Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Women Who'd Make Great Biopics (I find yet another excuse to talk about the Godfather)

In "This Year’s Best Actress Race: A History of Inequality", Keith Dodge has outlined what he perceives to be problematic inequality in how stories of men and women are treated by the movie industry and the Academy, and he opens with thoughts on biopics. People who study movies methodically have attempted to measure this inequality, and I'm not in the mood to compile sufficient data to argue one way or the other. The truth is, however, that I like some of these "men's stories" a lot. So I decided to take a look at some famous movies about men and see how similar stories might be made about real life women. Here are three (an extremely incomplete list, but bed is calling):

If you liked Gladiator or Lincoln, what about a movie about Harriet Tubman?
Escaping from slavery once is an unbelievable triumph of the human spirit. Returning back to the South to continue to lead more and more slaves out is simply unbelievable. Now maybe there wouldn't be any gladiator-type fights in it, but when you watch Gladiator, it's not really the violence that's captivating. At least not for me. The violence in the movie was necessary to show how truly brutally harsh the life of a Gladiator was. That movie succeeded because of the convictions of Maximus won over the crowd. Surely, Tubman's convictions could as well? Harriet Tubman is one of the most remarkable figures in American history--probably in all history, and seems to be remarkably underrated. Brave, caring, principled, smart, and strong-willed, she is a hero in every sense of the word, and--perhaps more importantly for movie makers (though obviously not to the countless lives she changed at the time)--her story involves an incredible amount of suspense, danger, and (presumably) countless interesting interpersonal relations. Our obsession with the wrongs of slavery have led to an idolization of Lincoln, of which I have certainly participated. I haven't seen the Daniel Day-Lewis movie, but as history informs us, Lincoln didn't start trying to free the slaves until the middle of the war, whereas on-the-ground emancipation was Tubman's business from the get-go (after that was successful, she worked on women's suffrage). I greatly admire the work Lincoln did in politics and recognize the fortitude that is required for that field (more on that later). Since Lincoln was born free and worked to free others when it was militarily advantageous and Tubman was born a slave and had to free herself through her own skill and chose to liberate others through great personal risk, it seems inappropriate that her narrative has received so little attention in pop culture.

If you liked The Godfather, what about a movie about Angela Merkel?
This fall, a book was released that compared the German Chancellor to Vito Corleone. While it's not really fair to equate this real-life, legitimately elected, currently-in-power government official with a fictional Don, The Godfather is a movie about much more than organized crime. It's also a movie about power and priorities. It's a movie about having people who depend on you. One character (you know who if you've seen the movie) even says, "My father is no different than any powerful man, any man with power, like a president or senator". So while I would take great objection to calling Merkel, whom I greatly respect, a criminal, one could certainly make a thoughtful movie in that vein about any political figure with that kind of power. In "Why We Love Politics", David Brooks writes "Politics is noble because it involves personal compromise for the public good...Politics involves such a perilous stream of character tests: how low can you stoop to conquer without destroying yourself; when should you be loyal to your team and when should you break from it; how do you wrestle with the temptations of fame". These are some of the many themes discussed by The Godfather and are presumably some of the Merkel's concerns, as she is tasked with determining what is best for Germany, what is best for the EU, and, if she finds the answers to be different, whom to prioritize. While the account would, of course, have to be fictionalized because that part of history is very much still in the making, necessitating either a fake history and future of Germany or some fictional character meant to approximate the German chancellor. But you'd have to presume that kind of decision making, drama, and responsibility would be seemingly made for the big screen.
(On a side note, you could, I suppose, make a movie about the real life cocaine "queen" nicknamed the "Godmother" who named her son Michael Corleone Blanco.)
Oh, and for the record, I agree with Bill Simmons that "there will never be another 'Godfather.'"

If you liked movies like Troy or ones about Hercules, why not a movie about Athena?
Okay, so Athena isn't a historical figure in the way these others are since she's not real, but the Greeks did literally worship her and named their most important city after her. Back in the day, I used to be very well versed in Athena mythology, but unfortunately I'm a little rusty right now. But she played a great role in guiding heroes to great successes. She also beat out her uncle for the right to claim Athens as her own (aren't there tons of movies about competing for power. Glengarry Glen Ross, though not a commercial success, was critically well-received, and that was a movie about competition in real estate. This would be similar. Except the competition would be between gods with superpowers and they'd be competing for a city whose prime we still idolize.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Nantucket's Influential Women in Nathaniel Philbrick's In The Heart of the Sea

I recently finished Nathaniel Philbrick's In The Heart of the Sea. Subtitled The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, it tells the true story of the boat and whalers that served as the inspiration for Herman Melville's Moby Dick (just bought the book--anyone want to read it with me)? For those of you with a strong stomach, I highly recommend it.
In an era in which we constantly discuss whether or not women can "have it all" (can people have it all?), the women of early Nantucket should not be forgotten. And before the Essex leaves shore, Philbrick makes a point of mentioning these women--even in a story about an all male boat. For that he deserves credit. Here are a few highlights:
--Nantucket Quakerism, a defining part of the island's identity, was only possible because a woman allowed it: "It was Mary Starbuck's conversion to Quakerism that established the unique fusion of spirituality and covetousness that would make possible Nantucket's rise as a whaling port" (Philbrick 8). Starbuck (there is a connection to the coffee company) had refused similar efforts, as Philbrick notes: "Throughout the seventeenth century, English Nantucketers resisted all attempts to establish a church on the island, partly because a woman by the name of Mary Coffin Starbuck forbade it" (Philbrick 8). For a woman to wield the power to choose a society's religion and by extension its culture and, ultimately, its economy, is remarkable. Men may have gone on the whaling missions, but they owed their livelihood to a woman.
--"With their men gone for so long, Nantucket's women were obliged not only to raise the children but also to run many of the island's businesses. It was largely the women who maintained the complex web of personal and commercial relationships that kept the community functioning" (Philbrick 15).
On pages 15 and 16, Philbrick describes how the island's Quaker faith (which, as you recall, was allowed by a woman) gave women a status and equality that the would not have received on the mainland, a point that was acknowledged by the Nantucket feminist Lucretia Coffin Mott (15-16).
Yes, In the Heart of the Sea and Moby Dick focus on an all-male voyage. But those voyages were made possible by the hard work of women. And the Nantucket Quaker culture found the roles played by women to be of equal value to those played by their male counterparts.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

HIMYM Thoughts: I really don't care who the mother is

How I Met Your Mother is a guilty pleasure of mine, and I've been watching this season with interest. But not in "the mother". Instead, the intriguing plot point for me is the relationship between Barney and Robin and how it evolves. Here are a number of reasons why I'm not holding my breath for Ted's future wife's identity to be revealed:
1. By the title of the show, I kind of always assumed we'd just meet her in the last episode in some final scene, Ted would say "and that's how I met your mother", and we wouldn't need to know more about the mother, because well, the kids already know who their mother is, there's a good chance they've heard stories about their mom and dad's dating life from their mother or from Ted's friends or from Ted because he's obviously so interested in sharing intimate details of his own personal life.
As I understand it, HIMYM isn't the story of Ted's relationship with his wife--how could it be if we've gone seven full seasons without meeting her, and if Ted were actually telling the story of that relationship, she'd be more than a minor detail.
2. The story of Barney and Robin is much more compelling.
To me, this is the key reason. While I like Ted and think he's a nice guy, he's just not as fun to watch as Barney. While Ted seems to genuinely fall for every girl he meets, Barney and Robin are more cynical, which makes their connection more powerful on a screen. Yes, their relationship does to a degree fall under the cynical-man-falls-for-smart-driven-passionate-woman branch with Casablanca and Star Wars. (Many thanks to Grantland's Brian Phillips for making that connection.) Yes, it's been done before, but there's a reason people like it. Neil Patrick Harris is a better actor than Josh Radnor, and his relationship with Robin is one that has been developing throughout the course of the show, whereas we haven't even met the mother yet, so it would be hard for the relationship to be as meaningful as one that's been there all along. Some people don't like Barney and Robin, but I do. I find them both to be dynamic characters with interests much less straightforward than Ted's "I want to get married and have babies" philosophy.
Aside: The more I think about it, the Star Wars analogy that posits Ted-as-Luke, Barney-as-Han, and Robin-as-Leia actually makes a ton of sense. And who's to say the creators didn't consciously make that way, since they reference Star Wars all the time. Just like in Star Wars, the self-interested character ends up becoming a good person as well as everyone's favorite character. Robin works as Leia because they're both feisty, independent, and motivated by some very important non-romantic passion (Robin wants to become a journalist, and Leia wants the Rebellion to win.) And Ted and Luke are both good guys, but Robin/Leia just isn't happening for them. That's okay though, because they get to succeed in other ways.
3. I feel like the level of anticipation that has greeted "the mother" is setting fans up for failure.
This last one is me just being pessimistic, but I think it will be hard for the creators to envision a character that pleases all of their fans. And as of late, they haven't been doing very well. Victoria in season 1 was well received. She had her own personality and career ambitions, she was nice and not stereotypically jealous, and she was strong and intelligent. Stella was a well done character as well. You know, for someone who doesn't like Star Wars. I thought Stella and Ted running into each other, and her giving her thoughts on how there's a "one" out there for Ted was great and continued that general philosophy of the show that certain people are meant for each other. (Whether or not you believe this to be true in real life, the show relies heavily on the notion, and it was therefore good for Stella and Ted's meeting to confirm that.) Zoey, meanwhile, was not well received (and I didn't like her either), and Victoria's season eight persona felt much more contrived. I actually like Quinn a lot, so I haven't given up on the show's ability to create new, interesting female characters. That being said, I'd much rather spend my viewing time rooting for characters I already know that I like. And Barney and Robin happen to be my two favorite characters in the show.

