About Me

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My interests include veganism and vegetarianism, health, ethics, politics and culture, media, and the environment. I have three kids; I teach college part-time, study piano and attempt to garden. I knit. I blog on just about anything, but many posts are related to my somewhat pathetic quest to eat better, be more mindful of the environment, and be a more responsible news consumer. Sometimes I write about parenting, but, like so many Mommy bloggers, my kids have recently told me not to. :) Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Academics and Journalists

I'm not a well-known academic (at all).  That's because I haven't published (much) in academic journals.  It's also because I've chosen not to have a traditional academic career; I've chosen (with all the expected harm to my professional life) to work part-time as an adjunct rather than pursue a tenure track job.  Though I have loved being able to spend more time with my children than most (if not all) of my tenure-seeking friends have had with theirs, my professional choices have, to a certain extent, sidelined me as "not a real" academic, a fact that sometimes is quite painful.

I'll never fully be comfortable with it, but it is what it is.

But even if I *had* chosen a tenure-track job, I might have still been marginalized by many of my fellow academics, for one reason:  I prefer and do qualitative -- not quantitative -- research.

Translation:  When I do research, I either interview people or consult lots and lots of newspapers or archives.

It's not that I cannot do statistical analyses or read data.  I learned enough of that to get the Ph.D., did enough of it in the dissertation to prove a decent level of proficiency.  But I knew, very early on, that I was never going to want to sit behind a computer and run statistical analyses.

I'd rather sell shoes.

There is a hierarchy within academia in general, and within social science in particular, that holds that the "smarter" people work with the big data sets and do the fancy statistics, while the rest of us "just interview people".  Or maybe we analyze years and years of news articles or work in dusty historical archives.  In any case, we who do not do heavy statistics are generally looked down upon by those who do.

Graduate students are socialized into this reality in multiple ways.  First, there are more grants and more job opportunities during grad school for those who can crunch data, so if you choose to be a qualitative researcher you truly are the proverbial poor-as-a-church-mouse grad student (and you probably work in a restaurant in your "spare time").  Second, there are more job opportunities  after grad school if you choose to be a number cruncher.  Third, there are more job opportunities outside academia, even for those who (gasp!) don't finish the Ph.D.  All in all, there are some strong arguments for more graduate students to choose quantitative skills over qualitative ones.

But not if you hate the work.

I knew I couldn't be that person.  But I hadn't quite understood the negative effect it might have on my self-esteem until, one day in graduate school, I had the following discussion with other students and a few faculty about types of research and what we liked to do.

"I really like interviewing people, hearing what they have to say and how they perceive their lives."

"But that is just journalism," one statistically-minded (and highly competent) researcher told me.  "How do you know that what you're hearing is true?"

That was the moment I learned just how great the divide is between some qualitative and quantitative researchers and how many in the latter camp use another field altogether -- journalism -- as a way of dissing those in the former.

Prior to that comment, I had not really had any negative opinions about journalism.  In fact, I had seriously considered going to journalism school.  I chose sociology because I perceived that it welcomed people with broad interests.  If there is nothing else true about me, it's that my interests are broad.

But I didn't choose sociology over  journalism; I just decided I wanted to teach college.

This tension between academics (particularly those who do quantitative analyses with large random samples) and journalists has bugged me ever since, and I see it play out among my colleagues in depressingly predictable ways.

I know a certain sociology department with a long history of animosity between the qualitative researchers and the quantitative ones; those in the former group are referred to as "Camp A" and those in the other as "Camp B".  Camp B has more power and more men.  Let's just say that *if* I were in this department as an assistant professor seeking tenure, I'd be in Camp A and have good reason to fear not getting tenure.

I'd also have good reason to fear being compared -- and not with respect -- to journalists.

I'm going to skip the essay on what good interviewing entails, and on how hard an academic has to work to do enough interviews to know for sure that he or she has found a pattern, rather than just an idiosyncratic story.  (Sociologists look for patterns in society, not just interesting stories.  However, interesting stories can lead them to look for patterns -- thanks, journalism!)

Why is it that academics so often dis journalists?

I think academics often see journalistic work as ephemeral, ahistorical and atheoretical.  O.K.  Fair enough. Often true.

And I think that academics worry (with some legitimacy) that students hang onto journalistic accounts of reality without looking at studies of the same thing.  Also true.  They do.  I have to tell my students that they must go read peer-reviewed studies and not "just" rely on what they find on MSNBC or CNN (not that they do not often find excellent stuff there, too -- they do.)  But, to be fair, often news (especially about science) is watered down in the mainstream media because it has to be -- if you really want to understand a study, you have to go read it.  It's up to us academics to make sure our students know this; it isn't journalism's fault that students can be lazy.

Academics become upset that so much of what is put out there is done too fast and without enough analysis.

I wouldn't disagree.

So, turning it around -- why is it that journalists (sometimes) dis academics?

I think journalists' proverbial feathers get ruffled when they hear "experts" discuss politics or situations without having been there.  True.  I do not disagree that some academics (particularly in this media age) LOVE the opportunity to go on TV and see themselves hold forth.  They may not always be as careful and cautious in their analyses as they should be (but I think I could safely say the same about some journalists).

I recently told a colleague how much of my course material was peer-reviewed articles and scholarly books and how much was stuff written by journalists.  I rely quite a bit on articles written in The New York Times or The Atlantic, for instance.  I seek out books written by journalists (such as Nick Kristof or Barbara Ehrenreich) who I think are truly exceptional writers and researchers.  I like finding authors who bridge that journalism-academia divide (Ehrenreich being probably my favorite).

My colleague was a bit surprised at how much I do rely on good journalism for teaching sociology, but he also acknowledged that sometimes the journalistic accounts are easier to read, more student-friendly than the academic ones.

"I guess David Brooks is kind of a sociologist," he said.  "He kinda hovers above all."

I joked that it my next life, I'd be happy to "hover" as a journalist/sociologist.

For now, I have to settle for being an adjunct.

Not all academics dis journalists and I hope not all journalists think we're just a bunch of head-in-the-ivory-tower people who don't respect their on-the-ground work.  Some of us really appreciate their work and use it as inspiration for our own.

I've always been heartened by something a very old (and, ironically, very quantitative) sociologist told me (also during grad school):  "You know, Elaine, you don't have to worry about being "like a journalist".  Some of the best journalists out there would have been great sociologists."

Thursday, October 27, 2011


Last night, my Home Owners Association (HOA) announced on their (closed group) Facebook page that there was a meeting at the local high school about a proposed affordable housing project.  The announcement was framed clearly:  "For those who oppose this project...".

Not surprisingly, there is a group of neighbors who have formed an organization to protest this (and other) low-income housing developments in our area.

The Executive Director of the local St. Vincent de Paul, -- one of the partners in this project -- wrote this editorial in the local paper as an attempt to allay people's fears about a relatively large low-income housing development in their area.

Before I lose myself in a discussion of thinly disguised classism, racism and unfounded fears, let me say that I *do* agree the proposed development is rather large (perhaps TOO large) and that it does appear to violate several of the City's Housing Dispersal Policy objectives and goals (one being that no low-income development should have more than 60 units; this proposed one has 101 and there are other projects proposed to go in next to it, meaning that, in the end, the developers could end up locating a majority of the city's poor all in one place).

The Housing Dispersal Policy was written in 1996 and, well, lots of things have changed since then.  It is particularly notable that the policy was based on *1980* Census data -- we're 32 years past that!

