“Solving” the Poverty and “Secret Millionare”

I’m sitting around enjoying my Sunday afternoon. I enjoyed some quality (ahem) reality show America’s Next Top Model: Cycle 2.0 (with boyz!!), but I was all caught up, so there was only one episode. And I had a sleeping roommate on me, so I was too limited in my movement* to read articles, so I began exploring Hulu in search of other great shows (previous contenders have included House Hunters, but also Holidate, whose contract with Hulu has sadly expired). I had heard of Shark Tank and was sort of curious about it, since I’m getting to be a bit more interested in start ups, start up culture and the mechanics behind investment in them. Perhaps this show is a good way to explore that, even though it’s still reality. It was interesting, and I discovered that I MUST FIND THESE SWEET BALLZ, but there was also only one episode. Hulu recommended to me a show I had not heard of, ABC’s Secret Millionaire. So I watched the first episode.

I’m so conflicted. Continue reading

A Recommendation of the Literary Kind

So, after illustrating how older folks are racist, I wanted to discuss one of the best books I’ve read in a while, called Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do by Claude M. Steele.

The masterfully written book walks the reader step-by-step through his and other prominent behavioral psychologist’s research on what he calls “stereotype threat,” which, by Steele’s definition is the threat of “being at risk of confirming, as self-characteristic, a negative stereotype about one’s group.Continue reading

Spring Breakers: Insane, or Brilliant? [SPOILERS!!]

Tonight I got to play with Gypsy (improv group) at The Magnet for the Rundown, which was great fun, if not really amazing, and then after some shuffling of plans, ended up randomly seeing Spring Breakers, one of the new films James Franco is in. I’d listened to the Slate Culture Gabfest discussion of the film, and it kind of made me curious. And I’m actually super glad I saw it. And even more glad that I listened to their discussion of it before seeing it, because I feel like this is not a movie you should walk in blind to.

So first of all, I just want to describe the feel–flashy, lots of bright and obnoxious colors, fluorescent lights, and boobs and butts galore. So many bikinis. The opening scene is just girls shaking their butts and naked breasts with alcohol being sprayed all over them in the ocean and on the sand. And it was such a strange combination of titillating and yet really creepily not sexy at all. Like, it was too ostentatious to be really sexually appealing.

After stealing money from a local restaurant with a water gun and sledgehammer, the ladies go to St. Petersburg, FL to see a world different than what they’re used to. And meet Alien, Franco’s character, who is really into money and guns. And also shorts and cologne, much like this guy.

My favorite scene in the movie, and the moment I really started to believe this film is seriously satire was when three of the girls, dressed in one piece swim suits with generously cut out sides, ridiculous pink masks, sweat pants with “DTF” (Down To Fuck, for anyone not familiar with this phrase) printed on the butts, gently carrying AK-47s, stood around a gorgeous white baby grand piano at Alien’s house, by the pool, with an incredible ocean view. They ask him to play a sensitive song, and he proceeds to play (and sing) Britney Spears’ (an “angel on Earth, according to Alien) “Everytime.” This is perhaps the weirdest scene I’ve ever seen in a movie. The screenshot is used for one of the posters:

Spring Breakers, movie poster


Strange. Also a key that the movie is really not supposed to be taken seriously, in my opinion.

Subsequently, one of the girls gets shot in the arm by Alien’s enemy/childhood best friend. She goes home, and the other two girls seek revenge; Alien gets killed in the process, while the girls go on a shooting spree, leaving many of the gang the enemy is a part of, including him, dead. And then they go back to school.

There was lots of gratuitous violence/showing off of guns & cash, and MANY shots of boobs and butts, which were entirely unavoidable, sometimes boobs taking up the ENTIRE SCREEN. But my take is that that’s sort of the point. The film feels (and I don’t know how to explain this really, or why it is exactly) sexual, but in a dirty, creepy way, as I say. It feels like it’s forcing you to be turned on, if that makes sense? But like, not in a fun way. In a forceful, violent way. And through that violence, for lack of a better phrase, the film jolts you into recognizing how unfulfilling these things are, and how demoralizing the concept of spring break can be. Repetition is used throughout the film and creates sort of a strange alternate universe, particularly Alien saying, “Sprang braake 4eva.” It’s eery. The whole movie is. But I kind of loved it.