Monday, October 22, 2012

How the Corleone Brothers are Voting

Fredo: Fredo hasn't been watching the debates, but he's pretty confident that he'll be able to make a good decision come election day. A Fredo voter resents his lack of influence and is overeager to show how smart and important he can be. He tries to do things, such as getting the car with his dad, that he's not ready for. He's also easy to manipulate, and we all saw how his initiatives turned out in Part II.
Sonny: Santino is the most passionate of the Corleone brothers and gets very worked up about politics. He's well informed, which would make his views convincing if he weren't so hotheaded. Instead, his quickness to anger makes him very vulnerable. Sollozzo says of Santino "You can't talk business with him." You can try to talk politics with a Sonny voter, but you won't convince him of anything.
Michael: Michael might know who he's voting for, but there's no way you do unless you're Tom Hagen, the only person Michael trusts. Michael is a cold blooded realist who won't vote on one issue but will carefully weigh the pros and cons of each candidate. He's not concerned about making the moral vote; he'll vote for the guy whose policies will help him personally. While he has no interest in bipartisanship, he can feign one pretty well. He keeps his true views to himself while convincing both Republicans and Democrats that he believes their version of the story. Just as he did with Frank Pentangeli and Hyman Roth, he'll hear how you defend your story and use that to make a decision. Michael is the most respected and feared among the brothers. Politicians, even the ones who disapprove of him such as Senator Geary, work hard for his approval.
Tom Hagen: Tom is much more idealistic than Michael and wants to see the two parties working together to improve the country. He's very smart and extremely well versed in the law, which makes his opinions highly valuable. He's not spineless and is more than willing to stand up to a Sonny voter. There is a great level of mutual respect and trust between Tom Hagen and Michael, but Michael holds all the power, and Tom will ultimately vote for whomever Michael chooses.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Case for Robin Scherbatsky

How I Met Your Mother's Robin Scherbatsky, played exquisitely by Cobie Smulders, is on the very short list of my favorite female characters ever. Some of this is has, as personal preferences tend to, a lot to do with me: I'm also into sports and highly competitive, and I spent three years on a college newspaper and worked at a tv news station one summer so I enjoy hearing about Robin's career in news.
But from a less individual standpoint, I think Robin is a unique female character who displays strength of character without being perfect, ambition without being heartless, and moments of struggle and doubt without being weak.
A few highlights:
1. While Robin is ultimately successful at her job, we appreciate her for her personality and character long before her journalism dreams are reached. What this means is that her career path is  presented as an important part of the show. While some (e.g. here and here) have criticized the show for making Robin struggle so much in her pursuit of journalism greatness, this has a lot to do with the fact that Robin has chosen broadcast journalism, a very difficult career in which advancement comes not only with persistence but also with a lot of luck. Don Frank, for example, only got his job because the more qualified and more professional Robin turned it down. Moreover, Robin's struggles make her ultimate success even more of a testament to her perseverance and her ability to act with confidence even when she herself feels great doubt.
Moreover, the fact that we meet Robin long before she has much success in her career or personal relationships means that we actually come to respect and admire her for her strength of character and strong sense of self. Imagine appreciating female characters not because they're more successful than others but because they are people with convictions and thoughts and feelings.  Additionally, and this is very important for me, Robin is consistently portrayed as at least as intelligent as any of the male characters in the story.
Finally, the portrayal of Robin's coworkers in journalism suggests that it is easier for men to make it in her career than women. Nora is the coworker we know best because she dates Barney. Like Robin, Nora has very strong sense of self, morality, and conviction. Meanwhile, Robin's male coanchors, Sandy Rivers and Don Frank receive great opportunities despite being unprofessional and far less motivated than Robin.
2. Robin doesn't want to have kids, and this isn't portrayed in a way that makes her uncaring, unattractive, or robotic. Even before Robin connects with a little kid in "Little Boys" in season three, she shows her nurturing side by taking care of Barney when he is sick and looking out for her little sister when she comes to visit. She's very committed to her friendships, even caring about Ted greatly as she rejects him.
In "Symphony of Illumination", Robin is shown to have a more complicated relationship with the notion of children that she had previously thought and is actually saddened when she finds out that she can never have any. But when Kevin notes to her in "The Drunk Train" that there are other ways of having kids, she reaffirms her commitment to not having children.
Whether or not a character wants kids can be a sensitive subject, especially since the pop culture has been criticized for assuming that all women want children, and not surprisingly, Robin's character has drawn criticism from some who resent that the show might somehow imply that a life without kids cannot be full (apparently not sold by Ted's description of Robin's incredibly full life at the end of "Symphony of Illumination"). This, however, is unfair. Because so many tv characters are shown as wanting kids, no single character is tasked with representing the entirety of mothers. It's seen to be a nearly universal experience, and each character represents just one take on it. Robin's feelings similarly should not be seen as a representation of the emotions all women experience when they decide that they do not want children. As this blog post shows, Robin's spectrum of emotions was relatable to at least some.
But to me, whether or not Robin's experiences speak a universal truth is secondary. More important is the fact that Robin is shown as a full character who contemplates the issue thoughtfully and with an independent mind and because her decision is not shown as placing a limit on her potential for happiness.
3. So what if Robin has "daddy issues"? Four of the five characters have major issues with their parents. Jason Segel's Marshall is the only one who does not seem to have any emotional residue from his upbringing. His family is mocked extensively but for their quirkiness and wackiness. Moreover, Robin emerging as confident as she is despite her traumatic upbringing is a tribute to her strength of character.
4. While Robin is very strong, she's not perfect. Robin is a realistic character because she doesn't do everything right. She smokes (though she will eventually quit), she can have a hot temper, she makes bad decisions sometimes, and she shows occasional signs of trauma from her upbringing. Yet it is her strengths that stand out more than her weaknesses, a credit to the show and to Smulders' acting. Robin is independent, intelligent, thoughtful, and loyal. And that strength is what makes her a great character.
5. Oh, and this:
Let's Go to the Mall!
excerpt from show
full video

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Can't teach kids? Just drug them instead

It doesn't take a research expert to detect America's obsession with drugs. Just start watching football and after the fifth Cialis commercial in the first quarter alone you may find yourself remarking, as one of my friends did, "How can people criticize athletes for taking performance enhancing drugs when every other commercial is for performance enhancing drugs?"
But in professional sports, athletes are drug-tested. And even when they manage to pass every single drug test they've taken, they can still be banned for life based on witness testimonies (which, by the way, I find highly problematic). In academia, there is neither drug testing nor a universal consensus around the need for one. In an article in The Harvard Crimson this May, Quinn D. Hatoff details how some Harvard students have become dependent on various study drugs, especially Adderall, in order to meet deadlines and examines the consequences they have faced. As one student acknowledges, “There is no way you can take a drug to make your brain work at twice the speed and intensity as normal without having some consequences.”
These instances of collegiate drug abuse are troubling enough, but as Jezebel writer Katie J. M. Baker says of her own experiences, "at least I was a 20-year-old adult at the time able to make my own decisions, not a little kid with a developing brain." (Baker decided against continuing to use study drugs, as she also notes.
There are arguments to make in favor of allowing legal adults to abuse drugs as they so choose (though the practice is currently illegal), and with caffeine abuse a socially accepted vice, it is fair to question why caffeine is acceptable but Adderall is not.
That being said, when doctors are prescribing study drugs to children, a trend described in The New York Times, who do not medically require them, something is very, very wrong.
1. Children are having their physical health and well-being put at risk just because their parents wanted them to have better grades. Doctors should not be complicit in this.
The stories of drug abuse speak for themselves. Here's one from the Crimson:

