Friday, July 21, 2006

Friday, demotivational

Hey everyone. I've been particularly busy at work the last few months, and this weekend I'm leaving town to be sequestered in a hotel for four weeks of grant application reviews so that we can decide who gets a pile of government money. So blogging will be light on my part for a while. I'll be back in mid to late August. Enjoy summer.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Funny Picture

In order to promote something (I assume the deaths of beach-goers) the Discovery Channel headquarters in Silver Spring erected giant inflatable shark balloons on their building. Enjoy.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

If the Devil Wears Prada, does She Color-Coordinate her Pitchfork?

L’homme and I went last weekend to see “The Devil Wears Prada.” The book was a dishy gossipy tale of The Evil Boss, and while I didn’t completely love the book, I was looking forward to the movie – after all, Meryl Streep can take almost any piece of poo and turn it into gold, and I loved the deliciously evil Miranda Priestly. So I was looking forward to seeing this movie. I should have known better; after all, with very few notable exceptions, the movie is never as good as the book.

I also have trouble with willing suspension of disbelief, and it took quite a bit of that to accept that Anne Hathaway was either fat or not beautiful. But, okay. Certainly Anne Hathaway is not “model” thin or “model” pretty, so I’ll move past that.

What I disliked most about the movie adaptation was the (what I felt to be) complete shift of the theme; mainly, the book was a gossipy dish about working for a crappy boss, and the movie focused on the question of the choices women must make to advance in the cutthroat world of business.

Warning: there are spoilers after the jump, but nothing that watching the trailer for the movie doesn’t give away…

There were other reasons why I was not completely pleased with the movie, but they were also reasons why I didn’t like the book: I do not feel that women who pursue careers in the fashion industry are somehow more vapid or less intelligent than women who pursue more “intellectual” pursuits, or that fashion itself is silly or stupid. I disliked that Andy felt morally superior to her coworkers, and even to her bos – that Andy was “better” than her job as a personal assistant, and that it was beneath her to handle her boss’s dry cleaning, to get her boss coffee daily, or even to wrap gifts for the magazine’s clients and VIPs. I did not agree that these demands made Miranda the Devil. Certainly, it makes for a cruddy job, but everyone has to pay their dues at the lowest levels in order to prove their worth and move up the ladder.

Not only did I feel that these tasks assigned to Andy did not make her boss The Devil (in either the book or the movie), I felt many of the tasks asked of Andy were not only reasonable, but actually served a purpose. And, I found Andy to be somewhat unsympathetic due to her “I am better than this” attitude. Yes, being in charge of someone’s dry cleaning is not the most stimulating of tasks, but when you work for a fashion magazine and have no knowledge of haute coture, learning about the materials and how they are cared for can be informative, if Andy had looked at the task as a learning experience instead of indentured servitude. Additionally, some of Miranda’s “impossible tasks” weren’t so impossible, even if Andy’s first reaction was that she could not possibly do what was asked of her. Instead, Andy found often times that, despite the seemingly impossible task, the assignment in fact was quite doable with a little ingenuity. When you know “I couldn’t do it” is not an acceptable answer, you find a way to get it done.

The central question of “The Devil Wears Prada,” for me, was: “Is Miranda Priestly ‘The Devil’?” Were the tasks asked of Andy really indicative of a boss so horrible she was equitable to Satan? My biggest problem with the movie adaptation was the possibility for interpretation that Miranda was The Devil simply because she was cold and unemotional in her pursuit of her career above the interpersonal; that she would put her career-focused self-interests above her friendships and her family, and as a woman, this choice is somehow unfeminine. Miranda was The Devil because she was a woman, making business decisions as a man would, and not caring about the feelings of the people around her the way a woman should.