Ladies Be Judgin’

I am a bit unnerved by Slate’s article urging young people to get married. It seems like it’s written as if marriage is a choice that you make unilaterally. The reality is, you have to agree to be with another person, and that other person has to agree to be with you. I feel personally a bit upset by this because I, personally, have always been open to relationships, but nothing has worked out. And all the better!! Had I married at 23, I wouldn’t have developed into who I am, I wouldn’t have traveled as I have, gotten to make the (sometimes) crazy decisions about moving to New York City and really getting to know myself and what I want in my life. I’m still on that path. I’ve never been opposed to someone else fitting into that, but they haven’t. And now, at this point, I’m doubtful that the sacrament of marriage is even something I’m terribly interested in. It has such a shitty history, beginning as something that was pretty much just passing “property” from one man to another, and many parts of that tradition still hold (rings, father walking his daughter down the aisle to “give her away,” asking a father for his daughter’s hand in marriage, etc). I have always been a bit feisty. And never have I been more proud of that than I am today. I am not, by any stretch, opposed to finding a partner to share my life with, and theirs with me, but I feel like I have a much better idea of what that means, a much more realistic and mature idea, than I did at 23. Thank goodness I didn’t marry then!

But that is me.

I’m sure the author is perfectly happy as well, and I’m sure many of my married friends are content in their married lives. And I’m so so happy for them! I’m happy they’ve found what works for them! But no one should feel like they can’t do what is right for themselves (including marrying young). And the tone of Shaw’s piece is just so…judgmental. As if young men and women have perfect marrying-ready situations ready to go and should just go with it. Maybe other people are just more effed up than Shaw? I recognize the social pressure issues and societal norms, but maybe a lot of people are better off (read: happier) being single than in shitty relationships. And many relationships are shitty. Definitely not all, but pretty much all of the ones I’ve been in. So I’ve chosen to no longer be in those. And believe me, I’ve looked at my own part. I’ve done my work. And I’m better for it. But that didn’t make any of the relationships less wrong. It didn’t make anything fit. I suppose I should say yet. But my point is, I believe that because of all that, I will ultimately end up having a more fulfilling life and if I do have a lasting relationship, then it will be enhanced by the work I’ve done. The bottom line is, no one has been the right fit. It’s not about being perfect. But there are some standards, particularly regarding someone’s commitment to the relationship. Shaw is lucky (if she’s really as happy as she says). And that’s great for her. I’ve been lucky in many many many ways. Romantic relationships that last has not been one of them. It’s pretty self-absorbed to assume that everyone’s had the opportunities you have had. So, ew. And just, stop being so judgy!!

On Security, Safety and Trust

As promised, I am taking a moment to discuss the issue of safety, security, trust and race/socio-economic class. I think this is sort of an intersection of sorts for a lot of things, and thus, it is very complex and I won’t really be able to address a lot. But the confluence of visiting a foreign “developing” country by myself as a women who is white and able-bodied and the Newtown/Sandy Hook shooting, with follow-up writings about white masculinity, definitely got me thinking. I was upset that I didn’t get to plan this trip as being by myself, but once it was, I knew that as long as I trusted my gut and listened, asked questions, etc, I’d be as safe as I normally am. Which is, to say, none of us is ever truly “safe.” Safety is an illusion. What does that mean? What does it mean to be safe? It means you have control over your circumstances. At its core, it means people do not violate you, physically, mentally, financially, emotionally, right? The reality is, we are more vulnerable than we’d like to be. But our awareness of this is particularly heightened when we are in an unusual circumstance, because we look for patterns, and if everything looks “normal,” we don’t worry. Even though something could happen in my everyday life. Someone I trust could violate that trust, and any of those levels. But in a place where we’re not familiar, we don’t have those patterns to fall back on. I was a bit surprised by some of my family/friends’ reactions to my going to DR by myself–they were more worried than I necessarily expected. And I can’t say for certain that it’s because Dominican Republic is a developing country, with a different culture, etc, but I’m sure that plays into it, because we all are more comfortable with what we’re familiar with. The thing is, I am familiar with Dominican culture (some of my best friends are Dominican….jk, but really). I lived in a neighborhood in NYC that was primarily Dominican and I guarantee you far more dangerous than any place I was in DR based on my statistical chance of getting caught in the middle of some kind of drug-related violence, because the area is a massive area for drug trafficking. And yet, while I’m sure some people were somewhat concerned when I lived in that area, they didn’t necessarily know that. Where I live now, I could get hit by a car. Or fall down the stairs, or on the subway tracks. There is no end to the random things that could happen.