She found herself hospitalized in ninth grade. Two months of daily use had taken their toll: her weight had plummeted from 130 to 94 pounds, and she had not had a full night of sleep in weeks.
“By the time I was actually hospitalized, I was kind of f---ed up,” she admits with a slight laugh. “I wanted more weight loss—that was one reason for taking it—but I also had become psychologically dependent on it. I really loved it.” 
Even more disturbing is the Times' story of the Rocafort family, who put their 12-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son on Adderall even after observing that it made their son Quintn suicidal (and have hallucinations).
For doctors and teachers to knowingly put young children at risk where there is no medical need just so parents can take pride in their children's academic performance is unacceptable.
Both the Crimson and Times article neglected to include examples of people who actually had ADD or ADHD and did not abuse their prescriptions. I have decided not to argue for or against the use of these drugs by children and teens with medical needs, as I lack the medical knowledge to do so.
That being said, I will comment on the faulty nature of the diagnoses Dr. Anderson administers as they are "teacher reports [that] almost invariably come back as citing the behaviors that would warrant a diagnosis, a decision he called more economic than medical." Since teachers are not medical professionals, I take issue with Dr. Anderson using their descriptions of children's behavior as a substitute for more rigorous undertakings to understand the brains of these students. I also take fault with teachers looking to doctors to "teach" their students.
Moreover, I am disturbed by the way children and teens with real ADD and ADHD could be lumped into a group with students with other study issues, thereby hindering their ability to have their medical needs addressed properly.
2. Doctors and teachers have very different jobs, and they should not be confused.
In the opening paragraph of the Times article, Alan Schwarz links this trend to suffering schools:
“I don’t have a whole lot of choice,” said Dr. Anderson, a pediatrician for many poor families in Cherokee County, north of Atlanta. “We’ve decided as a society that it’s too expensive to modify the kid’s environment. So we have to modify the kid.”
While I agree that there are major problems in the inequality of education in America, I would disagree with Schwarz's argument that he doesn't have a choice. As a doctor, his job is to treat his patients' health, not their report cards. All he needs to do is state his job description to these parents. They have no choice but to understand. Instead, Dr. Anderson is trying to stretch his influence too far and to control things that really aren't under his domain. And by refusing to prescribe drugs to students with As and Bs, he is medically manipulating the academic hierarchy of the schools his patients attend.
The role of teachers is not articulated as thoroughly in this article. No teachers are interviewed, and for that reason, I can't develop a strong opinion on what I think of them. If teachers really are looking towards doctors to solve their students's academic needs rather than devote their own attention to them, that is of course problematic. But it is also possible that teachers know that they don't have the medical knowledge to diagnose specific cases and in the interest of helping any students who might need it, they are reporting any symptoms to doctors assuming that these doctors will be thorough enough to distinguish between medical condition and academic issue. In the latter scenario, teachers would likely be highly disturbed to hear that their qualitative descriptions of kids (kids for whom they have genuine concern) are essentially drug prescriptions.
Now I don't think it's fair to vilify most of these parents: they want to see their children succeed and they trust their doctors to make informed decisions that will not endanger their kids.
That being said, I think the incentives to solving falling grades with drugs need to be examined.
A. Have these parents considered the possibility that by medicating their kids to succeed in one area, they may be missing an opportunity for their children to find a different and unique passion?
B. What other methods did you try before resorting to medicine to solve these studying needs?
C. What will happen if these kids switch doctors and the new doctor finds a lack of medical need? How will these kids adjust to no longer studying with the assistance of drugs?
D. What good are the opportunities good grades afford if children will be too busy reeling from drug side effects to embrace them?

I would like to note that I have utmost respect for doctors and teachers and don't mean to degrade these professions in any way. Rather, I am a firm believer in the good both can do and in the responsibility that both hold.

My heart goes out to all of these kids, and my hope is that there will be more rigor and integrity in understanding kids' academic, personal, and medical needs both so that people with genuine ADD and ADHD will not be trivialized and so that children's health will not be ignored, especially by the doctors who have sworn to protect it.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Were the 1995 Cleveland Browns the Freaks and Geeks of Football?

The 1995 Cleveland Browns weren't a very successful football team. Freaks and Geeks was not a very successful tv show. But what talent they both produced!
Critically acclaimed if not financially lucrative, cult favorite Freaks and Geeks  has obtained posthumous famous and now the Browns are getting attention with the NFL Network's "Cleveland '95: A Football Life".
Now the fact that there are highly successful alumni from two separate failed business ventures doesn't necessarily mean that the members of each group have coordinates in the other. But since I thought the world would be more fun if they did, I decided to make some comparisons. Some of then, okay all of them, are pretty far-fetched, but here we go.
Judd Apatow and Bill Belichick:  Belichick was fired from Cleveland in '95, just like Apatow's Freaks and Geeks was cancelled. Both did better in their new locales--Belichick in New England and Apatow in film. Apatow is Belichick's closest comparison not only because they were the two men in charge at the time, but also because making Belichick into an actor seems taboo even if I'm more than willing to compare other serious football figures with guys who appear in Knocked Up and Pineapple Express. But like Apatow has worked behind the scenes as a producer (and director and screenwriter), Belichick would loom ominously in his hoodie and terrify his actors into great performances. Just don't expect any stoner flicks.
Jason Segel and Nick Saban: Okay so maybe Segel is more successful as a movie actor than Saban was as an NFL coach. But both of these guys have established themselves in a different industry than the rest of their famous co-workers (even if Segel made his name in both). While most of this list of football braniacs hold court in the NFL whether as coaches, GMs, or analysts, Saban dominates the college circuit instead and has won three BCS titles one at LSU and two at Alabama. My choice of Segel as a tv actor and not a movie actor is pretty much all personal bias, I'll admit. I've watched Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and I prefer How I Met Your Mother. Besides, TV gets my vote because they're on season eight, making Marshall Eriksen Segel's main time commitment. And of the three most best-known actors from that show--Segel, James Franco, and Seth Rogen--Segel is the outlier as the one in a sitcom.
Side note #1: the title of the NFL Network's special, "Cleveland '95" is misleading: Saban was a defensive coordinator for the Browns in 1994 and coached at Michigan State for the '95 season. But if Saban can be used in promotion for the tv documentary, I can use him in my blog post too. Congratulations Nick, you are now an honorary member of the 1995 Cleveland Browns football team. No, they weren't good.
Side note #2: Jason Segel is an ordained minister.
Seth Rogen and Ozzie Newsome: You probably get a good vibe from both of these guys. In the Baltimore GM's case, it's probably because he was a 7xAll Pro and 3xPro Bowl selection at tight end and winner of the 1986 Ed Block Courage Award and 1989 "Whizzer" White NFL Man of the Year Award. With Rogen, it's probably because you liked Knocked Up and felt like Ben Stone seemed like a generally well-meaning guy, because you're a Dr. Seuss fan and appreciate that he did work in "Horton Hears a Who", or because you appreciate him raising Alzheimer's awareness. Either way, these are guys you probably like.
James Franco and Scott Pioli: After Belichick and Apatow, these are your smart guys. Or at least the guys who try to appear that way (clearly Saban and Newsome are pretty smart too). Pioli was the General Manager of the New England Patriots for three Super Bowls and the 16-0 season (one which I, a Patriots fan, always acknowledge grudgingly). Franco, meanwhile, has received a Golden Globe for James Dean in the fittingly titled 2001 movie James Dean and has appeared in movies such as Milk and 127 Hours that focus on real people and real events. But neither of them have been that exciting lately, making counterparts. The Kansas City Chiefs haven't been especially threatening, which has put Pioli's managerial skills under question, and Franco has taken a lower profile by doing volunteer work and teaching at NYU (both great things but for better or worse not as buzz-inducing as starring in movies).
John Francis Daly and Steve Crosby: While these guys live in the shadow of their colleagues, at the time of the show/season, they were actually the stars. And while they may not be the biggest names, both are journeymen who have been able to consistently make a living. Daly has ventured into screenwriting and is a drummer in a band, but his main money maker has been his role as Dr. Lance Sweets on Bones (coincidentally, a show I watch frequently). Crosby has similarly bounced around, with most of his career in the NFL. Having won the 2007 Special Teams Coach of the Year, Crosby is a little more decorated that Daly. But both of them found their niche and got the job done.
Linda Cardellini and Rick Venturi: Like Daly and Crosby, both are relatively obscure after being the stars at the time of Freaks and Geeks/the 1995 season, but Cardellini and Venturi aren't quite as accomplished. I give Daly the edge over his former tv sister because his show is currently airing whereas ER finished in 2009 (and, also, I like Bones). And unlike Crosby, Venturi never won a coaching award and "coached the beginning segment the Northwestern Wildcats' NCAA Division I record 34-game losing streak." And besides...
Offense = Geeks. Defense = Freaks. Compare Ray Rice to Ray Lewis. Both tremendously talented. But who would you be more freaked out to face? In its preview for Super Bowl XLI, Sports Illustrated argued "This isn't brains vs. brawn" when comparing Peyton Manning and Brian Urlacher. Nonetheless, Manning has earned his reputation as a thinking quarterback and as the humble dorky guy in commercials, whereas Urlacher is simply terrifying. In The Blind Side, Michael Lewis tries to argue this about coaching the two sides as well, saying that offense is about thinking creatively and finding new ways to use seemingly athletically limited quarterbacks like Virgil Carter and on defense you either have talent like Lawrence Taylor or you don't. I happen to think this is a huge oversimplification of coaching defense which clearly takes a lot of talent. (Dick LeBeau, anyone?) But, whether accurately or not, offense is often perceived as the more cerebral discipline. I don't know if it's actually nerdy to enjoy watching Arian Foster. But there's certainly nothing intellectual about Jacked Up.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

