read about Blog for Fair Pay for Women Day from Writes Like She Talks and couldn't resist.

Women in technical fields have it pretty good until we become mothers. In some fields, early career women actually out-earn men. (But the statistics are skewed because, in those fields, so many of the men work in the military at lower than industry wages.)

Nevertheless, the number one thing you can do to lower the earnings gap between your sons and daughters is to encourage your daughters to go into STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.

I work in a male and geezer-dominated environment. About 10% of the technical staff are women. Anyone under 50 is considered young. But I mostly enjoy my interactions with the old geezers. They are incredibly creative problem solvers and I have learned so much from them. The key is to have empathy and a sense of humor.

Once, a geezer I didn't know referred to me as a pretty girl in the cafeteria. Then he recoiled in mock horror and said, "We are not supposed to call you that; we are supposed to call you women now."

Without missing a beat, I quipped back, "You can call me anything you like, as long as you pay me like a man."

He smiled and nodded, "You are all right."

Cute Digression:
I don't know what put this in her head, but Iris wants to study electrical engineering and build things. Look, she made up business cards already! Notice she gave herself an alias. That's an important detail in the story, but I can't say any more.

Did anyone get the pun?

Hint: Iris likes to win in everything.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

They've got our daughters

I discovered this in my room last year. Look at the beautiful adolescent girl on the left--she looks like Iris in another 7 years. Look how she has "improved" herself with the help of myscene.com (a division of Mattel, the folks who brought us Barbie).
I asked her why she did this. She replied because it makes her look prettier. I was at a total loss for words.

The blogosphere is not at a loss for words about this book. I agree with some who believe that Newsweek ran the story just to drive traffic to their site. Hey, it worked. A friend emailed me the link and I read it, and now I am linking to it. But consider reading these more thoughtful responses instead:
Do follow the link at the end of Italie's article to American Society of Plastic Surgeons: http://www.plasticsurgery.org/media/statistics. The statistics speak for themselves. 347,524 breast augmentations were performed in the US in 2007, 10,505 on girls 13-19. (786,911 people were injected with Botox, 11,023 of them children 13-19.) What are we teaching our children?

As I have written before, the spread of breast implants follows the pattern of a socially communicable disease. We pick up our notions of "normal" from those around us, sometimes with tragic consequences.

Those are not adults auditioning for a role in a porn movie. These are mainstream Florida teenagers. The one on the left, Stephanie Kuleba, died after undergoing corrective surgery for a prior breast augmentation. She was 18.

Our eyes adjust. As our hair darkens with age, we think nothing of lightning it. Everyone else does it. Blonding is now a verb and I read in Vogue (years ago) that blonding was responsible for 85% of the revenue of NYC salons. Why didn't she stop there?

I wonder how her parents feel? We all make mistakes, but few are fatal. I share their Universal Sorrow.

Let's teach our daughters well.

Serenity now. Let's knit some lace.

Lace Ribbon Scarf from Spring 2008 Knitty out of Blue Sky Alpaca Silk. Notice that the lace repeat is fewer than 20.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Myth of Balance

Two recent articles point out the impossibility of achieving balance in career and family for women.You simply can not be in two places at once1.

However, the way societies treat "part-time workers" is outrageous and perhaps something we can rectify.

Here's the money quote from the first article:
Part-time employment has failed to deliver either at home or in the office, with large numbers of white-collar workers suffering career burnout and family stress.

Those hit hardest are women professionals who had looked to part-time work as a way of balancing family responsibilities and working life.

But a report to be published today says many part-time professionals are being confronted with reduced incomes, career dead-ends and the inability to find enough family time.
The second article is even more depressing.

The problems with part-time work are compounded by the way men reduce the number of hours they work at home by MORE than the number of hours their partners reduce their paid work hours2. So these women end up doing more work for less pay because they work "only part-time".

Until our entire society changes its attitudes, which I doubt will happen anytime soon, let's just agree to go easier on ourselves.

I think that many part-timers have already accepted the raw deal. Why else would studies repeatedly show that mothers who work part-time enjoy higher mental health than other mothers?

(Mothers who stay home full-time experience the highest stress and enjoy the lowest mental health with mothers working full-time in between. Mental health appears to peak at around 30 hours per week of paid work.)