A lot of my thought on this subject actually I think comes from my learning about statistics and reading things like The Black Swan–recognizing that our brains and emotions were optimized to look for danger in ways that are hardly useful today, because the most dangerous things are things we can’t possibly even be aware of, and therefore things we can’t possibly prevent, no matter what we do. I made a decision while in college that I just wouldn’t live in fear. That it wasn’t worth it. I try to implement that in my daily life, not being anxious, etc, which is in some ways much more difficult, but I think it’s important to take calculated risks, realizing that everything we do has some risk associated with it, and that, as I say, much of that risk is something that we don’t even know about. When Eve Carson was murdered in March, 2008, I realized that you can ask why, but sometimes that doesn’t help, and often there isn’t really an answer. Life if not fair, and horrific things happen all the time. My being paranoid about them, and in a sense, trying to take responsibility for preventing them, will not, in fact, prevent them from happening. And so while I was moving to NYC, I became much more aware of this idea, and recognized how much I didn’t want fear to inform my decisions. For a long time I’ve qualified that by saying, “that doesn’t mean I’m going to be stupid,” but I’ve realized over the years through thinking about, reading about, etc, rape culture and victim-shaming that is often involved in that that I think maintaining that way of thinking is, in a sense, accepting and okaying that. And that for me, doing what the fuck I want is a way to be subversive, both personally and in my culture and society, and that I want to do that, that that is a part of my intent. I will pay attention to my gut in the moment. But I will trust that I can handle any situation I’m in, and that I will create the world I want to live in because I want a world where we can trust each other. I absolutely refuse to fit into the world’s idea of what a woman is. And if someone chooses to violate me? Well, they have chosen to violate me. And no matter what I’m doing, if someone else violates me, whatever that looks like, then I am not at fault. I’m done with shouldn’t this or shouldn’t that because it would put me at risk of being violated in some way. Their choice to commit that violation is their own, I refuse to own it, or take any sort of responsibility for it.

I am not saying that I will do things I have some sort of belief are “dangerous”–precisely not that. I am working to get rid of my sense of danger as anything other than an in-the-moment part of my decision-making process. Because if I feel uncomfortable, then something is affecting me and it makes sense to consider another choice. But when considering the future, or what kind of “risk” I’m putting myself in when I do something that I want to do, I will intend to remove the risk framework about that situation in my decision-making thought process because it is false. It is created, and not real, because in the end, we could be dragged out of our apartment randomly and murdered. There is no safety. And that can be freeing.

Learn from every single being, experience and moment. What joy it is to search for lessons and goodness and enthusiasm in others.
–Eve Carson

Jury Duty!

I’m super bored because I have jury duty today.  And who knows how long that will last.  I’m kind of liking it.  Listening to Justin Bieber’s new song, Boyfriend, writing some post(s???), reading some work stuff.  I just get to hang out!  That seems pretty awesome to me.  Also, this is fascinating.  I am continually impressed with how incredibly diverse Kings County (where Brooklyn is, and where I live, thus, where I am serving my jury duty) is.  It’s really quite amazing.  And we watched this silly little 15 minute video about jury duty, and I just realize what a unique institution our court system is.  Not to be too cheesy, but it’s kind of cool to be a part of that.  Even if that means waiting in a room all day.

Uhm, also, they have Wi-Fi!  So that’s pretty spectacular.  Just wish I’d brought my computer charger.  I’d be all about some laptoping then.

Aaanyway, if I have more sweet stuff to post about, I will do it in a bit.  For now, just listening to this silly song on repeat, and letting the joy of being a teenager seep into my pores.

