A Case for Liberal Arts and STEM: Part Two

The overall point of this four part series is the assertion that there is a place for both types of education in today’s society and that liberal arts degree-holders can succeed just as easily in STEM careers. Part 1 is here.

Defining liberal arts is sometimes a challenge, because the definition has evolved. An early definition is this:

Henry David Thoreau writes, “We seem to have forgotten that the expression ‘a liberal education’ originally meant among the Romans one worthy of free men; while the learning of trades and professions by which to get your livelihood merely, was considered worthy of slaves only.”

That came from an article which purports that liberal arts are traditionally the birthright of the wealthy few, and the push for more vocational experiences for the working class is a means to maintain the disparate societal strata. (Play with these some to get an idea of how this has evolved in the United States.)

In more bold terms: vocational education makes better worker bees; liberal arts training makes leaders. There is probably some truth to this. In my prior post, I linked to several examples of “the rich” openly attempting to slash funding for public education in liberal arts and defending those actions as being in the best interest of students graduating into the current economy. However, I’ve seen just as many individual “rich” operating against that agenda. We operate not in a world of black and white, but gray. Personally, I believe there are always a number of competing agendas in this debate and summarizing one side’s motivations into one category does not serve the purpose of intellectual discourse. Ad hominem attacks are the basest form of debate.

We cannot, however, deny that race relations, class structure, gender issues and social programs are not part of the equation that makes up an individual identity and therefore contribute to the pathway the individual takes on the pursuit of happiness.

Many of you will be familiar with Peter Thiel, a venture capitalist who holds that those who want to succeed in Silicon Valley should forego college altogether. (He himself has a degree in Philosophy and a law degree from Stanford). He co-founded PayPal and backed organizations such as Facebook and LinkedIn in their infancy. Why does Peter Thiel advocate dropping out of college altogether?

Thiel, who is Stanford-educated and now teaching a course on startups at his alma mater, was sure to clarify, however:

I’ve never claimed that nobody should go to college or that we should shut down all the universities in this country or anything like that. What I have argued is that there is no one-size-fits-all, and that we need to have a more diverse array of things that people, including our most talented people, can be doing.

That sounds like a pretty good endorsement for the idea that multiple pathways to success exist.

If we view the pathway from high school graduation to success in business or a technology firm as a journey level employee, there are many paths that could potentially lead to this place. If we instead define success as reaching a pinnacle such as becoming a CEO or a successful entrepreneur of such a business or tech firm, we might envision a slightly different pathway. The end game matters in the definition of the “right” way to get there.

Countless examples of successful people outside of that pathway likely exist; it is a perception that only one way is right. The fact is, the burden of achieving success is partially on the individual – if you provide the perfect environment for learning for one, you may inadvertently create an an environment that is not ideal for someone else – and it is entirely possible for external factors to drive someone to “drop out” (become a leak in the pipeline) even if they are “perfect” at following the steps.

A one-size-fits-all education will never be the only answer. People are diverse, there is an inherent bias in all of us toward other people who are not like us (it is how the brain works), and particularly for fields where women and minorities are disparately represented historically, there will be a tendency to favor one kind of education over the other. As one article points out, it is difficult for the in-group to imagine the challenges of the out-group in the same program because of the underlying decisions and behaviors that reinforce the success of the in-group.

There is inherent psychology of hiring, (not to mention retention and development of employees in your organization, a topic of a future post). As to why women change their career aspirations away from a male-dominant field after incurring significant costs to obtain the right degree, that has been well-studied and warrants a future post. If you want to get a head start on the research, take this case study for instance.

Peter Thiel is a white male venture capitalist (this merits repeating). He specializes in finding raw talent or ideas and putting money and advice into them to succeed in making more money back than he invested.

The vast majority of college students have been programmed to view college as a necessary step toward their career – an investment. With more and more graduates unable to find work in their chosen field, Thiel acknowledges the skills and talents that he has seen demonstrate success – namely, non-conformance to the idea that a degree is necessary for success and a willingness to take risks by starting your own business without the right piece of paper to back your credibility. When you turn the argument into a business case, he is right to question the inherent value of “a college degree” which is a very nice way of saying “I spent 4 years surrounded by my peers away from my parents and they gave me this nice piece of paper to take into the world when I was done – it’s my golden ticket.”

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the liberal arts,” Thiel assured the very author of this story who admitted to attending a liberal arts college. “I think there is a problem with amassing $100,000 of students loans in something where you can’t get a really well-paying job out of it on the other end.”

So, what’s the alternative?

“It’s really hard to say,” Thiel acknowledged. His “disturbing answer” is that students need to start figuring it out on their own (emphasis my own).

