Unhealthy Sports

When I was in high school, the track team gave me more than a cardboard box of medal and plaques in my basement. I gained confidence and grit that carried me into adulthood. I’ve always been a huge supporter of sports for kids for that reason. But, lately, there have been a series of disturbing stories about high school sports.

All those knocks to the brain in football makes me question whether or not that sport should exist. Soccer goalies may be getting cancer from the artificial turf.

And there’s all the weird and inappropriate behavior that happens in the locker room. A local football team was doing pretty awful things to the freshman on the team.

My oldest kid is on the high school cross country team. He’s a sophomore who is running on the varsity team. They do eight miles every day. His coach just chewed him out for skipping the Sunday practice. I thought that running seven days a week was excessive, so I told him to skip Sundays. The coach didn’t like that and cursed him out after practice this week.

People need to chill out.

The Brutality of Agism

As I reach the pinnacle of my 40s, my conversations with friends and family about jobs has shifted. For many years, it was all about how incredibly difficult it was to manage a new career and a new family. I hear less and less of those conversations.

People who stayed in the workforce are settling down. The professor friends are going to fewer conferences, writing less stuff, have stopped dreaming of better jobs. My friends who don’t have the tenure security blanket are more worried about keeping their jobs, but have also stopped striving for more. If it hasn’t happened yet, it ain’t gonna happen. There’s a brick wall in front of them. My friends who are in fields that are dominated by younger, flashier versions of themselves are actually frightened. Will the young boss fire them?

Then there are my friends, mostly women, but not all, who didn’t follow the traditional career paths. They became the flexible parent. The ones who went to the parent-teacher conferences and the after school music classes. They made sub-optimal career choices or stopped work entirely for a few years. Now, they want back into the wold of work, and their job applications are immediately dumped in a trash can. There’s a thread on my Facebook page about this right now.

I’ve had a terrible cold for the past couple of weeks. There’s nothing like a lingering cold to make you feel old. The kids shook it off in two days, and I’m still hacking up a lung and watching cable TV on the sofa in the evening.

One of things that I’ve been watching on the sofa wrapped in a blanket is the Shark Tank. Five venture capitalists listen to five minute presentations from wannabe millionaires who are looking for cash to fund their protein drink and purse businsesses. One of “sharks” is Barbara Corcoran, the real estate mogul from New York City. Barbara is smart, good looking, rich, and in her 60′s. Her age is a running joke on the show. It’s pretty distasteful.

Seems like such a waste to me. Whole groups of people being discounted and overlooked and insulted. Is 40 the new 65?

Does the Cool Girl Exist?

I dissed “Gone Girl” immediately after I read it, but it’s one of those books that stuck with me. I like more now, than I did when I read it a year ago. The book handles all sorts of cool topics, like the modern media and relationships. It also has a brief bit about Amy Donne’s self conscious construction of becoming “The Cool Girl.” In the book, Amy says,

Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.

“Men actually think this girl exists. Maybe they’re fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl. For a long time Cool Girl offended me. I used to see men – friends, co-workers, strangers – giddy over these awful pretender women, and I’d want to sit these men down and calmly say: You are not dating a woman, you are dating a woman who has watched too many movies written by socially awkward men who’d like to believe that this kind of woman exists and might kiss them.”

Does the Cool Girl exist? Is she a feminist? There have been several good articles on this topic lately.


In the peaks and the valleys of parenthood, we’re on a weird peak right now. Jonah is killing it in cross country without too much effort, which is driving the coach insane. He’s remembering homeworks and all. Nice friends. Trailed by adoring girls whom he ignores. The dramas of puberty have settled down, other than a zit on the bridge of his nose. I have to force him to sit down for a photography session, because he’s totally morphed into a different being since last Christmas.

Ian managed the transition to a regular public middle school. He was stressed out with the size of the school and all the change at first. He chewed through a dozen t-shirts. But that’s all stabilized. In fact, he’s been doing some freaky things. He started composing his own music. His math ability suddenly accelerated. His doing some impressive calculations in his head. We’re trying to keep our heads together on this, but Ian’s uneven skill set is rather remarkable.