While I'm twitchy about a really large low-income housing development *anywhere* in the city -- and particularly since there is more than one planned for the same area -- I fully realize that the demand and need for subsidized housing far outstrips the availability.

I know this not just from statistics like the ones cited in the above editorial, but also from my own friends who struggle to make ends meet.  I recently tried to help a friend find a one-bedroom apartment, with utilities, in  a safe neighborhood, for less than what she is paying now.  We searched and searched and couldn't find one.  She makes "too much" to qualify for any government program -- meaning she likely wouldn't be able to live in this proposed development -- yet she is spending far more than 50% of her income on her rent.

It shouldn't be that way, folks.  She works.  (Like lots of other struggling people!)  She attempts to play by the rules (like lots of other struggling people!).  And she cannot make it without help; when she cannot find it through agencies (which is common, given her "high" income), she has to either earn money under the table or ask friends for help (like us).

There is no doubt in my mind that Eugene needs more affordable housing, that Eugene (like cities everywhere) largely lacks a living wage, and that this vacant lot near where I live is one of the rare ones in the city.  Our neighborhood has the *space* to build this development, whereas most areas of the city do not.

It's also true that there are also other low-income housing developments already on our side of town, so it's not (as some comments on  articles have erroneously claimed) that "all" the people over "there" (here) are "elitist snobs" or "against poor people".  There is, in fact, quite a range of incomes and housing types and options in our neck of the woods -- mansions and large houses next to or near ranch-style homes, small one-story homes, older two-story homes, condos, apartments and rented houses and affordable housing developments.  

Not everyone who opposes the development opposes low-income housing per se.  Many people who oppose this project oppose it on several valid claims:  that it violates the City's (perhaps outdated and still unexplained) no-more-than-60-units rule; it consolidates the poor in one location (ironically far away from where services are located); it potentially adds a LOT more traffic to the area; it potentially adds many students to our already overcrowded schools.  In other words, these concerned citizens might get behind a smaller (60-unit) project, one which puts less stress on already stressed systems (particularly schools).

Others contend that adding students to our schools might be a good thing -- more students bring more money to the schools and *may* make classes *smaller* because, if enough students enroll, schools have to hire more teachers.  This is a theoretical claim that has yet to be proven.  With parents and students and teachers reeling from the effects of our last round of budget cuts (which included closing several schools), few think that the potential addition of hundreds of kids to our neighborhood would uniformly result in many more teachers being hired.  At the very least, it seems likely that class sizes *would* increase, particularly for older students.  But class sizes are already too large -- 39-42 in middle school classes and, depending on the subject, 40-50 per high school class.  As a parent of two kids still in public schools, I share this concern that our local schools -- like schools throughout the city -- are already stressed beyond capacity.

The questions that I have about the development have not been answered anywhere (at least not in articles I've found).

1)  How many people in Eugene currently qualify for low-income housing *and cannot find it in Eugene*?  In other words, are ALL low-income housing units in Eugene currently occupied?  Or do we have some vacant ones?  What *exactly* is the need?

2)  If the need is, indeed, 101 or more units, can we build several smaller housing projects throughout the city, rather than all 101 (or more) in one place?

Simply building more low-income housing *which residents have to pay for* may not solve enough of their problems if *they actually can't find a job to begin with* or cannot afford childcare so they can work in order to afford their housing.  If they don't work, they have no income.  If they have no income, they cannot pay for the housing...  If they have no childcare, they cannot work.

It's all connected, people.

Many years ago, when I was working at Harvard Family Research Project (HFRP), I did research on programs for at-risk families.  In a nutshell, HFRP consistently finds that the best programs -- the ones with the best outcomes for kids and their parents -- co-locate services at one place.

I strongly believe that this housing development should really be far more than just a housing development if we are at all committed to doing something to help people.  But I would argue that it should be on the smaller side (in part because, if successful, one would want to replicate it elsewhere).  This development shouldn't be about making money for the *developer* but about serving people.

A doctor, a dentist, and an eye doctor (who accept the Oregon Health Plan, Medicare, Medicaid, etc.) should have office space on site.   There should be on-site, affordable childcare center (for residents only).  A preschool (perhaps Head Start) should be there, too.  Buses should be plentiful (this, ironically, may be the easiest thing to do -- get a few more LTD buses to the area).

While we're at it, the neighborhood as a whole has been complaining for YEARS that it doesn't have a grocery store.  There's been talk of building a Market of Choice nearby -- but that market, as local and lovely as it is, does NOT serve the needs of the poor.   What grocery store -- not gigantic, but decent-sized -- can we bring to the neighborhood, that could be within walking distance of the development?

We live in a community -- with problems like all communities.  But the NOT IN MY BACKYARD APPROACH doesn't build communities; it erodes them.  At the same time, lack of careful consideration of the complex problems that ALL families have (but which affect poor families more) could easily result in a project that nobody likes -- including those who would qualify to live there.

Bottom line:  I'm not against building affordable housing in my community, but if we do so, we have to be committed to establishing the services (including grocery stores, child care, and schools) that would be required to make this housing development a successful community.

Housing, in and of itself, doesn't do that.

I'll be at the next meeting, proposing something far more ambitious than just housing.  YIMBY -- Yes, in my back yard!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Halloween Pah-tay!

So...a few months ago, I complained to a neighbor who I barely knew (despite that we live next door to each other) that, well, I hardly knew any of the neighbors.  She agreed that she, too, hardly knew a soul. (I've written about my neighborhood before.)

Next thing I know, she and her husband organized a very nice backyard get-together and invited the neighbors.  She and I have since started to occasionally walk together.  It's nice, you know, to know your neighbors.  I can now identify at least four couples in the neighborhood, even if I cannot always remember what they do or the names of their (grown) children.

They probably can't remember those details about us, either.  Although they do tend to remember the "oh, you're the professors, right?"

I guess we stand out as the nerds of the neighborhood.

That's OK.

A few weeks ago, we were invited to a Halloween party by another set of neighbors that we had met at that summertime get together.  Tonight was the party.  My husband is out of town (giving a talk at Southern Methodist University, in Dallas, TX), so I went alone -- as Marge Simpson.

When I arrived, a few things immediately struck me.  One, these people are very committed to Halloween decor.  Not only was their yard decorated with webs and lighted pumpkins and witches and spiders, but every surface in every room was, too, including the guest bath and the garage.  Two, this couple is very comfortable partying in general, and not just with other couples their age.  The age range for this party was WIDE (teens to grandparents).

There was also a serious amount of alcohol available.  More on that in a minute.

Since I was alone and didn't know anybody other than the hosts, I paid more attention, initially, to the decor:  spider webs and ghosts, spiders and bats, pumpkins and Frankenstein dolls, mummies and witches, orange and black and CANDLES.  Everywhere -- lots and lots of candles.  The house was *perfectly* appointed for a Halloween party.  Impressive.  Even if I owned all that stuff, I wouldn't be half as good at using it.  The woman (who told me she did it all herself) could easily be paid to decorate professionally.  Fantastic decor.  Even the grand piano looked spooky.

Then I paid attention to the food.  Lots of it had a Halloween theme:  "Vampire Barf" (sausages and tomatoes in melted cheese), "Eyes of Newt" (deviled eggs with green-dye yolks and black olive centers), "Cauldron Punch" (some vodka-infused thing with dry ice -- it *looked* good but I didn't try it) and "Guts" (a mixed drink).  Fortunately, for my veganish palate, there were also several trays of veggies.  And candy corn.

I love my candy corn.

