Wednesday, February 6, 2013

When a Necktie isn't just a Necktie

Florida has a new business slogan designed to promote job growth in the state.  The slogan, "Florida: The Perfect Climate for Business," features a necktie in place of the "I" in the word "Florida."  I am baffled as to why there is any dispute over whether this slogan is sexist.  How is it NOT sexist?  Is a necktie an article of clothing worn by anyone but men?

This necktie flap may seem like a small point, but I would argue that it is not.  It is utterly tone deaf to the realities of the business world (eerily, in exactly the same way so much of the Republican Party's rhetoric was tone deaf to the realities of the electorate in the 2012 election).  The state of Florida could not have said more clearly that it considers business to be a male-only club.  The likely fact that this was entirely unintentional makes it worse, not better.

According to the article, Florida is home to more than 587,000 female-owned businesses, which ranks it 4th of 50 in the country.  Yet the slogan-creators, apparently unaware or uninterested in that truth, chose as their logo a male-only article of clothing.  Let's look at it the other way: what if they'd chosen a business suit with a skirt instead of pants to stand in for the "I"?  That would be sexist, wouldn't it?  It would also strike everyone as weird.  "Why exclude men from the equation?" and "Why pander to PC feminism?" and "What the hell could they be thinking?" would echo loud and clear from every corner of the rafters.  And the detractors would be right - logos should not exclude huge swaths of the population unless they are designed to do so for some legitimate business reason.  (Tampons don't need to be marketed to men; testosterone-replacement therapies don't need to be marketed to women.)

Why wasn't Florida's logo gender-neutral?  One of the commenters in the article suggests a briefcase or a smartphone.  I'll suggest an office building, maybe an iconic Miami or Tampa or Jacksonville office building.  To anyone inclined to object, "But lots of businesses aren't in office buildings," I'll reply, "Really?  Does using an office building suggest big business in a way using a necktie doesn't suggest men?"

This kind of casual, throwaway, in-all-likelihood-unintended sexism drives me nuts.  It bespeaks a mindset about how and what the world is that relegates women - in this case, women in business - to an inferior position.  It's not merely tone-deaf.  It forces women into an inaccurate political and economic box.  It diminishes opportunity.  It intimidates, it succors discrimination and limiting definitions, and it perpetuates antiquated negatives.  For men as well as for women.

Casual sexism of this ilk is particularly infuriating because there is arguably no realistic recourse once it occurs.  Anyone who points out and attempts to address every instance looks like a tiresome, obsessed crackpot with no sense of humor or perspective whatsoever.  You can't be a vocal, hard-nosed activist on every little thing if you want to be able to influence some real change.  But being a good sport is equally wrong.  Sexism is like any other prejudice.  Letting it go lends it an acceptability, even a validity.  It amounts to tacit approval and inures people to the harm.  When we keep quiet, we have to cope not only with outrage and frustration, but also with the discomfort that comes from knowing that our silence effectively constitutes consent and makes us collaborators.

So, Florida, unless you intended to demean women in business, change your slogan.  And next time, think harder about what and whom you're trying to attract.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Baked Goods

It's been unusually wintry in Las Vegas this month, and wintry weather (even when the sun is nearly always shining) puts me in mind of stews and casseroles and baked goods. I rarely admire photos of stews and casseroles, so I never take any. Somehow, all that lumpy, molten deliciousness looks disgusting in two-dimensional form. So you'll have to trust me that the beef stew, chili, chicken tetrazzini, and barbecued pulled pork were everything you might hope for in warming winter food.

Baked goods, on the other hand, manage to look as mouthwatering in two dimensions as they do in three. Photos of bread just pulled from a super-hot oven evoke the fragrance of the yeast and the cracking sound a crisp crust makes as it cools (the French call this "singing," which I love). Go ahead - try it. Can you smell the whole wheat and olive oil in the rustic Italian boule? The semolina in the scored loaf? How about the cinnamon, raisins and oats in the second boule?

 My first attempt at homemade bagels a few months ago (sorry, no pix) was a huge success, so much so that it made me wonder why it's all but impossible to get a decent bagel out in the world. Time and patience were the main ingredients; the tangible ingredients and the process couldn't have been much simpler. Buoyed by that success, I decided pizza crust probably wasn't overly difficult either. And it wasn't! I'm not a big fan of pizza (shocking for a Chicagoan, I know), but I do love a crisp, brown, chewy, slightly charred pizza crust.

You can absolutely smell the pizza, can't you?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Maine, Boston, Perspective & Hindsight

Last summer, we spent a couple weeks in Maine and Boston. We like to travel to cold climes in the summer and, although we knew it wouldn't be exactly cold in New England, we figured being right on the ocean would make it pleasant. Wrong. It was disgustingly hot and humid all but a few days, which made everything we wanted to do less fun than it should have been.