If he were making the choice today, though?

“If I had to do it over again, I might still very well go to Stanford; I think it’s a great university,” he said. “But I’d ask a lot of tougher questions as to why I’m doing this.”

Screen-Shot-2013-12-30-at-9.31.48-PM

This was Peter Thiel’s favorite graph of 2013. Like I said: it’s a business case. How about a few more?

In 2010, Steve Jobs famously mused that for technology to be truly brilliant, it must be coupled with artistry. “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough,” he said. “It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing.” Other tech CEOs across the country agree that liberal arts training—with its emphasis on creativity and critical thinking—is vital to the success of their business.

Steve Yi, CEO of web advertising platform MediaAlpha, says that the liberal arts train students to thrive in subjectivity and ambiguity, a necessary skill in the tech world where few things are black and white. “In the dynamic environment of the technology sector, there is not typically one right answer when you make decisions,” he says. “There are just different shades of how correct you might be,” he says.

Yi says his interdisciplinary degree in East Asian Studies at Harvard taught him to see every issue from multiple perspectives: in college, he studied Asian literature in one class, then Asian politics or economics in the next.  (Link for both of these quotes)

Later on:

“The ability to quickly synthesize information and structure it in a way that is comprehensible to non-technical people is powerful,” says MediaAlpha’s Steve Yi.

Tech CEOs are generally keen to hire people trained in the humanities, partly because a large proportion of them have similar backgrounds themselves. (A third of all Fortune 500 CEOs have liberal arts degrees.) But for students coming out of liberal arts colleges, it can still be difficult to find work in the tech sector. Georgia Nugent, the former president of Kenyon College who is currently a senior fellow at the Council of Independent Colleges, says that top executives are not responsible for hiring entry level staff. Instead, recruiters and HR managers on the hiring front lines often use systems that pick candidates for tech jobs based on key terms like “coding” and “programming,” which many liberal arts graduates will not have on their resumes.

Nugent is concerned about this trend because she thinks that training students for very specific tasks seems shortsighted when technology and business is evolving at such a fast rate. “It’s a horrible irony that at the very moment the world has become more complex, we’re encouraging our young people to be highly specialized in one task,” she says. “We are doing a disservice to young people by telling them that life is a straight path. The liberal arts are still relevant because they prepare students to be flexible and adaptable to changing circumstances.”

Stay tuned for Part 3 and Part 4. As always, I welcome comments and respectful discourse.

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A Case for Liberal Arts and STEM Education: Part One

This is Part One of a four part series. Part Two is here.

Introduction

This subject matters to me for a variety of reasons, all important. I am a graduate of a small, liberal arts women’s college in rural Virginia, Sweet Briar College which had a recent brush with death, as its current (at the time) Board of Directors attempted to close due to what the group unanimously declared “insurmountable financial challenges.” (See this article for a good summary of the original intent to close; for the reasons why the claim was false, I point you to this, this, this, and this for starters). This article will not cover the Sweet Briar situation in detail, but needless to say, it informed my choice to write about this subject.

I am also a non-engineering graduate working as an engineer in a highly male dominated field; my educational background is an asset in my organization when most other engineers came from two or three feeder engineering programs where the graduates emerge, well, programmed much the same. Organizational learning and psychology are not fields that your typical left-brained engineer will be interested in studying. Having engineers who can speak to technical teams and understand the big picture philosophy of the business is an asset. Those individuals are well-suited to advancement through the ranks and able to adjust focus to organizational and operational considerations far beyond the inner workings of a computational fluid dynamics model or the structural considerations of airplane design. There are places for both types at the table.

Motivation

The Department of the Navy is mandated to maintain an effort to be a discrimination-free workplace. The means by which this is measured is an annual report called the MD 715. This is the form from 2008, which was the latest I could find open source. At last count, my particular organization employs women at a rate of participation of (a fancy way of saying women make up) 20% of the total workforce. Some sub-level organizations are as low as 10%.

I argue for liberal arts education and the achievement of a STEM degree, versus one or the other. I particularly advocate for people to consider single-sex education and for hiring managers to widen the pool of potential candidates from which you recruit.

Why single-sex education?

Single sex education is a demonstrated means for women to develop the skills required to be competitive in the STEM workforce, and we need to do better at recruiting women.

Why Liberal Arts?

A facetious answer is that no technical schools for women only exist in the traditional accredited college model. Yet it is true. However, there are only two women-only colleges in the nation offering an ABET-accredited engineering degree: Sweet Briar College and Smith College. The DoD agency for which I work does not recruit at either place, and yet laments the abysmal “participation rate” of women in Science and Engineering occupations in terms of recruiting, retention and development into senior leaders. Let’s get some facts straight.

