Sex Equality: I’m With Her

A Wild Duck guest editorial

Lydia Begag is a high school junior at Advanced Math and Science Academy in Massachusetts. She got our attention when she published an editorial critical of the school’s uniform policy. With eloquence and articulation, she laid out a brilliant and persuasive argument that the policy was anything but uniform. It was ambiguous, arbitrary and discriminatory.


I’m with Her
Ideas Regarding Sex Equality—Forget the Rest

Political and social turmoil are everywhere we turn, especially in the early months of 2017. Lunch conversations, small talk at work, and, of course, the media we consume have all become related to a singular topic: the United States government and its workings. Emotionally, I want to curl up in a ball and block out the political nonsense being spewed left and right until the day I die (pun very much intended)—but I feel intellectually obliged to confront the controversy.

All who live and breath America understand why politics have always been a hot topic for debate. Every ideology, action, and word are potentially contentious. Such is especially the case with modern feminism. Everyone seems to have a different opinion of it and portrays it in different ways, from the group of men wolf whistling at a woman on her way to her car after work to powerful cultural figures who associate themselves with the movement. Before we can even begin to familiarize ourselves with conflicting beliefs towards women and feminism in general and their reflection of a worrisome mentality, it is crucial to first understand feminism’s roots in the United States, and how interpretations of the word and the movement have varied throughout the years.

Feminism begins its legacy in 19th-century America, where its first-wave arises at the Seneca Falls Convention of July 1948. Prominent feminists of the era (including Elizabeth Cady Stanton—more on her later!) issued a Declaration of Sentiments for women that emulated the Declaration of Independence their husbands had crafted 170 years earlier. The document asserted that women had fundamental rights that were denied without cause, including suffrage. However, the first-wave feminist movement raised a series of questions regarding whether it was acceptable to promote black civil rights over and into women’s rights. Should the rights of black men be prioritized over establishing and recognizing rights for women? Should black women be considered in the fight for gender equality as well, or would that undermine the cause white women had been fighting for for so long? The moral conflict eventually resulted in a success for the women’s suffrage movement in 1920. White women, led by famous feminists such as Stanton, Alice Paul, and Lucy Burns, gained the right to vote in federal and state elections via the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Women of color, however, were left in the dust and did not start to gain suffrage until 1965. This type of exclusive feminism did not end when women of color gained suffrage; it has proven itself to be significant even today.

The list of American feminist milestones goes on and on. Women experienced sexual liberation in the Roaring 20s, when life was grander and more exquisite than ever. They essentially took over maintenance of the U.S. economy when men went  to fight in the world wars, and Rosie the Riveter was born. Women were also becoming increasingly influential in politics. Such milestones included the first woman to run for president on a major-party ticket in 1972 to landmark Supreme Court cases asserting that a right to privacy does include guaranteed legal accessibility to abortion and contraceptives. Title 9, the amendment to the Education Amendments Act of 1972, enabled girls in schools across the country to receive the same benefits as their male peers. All of these milestones reshaped a woman’s role in society throughout the 20th century onwards, but they did not come without drawbacks. The ’20s was an intense era of sexist and classist attitudes. Female sexual liberation resulted in extreme objectification. After WWI was over and soldiers came home, women were whisked back into the households to resume their roles as obedient housewives. Male dominance made running for public office harder for a woman, despite having the opportunity. And let us not forget the controversy surrounding a woman’s right to privacy. A significant factor involves religious morals and/or other ethical reasoning that are not related to gender equality, but it is impossible to ignore the misogynistic rationale that many pro-lifers exhibit. All of the achievements we’ve had have seemingly been countered by just as much dissent as support, a persistent reality since Abigail Adams urged her husband to support gender equality.

We are currently in the era of what fundamentalist feminists call “Take A Shot Every time You Offend Someone With One of Your Comments.” That term, of course, is colloquialism at its finest. You’re probably more familiar with something called third-wave feminism. This type of feminism has become increasingly less focused on the kind of feminism Stanton was prominent for (Yay! Exclusivity!) and more on queer and non-white women. The concept of intersectionality was introduced in the late ’80s just before this third wave began. It has received great support by women of color and those who had always been ignored by exclusive feminists, but as we already know, dissent is just around the corner.

The most popular criticism focuses on a lack of cohesion. First wave feminism fought for and gained female suffrage. The second wave fought for the right for women to have access to equal opportunity in the workforce and an end to legal sex discrimination. What is third wave feminism’s goal? Is there even a goal, or are its advocates serving as the world’s determinators of what is PC and what is not? The stigma around the feminist movement has existed ever since its origins in this country, but the increasing disassociation of women from the term ‘feminism’ has become alarming in recent years. For every outspoken celebrity and political feminist there is out there (think Emma Watson, Shonda Rhimes, Nancy Pelosi) there is an equally prominent female figure that opposes the movement, such as Lana del Rey, Tomi Lahren, and Shailene Woodley. Here’s the kicker: these role models usually aren’t misogynistic or demeaning. They simply seek to avoid affiliation with the word itself and its modern day supporters. This is understandable; we’re a country founded on grounds of freedom. If a person doesn’t want to associate themselves with a movement, there’s no obligation to. However, the fact that women don’t even want to be labeled feminists because of what it has come to signify is something I find very problematic. I don’t see this as an inadequate reflection of what 21st century women believe in, but rather a poor reflection on the feminist crusade. The way I look at it is this: apples don’t fall off a tree because they are too heavy. Rather, they fall off because the stem is too weak to support them.

This creation of a conflict within a conflict has led to major confusion on what “right” feminism is. As defined by Merriam Webster, “feminism” is the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. This most basic meaning of the word is something most women, if not all, should consider when they debate  whether or not to label themselves a feminist. Sex equality is really the only thing the third-wave feminist movement should be focused on. Issues such as racial inequality, and rights for LGBT and disabled persons, are a matter for a cause much broader than feminism (think egalitarianism). The more narrow a movement and its fight becomes, the more likely it is to accomplish its goals. The first two waves of feminism all had a set goal in mind, which was something that followed core feminism to the nines. In the midst of all of the social unrest that has risen since the ’80s, the feminist movement has been trying to take over the egalitarianist one. However, if women ever wish to gain social equality between the sexes, it is necessary to narrow the cause to its fundamental roots.

Another issue with the modern feminist movement is that, in the effort towards sex equality, many feminists have interpreted being equal to men as trying to act just like them. Men and women are different, biologically and perhaps psychologically, but of equal value. To quote Mary Ramirez’s “Dear Daughter: Here’s Why I Didn’t March For You”: “…we are biologically and physically and emotionally different from men, but that doesn’t mean we’re less. It means we’re special.”

Nonetheless, achieving social equality between the sexes is something I consider crucial, particularly for the girls just starting to grow up in this country. It is disheartening for women to live in a world where, from the moment we start to grow up and find ourselves in a male-centric society, life becomes a tale of denigration and overt sexualization. However, the problem with using modern feminism to change this sexist attitude is that it has turned into a male resentment club, and no longer seems to revolve around sex equality in society. Off the top of my head, I can think of multiple times where the “feminists” surrounding me on a daily basis have remarked on female superiority or denounced women who do not wholeheartedly accept their idea of feminism. Feminism should preach equality and acceptance. Instead, it has turned into a catty game of doing to the men what the men have done to us. We live in a world where raising people up has turned into knocking others down. Vulgarity and impertinence has turned into the ideal image of a “strong” woman, and has become more and more acceptable. The idea of a feminist who respects others’ opinions has seemingly been swapped with one that thrives off of the idea of being regarded as “bitchy,” angry, or disrespectful. We’ve come a long way since our feminist founding mothers marched down Pennsylvania Avenue fighting for suffrage, and unfortunately, it’s not for the best.

Envisioning myself in the world of politics five or ten years down the road…I won’t pretend it doesn’t worry me at times.Influential female politicians over the years have found not their beliefs or their policy agendas as the primary subject of media conversation, but rather whether or not they’re menstruating or have considered cosmetic surgery. Seeing myself and others in my current situation has worried me as well. Despite growing up in a privileged setting where I receive nothing but acceptance from my family, the school and work environment has offered me and similar girls slut-shaming, catcalling, and the craftiest of off-hand remarks (“Who are you trying to impress today with that outfit?”). A multitude of women who come from different backgrounds have experienced similar toxicity in their surroundings. Ultimately, any setting for a woman can be a problematic one, and a promotion of classic feminism could turn things around. To me, an advocacy for respect on both sexes’ parts—rather than claimed superiority—would be transformative in making these conditions for bearable for young American women and men. Right now, what we have is extreme exclusivity and not enough acceptance.

Want to call yourself a feminist? Great! Reluctant to associate yourself with the movement but still support sex equality? Sounds good! Don’t support sex equality and a reversal of traditional gender roles? That is still okay! Obviously if an opinion undermines the cause you are fighting for, you’re not inclined to encourage it. But what the American public needs to realize is that, when advocates contradict the cause of unity and respect with their actions and words change will not come. Crudity does not empower you; it only cheapens you.

As mentioned before, narrowing down the movement’s goals is also crucial in moving forward. In comparison to many nations around the world, the United States has seen great success when it comes to fighting for sex equality. The third-wave feminist movement does have some valid issues to advocate for—domestic violence, raising awareness for rape victims, pay discrimination, etc.—but also chooses to focus on trivial causes like Free the Nipple and eliminating “manspreading.” Perhaps it is because we have obtained legal equality (thanks, first two waves!). But now that social equity has become the main focus, a blur of ideas and beliefs have resulted in a chaotic, incohesive movement. If you consider feminism at its core, the social issue to fight for is clear. There are many causes worth fighting for: racial inequality, ableism, and marriage justness, to name a few. But for the love of God, leave the aspects that do not relate to sex equality for the egalitarians. They’re there for a reason.

Author’s Note:  Add a comment or question below. I will respond promptly.

— Lydia Begag

United Air: Public relations nightmare

Check out the last minute of this Jimmy Kimmel video. It is a spoofed TV commercial for United Airlines. Based on recent events, it seems pretty authentic. Kimmel’s monologue is pretty funny too!

