Thursday, December 24, 2009


Double X recently posted an article about a study that compared psychological well-being among singletons and those already married, and found that contrary to stereotype, most singles are just as happy and resilient as their married peers. The study, which profiled heterosexuals 40-74, left out those who were divorced or widowed, normally skewering the results of “single”. The article has some problems, however:
“When single people feel control over their lives and can rely on themselves, they can have especially high levels of happiness,” explains Jamila Bookwala, lead author and associate professor of psychology at Lafayette. She adds that the married people in her study who reported being highly self-sufficient weren’t happy about it, whereas single people on average felt relatively good about carrying their own weight.
Interesting how self-sufficiency is viewed in these two categories. I suspect that it is a point of pride for many singletons to be as self-sufficient as possible, but also in that they have to, or want to, rely on themselves for many things; that’s how the cookie crumbles, it’s just easier to do. But, when married, there is someone there to rely on, and you often just naturally fall into that pattern of needing that person to do things, expecting that person to provide something, and when that person falls short, disappointment arises. Those who are married are self-sufficient because they’ve found that they can’t rely on their spouse, and that causes unhappiness.

But of course, single is never an easy word to define:
It’s also not clear from the November study which single respondents had satisfying love lives but simply didn’t believe in marriage and which people preferred flying solo.
Neither of these designations is clear. What if you are single, have a satisfying love life, but do believe in marriage, and are just not ready for it? That seems like a hell of a lot of people to me. And while “prefer flying solo” is just a phrase, it’s too simplistic. Are these people who don’t want a relationship? Is this incompatible with having a satisfying love life?

The DoubleX piece links to a cover story from 2006 from Psychology Today on the growing shift and reduced stigma towards singles, and one psychologist actually links the current marriage craze (matrimania) to the rise of the singles. With a greater percentage of households not being filled by married couples, and with people marrying later, she posits that there are those who are insecure about the state of the union (and she doesn’t even mention the increased prominence of homosexual marriage).

Does that go back to the idea that being single is seen as a threat to those in relationships? The idea seems laughable, but somehow it always come roaring back. There are also still so many (namely lumped into the category of “relatives”) that find it strange when you don’t bring a love interest to the Christmas party every year. But I do wonder where this marriage glamour comes from. It’s become a topic of conversation among my friends, as we see so many acquaintances pair off and announce their engagement. For many, it is a confused surprise—why settle down so early? What’s the rush? I don’t know if that’s where the mocking originates, the idea to bum rush a David’s Bridal and try on a bunch of dresses for giggles. Why not? It’s an excuse to play dress up and not have to pony up the cash, to worry about the real things marriage signifies. But is it? I play along, because apparently once you hit your mid-20s, marriage is supposed to float into your head, and now we’re being forced to think about it. Dating for a number of years? Be prepared for the questions, the assumptions, the expectations.

Of course, when thinking about “singles”, that iconic show of single women, Sex and the City, comes up. The show itself did a lot to change perceptions, but it also married off three of the four women. I’m reminded of a season six episode, “A Woman’s Right to Shoes”, which explores how society does or does not celebrate or accept a person’s personal choices:
Carrie: You know what? I am Santa. I did a little mental addition and over the years I have bought Kyra an engagement gift, a wedding gift, then there was the trip to Maine for the wedding- three baby total I have spent over $2300.00 celebrating her life choices and she is shaming me for spending a lousy $485.00 bucks on myself? Yes, I did the math.

Charlotte: Yes, but those were gifts. And if you got married or had a baby, she would spend the same on you.

Carrie: And if I don't ever get married or have a baby, what? I get bubkiss? Think about it. If you are single, after graduation, there isn't one occasion where people celebrate you.

Charlotte: Oh! We have birthdays!

Carrie: Oh, no no no no- we all have birthdays, that's a wash. I am thinking about the single gal. Hallmark doesn't make a "congratulations you didn't marry the wrong guy" card. And where's the flatware for going on vacation alone?
Exactly. Plenty of people experience major milestones that don’t fall under these traditional rubrics, but they can’t throw multiple parties every step of the way and expect gifts. Announcing a marriage can have engagement, shower, and wedding gifts, and that’s not including all the ancillary expenses! Many people also agree that we have an obligation to make ourselves happy, and that includes a lot of “selfish” decisions, ones that can be judged harshly by outsiders:
Even as singlehood is becoming the de facto norm, people who choose to go through life solo are deliberately kept in a state of confusion about their own motives by a culture that clings to the marriage standard. Typically, says DePaulo, singles are told that they are selfish for pursuing their own life goals. If you're single and you have a great job to which you devote energy, you're typically told your job won't love you back. Of course, singles are always suspect as tragic losers in the game of love. But most of all they are told through commercials, images and endless articles that they will never be truly happy and deeply fulfilled unless they are married.

