Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Our Uncomfortable Young Women

The First Feminist(?)
I have noticed a very meaningful paradox in the young women of America. Many of them (if not most) seem to feel compelled to embrace "sexiness" but they also seem completely uncomfortable doing so. This, I think, is one of the many negative results of the media-driven world.

Young women are taught (by example, in music and the media) that overt sexuality equals power; a kind of Wife of Bath-ish feministic statement. They are almost, I would argue, sent the message that it is their duty to be sexy; to wear certain revealing styles. I'm told by my young female students, in class discussion, that every young girl has, at some point, received at text from a boy that says "send nudes." The shocking thing here is not that boys want to see naked girls but that those boys seem to think they have a right to see these pictures; or, maybe worse, that getting pictures like that is a matter of course in their relationships with girls. The other thing I am told is that may girls comply because "they feel like they have to."

What I see in daily life is a lot of young women wearing clothes that "show" more than I ever, as a young man growing up in the 80s, saw. What I also see is how uncomfortable most of these girls seem to be in those revealing clothes. They seem constantly to be adjusting and trying to cover up.

It kind of breaks my heart to see that; to be witness to the profound and moving struggle between innocence and experience playing itself out in mannerisms.

To be clear -- and I don't mean this to be funny or ironic in any way -- I have respect for a confident woman who is comfortable both in a with her own skin; who is not ashamed to be sexy. She has every right to "strut her stuff" as they say; I (and the rest of us fellows), of course, still have an obligation to be gentlemanly toward her. But there is a great strength in a woman who is comfortable with her body and who is not ashamed.

That's all great, but, what if one is not ready for that? -- or what if one simply is not that person? This is what makes me sad, because it comes down to the usual thing: people being crushed by the weight of a media-connected, group thinking world.

I wasn't blessed with a daughter, but, if I had been, I would have done my best to encourage her to find her own "look" -- to be herself, without shame whether sh had chooses to dress minimally or conservatively. But I also would have tried to teach her that "sexy" isn't just about showing skin. It all has to be her choice to make, how she dresses; but every girl needs the independent spirit and confidence to really make it her own choice.

One thing I do know is that it really shreds a little bit more off of my already thinning soul every time I see a young girl who is obviously uncomfortable with the way society has dressed her. I don't blame her. I feel bad for her. Sadly, her only option is to take up arms against the ocean waves. Hopefully she has family and friends willing to support her in the fight.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Dirty Jobs?

Welsh workmen. 
I really like Mike Rowe. I just about always agree with him. Most importantly, I respect his flawlessly logical perspectives on things. He's one hell of the thinker and he is not a tribe-joiner. He has played and still plays a huge role in promoting jobs that don't require college.

You'd think, as a teacher, that I would have a problem with this, but I never developed a bias against "the working class." And I know, full well, many of my students would be way more suited for job training than for college, after they leave my school.

Fact is: college is not for everyone, but we made it a matter of course. That's a problem. We've made it the natural next-step after high school. So, I agree with Mike Rowe: we should encourage kids to consider skilled and even unskilled jobs. These jobs are available and they are necessary and they are good, old fashioned, dignified work. There is no shame in not having a degree and there is plenty of money to be made without one.

If you are a long-term reader, though, you can probably guess what is coming next: It just seems that every good idea gets ruined by our society because, as a whole, it cannot see shades of gray; only black and white.

Instead of a nice, balanced outcome; instead of a world in which college people and non-college people live in the harmony of mutual respect and value, we have stepped into the trend of college-bashing. I'm already sick of seeing how much crane-operators make per hour and, consequently, how "dumb" it is to spend money on a college education when it will only result in student loans and high cost and not as much pay.

(If we are talking about stupidity when it comes to college, let's talk about the folly of choosing exhorbitantly expensive colleges just because little poopsie fell in love with the campus. A cozy, bricky dorm and a great coffee shop is not worth $50, 000 a year for the same full education you could get elsewhere for $10,000 -- or less, at least in the first few years.)

Here's the thing: Yeah, as a young man, the prospect of earning $35 an hour out of college would have been tempting to me. But if I had trained to become a crane operator, I would have subsequently launched myself from the crane arm after about six months of work. See, I have zero interest in being a crane operator, mechanic or truck driver or, etc... Does this mean these jobs and the people who do them are inferior? No. It just means they are not my thing.

See, I'd rather make less than a plumber and be an English teacher. And I couldn't have become an English teacher without a college education. See how that works? (I played my cards right and went to grad school for free, but even debt would have been worth it.)