What I’ve Learned From Estate Sales

On Friday mornings, I look up the local estate sales on a website, scratch down some addresses for my GPS, and put on some grubby clothes. Estate sales are dirty business.

I go to these estate sales to search for old books. It’s a little weekend hobby. I like vintage hardcovers with nostalgia value or in pretty colors for home decorators. It’s a nice nitch, because there’s little competition with other estate sale buyers. There are really three types of people who go to these sales — people who really need stuff, people who want to resell stuff on eBay, and people who are compulsive collectors. The “really need stuff” people take the boxes of salt and cereal from the kitchen. The resellers and the collectors tend to specialize in tools or costume jewelry or fine silver. The pros bring their own flashlights and venture down to scary basements. Nobody looks at the books, which is fine by me. I got a mid-1800′s Dickens book last week.

Last week, I went into an old Victorian home on a street with other Victorians that had been divided up for rentals. Multiple mailboxes up and down the block.

The house was in bad shape. The front porch had missing boards. The ceiling was buckled around the cheap brass lamp in the entrance way. Tiles had popped out of the bathroom. There was a disturbing sag to the steps on the staircase. Because I watch too many HGTV shows, I tried to estimate much it would cost to fix up this house for resale or rental. Maybe $100,000. It needed a new roof, new kitchen, new bathroom, new floors, new plumbing. Walls needed to be taken down. I looked up the cost on Zillow. They were trying to sell the house for $325K for months. They really needed to lower that price by a lot.

When you go to these estate sales, you can get absorbed in the hunt for treasure. You can calculate the resale potential. And I do that. But I’m not enough of a pro to really distract myself from the fact that someone lived in this house for decades. And someone died in this house. Their story is in those boxes. There are photographs of children from the 1970s still on their living room walls. Why didn’t anybody take that picture? Where are those children now? These people’s proudest moments — a WWII photograph, a commendation from a mayor, a baseball trophy — are being carelessly handled by distracted strangers looking for treasure.

These things tell the story of these people during their prime years. But they also tell the story of the people in their final years. The estate sale people put the old medical equipment into the bathrooms to be later tossed into a dumpster, along with all the unpurchased baseball trophies and framed 70s family photographs. Bed pans, walkers, and rubber gloves are piled in the tub.

And then there’s the dirt. It’s everywhere. The moldy air wafting from the basement. That old Victorian last week had nothing of value. I don’t think I actually touched anything in the house. But the air quality was so bad that I had to gulp down water after I left. Sometimes, I need to shower after I go on these visits, because the moldy, dusty smell sticks to my hair.

Somebody lived in that dirt, in that house with rotting porch, with the moldy smell of the basement. Nobody helped her sweep out the living room or clean out her recyclables. I felt sick after my ten minute stay in that house. How did someone live in that dirt for so long? Who’s fault is it?

I guess the woman could have sold the house ten years earlier, before she got really sick. She might have gotten $300K for the house and found a nice, clean apartment in a senior home. Maybe she was too attached to her stuff and her neighbors and her church to move. Or maybe she didn’t have help. Or maybe there aren’t enough nice, clean apartments in senior homes. I’m not sure.

We’ve got to figure out a way to care for old people in this country. If they want to die in their homes, then we have to help them live in tolerable conditions.

White Suburban Moms and The Common Core

Last November, Arne Duncan complained that the “white, suburban moms” were resisting the implementation of the Common Core.  From the Washington Post,

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told a group of state schools superintendents Friday that he found it “fascinating” that some of the opposition to the Common Core State Standards has come from “white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.”

Last night, I went to a debate about the Common Core held at the local library run by the League of Women Voters. My town is Ground Zero for “white, suburban moms,”  so I went to the debate to get a better understanding about why there has been so much push back from this group.