And thusly, why I disliked the movie: in a plot point developed for the movie and not appearing in the book, Miranda makes a business decision that preserves her job at the expense of her friend/fashion editor’s career advancement outside the magazine. Honestly, should Miranda have voluntarily allowed herself to get pushed out of her job to preserve the feelings and enhance the career of someone else? Would we expect that kind of self-sacrifice of one’s career for one’s professional friendship of, say, Donald Trump or Steve Jobs? But, because Miranda is a woman, she is The Devil because she makes a business decision that preserves her career at the expense of a friendship. Andy, as the protagonist, is set up as making “the right choice” when she sacrifices her career to preserve her relationship with her boyfriend (whereas Movie Miranda loses her husband due to her career focus). Andy is “the hero” for keeping her integrity when she ultimately quits her job upon realizing she herself is on the path to becoming like Miranda and having a powerful career at the expense of friendships.

What this movie highlights for me is the ultimate paradox of being a woman in business: Either you live up to the gender expectations and make sacrifices in your career to have a social and family life, or you choose a career in exchange for your family, friends, and femininity. And even then, we don’t get a fair choice: women who choose the latter are vilified – we are somehow traitors to our gender and objects of pity. We cannot possibly be happy or fulfilled if we do not have a husband or a baby. So while we get the appearance of a choice, we cannot retain our femininity and choose business. Through that sacrifice, businesswomen become bitches and are labeled The Devil. I don’t think you’d ever see, “The Devil wears Armani.” In fact, working for an awful male boss is, “Swimming with Sharks.” A shark is certainly scary, but when a shark attacks a person in the ocean, it does not do so out of malice. Certainly being called a shark is not a compliment, but an evil male boss is compared to one of nature’s most perfect predators, while the evil female boss is compared to ultimate evil.

While there certainly are more options for women today to pursue a career, somehow that promise of the elevator past the glass ceiling is more insidious. Yes, women can have a power-career, but in doing so the perception is that they become cold and hard in the achievement of that goal, that women cannot possibly be happy with that choice of career if it comes at the expense of a husband and children (men in that position, by contrast, are eligible bachelors and must be happy with their power and with their ability to pick and choose from bevies of beautiful women, or at the very least their happiness is not in question).

And this media vilification of career women provides perfect plausible deniability – there is no glass ceiling; women have the choice, but prefer to opt out of the rat race and choose to have a family instead of a career. And movies like “The Devil Wears Prada” train women to choose thusly by portraying the hero as the woman who regains her integrity and her boyfriend by apologizing for the choices that put her career before her relationship.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Demotivational Friday: Stupidity (again)

The first Stupidity was better. Meh.


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics

This post by Matt is just awesome:

As you may know, the Green Lantern Corps is a sort of interstellar peacekeeping force set up by the Guardians of Oa to maintain the peace and defend justice. It recruits members from all sorts of different species and equips them with the most powerful weapon in the universe, the power ring.

The ring is a bit goofy. Basically, it lets its bearer generate streams of green energy that can take on all kinds of shapes. The important point is that, when fully charged what the ring can do is limited only by the stipulation that it create green stuff and by the user's combination of will and imagination. Consequently, the main criterion for becoming a Green Lantern is that you need to be a person capable of "overcoming fear" which allows you to unleash the ring's full capacities. It used to be the case that the rings wouldn't function against yellow objects, but this is now understood to be a consequence of the "Parallax fear anomaly" which, along with all the ring's other limits, can be overcome with sufficient willpower.

Suffice it to say that I think all this makes an okay premise for a comic book. But a lot of people seem to think that American military might is like one of these power rings. They seem to think that, roughly speaking, we can accomplish absolutely anything in the world through the application of sufficient military force. The only thing limiting us is a lack of willpower.

What's more, this theory can't be empirically demonstrated to be wrong. Things that you or I might take as demonstrating the limited utility of military power to accomplish certain kinds of things are, instead, taken as evidence of lack of will.

When reached for comment, prominent conservatives argued, "In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight, let those who worship evil's might, beware my power, Green Lantern's light!" They then invaded Iran.

