Monday, October 29, 2007

I'll Give You Aggressiveness!

Sometimes I wonder if the media is on a deliberate and targeted mission to disempower women. Articles like this one, which states that women don't start businesses as commonly as men because women "aren't as aggressive," are legion. It's basically impossible to read the financial press without being hit in the face by some denigrating depiction of women's abilities, motives, moxie or stick-to-it-iveness.

A statement like "women aren't as aggressive" is just stupid. First, it describes an impact, not a root cause. Second, it's far more likely that women don't start businesses as often as men because the business world is still preeminently a man's world, delineated by male rules, personalities, organizational structures, time demands...and men. It's indisputable that women don't have the same access to big-time networks, financing or other resources. Third, is it even true that men start far more businesses? I seem to recall reading years ago that women-owned businesses employed more people than the Fortune 500 companies combined. Fourth, as Natalie Angier points out in the exhilarating and gorgeously written
Woman: An Intimate Geography, watch little girls at play or bands of junior high school girls bully members of lesser social groups and then try to make the case that females aren't naturally aggressive.

You have to wonder if this demeaning characterization of women is meant to be directive or prescriptive. Even if the onslaught is not intentional, the constant attempts to define us disadvantageously are demoralizing.
A woman has to be made of pretty stern stuff to withstand them and choose to succeed anyway. To be fair, I suppose statements like "women aren't as aggressive as men" dictate how men are supposed to be, too, and also in a limiting way. But whether or not anyone likes it in the abstract, aggressiveness is a prized characteristic in the business world we've got. Until our organizations and societies and operations demonstrate parity, the impact of these one-size-fits-all characterizations will always be harder on women. Given the current state of affairs, a woman seeking to succeed as an entrepreneur or, indeed, as a businessperson of any other stripe already has a tougher hill to climb. To call women as a gender "not as aggressive" isn't helping.

Secondhand Smoke

Southern Nevada is a great place to live for a lot of reasons, including our almost complete lack of natural disaster potential. No hurricanes or tornadoes, no earthquakes or tidal waves, no volcanoes or floods or blizzards or avalanches, nothing much in the way of precipitation of any sort. We sometimes have magnificent lightning; it lights up with sky with vertical bolts like some Las Vegas stage spectacular, but it's rarely accompanied by rain or even serious clouds.

We do, however, have one geologic drawback and that's our proximity to California with its natural disasters galore.
For the last three days, there's been an acrid smoky smell to the air - not unlike in the casinos with tired ventilation systems, but outside. The sun seems to be wrapped in a few layers of dirty cheesecloth. And there's a pall of very nasty-looking yellowish haze hanging over the Strip and other lower-lying areas. Obviously, this is not even in the same ballpark of important or threatening as the actual wildfires they're suffering in southern California, but it's mighty ugly and, in terms of what it means for broader air and weather patterns, it's disconcerting, too.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


I am not a patient person. I'm efficient and competent at most things, but I'm really bad at cutting slack to people who aren't. Situations and machines that don't deliver as promised also make me crazy. Delinquent (or nonexistent) replies to email, incompetent drivers, having to follow up all the time even with businesses I'm paying for a service, tablemates who play blackjack ultra-slowly, the satellite or the Internet being "out," the complete inability of a book distributor to get anything right on the first try - it takes a conscious act of will to quell the swell of impatience these irritants provoke in me, and I don't even like to think about all the time and effort I've spent doing just that so as to contain tirades and maintain the outwardly even keel necessary to being considered a sane person.