STEM includes Science (Biology, Chemistry, Physics and any number of specialized fields therein), Technology (which is fairly encompassing of a variety of fields including several which do not require a four year degree), Engineering (of which there are many specializations) and Mathematics (which includes Economics, Applied Mathematics, Computer Science, Bioinformatics and any other number of specialized fields). Why then does the federal sector exclude all of these from the “A” category on interdisciplinary engineering job announcements? While not transparent, clearly there is a selection mechanism for non-ABET accredited engineering degrees within the process, and the results lead to the conclusion that any STEM degree is not good enough, engineering is the “best.” Is this true in practice?

Hypothesis

Liberal arts education has demonstrable impacts on the ability to think critically, understand context and perspective, form objective conclusions, and exhibit resilience in the face of adversity. The federal government requires senior leaders to show outstanding capacity to lead people, lead change, exhibit business acumen, be driven to produce tangible results, and build coalitions as needed to effect change.

Liberal arts education is often frowned upon in favor of professional and trade-oriented study when attempting to be hired as an entry-level candidate. In many agencies, there are no such positions for anyone lacking a bachelors degree, and candidates are more apt to be hired into Naval Acquisition with a STEM degree. A STEM degree in itself requires those same qualities for success. A distinct priority in hiring candidates is to prefer an engineering degree from a technical program.

I believe the federal STEM workforce is due for significant challenges in the future if the current political and personal agendas to eliminate liberal arts in favor of stove-piped technical degrees continues. The trends are there to analyze and a mandate to work toward barrier elimination is required. Have the individual organizations focused on the “right” barriers? Probably not. Are they required to work on all of them? Not at all. Two barriers are to be selected. For my agency, the two focus areas have been: establish diversity action teams comprised of the entire workforce via a selection process, and work toward increased hiring of individuals with targeted disabilities. They have achieved both according to the tracked metrics. And they will continue to work on both, but is this enough? I think not.

The federal sector tends to move more slowly than industry toward a philosophy of workforce management. Let’s start with industry and work toward ever narrowing the focus toward the federal sector in our analysis.

It is frequently argued in modern American society that liberal arts education is on the decline for valid reasons. The position of the federal government on the matter of hiring liberal arts majors is fairly clear when one compares the job series for STEM graduates and business majors to the slim pickings for humanities or the arts. Many outside the fields of higher education and government have argued that today’s workforce needs to be oriented toward technical training and vocational skills, not liberal arts. Despite respected industrial reports detailing the need for employees to have problem-solving skills and exhibit resilience in changing industrial circumstances, politicians seem hell bent on eliminating funding for public institutions which provide opportunities in the liberal arts over vocational programs.

I believe there is a valid need for both and the real issue lies in individual pursuit of the “right” choice; this is further complicated by other factors such as politicians offering uninformed opinions on the “value” of liberal arts (typically negative opinions) and the tendency of today’s society to rely on television (where politicians receive an inordinate amount of coverage) rather than reading and conceptualizing the facets of opinions into a more coherent viewpoint.

This goes against the views of an evaluator of your USA Jobs application for an engineering position, where you have to distinguish yourself as either A) holding a bachelors in an ABET accredited engineering discipline or B) holding some other STEM degree (of which not all potential options are listed) or C) neither. I have seen people who were highly qualified and desired candidates by hiring managers not make a certification list, because of this practice. Anecdotally, I’ve heard at least 50 stories from one site; extrapolating to all the others, it seems many qualified candidates are being withheld from employment without that “right” piece of paper. This is in the federal sector where they are required not to discriminate (yes, I know STEM are not a protected class).

Recruitment is not funded well; HR professionals typically lack STEM degrees and hold the reins on evaluation of candidates. Hiring managers put in a preferred degree and qualifications summary. HR determines the type of announcement to post and for what duration. HR also controls the recruiting efforts and typically chooses to recruit at the same programs over and over. For a STEM-heavy federal sector, these tend to be feeder engineering programs at large universities: Penn State, Morgan State, Virginia Tech, Stanford, MIT… you get the idea. Since many graduates from those programs are being courted by other employers which tend to pay more, we do lose out on their best candidates on a routine basis. We recruit whoever has not chosen the higher salary offer and don’t mind living in high-cost areas for a smaller salary. For many, this is not a possibility. DoD does not recruit at either of the women’s colleges that graduate female ABET-accredited engineers.