God forbid we should promote one thing without denigrating the other. We seem unable, these days. (Work, good? Ugh. Then college, bad.)

Mike Rowe has a communications degree from Towson. Surely, that helped him get where he is; ironically, it helps him to promote the worthiness of non-college jobs. (And, to be clear, I think he has always been balanced in his views -- it's where the general public took the idea that is a problem; no blame falls on him, as far as I am concerned.)

In the much maligned Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Indy is talking to a young man named Mutt, who complains that his mom wants him to go to college but that he (the young man) wants to just work on motorcycles. Indy tells him to hold true to his path; if he loves motorcycles, that's what he should do ("...don't let anybody tell you different..."). Later, when Indy learns that young man is actually his son, with Marian, he chastises her: "Why the hell didn't make him go to school?" A funny moment, and a good indication of the problem with the old college bias.

My sons? One is a freshman in high school and the other will go into his senior year of high school next year. Neither one of them has shown any interest in the trades. They write; they act; they play instruments; they play video games; they love movies; they love animals. But they have never shown any remote interest in anything other than the intellectual or the artistic fields. Is college a "dumb" choice for them? No. It's the only choice for them -- unless they quickly develop a deep passion for carpentry over the next few months.

These pieces are always frustrating to write because I know the people who need to read them won't. Why would they waste their time reading something by a guy who was stupid enough to go to college when he could have made a fortune as an electrician?

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Adventure of Snickers and...Lorna(?), Part One: "Predictions of Doom"

Our new pups, Snickers and...Lorna Doone?
Based on the Internet chatter, we (our family) has made a huge mistake. According to some, a grave mistake -- even potentially fatal. No, I am not exaggerating. But I am talking about dogs.

We have acquired two puppies -- two girls from the same litter. They are "Goldendoodles," (golden retriever/standard poodle mixes) just like our recently deceased -- and sorely-missed -- fur-daughter, Krimpet. In keeping with the family traditions of naming our dogs after cakey and candy-ish snack foods even we don't eat, their names are Snickers and...possibly...Lorna Doone. (Still not settled on a for the light colored one.)

At the breeder's, we had it narrowed down to two dogs out of a litter of six. Each of my sons was attached to a different dog. We talked for a while about it, but I had already floated the idea to my wife of having two dogs some months before Krimpet died. On top of this, with an offered discount and my sons' willingness to contribute from their savings, for my wife and me, it was like getting two for the price of one.

If I hadn't already considered it, I'm sure the idea of getting two would have been an hard-line "no." But everything seemed to align. We made the deal and signed the papers. (We'd go back to pick them up in two weeks.)

When I got home, I started reading (as I am wont to do). My wife and I are experienced dog-people; we know how to train pups and we commit ourselves to the inconveniences and deprivations that come along with training, both for the good of the dogs and for the overall happiness of the family. We know how much work pups are, if one does things right. We also know that two dogs are going to be even more work. We know the bills will be doubled. What we didn't know is what I found out after a quick Internet search: apparently, adopting two dogs from the same litter is strongly recommended against by lots of people.

We had no idea. In fact, on the drive home, I basked in the idea that our dogs would be happier having a sister in the house, for life.

The dangers presented by the Internet gurus? First, that the dogs might hyper-bond with each other and not be driven to please their masters, possibly rendering them exceedingly difficult (if not, according to some, "impossible") to train. One even mentioned that there have been cases of squabbling siblings who have fought to the death.

Well, isn't that comforting? Isn't that helpful?

But welcome to the Internet age, where getting everyone's attention (not unlike the prostitute on the corner) and not quality of service (much, I would guess, also like the prostitute on the corner) is the goal. I'm sure it has happened. But often enough to put in an article? Probably not.

As for the hyper-bonding, I have already started to read-up on remedies. They need to eat separately, sleep separately, get individual training (both in classes and at home) and they need to learn that being apart, overall, is okay. (Most of which, by the way, we were already aware we would need to do.)

In fairness, some commenters were more balanced in their evaluation of the problem. Many said, "Well, not the best idea, but you can do this if you commit."(One outlier recommends completely blowing off the concerns. Nothing to worry about at all, says he. So one has them killing each other in mortal combat and one says "littermates, schmittermates..." Again, I give you: the Internet. )

At the time I that am writing this, we still need to wait two weeks for the pups to be ready to leave their mother. At the time you are reading this, the two little devils will be in our house in three days...

