Aside

In the marsh
the goose spreads her wings
then settles down on her nest,
her long beak resting,
her long neck curving,
it winds around her.

She is patient
like the moon
and the forest,
patient like the slow river
that winds around her.

Mist settles on the greening hills,
greying, clouds gathering,
swelling with rain
then crashing with thunder,
pouring to the ground,
filling the river
that winds around her.

From the lake
the fish come searching,
bass and pike,
seeking food,
seeking shelter,
from the river
that winds around her.

Slowly now the turtles come,
crawling up to higher ground
scrabbling claws digging sharply,
nestling in the sand,
up from the river
that winds around her.

In the marsh
the buttercups open,
bursting yellow
among the reeds
growing near the river
that winds around her.

-Kathleen Kostuck, April 1999

Paradise Spring

Naysayers Eat Crow for Breakfast

Junior bluebird flies in for a meal

By close of trading yesterday Twitter was a multi-billion dollar property.

It makes me smile when I think of every conversation about Twitter that I had, circa 2007/2008.

A sample:

“Twitter? Who cares what you had for breakfast?!”

(cue curled lip and/or wrinkled nose, look of disgust and skepticism)

“Well,” I’d reply. “You can post about your breakfast if you really want to, but sometimes a status is worth monitoring. It allows you to subscribe to any status messages that you want to monitor.

For example, you might want to track the status of your repair technicians in the field. All they’d have to do is post their status. It would only take a blink. If you needed to know where one was you’d just look at their feed for that info.

You might even build an automated process to receive that feed and calculate elapsed time. If a tech was running late at a call you might set an alarm to send out another tech for some of the follow-on calls on that route.

Of course there would be security and other considerations but just put that aside for a moment and think about the concept of monitoring a more important status than breakfast.”

(cue incredulous and disbelieving look combined with head shake)

Sometimes I had the feeling that I’d lost them at “breakfast.”

Image: Junior bluebird flies in for a meal by keithcarver, on Flickr

The School of Misdirection

* Masquerade *

“If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it.”
– Margaret Fuller

“Misinformation works.”
– Rand Paul

Before I became a computer programmer I was a student at a tech school. It was a fast-paced track that promised to teach employable programming skills in under a year.

On the first day the students in my class were also promised that many of us would drop out. That is what had always happened on this tough track.

But it didn’t happen to us.

The stereotype of introverted computer geeks hadn’t taken hold in the culture yet. Sociability was fairly high in the class and many of us hung out together, had lunch together, or had drinks together after class. We studied together. This group was very open, no one was excluded.

Along with a few others I was getting straight A’s and would help anyone who asked, answer anyone’s questions, keep trying to explain for as long as needed. We learned very quickly that doing this helped us to learn the material better. Things become clearer when you think them through and make them simpler.

Helping other students definitely helped me to improve.

And talking about the material made everything more interesting and studying was actually fun.

At graduation time they told us that we were the biggest class to make it through the course and we had the highest class GPA. We had a record number of students finish with an A average and few or no dropouts.

My class had gelled around a sense of mutual support.

Recently I’ve been told that some educational tracks are cut-throat. The students compete with each other for grades and ranking and the tactics can be vicious. A few weeks ago a United States Senator advised medical students to sabotage each other with bad information. Apparently within some fields of study knowledge is a zero-sum game and the incentives reward hoarding it for oneself and trying to prevent others from accessing it.

A few years after graduation I was looking for a better job. One of the students from my programming class spotted my resume on her boss’s desk. She told him that she remembered me from that class and that I’d helped her with the coursework.

I got the job.

In my career since then I’ve always tried to share whatever knowledge I have and tried to help and answer questions and offer ideas. In my spare time I became involved with a local technical group dedicated to spreading know-how and networking, and I served on the board of directors. Sharing has always enriched my life and I love it when I can make something clear enough that I can actually see the light in another person’s face as connections are clicking together.