When I arrived, the parking lot at the library was already full. I had to park at the supermarket across the street. The auditorium completed packed with “white, suburban moms,” local officials, and grey haired Women Voter members. The mayor and the fire chief had to tell some people to leave. They opened outside doors, so people could stand in the garden area to hear the talk. I lucked into a seat in the second row. Someone shouted from the back of the room that this meeting should have been held in a larger auditorium. The League of Women voters speaker shrugged from the podium. “We didn’t know that so many people would be here.”

On the stage were six speakers. On the pro side was the head of the state’s school board association, the state’s school administrators association, and a head of the state board of education. On the con side was a school principal from NYC, an education policy expert, and a professor from an education school.

The pro people said that standards were needed. These tests weren’t that much different from other standardized tests that the kids were already taking. They offered the ability to show that NJ was definitely doing better than other states with weaker standardized tests, like Georgia.

The con people were all over the board. The principal thought the tests were too hard and that teachers and principals would be held responsible for unrealistic expectations. The education policy expert said that the tests were too easy and that the math PhDs should have been enlisted to write the questions. The ed school prof said that these tests weren’t preparing kids for critical thinking, and there probably shouldn’t be any standardized tests at all. (He had DATA to prove it.)

It was clear from the mood of the crowd — their claps and groans — it was not a Common Core happy group. From their questions, they had typical concerns about standardized tests, ie kids with special needs, privacy of results, the amount of time taking the tests, and teaching to the test. But we’ve had standardized tests in schools for years. The new Common Core tests aren’t going to be that different from the past. What’s different?

Teachers are more concerned about the Common Core tests than previous standardized tests, because these tests will cause a bigger shift in curriculum. It’s always a pain to change your curriculum. They’re also worried about accountability issues. However, I am not exactly sure how the Common Core is any different from previous standardized tests. We’ve been able to measure the difference between schools within a state for a long time. I’m not sure if there are sticks and carrots attached to the Common Core test results. Teachers have been vocally protesting the Common Core for the past year, and these protests have trickled down to the parents.

The State Education person said that one of the benefits of the Common Core is that we will know for sure that kids in New Jersey are performing much, much better than the kids from Georgia and how they compare to kids in Finland. From a social scientist perspective, that is useful and interesting data, but the parents in our school district don’t really care about those comparisons. They just want to get their kid into Harvard.

Kids in this town already score in the 90th percentile on state standardized tests. They ace the SATs. 90 percent or more go to four-year colleges. Together, the schools, parents, and the community make sure that kids get a good education. Nobody on the panel on either side of the debate could explain how the Common Core would help or hurt the kids in this town.

Who benefits from the Common Core?

1) State officials and political leaders in the winning states. The NJ governor will have bragging rights over the GA governor.

2) Maybe kids in mediocre school districts. The lowest performing school districts have problems too deep for any quick fixes like this. The highest performing districts don’t need this fix. Maybe kids in the middle will benefit from higher expectations.

3) The people who write and administer these tests.

4) Maybe mediocre students in good school districts. This group is always forgotten about.

5) Social scientists. Data is fun.

Tangentially, a number of people on the panel couldn’t agree on what skills that kids were going to need in the future. One or two said that kids didn’t need to memorize information anymore. They didn’t need to know the state capitals or the names of the presidents, because wikipedia exists. So, it was more important to teach kids how to critique information.

SL 625

Really interesting story about the Zimmerman family. In the old days, the guy would have gotten 10-15 for manslaughter and be largely unknown to the world. Now, he has weird fame, his family has weird fame, and he’s walking the streets.

Would you pay $40,000 per year to send your kid to high school?

I love this story of a woman who saved her family from ebola using trash bags.

Of the 716 women in tech surveyed, 465 are not working today. 625 women say they have no plans to return to tech.