I have heard from a few people who defend United—offering an explanation of overbooking policy—or the rude defiance of the Asian doctor that was dragged out of the plane bloodied and on his back (and apparently, with a broken jaw). But, no matter how you spin this, United was incredibly foolish to issue a patently offensive statement about how clients were unfortunately “reaccommodated”.
Yeah! I’ll agree that it was certainly unfortunate. But, I am not too sure about this being an example of airline accommodation. Check out the Twitter reaction.
Typically, these things blow over and the public searches for the next low fare—even if it is lower by only one dollar. But this time, I think that United may feel the pain. Their methods and the ensuing arrogance of CEO, Oscar Munoz, are tantamount to flipping a middle finger at paying passengers.
Good luck with that, United Airlines!

Friends at odds with ideology?

At Quora, I play, “Ask the expert”. Hundreds of my Quora answers are linked at top-right on this page. Today, I was asked “Would you stop being friends with someone—if you discovered that they are against gay marriage?”. This is my answer…


Would I stop being friends? Of course not. But I must qualify this answer…

If their position on abortion or marriage is driven by blind, rabid, religious ideology, then I probably wouldn’t have considered them a friend in the first place. In my circles, one’s personal faith should be a guide for moral behavior in a pluralist world. It should never be a substitute for science, common sense, or tolerance. So, for the purpose of this question, I will assume that they are not a right-wing religious conservative.

So, would I stop being friends? Not at all; as long as I can relate to them—intellectually or emotionally. Perhaps not on this matter, but at least on other issues that matter to both of us. My friends have a diverse matrix of opinions, and these often don’t coincide with my own.

Let me offer an example:

I live in America. I am Never Trumper. That is, I believe that our new president has a mental illness and that his election to high office has the potential for disaster (or at least significant ridicule and ‘missed opportunity’ among nations).  Among my extended circle of several hundred medium-close business and personal contacts, I know of only two individuals who supported Trump in the election. And now, 2 months into his presidency, they still support his policies and even his unstable, irrational temperament.

Do I still like these individuals; talk with them; and friend them on social media? Of course! A friend is a friend until they betray you—or until your perspectives are so far apart that you cannot reasonably communicate nor even relate to each other on all the other matters that count.

As I observe one of these two friends continue to support our president in light of behavior that I cannot accept, I begin to realize that he and I interpret events quite differently. We certainly don’t see eye-to-eye on a leader who—for me—is so clearly sophomoric, aberrant and dangerous. Sometimes, I wonder if I can call him a “friend”. But then I reflect on the tangential facts. They matter:

  • I think about all the reasons that we became friends, and the things that he has done for me
  • I think about his qualities, his family, and his work ethic
  • I think about all the people who view the world as he does

After all, Trump won the election and at least 40% of the popular vote. Since less than 1% of my friends voted for him, I may be in the majority—but I have probably lived in a bubble regarding domestic politics. My understanding and appreciation for the political landscape has been challenged.

Here is a second scenario (much more brief): I attended university in a state where smoking and drinking were legal, even for students. Yet, in college, I never used cigarettes or marijuana, and I had not yet started to drink wine or beer. I associated these activities with a derelict upbringing—and so I refused to room with, study with or become friends anyone who drank or smoked. I even refused to socialize with acquaintances who had a friend who drank or smoked.

In those days, I was referred to as being “square”—a term that means rigid, authoritarian, unbending and unrealistic. As you can imagine, I did not have many friends, until I lightened up a bit!

In summary, the question begs anyone who has firmly held beliefs to ask themselves if their beliefs should dictate their associations. Friendships are built on trust and shared experience—not just ideology or even important issues of the moment. In businesses, alliances are built on a common interest. But in life, friendships have more to do with nurturing, respect, selflessness and other personal qualities. Opinions on specific issues matter, but they are far down on the list of human qualities.


I originally ended my answer here. But, in consideration of all the above, I must point out that the ideology-friendship debate has limits. For example, I could not remain friends with someone who believed that the world was created in the past 6,000 years, that LGBT should be marched into concentration camps, that global warming is a hoax, that we must live under Sharia Law, or that woman should not be accorded personal freedoms and basic human rights. (I am not referring to abortion—that’s a bit more complex. I refer to FGM, the right to an education, to drive a car, or to not be covered in a burka). These are all issues of profound ignorance or intolerance. They represent two special classes of hate.

I didn’t mention my abhorrence and intolerance for these things, because of the way in which the original question is structured. It is highly unlikely that I am already friends with anyone so ignorant or intolerant.

VILE: USA treatment of tourists under Trump

 

I wrote this during Trump’s first address to a joint session of Congress (Day 40 as president). Pundits
praised his conciliation and delivery. Trump stayed on-point and appeared more “presidential” than in past.
This post is about action; not talk or appearance. It is testimony of his leadership earlier on the same day.

This weekend, Mem Fox—a well-known Australian children’s author—was pulled aside at the airport upon arrival. She describes a horrifying and undignified experience. One that made her abhor our country. Others in the room were treated even worse. Those who were not white, English-speaking and upper-middle-class were yelled at and mercilessly humiliated. No toilet or water was offered to arriving passengers—even a young woman with a baby.

You might wonder what was the reason for suspicion? She certainly doesn’t fit the profile of  a terrorist. Many American children grew up with her books. This was her 117th visit. She is white, wealthy, educated and articulate. (None of these traits are required to visit the United States). She was pulled aside and interrogated because her airline ticket appeared to be paid by her American publisher. The immigration official claimed that she was attempting to sneak in—and work in America, illegally.

Ms. Fox isn’t the only tourist to come forward today. The French Holocaust historian, Henry Rousso, was held for 10 hours at immigration. Was his entry suspicious? He has taught at Columbia University in New York and Sorbonne in Paris. He was visiting America to give a Keynote Address at Texas A&M. But just as with Mem Fox, the immigration agent learned that he was receiving a fee for his speech. He was told that he would handcuffed and deported on the next plain to Paris. If not for a sharp lawyer at the University, he would have would have been shipped away in humiliation and disgrace. Rousso sums up the experience with this observation: “The US is no longer quite the US.

Their experiences make a mockery of the Emma Lazarus’ words at the base of Miss Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Apparently, under a Trump regime, even the upper class, the academics, and the distinguished don’t make the cut.

Is this the friendly and welcoming face that we wish to show our foreign visitors and academics? Do you think that they will travel to the United States or do business with us, if clueless border control agents behave in this manner?

What Chutzpah, Xenophobia, and misguided attempts at protectionism! Unfortunately interacting with minor officials under Trump seems a lot like the interaction between German citizens and Jack boots of the Nazi SS or Gestapo.

For many individuals like Fox and Rousso, it’s not just about fake news, narcissism, a string of lies, fearing the press, lashing out at critics, lining pockets at taxpayer expense, surrounding oneself with racists or buffoonery. Instead, it’s personal; it’s ugly; it reflects on all Americans; and it is reprehensible.

It doesn’t require a bipartisan gaggle of psychiatrists to recognize that our president is seriously deranged. That diagnosis is just plain common sense. Additionally, it doesn’t require a political analyst to observe Republican congressional leaders squirming in their chairs or struggling to show unity on the evening news. At least not if you avoid the ‘fake news’.

Now, we must summon the strength and the resolve to do something. Trump must not complete his first year in office. Even if his paranoia, vindictive ethos and contempt for the truth abates, think of the missed opportunities, the mass exodus of talent, the likelihood of a military orgy. Think of the lost business deals, the serious environmental damage and the fostering of hate between cultures. Think of a woman’s right to choose and the hard won LGBT right to marry and to be who they are.

Think about Mem Fox and Henry Rousso. I wish that I could get over the slimy behavior from his campaign trail, but here one last jab… Think about a leader who brags about his p*nis size and about grabbing woman by the p*ssy. Think like an individual who cares about the future of our nation, our alliances and our planet. Raise your voice. Join your neighbors. Seize the day. Do something!

In years of writing, I never thought that I would end an op-ed piece like this:

  • Resist
  • Defend
  • Restore our lost ethics and compassion
  • Embrace diversity—It is a core strength
  • Speak out for the environment
  • Deal honestly and fairly with other countries; lest they flee a relationship
  • The truth matters

21st Century Gender Sterotyping? Not so Fast!

Jennifer Wright (@JenAshleyWright) kicked up a firestorm last week, when she tweeted a photo of two side-by-side magazines on a newsstand. The contrast between cover features of Boys’ Life -vs- Girls’ Life is startling. With characteristic sarcastic wit, she tweeted:

“Why are you feminists always complaining?
We treat boys and girls exactly the same.”

For those who are reading this without the image below, the current issue of these magazines calls out to readers like this:

  • Boys: Would you like to build and fly the next generation of jet fighters?
  • Girls: What on Earth can you do with your hair and nails this weekend?

Boy'sLife-vs-Girl'sLife

The difference between these covers suggests that the respective magazine editors are pushing 19th century aspirations onto the next generation of women. It’s a reminder of the differences in the way we perceive the sexes. But does this contrast present a fair and balanced comparison?

Certainly, there is work to do—but, the stark difference between these magazine covers may not point to a societal ill in the way that seems to jump off the screen.

  1. Despite similar titles, these magazines have very different audiences and goals. I doubt that Girls’ Life is aimed at the broader demographics of Boys’ Life. The subscriber base evolved to target the girls of Toddlers and Tiaras. I am exaggerating by pointing to a narrow demographic, of course! but it sells to girls who already aspire to be future homemakers, or who simply have the fashion obsession that is still the hallmark of many preteen girls.
  2. Unlike boys, girls really do have more options for viewing their future and their careers. Feminism and technological/political empowerment is not yet universal or even universally embraced. Some families, particularly among the south, among religious conservatives, and among hard-hat towns dependent upon muscles and mining, still promote the notion of TFRs onto the next generation (traditionally female roles). Right or wrong, it brings us to point #3…
  3. It’s clear that there is a stark difference between covers: “How can I build a jet fighter?” -vs- “What will I do with my hair tonight?” But, it is all too easy to assume that we understand cause-and-effect. That is, the difference is likely to be a reaction to market forces, rather than the publisher’s attempt to shape desires. One cannot find fault with delivering content based on consumer demand.

If you tell me that there are plenty of girls that hope to build or fly a jet fighter, I will nod in agreement. But if you tell me that there is an equal fraction of boys who obsess over their nails, hair and the color of a blouse, I will wonder if we live on the same planet.