As I fought back today's driver-induced red haze of impatience, though, it occurred to me that where air travel is concerned, I effortlessly maintain an unruffled serenity not usually seen without pharmaceutical aid. There is little in daily life more irritating than flying - from getting to the airport, to the person behind you in the security line who has to keep running into your rolling carry-on or, if you're traveling light, your feet, and the person in front of you whose laptop is buried at the bottom of the hugest possible carry-on and whose shoes seem to have a highly complicated removal mechanism, to hurrying up and waiting, to being sandwiched into airplanes designed in the apparent belief that Americans are getting thinner rather than fatter, to the terrible grammar in the standard announcements, etc., etc., etc. Traveling by air should by all rights make someone like me fit for a straightjacket. But it doesn't bother me a bit. I don't tell myself in advance to take it easy and remain calm. I don't seem to be in charge of my state of mind at all. An imperturbable placidity just settles over me from the moment I get up on a traveling day.

For a brief period in the 80s, I was afraid of flying. I could do it, I could even carry on a conversation if I was with someone else, but I spent the entire time preparing to die. It wasn't a fear of dying so much as a disinclination to die stupidly. My fear was of a mechanical origin: I figured the people who flew and maintained airplanes were probably as un-diligent as the people who did everything else. (And stories like this one made me sure I was right.) Years later, I read an article that said a lot of women in their early 30s with small kids experience fear of flying. The article suggested that the reason was control-related. Young mothers struggle so hard to control their complex lives that being in a position of utter lack of control is horrific to them. Maybe that's what was up with me. In any event, my fear went away after a few years. I realized a couple days in advance of some business trip that I wasn't apprehensive at all and I've been a calm flyer ever since.

I suspect I just gave up on the notion of being able to control anything, aviationally speaking. There's no percentage in resenting the lines, the fellow travelers, the silly security requirements, even the mis-tagged luggage. There's no percentage in doing anything but smiling sweetly and saying "Sure, no problem" when they ask if they can search your bag. There's no percentage in getting worked up over delays. I think I learned at some entirely unconscious level that I have no control whatsoever over the flying experience and the best way to deal with it is to relax and go utterly with the flow. It's not hard to extrapolate that lesson to other impatience triggers, but i
t's not a lesson I seem to be able to apply intentionally. As much as I enjoy my aeronautical tranquility, I'm apparently not willing to cede all control in the rest of my life.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

One for Humanity

My flight to Dallas on Friday restored my faith in the human race. Well, ok, that's a little strong, but my opinion of the kindness of strangers is back on terra firma at the top of the cliff, rather than halfway (or more) to the bottom. After the plane pulled back from the gate and taxied out to the runway and just before we hit the gas to speed up and take off, a passenger in first class was discovered to be "non-responsive." The flight attendant requested the help of any medical personnel on the plane and 5 people quickly responded. With only concern and none of that obvious "I'm cool" desire for personal glory evident on their faces, they made their way to the front of the plane. A bit later, the attendant asked if anyone was diabetic and willing to part with one of those sugar testing dealies. A sweet senior citizen came forward with that. We went back to the gate, where the official airport paramedics met the plane (the flight attendant having immediately made the necessary page). The stricken passenger, who had apparently had a seizure but was by then responsive, walked off with the paramedics, and a "clean-up crew" got on board to do their thing (a thing I and, I imagine, my fellow passengers tried not to think too hard about).

But here's what improved my opinion of humanity. During the delay, which all in all took an hour, not one person exhibited impatience. There was a general air of concern for the ill passenger and a general quiet on the plane. No restiveness, no grumbling. A few people took out their cell phones and calmly inquired about the possibility of rebooking their connecting flights. When it was all resolved and the flight attendants reappeared, all sorts of people congratulated them on their calm, compassionate competence.

A lot of the evidence of daily life seems to suggest that people have become utterly self-centered with no consideration at all for their fellow human beings. But here was a plane full of people who behaved, despite the delay, as if they had no thought whatsoever other than compassion for a stranger. The all-for-one mood lasted, too. Without being asked, those of us staying in Dallas stood aside and let the people trying to make connections disembark first. The connecting people were demonstrably grateful and still not pushy. Nearly everyone thanked the flight crew warmly on their way out. It was the best example I've seen in a long time of people putting themselves in someone else's shoes, gaining perspective, and realizing that some things are more important than others. Really quite uplifting. Reassuring, too.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Insult to Injury

There's been an alarming trend in TV broadcasting over recent years toward programming designed for simpletons with no emotional maturity, no self-censoring capabilities, limited vocabulary and, apparently, no ability to take in information and keep track of it for more than a minute or two. Nowhere is this more evident than in football coverage.

