Smile! You’re Not On Candid Camera

old-coupleI’ve spent two long weeks taking my Dad to the doctor’s every day for radiation treatments. Today was the last day, and following the treatment we celebrated by going to see his cardiologist. This man knows how to party.

We had a rather long wait in the waiting room, and while we sat patiently, a made-for-TV scene unfolded around us. An older Italian couple sitting to our right were clearly the actors on the Candid Camera payroll, but Allen Funt never made an appearance.

He was clearly hard of hearing, and she was clearly used to compensating by speaking at a volume I’m pretty sure OSHA should have required ear protection for.  As they were recounting their respective ailments and medications in preparation for their appointment, a rather large African-American woman came in the room and sat across from them.  Her smile lit up the room, and probably a few of the adjacent offices. She was followed shortly by a woman pushing her 90+ year old somewhat frail looking mother in her customized rad-looking plaid wheelchair.  They set up camp across from us.

Following standard waiting room protocol, three of the four groups promptly buried their noses in magazines or cell phones.  Even Plaid-Grandma was intently studying an old issue of Family Circle.  The remaining room occupants did not get the memo.

I quickly learned that the loud couple’s granddaughter had a new boyfriend. There was a certain oddness to the description of him though.  They seemed to be making a big deal about the kid being a perfect gentleman, holding down a job, and being good in school. At that point I was assuming that maybe their granddaughter had a history of dating deadbeats and miscreants… but no.  He was… wait for it… “so nice for a black boy.”


But it didn’t stop there. They went on to self-justify their open-mindedness by recounting other black people they had known throughout their lives who had apparently made extraordinary impressions on them by being perfectly normal and acceptable human beings. I smiled weakly toward the lady on my left. Her beam was unabated as she shook her head so slightly. It seemed like I was more offended than she was.

Gratefully, they finally ran out of black people they knew. Unfortunately, this didn’t exhaust their will to speak. The woman looked over toward Plaid Grandma’s daughter and asked how old the woman was. “96”, the daughter replied politely as she went back to her magazine.

“She looks like she was quite a pip back in her day. I’ll just bet she was,” came the unnecessarily loud response from the woman who apparently assumed everyone was deaf. The daughter feigned a polite smile in response, as Plaid Grandma looked toward her child. Her expression clearly asking, “Why the hell are they talking about me like I’m already dead?”

Loud and Louder returned their attention to each other, and the conversation switched to airplanes. The whole room seemed to relax a bit. What could possibly go wrong with that topic?  Which is just about when Hubby launched into a rant about how fat people should have to buy two tickets. He didn’t get far before his wife, now using her indoor voice which was still clearly audible in the next room, hushed him saying this was not the right place for a topic like that.

He was undeterred. This was a man on a mission to reform the airline industry, one seat belt extender at a time. And his wife had no choice but to talk over him. She explained to him in no uncertain terms that there was a large woman sitting across from them, and that it was not appropriate for him to talk about this now.  She then pointed across the room to make her case clear.

The flagrant finger hung in the air while the now bickering couple inadvertently made their case for why they should be sacrificed in the spirit of social Darwinism. On the other side of the room (and the finger) the smiling woman was now shaking her head in disbelief… but still smiling. It was a genuine, pleasant, happy-to-be-alive and nobody’s-gonna-ruin-my-day smile.

This woman has mastered a level of serenity I find hard to glimpse, much less to hold.  She taught me that people may suck, but they don’t have to suck the life out of you… But let’s be clear. They still suck.

Aborted Reasoning

God_is_pro-LifeYesterday, I had the questionable pleasure of driving by a small abortion protest in front of a local medical building. Two men and a woman were each holding signs while one of the men used a bull horn to shout something from the sidewalk. One of the signs in particular, caught my attention.  It read, “God Chose That Baby“.

In the wake of the recent Todd Akin debacle, I’ve heard a number of so-called Pro-Life advocates claim that abortion is always wrong. This troubles me. I agree that life is precious, but the mother has a life too. And life is much more than being physically not dead. I would never advocate for abortion as a casual form of birth control, but drawing hard lines around exactly when pregnancy is too much for the mother to bear is beyond my pay grade.  Choose life? Sure. But whose? And at what quality of life? I’m not qualified to make that decision, and frankly neither are you… or the government.

But the sign started the wheels turning in my mind. A Pro-Life friend recently explained that when God conceives a baby, He has a plan. If the mother dies, or is physically or mentally traumatized or disabled in the process, that’s tragic. But it’s still part of the plan. If God means for the mother to survive, she will. It is not for us to intervene. Hmmm… And then, the apparent worldview of these folks clicked into place for me… and then quickly went all askew.

While I don’t agree with the position, I can at least respect a position that says God plays an active role in our everyday lives. He chooses the key events of our lives, and we are not to meddle in His affairs.  He has a plan.  It’s not possible to know what it is, but He has one. At least I can respect the position if the person actually lives their life by that philosophy.  But I can’t see how that’s so.

According to this philosophy, there’s no reason to seek medical intervention on anything, not just pregnancy. If you have a heart attack, God meant that for you. If you were meant to survive it, you will. To expect that God’s plan included a paramedic with a defibrillator makes no sense. It would then be equally reasonable to assume God’s plan included a pharmacist with a morning-after pill.

If, in fact, God did choose that baby, who among us can say what for? God sent his own son to die for us—to teach us something. Is it so farfetched that he might send an embryo to die for a person or a family to teach them something?  There are several references in the bible to men being called to a destiny from the womb. Who is to say fulfilling that destiny requires reaching adulthood? The simple reality is, you can’t say there is a plan; no one knows what it is; but that thing there is definitely not part of it.