My teenage daughter is clearly in the former group: She imagines, asks tough questions, builds, tears down, and then builds a better gizmo from scratch. She codes Android apps and creates massive murals for the local shopping mall. But, some girls care about classic ‘girly’ things, at least during their early years. And here’s a surprise…

Many of these gilrly girls exhibit just as much technical proficiency and self-confidence as their empowered peers. They are assertive, independent, financially savvy, and aware of their equal political and career footings. Helen-Gurley-Brown-vintageYet, many of us feminists bristle at the thought of a female child who obsesses about their hair and nails (at least to the point of subscribing to a magazine in that venue). In fact, the two are not mutually exclusive.

So, can I still call myself a feminist in the mold of Betty Friedan or Gloria Steinem? Perhaps not. I am more likely to identify with a less militant Helen Gurley Brown. She was all about empowerment and sexual equality. Yet, somehow, she avoided pushing the sexes to be completely indistinguishable and androgynous.

Do you disagree? Do you think that I exhibit a Luddite attitude that is at the core of a chauvinistic society? Don’t just let it grate on you—Be a Wild Duck! Leave a comment.

~Ellery

Supreme Court Ruminations

Although this Blog covers political issues in at least 1/3 of posts, I have never written about the Supreme Court. Perhaps this is because—despite politicization by partisans—this branch of government is distinguished by the fact that it enjoys a high approval rating by the American public. For the most part, Americans believe that our top justices are motivated by truth and a desire to apply the law fairly.

The observations below are just bits & pieces; Ellery’s insight into political thought. Some day, I may return to add or expand on these topics…

On Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg opining about Donald Trump

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

It’s hard to fault Justice Ginsburg for adding to the alarm that all thinking people feel concerning the popular rise of a xenophobic, self-centered misogynist. While a Supreme Court justice is expected to maintain a poker-face throughout their career, Ginsburg probably feels a patriotic obligation to do something other than remain quiet regarding a course of events that could well lead to riot and national ruin.

I have nothing against Mr. Trump personally—but I admire anyone with influence who refuses to keep quiet.

On Congress delaying Supreme Court review/ratification until the election

Judge Merrick-GarlandSpeaking of the Supreme Court, just where is it written that the US Congress can shelve their duty to review and ratify a judicial nominee, just because the president belongs to a different party—or because he has entered the last year of his term? That’s ¼ of his elected term. I mean c’mon folks: It’s your sworn duty. Do you job! Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland is not a partisan appointment.

For the record, Judge Garland has previously been vetted and exulted by a Republican Congress. He has distinguished himself as he supervised the investigation into the Alfred P. Murrah building bombing in Olklahoma City.

The never ending issue of safe & legal abortion

What is it that pro-life advocates don’t get—concerning the benefits of a secular, tolerant and inclusive government? I realize that lifers feel strongly that abortion is murder.

But there must be a line between government protection and a person’s own body. To draw the line of government oversight and meddling in the bedroom is beyond outrageous…

‘Pro-choice’ is not a nihilistic philosophy. Advocates do not set out to end the life of a fetus. Just as with end-of-life care, we believe that incredibly difficult and personal medical decisions belong with family and physicians rather than neighbors and government bureaucrats.

And while we’re at it, Planned Parenthood is not a tool of Satan. I can’t imagine an NGO that has done more to elevate women and serve their needs with sensitivity and compassion. Planned ParenthoodWhen you consider the shocking legal restrictions on facilities, tools, professionals, medicine and basic information, this organization shines like a beacon into the dark abyss,

Got Pokémon Go? Not Wesley Crusher!

If your a Trekkie, you remember Wesley Crusher, the young ensign, and son of the ship’s doctor on Star Trek, Next Generation. The character, played by Will Wheaton, appeared regularly for the first four seasons. But beginning with Season five, he made sporadic appearances as a guest star.

tumblr_inline_mqzrxpodNn1qz4rgpIn “The Game” (season 5, episode 6), Wesley locks lips with Ashley Judd, in her first on-screen kiss. It certainly wasn’t Will Wheaton’s first kiss. In “The Dauphin” (season 2, episode 10), he smooches with Salia, a shape-shifting alien with a penchant for morphing between a glowing pile of Jello into the more pleasing form thedauphin1-300x229of teen actress, Jamie Hubbard.

But I digress…

Wesley and his romantic interest hitch a ride on his former ship and discover that a virtual reality game is spreading across the crew like Ecstasy, or more specifically, like Pokémon Go, a Nintendo app that—just 5 tumblr_inline_mqznzssqzs1qz4rgpdays ago—no one had heard of. Now, it runs on one in five smart phones and is spreading like wildfire.

No phenomenon has ever spread across 20% of the population in 5 days. Not in the physical world—and not even in the digital realm. Edison’s gramophone and Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone are indisputably more crave worthy inventions than catching cartoon characters in imaginary balls. Yet, it took these earth shattering inventions twelve years to achieve market penetration.

Kitarian Game on Star Trek Next Generation

A quick pleasure? Use your thoughts to slide the red disks into the funnels.

The Tienanmen Square tank boy and the blue dress (I still claim that it is gold and white) are just bits and pixels. Yet, even these touchstone photographs spread across the country slower than the current Pokémon Go craze.

And just like the eyeglass-mounted game on the Enterprise, Pokémon Go taps directly into the pleasure center causing players to lose sense of where they are and what they had set out to accomplish. How can I be so sure of it’s nefarious capacity for mind control? After just five days, it is implicated in malware scams and armed robberies. It is every bit as addictive as crack cocaine, and possibly as destructive.

Forcibly tapping Wesley’s pleasure center via a game

Forcibly tapping Wesley’s pleasure center via a game

Do you think I’m kidding? When people are addicted to a VR app, bending their will is not difficult. Just ask 1,014 Star Trek crew members who were hypnotized and repuposed by a Ktarian mind control game. If it hadn’t been for the quick thinking of Wesley Crursher and his girlfriend, Ensign Robin Lefler (played by Ashley Judd), we’d all be speaking Ktarian today!


Postscript: This article is more about a Star Trek episode than it is about a new game app. I have always wanted to write a short post about a terrific television franchise that has touched so many people across three generations and all continents. The sudden spread of a new Internet sensation has simply given me the excuse to do so. Just like “Blink of an Eye”, The Game is indelibly written into my psyche. The parallels with an addictive new game that even captivates my AirBnB guest, Javier, and my neighbor, Lois, is eerie and raises questions about the causes, mechanisms and effects of mind control.

NC House Bill 2. Ignorance? No. Intolerance? Yes!

Indiana Governor Mike Pence must be breathing a bit easier right now. It was just a year ago that his zealous support for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act threatened to undermine every business sector in the state,

Of course, that was a year ago. Governor Pence has signed legislation that revises the law to prevent potential discrimination. Although the revised law doesn’t outlaw LGBT discrimination, the stench around Indiana lawmakers has abated because a year has passed since the glare of a media spotlight. Now, the spotlight is focusing on North Carolina, where House Bill 2 is threatening that state’s fiscal health.

For Indiana, the rebellion was led by sports teams, including national gatherings like NASCAR. With North Carolina, it is led by musicians and, of course, business. In just the past two weeks a slew of venues was cancelled or sidelined, including concerts by Bruce SpringsteenPearl JamMaroon 5 and Itzhak Perlman.

Business and enterprise has a slightly longer time horizon than concert bookings, but the handwriting is on the wall: PayPal withdrew plans for a new Charlotte operations center because it opposes the law; the center would have created more than 400 jobs for the city. Deutsche Bank froze plans to add 250 jobs.

How bad is the public backlash? The Charlotte Observer reports that House Bill 2 could cost the state 5 billion dollars. That billion with a ‘B’.

North Carolina House Bill 2

Yes. This is the bill that thumbs its nose at the Obama administration after the White House issued guidance on common sense gender policies in public restrooms, especially in public schools, where it threatened the withdrawal of federal funds.

I won’t pretend that the issue is black & white. After all, a frequently repeated argument asserts that this ruling (or clarification of Title 9, as the White House characterizes it) permits a pervert to enter a girl’s bathroom by dressing as a woman or claiming to be transgendered, and that such entry poses a threat to children. The argument sounds reasonable—at least, that is, until you think about it for 10 seconds.

To illustrate my own take on the “Bathroom Bill”, I will support the common sense rights of transgendered individuals in using facilities that match their gender (as opposed to their birth sex)—by countering the arguments espoused by this angry, bipolar transphobic who is yelling his opinions at a Target store. He may be more vocal on the issue, but his logic is identical to every argument for shutting down Title 9 protections.

Caleb is the WildDuck reader who referred me to this video. He  exclaimed “Look at this ignorant nut and how a shopper takes him on,” This is my response to Caleb and anyone who is sitting on the fence about LGBT self determination…


Although you and I both disagree with the shouter in this video, Caleb, the term “ignorant” is not my first choice to describe this guy. I think that he is either a nut case, or he is off medication. But let’s consider his key argument: He claims that men can dress as women and take pictures of children in a kid’s bathroom.

  • I have not seen a kid’s-only bathroom—not even at Target. And so, I think that he is referring to the women’s bathroom.
  • There has always been the potential for a man to dress as a women and slip into a women’s bathroom. If the guy looks passable as a girl (whether transgendered or not), this activity cannot be easily prevented by Target or by turning back the transgender/Title 9 interpretation. After all, no one checks identity or gender when a customer ducks into a bathroom.
  • A pervert can just as easily take pictures of little boys. Just as with homosexual clergy, the proclivity to ogle little boys may be more common then it is with girls.
  • If a child is young (i.e. if she is defenseless), a parent or bigger sibling is generally in the bathroom too. When parent is with child, there may be a stranger taking covert photos, but who the h*ll cares? He doesn’t pose a threat—and he is more likely to be identified and reported.                                 [continue below photo]

hb2civilrightsviolation0505

For all of these reasons, an inclusive and tolerant Title 9 interpretation is reasonable. The people who oppose tolerance are those who hate the idea that transgendered people exist (or worse: want them to be “cured”) . They oppose rights for personal and religious reasons. But, religion and exclusion have no place in government policy.