My definition of feminist female characters and Dr. Temperance Brennan

One of my favorite shows is Bones. And Dr. Temperance "Bones" Brennan and has a lot to do with that. While some (very few) have taken issue with her character because of her social awkwardness, I think one of the show's strengths is that is presents us with complicated characters and that it shows the people, both women and men, do not have to be perfect in order to be effective at their work and capable of having a positive influence on the world.
My intent is not to pretend like there's some sort of revolt against Bones (there's not), but rather to use a show I really like to demonstrate one example of what a strong female character can look like.
I believe that for characters to be passably feminist (by my definition, not any kind of official one), they need to be consistently shown to be as smart as the men around them, as independent of thought, as complex in character, and as strong willed. For them to be actively feminist, they need to be better than the men around them in at least one category. I don't, however, believe women need to be especially powerful in their societies to be feminist. Otherwise, it would be impossible to write a feminist narrative set in a male-dominated society. For example, even though women are not included in the business world of The Godfather, I would consider Kay Adams to be a feminist character though I won't say why here because I don't want to spoil the movies (though I will say so here; also, watch the movies). Similarly, while I haven't seen The Help (though I've heard I really should), I would imagine that the characters would satisfy most feminists based on what I've heard about it.
From the get-go, Dr. Brennan is portrayed as the smartest and most respected person at the lab. While there's a chance that Zack Addy may be smarter, he is less developed in his skills and is intimidated by Dr. Brennan, as are most of the characters in the show. Bones is "hyper-rational", and her thoughts are always coherent. She is consistently capable of separating her own bias from an investigation and seeing it objectively, even when understanding why evidence would point to her as the perpetrator of a crime. Bones is knowledgeable of many fields (if not pop culture) and is a trained martial artist, but, more importantly, she is shown as a tireless worker who can consistently get things done.
The main argument I have seen as to why Dr. Brennan is not a feminist character is that she is not socially adept. One writer has argued:
Dr. Brennan is depicted as being almost robotic or emotionless in the show, which could very well be due to the perception of women as being unable to posses both intelligence/a high career drive and have empathy. It is almost as if she sacrificed her emotions in place of her intelligence and career, making her undesirable.
Wouldn't it be more robotic and generic if Dr. Brennan somehow managed to be perfect in every way? She is someone who deals with recently murdered victims for a living. It seems like the kind of career that would require someone to be able to control their emotions rigorously, and in the first season's "A Boy in a Bush", both Angela and Zack struggle emotionally to deal with the sight of a young child's corpse, and the episode shows how objective and, yes, emotionless they have to become to be able to handle the job. To me, this is not anti-feminist but realistic. As one commenter writes here, Dr. Zack Addy "was the male version of Bones, and had virtually the same personality characteristics, so I don’t think that showing her as socially out of step is a statement on intelligent women." Moreover, each major character in the show has visible flaws and shortcomings. The show doesn't say that a woman, specifically, can't have everything together but rather that no one can.
In Bones, all of the characters have flaws and shortcomings that are essential to the understanding of their character. Identity is a very important issue in Bones. By solving crimes, the Jeffersonian allows victims to get their identities back. Brennan, meanwhile, is firmly committed to the idea of individuality and expresses her strong opposition to the changing on one's physical features.
On plastic surgery, she says:
"It's barbaric. It's painful. It's wrong. This murder victim may never be identified because this glorified barber with a medical degree had the arrogance to think that he could do better than millenia of evolution." 
"What this young woman did to herself. It's like she completely removed her identity." 
Plastic Surgeon: "I made her beautiful."
Brennan: "You mean you took what was unique and particular about her and destroyed it."
"She did everything she could to make herself beautiful. And all she did was make herself more invisibile."
"We are born unique. Our experiences mold and change us...I feel like we should be arresting these doctors because whether they killed her or not, they still erased her."
Isn't that kind of commitment to individuality enough to justify someone's awkwardness in the minds of viewers?
Besides, it's not as if the show is suggesting that all smart women have social issues. Cam and Angela are both portrayed as very intelligent and seem much more at ease in social settings than Dr. Brennan. And when Agent Seeley Booth has a serious girlfriend Hannah, who serves as Bones's romantic rival, she is portrayed as smart, intelligent, and driven, and she and Dr. Brennan have a substantial amount of respect for each other.
I have a lot of appreciation for how the creators of the show have managed to create full-bodied, interesting characters and have managed to create strong female characters whose supposed weaknesses come across as human and individual rather than indicative of female incapability.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Gov 1310 Cheating Allegations Do Not Prove Athlete Privilege

The news could reignite a contentious decades-old debate about athletes and academic integrity in the Ivy League. --Bill Pennington
What would be more accurate to say is that Pennington himself wants this debate to be reignited, which is why he has opened his argument about an incidence of alleged academic cheating by citing two very different events: Harvard basketball's Top 25 ranking and NCAA tournament appearance.
The segue was made available to Pennington by what he refers to as "published reports [that] implicated the co-captains of the basketball team in a widespread academic cheating scandal."
All we know for a fact is that co-captains Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry have chosen to withdraw. In other words, we know that they accepted the punishment, while it has not yet been determined whether or not they committed the crime.
And just because Casey and Curry are the only names to have been released doesn't mean that they are the only ones implicated. In fact, it was a shared typo by members of a different team that led to the investigation in the first place (if you greatly desire to know which one, the internet is at your fingertips).
Anyway, a couple thoughts:
Wrongdoing is not a sign of privilege. Only getting away with wrongdoing is. And Harvard's athletes are not getting away with anything.
When news leaked that athletes were among those being investigated, many responded with admonitions of Harvard's supposedly overprivileged athletes. But it doesn't take great privilege to make a mistake--which I believe is what students did--or to do something while knowing that it was morally wrong. Unfortunately, these are two areas where there really is equal opportunity (if only that were so for other more aspirational fields).
Now if Harvard decided that punishment shouldn't apply for the athletes, that would mean that privilege has gone too far.
Instead, we are seeing just the opposite: athletes are essentially being punished more than non-athletes. First of all, their absences are much easier to notice publicly, especially when they are well-known athletes such as Casey and Curry. Secondly, the price of being wrong--on betting on one's innocence and then being found guilty--is much higher for athletes. Non-athlete students forced to withdraw will take a year off from college and will be able to return to the same place they left. There is no NCAA governing student organizations, no losing of one's final year of eligibility, no missing out on the last chance (for many) to compete in the defining (for many) part of one's college career. Athletes, here, are not privileged.
Now, part of this article suggests that athletes act entitled, a claim which is highly subjective. In my experience with Harvard's athletes, which includes four years of varsity rowing and writing for The Crimson on many sports (football, baseball, women's hockey, men's crew, skiing and men's golf were my beats, and I wrote stories for many others), I have never found that to be the case. But again, this is highly subjective, so if you want to believe that athletes act with a sense of entitlement, I can't really prove you wrong. If you believe that cheating on a test qualifies as acting with a sense of entitlement, that's more than fair. But acting in a privileged manner is very different from having actual privilege conferred upon you. And the difference is critical.
If you have a problem with athletes taking certain courses, you should first object to Harvard offering these courses.
"Some athletes are here working hard, but others avoid academic challenges. You know you won’t find them in a deductive logic course, but you will find them in a much less taxing sociology course. They sometimes exist apart, and collectively gravitate to the same majors, like sociology or government. It’s known." --Patrick Lane, a senior
Now, this part is largely personal opinion, but if you find it problematic that certain students are taking certain classes, shouldn't you instead be upset that the University is offering these courses in the first place? When courses and concentrations are created, it's presumably because the institution considers the study of these things to be a valuable use of time. Are students at fault for agreeing? One of the things I loved about Harvard is its breadth of course offerings and the relative freedom it allows students to study what they want from Folklore and Mythology to Government to History and Literature to Engineering. As a concentration, Government has embraced this philosophy. Government has often been faulted for its relatively loose requirements, but I don't see this as a flaw because it allows students to find what interests them and pursue those things. Many of my favorite classes were challenging and rewarding ones I found in the Government department, which is why I took four government classes my senior year despite having filled my requirements the year before. (In addition to Introduction to Congress, I took Political Psychology, Social Policy in Brazil, and Contemporary British Politics.) Harvard considers students mature enough to make their own decisions about courses, including how difficult they want their academic schedule to be. If this is a problem, take it up with the University and explain to them why these courses should not be taught on campus. Don't fault students for taking advantage of what is already there.