The Lena Dunham Backlash

Funniest thing I read today from Heather Wilhelm at Real Clear Politics: 

Over the past few years, Dunham has been vexingly omnipresent:  cheerfully cruising the red carpet for her eight Emmy nominations, clasping Golden Globe awards with a crazed look in her eyes, pocketing a $3.6 million book advance, hosting a particularly sanctimonious episode of “Saturday Night Live,” hijacking the cover of Vogue, and earning approximately 10,365 media stories per day. I don’t want to scare you, but she could be hiding in your closet right now.

So when her book, “Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s ‘Learned,’” hit stores this week, somewhere, back in the primitive reaches of my brain, one endlessly optimistic neuron fired a valiant message, over and over: “Oh, whatever. Who on earth would buy this book? People have things like Halloween and Ebola to worry about!”

Well, blow me down, and, apparently, don’t take my stock market advice. As of Tuesday night, “Not That Kind of Girl”—which, it should be noted, is authored by a young woman who recently got a bowl cut exactly like Jim Carrey’s in “Dumb and Dumber,” on purpose, and then posed naked, towel-wrapped, chewing a birth control pill packet for a Planned Parenthood e-mail enthusiastically comparing voting to doing Ecstasy—hit No. 2 on Amazon. Yes, this is actually happening. Let’s discuss, if only to combat a creeping sense of quiet existential despair.

For the record, I tweeted that we had reached Peak Dunham a few weeks ago.

The Future of Public Health

Diseases know no borders.

With ebola in Texas, the return of whooping cough, and some new paralyzing virus making the rounds of children’s hospitals, public health is back on the agenda in a major way. The questions are how do we deal with contagious diseases when they brew in less developed nations and how do we deal with contagious diseases when a group of people refuse to comply with public health guidelines.

The United States has an adequate way of dealing with contagious diseases that don’t have the complications of a resistant minority and international issues. When Ian was diagnosed with whooping cough a few years ago, I was flabbergasted at the speedy response by officials. After the seven minute drive home from the doctor’s office, I walked into the house with my sick, flushed kid. My phone was ringing. The local public health nurse was on the phone.

For 30 minutes, she had me trace back everybody that we had been in contact with over the past two weeks, and where they were. Whooping cough is tough, because you are contagious before you come down with symptoms. This was incredibly complicated, because we had just finished with the Christmas holidays and we had been to a ton of parties. My in-laws stayed with us and then travelled to Cleveland, where they saw a ton of people, including an aunt who was on dialysis.

The entire family was immediately put on antibiotics. Ian missed a couple weeks of school. I think I had to keep Jonah home from school, too.  The nurse alerted our guests’ and friends’ the public health officials. She alerted the school districts. Ian’s school sent home a notice to every child in his school. (Luckily, Steve and Ian didn’t get anybody else sick.)

The public health machine worked well. The disease ended on our doorstep. Sure, there were some errors. Steve was misdiagnosed by the family doctor. Steve must have gotten the disease from work, where there were a large number of workers who travelled internationally or who had lived in countries without our vaccination requirements. Still, the local response to our ill kid was impressive.

But these tried and true methods of dealing with infectious diseases can’t handle the two new challenges of a resistant minority (those who refuse to vaccinate their children) and the poor public health systems in developing nations. Public health policy needs some new ideas.

UPDATE: Uh, I guess I wrote a blog post about this right after it happened. The public health officials responded a day later, as soon as the doctor got the results.

How Real Families Eat

Vox had an interesting article last week about how people are cooking or not-cooking.

A team of sociologists that recently spent 18 months following nearly 200 low- and middle-income moms argue that’s much easier said than done. The three researchers — Sarah Bowen, Sinikka Elliot and Joselyn Bretton — spent hundreds of hours interviewing and observing how moms feed their families. And they found that, while many enjoyed cooking, the time pressures and desire to please all family members made home-cooked meals a tiring, stressful experience.

A team of researchers figured that out, people. A team.

Other findings were more useful. They did find that people were cooking at home, because they couldn’t afford fast food. They might not be cooking in the same way as any of us snobs.  My guess is that it’s a lot of canned soup and beans.