"The battlefield is now psychological," says DePaulo. Single women today have work opportunities, economic independence and reproductive freedom. "The things that can be legislated are all done," she notes. "The last great way to keep women in their place is to remind them that they are incomplete. Even if you think you're happy, the messages go, you don't know real happiness." There's a hunger out there for a new view of singles.
Notice, of course, that the article goes from all singles to just female singles, again focusing on the women. Because it’s women who want to be married, right? There the ones we have to worry about. As friends of mine commented a few months ago, it’s assumed that men will marry, but for women, you never know…the men might be a little off, but the women will be downright strange!

But for many people, being single is both a choice and not a choice. It’s a choice in that a person can decide whether or not to pursue something, to set up an online profile, to ask out every person seen at a bar. But it’s also not a choice in that you don’t always get what you want, the person you want may be unavailable for a variety of factors, and sometimes, there just isn’t a suitable person available.

The Psychology Today article has some noteworthy stuff, although I don’t agree with it completely. But neither do I with another singles “movement”: Quirkyalone. The premise is basically that it’s better to be without a relationship than to settle, a feeling that many people agree with in theory. It’s meant to battle the relationship stigma, all those people who hop from one person to another. But many of these people, just like many of the people in relationships, do really believe that they don’t “need” someone. Quirkyalone is a mindset, as Sasha Cagen repeatedly declares. I understand where she’s coming from. I just do not like the label. Singlehood as a movement seems a bit silly to me, though I understand the points of privilege single bloggers point out, like tax code rates, hotel rates and whatnot.

A lot of the advice Psychology Today points to is rather obvious, at least to those of us who know the world. It might not always be feasible or easy to follow, but it makes sense. It’s what people do, it’s the natural evolution. It always seemed sad to me that when people coupled up, their social circle often narrowed, instead of expanded. This isn’t always the case, but especially with marriage, circles get smaller, because the available time one has now must be appropriately divided, and a smaller portion goes to friends. It’s part of the soulmate culture, another dangerous idea: one person can change your life, but it can’t fulfill you always and forever:
The soulmate culture insists that one person can satisfy all your emotional needs, says DePaulo. "But that's like putting all of your money in one stock and hoping it's not Enron." Marriage today forces many people to put their friendships on the back burner. Singles, on the other hand, are free to develop deeper relationships with their friends without fear that they are betraying closeness. The flip side is that singles have to be more proactive about building their social lives; it takes an effort.

"Single people are more likely to have a good relationship investment strategy. They tend to have a diversified portfolio of relationships—friends, siblings, colleagues—and to value a number of them," says DePaulo. "They have not invested their entire emotional capital in one person." Having a broad social network is physiologically as well as emotionally protective, although society perceives singles as psychologically vulnerable precisely because they lack the built-in support system of a spouse.
As I said, lots of these things just naturally happen, and they should, whether a person is single (whatever that means) or not. As more people stay unmarried, and the psychology of happiness continues to grow, there will be more studies…probably proving that what single people hate most is forcing them to answer questions about coupling up.

Are There Any Teaching Jobs Left?

I know plenty of people who have received or are in the process of obtaining teaching certificates, and while I have been told for forever that teachers are virtually guaranteed a job, it seems that is not the case now:
Since last fall, school systems, state education agencies, technical schools and colleges have shed about 125,000 jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

At the same time, many teachers who had planned to retire or switch jobs are staying on because of the recession, and many people who have been laid off in other fields are trying to carve out second careers as teachers or applying to work as substitutes to make ends meet.


Just a few years ago, before the recession hit, several reports had projected a big shortage of teachers across a wide range of subjects over the next several years as baby boomers retired from the classroom and the strong economy lured college graduates into fields other than education.

But the nationwide demand for teachers in 60 out of 61 subjects has declined from a year earlier, according to an annual report issued this week by the American Association for Employment in Education. Only one subject — math — was listed as having an extreme shortage of teachers. In recent years, more than a dozen subjects had extreme shortages.

Plenty of these wannabe teachers cannot find jobs, and I really wonder how easy it is to find positions, no matter if you do alternative route or get a master's degree, or one of the many other ways to enter the field. Special education is practically the only way left, as University of Kansas Dean of Education Rick Ginsberg explains in the article (disclosure: he's my father's friend), but not every teacher is made to work with special education students.

Will this reverse in a few years, if the recession dies down and people retire? Is it only true in some areas? Rural North Dakota, for all I know, still needs teachers. But that doesn't do much good if you live on the East Coast...state requirements vary tremendously.

I suspect that there are job opportunities for those with teaching degrees, even advanced ones, at educational institutions or tutoring centers. Directors, instructors, etc...they may not be straight teaching jobs, but they are in the educational field.

WaPo Fail

There was a little incident in Washington recently. An impromptu snowball fight caused a police officer to take out his gun. This turned into a big deal. It became an even bigger deal when the story was inaccurately covered by the Washington Post; their account was contradicted by other outlets and notably a YouTube video of the event.

The whole story is a fascinating example of the power of social networks, ingenuity, and journalism.