Then, of course, the costumes:  big ol' Popeye, Roman man in toga with *very sexy* Roman woman in *very short* toga, caveman and sexy cave woman, bumblebee and sexy ladybug, gangster with sexy clown, SWAT ("Sexy Woman Assault Team") woman, Dr. "Shots" with sexy nurse, Sexy Dorothy and the Tin Man, Mexican man, sexy pirate, sexy princess.

You should see the theme here, at least among the women's costumes:  SEX.  And the older women were wearing costumes *almost* as sexy as the college kids.  Almost.  Their skirts might have been two inches longer.  Maybe.

I was a little surprised that a middle-aged couple was also serving jello shots and tray after tray of drinks.

I'm not a prude, but I'm also not much of a drinker.  And somehow I thought jello shots were, well, kinda for college kids?  Guess I was wrong.  They went fast.  And certainly not just to the under 25 crowd.  In fact, a high school principal was thoroughly enjoying them.

The party started at 6:30 (though I got there closer to 7).  When I left at 9:30 (to get home to the kids), the party was in full, loud, fraternity-like swing.  Garage doors open.  Music BLASTING.  People dancing.  Fog machine working overtime.  Drunken revelry definitely starting to show.

College kids groping each other's asses right in front of their parents.

That last bit struck me as odd as the 50-year-olds downing jello shots.  But I cannot help but wonder what else I would have seen had I been able to stay longer.

It was fun and underscored to me that *I need to get out more*.

Hopefully, next year we'll be invited again.

I really want another chance to wear the wig.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

We Are the 99 Percent

A few weeks ago, I had a quick discussion on Twitter with a journalism friend about Tumblr.  She was trying to convince me that Tumblrs are great.  I didn't really see the point.  Up until yesterday, all of the ones I had seen had been...silly.  Compilations of strange signs or fashion faux pas or hamburgers.  Basically, a way for people to blog (using pictures and relatively little text) about their own idiosyncratic passions.  Kinda clever, but (like a lot of blogs), not terribly important

Then, yesterday, I found this one, and I cannot stop looking at it.

If you don't know what the Occupy Wall Street protests are, you must not be watching or reading ANY news. 

Look at the images and stories in this Tumblr. They are an amazingly effective way of communicating the complete *structural* brokenness of our economy, our health care system, and our educational system.  There is a common thread in many of these diverse stories:  people worked hard, went to school, played by the rules AND STILL ARE NOT MAKING IT. 

This Tumblr expresses as well as any article I've read exactly what the *human* toll is of our broken systems.

It raises many questions for me:  if the system is so broken, what do we need to be teaching our kids, other than "work hard" and "stay in school"?   Is it really even effective that they do the latter?  (Could they avoid a lot of debt and find success via another avenue?  If so, *what* is that avenue? How do we advise them? Is that avenue even structurally obvious, the way educational paths are?)

Is the proverbial 1% paying attention?

Herman Cain, commenting on the Occupy Wall Street protesters yesterday, claimed that "if you're not rich, blame yourself".  The man lacks a sense of how history is intimately tied to personal biography.  *He* grew up in a time of unprecedented prosperity -- meaning that if one had ambition, it *was* relatively easy to "make it".   Need a little evidence?  The current unemployment rate in the US is nearly 10% (and that's just the official statistic).  The *average* unemployment rate from 1945 (year Cain was born) until 2010 was a mere 5.7% (it went up to a high of 10.8%  in 1982 and was at a low of 2.5% in 1953).  Though there are plenty of historical fluctuations -- the cite I linked with the unemployment rate has a great interactive; just plug in different years and months to see unemployment statistics in great detail -- it is still true that for most of Cain's life, those who "worked hard" and "went to school" found that they were successful.  (In fact, lots of people who didn't particularly work hard and didn't go to school STILL found jobs in manufacturing, with salaries that allowed them to own a home and have a decent standard of living; we've lost nearly all those jobs, and with them, the middle class.  This has been happening globally, not just in the U.S.)  

Cain's arrogance in telling Occupy Wall Street protesters than their misfortune is due to *their* choices tells us that he is *not* paying attention to the stories and the evidence of exactly *who* is out of work, who has lost their homes, who is living with their parents.  In far too many cases, it is precisely those who *have* played by the "rules". 

The rules no longer work.  What are the new ones?

A lot of people would like to know. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Why We Bailed on Public High School: The "Good" Eugene Public School System is More Broken Than You Think

(Continued from previous post, "Relentlessly Positive")  
     My daughter was, eventually, after several emails, put into a Geometry class.  But doing so required that she give up her two electives and be given "soccer" as an elective, even though *she played for the high school soccer team itself*.    What an inane option.
     She was told the only other option was "free period" (83 minutes of free time), and that she'd already have to have a free first period all second term because there were *no* electives available that term at all.
     She reminded them that she already had a free fourth period every other day -- a result of the school district quietly changing the International High School system over the summer, when none of us parents were paying attention.  (The IHS program described to us last year in orientation was a four-credits-a-year program in addition to their core courses (math, language, science); now IHS only gives students three credits per year and, due to doing away with the "Projects" component for freshman and sophomores, every other day both first and second year IHS students have "free time".)  
     When she came home and told me how her schedule was "fixed," I went ballistic.  Not only had she lost electives she was excited about, but now her *only* elective was doing 83 additional minutes of soccer when she'd already be practicing 120 minutes each day after school.  And these free periods are not, IMHO, good for young high school students.
     I'm sorry, but only the most unusually mature and self-controlled and self-motivated fourteen-year-olds could possibly manage that much free time effectively.  Most, on an open campus, will be at Safeway or Market of Choice or McDonald's or Subway or Dairy Queen or Ron's Hawaiian Grill or Taco Bell or the coffee shop.  Loitering.  Or eating junk food.  
     Which, if you go shopping during the day in the little mall across from the high school, you will find to be true.  Every establishment is positively crawling with high school students with far too much free time.   Not that they all could fit in the library at once, either; I'm not blaming *them* --  only the system that ruins them.
    I was prepared to have my daughter have some free time either junior or senior year, for I already knew that the high school had some scheduling difficulties.  I was told by other parents of older high school kids that "if you go in there and fight each term you can get what your student needs".  So, I was prepared to "fight".  But not for "free time" or extra soccer as the only "options" for an ambitious college-bound first-year high school kid.
     The next day, I went to see the guidance counselor again, rather effectively (to my perception at least) suppressing my rage.  He tried to find some electives for her, calling the scheduler in front of me and asking "Please tell me what free classes there are first period -- ANY free classes."
     He was told "Soccer" and "Conditioning" or "free period".

     How, I asked, does the high school intend to prepare kids for college with this kind of schedule -- blocks of free time, often more than one a day, every week?  And with only three courses per term, how do the kids get enough credits for college?  How do they get the courses they need?

     "Ah!  I understand your frustration with the system.  But see, the aim of public high     school is not to prepare kids for college.  It's to get them an Oregon high school diploma, which is 24 credits.  If we give them three courses a term, four terms a year, after four years they will graduate.  Many of our best students have to take courses at X Community College or X University during their junior and senior year in order to get credits needed in order to apply for college."  

     To a certain extent, what the guidance counselor told me is true.  I also think he is in an impossible position and should not be in "trouble" for telling it like it is.  Public high schools don't have to promise to prepare your kid for college, they have to promise to give your kid a high school diploma recognized by your state.
     But, GOOD high schools have always had clear *and available* college prep programs for students interested in them.  To be perfectly honest, I went to a pretty darn average high school (at least according to rankings of Portland area high schools in the 1980s), but there was a clear way for any student who wanted to be prepared for college to do so.  In contrast, the high school my daughter was going to attend was rated by Newsweek last year as the second best public high school in Oregon.   