Why? A happy medium is a STEM degree obtained at a liberal arts college and not limiting recruitment to public universities, which are obviously going to attract students who cannot afford to fully fund their own education. Not all public colleges are vocational in nature, and many offer liberal arts degrees alongside their technical degrees. Recruiters and HR professionals are not always able to even choose the schools for targeted recruiting, but there are ways to recruit outside of command-funded trips to sanctioned college fairs. Why are we not doing this?

This piece seeks to explore some of the arguments in detail to support a shift in mentality for hiring managers to consider a more expansive range of qualifications for entry level positions, and a widening of the pool of “qualified” talent for specific job series which currently hire a very specific set of individuals from notably narrow pools of talent at specific schools. While intended for the Department of the Navy to consider, this has applications elsewhere within society and other sectors will be discussed.

Corporate Views

Corporate America, which is the place where American ingenuity is most publicly celebrated, revels in the ability to hire a wide range of individuals with skills and talents which exceed the narrow minded view that all that is required for success is a specific technical acumen. Businesses that have become giants among others in the same category are sought after for internships and careers, from people graduating with majors ranging from business and marketing, to computer science, to art history; superstar CEOs and entrepreneurs are sought after for advice and frequently discuss the importance of a well-rounded education to include liberal arts.

Even (perhaps especially) among technical organizations, the ability to write and think clearly through a problem are touted as the ideal. These abilities are lamented as the fundamental ability lacking among new hires or candidates for employment who are not hired, despite having the “right” credentials on paper. This applies to both the public and the private sector. It is not uncommon to meet someone who is universally admired in the technology sector and find out the major they studied in college was among those purported to be a “waste of time” by those actively writing on higher education in this modern age of rising expenses and declining enrollment in the liberal arts.

Mark Zuckerberg (creator and CEO of Facebook) was a classic liberal arts student who studied ancient Greek intensively in high school and majored in psychology (and computer science) while he attended college (at Harvard, a liberal arts college). Mark has commented that Facebook is “as much psychology and sociology as it is technology.” He also has said the implications of Facebook stretch beyond simple local interactions and into fostering understanding between countries.

Does this sound like something a “typical” engineer or entrepreneur would discuss?

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com and the owner of the Washington Post, has similar views. In this article, one point stands out: “he insists that his senior executives write memos, often as long as six printed pages, and begins senior-management meetings with a period of quiet time, sometimes as long as 30 minutes, while everyone reads the ‘narratives’ to themselves and makes notes on them.”

In an interview with Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky, Bezos said: “Full sentences are harder to write. They have verbs. The paragraphs have topic sentences. There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking.”

Seems legit.

More to come on this subject in the future, thanks for reading!

(mig)raine, (mig)raine, go away

I am home from work unexpectedly on a Tuesday, thanks to a migraine. I used to be plagued by migraines, for years. I generally know how to handle them and “get ’em gone” within a few hours. This one is persistent. I am impatient. These two do not mix well.

I had to take off work – I have been having problems with my vision for a few weeks and the blurriness coupled with the light sensitivity was just too much this time. I called out and I’ve been trying to stay in the dark and quiet. My dogs are out and about, because I don’t have the heart to put them in the crates when I know they could be out and about with me. Occasionally, I get a big bark over a squirrel in the yard, or the neighbors out walking. But I can deal with that. They are in an affectionate mood with each other right now. Usually Flash is a grumpy gus, but I guess having “mommy” home midday has a good effect.

About six months ago, I helped a work friend help his daughter get rid of her migraines. I used a combination of personal experience and the ideas gleaned from reading up on the biological mechanism of migraine, mostly in the book

    Heal Your Headache

by David Bucholtz, which I was given by my father’s reflexologist, . She also sells an excellent Young Living essential oil blend called M*Graine that works wonders.

The technical details are interesting to me, as a scientist. But most folks don’t really care WHY they have one, they just want it to go away. I meticulously tracked my food intake for six months back in 2012, and realized I have several food triggers. (Of course, they are all my favorite things!). Bananas, avocados, red wine, cheese, and sushi. I’m sure the sushi is partly because of the soy sauce. In any case, I do not eat these five things within 24 hours of one another, and I usually can avoid the migraine. I learned NOT to treat them with caffeine, though it is a last resort if needed, for temporary relief. Finally, I was able to eliminate imitrex, which is the sumatriptan based migraine medication most commonly perscribed for migraine sufferers. I never liked it. It always gave me a second headache once it wore off. Not a fan.

Today, I was fortunate because my neighbor Andy had given me a cucumber and some fresh cherry tomatoes off the vine last night. I made a great cucumber/tomato pasta salad, using Dreamfields pasta and cubed cheddar cheese in a balsamic base. That will only get better with a few hours to marinate. I put some corn off the cob leftover from Sunday dinner with my parents in there too and plenty of salt and pepper. And with the rest of the tomatoes, I made an olive oil, vidalia and garlic based saute and the rest of the pasta. I ate that for lunch. I have enough left for tomorrow’s lunch too (sorry, guys, garlic breath will be addressed via altoids!). It was wonderful. Fresh food always makes me feel better. The migraine rages on, but at least I ate well!