I admit that I paused to reflect on this issue—and a closely related issue regarding public school funding last week. But my reflection was brief. SNL-RFRA-sTransgendered individuals aren’t hurting anyone, nor damaging the fabric of society. Moreover, the opportunity to photograph kids in a bathroom is not increased by permitting individuals to use the restroom that matches their gender identity. That few people are likely to even know that their gender differs from their birth anatomy, makes this issue a red herring.

A Wild Duck Analysis

The fervent zeal to turn back transgender guidance is based on religion, hate, ignorance or intolerance. These traits have no place in government. It can be difficult to separate our fears from our better judgement, but these traits must never influence the law. Each member of society deserves civil rights. Congregate with whomever you wish, but our community laws should not attempt to repress benign behavior.

RelatedBad for Business:Laws that Bully LGBT

Ellery Davies is a recovering homophobic. Fortunately, recovery started
decades before Indiana and North Carolina stuck their heads in the sand.

Wild Duck Adds Quora Answers

I have posted as AWildDuck for 4½ years. I have also written for Lifeboat, Yahoo, Engadget & Sophos NakedSecurity. But in just the past 3 months, Quora.com has published more of my answers than all other venues combined. More than half of Quora posts were solicited by editors or members.

This month, I became Most Viewed Writer for 7 Quora topics, and among the top 50 writers in many others.                   [Continue below]…Quora_Most_Viewed_splashWriting as “Ellery Davies”, I am a top contributor for Bitcoin, Virtual Currency, Cryptocurrencies, Routers, Local Area Networks, Gravity and Digital Currency. Since these are topics discussed here, my Quora posts are now linked at top right   »
—with the latest post on top.

Gifts: Which of these things is not like the other?

Time for a pop quiz: Which of these things does not belong?

not_these_gifts-s

wristwatch      • wallet      • pen      • chocolates     • eyeglasses

Actually, it’s a trick question. If your giving to a man, four of these five gifts do not belong on your list—Not, unless you want smiles and gratitude as fake as a $3 bill.

I am a frequent contributor to Quora. For the most part, I write about Bitcoin and economics, but occasionally, I answer reader queries about physics and math. Sometimes, my answers are voted to the top of the heap.

Today, I was asked to describe what would qualify as the world’s worst gift. The topic is fluff, of course—but now and then, fluff can lead to a good thought experiment.

Of course, the concept of a good gift or a bad gift is highly personal. If you are allergic to flowers, then a bouquet of roses may be a very bad gift. Likewise, giving a bra may mean one thing to your lover, something different thing to your neighbor’s daughter, and with a completely different meaning when presented to your heavy set, male boss.

This may be my own emotional boil, but I have always told my family to avoid gifting me a wallet, watch, personal jewelry or a fountain pen. Today, I would add a mobile phone. (That is, unless my preferences have been published in a registry or gift list). For me, any of these gifts is very likely to qualify as a “worst gift”.

Why?! It’s not that I don’t like these things. In fact, it is the opposite. But I would rather make the choice for myself. To illustrate, think of the old standby for any businessman: The neck tie. Imagine how the giver feels when they realize that you never wear it. Imagine how you feel, when you realize that your little girl has never seen you wear it to work.

Some of these things shown above are functional and some are just ornamental, but each combines personal taste with identity and an individual’s unique sense of aesthetics. The choice of an accessory projects a unique style and taste. Unlike a box of chocolates or a dozen roses, the other gifts are not fresh or consumed and the giver expects these durable and personal items to be worn or used at some point down the road.

Without close consultation, you wouldn’t buy your friend eyeglasses or an expensive ring—even if you knew the prescription. For most men, a lot of thinking goes into the purchase of a cell phone, a wallet, a special pen or a watch.

Here’s a better idea: Skip the material gift altogether. It simply compels them to reciprocate, potentially leading to further stress. Instead, tell that special person how much he/she means to you. Offer to clean the house, take them to the doctor’s office, or sit with them in the aftermath of a personal tragedy.

Leather-iPhone-Wallet-by-PortelMost important, show your friendship and understanding when they are at their lowest. To help someone less fortunate, bring them on your next family vacation. These gestures demonstrate friendship, empathy and a sense of importance in your life. They mean more than a big screen television.

In case some generous reader disagrees—insisting on a culture of giving material things—consider getting me a wallet this holiday season. But not just any wallet. Get this one by Portel. I don’t use an iPhone, but I dig the slim fit and weathered style!

Ellery Davies is co-chair of The Cryptocurrency Standards Association and former
CEO of Vanquish Labs. He writes for Lifeboat Foundation and Naked Security.

Planned Parenthood: Undercover Video Kicks Up Firestorm

When I started this Blog, I committed to publish clear and blunt Wild Duck opinions on even the most controversial issues. But I also made a promise to myself to refrain from commenting on a few things, simply because I didn’t want to use my Blog for these issues, nor defend my belief system:

  • Personal vendettas against vendors, no matter how egregious the practice
  • Religious beliefs of any public figure
  • gagThe abortion debate

Two Down; One to Go

Despite pure intentions, the gag rule had to go. I have already violiated the first two prohibitions…

a) Personal Vendettas

First, there was my interminable frustration over a ludicrous string of billing errors by Verizon (it was resolved only after 3 years, 150 phone calls and 120 statement credits). Incompetence and disrespect for customers of this magnitude begs to be shared.

Rent-a-Terstappen desk-s2Then, there was the unforgivable lies, deceipt and theft by Rent a Terstappen—the Dollar / Thrifty car rental franchise at the Frankfurt airport. If they tried these tricks in the US or anywhere else in Europe, the franchise owners would be in jail and the corporate office would be decimated by a class action suit.

Finally, Keurig/Green Mountain has finally removed restrictions from their Keurig 2.0 brewer,due, in part, to this scathing review of their haughty business practices.

b) Religious Beliefs

Religion keeps popping up, just like Whack-A-Mole. I have finally come to realize that it was an unrealistic and unnecessary editorial restriction. I don’t really care to debate your faith or my background—I just don’t feel that any reasonable and representative government should recognize, support, defend or lie in bed with any religions, period.

First, there was the town that wanted to balance the display of a public Christmas tree with a public Hanukkah menorah (Editor’s Tip: Get rid of both. Neither belong on public property). Then, there was the US congressman who believes that the universe is 6,000 years old and the New Testament is his working job manual. He is a member of the Space Sciences committee and makes decisions that affect NASA.

Finally, I wrote a popular piece that justifies an agnostic belief (or is it a lack of belief?). And, of course, I have frequently published stories about Islamic extremism and Daesh (aka ISIS OR ISIL). Anyone who participates, contributes or sympathizes with the so-called Islamic Caliphate SO-oo-o needs to be dragged out and shot.

…And so, now there is but one frontier to cross. That is, my self-imposed prohibition on treading into the topic of abortion and public policy.

c) Abortion

Looking over the first three years of this Blog, I find that abortion has rarely been mentioned; only referenced in two political articles.

The problem isn’t that abortion is a contentious issue. A Wild Duck thrives on contention. In case you hadn’t noticed, I love to justify my opinions. fetusBut, the ethics and legal recourse are difficult to debate, because the Pro-Life camp believes that abortion is murder. If one party to a debate believes that the other side is engaged in unjustifiable homicide, the two will forever be locked in a stalemate. Sure, abortions will go on. But, depending upon prevailing winds—religion, ethics & politics—they will either be legal or illegal.

FWIW: Wild Duck is Pro-Choice

I am staunchly Pro-Choice. There! I have said it. But, beyond the next few paragraphs, I don’t care to justify my opinion on the issue. It could not possibly serve any point.

A women’s right to choose the disposition of her body, her womb and her unborn baby (or ‘fetal parts’, depending on your ilk) should be supreme and inviolate—until a child is born and is breathing apart from the mother. Pro-choice is not a nihilistic philosophy. Advocates do not set out to end the life of a fetus. We simply believe that incredibly difficult and personal medical decisions belong with family and physicians rather than government.

Pro-choice advocates believe in family and their capacity to make tough personal choices. We don’t survey the ethics and religious doctrine of neighbors and we don’t bring a community of pundits, analysts, and our neighbor’s clergy into the bedroom or our doctor’s office. Callout-abortionThere must be a clear delineation between an individual’s medical and ethical decisions and the rights granted to a new life—even if a fetus could survive apart from the mother. I feel strongly that government should stay uninvolved. The dividing line (the point at which society should forcibly intervene or punish) should be the birth of a child.

Sure, a fetus is viable and every bit as human just before birth, but a mother doesn’t abort at a late stage with callous recklessness. It is a very tough choice. One must ask if this difficult choice should be made by family with their doctor, or by a government, reigid rules and popular consent. The decision demarcation cannot be conception or anytime before birth.

I have often hoped that, someday, a simple, easily obtained medication (like Plan B) would make this entire debate moot. But nothing is that easy. Abortion options that are too quick, too simple and too easily concealed raise other serious questions… Has the family weighed all options? What if someone slips an abortion pill into a woman’s drink? I will not address these questions. This article is about a current news event.

Planned Parenthood: Signs of Trouble

One issue that is squarely in the spotlight this week is the sale of fetal body parts. When there is a potential for money to exchange hands, the incentive can drive the decision to abort or even influence a doctor’s methods and practices. For this reason, federal law prohibits the sale of human body parts. But it allows for the the donation of tissue and organs and it allows for the use of human tissue in medical research.

This video, released two days ago, has sparked a firestorm. It has also sparked the fury of Republican presidential candidates, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. They promise congressional investigations and a push to defund Planned Parenthood.

In the video, Deborah Nucatola, a senior director of medical services for planned parenthood, casually discusses abortion procedures and organ harvesting with an undercover investigator for a right wing group. Clearly, the investigator is after a smoking gun and he wants to generate media hysteria and a congressional backlash. He succeeds in spades. But what exactly does the smoke point to?

One day after the story broke, defenders of Planned Parenthood argued that although the discussion was in a shockingly cavalier, nothing illegal was offered or discussed. Dr. Nucatola mentioned a paltry $30 or $100 dollars to cover the added cost of having the doctor save and preserve specimens. Although details are gruesome, the fee clearly does not constitute “selling body parts” including some that may be illegal. Yesterday, The New York Times, defended Planned Parenthood in this article. Factcheck.org (admittedly, a democratic web project) makes the same point here.

But Is The Video Damning? You Bet.