     On paper, this public high school looks good -- very good, in fact.  But when a guidance counselor has to tell a rightfully concerned parent that if he or she wishes his or her child to be able to apply to "good" colleges that that child is going to have to take classes outside of the high school itself, the guidance counselor is admitting that the system of "excellent public education" is broken.  Completely.
     I came home and thought about options for all of five minutes.  I called the local private Catholic college prep school.  I toured it that day (Friday) and set up an opportunity for my daughter to shadow another student on Monday.  We made the decision Monday afternoon and  Tuesday (yesterday) she began classes.

     The one bummer is that she can only practice this year with the team, not play.  OSAA regulations prevent a student from moving from one school to another (even for academic reasons) and playing for the second school if said student has already played for the first one.  We're seeing if an exception could be made, but we're not counting on it.  Of course, even if we had known about all this when the key deadline passed (August 22), we wouldn't have, at the time, thought the deadline had anything to do with us.

    We were about to send our kid to the second best public high school in Oregon.  Why would we worry about possibly screwing up her soccer playing chances at another high school in the same city?

    Still, the kids on the team welcomed her to their practice yesterday.  All the teachers, the students and the administrators have been warm and welcoming.  Classes are small.  There's no open campus.  Rules are relatively strict (but fair).  
    She's safe, busy and supervised.  She's going to get a good -- no, EXCELLENT -- high school education.
    Never thought I would say that I left public schools.  My other two are still in them (one in first grade; one in sixth).  
    But we truly feel we had no choice.  We hope the economy recovers, that the district can rehire teachers and make class sizes manageable again and be able to offer enough courses for all students.  Perhaps one day there will be enough money to build an additional high school to accommodate kids more easily -- you know, keep them ALL in classes in the high school itself, appropriate to their ability and to their aspirations, ALL day long.

     What a concept.

     But until that happens, private high school it is.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Relentlessly Positive

I have a bit of an experiment going on in my Facebook world (and publicly, with other parents).  I'm *trying* to be more positive -- "relentlessly so" -- for a whole month.  I've told people I'll explain the experiment (and the results) in four weeks.

But I've already flubbed up my data with my status line this morning, where I complain that I've had to stand in line at my daughter's high school in order to get her into the *right* math class.  Since I did not say that my blog was included in my "relentlessly positive" experiment, I'm complaining here.

She took Algebra last year, in eighth grade, and passed with an A-.

Does it make sense to make her re-take a class that she did so well in?

If you answer "NO" you then understand logic.

If you answer "Well, it depends" then you must design the system these kids suffer through.

When I picked up her freshman schedule yesterday and saw the error in her math assignment, I immediately did two things.  I called her middle school and left a message that there was an error and that I'd like to know if somehow the middle school had given the high school the wrong information.  I then wrote an email to last year's math teacher and this year's high school guidance counselor and asked if they would please fix the situation.

I didn't hear back from the school, the math teacher or the guidance counselor.

Off I went this morning to change my kid's schedule, although the note on the bottom of the schedule itself, all in caps, made me worry:


I waited in a LONG line for 40 minutes, during which time I chatted with other students about their scheduling problems:  NO math class, or only a half-term of Geometry instead of two, or missing a foreign language, or wrong literature class, or TWO free periods in the middle of the day, or --- my favorite -- only three classes, one of which was "basketball".

I do not remember this degree of system failure when I was in high school.  Perhaps it was because my high school had fewer specialized programs -- everybody just went to SCHOOL, basically 8-3, with the smarter kids taking slightly harder versions of the classes everyone else was taking.  In this school, there are three programs:  "regular" "honors" and IHS (my daughter's program).  Three programs plus over enrollment equals crowded classrooms and classes being "not available," even to students who are eligible to take them.

This all feels like college.

It shouldn't.  This is high school.  She's 14, for God's sake.

While standing in line, I *did* manage to get last year's math teacher on the phone.  She informed me that my daughter had not taken two of the 16 required concept tests last year, and that that was why, despite her excellent grade (and great scores on other standardized state tests) that she was not allowed to go on to Geometry.


Why didn't I hear about this *last May at the latest*?

Why, last year, did my daughter go into school on more than one occasion to make up tests?  Wasn't it, in fact, *those very tests* that she was making up?

Wasn't my daughter told last year that she had completed everything she needed to complete and would go on to take geometry?  (I swear I saw that on some form that came home, but of course now I cannot find it.)

"I've graded everything I have and I don't have those tests from her."

This is the same teacher who also told my daughter that she had not turned in assignments (she had) and that she had to re-do them (she did), only to be told a few days later that "I'm so sorry, but I did find your original assignments".

When I challenged this teacher that perhaps she has misplaced my daughter's tests, she only repeated the "I've graded everything" excuse and then said that my daughter (who, like teens everywhere, hasn't done math all summer) would retake the tests in order to qualify to go on to take Geometry.


I got in to see the scheduler, who told me that although it "made sense" that a kid who passed Algebra with an A- should be allowed to take Geometry, he (the scheduler) couldn't change a core class without permission from the Principal or the Counselor.

Off I went to the Principal's office, only to be told that both he and the Counselor were in a meeting.  But I could wait for 40 minutes and then "corner one or the other" to ask to get the permission to put my kid in the class she belongs in.

I cornered said overworked guidance counselor, only to be told the state won't let the high school give a kid credit  for a course taken in middle school *regardless of the grade in said course* unless they have passed all 16 concept tests.  He said we're "on his radar" but he has "500 of you" to deal with today.

I sympathize.

But I still want my kid not to have to retake a course she got an "A" in.

Welcome to the world of overtesting kids and lack of logic.  The way the system works, if a kid passed all 16 Algebra concept tests (with a 70) and got a "C" in Algebra, he or she could take Geometry.  But if a kid passed 14 of 16 tests (in reality, I strongly suspect 16 of 16), AND gets an "A", she must retake Algebra.

I've now written to the Principal, the Guidance Counselor, this year's math teacher, last year's math teacher, and last year's Vice Principal.  They're all doing research.  But there is no promise that my daughter can take Geometry.

My poor kid is so mad (about lost assignments and lost tests and the potential requirement to re-take tests that she took months ago, just to get into a class that, as I recall, has little to do with Algebra in the first place) that she's practically spitting nails.

Welcome to high school.

Should I mention that Newsweek declared this high school the second best public high school in all of Oregon?

I would hate to see the worst.

But I'll end on a positive note:  Algebra is her first class of the day, so at least tomorrow when she starts high school (with her schedule still "wrong"), she'll get that class out of the way first.

Friday, August 26, 2011

An "Oops!" at CBS News

This morning, I logged onto cbsnews.com, as I nearly always do, to see what was up.  Pictures of a bomb blast in Nigeria caught my eye.  The first picture was of three men carrying an injured woman away from the building.  I looked closer.

Was I seeing what I thought I was?

Had CBS *really* posted a picture of a woman, sans underwear, such that one could see her genitals?


The picture has since been edited -- it is an up-close shot now of her face and the men around her, and is now fourth in the gallery, rather than first --  but I cannot help but wonder if the original picture would have *ever* been posted by a major news network had the woman been white.

Somebody would have said, 'Gosh, I don't think we can post that picture'.