And finally, I made a white bean spinach artichoke baked dip with the remains of a bag of spinach I needed to use up. First time making that – pretty good. Consistency needs some work. I was trying to avoid using any dairy. I ended up with a little butter in there, some mayonnaise and olive oil to get the smoothness I wanted. I blended the beans and some of the artichokes, with some lemon juice and olive oil, plus put in the artichokes and spinach (I used fresh, so I sauteed it in butter briefly to let it wilt).

I’m wishing for some relief, but I can’t complain. Life has hit us pretty hard this year. While we still have hurdles to overcome, my husband and I are happy and enjoying our life. I am grateful.

A New Day: Reflections From This Morning

Today I started running again. I knew it would be great for me, but I was apprehensive. I go “all in” in life, so often in attempting to establish new habits, I overdo it and then get burned out. I decided to run after reflecting upon this post by my friend Jodi Edwards. She is a huge inspiration to me, in many ways, which I’ll talk about another time. Jodi asserts that exercise and antidepressants have the same effects in the neural circuits in theory, but exercise is so much more satisfying and beneficial. She relies upon exercise as therapy for her multiple sclerosis. To her, running allows her to live. So I decided to run today. Here are my thoughts on the journey.

I struggle with depression. This is becoming more common for people to admit and ask for help, but I still find depression to be epidemic. I think particularly when someone’s depression is unexplained by a circumstance, it is especially difficult for people to understand. I guess in some ways, misfortune is a means to achieve acceptance of your flaws in that regard, but it truly sucks. My depression comes and goes. Right now, I am at the end of a year’s worth of financial struggles resulting from my husband’s layoff and benching by his union due to a severe lack of work, his subsequent resignation and transition into a new career entirely, the results of a federal furlough and a foreclosure by a heartless mortgage company that doesn’t care, and a career change for me. To top this off, we are about to move, which many people have cautioned me is a really depressing/stressful situation. It’s been five years since I last moved. It was exciting last time – I had bought my first home at age 23, and was engaged to a wonderful man who is now my husband. This time, we are short selling said home after it lost $20K in value over five years. I’ll walk away with either a lien against me for the difference or a huge tax bill, with no home. It’s truly difficult to find the positives in this, but I am trying. My home was robbed last November, and there are break ins everyday here in this neighborhood now. It is still a nice place to live, but it’s not as safe as it used to be. I will get to move closer to my family, and closer to my job. So there are always silver linings.

I chose songs to listen to that I find upbeat and inspiring, but also somewhat run-worthy. Here was the list and the thoughts that I associated with each one as I ran:

Remember the NameFort Minor with Styles of Beyond

This song’s beat is slow enough to warm up or cool down with, or you can double that pace for a sprint.

“This is ten percent luck, twenty percent skill
Fifteen percent concentrated power of will
Five percent pleasure, fifty percent pain
And a hundred percent reason to remember the name!”

Mike Shinoda is amazing, by the way. You can also hear his work in Linkin’ Park.

This was the first song. Whenever I hear it, I am reminded that success is not all luck, nor all hard work, but mostly a result of willpower and resolve not to lose the forest for the trees. In all the ups and downs of the last year and a half, that has been difficult. And success is elusive, and has different meanings for different people. On different days, it means different things even to me.

Success is not a place, but a feeling. In order to achieve success, you must be able to achieve without losing your identity. Last year, I was rudderless. Working as an engineer for the Navy, but not having formal engineering education, I was sometimes dismissed because of my gender/age/background by people I respected. I had my head down. It was uncomfortable and I felt lost. I changed my course after I realized that who I am does not change just because the path I was on no longer fits me. I must evolve the path to get back on track and feel authentic to myself again. It doesn’t make me a failure to not want to work on physics basic and applied research in a lab. I am grateful to the people who made that pathway possible for me: Dr. Francesco “Frank” Narducci and Dr. Robert Walters, both amazing physicists with the Navy, both working on incredibly challenging but exciting problems in materials science, electronics and cold atoms. I am grateful for those who came along afterward and helped give me perspective: Dr. Ann Reagan and my supervisor and friend Andrew Kijesky. These people are truly amazing mentors and I thank them all.