I support Planned Parenthood. For nearly 100 years, they have been a beacon of truthful information, respect and victim empowerment. They balance fanatic zealots who seek to undermine a woman’s natural right to have providence over her own body.

The tangible issue raised by the undercover video is whether the incentive to sell or even donate fetal tissue and organs influences the choices made by pregnant women or the methods employed by abortion providers. And, of course, whether it influences the motives and actions of Planned Parenthood. But no one is selling body parts. This was not the 600 pound gorilla—the intangible issue hit home by the video. It is the tone with which life-terminating procedures are discussed. It comes across as cavalier and disrespectful…

I stand with Planned Parenthood, but I do not stand with supporters who feel that the video is anything less than destructive. Callout-Planned_ParenthoodIt points to a problem with attitude, ethos and consistent signaling. The video reflects poorly on Planned Parenthood and their mission.

Likewise, another undercover video from Inhuman, captures Planned Parenthood CEO, Cecile Richards, in a wink-and-nod at the very end of the video. This, too, reflects poorly on Planned Parenthood. While it is likely that Ms. Richards was simply patronizing a visitor that she wanted to get rid of, it doesn’t reflect well on the organization or it’s mission.

Perception & Reputation

The survival of every organization—even churches, governments and non-profits—relies, in part, on a marketing component. I am less concerned with how the enemies of Planned Parent spin this video than I am with how it perceived by it’s supporters.

The bottom line is that the brand has been tarnished. Recovery will be arduous and, perhaps, long in coming. It is not a forgone conclusion that Planned Parenthood will recover. But it is also a fact that Planned Parenthood stands for freedom, privacy, woman’s rights, and the sanctity of family. Even if the organization is damaged or destroyed, we must never forget the noble mission for which they stand.

Related

Fool’s Mission: Asserting Open Carry Rights

There is a cottage industry afoot that entails making an amateur video of yourself or a friend asserting the right to walk down the street with a gun, but without a badge. After all, we live in a country with a 2nd amendment (the right of citizens to bear arms) and some communities drive this point home by having explicit open carry laws.

LiveLeak.com has recently staked their fame on videos submitted by yahoos, often featuring gang members or reckless youth brazenly taunting police. (“I was just walking down the street officer…minding my own business!)”. In one particularly troubling video, a guy walks into a police station wearing full body armor and carrying an AR15 assault rifle. He calls this behavior a “2nd amendment audit”. Yeah, right! By the same logic, you could test your right of peaceful assembly by surrounding a midnight girl scout campfire with gang members carrying grenade launchers, hand cuffs and duck tape.

There is no confrontation in the police station audit, but check out this video, instead…

Drop to the ground!

This is not a video about race, guns or constitutional rights. It is a video about two individuals and their girlfriends making an a*s of themselves.

It’s not the message about race that bothers me…

In this video, one protagonist is white and the other is black. But before we get into the sub-plot, let’s address the main premise… Do these guys have a constitutional right to bear arms?

Yes they do! But there is no national consensus on what it means to “bear arms”. Do they have a constitutional right to display automatic weapons as they walk down a street? That’s certainly in doubt. If so, then you could extrapolate this to a right to carry grenades and chemical bombs. Do they have a right to openly carry weapons down the streets of this particular community? Perhaps. Maybe. I don’t know.

But even if their actions are intended to assert their rights or demonstrate a bias toward black males, they are still idiots. Regardless of laws and rights, a society lives on norms of conduct, safety and behavior. Quote me all the rights that you wish; we still can’t have citizens walking down the street with assault rifles or Uzis. Unlike the police, there is no way to know if they have been adequately trained, screened for mental health, enraged by a recent incident, or simply looking for trouble.

These guys are clearly jerks. But it doesn’t mean that I don’t understand their motives. I was once young, arrogant, with a chip on my shoulder, and also an idiot. Too bad that there isn’t a better way to communicate across generations and save these dolts from making the same mistakes in an effort to assert their ‘rights’.

The Narrator’s Other Message

To be fair, the accompanying article explains: “The white guy did not have a gun pulled on him, the black guy never got a chance to say anything before a gun was pulled on him.” The video shows two separate events. One in which a white man is challenged without apparent fear or violence and the other in which an officer draws a gun on a younger black man and yells for him to drop to the ground before engaging in any discussion. Is there a point here about race, balanced law enforcement and prejudice? Sure! But that doesn’t change the fact that both men are idiots.

Let’s be clear. Race is not a main point of the video. In the opening scene, a lunkhead states that he will stage a provocative exercise for “educational purposes” and to ensure that the state of Oregon does not trample on his rights. As to the race angle, there are certainly other ways to research and present sociological data. In fact, it can be done in a manner that solicits the viewer to reflect on their own bias and perhaps take action in changing perceptions and practices. But this certainly wasn’t a primary motive for the white guy wanting to demonstrate his rights. He just wanted to poke a bobcat with a sharp, flaming stick. In his book, it makes him hot stuff; a really big cheese. In my book, he demonstrates about as much sense as a soft boiled egg.

What do you think? I would particularly like to hear from some gun rights supporters. Is it reasonable to demonstrate your rights by walking down a busy street with an assault weapon?

Bad for business: Laws that bully LGBT

I really tried to ignore the brouhaha over Indiana’s thinly veiled discriminatory law. There is little I can add to the public discourse. In my circles, it seems kind of obvious that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) will be short lived. After all, even with a public demonstration of a narrow mind and intolerance, no governor can stand against business for long.

For those who have lived under a rock these past few weeks, a quick study might ask What’s the big deal? After all, we have a federal law with the same name. But there is a big difference!  The federal law protects individuals from government intrusion or coercion, while the Indiana law was crafted with the opposite intent! It allows individuals (business owners or employees) to claim a legal basis for their interaction with others. It sets the stage for commercial discrimination and goofy legal defenses…

Saturday Night Live suggests giving businesses helpful signs to show that they embrace the new law

Saturday Night Live offers a friendly storefront sign to businesses that embrace the new law.

Under this law, a McDonald’s cashier can contest being fired for telling each customer to praise Allah—or for refusing to serve customers who don’t respond in kind. After all, he is just exercising his religious freedom. This doesn’t just open a can of worms—It sends a crop duster to spray worms over the entire state!

This slideshow from Huffington Post presents first-hand quotes and tweets from 26 politicians, corporate heads (Apple, Nike, Twitter, Angie’s List, Yelp, NASCAR, etc).

Some people stand with the Indiana governor, such as former governor Jeb Bush, and senators Ted Cruz and Rick Santorum. But it is revealing to note that no corporation or sports team wants this pretext to commercial discrimination. They are vociferous in distanancing themselves.

Of course, not all politicians stand with Indiana Governor Mike Pence. The governor of Connecticut is a lightning rod in mustering dissent. So are the mayors of Seattle, Denver, and Washington, DC. You can imagine the statement from Oregon’s governor Kate Brown (she is openly bisexual).

Yea, brother! Are you a straight, God-faring Christian?

Indiana Governor Mike Pence: Straight, God-fearing and bad for business

Financial repercussions are beginning to mount. Angie’s List is canceling a $40 million expansion of their headquarters (this means fewer jobs!). The alternative rock band, Wilco, has cancelled a tour stop in Indianopolis. Salesforce.com is cancelling a business deal. The Colts, NCAA and NASCAR cannot easily relocate, but they are apologizing to fans and reminding them that these venues welcome all fans–both on and off the field. Hillary Clinton called it a “sad decision”. The founder of Yelp calls it “unconscionable”.

Governor Pence insists that the law is misunderstood and that it was not intended to be a pretext for commercial discrimination. In response, check out the opening section of a letter signed by Angie’s List CEO and the heads of eight other large corporations. It points out that intent is not really the point. It’s all about effect:

Regardless of the original intention of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, we are deeply concerned about the impact it is having on our employees and on the reputation of our state. All of our companies seek to promote fair, diverse and inclusive workplaces. Our employees must not feel unwelcome in the place where they work and live. 

To clarify the law, Governor Pence is rushing a corrective ‘fix’ into the legislative docket. That’s just another head slapper. Why bother?! You don’t fix lunacy, you drive a wooden stake through it, bury it, and hope that your opponents forgive or forget.

Wild Ducks wonder how long Hoosiers must wait before Governor Mike Pence rolls back his spiteful and bad-for-business legislation. We also wonder how the governor could have acted on such bad advice. On the other hand, if he acted on his personal conviction, then — red state or blue state — I wonder how he became governor!

The Baby Exchange

Can telling a white lie to a child backfire? It did for me.

From time to time, at AWildDuck, I offer an observation or op-ed on a topic of human interest. This one is not about current events, the price of gold, law or politics. Nah. It’s just Ellery relating a personal experience and a lesson learned…

When my teenage daughter was 3 or 4 years old, I took her with me for a routine blood test (my test and not hers). On the way to the hospital, I explained that we would be visiting the same hospital where we ‘bought’ her. She seemed to accept the explanation. She even asked if the hospital had a variety of babies from which new parents could choose.

car seat tantrumLater, during that same ride, she became irritable and whiny. She complained about something unrelated to our hospital conversation. In an effort to calm her, I made a terrible blunder. Actually, it was just a joke. At least that’s how I saw it. But to my daughter, is was an ominous threat…

I told her, “If you don’t calm down and behave, I will ask the doctor if I can return you for a refund or maybe exchange you for another model.”

Suddenly, she became very quiet. I assumed that she had simply stopped fretting over whatever was bothering her. I interpreted the sudden tranquility as evidence of good behavior.

[One hour later]…

Throughout the appointment, my little girl remained as quiet as a church mouse. I figured that she must simply be processing the fact that blood can be drawn from a person’s arm. When I completed the brief procedure, I realized that we were directly across a hall from the obstetrics ward. I hadn’t visited since my daughter was born. It seemed a good idea to check it out under less stressful circumstances. Holding my girl’s hand, we walked over. Almost Immediately, I spotted the doctor and head nurse who delivered my daughter.

Doctor_Nurse-a

Dr. John DeLoge & Trish Hardigan, RN

“Cupcake”, I said. “I want you to meet some very special people. This is the doctor and nurse that brought you to Mommy and Daddy.” My daughter froze. At first, she offered only a blank stare, Her eyes were as big as saucers.