A friend in the business told me that that kind of picture is NEVER posted, regardless of race, that it was an "oops" and that surely some editor would see it and take it down.  (Which appears to be pretty much what happened.)

But, really -- race and gender seem to be at play here.  When is the last time you saw a picture of a white woman's naked crotch posted by a major news network?  Or a picture of a penis (of any race)?  Seriously.  CBS isn't TMZ.

I get that mistakes happen and that I probably cannot possibly understand how stressful it is to get the news out and be first.

But honestly, had I been in that newsroom, I would have said something.

I could post the cached version of the picture, but I won't, for the same reason it shouldn't have been posted in the first place.


Saturday, August 6, 2011

Sticks Can Fix A Car

The relatives were visiting last week from Boston.  So, we decided to take them over to dusty Central Oregon, since the desert there is scenic with reliably summer-like weather (unlike the rest of Oregon) and *totally* different from their usual city-and-suburb environs.

They wanted to go on a hike.  Lots of options -- mountains, streams, rivers, desert itself, lava flows, even a big Obsidian flow.  Thinking that it would be much too boring to take them on a hike (Benham Falls) we actually were familiar with (and knew how to get to), we consulted a book and found a few options near Sisters, OR which claimed that they were 1) scenic, 2) easy and 3) relatively easy to get to.

(The hike we didn't go on -- picture of part of Benham Falls, taken summer 2010.)

We piled into our two cars -- six people in the minivan; three in the Corolla.

We drove and drove and drove.  Kids started to complain.  Husband who brilliantly planned this adventure decided to make a last-minute change and seek a hike that was (according to the book he was still consulting) even easier and closer.  We did a U-turn to find said location.

We ended up on a gravel road.

A LONG gravel road.  Driving the considerably smaller car (and neither of our cars designed for off-roading), I mentioned to my husband that perhaps it would be wiser to abandon this brilliant plan.  I had just taken both cars in to be fixed and didn't relish the idea of having repairs to do again.

Husband said I was overreacting.

It'll be fine.

Don't worry.


Gravel road becomes a nearly impassable ROCK road.  We are now driving about five miles per hour.  Suddenly I hear a huge CLONK and then a disheartening BRRRRR.  I stop the car and look at the kids in the back seat.

My son has burst into tears and is screaming frantically "I WANT TO GO HOME!"  My niece's eyes are like saucers.  Feeling absolutely NOT confident, I say to them, "It's OK!  Let's get out and see what's wrong."

(I may or may not have said a few more colorful phrases as well; I may have even screamed at the husband.)

The entire exhaust system was disconnected from the engine and hanging down, nearly touching the so-called "road".  Though the car would drive, it was even more perilous than before to drive it, as the clearance under the car was now even smaller than previously.

Husband valiantly scoots himself under the car to examine the damage.

Like a tenured, chaired professor of political science has so much knowledge about the car in the first place.

"What do we have to fix it?"

NOTHING.  Not even a piece of rope (not that it would have been safe to tie rope to the underside of the car anyway).

"Do the cell phones work?"

NEGATIVE.  Lost cell phone connection about 10 miles back.

Husband says "We're nearly there; let's just park and go on the hike and deal with the cars later."

Well, since it is promised  to be such a "spectacular" hike, complete with a marvelous waterfall, that does sound like a wise idea.

Off we go.  Trudging uphill for a LONG time, seeing a bit of a racing stream and some admittedly pretty views of the mountains.

(Mountain lilly.)


We never found it.

(The tired and exasperated children.)

"I shouldn't criticize the hiking book," my sister-in-law quipped.  "It's a GREAT book!  It's a work of PURE FICTION!"

The kids were tired and cranky and it was obvious that the idea of this hike taking only half a day was going to take the whole day.

We had to find a way to drive the car, at least until we could park it and use our cell phones to call a tow truck.

My brother-in-law found two sticks of Ponderosa pine, rolled himself under the car and reattached the exhaust system.

(The brother in law and the sister in law.)

Oh, that'll work.

It did.  We drove as slowly as before, stopping about every half mile to check on the car.  We drove it 25 miles (to Bend), until we found a garage and some extremely friendly, generous souls who fixed it for free.

(The husband who planned the trip.)

In case you ever need emergency car repair in Central Oregon, The "Good Guys" in Bend should be renamed the "Great Guys".

(Not at all from the hike, but I decided to share this all with you -- from earlier this summer -- me and the kids.)

Friday, July 15, 2011

"It's the End of an Era, Mom"

This morning, I picked up my daughter from a sleepover.  She and her friend (and the friend's Mom) went to see the eighth -- and last -- Harry Potter film last night.  They were so intent on getting a good seat that they got in line at the mall at 1 p.m. for the midnight show.

I am not that dedicated a Mom.

"How was the movie?"

"Oh, Mom, it was SO good.  But it's sad, I feel like a part of my childhood is over.  Like it's the end of an era."

We talked all the way home about how much Harry Potter has been part of her 14 years.

She asked us to start reading the books to her in Kindergarten, and her first written sentence (in her kindergarten journal) was "I wish to go to Hogwarts".

Not, "I wish I could go to Hogwarts" but "I wish to go to Hogwarts".  Her Dad and I joked that she was our little Brit and she practiced a (terrible) British accent on and off through second grade.

Harry Potter was so popular with her kindergarten class that the teacher and parents decided the end-of-the- year cake had to be a Harry Potter one.  Most of the kids couldn't read the books yet, but they were hooked on the series.  While some of you may undoubtedly grumpily complain that this was all about marketing, I'll argue that if you have to market something to kids, better it be a boy wizard, his good friends, his wise teachers (Dumbledore is forever in my heart), his triumphs over tragedy (orphaned because the bad guy killed his parents) and his hard-knock lessons about such things as race and tolerance and fairness (muggles versus wizards, giants versus non giants, Hogwarts versus other wizarding schools, etc.) than a cartoon platypus, a teenage singing sensation, or a sponge and his starfish friend.  

It's not that other things marketed to kids cannot also contain the occasional good lesson, but there were important lessons in all of the Harry Potter books (and movies); the marketing may have played (as marketing tends to do) to the visuals (capes, wands, video games, etc.) but the content of JK Rowling's universe was far deeper than anything else I've seen marketed to kids in a LONG time.

And JK Rowling got kids to read.  And wrote books that the adults in their lives wanted to read, too.

By the beginning of first grade, my daughter was reading the books on her own.  She has since read all of them, each more than once.  And of course she has seen the films.

Her grandparents gave her a Harry Potter umbrella and a Harry Potter backpack.  My Mom and my friend made an absolutely beautiful wizarding cape for her -- black, lined with purple and silver.  She had Harry Potter glasses and a fake wand.  Her make-believe games were, more often than not, about wizards and a magical school where kids could have unusual pets and befriend giants and ride dragons.  Her best friend's parents made their kid a "lab" in their basement, where the two of them made various potions.

She attended every Barnes and Noble book party (at midnight) for every new Harry Potter book, dressed either as Harry or Hermione.  I always wanted her to go as Moaning Myrtle, but she refused.  (One kid did, complete with a toilet seat around her head; BEST. KID. COSTUME. EVER.)

I had always meant to make her a Gryffindor scarf like the one Harry wore (burgundy and yellow stripes), but I never got around to it.

Two nights ago, my youngest (6) asked if I would start reading the books to him.  We are only on chapter two of the first one.

Thank God the era can begin again.

And this time, I'll make that scarf.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Baby Slut Wear

(Title courtesy of friend Jonathan Bradlow.)