Acknowledging my inherent biases, I have no interest in discussing whether or not I consider any of the Government 1310 students to be guilty or what I think the punishments should be. That's not my job. Similarly, I will not use this space to argue over the merit of recruited athletes. It's an issue with which I am more than willing to engage, but not here. Because this is an issue of academics, not athletics.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Kyle Casey's Wise Decision to Withdraw

Given the circumstances--a large, highly public cheating scandal at one of the most famous universities in the world--Kyle Casey made the best possible decision: to withdraw from the school.
Casey and fellow co-captain Brandyn Curry are the first names to be made public, a dubious title. But here's why I respect this decision:
1. It's damage-minimizing: Were Casey to stay in school and then be forced to withdraw, he would have lost his final year of eligibility. That scenario may have helped cushion the media-blow for Casey somewhat as his guilt would have been released at the same time as other names. But it would mean that the Harvard basketball program would never have had has talents again. And Casey's NBA dreams would have to be pursued elsewhere. Assuming guilt, this is the only way he can finish his Harvard education and continue to pursue his basketball games. When I say "assuming guilt", this does not mean that I am declaring him guilty, but rather that Casey is probably looking at things from a worst-case scenario perspective which, as a student-athlete, is the vantage point he has to take.
By stepping aside now, Casey has given his teammates a chance to adjust. New players have time to step up in practice now, rather than being thrown into the fire at a moment's notice. While he will certainly represent a big loss for the Crimson, at least now Harvard has a chance to plan, and the team can enjoy his talents next year.
Moreover, by the time the investigation is completed, should Casey be found guilty, he's old news whereas the other athletes (no, I do not think the scandal is only athletes) will have forced their teams to pay much steeper prices because they waited until withdrawal was forced upon them.
Somewhere down the road, Casey will be glad he made this decision at this time.
2. I appreciate someone owning up and taking the consequences rather than anonymously whining to The Crimson and threatening a lawsuit. Casey is voluntarily accepting the consequences of his actions. He messed up (assuming he did, which withdrawal seems to suggest), and he's paying for it. Pretty straightforward. He will be maligned, he will be taunted when he comes back, but eventually it will blow over. Sure, when he's discussed, years down the road, it will taint his legacy (though by what degree I don't know). But it doesn't have to define him. He's still young (or at least, I'd like to think so, since I'm only one year older). When this incident is examined in the future, people will say that Casey may have made a mistake--a bad mistake--but he assumed full responsibility and owned up to it.
3. Please don't make Kyle Casey the face of academic dishonesty. Now, I'm not trying to excuse cheating, and I'm not calling the university punishments unfair. But I would caution against the vilifying of Casey specifically. I know there are going to be people who use this incident to call into question the practice of recruiting athletes, who fault Harvard's basketball program for its academic index issues, and who are going to use this occasion to vilify athletes, particularly those in popular sports such as basketball or football. I urge people not to do that.
If Casey is guilty, he did something up to 124 other students also did. I am almost positive not all of them are athletes, and The Crimson reported that not all of them are basketball or football players. I am almost positive that cheating occurs among nonathletes in other classes, though I don't have the evidence to prove it, just things I've heard offhand. When I explained the cheating scandal to people, they commented that cheating was to be expected given the circumstances. That doesn't make it right, but I don't think this scandal is indicative only of Harvard behavior. Rather, I agree with undergraduate dean Jay Harris's statement that “This is not a unique student problem. It’s certainly not a Harvard problem. It’s a national and international problem.”
I think that's pretty well established, in fact (though I do not have exact statistics). As I recall, cheating was plentiful in the revered Harry Potter books (which I read feverishly back in the day) both in academics and in the "Triwizard Tournament". In my various internet searches I came across "The Harvard Writers" (NOT affiliated with Harvard University), a term paper service. I kept perusing the website, looking for redeeming qualities, wondering if I was mischaracterizing it as a cheating database, but it was as it appeared to be: a place where you can pay people to do your school work for you. (And if you're paying someone to write a dissertation, why are you working on a dissertation in the first place?) If cheating can be condoned in popular culture and essay writers can advertise openly on Google, the problem goes a lot deeper than Kyle Casey. It's fine with me if you want to criticize students for cheating. Just remember that a lot of other people (allegedly) did the same thing as Casey; they just aren't athletic enough to get on Sports Center for it.

Full Disclosure: I graduated from Harvard in May with a degree in Government. I was a student in Government 1310 and a four year rower. Pretty much the definition of conflict of interest.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Why Darth Vader is a better Dad than Vito Corleone, Kay Adams and Princess Leia as feminists, and Hyman Roth crushing it

(Obviously Spoiler Alerts. Also, this blog is also obviously inspired by the Grantland "Sequeltology")
1. Daddy Issues: Who's the Better Father
If you look at the two characters' behaviors, Vito seems like an obvious choice, especially if you're looking from the vantage point of his favorite son, Michael. A hard working family man, Vito takes the moral high ground in all non-business issues. While he knows Sonny and Fredo will be caught up in what he does, he has high hopes for Michael ("Senator Corleone, Governor Corleone"). Even in business, he acts, relatively speaking, with integrity, first by insisting "we're not murderers" in the opening sequence and then by refusing to make an act of vengeance on Sonny's death and declaring a truce in the war. As far as mafia Dons go, he's a good guy.
In A New Hope, meanwhile, Darth Vader agrees to the termination of his daughter and then tries to blow up his son's space ship (admittedly, his son was trying to bomb his space station which contained all his business colleagues and friends and him before he left it). Far from respecting and even encouraging his son's willingness to remain pure, he actively tries to convert Luke to the Dark Side.
But while Vito lives the part of the loving father, Darth Vader would do much better at the parent socials for the simple reason that his kids turned out much better.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

To All College Freshmen: Why You Should Join Heavyweight Rowing

Every activity will talk to you about the things you can accomplish through hard work and the friendships you will make. All of these are true of rowing (and probably many other things), but I won't take up space explaining why. Instead, I've tried to list some rowing-specific reasons. Rowing was tantamount to my personal growth in college, and I encourage anyone interested in sports and personal achievement to give it a try.
(As a non-lightweight and non-coxswain, I can't comment on those experiences.)
  • Eating: Not going to lie, this probably ranks higher on my personal Why-I-Loved-College-Rowing list than it probably should. Rowing isn't necessarily a sport of immediate gratification. It's a sport of putting in tons of hours of training so that it will pay off in a very short period of time at the end of the year. At least, if you're looking at it from a results perspective, which many are. Eating, on the other hand, gives you satisfaction much more frequently. I mean, who doesn't love eating? Post-practice bagels-and-nutella time was on the very short list of high points of my week in college. No exaggeration. And there were definitely workouts where I thought to myself "Well, that went horribly wrong. I guess my fitness isn't even close to where I thought it was. This will almost certainly affect how I'm boated. BUT how much more can I eat than I would have been able to had I not done this workout? Okay, it's a good day."
  • Fitness, Fitness, Fitness: I love being fit. To me, it's one of the best feelings out there. If you row, you will get fit. That's just how it works.
  • Stop Worrying About Being Skinny: heavyweight rowing is one of the best ways to combat the skinny=beautiful line of reasoning that all girls have to face at some time. That's not to say there's anything wrong with skinny people or that they're not beautiful and fabulous too (some of my best friends are skinny people). But when you spend time with a bunch of heavyweight rowers, you stop think in terms of skinny/not skinny. You might still have ab-envy, but you start to realize that if you're going to have ab-envy, why not have leg-envy, back-envy, arm-envy, erg-envy, pull-up-envy, core-envy (not to be confused with ab appearance), or weight-lifting-envy? You start to realize how many ways there are to quantify fitness, and that if you spent all day envying everyone else, you'd probably just explode. So you conclude that all you can do is work with your own physique and become as fit as possible.
  • Very High Pain Tolerance: Speaks for itself. Yes, rowing can hurt. You should probably know that going into it. If you think of it as a graceful idyllic sport, you are in for a rude awakening. That being said, one of my favorite things (if not my favorite thing) about rowing is how hard it is. Everyday, you get the opportunity to prove wrong the little voice in your head that says it's too hard. Then when you graduate college, you will be in shock at how little normal workouts hurt. This will annoy you, so you will work hard to find a way to make your non-rowing workouts as hard and as painful as your rowing workouts were. And then you will have reached the point of no return.
  • Yes, you can do other things on campus: During my four years, my team had two Hoopes Prize winners, at least one HoCo chair, a fashion designer (2 and 3 are the same person), at least one Engineering Major, multiple a cappella group singers, members of both The Harvard Crimson (me) and The Harvard Independent, a study abroad participant, an ROTC member, an Intramural ref, a Catholic Students Association leader, and many other things including high level involvement in sororities and final clubs (yes, we all have close friends from outside the team). You do have to pick and choose, to a degree, and you do have to be good at time management, but you'd be amazed at the things rowers do outside of their sport. And when you think about it, spending time with people from so many different backgrounds and so many diverse non-rowing interests is a pretty cool thing. Guess I lied about not playing the make-friends card. Oh well.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Words of Wisdom from Mornings on Horseback