Where once we tuned into football games, now we tune into circuses of inane frenzy, complete with glitzy, seizure-inducing graphics, music of the kind that made for a great sound gag in Broadcast News circa 1987, celebrities of various stripes and species (read on), and announcers who run the gamut from depressed-sounding drones to kewpie dolls on speed. Once, we watched football games interrupted only by commercials (easily bypassed with TiVo or, before TiVo, trips to the kitchen for snacks). Now, we watch little morsels of football games, their flow interrupted by kitschy announcer bits, updates "from New York," asinine sideline reports, and those
redundant game summaries interspersed frequently and annoyingly into the game we're actually trying to watch.

I feel obliged to digress long enough to note the routine mangling of the English language that infects on-air commentary like a medieval plague. Perhaps this game was lost as soon as these people were dubbed "commentators," but in my opinion, their speech should be free from ludicrously misused words ("after their pulsating victory last week") and such gems of oratorical ignorance as "the coach told them they have to take it personal," "he should have went down the field," and "between you and I" (a moronic thing to say into a live microphone even if you say it correctly).
I don't expect all the illustrious journalists and ex-jocks to have actually learned proper English somewhere along their educational paths, but you'd think the networks could hire some head case like me to set out a few basics and coach the on-air folks to avoid particularly grating errors.

It would also be nice if broadcasters knew the rules of the game they were covering, so during those interminable official reviews we wouldn't have to listen to hyped-up discussions about the quarterback's apparent intent as the officials decide whether it was a fumble or an incomplete forward pass (for any of you non-football fans still reading this post, intent is irrelevant to this determination) or about what should happen following a fumble into the end zone. Demonstrating relevant expertise is evidently not one of the hiring criteria for these jokers. With very few exceptions (I love you, John Madden), they're all too busy trying to be colorful and fabricating "human interest" crap that's, first, of little interest and, second, about as likely to be true as their scary hair colors (male & female). The words and anecdotes they put into players' and coaches' mouths would embarrass even the sensitive hero guys in those diamond commercials.

Anyway, last night's game featured a new low. Celebrities have been slipping into football coverage for a while, as if network bosses are worried that without some additional draw people won't tune in. Whole chunks of games have gone un-broadcast and un-commented on while the announcers "interviewed" Spike Lee or Archie Manning about the horrors of Hurricane Katrina, drooled over Geena Davis or Christian Slater as they promoted their new stuff, or let such luminaries as Jim Belushi try to talk about football. Arnold Schwarzenegger, in his governor of California role, waxed hilariously enthusiastic last year about what a great team the Raiders were as
they ineptly fumbled the ball on the actual field of play (shown to us on a split screen so small the action was barely discernible).

And last night, Street Sense - yeah, the horse that won the Kentucky Derby - introduced the Louisville players. I'm not kidding: a picture of Street Sense appeared above the pictures of the players while some jocular voice pretended to be said thoroughbred, yukking it up with equine humor and even offering to race one of the Louisville speedsters. I thought it was bad when Ashley Judd introduced Kentucky's players or John Grisham introduced Mississippi's or maybe Mississippi State's, but Street Sense?? I shouldn't be complaining, though. I was too appalled to listen carefully, but I think the horse spoke without any grammatical errors or ignorant malaproprisms. Maybe he could work with John Madden.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Attention, Sports Fans

Check out this new sports blog. I can promise that the writing will be crisp and pointed, the opinions will be strong, and the whole shebang will reflect a female perspective rather than the male perspective more typically available in sports commentary. And the female writer in question is also an athlete, which lends her additional credibility, as well as someone extremely special to me whose commentary I've been agreeing with, arguing with, and otherwise enjoying for years.