Before I get on a roll here, let me preface this with:  I'm not conservative or even particularly religious.  So, when somebody like *me* starts to criticize what parents let their kids wear, you know there's a chance that the proverbial line really HAS been crossed.

All three of my kids had graduations yesterday -- younger son from kindergarten, older son from fifth grade, daughter from eighth.  Yes, I now have a kid in HIGH SCHOOL.

I'm still looking for my bifocals and my cane.  I'm not sure how it's possible that my baby is that old.  But she is.  And she's looking forward to getting her learner's permit in six months too.  God help me.  I'm so not ready for that.

Back to the topic:  kids' clothing.

I can't complain about what the kindergarten crowd was wearing; I wasn't there because both boys' ceremonies were at the exact same time (and in different schools), so my husband went to the Kindergartner's one and I went to the fifth grader's.  From the pics I saw, the kindergarten girls wore appropriate little-girl dresses.  No complaints.  The parents apparently understand that their girls are barely out of toddler hood.

By fifth grade, however, a lot of parents appear to think their girls are a whole lot older than they really are.

When the fifth grade kids came into the auditorium, I was struck by the number of the girls wearing strapless dresses AND high heels.  Some even had professionally styled hair (either that, or their moms or dads are way better at hair styling than I am).  Even more common were spaghetti-strap dresses, baby doll style dresses (think lingerie style) and very short skirts.

They are TEN YEARS OLD, eleven at most.

The boys, in contrast, were either dressed in nothing particularly special at all, or wore button-down or polo-style shirts with dress slacks.  I saw a few ties as well as one kid dressed completely in white with a matching hat.  In any case, the boys looked like boys.  A little awkward.  A little immature.  A whole lot bored.

The girls looked like somebody had decided to make them grow up real fast.

It is true that many fifth grade girls are well into puberty and so already look older than their male peers.  I get that.  But that is not a sufficient excuse for much of the clothing I saw, which was simply too mature and far too "sexy" to be appropriate for 10- and 11-year-old girls, particularly at a school event.

If I thought that I'd feel better at the eighth grade graduation, I was wrong.

Kids (and parents) REALLY went all out for this one.  (What is left to do in high school?)  Several girls were wearing strapless black mini dresses with (fake, I hope) diamond jewelry, fancy up-dos for their hair, and high-heeled glittery sandals with what looked like professional pedicures.  One girl had on the strappy, four-inch heeled silver sandals with a skin-tight, floor-length, beaded, spaghetti-strap gown with a back that stopped just above her butt.  No exaggeration.

I looked around.  Was I really in line for the Emmys?  Nope, just standing in line with parents waiting to get into a hot gym to watch 180 eighth graders make the ceremonial transition to high school.

What's appropriate?   My definition of "appropriate" differs on the age of the kid.  What is appropriate for a fifth grade girl (knee-length skirt, blouse or tank top, lightweight sweater as necessary) is different from what is right for an eighth grade one (I, for instance, would -- and did -- allow a sleeveless dress, but with only minimal heels and no professional hairstyle and only light makeup).  By the time they are eighteen, they can wear whatever inappropriate and low-class thing they want.  It's their body, their life.  Etc.  But until then...

I'm sympathetic to the argument that "it's so hard to find appropriate clothing for girls these days". It IS hard to find appropriate clothing for girls.  While boys' clothing is boring (and, for instance, their shorts keep getting LONGER and BAGGIER), girls' clothing changes, it seems, monthly, and their shorts and skirts keep getting shorter and tighter.

We'll leave out the entire discussion of what percentage of the American population (at any age) can even wear such clothing and look good in it.  Another disturbing trend was the percentage of muffin tops and flab on display.

Go into a store and try to look for cute -- but not "slutty" -- clothes for girls say, over size 10 (which for a lot of kids, is age EIGHT).  You'll find rack after rack of skin-tight, cheaply-made, low-cut, sleeveless, short clothes for girls.  Or clothes that just blatantly advertise sex:  "I'm sexy"  "I'm cute"  "Hot" etc.  There was recently an article about padded bras for little girls.  Try to find something that you and your kid can agree on and that doesn't make your kid look too mature or like a tramp.

Go home and take an Excedrin; you'll need it.

It's not an easy job. My daughter has gone to school on more days than I like to admit wearing clothes that I'm not 100% comfortable with (a lightweight sweater over her tops is our usual compromise; the shortness of her skirts gives me a heart attack, but fortunately, she only owns two of them).  Having arguments over clothing is somewhat of a rite of passage (for both boys and girls -- I heard two fathers complaining yesterday that they couldn't convince their sons to "clean up a little more" for the ceremony).  Remembering you're the parent and that certain compromises will not be made is part of a parent's job; in other words my sons had to wear their polo shirts and my daughter could not wear a spaghetti strap dress to eighth grade graduation.  She could wear a sleeveless dress and she could wear light makeup.

It's tough to fight the trend of slut wear, but it's not impossible.  And it doesn't have to break the budget, either.  I bought my daughter's 8th grade dress for $49 from Delias.com (a site that, in general, I actually highly criticize for its slutty clothing).  She wore flats she already had (we'd bought them before Thanksgiving).  The flats were not only cute, but practical (she didn't have to take off her shoes at the dance, like nearly all the other girls did).  Her necklace, which I have worn on occasion to my lectures, came from Target.

As the fifth (and eighth) grade girls tripped across the stages in their heels, tugging at their strapless gowns to make sure they didn't fall off, I heard a few parents whispering, "I'm so glad I have boys".  That comment made me sad.  I LOVE having a girl.  The problem isn't the girls; it's a market that tells girls from the earliest of ages that their value is their (sexy) appearance.

And the way we could change that market would be not to buy baby slut wear and to give our girls the message that they can be beautiful and confident -- and even look like American kids -- without showing quite so much of their skin.    They don't need to dress in burkas, but a little more left to the imagination, particularly for those under the age of 18, would be a refreshing change.

After all, if the trend continues, all they'll have left to model for high school graduation is lingerie itself.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Hell of Bra Shopping

NOTE:  If you're a guy, you might want to skip this one.  If you read it anyway, nice comments would be appreciated.

Blogging about personal experiences runs the risk of exposing one's soft underbelly and making one far too vulnerable to ridicule.  I've worried all night about this blog topic, but have decided to post it anyway because boobs are ubiquitous (50 percent of the world's population has them!) and I'm sure I'm not alone in hating most of my bra-shopping experiences.  And, as the 1960s showed us (if not earlier), the personal is political.

Yesterday, I went bra shopping. This would have been a completely un-blog-worthy experience had it gone as I had hoped (go in, find bra I like, find it in my size, buy it, leave).  It, of course, did not.

I walked directly to the dressing rooms, asked to be put in one, and for the women to bring me bras to try on (this is standard operating procedure at Victoria's Secret).

"Can you bring me some bras to try on?  I'm a size 36A."

"Oh!" (Skinny chick with big breasts and perfect skin stares at me.  Her eyebrows go up to hairline.)  "That is a really unusual size.  We don't have much to offer you."

For a second, I felt like a creature from Ripley's Believe It or Not.  I'm that unusual?  Really?

Now, I wasn't *completely* surprised about hearing this, only because the last time I went bra shopping (also at Victoria's Secret) the woman tried to convince me that I couldn't really be a 36A; I must really be a 34B.  When she measured me, she said, "Oh, you really are a 36A."

She said that in the same voice that, I imagine, she would use to say, "Oh, you really do have leukemia."