McCullough, David. Mornings on Horseback. Simon & Schuster Inc. New York: 1981.
"Organs are made for action...they are made to work, not to be; and when they work well they can be well."
-Henry Hyde Salter, p. 108
"Take care of your morals first, your health next, and finally your studies."
-Theodore Roosevelt Sr. p. 165
"Oddly, for all his quick success in politics, the passion and energy he exuded, he was still unable, or unwilling, to accept politics as his lifework. He never spoke of it as a career or calling...among hte few with whom he was most candid, he admitted to no clear vision of a lifework. In the parlance of later-day psychologists he had still to find an occupational identity, and it troubled him."
--McCullough, p. 280
"The sole, overwhelming lesson was the awful brevity of life, the sense that the precipice awaited not just somewhere off down the road, but at any moment. An asthmatic childhood had shown that life could be stifled, cut off, unless one fought back, and all Papa's admonitions to get action, to seize the moment, had the implicit message that there was not much time after all. Father had died at forty-six; Mittie had been only forty-eight; Alice, all of twenty-two, her life barely begun. Nothing lasts. Winter waits."
--McCullough, p. 285
"There were all kinds of things of which I was afraid at first, ranging from grizzly bears to 'mean' horses and gunfighters; but by acting as if I was not afraid I gradually ceased to be afraid."
Teddy, p. 336
"Much has been given to us, and so, much will be expected of us; and we must take heed to use aright the gifts entrusted to our care."
Teddy, p. 349 (really, you should read the whole speech)
"It is of more importance that we should show ourselves honest, brave, truthful, and intelligent, than that we should own all the railways and grain elevators in the world."
Teddy, p. 349-350

Thursday, August 23, 2012

I Support Lance Armstrong

Good for Lance Armstrong.
Whether or not he doped, he ended the USADA's version of the Red Scare on his own terms. And so, if you're a Lance Armstrong hater, you've had your day. Congratulations. I hope you're very happy.
But I have a few questions:
Why Was It So Important to Take Away Armstrong's Tour Titles?
We sports fans hate cheaters. We've seen this in the dogged pursuits of baseball players such as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Alex Rodriguez. But Rodriguez and Andy Pettite are just two athletes who have admitted steroid use and are still playing. In his statement, Armstrong writes "USADA has allegedly made deals with other riders that circumvent their own rules as long as they said I cheated. Many of those riders continue to race today."
Armstrong has never admitted steroid use nor tested positive, and yet he is likely to be stripped of all of his Tour titles and banned for life from the sport. This because he finally decided he didn't feel like dealing with the USADA.
So, when you take away Armstrong's titles because of doping, does it bother you at all that the heirs to the Tour throne probably doped too? Remember that Armstrong has never failed a drug test despite being tested more than anyone else and that cyclists have alleged that everyone was doping at those times. If Armstrong doped despite years of testing to suggest otherwise, who's to say that the runners-up didn't either? Are you going to investigate them as thoroughly as you did Armstrong?
Isn't it problematic that the USADA is publicly breaking its own rules because there's a chance a retiree broke them 17 years ago?
I feel like I should let Lance take it away on this one:
I am a retired cyclist, yet USADA has lodged charges over 17 years old despite its own 8-year limitation.  As respected organizations such as UCI and USA Cycling have made clear, USADA lacks jurisdiction even to bring these charges.  The international bodies governing cycling have ordered USADA to stop, have given notice that no one should participate in USADA's improper proceedings, and have made it clear the pronouncements by USADA that it has banned people for life or stripped them of their accomplishments are made without authority.  And as many others, including USADA's own arbitrators, have found, there is nothing even remotely fair about its process.  USADA has broken the law, turned its back on its own rules, and stiff-armed those who have tried to persuade USADA to honor its obligations.  At every turn, USADA has played the role of a bully, threatening everyone in its way and challenging the good faith of anyone who questions its motives or its methods, all at U.S. taxpayers' expense.  For the last two months, USADA has endlessly repeated the mantra that there should be a single set of rules, applicable to all, but they have arrogantly refused to practice what they preach.
Do you really think people won't still revere Armstrong?
Armstrong writes that the people he rode with saw who won those Tours. So did everyone who watched them.
But more importantly, when you take away Armstrong's titles, you're left with a cancer survivor whose Foundation has raised nearly $500 million dollars. These achievements stand on their own. Do you think anyone who received that aid cares whether or not Lance Armstrong was doping? When it comes down to it, Armstrong has done far more good in this world than bad. Now, I know that there are "complicated" figures, whose charity work and personal life seem to be at odds. I have seen athletic heroes fall many times, and I've seen people rush to vilify or defend them. I would be the latter in this particular case. But Armstrong's alleged crime pales in comparison to the good work he has done. And he isn't falling from grace. He is voluntarily removing himself from the drama. He is letting it go. He is being the bigger man.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

If Han Solo and Princess Leia had a daughter, she'd probably be a lot like Hope Solo.

As the title of this post clearly indicates, I've probably watched Star Wars more than is socially acceptable (the old ones, of course).
Moving on...
Hope Solo seems exactly like the kind of person who would be raised by Han Solo and Princess Leia. (Would that make Leia Mrs. Solo? Leia Skywalker? I don't really see her taking her husband's name, but she might given that Han had thought she had a thing for her own twin brother Luke...)
Well, first of all, there's her name: Hope. As in the original movie.
More to the point, she's confident, independent, outspoken, and fierce. If either Han or Leia played soccer, who's to say they wouldn't play goal? It's a position for fearless people perfectly happy to handle pressure and their enemies alone (alone as in solo).
She hasn't been afraid to challenge coaching decisions to the media (namely, being benched in favor of Brianna Scurry in 2007) or push back on comments by women's soccer legend Brandi Chastain. That's the same kind of fiery spirit Han and Leia show when defying Jabba the Hutt and Darth Vader, respectively. Sure it got them in hot water temporarily (Solo's media persona was well established by the time she challenged Chastain, but 2007 was a tense time), but ultimately they all stuck to their guns (literally, in Han and Leia's case), and it paid off in the end either with an Olympic Gold Medal or with the downfall of the Empire.
If you find Luke Skywalker's heir apparent, let me know.

Monday, August 20, 2012

What We Can Learn From Augusta National

In this day and age, you can be a boys club or you can be a club of excellence. You can't be both. I have no objection to single sex organizations. None whatsoever. I see no problem with people wanting to associate with members of their own genders. To this day, many single sex organizations are allowed to continue that way without scrutiny, including college fraternities and sororities as well sports teams. As someone who benefited greatly from my participation in a single sex college sports team, I can certainly see why men would want to socialize, through golf, with other men. For this reason, I had never been able to bring myself to vilify Augusta National Golf Club in the way that others did.
But it was Augusta's prestige that made its all male policy so contentious, and it's that same prestige that has made its inclusion of women so momentous. Because of what Augusta represented in the public eye--tradition, excellence, prestige, its exclusion of women seemed to suggest that in this day and age, women still weren't welcome in the upper echelon of male society. Augusta, of course, was just one club with its own unique traditions and quirks. But because its golf course was so elite, because it hosted the Masters, because it was so firmly entrenched in the public imagination, and because membership was such a status symbol, it became seen as unfair that women weren't allowed admittance. Restricting membership to Augusta became, in the eyes of the public, another glass ceiling that women had to break.
What we can learn from Augusta, therefore, is something that all women would take heart to hear: men can have their all-boys clubs in the same way that women can have all-girl clubs. But in this day and age, when something transcends the single sex social-role to which it has been confined, its self-projected image of excellence will eventually require it to either go coed or to lose its prominent place in American imaginations.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Track, Field, and Cheering for Excellence