The trip wasn't a complete disappointment. We enjoyed extraordinarily delicious lobster - my favorite food and one I planned to, and did, eat daily - along with a few other local delicacies (including Ipswich clams in Ipswich and tender, rosy roast beef sandwiches in Boston), some excellent boating, lots of nice people with highly entertaining accents, and the stirring historical thrill of the Freedom Trail (made no less stirring, but a lot less comfortable by the triple-digit heat and humidity index the day we walked it). Still, the trip was not what we'd hoped and it left us wishing we'd gone somewhere else.

That sense of disappointment clung to the photos I took.  When I looked at them soon after taking them, they, too, struck me as pallid. Culling through them today, however, I realized that there were some lovely moments amidst the disgruntlement and general stickiness.

A lobster pound where I lunched on an enormous lobster so bright, so fresh, so altogether delectable that rays of sunshine seemed to brighten the piles of gloomy gray clouds surrounding the open air patio on which we ate:

One of the northeastern edges of the United States, at Acadia National Park (these aren't bad photos; the water and air really were this foggy:

Different northeastern edges and a bluer Atlantic on a much nicer day:

An American eagle in her aerie (she's just above and slightly to the right of the center of the photo; click on it to see her more clearly):

A ground-bound bird ready for its close-up:

One of many evocative headstones in the venerable Granary burying ground adjacent to the Park Street Church on the Freedom Trail in Boston:

Sign of the times, also on the Freedom Trail: the Old Corner Bookstore is now a Chipotle Grill:

Boston from the water (the only tolerable place to be when the temperature is nearly 90 and the relative humidity is even higher):

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


I can't decide if I want to resume blogging or not. I reread old posts and am pleased with them, and also with the memory of what fun it was to craft them, usually out of an explosive kernel of an idea that niggled and prodded until I gave it its due. The habit of blogging was so infectious. Once I got going, ideas piled up and popped all over the place, begging to be chosen, pinned down and expressed in words. It would be good to experience more of that particular pleasure. And to take on more of that kind of short-term, quickly gratified intellectual challenge.

I didn't deliberately turn away from blogging. For a few weeks after my last post in January 2012, I thought often about posting. After a couple months, I thought less often (and more guiltily) about it. After a couple more, the idea flitted vaguely through my mind every now and then. I took pictures on trips and composed descriptive paragraphs in my head, thinking to write travel posts, if nothing else. But the inspiration was never sufficiently compelling to prompt an actual post. Not even when it got to be November and December and I had to see that accusing January 2012 date looming at the top of my blog whenever I checked it to see if the bloggers I follow had posted anything new. (They had. Often. See "Interesting Blogs" in the sidebar to your right and look them up.)

Twitter was the same. When I tweeted regularly, my brain developed a whole Twitter compartment, a bustling, observant mechanism that parsed the world into 140-character bursts of revelation. Twitter, too, was fun. It, too, was infectious and challenging. And it, too, fell by the wayside in 2012.


It could be laziness or a sense of diminishing returns. It could be that I got busy with other, more captivating, things. Or maybe it was merely the end of a natural life cycle. Hobbies, interests, even passions come and go.

I spend the bulk of my time crafting words. For a time, a long time, the challenge of crafting blog posts and tweets complemented my writing work. It was hugely entertaining, it made me some great friends, and it honed my skills. Ultimately, though, blogging and tweeting stopped complementing and started distracting. At first, the distraction was a welcome diversion. I was at a difficult juncture with my book; expressing myself pithily elsewhere served as a needed outlet and a reassuring relief. But eventually the distraction was only a distraction. It lost its enticing appeal, and I turned to different side dishes.

 I rediscovered two former passions in 2012: baking bread and cooking. Like all good hobbies, neither of these can ever be entirely mastered. There's always something to improve on or something new to learn. They offer a constant challenge, and one that, unlike blogging and Twitter, is not verbal. You decide what you want to create, assemble ingredients, apply techniques, and - presto! - you very shortly have what you wanted and it's a tangible thing. This may be a metaphor for novel-writing, but it's the antithesis of writing an actual novel - and not only because you get to eat your results.

It's been cold and cloudier than usual in Las Vegas this winter, and the clouds make for gorgeous sunsets. As I was uploading photos of a recent beauty to my computer, it occurred to me that a sunset is a worthy and enjoyable phenomenon whether or not it precedes a sunny dawn. I may blog or tweet regularly again; I may not. For now, here's the sunset:

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Death Valley for the Holidays

Death Valley is not aptly named for a holiday destination, but it makes a good one even so. Home to great winter weather, both the lowest elevation in North America (Badwater Basin at 282 feet below sea level) and the highest in the continental U.S. (Mt. Whitney at 14,505 feet above sea level), rocks of all colors and textures, mountains, craters, sand dunes, vast salt flats and nights ablaze with stars, Death Valley also has the advantage of being only three hours by car from Las Vegas. What more could you ask of a natural marvel?

I took quantities of photos; here are a few of my favorites.