Understanding the Other Side

I religiously listen to Planet Money, an NPR podcast that is amazing, and I highly recommend. The podcast has great music, is short and sweet and the folks who host it are great–funny, entertaining and best of all, it is a really accessible view of economics.  The folks that host the show also write other things occasionally, and I’m usually quite satisfied with the outcome.  Adam Davidson, one of the main Planet Money folks, wrote the cover story for the NY Times Magazine this past weekend, and it is seriously worth a read, though it’s a bit long.  The story is really a profile of a past co-worker of Mitt Romney’s, Edward Conrad.  He worked with Romney at Bain Capitol, and has recently released a book, Unintended Consequences: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About the Economy Is Wrong, explaining his theory that income inequality is actually a good thing for all of society.   There are a lot of reasons why this upsets me.  Conrad’s theory is well thought-out, and as far as I can tell, logically sound.  Davidson agrees.  The problem is that Conrad describes a world that I do not want to live in.

This constant calculation — even of the incalculable — can be both fascinating and absurd. The world Conard describes too often feels grim and soulless, one in which art and romance and the nonremunerative satisfactions of a simpler life are invisible. And that, I realized, really is Conard’s world. “God didn’t create the universe so that talented people would be happy,” he said. “It’s not beautiful. It’s hard work. It’s responsibility and deadlines, working till 11 o’clock at night when you want to watch your baby and be with your wife. It’s not serenity and beauty.”

This seems like a stale, sad, sad world.  I want no part of it.  Conrad basically argues that we need really intense, strong incentives for people to work hard and take risks, and that therefore, we need inequality so that the top is worth striving for, and the bottom worth striving not to be in.  And this is problematic for me because the world he is talking about is pretty entirely work-focused and really all about money.  But we made money up!  It is a metaphor and conduit for resources and power.  The world I would like to live in is more equal because I don’t like the idea of living in a world whose sole purpose is about amassing wealth.  That seems crazy to me, and icky.  I don’t have a great logical argument other than ick.  But that’s it.  Davidson does argue that part of the problem with inequality is that those with money (ie, power and resources) will use that money to influence society to help them maintain their status, money etc, and inevitably the system will reward those who initially obtain money, not those who actually work hard and take risks. Much better argument than mine.  But ICK!  Really, who wants to live in a world that is all about money??!!  No, thank you.

My dad’s girlfriend also posted a great post from a friend of hers who is an anthropologist. The post aims to explain how Evangelical Christians hold the political beliefs they do, while secular liberals are so flummoxed by  Evangelicals seemingly voting “against their own self-interest.”  I definitely agree with her main thesis, that Evangelicals see the world how they wish people would be, and that they see government programs “[step] in when people fall short.”    In my arguments with my Facebook friend, Peter, I have definitely seen this.  His arguments are based upon (it seems to me) legislating as if all Americans are the most ideal Christians, and that any law falling short of that is condoning a relatively evil way of living and being.  His arguments, as much as he tries to avoid it, are based upon his very Christian (Catholic, even) ideal world, and one where values held by Catholics are not just held but also attempted to be attained by all citizens in the US.  I know he is a caring and generous person one-on-one, and that his intention is not to hurt people, but I also believe the policies he supports do just that.

Anyway, a few articles worth their salt and time, courtesy of the New York Times.  What can I say–I’m a liberal New Yorker!!

Black HIV Awareness Day

First of all, I am LOVing this song:

Second of all, it happens to be Black HIV Awareness Day. Usually I don’t get all excited about the things we do at work, but we had an event today, and it really was refreshing and a reminder of how I can love my job, and see that we are actually making a difference, which is pretty incredible. We watched this incredible video here:

It’s a bit long, but it is seriously incredible. I think it does a fantastic job of providing some explanation about how this particular population has such a horrific infection rate, and why it is quite literally invisible at a higher political level.

I will say that one of the biggest differences between 2006, when this piece was filmed, and today is President Barack Obama.  He is part black, and that doesn’t hurt, but he has, for whatever reason, created a National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which is the very first of its kind.  We discussed today how Bush funded $48 billion toward the global fight against HIV, and any country receiving any of that funding needed a national strategy/policy in place; we in the United States never had one until 2010.  Incredible.  But really, I highly recommend the piece on AIDS in Black American–it’s really well done and informative.



I have always argued that choices are not as simple as they first appear. No, this is not about abortion. Certainly not just abortion. I am pro-choice, as a life-stance, not having to do with abortion, but including abortion. But also there’s this article in Slate about biases that are hidden. It is particularly about the biases “against” women going into math and sciences, but I definitely think it has broader implications.