2008 belonged to Michael Phelps. 2012 belonged to Usain Bolt.
In the Beijing Olympics, it was hard to argue against Phelps or Bolt. Both were in their own class.  It's hard to compare a sport such as swimming to an event such as track. While I am neither a track nor a swimming expert, I would give the edge in Beijing to Phelps for winning the numbers game.
That's not to say I don't see the counterargument: though both sports have multiple events, it's easier (relatively) for a swimmer to amass lots of medals than it is for a track star. Runners have very few shots of glory, while swimmers, comparatively, have more. But Phelps' eight gold medals meant that he was on TV a lot more. His victories took longer and there were more of them. Quite simply, you spent more time watching Phelps than you did watching Bolt. So in the sense of infiltrating the collective mind of the fan, Phelps had to be the winner.
While Phelps was still fantastic in London, the tables had turned. While he still boasted an incredibly impressive Olympic resume (besting rival Ryan Lochte), he wasn't the picture of perfection in the way that Bolt was. What I love about Bolt is that as someone who is not a track expert, I can assume he's all I need to know about track, then track analysts will try to convince me otherwise, and then Bolt will go out and prove me right. He may have a big ego, but why shouldn't he? He's the fastest man of all time! Every day we read about bigheaded people who are far less impressive. I actually find Bolt extremely likeable. He's fun, he involves the crowd, he seems to be invested in the success of training partner Yohan Blake, and he's committed to his country and his community.
Women's Track Made One of My Friends Cry.
For sheer raw emotion, women's track is pretty hard to beat. Watching Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce win her second straight gold in the 100m, then promptly lie on the ground crying was enough to cause my friend to well up. I enjoyed watching women's track because, from what I could tell, all of these women were incredibly hard working, well spoken, thoughtful individuals. What's not to admire about someone like Allyson Felix, who took gold in the 200 after taking silver in both Athens and Beijing? From what I could see, the female stars were much less accustomed toward playing to the crowd (though their articulate, thoughtful interviews suggested otherwise), so their reactions showed much more raw emotion and gratitude and much less camera-mugging.
Jamaican Sprinters (and the World): Talent is For All of Us to Admire
I bleed Red, White, and Blue, but I can't get myself to root against Jamaican sprinters. I have so much admiration for them. It is nothing short of amazing for a country that small to be so consistently dominant in a sport as worldwide as running. Only in national team sports are we told to root for our countrymen above all else. While I overwhelmingly root for my country, I will occasionally break from that, whether it's to root for alumni of my school (especially ones I have met), to witness inspiring personal stories, or simply to see great athletics. Bolt is one athlete who has transcended national boundaries: In an interview after his 200 victory, he specifically thanked his many fans in the US.
Why do we Americans root for Bolt? Partly because he seems like a great guy. Mostly because we want to witness the unbelievable.
British Olympic Gold Medalist Version of Neil Patrick Harris: Greg Rutherford
Isn't that the dream?
(Barney Stinson's take on it.)

Friday, August 10, 2012

Thoughts on London: Celebrate the Accomplishments of Harper, Wells, and Jones

When Dawn Harper, Kellie Wells, and Lolo Jones went 2-3-4 in the hurdles, it marked a great accomplishment for USA Track. Sadly, what happened was that a media debate erupted over the relative fame of Harper and Wells vs. Jones and whether Jones is or is not deserving of the attention she has received. Instead, why don't we celebrate the accomplishments of all three of these athletes. They all have worked hard and persevered. Rather than pitting them against each other, why not appreciate the efforts they have made? If they do dislike each other, that's their business. It's not an elementary school playground where we all have to choose sides. Neutrality is a perfectly acceptable option. Track is an individual sport, so their alleged dislike of one another would not affect their ability to compete. Moreover, they'd hardly be the first set of successful teammates to dislike each other.
Secondly, I feel like debating whether or not Jones is attention seeking misses the point. When you judge someone on their desire for attention, you critique them in the same way you would criticize a potential friend. These athletes, much as you might wish them to be, are not your friends. They are not even your work colleagues. If they are working hard, treating others with respect, and staying out of trouble, they are deserving of respect and admiration. All of these athletes fit all three qualities.
And finally, to those of you complaining that Jones is receiving more attention than Harper and Wells because of her looks: Yes, I completely agree that objectification of women is an issue. But don't we, as  media consumers, objectify people in general? Female athletes are hardly the only ones who can receive disproportionate attention for their looks. Are David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo great soccer players? Absolutely. Is their fame aided by their looks? No doubt. And actors? How many Ryan Gosling websites exist now? Those are totally for his acting talent alone, right? For better or for worse, looks are a factor in how people are judged in all arenas. Instead of vilifying an admirable athlete because she takes advantage of a system instead of falling victim to it, how about refusing to fall into the system's traps and celebrating accomplishments where you see fit?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Thrilla in Vanilla and other sports-themed foods that should exist

In third grade, I was in the "Vanilla Club" when our grade of girls divided into preferring chocolate to vanilla. I actually love chocolate too, but with ice cream (the place you're most likely to choose between the two flavors), I always preferred vanilla.
Vanilla gets painted as the dependable but somewhat boring flavor. No more. Now, it's flavor of Ali-Frazier. This vanilla gets the knockout punch.
Here are some other food ideas I had

Friday, June 8, 2012

Some Thoughts on The Godfather

Okay, so obviously I can't fit in all my thoughts on The Godfather and its awesome sequel (Part II, that is, I have no interest in seeing Part III).
Anyway, if you haven't seen the movies, read no further. Instead, go watch the movies.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The College-Is-Actually-Ending Playlist

12 songs for the class of '12
These songs cover a fair range of emotions/situations people might be feeling at graduation. I'd like to keep my poker face and not say which ones apply best to me.

T.I. Dead and Gone Sure, college feels like it flew by in a flash, but are you really the same person you were when you started? Probably not. "That old me is dead and gone, but that new me will be alright."
Eagles Already Gone Peace, college. I'm out.
Alice Cooper School's Out School's out FOREVER.
Lipps Inc. Funkytown Gotta Move On ... Won't you take me to Funkytown? Hey, we all gotta make a move to a city that's right for us. For many of my classmates (and potentially me), that city is New York.
Bachman Turner Overdrive Taking Care of Business Time to enter the workforce. (Though this song also works if you're unemployed if you actually listen to the lyrics instead of just the title.)
Boston More than a feeling Now that we are leaving college, we are officially allowed to start being nostalgic for it.
Earth, Wind and Fire. September Remember when this month used to mean going back to school? Now we can just appreciate it for the great weather and the start of football season. Or grad school, if you're going that route.
Rolling Stones. Don't Stop "Don't you dump me on some dusty street/ And hang me out to dry."
Rolling Stones 19th Nervous Breakdown Come on, it's a little scary.
John Denver. Leaving On A Jet Plane I guess it works best if you are dating someone, but I think a fair amount of the lyrics (maybe not the "wedding ring" shout out) can apply to not wanting to lose your friends.
Steve Miller Band. Rock'N Me Well, I'm looking real hard, and I'm tryna find a job, but it just keeps getting tougher everyday... The economy is not doing well. This is a reality for many.

and saving the best for last...
Lynyrd Skynyrd Free Bird When I graduated high school, I drove away with the windows down, blasting this song. This is the quintessential graduation song.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Cory Booker, American Hero

Cory Booker first appeared on my radar while I was researching New Jersey news stories for a tv station. Booker was coming under fire because he wanted to cut city spending on toilet paper. It wasn't a popular move, but if you think about it, how bad is it?
Newark isn't exactly loaded, so why not cut spending where possible?
Cutting spending where possible, as it turns out, is one of the tenets of Booker's leadership as is privatization, yet he's managed to be popular with Democrats.
All in all, he strikes me as a pretty good, level-headed mayor.
But in a story that seems to be under-discussed, at least among my peers, he actually rescued a woman from a burning building. And from the accounts of the firefighters, it sounds like it was at great personal safety risk.
All in all, I think Newark's really lucky to have him as mayor, and I think this Forbes article, despite its messed-up title, gives good insight into why. Booker genuinely doesn't seem to care what other people think about him and is clearly hard at work to make his city a better place.
Whatever your policies, Booker represents the best in elected officials.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Depression, Happiness, and the Power of the Anonymous Article

It is possible, according to the anonymous author of this Guardian piece. Kind of long, so here are some highlights:
"I wanted to write this article to demonstrate that a successful career, mental illness and enjoyment of life need not be incompatible." Word.

"As proof of this, I don't feel able to 'come out' in this article. I am not ashamed but I do wonder how the relationship with colleagues, and pursuit of promotion might be affected if it was generally known that I suffer from depression." Fair enough. Two observations. I guess the most apparent one, the one I feel somewhat obliged to say, is the "this shows that there needs to be more open discourse about depression." True, and I think this writer is contributing to that. I can't, however, take issue with his decision to remain anonymous for a few reasons. First, I like the idea that "it could be anyone", and I'm sure that he is speaking for a number of people. Second, though he writes that he doesn't "come out" because he doesn't "feel able", he is also making the article about the issue itself rather than about him. I have a lot of respect of famous people who open up about their issues with depression, and we certainly need people to be the "faces" of depression (though those faces should not be associated solely with depression or it would take away the point), but the focus here is rightly placed on the issue. The writer does not need to flaunt his accomplishments, unlike Greg Smith did in the New York Times:
"My proudest moments in life — getting a full scholarship to go from South Africa to Stanford University, being selected as a Rhodes Scholar national finalist, winning a bronze medal for table tennis at the Maccabiah Games in Israel, known as the Jewish Olympics — have all come through hard work, with no shortcuts."
And this relates to Goldman how? Oh, because "Goldman Sachs today has become too much about shortcuts and not enough about achievement." Rather than boost his credibility with that little paragraph, Smith simply made people question his motives. The author of the depression piece doesn't do that.

To close, the author remarks:
Finally, I love the words of the Roman poet Catullus who was obviously suffering, when he said: "One day all this will seem funny." 
Nope, not Catullus. You're thinking of Vergil's line in the Aeneid, "forsan haec olim meminisse iuvabit." I was always taught to read it as "perhaps even this it will be pleasing to remember" but I know there are other more literal translations.