Artist's Palette

Ubehebe Crater

Salt flats

A plant eking out an existence

General gloriousness

Monday, August 29, 2011

Lake Tahoe

I wonder if it's possible to appreciate beauty in a vacuum, without reference to other things one has seen or read or heard. I imagine that it is, in large part because of scenery like that around Lake Tahoe. It seems to me that the splendors of Lake Tahoe would be perceived as gorgeous by everyone, no matter his or her frame of reference, experience or aesthetic preferences.

Huge (192 square miles), deep (at 1,645 feet deep, the second deepest lake in North America), high (surface elev. 6,229 feet), with cobalt blue water of extraordinary clarity (it's said that a white dinner plate at a depth of 75 feet would be clearly visible; I don't know if that's true since we didn't toss one in to find out, but glacial lakes are always astonishingly pure) and surrounded by snow-capped mountains, Lake Tahoe is quite an eyeful. Glacially carved Alpine scenery is my favorite: its pristine magnitude is all at once majestic, serene, spectacular, evocative, and profound. There is no better example than Alaska, and the Lake Tahoe area is reminiscent of our 49th state, although on a far smaller scale (and with a lot more sunshine).

In fact, our first impressions of Lake Tahoe were somewhat spoiled by our memories of Alaska. It was rather like seeing the Mona Lisa for the first time: the small, dark painting tucked away in a corner of the Louvre was underwhelming until we got ourselves intellectually revved up over it and examined it more carefully. Similarly, Lake Tahoe struck us primarily as not-Alaska until we adjusted our brains and used our eyes to take in what it was, rather than what it wasn't.

Don't miss the moon in this last picture. (Click on the pic to make it bigger.) These photos are all from the area around Emerald Bay. For some reason, I didn't take pictures of the craggy mountains surrounding the lake this time; if you'd like to see some of those in a different glacially created setting, click here.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

An Unexpected Passion

No, that's not the title of a bad romance novel (although, plainly, it could be). Instead, it's meant to reflect the surprise I feel at having developed a little passion for hiking. When I first realized hiking was just walking with a fancy name, I was disappointed. But then I tried it to impress my daughter and discovered it could be delightful. Basically, it's walking amid great scenery with the addition of cool gear. What's not to like?

This year, I've gone from someone who disliked walking from the house to the garage to someone who can hike for up to six miles before I get tired and start visualizing Diet Cokes and comfy sofas. I figure that's really the same as being able to walk indefinitely on level ground at reasonable altitudes inasmuch as nearly all my hikes have been hilly and at high-ish altitudes - from the 2500 feet above sea level where I live to as high as 9500 feet. (Yes, that high-altitude hike was really hard; my lungs felt like they were gathering themselves up in preparation for exploding right out of my chest.) The two June hikes I enjoyed at just above sea level in Chicago were the easiest I've done - and I didn't even have SmartWool socks or hiking poles at the time.

There are only two things I don't like about these treks. One is loose-rock terrain that requires one to emulate a mountain goat, a difficult feat I don't handle well, probably because I am bipedal. The other is heat. It's way too hot in Las Vegas right now to hike at any time other than just before sunrise.

It's a testament to the sincerity of my new passion that I actually get up at 5:40 every other morning to walk a 1.25 mile loop around my hilly neighborhood. I hate getting up early even more than I used to hate walking; my preferred schedule is to go to sleep well after midnight and to get up around 10:00. I started this ridiculous (and in my opinion heroic) crack-of-dawn walking because it's impractical to head up to the mountains every day and I didn't want to be out of shape once it cools down and we have nine months of fabulous weather during which to hike the myriad trails around here any time we feel like it. I've continued it, though, because I find I crave it. I've felt this way about swimming for years, but it's astonishing to me that I now feel similarly about repeatedly putting one foot in front of the other.

As it turns out, the lower temps at higher altitudes are disappointingly still not low enough to make hiking a non-sweaty enterprise. We were on the Mount Charleston trails and at Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon National Parks in July, and we just got home from a week in Lake Tahoe. All were spectacular in terms of scenery, and Lake Tahoe provided the additional pleasures of staying at a super-deluxe resort, but for me at least, the brilliant sun in the thin air at 6000-9500 feet made even 65-degree air feel overly warm.

The only place it felt cool enough to hike enthusiastically was Wheeler Peak (elev. 13,065 feet) in Grand Basin National Park, which we drove up to on the way home from Lake Tahoe. The parking area at 10,000 feet was beautifully cool, and the splotches of snow on the peak itself also contributed nicely to the overall sense of chill. But it was hard enough
up there to breathe and walk from spot to spot to take pictures, and my hiking companion had a little stress fracture in his foot by then, so we lazed and gazed instead of exerting ourselves.

I've written about the beauty and geologic glory of Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon in other posts, but here are a few new photos from there:


(More on Lake Tahoe and Great Basin, including photos, in subsequent posts.)