If women who work part-time outside the home have the longest combined workday of all mothers, why are they the happiest?

One of my friends explained the paradox, "Perhaps it is because we don't expect things to be equal."

We haven't failed. Society has failed us.

After Mark wound up his post-doc and before he started his first "real" job, we took a three week self-supported bicycle tour through France. One night, we met an older American couple dining at a neighboring table at a restaurant in Bonnieux. We had a wonderful chat about travel, work, career and family.

She had always worked full-time because science majors earn more than philosophy majors (even with gender discrimination). Anyway, the husband worked part-time while the children were young. For the most part, they were content with the way their children turned out. They were also content with their career choices and had visited an enviable list of places.

They both agreed that the most disappointed people were the women who stayed home full-time to raise children. They both saw in the children of SAHMs a high degree of self-centeredness and a sense of entitlement. They told horror stories of children demanding that their parents throw elaborate and expensive weddings or send them to expensive private colleges when the parents had no retirement savings.

"So what did those parents do?" I asked.

"They took out home equity loans and then sold their homes in NY and moved to Florida." They were simply too poor to continue to live in NY after their children were done with them.

Think of part-time work as asset allocation for time. The chances of both your career and home life tanking at the same time is smaller than if you put all your eggs in one basket.

[1] Unless you are a quantum mechanical state function under very specific laboratory conditions)

[2] This finding came from a published time use survey several years ago. The men self-reported how they spent their time. However, in studies that used self-reported time diaries in conjunction with observers in the homes, professional men were shown to over-report the time they spent on housework.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Not a helicopter parent

Don't miss Why I Let My 9-Year-Old Ride the Subway Alone by Lenore Skenazy.
I left my 9-year-old at Bloomingdale’s (the original one) a couple weeks ago. Last seen, he was in first floor handbags as I sashayed out the door.

Bye-bye! Have fun!

And he did. He came home on the subway and bus by himself.
Do read the entire thing. I agree whole-heartedly with her points about letting children practice decision making and faulty risk analysis.

Mark and I bicycle commute in LA sometimes. People often react with horror when they find out.

"That's so dangerous!" they say.

Actually, that is not so dangerous as a sedentary lifestyle or global warming, but I don't say that because I am trying to practice politeness. The number one killer in the US is heart disease; regular, moderate aerobic exercise (like riding a bike) reduces the risk of developing heart disease.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

California Gold and White

Two views today from the Antelope Valley California Poppy Preserve (with the snowcapped San Bernardino Mountains in the distance).

We stopped by on our way home from Mammoth Mountain, where Grandma Ann of Sitting Knitting skied me into the ground yet again. Can you see the Minnarets in the background?

Will Iris also be able to out-ski me in another year?

She's snowplowing down an icy and narrow catwalk in this movie. (Mark went down the bumps below, rather than take the catwalk.) I worried that she regressed, but she assured me that she and her ski class skied bumps and in the trees while I wasn't watching. With the icy hardpack conditions, I am happy we bought her a helmet. We will call her Trixie (from Speed Racer) from now on.

See Rob's pictures of Poppies in Old Agoura
On the way home, I obsessed about whether, like Writing Maternity, our home would be burgled during our ski trip.
Last year's ski trip to Utah: Think Snow (and Declining Birthrates) and Another Sugar Holiday

Sunday, April 06, 2008

DIY Tie-dye

The Image section of the LA Times ran a cover story about tie-dye, complete with a step-by-step slide show tutorial featuring Gregory Parkinson.

Muslin strips. I was wondering how they got such wide resisted areas.

Does he really use RIT dye for his own line? I prefer fiber reactive dyes.


False Choices and Jargon

Oonae over at Hopeless but not serious wrote about jargon in academic language in Simple problems, complex solutions. She dissected Russell Jacoby's jargon-filled rant against the use of false “binary oppositions”.

I have been ruminating about both issues (and bullshit) lately.

Why are we either "working moms" or "stay at home moms"? Why are mothers forced to choose? Why do employers demand "ideal workers" who can work at any hour and travel any where at the drop of a hat? Why do most men feel entitled to put their careers ahead of their partner's? All those shirked duties have to get done and who do you think picks up the pieces and keeps the family going?