But in all seriousness, whoever you are, it was a good piece with an important message. Respect.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Meanwhile in Morningside Heights

So, Barnard and Columbia students are apparently at war with President Obama's decision to deliver a commencement speech at Barnard rather than Columbia. Time to weigh in. (Not literally, I'm a heavyweight).

  • There's no excuse for the kind of commentary that has come from some of the Columbia students, and I'm disappointed that neither Barnard President Debora L. Spar or Columbia President Lee C. Bollinger have the guts to call them out on it. For some of the extreme comments, check out this Jezebel article. It should be noted that I find the term "feminazi" to be highly objectionable. In fact, I don't understand why the term "Nazi" is thrown around so casually in so many areas ("Grammar Nazi" etc.). Nothing about Nazism was funny. It was a terrible, terrible part of history.
  • Obama's motives for this choice are interesting. If the New York Times article is correct on the fact that Obama has generally been unenthusiastic about his time at Columbia, then this does seem to be a jab at his alma mater. The decision to speak at a women's college is also obviously an attempt to appeal to women voters, but the choice of Barnard specifically can't be ignored. After all, if it was simply about promoting women's rights, why Barnard specifically? It's certainly a great school, but what about it makes it more worthwhile of his time than Wellesley, Smith, or Mt. Holyoke?
  • Barnard and Columbia have a unique relationship as far as I can tell; I can't think of any other schools where the women's college is "independent" but also gets this kind of access. If you're looking at the women's college experience (which I never was), this would seem to offer you a great opportunity to have the women's college community while still taking classes and pursuing opportunities at a coed Ivy League university. (It's worth noting that Barnard athletes compete for Columbia sports teams.) That being said, many Columbia students are clearly of the opinion that the two are unequal partners, that Barnard students are undeserving of the access they have to Columbia activities and the Columbia name on the diploma. This incident seems to reflect a fairly tense relationship between the schools though this of course could be overstated by the few extremely obnoxious students that are present at every school (unfortunately). Based on these incidents, if I were interested in a women's college (I never was) but also wanted to experience a coed school, I might be more inclined to head to Smith or Mt. Holyoke, where I could be part of an all women's community but still take classes at coed Amherst or UMASS. New York City might have something to do with your interest in Barnard or Columbia, and they don't have that at Smith. And I do know of people who have had great experiences at Barnard and don't mean to knock it as a school. But it is an imperfect relationship.
  • That being said, I highly doubt having Barnard students in Columbia classes is that large an impediment to learning. I know there have been concerns in the past over Barnard not agreeing to contribute to funding of clubs and Columbia students proceeding to kick Barnard students out of said clubs. That's an issue, to be sure. But I would need to see hard data to believe that Barnard students prevented Columbia students from learning course material.
  • And the lesson is, as it almost always is: people should treat others with respect. Life will work much better that way.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Bad Old Days

"I don't think other people are cool because they smoke ... [But] I think I'm cool because I smoke."
A Harvard student really said that. On the record.
While reading about the recent discussion on campus about the potential for a campus wide smoke-ban, I came across this gem of an article from 1998 that profiles various students who smoke.
I find it worth reading for the following reasons:

  • Apparently Reverend Peter J. Gomes (now deceased, unfortunately) served as a faculty advisor for a Harvard Cigar Club, which held meetings at his house. The club was founded in 1997. Not sure how long it lasted. 
  • Samuel Sheridan '98 is the most interesting character of the bunch. Sheridan started smoking while working on a merchant marine ship after high school and gives "I think it's important for young people to carry around a reminder of death" as one of his many justifications. As a nonsmoker, I am naturally skeptical of all of his reasons and wonder why he couldn't pursue other avenues for his "reminder of death" (like reading sad books or something). Apparently, though, he has continued to pursue this "reminder" in other ways and has done some interesting things, which I found out from this Boston Globe article from 2007.
  • As for Gavin Moses: I'm glad he saved someone's life. That's great. Maybe he would have prolonged socializing with his friend anyway, but saving people's lives is always good. As for his initial reason: Who does something hazardous to one's health as a way to remember a past romantic relationship? When relationships don't work out, don't you try to forget them? Or take up healthy activities to help you move on? Moses took the complete opposite approach.
  • I'm not sure whether the quotes were taken out of context, but some of these interviews give very stereotypical justifications for smoking. Aaron Mathes's thoughts on being cool are the most obvious; "It's part of the way I think of myself. It helps me constitute my identity." But many of the interviewed discussed how smoking helped them make friends. Isn't this why D.A.R.E. was founded in the first place? To combat this kind of peer pressure? It's sad that these pressures were so evident at a place like Harvard.
  • There's nothing really wrong with the opening paragraph, but I find it interesting that the author takes the time to note that smoking is indeed bad for you. Didn't everyone already know that?
  • Harvard's been a part of the cigarette-cancer connection from the beginning. Its researchers have contributed to the discovery of it, and one scientist, Dr. Carl C. Seltzer, refuted it. (Yikes)

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Welcome back Dreamland!

Nantucket Dreamland is back!
The Dreamland is a Nantucket institution that has been a big part of the Nantucket experience for me, my mom, and especially my aunt who worked there one summer. Nantucket was lucky to have great operators in the past who made it a special place and is lucky now that the members of The Nantucket Dreamland Foundation were in it for the long haul and made it happen. With the real world beckoning, it's unclear when I'll be able to head to Nantucket again, but it's great to know that Nantucket's year round residents will once again be able to spend time there.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

UCLA and the Red Sox: when reporters delve into disasters

Today, I read two very interesting articles on the struggles of the once mighty UCLA basketball team. One, in Sports Illustrated, went through all the ways in which UCLA coach Ben Howland has failed to hold his athletes accountable to certain standards of behavior. The other, from Sporting News, attempted to defend Coach Howland and his team, attributing the team's struggles to a lack of home games. The level of research of the Sports Illustrated article makes it the more convincing of the two; the Sporting News piece never fully responds to Reeves Nelson's dangerous behavior among other issues. It's also worth noting that this is an exposé in a vein similar to the Boston Globe piece about the collapse of the 2011 Red Sox, so I'm going to use this blog to discuss that piece as well.
Here are my thoughts on the case as a whole:

  • My heart goes out to the UCLA basketball players who were hurt by Nelson. I can't imagine being on a team with someone who made a conscious effort to hurt you. Of all of the issues brought up in college sports, this is certainly one you don't see every day. No wonder Matt Carlino transferred to BYU. I agree with his teammate's assertion "That wasn't quitting. That was just smart."
  • One of the main issues here is entitlement, shown both by the players and by Howland itself. The Sports Illustrated article treats them as somewhat separate issues, but how separate are they really? If Howland considered himself too important to treat his assistant coaches well, perhaps he understood the players' own sense of entitlement and was therefore less inclined to call them out on it.
  • Nelson is portrayed as one of the main villains throughout the piece. But I have to give him credit for the fact that he agreed to speak to the media and acknowledged the mistakes he made. It's clear this kid had problems and needed help. That's not to say what he did wasn't wrong; the article portrays him as a malicious bully, not as a nice person with occasional outbursts. But if you're in charge of a program and you see this kind of behavior happening, it's your job to stop it and your job to figure out whether this is a good kid with problems or a bad kid who doesn't belong on the team. Nelson is portrayed as the latter throughout the piece, but Howland never seemed to consider that he could be either.
  • The Globe piece was about a professional sports team, not a collegiate program. Professional athletes should know that everything they do could be the subject of an article, but the UCLA athletes described as hard-partiers probably didn't think they'd appear in Sports Illustrated for it. But even high school athletes can make headlines for their troublemaking. Athletes, take note: if you play a sport, no matter the level, your life is available for public scrutiny. Learn how to deal with that because it doesn't appear to be changing anytime soon.
  • Like the Globe piece, this one also relied on anonymous sources. But there's far less room to hide in the UCLA basketball program. Not only are basketball programs smaller, but these sources were identified specifically as players, not simply as members of the organization. That means that they were likely more motivated to talk to the reporters than the Globe's sources. I have much more respect for the basketball players who acted as sources. With nowhere to turn on the team, they found an outlet to ensure that the team's problems would finally see the light. The fact that things aren't going as badly this season drills a hole in that somewhat, but I tend to trust that these sources had good intentions. As for those who spoke to the Globe? If Chris Jones is correct in this Grantland piece that ownership was a major source, then I have no respect for that whatsoever. Actually, I don't have much respect for it anyway.
  • I also agree with the Grantland piece on the use of anonymous sources. I tend not to like it.
  • I wonder what the writers think they are accomplishing by these pieces. It makes you think about why you want to write, what the goal is. The purposes I see are: informing people of information they need to know, telling stories that teach important lessons or highlight great people, trying to persuade people to agree with you (though this is specific for opinion writing), and entertaining people. Where exactly do these pieces fit in with that goal? They can help us engage with some serious issues, but they can also hurt a lot of people. That's not to say that they shouldn't be published, but I want to know what the writers were thinking when the sent in these pieces.