The only rational counter argument is that there is something special and sacred about the life of a child. That the value of a child’s life is always above and beyond the value of anyone else’s life. But (since we can’t know the plan) this valuation would have to be supported by the bible, and that’s not at all clear.  Jesus may have loved the little children, but Abraham was told to kill his own son, and Deuteronomy instructs fathers to have their non-virginal daughters stoned to death. Further, the bible says nothing about abortions. The closest it comes is in Exodus when it is stated that if you strike a pregnant woman and cause a miscarriage, you must pay a fine to the woman’s husband.  God’s plan for the life of children is a bit cloudy at best. Clearly, “Thou shalt not kill,” is not quite the black and white rule you might assume.

Perhaps you believe that God chose that baby. But it seems that unless you’re purporting to know God’s unknowable plan for it, you’re a hypocrite.

The War on Mommies

Hilary Rosen vs. Ann Romney

CNN contributor Hilary Rosen set off a faux firestorm Wednesday when she accused her celebrity look-alike Ann Romney of having not worked a day in her life.

The RNC, on behalf of all stay-at-home moms (who have recently been placed on the Endangered Species List anyway), is outraged, outraged I tell you!  Romney’s response was a bit more nuanced, saying, “Motherhood is the most important job there is.” —which is somewhat akin to responding to the question, “What time is it?” with the answer, “Morning is my favorite part of the day.”

I’m sure that managing multiple households and the staffs of servants therein has its challenges.  Hell, I’m sure driving a couple of Cadillacs can be more than a little confounding all on its own. Which is really more the point Rosen was trying to make.  She was saying that Romney can’t relate to the problems of women who are not so well off.

The expression “You’ve never worked a day in your life” is often hurled at the well to do by those less fortunate.  I’m sure there’s more than a couple of coal miners who would claim I’ve never worked a day in my life. Hell, I’m pretty tempted to say the same of Mitt.  And I’d even bet there’s a fair number of stay-at-home moms who would second Rosen’s assertion that Ann Romney hasn’t.  It’s all relative.

To read the attack on Ann Romney as an attack on all stay-at-home moms is to buy into the notion that somehow Ann is just Harriet Nelson, if only Ozzie had owned a mansion.  I’m not buying it.

Would any of you ladies out there care to sign up for an episode of “Wife Swap” with Ann Romney?  I’ll bet you cope with her life a lot better than she copes with yours.


Why aren’t there more women in tech?

techiegirlCNet’s Benn Parr tackles the question of why the tech field is still short of women after all these years.  He says, “The lack of women in technology is disturbing. To fix it, we need to re-engineer the industry’s male-dominated culture.”

Certainly, the number of women in tech is not on par with the number of men. Although, there are way more of them now than when I entered the field 30 years ago, and it’s continuing to trend up. Yet parity remains a ways off and it’s quite reasonable to question why a field with lots of open jobs is having trouble attracting and keeping women in this economy.

Parr cites some examples of highly insensitive actions and downright hostile workplace issues as his reason for concluding that the male dominated field is simply not a welcoming place for women.  While I agree those issues exist to varying degrees at different employers and schools, I do not agree that this is the core issue.

In full recognition that I’m treading way out on a politically incorrect limb here, I think the core issue is that while women are every bit as capable as men in the tech field, far too few of them have it in their blood.  And in the tech field, that blood passion makes a difference.

A critical minority of the tech field is made up of tech geeks—people who live and breathe tech.  These are people who leave work and go home to their other tech projects.  They fix computers, create apps, build crazy gadgets, put up websites, and learn new languages and tools just for fun.  They own spudgers and Arduino boards and they don’t know why you can’t wire a simple TTL circuit to access the firmware controller on your hard drive.  And yes, they are almost exclusively guys.

I don’t know why they are almost all guys, but it starts early.  When my son was a toddler, I recall taking him to a friend’s house who had a daughter the same age. Both children were the offspring of two parents with engineering degrees. Yet while my friend’s daughter was excited that she would get to play with someone new, my son was looking forward to a whole house full of different toys.

In school, there were girls who were excellent engineering students. But when their hair dryers died, they called on the guys to fix it.  If repairing a hair dryer was a lab project, I have no doubt that any and all of them would have aced the assignment.  But this was not something they had to do, and they seemed to lack the innate drive many of the guys had to dive in and figure it out for fun.

This is in no way to suggest that girls aren’t capable of doing tech jobs. They absolutely are.  But there’s a motivational tech spark that, while not present in all guys, is almost exclusively present in guys.  Yes, I have known the occasional female tech geek, but they are few and far between.

What complicates the tech field is that it evolves at such a rapid pace.  Tools and techniques you learn in school are often obsolete before you graduate.  It’s virtually impossible to stay abreast of the field if you only work at it during business hours. One answer is to be a workaholic, and those come in both genders.  But the easier answer is to be a geek. Then you’re not working after hours, you’re playing.  Same result; less stress.

Over time, the demands of this rapidly changing field result in a large number of non-geeks migrating to management, support, or other tech-adjacent jobs.  Those are valuable jobs that need to get done, but the women in those jobs don’t contribute to the number of women in tech.  And so, over the years, the non-geeks tend to self-select out of the field.  As a result, the number of senior level non-management tech jobs filled by women is very small.

I will grant up-front that I have no scientific evidence or data to back this up.  It’s based entirely upon having spent decades in the tech field, where I worked with, and went to school with, lots of different men and women.  Perhaps my experience is unusual, but I suspect it’s not.  (Just in case I’m going to put on my flame-retardant underwear before I hit the Publish button.)