In my new path, I am finding that being an engineer vs. physicist is tremendously rewarding too. There is a certain satisfaction in knowing that my work product directly benefits the men and women serving active duty in the Navy. Not only that, but working in a program gives you the widest exposure to all of the interdisciplinary efforts that make Naval Aviation work and work best in the world. I received good feedback on my performance the other day by my team lead. It was huge in making my self esteem improve.

Ridin’Chamillionaire

Yesterday, Calvert’s finest were staked out on my street in response to the increased burglaries. I took some time to thank them for this and we actually had a nice chat. So I threw this in there for those guys, because as soon as I walked back home, one of the kids on the street made a joke about them trying to catch him riding dirty. The kid’s like, ten. I highly doubt (and sincerely hope he didn’t) understood the context. It was cute.

This song reminded me of the few bad encounters I’ve had with police. The subject of police overstepping is rampant in the news and on FB, at least among my conservative friends. I have had a few bad encounters myself. I’m a good person. I drive too fast sometimes, but I’ve never been in serious trouble. I have to make a shout out to those who support the police too. My aunt Christie, who is a dispatcher, hears about some of the worst stuff that they deal with more often than the average person. I have two PGPD officers retired in my maternal family. I respect the police. My husband has considered applying to the academy. I encourage that when he is ready. We shall see.

Stronger and Jesus Walks and Gold DiggerKanye West

Say what you want about “Kimye,” but this guy makes good raps. Gold Digger is awesome. ‘Nuff said.

Stronger reminds me of someone I used to know who recently made a brief appearance in my life for a week or so. I’ll protect their identity, but they really suck. I recently went to my class reunion for high school, ten years. It was weird, but not terrible. To be honest, I wasn’t surprised to see that here in SoMD, the old cliques are still intact and some people REALLY do not grow up. The person that comes to mind has high expectations of what others will do for them, but little interest in returning the favor. This person is a great schmoozer – charisma oozes. But once they get what they want, they drop you like a hot potato. It’s disheartening, really, that this person has not realized that demanding perfection in others is not only unrealistic, but demonstrates a lack of “perfection” on their part. Perfection is a myth. You cannot take from others repeatedly but give nothing back. After awhile, even your biggest groupie will walk away. I wish them good luck, but I really hope that they stay out of my immediate circle. We don’t need that kind of drama.

Jesus Walks is always a good one. Can you really argue with “God show me the way because the devil trying to break me down?”

Whether or not the hustlin’ this guy is rapping about is “morally sound or not” the message is clear.

Not Afraid and Love the Way You Lie (feat. Rihanna) Eminem

Both of these reflect realities of life that are sometimes not pleasant. Love the Way You Lie is easy to misinterpret. But it’s a subject most of us don’t realize is so prevalent. Domestic violence is not limited to physical abuse. Often, people ignore it when there’s no physical signs, victimize the victim further by questioning her about why she stays/what she was wearing/did she deserve it/etc. I agree that not all victims of domestic violence are women, so please don’t go there. But beyond domestic violence, there is the larger issues of misogyny, which has been the subject of recent social media scrutiny in the form of #notallmen and #yesallwomen. These debates need to happen and more frequently. Acceptance that not all men are misogynistic, but enough men are that arguing with the need for the conversation is unproductive is a great start. Seek first to understand, then to judge. Preferably, skip the judgment and move to making it better.

Not Afraid – great lyrical reminder that you are not what others believe you to be. You make the choice to be better, and it’s a daily, hourly, sometimes up to the minute choice. While I don’t have much to share on this publicly, suffice it to say, I was reminded of this by someone incredibly important to me this week.

Insane in the MembraneCypress Hill

Throwback, and included mostly because this reminds me of so many childhood things. Here’s to you dad, and thank you for being my musical guru over the years. Your taste is eclectic but awesome.

Figure 8Outasight

I love this guy. He’s little known, but that ought to change soon. Some of my other favorites are Tonight is the Night and Change the World. His music is lyrically sound, upbeat and has a positive message while maintaining the right amount of cynicism.

“Keep your head up while you’re pushed to the side
And maybe with a bit-bit more luck
You can get picked up from wherever you lie
I know, I know it’s not enough, you know, you know it’s hard enough
To get a decent chance around these parts-around these parts
I know, I know it’s not enough, you know, you know it’s far enough
That you can’t get there on your own anymore”

Just a sample. This harkens back to that class reunion story I mentioned earlier.

I thought about a lot more. But stream of consciousness thought is hard to quantify. Finishing on a good note, the view from the top of the cliffs at CRE on the part where Golden West Way is closed is amazing. I could see for miles – eastern shore, Pax River NAS, and the sun was rising, and it was gorgeous. Thank You God for My Life, My Health, My Mind and My Family. It’s going to be a great day.