For me, now, it's prep time.

We now have two little lives in our hands and it is a responsibility from which we will not back down. If it was a mistake to adopt sibling dogs, so be it. But I happen to believe that with love and consistent training, "Nurture" can control or, at least, dramatically mitigate "Nature."

As with raising children (and the similarities are plentiful) we need to start sacrificing our freedom a bit -- even a lot -- to ensure two happy, well-adjusted dogs. Whether it will be "hard" or not is irrelevant, now that we have committed. Whether we are doubting our decision or not is also irrelevant at this point. Those two little creatures need us to guide them to contentment. (And since there are those who have, I'm sure, already wrinkled their brows at us for not getting a shelter dog [which we have also done in the past] I want also say that a lack of committment is one reason why dogs end up in shelters in the first place. We refuse to give up on our committment.)

I have called this "part one," because I want to document this experience for anyone who finds him or herself bombarded by claims of doom in the future. I'm confident the saga will have a happy ending, but I will be honest in telling the tail...uh, tale.

Stay tuned for part two...

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Galactic Anglo Saxons?

Seahorse -- from the "Stafforshire Hoard"
I decided I am a little tired of the underestimation of the abilities of humankind. (Gosh-darnit.)

I'm not sure when the trend of considering the involvement of aliens in ancient Earth started, but it sure was in full swing when I was a kid, in the seventies and eighties. There were tons of documentaries on TV and in the theaters about aliens helping with, say, the pyramids, whether they were the ones in Egypt of Peru. Each of these shows asked the question: how could humans have done this with their limited technology?

It's a cool idea, and all, that aliens might have visited and hooked us up with knowledge and technology and then left. (Makes for fun movies, like Stargate.) But it really is an insult to our own DNA to always think that our past generations were oafish, dirt-digging grunts with square fingers and closets full of mystical baubles.

I get it: we know a lot of stuff. We have come a long way. But it is not because we are smarter than our forbears; it's because we have stood on the shoulders of our forebears. We added what we can do and what we know to what they could do and what they knew. In some cases, we have forgotten the things that they knew, by the way. Let's not forget that. I think Les Stroud, in his short-lived show, Beyond Survival, proves well that cultures with inferior technology to ours are able to survive in situations that would kill an MIT physicist, a computer programmer or a virtuoso violinist within days.

I started thinking about his a few days ago while listening to The British History Podcast  in my car.  Some of the details about the lives of the Anglo Saxons that I learned really drove this home. For instance, it turns out that Anglo Saxon healers actually had the skill to fix harelip. Yes, you heard me right: Anglo Saxons (you know, those guys who drank mead and chopped each other up with swords so that they could get gold rings from a warlord...) actually did plastic surgery. (Or, you know, it could have been the aliens...)

The Sutton Hoo helmet. 
But it was also from this podcast that I learned (ten years late, by the way) about the Staffordshire Hoard -- an archaeological find of Anglo Saxon treasure that rivals the Sutton Hoo find. The most famous piece in this hoard (their version of the Sutton Hoo helmet) is the "Seahorse."

"The Seahorse" is an incredible example of gold-working and filigree. It's an impressive piece to look at (see the picture at the beginning of this post) on the surface. Beautiful work; wonderfully stylized; impressive detail. Sure, that's all really nifty. But it becomes nigh on impossible when you learn that the piece is only one-and-half inches long by three quarters of an inch wide. On grain of rice is longer than three of those little filigree loops.

Someone did this -- spun gold threads thinner than human hair and scrolled them into minute little loops -- without the use of modern tools; without artificial light sources; without magnifying glasses; without a microscope. he (or she, but, probably "he" back then) did it in a "barbaric" and non-scientific age. None of our insufferably up-to-date, modernly-equipped scholars really know how.

Was it the aliens?

No, it was little-old us. Just us fur-clad, sword-swinging barbarians. How'd we do it? By being inexhaustibly and overwhelmingly cool. That's how.

Just like with the daily news and in every online feed, all of the attention goes to the wars and atrocities and mistakes of the past. But in the real world of the past, there were farmers figuring out unrecorded ways to keep foxes away form the chickens; there were healers picking just the right roots to quell menstrual cramps; there were bards who could remember more poetry than the modern person can even stay awake through.

And there was a craftsman, bent over a bench in the all-too-rare British sunlight, who was so smart (smarter than us, so far) and so deft, that he makes us think about galactic travelers in spaceships.