It's not bad enough that Silda Spitzer felt that she had to quit her demanding job when her husband ran for higher office, but we have to hold her painful and private choices up for ridicule. Read Linda Hirshman's incredibly mean-spirited and unfair attack on Silda Spitzer. I've blogged about Linda Hirshman before, and I agree with her on some issues, but this is beyond the pale.

For those of us who live in the "reality-based community", you may want to read Debating Whether "Stay-At-Home Mom" Is A Worthwhile Profession for levity. (Thanks to Laura at 11D for pointing out this link.) Here is an excerpt but you should read the whole thing.

John Hawkins: I don't know. My last job before I went into blogging was doing tech support. One day they had a big meeting and told us they were laying us all off -- but, we could take huge cuts in salary and benefits to stay on. I said, "no, thanks." That's a bad break. She had a bad break, too.

I see being a stay at home mom as an honorable profession, one that is as good as pretty much any other. It's not everybody's cup of tea, but I think it's a great choice for the women who want and are able to do it.

Allison Sommer: Yeah, but you can take your skills and experience elsewhere. It's harder for a 50-year-old woman to do a lot with her "resume" of bearing someone's kids and running their house and giving dinner parties for their friends.

John Hawkins: True. But, there's more to life than having a nice resume when you are 50 years old.

Allison Sommer: I also think it's a totally legit life choice to be respected, particularly when the kids are small and school age. But I see it as a very problematic way to make it a lifetime career, profession, whatever.

John Hawkins: Depends on your marriage situation.

Allison Sommer: Exactly. Which is why girls should not be raised to bank on it as a "career choice."

John Hawkins: There are probably more women who succeeded in that "career choice" than any other world wide and in the US, over any period in history. That doesn't mean the other ones are bad, or that stay-at-home-mom is the best for everyone, but it works out very well for a lot of women.

Allison Sommer: Depends on your definition of success.
The part about his last job explains everything.

Another false choice harms both scientists who are mothers and our nation as a whole. If you follow the hand-wringing about the lack of females in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields, you are familiar with the "pipeline" analogy. Much ado is made of putting more girls in the pipeline to increase output of women at the end. Actually, the situation is more acute than that. We possibly don't have enough people of any gender willing to enter the pipeline. And the pipeline is extremely leaky.

If we want to rectify the situation, maybe we can start with the way we frame the problem. Who wants to be the output of a pipeline? Why are there no efforts to bring people who have left STEM to come back to work in those fields? Instead, we just import more indentured servants on H1B visas which moves the benchmark "ideal worker" even further away from the reality of working parents.

Wow, this post got long. I will have to write about jargon in a separate post.

Do you remember the days when tech support calls from the US were answered in the US? Often they were answered by mothers working at home with young children. (One could hear the occasional child competing for attention at the other end of the call.)

The companies set them up with an extra phone line and a computerized database of common questions and answers. The women could set their status as available or unavailable and calls to 800 customer service lines were automatically routed to workers who set their status as available. They were paid for the time they worked.

Occasionally, when the women collected enough good customer reviews and their children were older, they moved into higher level troubleshooting positions that required more skill and training.

Where are those jobs now?

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Not so relaxing mommy and me day

Iris says that weekends are for relaxing. So getting her out of the house in time for a 11:30 tour of the Art of Motion Picture Costume Design Exhibition at FIDM (the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising) was not easy. In fact, we were a bit late and missed ~10% of the tour. Museum entrance is free, but we took a tour as guests of Quick Culture.

Our guide, Ellen Greenberg, really did her homework and provided Iris with many movie tidbits that engaged her interest. I doubt that I could have kept Iris entertained for that long without her help. I enjoyed peering intently at the costumes for an hour without having Iris hanging on me and begging to go home. Photography is not allowed inside the exhibit, so I offer a picture of Iris in the park outside FIDM.

Afterwards, we drove north from the fashion district to Chinatown for dim sum at Empress Pavilion in Bamboo Plaza.

Then we drove a bit farther north to the Los Angeles Downtown Arts District for the Brewery artists' colony annual artwalk/studio tour. I was surprised by the crowds. This town cares about the arts.