 

The Paycheck Fairness Act of 2014 – What it Says, What it Implies and Why We Should Encourage Our Congressmen and Women to Consider Passing It

I was recently invited by a friend to watch a YouTube video, which is embedded in my previous post. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) was addressing the Senate floor on The Paycheck Fairness Act of 2014 and urging her peers to vote for this bill. The facts surrounding whether women are underpaid for the same work are difficult to address, because the range by which this gap differs is not fixed across industries or socioeconomic lines. Some simple comparisons that have been thrown around garner a large amount of derision on social media and news outlet sites. I commented on the video because of one of these particularly insulting remarks, and received a response in which seemingly irrelevant data to the point I had made was given in defense of not passing the act. He asked me if I even know what the bill proposes.

Why, yes sir, I do. In addition, I know a bunch of fun facts which I am happy to share. Let’s start with some mathematical data.

Using 2012 Census data, the female population in my home state of Maryland was estimated at 51.6% of the total population. Since my critic cited data on the salary information for women without children, let’s take a look at that number too. This is not directly cited, but we can extrapolate it.

The number of persons per household was 2.64. Not all of the “extra” people were necessarily spouses or children, but some comfortable fraction of these would be. Let’s argue for a 30/70 split between the number of persons above one within a single household to be either spouse and some variation of “children.” Let’s define “children” to include any family member of age similar to one’s children, for whom one would arguably carry the cost of their living expenses, stepchildren, etc, versus some other person such as an aging parent or roommate with shared expenses or a live-in significant other. Even this is generous (for example, a woman in her 50’s who is disabled, because of her social security disability benefit being too low to cover even a single room apartment in some locales, often will be required to live with family and her meager $600 a month income barely covers “rent” in the form of half of the utilities and food).

In this society, we have statistics on the number of these which indicate the percentage of marriage-like living situations is higher than traditionally cited through census data. So approximately 36% of the total population could be argued to be females directly responsible for the household finances. With me so far?

Let’s look at income data, starting with the US as a whole and then focusing specifically on Maryland. We will make some assumptions. First, we will assume that some percentage of the population is unable to work full time for some reason related to health or being directly responsible for the care of children. This data is not always captured via unemployment data, so we will also look at data which indicates other means of support, such as social security, WIC, and “welfare.” We will exclude Veterans Administration data for the moment, which should make people who think women didn’t “really” serve pretty ecstatic. I happen to disagree.

Unemployment data discounts individuals who have been out of work for longer than several months, and a significant portion of people in this category would not be captured with official unemployment data for other reasons, such as recently becoming a legal adult, with no work history and needing a job but being unable to obtain one; recently graduating from college; recently entering the workforce from another country and losing one’s job while still legally remaining in the US; and other categories not captured here. Presumably, the critic is one of those who wishes to consider any illegal immigrants working to “not count,” so we will respect this definition even though my personal politics do not condemn those individuals.

Second assumption is that the percentage of individuals working is broken out into some income distribution that is represented commensurately with the entire population income distribution (arguably, the ideal case if the world was already fair and women were paid equally). We will later show this is inconsistent with the data, but it illustrates the point of the Paycheck Fairness Legislation quite beautifully.

Maryland-Pay-Gap-2013

(please click the link)

Another interesting point is captured below.

“Part of the reason for the superior gains of married adults is compositional in nature. Marriage rates have declined for all adults since 1970 and gone down most sharply for the least educated men and women. As a result, those with more education are far more likely than those with less education to be married, a gap that has widened since 1970. Because higher education tends to lead to higher earnings, these compositional changes have bolstered the economic gains from being married for both men and women.

There also is an important gender component of these trends. Forty years ago, the typical man did not gain another breadwinner in his household when he married. Today, he does — giving his household increased earning power that most unmarried men do not enjoy. The superior gains of married men have enabled them to overtake and surpass unmarried men in their median household income.

Overall, married adults have made greater economic gains over the past four decades than unmarried adults. From 1970 to 2007, their median adjusted household incomes, the sum of financial contributions of all members of the household, rose more than those of the unmarried”

(Cited from this report: new-economics-of-marriage)

My YouTube critic contends that women without children are paid more than men without children, so the contention that women have a pay gap is false. I found data to support his claim, which he did not of course provide (critics never do!).

“Unmarried women in 2007 had higher household incomes than their 1970 counterparts at each level of
education. But unmarried men without any post-secondary education lost ground because their real earnings decreased and they did not have a wife’s wages to buffer that decline. Unmarried men who did not complete high
school or who had only a high school diploma had lower household incomes in 2007 than their 1970
counterparts did. Unmarried men with some college education had stagnant household incomes.”