The Washington Post did write the "real" story a few days later, but by then they had been widely criticized for their erroneous coverage and for not having the balls to fess up for their wrongdoing, correcting their record properly. Their piece is pretty good, but it got lost in the shuffle between other snowstorm-related stories (especially in the print edition) and the cacophony of criticism, most notably from their main competitor, the Washington City Paper:
Yet the reason why the Post screwed this up is that they all have linkophobia. If you link to an outlet---such as, God forbid, the Washington City Paper---you've lost. You got scooped and all your colleagues are going to look down on you. Linking is a huge sign of weakness---you just can't do it. Far better to, like, call a top police official, buy his version of events, and just place it in a post, regardless of the contradicting evidence that's already posted elsewhere.

Take a close look at that 10:20 update on the maybe-gun-pulling cop: "The plainclothes D.C. police detective may have unholstered his pistol during the confrontation with participants in the huge snowball fight, based on video and photos posted on the Internet."

Bold and italics are mine. They're mine because this is the most cowardly, selfish, arrogant news conduct out there today. What the fuck is "video and photos posted on the Internet"? How does that help readers? It's as if I can go to, and there, on the first screen, will be the video and photos of the snowball fight and the maybe-gun-wielding cop. "Posted on the Internet" would be acceptable if this were 1997.

The reporters used this hazy phrasing because they were too chicken-shit to do something that we all have learned to do over the past, say, decade or more. And that's to link to competitors and acknowledge their contributions to stories.
The tone is harsh, but it’s a blog, much like Gawker serves to rip apart the New York Times. The truth is, Erik Wemple is right. How can you ignore the rest of the world? I assumed that it was common practice now to link to other outlets and acknowledge the competition when necessary in covering stories. The idea, as the Times has written, is that you want to be as accurate as possible, and if that means getting scooped, then so be it. You want to have all the facts, and the reporting should be stronger and as fleshed out as possible. By not acknowledging other outlets, you make yourself look stupid at best, lose credibility at worst, as seen here.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Are Computing Jobs the Future?

This article is quite deceptive.

Sure, it focuses on the young--teenagers, to be exact. I love the idea of new jobs in computing, just like I love the idea of new jobs in relation to the environment, or in government. But how can I get involved? I love computers and technology, though I am far from savvy and quite behind the curve in a lot of areas, but I'd love to learn. My high school did not have even close to a fraction of the opportunities listed here, and well, my problem is I never know what to do. What do I do? How can I get one of these hybrid careers:

Hybrid careers like Dr. Halamka’s that combine computing with other fields will increasingly be the new American jobs of the future, labor experts say. In other words, the nation’s economy is going to need more cool nerds. But not enough young people are embracing computing — often because they are leery of being branded nerds.

Educators and technologists say two things need to change: the image of computing work, and computer science education in high schools.

Is computing really considered too nerdy? I’ve argued before that nerd isn’t the stigma it used to be—not with Hollywood glamourizing the term, between Spider-man and Sheldon. Sure, most of us are more socially adept than these two characters, but neither of them embody computing. What does need to change is the notion that computer science is too hard, too male, and dreadfully dull. Tales of it being mundane code that will cause most normal people to go off the rails before hitting 35 are the norm, and that doesn’t bode well for recruitment.

I am all for hybrid careers. I want one. I want to be one of those hyphen people, described as writer/activist/etc/etc/etc, juggling many things and moving fluidly between interests and skills, belonging in several different environments. There are plenty of people who fit this mode, why can’t I?

This article using computing as a jumping off point for those interested in a varied career path, and uses examples of people who have untraditional background but have a “computing” job:

One goal, Ms. Cuny and others say, is to explain the steady march and broad reach of computing across the sciences, industries, culture and society. Yes, they say, the computing tools young people see and use every day — e-mail, text-messaging and Facebook — are part of the story. But so are the advances in field after field that are made possible by computing, like gene-sequencing that unlocks the mysteries of life and simulations that model climate change.

It’s seeing these simulations that really make computing cool, the data sequenced and mapped out. Museums are great for this; I recommend the MIT Museum in Boston, especially the section from their Media Lab (I was practically drooling). You need a computer science background to enter the school, something that bummed me out quite a bit when I found out in high school. Data collection is so cool, especially when sequenced and compared, trying to explain and extrapolate from the responses. It’s really unbelievable how they make even the most mundane fascinating.

But it’s hard to get there:

Today, introductory courses in computer science are too often focused merely on teaching students to use software like word processing and spreadsheet programs, said Janice C. Cuny, a program director at the National Science Foundation.

Introductory programs? I’m not sure if she’s talking about Computer Science 101 in college or the local community college’s Introduction to Computers, which is meant for grandma. I believe a lot of people just need time and practice with programs in order to use them well; sometimes that necessitates a course, other times a job or project. But a lot of people don’t get that chance, or they don’t know they have that chance and it passes them by.

I’ve always liked that the Obama administration created a Chief Technology Officer position in addition to having a Chief Information Officer, showing his commitment to technology, an area that the previous president was not into. Nowadays, technology is so incredibly important that not having the government play a part is an egregious mistake. Having support in this area—including advocating electronic health records—ensures that our citizens will be able to prepare for the future, and enhances our standing in the world.