I’m fascinated by this because as a woman and someone who is pretty mathematical and scientific, but for some reason, and despite the support of my mother in sending me to earth science camp at age 11 and computer science camp at age 13, “when it came time to pick a profession, ….[found my heart was] not in science and engineering.” Despite having built my own website via HTML coding by the age of 13 (which, to be honest, doesn’t feel like that big of an accomplishment these days, but still), when I got to high school, something shifted for me. Obviously, this is a personal experience. It is extremely anecdotal, and only one piece of anecdotal datum at that. But it IS my experience. And after reading an article like the one in Slate, and just generally hearing how few women there are in the math and sciences, I can’t help but wonder what my experience would’ve been like as a guy. I do remember feeling that even though my mom supported me, when my brother was doing less complicated computer stuff when he was 17, family members aside from my mom saying things that indicated that he “was” a computer person. And I remember thinking, “Hey! I did shit WAY more complicated than that 2 years ago. And I’m younger. And no one identified ME as a computer person!” Now, I don’t remember why I thought that. And I can’t blame my extended family for leading me away from being into computers. But I just know that for some reason, people couldn’t see me as someone who was a computer person. And I think this is talking about something really similar. It wasn’t that people didn’t WANT me to be into computers, it was just that my brother was introverted and male, liked to play video games. I was social and outgoing, and enjoyed being with friends, talking about intellectual things, and was articulate. He fit a lot more closely into the mold of who is “into” computers.

What I think this article points out is that making a decision to do something, whether it be which career to choose, or where to go to college, or whether to go to college, involves so many more factors, and is more psychologically complicated, than we give credit for. We want to believe, especially in the United States, that people have equal opportunity. And maybe they do, in a sort of technical way. But opportunity is sort of shaded, in that you can only take advantage of the opportunities that you can actually see. In the Slate article, Vedantam describes a recent study. I’ll quote.

Stout, Dasgupta, and their colleagues wanted to find out why women’s outstanding performance on science and math tests in high school and college correlates so weakly with their eventual interest in pursuing careers in those fields. In high school and college, girls increasingly earn math and science grades equal to or better than the grades of their male peers. But when it comes to choosing a career in math or science, more men than women choose to walk through those open doors.

The psychologists asked female students studying biology, chemistry, and engineering to take a very tough math test. All the students were greeted by a senior math major who wore a T-shirt displaying Einstein’s E=mc2 equation. For some volunteers, the math major was male. For others, the math major was female. This tiny tweak made a difference: Women attempted more questions on the tough math test when they were greeted by a female math major rather than a male math major. On psychological tests that measured their unconscious attitudes toward math, the female students showed a stronger self-identification with math when the math major who had greeted them was female. When they were greeted by the male math major, women had significantly higher negative attitudes toward math.

(emphasis mine)

This sounds familiar, now, doesn’t it?? I don’t think I there were any women who were into making websites. And I do remember that even at the computer programming camp I went to, the female friend I remember having was only there because her brother was there, not because SHE was interested in computer programming.

Even more astounding, “when Stout and Dasgupta evaluated how much the students identified with mathematics, they found that women ended up with less confidence in their mathematical abilities when their teachers were men rather than women. This happened even when women outperformed men on actual tests of math performance.” This is crazy–as Vedantam points out, even when women were outperforming men, they were less confident if their teacher was male. The context in which we live severely influences our views of ourselves/identity and I’m guessing our willingness to work at something. I think this has profound implications not just regarding gender, but race and even probably class. It is an issue of identity, and being able to identify with something, with being a college graduate, or a mathematician or a computer scientist or a programmer. Choice is a funny thing–it isn’t something that happens in a vacuum, but rather with so many factors weighing in, often factors we have little or no awareness of.

I remember being aware of this phenomenon of women being interested in the sciences and then uninterested later on when I was 13. I remember thinking, “I won’t let that happen to me! I love science!” and then it happening anyway. I got interested in chorus, and then by the time I got to college I feared I was so far behind that I would be terrible in science, so I avoided it like the plague until I HAD to take biology. And then I loved it but felt like it was too late. I keep gravitating toward science and math-y things, and so I think I need to just embrace it, and fuck the stereotypes. But maybe we all need to work to help the people around us identify themselves in a different way, a more positive and useful way.

Psych-Out Sexism [Slate]