While this does not exactly quantify the number of married men not working, I bring it up because another component of the YouTube critic was that it matters whether a woman’s spouse works as to whether she cares about an income gap, and also indicated that if I am paid fairly as a woman, I should not take up this cause for others. At least in my case, this is not true.

So, perhaps we can all at least agree that men in these times stand to gain a tremendous advantage by being married, which is confirmed by that statement from the report above. Women don’t arguably NEED to get married to have children (gasp!), so that is an ancillary fact for the economic benefit of marriage in terms of having children. Women who wish to have children have several options and these are exercised with sufficient regularity to support this claim. But there is often a benefit to working women as well. It just depends on whether their spouse is working and whether they are making ends meet. Further,

Among U.S.-born adults ages 30-44, most married men did not have a working spouse in 1970; now, most do. Married women, on the other hand, are somewhat less likely than their 1970 counterparts to have a husband who works.

Even if there is a live-in working partner for unmarried couples, the data will show these to be single household earners at tax time and census collection. This excludes data on married lesbian women, which traditionally were not considered an acceptable category of married persons (and still is not in many states) for census collection purposes. We will have to figure for this as well.  One beautiful thing about data is that it directly quantifies my point, even when the categories of people are not “accurately” captured. 

 A Facebook friend criticized the need for a new law on the grounds that women who have been unfairly discriminated against can now sue their former or current employers if such discrimination can be proven in court. I challenge this person to find any women in a position that is comfortably within some margin above the poverty line who has the means to sue a former employer in court. Tort law might be the answer for people with exposable income, but most working women who are not single are doing so because they need that income for survival. And those who are single are clearly in worse shape. When you find a portion of the population, male or female, who agrees to fork over the typical costs for such a legal action, please let me know. In the meantime, Congress has to note the difficulty this presents for the majority of their constituents. There are gaps in the current laws which allow employers to continue such discrimination “legally.” We need to fix those gaps.

While I don’t necessarily think this is the best resource, my generation usually appreciates the summary capabilities of Wikipedia, so I will provide this as well: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paycheck_Fairness_Act

 The succinctly stated point below summarizes my view as to why we need to consider urging our Congressperson to pass this next time it arises for discussion and a vote.

 The following study finding highlights potential reasons why men are so indignant about this potentially being passed which are purely psychological in nature:

A Pew Research Center survey in 2008 found that wives who earn more than their husbands are more
likely to have decision-making power, especially over major purchases and household finances.
According to the survey, in couples where the husband makes more money, spouses are about
equally likely to say that husbands (35%) and wives (36%) make most decisions regarding household finances. However, in couples where the wife makes more, spouses say that only 21% of husbands make most decisions
on household finances, compared with 46% of wives.

This does not imply all men who are enjoying less power feel emasculated enough to not want to allow women to earn more, thus potentially increasing their decision-making power and therefore overall control. But I think it is implied that this might explain some individual thoughts on the matter. My question is this: Is women having more power sufficient justification for not doing something? What if the population were something other than female? I hear a lot of reasoning on why things should not be done on the basis of “if it were white men asking for this, it would never happen.” This is wrong on so many levels. If all of us are to support the notion of everyone being created equal, or everyone being deserving of respect, or any of the values we supposedly embody in the USA traditionally, which are indirectly associated with prosperity and stability, then we must stand up for those who are not receiving this fairness. The willingness to advocate for others who are NOT like you is the mark of integrity that we as a nation have historically appreciated in our finest leaders. If we as individuals turn our back on these injustices, we are not realistically able to then criticize our elected leaders on the same basis. Yet we do it all the time. 

I hear from time to time discussion about this nation not being worth it anymore. I always challenge this notion, though it gets me in trouble. But when really facing facts about what we as individuals want, we cannot argue with the logic and facts presented in Barbara Mikulski’s speech:

“There are fathers out there working in jobs they hate so that their daughters can work in the careers that they love.” 

Truer words were never spoken – I am willing to bet if you are not one of these fathers, you know one. Consider this bill for those individuals, if not for yourself or your own children. 

 

 

 

 

Dear parents, you are being lied to.

Thank you to this scientist, for bringing a coherent argument together with actual facts and source material. I too have neglected to comment on this issue directly, but this is worth your time and if you take the time, you will come out of reading it with a new understanding of the issue.

Violent metaphors

Standard of care.

In light of recent outbreaks of measles and other vaccine preventable illnesses, and the refusal of anti-vaccination advocates to acknowledge the problem, I thought it was past time for this post.

Dear parents,

You are being lied to. The people who claim to be acting in the best interests of your children are putting their health and even lives at risk.

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