Gradually, I realized that my precious cupcake was in a state of shock. Her eyes welled up in tears. She began to wail at the top of her lungs while hyperventilating.
“P-l-e-e-e-z-e, Daddy! Don’t give me back to the hop-pis-tal. Don’t exchange me for another baby!! Pleeeze don’t do that!! I promise that I’ll be good! I will never whine or talk back again—EVER! I promise, Daddy! I want to live with you and Mommy! Don’t exchange me!”

Realizing that my precious girl was terrified and that the terror was caused by me, I held her tightly and explained that I was wrong to tell her what I did. I explained that Mom & Dad’s love is unconditional and that parents never return babies.

She calmed down and we headed for the parking lot. But not before the nurse reminded me that a parent must never place a child’s security in doubt—nor assume that a toddler could understand a joke that trifles with the security of the family unit.

I agree.

Who’s on First? What’s on Second

One-liners

Whenever a waiter asked my father if he had decided on something to eat, he always responded in the same way: “I’ll have number 27 on toast!” He followed with a big smile and a sharp sniff, sucking in a full breath in a split second. That was his way of showing that he thought he had said something very witty.

27_on_toastIt didn’t matter if the menu was numbered or if they even had 27 different entrées. He thought this response was knee-slapping funny. He even paused with comic timing, locking eyes with the waiter. I think that he expected him to laugh out loud at the riotous joke. The problem is that no one understood Dad’s humor—not the waiter and not even our family. Typically, the waiter barely managed a chuckle and waited for Dad to decide on an item that was actually printed on the menu.

With Dad, it didn’t end with number 27. Throughout my childhood, he had a slew of one-liners. Each was a snappy answer to a simple, everyday question. Some of the quips made sense, and some were so quirky, subtle or complex, that any sense of meaning was lost on us. I don’t think that even Dad could explain some of the obtuse one-liners of which he was so proud.

These retorts were so autonomous and repetitive, they were drilled into our individual psyches. Eventually, I found myself snapping back with the same answer when going out for a bite with friends…

Sir, are you ready to order?
          “Sure…I’ll have number 27 on toast!” [sniff]

Since I have absolutely no idea why I utter these words, I probably lack the panache of my father’s delivery. When I use the line, restaurant employees appear dumbstruck—even more than with Dad.

Yeah—Joe What!

Perhaps my father’s most memorable snappy answer was to that common American expression: “Do you know what?” In response, he would snap back without any delay: “Sure—Joe What! Met ’im in the army!”

Again, I had no idea what on earth this meant. Not even a clue. In fact, I never even parsed the words. But over the course of a lifetime, I heard it thousands of times. Eventually, when someone asked me “Do you know what?” I would respond instantly “Sure…Joe What! Met ’im in the army.” I’m pretty sure that it sailed past people around me without a thought, but for those that were tied to me by circumstance (my roommates at college or anyone I dated more than a few times), it actually rubbed off. Somewhere in upstate New York, there is a community of former acquaintances who continue to use the phrase even to this day! Just like me, none of them know why they say it or what it means. In fact, even my children respond in this way. It rolls off the tongue naturally.

Surprise Visit

During my 3rd year at college, I decided to surprise my parents by flying home over a long weekend. I recall feeling proud that I had managed to travel without asking my folks for air fare, or even a ride from the airport.

1945-EBR Formal-2Upon entering our home, my mother was so excited; she gave me a big hug. It was exactly the response that I had sought. “Where’s Dad?” I asked, hoping that he was also at home. I wanted to gauge his surprise and excitement. Mom explained that my father was in his upstairs office meeting with an old friend that he hadn’t seen in years. It was an emotional reunion of sorts, and Mom suggested that I wait for him to come down.

As I snacked on my first home-cooked food in months, I relished in the fun I would have surprising Dad and catching up on family affairs. Eventually, Dad descended the big curved staircase into our living room. At his side was a guest that I had never met. Both men were in World War II officer uniforms of the U.S. Army Air Corps. In all these years, I had never seen my father in uniform. He looked pretty snazzy! Just like in the old photos from before he was married.

“Hey, Ellery. You’re home!” he called out to me. “Do ya’ know what?!” I responded without even a nanosecond delay: “Yeah—Joe What. Met ’im in the army.”

“Exactly!” my father exclaimed. That’s right!

“Huh?” I was puzzled. I had expected a small groan, upon recognizing my quick return of his trademark quip.

“You got it right!” Dad repeated. “How did you know?”

“Know what?” I replied.

“Yes, Watt!”, Dad said. “How did you know?”

I felt like I was in an Abbott and Costello shtick. Yet, I had the distinct feeling that I was Costello.

Epiphany

For a few seconds, Dad’s army buddy, Lieutenant Joseph Watt, was as clueless as me. But just as we were about to hit the reset button a second time, Joe started to smile. “Let me guess, Ellery…” A thoughtful finger rose to his lips. “I bet that your dad has used my name as part of a stock expression throughout your childhood. You never realized that ‘Joe Watt’ was a real person, and that I met your Dad in the army. Is that right?”

Brain freeze. I was speechless. Joe What. Met him in the army…I get it! This is Joseph Watt, an army officer with whom my Dad served during the war. So That’s Watt!

Nice to meet you, Joe. You’ve been part of my life forever.

2nd Lieutenant Joe Watt (left) with Dad

2nd Lieutenant Joseph Watt with Dad at Weidner Memorial Library, Harvard Yard

The Literalist: A case of Adult ADHD

Edward worked alongside me as co-founder and senior engineer at two high-tech ventures. He was a classical musician and had performed as a timpanist for the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra. Yet, Edward had no problem slipping into the role of senior software test engineer—and later—as operations manager for our computer network start up. He entered the venture knowing nothing about computer networks or the HVAC market that we planned to service. Yet, whatever the role—and no matter how technical—Edward made up for the background that he lacked.

Suffice it to say that Edward was one sharp business manager.

But Edward was a literalist and occasionally a procrastinator. At first, his colleagues and subordinates dismissed these traits as endearing eccentricities. Upon coming across Edward many years later, I learned that his peculiar way of processing information and an inability to communicate with those who are less precise not only lost him a job, it had a profound impact on his life. Ultimately, his symptoms—and events they provoked—led Edward to a diagnosis and treatment. But first, he had to acknowledge that he had a problem.

Let me illustrate one of Edward’s idiosyncrasies…

ADHD_Edward-1

Edward in mid-thought

One morning, I was standing in line at McDonald’s. As I waited my turn, I heard a voice in the line ahead of me:

“I’ll have the Scrambled Egg Breakfast
—with the eggs ba-a-r-r-r-e-ly cooked”

 A wagging finger rose high above the crowd—to emphasize the syllable: ba-a-r-r-r-e. A trill hung in the air for several seconds. I recognized the phrase and the voice instantly. It was one of Edward’s lovable affectations. I knew exactly what was coming next. Well, at least I thought I did…

I had occasionally met Edward at other breakfast restaurants. He always asked for nearly-raw eggs in that same voice and with a wagging finger. Often, the order taker would explain that the restaurant cannot serve under cooked eggs. At a few franchise outlets, Edward was offered a liability waiver. This allowed them to serve under cooked food, but it explained that raw eggs may contain high levels of bacteria—and that compared with a supermarket supply chain, restaurants have diminished capacity to ensure continuous refrigeration. (I have always felt that the second method of dealing with this request is more reasonable and, certainly, more accommodating!)

But the counter clerk did not object to the preparation request nor did he produce a legal form. Instead, he simply pointed to a portable clock on top of a coffee machine and explained that breakfast had ended five minutes ago. “Is there anything I can get you from the lunch menu?”

Edward stared at the clock. He was stunned! He glanced alternatively at his watch and then back at the clock. For a long moment—he was speechless. Finally, he put together a very earnest and coherent question. In fact Edward was always precise in his choice of words. He said:

“In the future, can I assume that your switch-over will invariably be triggered
by a clock that is 7 minutes ahead of local time, as determined by a recog-
nized time standard? Or is it possible that your clock is accurate, but that
you adhere to something other than Universal Coordinated Time?”

This time, it was the order taker who was stunned. He stared at Edward trying to figure out if he was encountering humor, insolence or anger. Actually, he was encountering none of these emotions. Quite simply, Edward is a literalist. He is given to being punctual and precise. He is exceptionally bright, and—at the time—in constant need of reminding that not everyone else is so literal, demanding or bright.

I felt sympathy for both Edward and the order taker. Although I was several steps back in line, I inserted myself into the conversation, speaking loudly so that both could hear. I said “Look Edward! At some time in the minutes before 10:30, the restaurant stops the setup of breakfast ingredients. When they can no longer make a variety of items on the breakfast menu, they shut down the grills and switch over the cash registers and overhead menus!”

I really didn’t know if this is how McDonald’s works, but I wanted to move the conversation away from a discussion of clock precision. After all, no one could maintain a clock as carefully as Edward. Not the phone company. Not Big Ben. Heck—not even the folks who run the atomic clocks in Greenwich and Colorado. They probably take their cue from Edward!

Not surprisingly, the counter clerk considered me to be his new best friend. Suddenly excised from a predicament, he raised his eyebrows and flashed a big smile. He pointed to me and exclaimed “Yeah! Exactly what he said!”

Edward acknowledged my presence in the line behind him, but quickly froze again. He slowly raised a crooked finger to his lips and reflected for awhile—too long for a person holding up a line of hungry patrons. Then he looked at the clerk with a serious but welcoming gaze and warmly said “Suppose I were to visit at 10:15 or earlier—according to my clock which is synchronized with my mobile phone service. If I visited earlier, could I reasonably expect that you will still offer me breakfast?”

As before, the question was phrased with über-precision. Not the precision of a nerd or Geek, but the precision of someone who relates only to those who communicate in the syntax of a peer-reviewed, technical journal. But this time, the clerk understood the question: Edward just wanted a breakfast routine that he could count on. He wanted to know how early he had to arrive, so that he wouldn’t miss the morning menu.

The clerk beamed with a smile. “Yes, Sir!” He exclaimed. “If you arrive fifteen minutes early [according to any reasonable clock, I presumed], I am certain that we can serve you eggs!”