I put Iris in charge of the camera for the day. Each live/work loft has a little patio area. Iris enjoyed the view from one of them.

One of the artists put out a cardboard playhouse which was enjoyed by many.

Iris wanted to see this video installation, which drew crowds. We both liked it, but they cranked up the sound so loud, that my ears hurt and we had to leave without viewing the entire thing.

With the crowds, we were unable to park on the complex itself so we parked 3 blocks away in the neighborhood. We enjoyed looking at the many well-kept gardens and modest historical bungalows. I was pleasantly surprised by this little neighborhood, tucked between the I-5 freeway and the railroad.

[Wikipedia says that we were in Lincoln Heights.]

There were so many galleries that I longed to see, over 100. Yet, I saw about 5 of them because Iris was melting down. Reluctantly, I left.

But, I promised Mark I would stop by the Music Center to exchange our tickets for My Fair Lady. We scored some good seats for a Saturday matinee later this month. What are the chances that we would be invited to a baby shower and Iris would be invited to a birthday party on the exact same afternoon? These friends are near and dear to our hearts and we reluctantly exchanged our tickets for another day.

Iris was so upset about not going directly home, I had to let her play in the dancing fountain at the Music Center a little while. She fell asleep on the way home. She was plum tuckered out and over stimulated.

When Mark and I first moved to Los Angeles, we were surprised by the number of residents of the South Bay who don't go downtown--who are afraid of it. We live within 20 miles of one of the major cultural centers of the world. What is the point of living with the density and exorbitant cost of living if one doesn't also partake of the upside of living in this metropolis?

  • Iris and I enjoyed some works so much, we considered buying a painting or two. You can view some of the artist's work here. We saw two in the carp series, which have a Manga and traditional woodcut feel at the same time. The fishes' bug eyes remind me of Ukiyo-e Kabuki posters.
  • I learned about the Artwalk through an article in the LA Times about the gardens at the Brewery. Alas, Iris melted down shortly after we got there so we didn't get far enough into the complex to glimpse the garden.
  • You can get half-price tickets for Quick Culture tours through Gold Star Events. We use Gold Star frequently for tickets. They offer an interesting and affordable selection of things to do in Los Angeles.
  • The April/May 2008 issue of American Craft magazine contains an article about craft in Los Angeles, with a slide show of local artisans' work. Do look at it; wonderful stuff is made right here.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

The truth about bullshit

I kept Iris out past 10 pm on a weeknight because we both got lost in our reading at Border's.

What was I reading? I read several chapters of Laura Penny's rant, Your Call Is Important to Us: The Truth About Bullshit. I've been really cranky of late. Reading the hilarious and on-target observations of another crank probably wasn't the best way to get over it.

I then perused some of the current magazines. Oh, my. My bullshit radar went full tilt.

Did you read the Norwich Notes about "Reclaiming children's parties" on page 148 of the April issue of Vogue? I wasn't sure if he was sincere or satirical. The column ostensibly argues that the over-the-top NYC and LA children's birthday parties are so passe. Garden parties at home are now de rigueur.

Princess Marie-Chantal of Greece1 is shown with her brood at a tea-party in their garden in New York. How lovely.

Jessica Seinfeld2 talked about a garden party she gave in which the children painted ceramic pots and planted herbs and flowers which they could take home to plant in their yard or a community garden.

Amanda Brooks took the cake with her description of keeping it real. She suggested forming a ring of hay bales (she prefers the Italian kind) and holding games inside, perhaps with a castle and a wrangler with animals. Add a bouncy house--what more could you need?

For starters, these women live in NYC and/or LA. Having a garden large enough to hold a garden party in either locale is the ultimate status symbol. Who are they kidding?

[1] Another whopper would be calling yourself the crown princess of a country that does not recognize a monarchy. In fact, her husband's family is not even welcome in Greece.

[2] Though calling Jessica Seinfeld a cookbook author also stretches the truth.

Lie to your children--it's good for them about the terrible premise behind both Jessica Seinfeld's and Missy Chase Lapine's cookbooks.
Lies, damn lies and statistics by moi. Apparently, my crankiness is not a recent development.