Occasionally I’ve also encountered people who hoard knowledge or even are outright saboteurs, intentionally giving bad information in an attempt to cause the other person to fail.

I’ve found that people remember the ones who helped them and learn to distrust saboteurs.

As the use of social media rises, employers are catching on to the value of teamwork and sharing. Knowledge hoarders will find that they must learn to share or they won’t fit in.

And saboteurs? Saboteurs will find that misinformation will follow them.

Image:
Masquerade * by pareeerica, on Flickr

The Benefits of Exclusion

segregation

Oh make no mistake. There’s no doubt about it.

There are benefits to excluding other people from a pool, whether it’s a pool of applicants for jobs, schooling, or the risk pools for healthcare.

There are benefits to the people already in those pools that is. The people who have no access to those pools are out of luck.

So yes, it’s true. There are clear definite benefits there.

Arguments that those already in the pool might suffer a loss if others are included are potent and real and cogent.

But also, they are arguments for continued collection of the benefits of exclusion, arguments that those already in the pool have a right to benefit at another’s expense.

Image source:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/dustin_senos/3106266316/”
title=”Segregation by dustinsenos, on Flickr”

Connecting Across Spaces

Construction

We spin out our webs, weaving a structure for others to cross between or after us, if they happen to chance upon them.

There must be tracks to span the spaces between worlds, between my world and yours and anyone else’s. How else can we reach?

When structures fail us, that’s when we fall. That’s when the homeless find themselves huddled on an uncaring street. That’s when the suicide grasps at the blade as if flailing for a line, because solid structure can’t be found; if it exists it’s unseen, unfelt, tragically unknown. The strand that was followed ends here, the trail fades out, drops off.

The tracks our lives leave are what matters. Our lives are short but the tracks we leave behind may support scores after us.

Without them our lives are written on the wind.

Image source :
http://www.flickr.com/photos/34439637@N08/3199422889/” title=”Construction by ook.com.sa, on Flickr”

The Myth Fights Back

20130714-120651.jpg

Zimmerman stalked Martin in silence, a menacing, alarming presence with ill will. He does not seem to have given any thought to how he appeared. It may even be likely that he intended to appear threatening, as posturing men with defensive mindsets often do.

He was a man in possession of a flashlight that didn’t work, a metaphor for the self-illuminating insights that he never had.

All of his preparations were aimed at having the edge in a fight. He worked his body regularly for this purpose with MMA training three times a week. He didn’t just work out to be fit, he worked to beat an opponent in a fist fight.

He legally carried a handgun loaded with hollow point bullets. Warning shots, incapacitating shots were not part of his vocabulary, not an option in his arsenal.

Zimmerman was a man fighting for his life before he ever drove down that street or left his car that night.

All of his preparations were for this moment. He showed no concern for avoiding or preventing a fight.

Across the country, many white people have been cheated or lied to or harmed in some way by another person but never by a young black man. And yet those same white people are still afraid of young black men, more than of any other group.

When Mel Gibson barked out his famous curse, “I hope you get raped by a pack of n*ggers!” – he was expressing his own worst fears, not an actual realistic threat. His target of intimidation was in more danger of being raped by Mel Gibson. There was no feral pack of other-race men imminently circling, about to attack her. It was a myth in his over-wrought mind.

Before the Civil War, southern gentlemen couldn’t stop talking about how scary the black men were. Controlling these mental threats required maximum posturing, intimidation, and force. No public punishment was ever too severe. Those white men lived in fear that someday their advantage might be reversed. Just as Zimmerman, armed and dangerous, was living in fear.

Being pursued, Trayvon Martin knew that George Zimmerman was up to no good and that he himself had done nothing wrong. If Martin had run away Zimmerman would have held him in contempt as another “asshole” who got away. Zimmerman didn’t want him to get away.

In the grip of the myth Zimmerman knew that the young man he pursued was up to no good and had surely done something wrong. He chased him because to his mind Martin was running away, and getting away.