In other words, how disappointing that a) I've got small boobs and b) I've bot a "big" rib cage.  My body should know that if it has the former, it should not have the latter.

The woman had then gone on to reassure me:  "We can find something to help you."  Again, the same tone in which one would reassure a cancer patient that chemo will save her life.

I found myself, in the dressing room, actually fighting tears.  Yes, I know.  An overly emotional moment.  We all have them.  Move on.

Then, I found myself fighting anger:  who the hell trains these (buxom) twenty-somethings who work at Victoria's Secret? And why has the industry decided that it will only cater to the bell curve (pardon the pun) of bra sizes?  (I say "bell curve" because I fully realize that my sisters at the other end of the spectrum -- with very large breasts -- aren't served well by Victoria's Secret, either.)

Three of the six bras I was given to try on were immensely padded, giving the clear message that I am not good enough.  While there is a trend currently for all bras to be padded (just walk through a lingerie department if you don't believe me), many of the ones in my size had tags on them claiming to give me two extra cup sizes.

I didn't ask for that.  And the bras look ridiculous on.  It's like trying to wear a pillow across a flat chest.

I bought the two (plain -- one white, one black) that looked the best on my body and which were the most comfortable, regardless of whether they "enhance" me in any way.

When I got home, I went online.  Roughly 15% of the American population is my size.  To be perfectly frank, more women would be if there was not such an obesity epidemic in our society.  The average breast size among American women used to be 34B; now it is 36C -- attributable to obesity, the increasing presence of hormones in our environment, and the numbers of women seeking breast implants.  Reputedly, the percentage of women seeking breast implants rose an astounding 39% between 2000 and 2010.  (Of course, the more women think they "need" implants and seek them, the more the bras will be built for the "ideal" woman and not for the variety of us that actually exist out here.)

In any case, when more than 10% of the population is similar to me, it means there are MILLIONS of women with my size boobs (and rib cage).  There should be more than three choices of bras at Victoria's Secret that are for "us".

I asked if there were any of the "cute" ones in my size.  You know -- the striped ones, the polka dotted ones, the lacy ones, the ones with little bows, the ones that come with matching panties.


There are HUNDREDS of bras in Victoria's Secret.  Any of the ones that might be described as "cute" or "sexy" are not available in my size.


I went to another store to see if it had what I was looking for.


"I want a kinda sexy lacy bra in a size 36A."

Older (busty) lady with lapel pin which reads, "Certified fit specialist," looks at me, raises her eyebrows to her hairline and declares, "That is a tall order."

I sighed and gave up.

There are a million funny things about bodies.  Your tummy is fat.  Your thighs are too big.  Your eyebrows are too thin or too bushy.  Your ears are too big or they stick out.  You have an uneven skin tone.  You have acne.  Your teeth are yellow.  That hair on your upper lip is a little too noticeable.  Your breath is bad.  You are too tall or too short or too sound or too skinny.  Your hair is too curly or too straight or too wild.  That cowlick of yours is a bear to handle.  Your nose is too prominent.  Your eyes are too close together or too small.  You have weird toes.  You have fat feet.  Man, you have BIG feet!   Those varicose veins are ugly.  Your ass is WAY too big.  It really isn't attractive to have your crack show.

Some of this attention to our bodies might, arguably, be good:  we should take care of ourselves, exercise more, show some pride in appearance.  A certain degree of civilization demands that.

But when an entire fashion industry essentially shuts out  more than 10% of the (normal) population, it's time to make the personal public.

Lingerie manufacturers:  we are not all a "C" cup.  And the answer to that "problem" is not to tell us to get implants to fit your image of the ideal, or to wear hugely padded, uncomfortable, ugly bras.  We would like to, once in a while, have the same bra style options as our sisters have with their "ideal"-sized assets.

There's nothing wrong with us; there is something wrong with you.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

How much is a boy's life worth?

Saw this article today from The Washington Post.  It's an old article -- from 2007 -- but a 12-year-old boy DIED because, essentially, his mother couldn't find a dentist that would take care of his toothache. See his family had lost their Medicaid and, well, even when they had Medicaid, dentists were not easy to find.

Dentists prefer not to take patients with Medicaid.  Even kids.  I'll summarize the article for you:  The boy's tooth got so infected that the infection spread to his brain and...he DIED.  The total cost of the medical care he DID receive (in the ER, in intensive care, in surgery) was over $250K.

Wonder how much a tooth extraction or a filling would have cost?

The article doesn't say, so I did a little sleuthing.  According to this website, a simple extraction should cost between $50-150; an impacted wisdom tooth can cost as much as $650.  Another website has similar data.  Yet another website also gives similar figures.

What about fillings?  According to this website, metal fillings run between $75-145.  Composite fillings (my dentist calls them "hollywoods") are more expensive:  between $150-200 per filling.  Another website on cosmetic dentistry has virtually identical figures; though another website's stats are slightly higher:   $110-200 per each amalgam fillings, versus $135-240 per composite ones. 

This family essentially lost their child for want of no more than $650.

Beyond shameful.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Egypt's Sexual Harassment Problem and Media Coverage: How Academics (and the Media) Screwed Up

NOTE:  The title of this post was updated May 28, 2011 to reflect the content more accurately.  I criticize the media and poor scholarship.

I had not intended to post anything else here about Lara Logan or her case.  I have been writing an article (not yet published) on mob violence, in which Logan's case will be mentioned and, in doing research for that, I decided I needed to see the well-publicized 2008 study on sexual harassment in Egypt, done by the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights (ECWR).   The media (CNN, CBS, Salon.com, Washington Post, LA Times, and others) all had articles or news segments where they highlighted the punchline of that study:  98% of foreign women visitors and 83% of Egyptian women had experienced harassment in Egypt; 62% of Egyptian men admitted to harassing women and that 53% of Egyptian men blamed women for “bringing it on”. 

The media got that much right.  That was, indeed, the major finding worth highlighting.

The media’s rather direct connection to the Logan case was that Logan was assaulted, in part, because Egypt clearly has such a problem with sexual harassment.

Uh.  That is kinda right.  

Maybe it’s because I teach methods.  I needed to see the study itself, because something about those astounding statistics didn’t sit right with me; you see, we hardly ever see 98% in any study of human behavior.  Even 83% is high.  Those are the kind of stats that make one want to sit up and make sure the study was done correctly or, at the very least, to figure out how those statistics could be arrived at even in a well-designed study.

It took me a couple weeks to get my hands on the study (ironically, once I found it, I wondered why it had taken me so long…).  The title, Clouds in Egypt’s Sky:  Sexual Harassment, from Verbal Harassment to Rape, suggests that indeed, the authors are going to document rape in their study.

That should be a big indicator to all of you that they did not.

If you want to see the study, you can download it from this site.

The media didn’t take much time to see whether the study was well done.  They saw what most people would have seen:  big sample size (1010 Egyptian women, 1010 Egyptian men, 109 foreign women), multiple cites (three), and big impressive, shocking finding (see my first paragraph).

It turns out, even with these seeming strengths of the study, the study itself is seriously flawed.   And that knowledge should give us all a big dose of caution in how to relate it to something as heinous as Logan’s experience.


1)      The definition of sexual harassment is very broad.
The authors defined it as “unwanted sexual conduct deliberately perpetrated by the harasser, resulting in sexual, physical, or psychological abuse of the victim regardless of location, whether in the workplace, the street, public transportation, educational institution, or even in private places such as home…it may include behavior such as ogling, gestures, offers to perform sexual acts, questions of a private and sexual nature, displaying sexual photos or pictures, unwanted touching, etc.” (pp. 2-3). 