Article: Economic Gap Growing

The Post has a good article and graphic about wage growth in the Washington region based on the Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates (a great site to visit before your next interview). The rich are continuing to get richer, and the poor are treading water. So who will be the first up against the wall, come the revolution?

click on picture to enlarge

The answer is... no one.

Roughly 20% of Washingtonians are doing really, really well. They earn around $100,000 or more, and their wage growth is somewhat above inflation. These are lobbyists, engineers, and successful business people. They tend to be highly skilled, highly educated, and in demand.

Roughly 20% of Americans are well off. They earn around $60,000 a year, and have been seeing the strongest wage growth. They have college educations and maybe some specialized training, and have seen a huge increase in demand in the last five years. Government has been expanding rapidly (the most common Government Scale position, GS-12, pays $65,000+ per year), and business have been computerizing and outsourcing their lower level positions. This sucks for the 67% of non-college educated Americans.

But while most of the burden from those workers is being computerized or shipped to India, those computers need skilled workers to run them, mid-level administrators to track them, and managers to get the stuff produced overseas back to America where people actually buy them. So in a perverse way, outsourcing is great for keeping inflation down and good for wage growth, as long as in the middle, and not the bottom, of the barrel.

So there will be no great social or political upheaval, because roughly 40% of the population is doing just fine. And there is enough opportunity and upwards churning from the bottom 60% that they want the current system to basically stay the way it is. The receptionist of today thinks she might be a lawyer tomorrow, even if the chances that she will ever really make it to law school are rare.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Distraction: Buffy

Here is the original, unaired pilot for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I love all things Whedonesque, and was surprised I never saw this before. Good call on his part though, I think the "real" first episode was better. Worth watching though, even if the film quality is low.

Also, here is the French soccer player head butting the Italian player in the World Cup (which I thought was a really random thing - do Frenchmen not know how to punch?) Also, has anyone noticed how small the World Cup is?

Just saying. If Americans cared more about this sport, I'm pretty sure the World Cup would be as big as humanly possible, as long as you could lift it over your head.


Thursday, July 06, 2006

Demotivational Friday: Hypocrisy

I dare you to try and explain this joke to someone without showing them the actual picture.

And if you really want a challenge, try explaining it without apologizing for being pseudo-racist, or prefacing it by saying that "your black friend" emailed it to you.


Wednesday, July 05, 2006

CIA Closes Unit that Hunts Osama


The Central Intelligence Agency has closed a unit that for a decade had the mission of hunting Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants, intelligence officials confirmed Monday.

The unit, known as Alec Station, was disbanded late last year and its analysts reassigned within the C.I.A. Counterterrorist Center, the officials said.

The decision is a milestone for the agency, which formed the unit before Osama bin Laden became a household name and bolstered its ranks after the Sept. 11 attacks, when President Bush pledged to bring Mr. bin Laden to justice "dead or alive."

Where are we going? And why are we in a handbasket?

Monday, July 03, 2006

NY TImes = Treason?

Numerous conservative blogs are very angry that the NY Times exposed the Bush administration's secret warrentless banking data survielence program. (So did the LA Times and the Wall Street Journal, but the Bush chooses not to demonize them, as they're not as unpopular with his base).

Here's why all of the "NY Times is treasonous" arguments rings false to me.

President Hillary Clinton.

It's 2009, and President Hillary continues with the Bush administration's anti-terrorism policies. The Wall Street Journal does an article on how the government is secretly looking into the bank records of the Carlisle Group and other companies which are suspected of terrorist connections, without a warrant. What do you believe the reactions of the right wing blogs would be? Do you seriously think anyone of them will be attacking the Wall Street Journal? I could tell you that I would be attacking President Clinton for undermining our Constitutional rights.

My guess is that most conservatives don't believe in unitary executive theory, they just love Bush. But everyone remember this moment in history, so that we can throw it in their faces in a couple of years.