Myths are part of the culture of a country. In the south, fear of the overwhelming number of slaves hardened into a myth that rationalized southern fear and violence.

In such a fear myth, increasing numbers of the feared only inflate the myth. Even positive encounters with black people seem to reinforce the myth, exceptions that may well be considered proof of the rule.

Out in the national conversation held on Twitter, fear of the myth has been palpable this week. Even such a highly visible demonstration of the injustice of the myth as Trayvon Martin’s death still reinforces the fear of the myth.

How do we integrate a myth with reality when the myth is impervious and resistant to reality?

The myth fights back.

Image source :

Stop Teaching Girls that Science is Only For Boys.

(clockwise from left): Agnes J. Quirk, Helen Morgenthau Fox (1884-1974), and Florence Hedges (1878-1956)

I spent some time on Sunday helping some high schools girls revise their physics papers. Other than catching the standard misspelled words and clunky sentence structures, an interesting theme appeared in common in the papers; the girls kept writing in masculine references.

Humans have long gazed at the stars in wonder but in one paper it was specifically “man” gazing and wondering. Another paper referred to some scientists as “these men” as if gender had some kind of relevance that needed to be specifically pointed out. The papers weren’t about the lives and biographies of scientists but rather were about science in general. The scientists were men it is true, but it wasn’t necessary to emphasize that, any more than one might say that they were white or British or Greek or young or old, rich or poor, graduates of some exclusive university, or rugby fans. What did gender matter? The papers were speaking of discoveries.

But gender specific references crept into each paper multiple times.

The girls were subtly telling me that they thought science is for men. They were exposing the boundaries of the culture box that they live in, where men are glorified for wondering at stars by children raised to see them as superhuman and out of reach.

It was as if these scientists sprang fully formed and erect from the head of the father of all geniuses, historic discoveries clenched firmly in their fists, ready to enlighten the earth. Any child learning about science would be daunted.

That is a myth more romantic than the reality, which is that these men didn’t work alone and certainly weren’t born with breathtaking discoveries in hand. They worked for years, building their knowledge, sharing data, taught by parents and teachers, supported by assistants, students, and domestic help, promoted by mentors and sponsors, nurtured by loved ones, engaged by peers.

Not one of them could produce a single thought without sufficient food and water and warmth and they each created a human standard waste disposal problem.

All of these nitty gritty details of life fall away from the pedestals of great “men.” None of it matters, only the note that these were not just scientists, with all of the process and work that involves; no, these were Men. And if the girls are concluding from this that science is distinctly masculine, the boys probably are too.

I frequently see articles and statements made about the need for more women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) related careers.

“Why?” they ask repeatedly. “Why aren’t girls interested?”

Discovery and innovation always benefit from a diversity of perspectives and this is a particularly important need in these industries.

There is no biological requirement of a penis in STEM careers. I’m unaware of any significant discovery that required one as part of the process. We’ve seen successful female scientists so we know it’s possible. That means the restrictions are cultural and that means that we can have an effect if we pay attention to cultural factors, even if they seem small. A factor isn’t small if it’s pervasive. Air molecules are small too.

Narratives and stories are an important part of any culture. Science stories that specifically emphasize masculinity have the accumulated effect of excluding women from the culture of science.

If we really want more women to enter STEM careers and if we want the men in these careers to accept them, and I believe we do, we need teachers in these areas to be careful not to exclude females by using male-only language. Point it out in textbooks and talk about it. Point it out in papers from both genders. Leave it out of lectures.

It is as easy to say “human” as it is to say “man” and as easy to say “scientist” or “mathematician” as it is to say “men.” Words matter because words evoke images and if a girl can’t imagine herself as a scientist or a mathematician, then she’ll never dream of it while wondering at the stars.

Image: “(clockwise from left): Agnes J. Quirk, Helen Morgenthau Fox (1884-1974), and Florence Hedges (1878-1956)” by Smithsonian Institution, on Flickr