Crisis resolved. At least regarding the change of restaurant menus…

Calamities Brewing

Back at our computer company, Edward’s professional relationship with the executive team was deteriorating. We admired his skill and liked him personally. But, our venture was small, underfunded and trying to cover 3 jobs for every manager. Edward’s difficulty in thinking quickly and his need for precise and literal language made it too difficult for any of us to make progress. During the next quarter, the board voted Edward out of our computer start up. Because he was also a board member, we stood on shaky legal ground. But we simply lacked the funds and the patience to be stuck in a looping-thought every time we needed a meeting of the executive staff.

There was a brief legal battle over Edward’s severance. No animosity; just a quick exchange of papers, a group conference and a resolution that everyone could live with.

I lost touch with Edward. The last time we saw each other was 17 years ago. I never learned that he lost his home and his girlfriend over the same peculiar idiosyncrasies. Perhaps the events surrounding our professional separation made each of us too timid to look up the other. Occasionally, I reflected on our former friendship with melancholy. I missed Edward’s wit, his smile and especially, his sense of humor. In many ways, we were kindred spirits. I wondered if he ever heard that I met and married a wonderful girl, that I now have a child, and that I still think of him occasionally.

The Present  [17 years later]

During the time that I lost contact with Edward, he was diagnosed with adult ADHD and treated by pioneer in the field. It’s not schizophrenia and it’s not a sign of bipolar disorder. In adults, it is the inability to deal with organizing thought and action, especially in advance of the last minute. It is not a problem with knowledge or learning. Those functions take place in the back of the brain, but they must later be accessed by the fore brain to execute effectively.

Edward’s inability to accept imprecise language is just one of the symptoms that can lead to a diagnosis of ADHD. It is more often expressed by procrastination, an inability to focus—and sometimes—unreasonable demands for rapid answers from others.

Over the years, I have encountered others like Edward. At first, it never occurred to me that these traits are anything other than endearing eccentricities. But those who study these things consider it to be a disorder. And to their credit, they have developed effective treatments.

Certainly, it seems a stretch to call it a ‘disorder’ for individuals who are successful in both their career and their family life. For these individuals, I think of ADHD as a symptomatic label rather than a disorder. But, what if the difficulty in communicating with others—or the inability to organize thought and execute on a deadline—interferes with earning a living? What if an individual demands answers from loved ones with the precision and rapidity at which their mind functions?

In such a case, might these interfering traits be a “condition” that warrants evaluation and treatment? If it is not treatable, I would think that something about their environment needs to be adjusted to suit an unalterable condition.

What Can be Done?

Today, adult ADHD is highly researched. Pioneering, academic and clinical research from Massachusetts and South Carolina have resulted in enormous strides in treatment. These methods are being adopted by clinics all over the world.

Fortunately, Edward connected with one of these pioneers even before the clinics began adopting their methods. He credits that relationship to cognitive improvements that have percolated throughout his personal and business affairs.

But don’t take it from me. I’m just a columnist. For information about adult ADHD, click on the video below and get it from the proverbial horse’s mouth. That would be Dr. Barkley.

Normalization of the Dingo Berry

Gulf+Western Building-sYears ago, I sold an east coast consulting firm to a larger competitor on the west coast. That firm was in the process of being acquired by Prentice-Hall which was in turn being acquired by Gulf+Western (a multinational that is now called Paramount).

In very short order, I became the youngest VP throughout all subsidiaries of a Fortune 500 company. Gulf+Western was huge. They owned a Hollywood studio, the New York Knicks, Simmons Mattress company and 119 other diverse ventures.

Our new corporate parent threw a lot of money our way. My new boss, Bill, was CEO of the acquiring firm. He instructed me to hire a new General Manager for Eastern Operations.

Martin S. Davis, Gulf+Western-sUpon placing ads and hosting a career fair, I whittled the list down to 3 candidates. Bill assured me that the hiring decision was all mine. But knowing that I planned to leave the firm within a year, he explained that he would fly out to watch me conduct the final interviews. After all, in short order, the new east coast manager would be reporting to him.

The next morning, I got to my office at 7:30 am. I was surprised to find that Bill had arrived earlier and was working in an unlit corner of our big conference room. He had talked his way past a security guard in the lobby. Throughout the day, he sat quietly and watched me grill the final candidates. I recall each one vividly. There was:

  • A white male
  • A black male
  • A white female

Each of these final-picks was a credible candidate. All seemed qualified. With a few reservations, I suspect that each was up to the task.

Because Bill was my superior (and because he flew all the way across the country to observe my hiring process), I politely asked for his opinion before verifying references and making a final decision. Bill declined to express a preference. Again, he assured me that the hiring decision was mine, alone. He was only in town to lend moral support and to observe candidates up close.

Before retiring to make the decision, Bill asked me for a preliminary assessment. I cautiously told him that I was discounting the female candidate for weaknesses that I discussed (it was not sexism…Our staff and senior management were ⅔ female).

Thus, I was left with two male candidates: One Caucasian and one African American.

During the acquisition of my firm, some of Bill’s statements and gestures suggested to me that he might harbor prejudice toward African Americans. Far from certain, I was braced for him to pressure me to drop the black candidate. But, to my surprise, he said “If your decision is between the two male candidates, then I certainly expect that you will hire Henry!” (the black candidate).

Harrison’s dingo-berry

Harrison Ford’s dingo-berry

Noting my surprise, Bill said: “If you are thinking that I am a racist, you are dead wrong. But I’ll be damned if we’re going to hire a regional manager with a dingo-berry in his ear!”  (The white candidate had a tiny diamond in his left ear lobe).

These events took place in the mid-1980s. They were cross over years for men with jewelry. For me, the “dingo-berry” barely registered. I probably would have been as firm as Bill if the jewelry was in a candidate’s upper ear, eyebrow, nose, tongue or nipple. But I had given up on ears years earlier.

Post Script

I ran into Bill this past year. It was the first time that I had seen him in decades. He was older, of course, but looking healthy and fit. To my surprise, he has a tiny earing in one ear. His wife had none. My, how things have changed!

Incidentally, I don’t recall which candidate I hired. But I do recall that my new hire was replaced shortly after I left the company. No hard feelings, Bill.

Can George Zimmerman be Both Killer & Hero?

This Blog covers many topical events, often drawn from the headlines. But some readers have noticed that I have had nothing to say on a high-profile news story concerning an interracial shooting and the subsequent trial of George Zimmerman.

In case you have been living under a rock or are reading this posting more than 10 days after the trial (the maximum duration of human retention), then let me refresh your memory:

  • Zimmerman’s community has recently experienced break-ins and robberies
  • He participates in a community watch (with zealous over-enthusiasm)
  • He is licensed to carry a concealed gun
  • He called 911 about a suspicious individual
  • He decides to investigate on his own
  • Approaching an unarmed African American youth, the two get into a fight
    (the trial was all about who started the fight)
  • Zimmerman kills 17 year old Trayvon Martin, later claiming self defense
  • The victim was lawfully living with a relative in the same community and was walking home after buying candy from local store

George ZimmermanZimmerman claims that he exercised his right to defend himself from mortal harm. A great many people say that he was never threatened and had no right to shoot.

Yes, I have refrained from comment — and yes, of course, I have an opinion. But it’s not black and white (an unintended pun). That is, it is not sufficient to create a “For-or-Against” piece in my über-opinionated and superlative style (some would say it is a smart-a*s style).

For the record, I followed the news as it unfolded and I watched the trial on television. I didn’t write in AWildDuck because the trial was inconclusive and rife with contradictory testimony. No matter what is your position on Zimmerman, it’s difficult to imagine any decision other than acquittal. Of course, this doesn’t mean that he is innocent.

And so this posting is not about the justice or lack of justice for Zimmerman. Rather it is about something that happened just this week…

Mark Gerstle-s

Mark Gerstle: Off my lawn!

Four days after George Zimmerman was found “Not Guilty” of 2nd degree murder in the killing of Trayvon Martin, he was dodging the press and, potentially, a mob of angry armchair jurors turned vigilante. (Certainly, he has reason to fear mob justice). But still, he manages to get out and about…

This week, Zimmerman pulled two motorists to safety from an overturned car on a Florida highway. The car was in immediate peril from traffic and could have easily burst into flames. Mark and Dana Michelle Gerstle were very appreciative. In fact, they were so appreciative that they scheduled a news conference to publically thank Mr. Zimmerman.

At least, that’s what they planned. After thinking about it (and perhaps consulting with friends, colleagues or a three year old), the Gerstles cancelled the public show of appreciation and refused comment or requests for interviews.

I won’t argue with their right to chase reporters from their lawn. A gaggle of hungry reporters can be as unpleasant as a swarm of paparazzi. But why would Mark Gerstle cancel a public statement of appreciation that he had initiated? Did George Zimmerman say or do something after the fact? No! Apparently, they are concerned with either what he did before the fact – or perhaps they honestly fear for their safety. They have suggested that they don’t wish to contradict popular sentiment and that individuals angry at Zimmerman could transfer hostility onto them.

I say Hogwash! Mark and Dana Gerstle are ungrateful b*stards. My opinion is unrelated to the Trayvon Martin shooting or the Zimmerman verdict to acquit.          Continue below photo…

I4 at Rt 46: The crash was less than 1 mile from the shot that killed Trayvon Martin

Can one individual be both evil and heroic?

If accurately reported, then the Gerstles have misguided advice or thinking process…

If they appreciate what Zimmerman has done and if they would have announced that appreciation in the absence of notoriety, then they should do so—regardless of popular sentiment, or their own opinions on his infamous shooting.

That is, even if one believes George Zimmerman is a racist and a murderer, they should not withhold recognition of meritorious behavior (in this case, an act of valor), if that act is unrelated to other aspects of his life.

I am not convinced that George Zimmerman had cause to kill Trayvon Martin, and I am reasonably certain that he profiled and even stalked the youth. The verdict in Florida does not sit easy with me. But none of this has anything to do with his successful effort to rescue individuals trapped in an overturned vehicle after a motor vehicle accident.

What on earth are the Gerstle’s thinking?! Do they really believe that acknowledging Zimmerman’s selfless act lets him off the hook for killing a young man? Do they believe that acknowledging his lifesaving intervention will cause rioters to target their home? Do they fear that it will appear that they are endorsing the Florida verdict to acquit?

None of these fears are relevant or even reasonable. The Gerstles are unappreciative clods. They should look deep within their hearts and ask themselves if they would have preferred to stay in that car.