Whenever a concept is defined broadly you inevitably increase the number of people who will fit the criteria for that concept.

While I do agree that there are many forms of sexual harassment – and thus am not offended by a broad definition per se – it is very problematic to add together so many disparate experiences without also reporting their incidence individually. 

To lump together “explicit comments” with “assault” – which is exactly what these authors do – is akin to counting candy bar theft alongside tax evasion. 

2)    The authors do not report the different types of sexual harassment individually.

There is no way, from reading the report, to know what percentage of Egyptian women or foreign women in their sample experienced each type of harassment.  Or what percentage experienced multiple types.  Or which type was the most common.  These are rather important details that most researchers would have known to include.

3)     Though the subtitle of the report mentions rape, the authors do not report actually documenting a case of rape
They write that they uncovered seven forms of harassment:  touching, noises (whistling, hissing noises, kissing sounds), ogling of women’s bodies, verbal harassment of a sexually explicit nature, stalking or following, phone harassment, and indecent exposure.  Why did the authors indicate that their study included rape if, in their report, it appears that it does not?

Note that in both the definition of sexual harassment AND in the description of the seven kinds of harassment they claim to have uncovered, a case like Logan’s does not “fit “.

4)     The authors rely on a convenience sample, not a random one.
I am sympathetic to the reality that random sampling is expensive and time-consuming.  But any methodology student knows (or should know) – and certainly anybody with a Ph.D. should know – that if your sample was not randomly chosen, you cannot assume your data are anything more than suggestive.  Though many people misunderstand this, “random” is not equivalent to “talking to random people on the street”.  There is actually nothing random about random sampling – the most simple explanation of one type of random sampling (there is more than one) is that a random sample is selected in such a way that all samples of the same size have an equal chance of being chosen from the population.  Everyone in the population theoretically has an equal chance of being in the sample.

When you have a random sample THEN you can say (within a calculated margin of error) that you have uncovered a pattern in the larger society. 

The authors have a nice sample size (2129), but “big” does not mean “representative”.

These authors did not have a random sample so they cannot say (and the media analyzing their study cannot say) that “98% of foreign women in Egypt experience sexual harassment”.  The authors did not randomly sample from all of Egypt.  In fact, they did not randomly sample from the three sites they did use. 

ALL they can say is that in their sample, they found that 98% of foreign women had experienced at least one type of harassment.  Instead, they write up that finding without the absolutely necessary caveat of “in our sample”.  And then it got reported that way…I’m assuming some journalists need a crash course in how to read academic studies.

I’m volunteering.

5)    The three cites the authors sampled from are all in the same part of Egypt.    

This should be fairly obvious:  you cannot claim to have uncovered patterns of sexual harassment for a country as huge as Egypt with only three sites, particularly when the sites are all basically within miles of Cairo.

Their three sites were Cairo, Giza, and Qalyubeya. I googled several maps of Egypt; Cairo and Giza are right next to each other and Qalyubeya is 28 kilometers North of Cairo.  Egypt is a big country. 

I’d rename the study “Incidence of Various Types of Sexual Harassment Reported In a Convenience Sample of Egyptian and Foreign Women Living In and Near Cairo.”
But that’s not nearly as appealing as the title they used.
I know.  We academics are such kill joys.


I get that the media doesn’t have time for lengthy analyses of studies (although, honestly, isn’t that *part* of their job?).  Even if the media didn’t want to unpack all the problems in this study (there are more than the ones I’ve detailed here), they should at least have unpacked two:
1)    The Definitional Problem:  you define something very broadly, you predictably find many who fit the definition.  When this happens, you have to question whether the definition yields meaningful data.
2)    The Reporting Problem:  the authors presumably collected data on individual types of sexual harassment.  But they did not report it.  Without that data (it is nowhere in the report), we do not know which types of harassment are most common or whether the most severe forms are even often seen.

If the media had examined just these two flaws in the study, I think somebody would have suggested the obvious:  Would not a study done in the US with such a broad definition of sexual harassment also result in similar statistics of between 80 and 98% of American women reporting to have experienced at least one kind? 

To just use my life as an example, I've experienced (all in the US):
  • men exposing themselves to me
  • unwanted sexually explicit comments
  • sexually explicit photos shown to me
  • gestures
  • sexual propositions
  • unwanted touching

While all of these instances were scary and threatening, they pale in comparison to what Logan experienced.  Yet they appear to be exactly the kinds of harassment uncovered in the ECWR study, which was then used by so many news outlets as a way to partially explain why Logan's assault happened.

The analogy needs a very strong emphasis on the word "partial," for Logan's experience bears, frankly, only faint resemblance to the "everyday" kinds of street harassment uncovered in this study. 

I’m not questioning that Egypt has a serious, endemic problem with sexual harassment.  Other data easily convince me of this.  Read Leiby’s Washington Post article on sexual harassment in Egypt, or Amnesty International's article on the “virginity tests” forced on female Tahrir protesters or look up harassmap.org to see how women in Egypt have documented where and at what times of the day they have been assaulted.  Finally, read up on the UC Davis professor who was beaten up by a mob in Tahrir Square the week before Logan.  Of course, if you haven't heard of Logan's case, I'm going to assume you've spent the last three months under a rock somewhere.  
Egypt has a big problem with sexual harassment and sexual violence, and I've only given you a smattering of the data sources out there that confirm this. 

But the ECWR study was overused by many media outlets because, frankly, its main finding was easily digestible for both media consumers and media creators.  Who could stay away from a statistic showing that between 80-100% of women in Egypt, domestic and foreign, experience sexual harassment?

But would the media have been so complacent about a study done in the US with the same finding?  Probably not, or at least I hope not.  I think media would have immediately suspected that something about how the study was done may have affected the finding.   They should have seen the red flags with this study, too.

These statistics were used in a careless way, without attention to the fact that the study itself was methodologically weak, mostly due to a problem in operationalizing the term "sexual harassment" and in failing to report percentages of women experiencing each kind of harassment.  To rely so heavily on one poorly designed study in order to try to understand Logan’s case is methodologically suspect, but was still convincing to a vast majority of media consumers.

I’m giving the media a “C” on this one.  We consumers deserve a little better.


Shoukry, Aliyaa, Hassan, Rasha Mohammad, Komsan, Nehad Abul.  2008. Clouds in Egypt's Sky:  Sexual Harassment:  From Verbal Harassment to Rape, A Sociological Study.  Egyptian Center for Women's Rights.

Leiby, Richard.  March 2, 2011.  Women's rights marchers in Cairo report sexual assaults by angry mob.  Washington Post.

Egyptian women protesters forced to take 'virginity tests'.  March 23, 2011.  Amnesty International.

Johnson, Angella.  February 20, 2011.  I was a mob sex attack victim in Tahrir Square...just like Lara Logan.  Mail Online  at http://dailymail.co.uk.

Anonymous.  February 11, 2011.  Huge crowd of guys harass two foreign girls.  http://harassmap.org.

Mayton, Joseph and Ammar, Manar.  October 9, 2008.  Sixty percent of women harassed on a  daily basis -- Cairo.  Online at www.womennewsnetwork.net.

Hart, Anne.  February 4, 2011.  UC Davis female comparative literature assistant professor beaten up in Egypt.  Sacramento Women's Issues Examiner.  Online at www.examiner.com.