So sayeth Ellery. What’s your take?
__________________________________________

Here is an ethical conundrum…

Would I stick by these convictions if, say, Hitler had committed an individual act of heroism in the midst of the Holocaust?

No…Probably not. I realize that this presents a logical contradiction and a moral dilemma. But Hitler’s acts were not committed in the ‘2nd degree’. For populations that he targeted (a lesser species in his mind), the premeditated monstrosity of ethnic and social cleansing was justified. Although difficult to explain, a seeming act of kindness from the hand of a monster has no merit or historical consequence, because he has no sense of kindness.

But set aside my take-back on the Nazi angle. I wonder what readers think about the decision by Mark and Dana Gerstle to rescind recognition for a man who quite possibly saved their lives. You already know what I think. How about you?

Dump cursive, if you must. But learn to read script!

scriptFor five centuries, school students have learned to write in longhand about two years after they learn the alphabet. Prior to the introduction of the ballpoint pen in 1945, as World War II was ending, they also endured endless drills to refine the polish and pizzazz of their script. Learning cursive was taken for granted and good penmanship followed closely behind.

Penmanship doesn’t just make handwriting legible. It elevates it to an expressive art. If you have ever held an old letter or a high school yearbook, then you are nodding in agreement. There are no scribbles. Every thought is written with style and class.

Penmanship like this requires more than skill. it requires a quill or a fountain pen.

But after the war, schools largely abandoned the effort to write legibly. After 1950, well formed script was something that circled the classroom ceiling. (For some reason, every teacher staples it up there). The banners of our childhood gave a focal point to many childhood daydreams. We glanced upward and learned that there are two ways to draw a lower case ‘r’ and an upper case “Q”. Of course, no one that we knew had ever written a “Q” like the number 2. But there it was for all to see.

Kids today are no longer expected to write beautifully nor even legibly. With the emergence of keyboards, we are in the habit of mixing printed characters with an occasional scribble. The handwriting of doctors has long been the butt of jokes. In the end, we hope that our teachers, employers or patients grade us on content and not on handwriting.

A few years ago, journalists lamented the death of penmanship. But those news stories were just fillers. After all, in this century, few people write with the style and panache of John Hancock. Our new Treasury secretary can’t even sign his name. He draws a series of four circular loops.

penmanship-01It wasn’t always like this, of course. Look at the inscription in an old book or at the notes written into a yearbook. You will find that little Mary had more style and class than a modern day calligrapher. Based on the letters and old books that I come across, it appears that the general population lost this ability sometime between the World Wars.

It’s a good bet that the loss of well-formed handwriting has something to do with the ballpoint pen. A great deal of the style and flair in John Hancock’s signature requires a quill pen or at least a fountain pen with a nib that can be drawn across the page at an angle and broadened as the user applies pressure. The flow of ink is also controlled by pressure and speed.

Penmanship vs. Cursive

Whatever the reason, the demise of penmanship doesn’t seem like a big deal, because it predates most of us. But now, we are faced with the demise of cursive altogether. Is that a problem?

Perhaps learning to write in cursive is no more necessary than learning to calculate with a slide rule—just another anachronism of concern to only historians and nostalgia buffs. I stopped using a slide rule when the Bomar calculator dropped below $100. That was 1974. By the mid 1980s, my high school physics teacher, Mr. Overboe, abandoned his slide rule, even though he still sported a bow-tie and horned-rim spectacles.

Jacob Lew-01

What does that squiggle say? Treasury
Secretary, Jacob Lew, is no John Hancock!

Throughout America and in any region using a Roman alphabet, school boards and state curriculum committees are tossing cursive to the wind. Time that was spent learning how to write is now spent learning keyboard skills.

So far, this seems fair. I will not give up handwriting, but I accept that children a bit younger than my 6th grade daughter may never master that skill. After all, the purpose of writing without lifting pen is to speed the communication process. And since we eventually need to get our thoughts into a computer or a smart phone, it is no longer useful. Right? But wait! When you change a tradition, there is a little problem that tends to bite us in the a*s. I call it Ellery’s law of unintended consequences

This weekend, I went to Aunt Suzi’s house for Mother’s Day brunch and I learned something that shocked me. It even shocked my 12 year old daughter who agrees that handwriting is not a critical skill. Suzi’s nephew, Timothy is fifteen—3 years older than my daughter. Timothy is very bright and attends a good school. Apparently, in his district, cursive was abandoned years ago. No problem so far…But during a discussion about the merits of keyboard vs. handwriting, Timothy informed us that he not only lacks the skill to write longhand, he can’t read it either!

Come again? Whaahzat?! Timothy can’t read handwriting?!!

continue below…

fountain_penI dismissed the need for good penmanship long ago. After college, I lost the ability to write with beauty or flair. Eventually, I lost the ability to write in cursive. My right hand can not guide a pen any better than the left. (Caveat: I can still write my signature!). The news that schools across the land are are dropping cursive barely registered. It was a dinner table discussion for just one meal.

Personally, I’m glad that I once knew how to write longhand, but perhaps the fun and pride that I feel is based on nostalgia and a resistance to change. This is the Internet Age. It’s time to make way for the keyboard, gestures and voice input. I can certainly live with that.

Or so I thought. But wait! What about reading someone else’s writing?…

When people talk about cutting the unit where children learn to read history from the pen of Benjamin Franklin or William Shakespeare, I am really beginning to fear for our future. I didn’t stop to think that this new world order means that kids turn into adults without even figuring out how to read cursive. That’s ludicrous!

We’re not talking about ancient Sanskrit. We’re talking about The Constitution, The Gettysburg Address, Ronald Reagan’s Diary, and Grandma’s next birthday card. Who the heck decided that our children only need to read a text message or an email? (They certainly don’t read newspapers).

I cannot accept this. Imagine leaving a note for your executive assistant, “Tell the customer that I will call in an hour”, only to learn that it is as cryptic as if it were in a foreign language or a secret code. If that same assistant tells me that I should have texted him or left a voice message, he will be looking for new job. Are we prepared to lose written language in a single generation? Really prepared?!! What about you? Do you care?

Related

 

Race Relations: Even a scholar can have a shoulder chip

Bill Maxwell-2s

Syndicated columnist, Bill Maxwell

Syndicated columnist Bill Maxwell is a writer for the Tampa Bay Times and a darn good one. His Op-Ed column appears everywhere. Although the Times choice in political cartoons conveys a subtle, hidden agenda, Maxwell’s editorials are always contemporary, thoughtful and analytical.

Not this time. His recent article on race relations smacks of a lingering resentment that ties innocent language to the race card. I have long thought highly of Bill Maxwell, and I still do. But I hope that he reconsiders the opinion espoused here: At a Restaurant, call me ‘Sir’.

Bill notes that when approached by an unfamiliar, white waiter, he is sometimes addressed as ‘Boss’, ‘Buddy’, ‘Chief’ or ‘Ace’. He interprets these salutations as signs of false respect and racially motivated spite. He also feels that the term ‘Chief’ suggests that the white server wishes upon Bill the same fate that was meted to Native Americans, presumably because the word has it’s roots in the title of tribal leaders.

Nonsense, Bill! While these greetings are certainly imprecise and pedestrian, they are not racist. Please revisit your logic and perhaps your overall mindset. Let me help… [Continue below photo…]

Heat of the Night-s

In the Heat of the Night: Sidney Poitier & Rod Steiger, 1968

I caught your op-ed, while eating at my local diner. Coincidentally, I was just starting to read as an unfamiliar waiter approached with coffee. He said, “How ’bout a cup of Joe, Boss?” These were his exact words.

I enjoyed the coffee while reading of your frustration with angry white servers who call you “Boss”.

My initial and instinctive reaction was to immediately support your position. If a server is aware that you take offense at a salutation (“What can I get you, Boss?”), I feel strongly that he should address you in a manner that you prefer. Any good employer trains servers in this simple maxim. After all, in a tolerant and respectful society, we should avoid discourtesy and slights—whether intentional or unconscious—and we should certainly avoid alienating or offending customers based on their religion, culture, race, national origin, or sexual orientation.

But after dwelling on your frustration and contempt for a few days, I reread the opinion and reflected on the particulars. I still think that the server should switch to a greeting that you prefer. But I disagree that he should have known in advance that you might find these terms disrespectful or disagreeable. These terms are neutral and the perception of racism is your personal quirk.

First, I am a middle age, white guy. I am often called “Boss”, “Chief” or “Buddy” by those serving me. To be sure, they are typically a stranger, younger than me, and probably less academic/professional/white collar (take your pick), but we are the same race.

While I agree that “Sir” is the gold standard (an indisputable observation!) and that these other terms convey a slight hint of disrespect, I honestly don’t think it has to do with serving an African American customer. After discussing the issue with colleagues and the waiter who called me “Boss”, I am convinced that it has more to do with culture (the server), class (the customer) , and ignorance (the establishment). Rather than racially charged greeting, I suspect that the umbrage you feel when being addressed “Boss” is related to your personal baggage and perhaps a small chip on your shoulder. The only person invoking the “race card” is you!

It would be interesting to determine if you encounter these salutations from white servers more frequently than me, or if you are more likely to encounter them while sitting at the same restaurant. But since this experiment is difficult to arrange, I respectfully request that you revisit your assumptions and conclusions—based simply on the fact that the same imprecise greetings are directed at me.

On a related note, I submit that the word ‘Chief’ has been integrated into the English language as a non-cultural term with similar meaning to its antecedent. It is in the job title of every CEO and even our president. Native Americans may take offense at the name ‘Red Skins’ (a sports team) but I doubt that anyone is offended by “chief”. Although it originates from American tribes, its English use conveys similar stature and rank. It is no more offensive than a hearing Spaniard use the phrase ‘El Presidente’.

Bill, when you enter a restaurant, you are effectively a temporary ‘Boss’ of the entire staff. If not for you, they would not be in business. Isn’t it just possible that the less refined person serving you simply wants you to know that he is grateful for your patronage? If you take personal exception with the term (and I assure you that it is a personal quirk), then I suggest that you politely explain that you would prefer ‘Sir’.

I realize that this isn’t the hot political issue of the day. But, a remarkable fraction of society’s ills can be traced to unintended inferences. Wild Ducks already know my feelings on this issue, and so I ask readers of this Blog: What do you think, Boss?