Putting Away Childish Things

You might have noticed that I haven’t been around the lair all that much lately. It’s not for lack of desire, denizens. I’d love nothing more than to come hang out at with you all with the same frequency I used to. It’s for lack of other things…lack of time, mostly. But also lack of motivation. Lack of inspiration. Lack of give-a-damnedness.

There’s been a lot going on IRL: good things, great things, frustrating things, worrying things. It’s a Damoclean life, the professional one I lead, and presidential election years only make it that much worse. Plus, the state of things is so depressing that for a while I simply lost my will and way.

Mainly, it’s because I am so tired of and sickened and disheartened by the continuing devolution of the “of, by, and for” part of the equation: We The People.

Plainly put, We The PeopleTM kind of suck, and it’s time we started to fix that. It has to start with us because, if all those sacred and holy documents are to be believed anymore (if ever), we’re supposed to be the lynchpins of Mr. Toad’s Wild Government Ride. We’re supposed to be the ones steering this ship; the politicians are supposed to be the ones reporting to us. Yet, somewhere along the way, the politicians mutinied, started changing the rules when we weren’t paying attention. Wasn’t that difficult to do, really…for a “highly evolved species” or “greatest nation in the world” or whatever other self-awarded accolades we like to tout, we’re not exactly the brightest crayons in the box. We’re kind of like the Pakleds of the planet.

For you non-nerds, this is not a compliment.

Now here we sit, a divided, divisive muddle of easily distracted dolts, unable to see the forest because we have to stop and piss hate-filled comments onto every tree. Corruption continues to run amok while we stand in line to buy a fried chicken sandwich. Because that fried chicken sandwich represents the protection of our freedom of speech!

To paraphrase Inigo Montoya for a moment, “You keep using that phrase, but I do not think it means what you think it means.” Seriously, look up “Freedom of Speech” and learn what it really means. That’s a really good place to start.

Now, the title of this post is sort of a tip of the paw to a recent episode of Dan Carlin’s Common Sense, which he called “Put Up or Shut Up.” I used to love listening to Common Sense, mainly because Carlin’s viewpoints on so many things match my own viewpoints. Everyone likes to listen to people who
agree with them, right?

However, I stopped listening a while ago because, quite frankly, I was tired of listening to reinforcement of how I felt, but no suggestions for how to change things…how to make things better…how to reroute the abysmal direction of this country.

Seems like Carlin felt the same way. In “Put Up or Shut Up” he basically stated that even he was tired of listening to himself go on and on about these things without providing a plan for how to fix it. And he called on himself and listeners to…put up or shut up.

So this is me putting up. It’s time to start turning things around before we really do end up plummeting off into the abyss. Our government is corrupt and unresponsive, why? Because we let it become so. All of us. Not just the Republicans. Not just the Democrats. All of us. Somewhere along the way, we lost our ability to reason and debate and problemsolve and now we spend most of our time and energy attacking each other, either in person or via the vitriol of online comments where anonymity apparently bleeds us dry of any empathy or compassion.

What do I propose as part of the solution to this mess? It’s time to grow up, America. Time to start behaving like the “evolved intellects” we liken ourselves to be. Because whether you believe we’re 2,000 or 2 million years old or more, we’re old enough to know better.

First on the agenda? Stop playing the Blame Game. Blaming everyone else for your problems is what little kids do. Also? Doesn’t fix a damn thing, does it? No. So stop it. Stop pointing fingers and saying that it’s _______’s fault that things are the way they are. It’s lazy and ignorant. It’s also how the politicians keep us from ever coming together to fix the problems we have…because they know that part of the fix will mean stopping their free run of the place. Divide and conquer…who knew it worked, eh? George Orwell, actually. I always fall back on one particular passage of his book 1984, which once again speaks relevance to our current state of affairs:

Heavy physical work, the care of home and children, petty quarrels with neighbours, films, football, beer, and above all, gambling, filled up the horizon of their minds. To keep them in control was not difficult. A few agents of the Thought Police moved always among them, spreading false rumours and marking down and eliminating the few individuals who were judged capable of becoming dangerous; but no attempt was made to indoctrinate them with the ideology of the Party.

It was not desirable that the proles should have strong political feelings. All that was required of them was a primitive patriotism which could be appealed to whenever it was necessary to make them accept longer working-hours or shorter rations. And even when they became discontented, as they sometimes did, their discontent led nowhere, because being without general ideas, they could only focus it on petty specific grievances. The larger evils invariably escaped their notice.

Primitive patriotism. “You’re either with us or against us.” Sound familiar? Aren’t you tired of it all as well, denizens? Aren’t you tired of bloviators telling us who’s to blame and riling up this primitive patriotism as a means of blocking true progress, true change, true hope? We are capable of so much more, so much better.

So stop playing games. First, stop your own part in the Blame Game. I’m just as guilty of this game as anyone else. I’m in no way proud of how I have readily bought into various notions that it was X group’s fault that things were the way they were. I was negative, bitter, and resentful. It didn’t solve anything and it just served to make me feel even worse about everything and about myself. Even more? It wasn’t true and it wasn’t fair.

You cannot blame all the problems that ail us right now on one group of people. You also cannot broad-brush an entire sect of the population based on interactions you’ve had with limited members of that sect. In true scientific method of inquiry, it’s a matter of case-by-case analysis that will continuously test, form, and modify ideas and opinions. We’re “individuals” for a reason. Is it easy? HELL NO! Why do you think so few people do it? Is it what needs to be done?

Yes. Yes, it is. It’s called logic. Spock it to me.

Second, call people out for their part in the Blame Game. If you find yourself surrounded by people who just want to spew this kind of negative passive bullshit, call them on it.

Hold on. Don’t go out and start screaming at strangers. Start at home. Not with the screaming though. That doesn’t go over well at all. Be respectful, but point out that blame doesn’t solve anything. Also? Constant complaining is actually antithetical to problemsolving.

So, combat negativity and complaining and blaming with proactive responses. “Okay, what can we do to fix the problem? How can we improve things?” Start seeking solutions! And if you find that there are people who simply refuse to change…well, then leave them be. That’s right…leave them be. Some people would rather throw themselves the mother of all pity parties than try to come up with solutions. You don’t have to stick around and help them celebrate.

See, right now, the United States of America looks like a hard drive that hasn’t been defragmented since it was purchased…all the way back in 1776. And there has been a whole long line of fragmentation ever since. It’s time we activated the national defrag program and leave those “unmovable files” right where they are. They won’t be able to stop the rest of us from rejoining and working together efficiently, if we want to. They’ll just stay where they are, inevitably being as useless to the improvement of this country as all those groups they like to hate on so much. Karma, betches. Look into it.

We live in a country of extraordinary freedoms. It’s one of the many reasons I am, indeed, thankful that I live in America. But I am not proud of who we have let ourselves become as Americans. We have allowed the politicians to take total control, to divide us with incendiary wedges designed to blind us to the solving of true issues and the striving toward true progress. We bicker and blame like children, and we gain nothing by doing so. We simply harm ourselves while the politicians continue to drag us further downward toward a drop we might not survive.

It has to stop. I’m willing to try. Are you?

The Ablutions of Civility

Do you know what separates humans from the rest of the animal kingdom?

A hot shower and a hairdryer.

I exaggerate, of course. But not really. I know that we like to think of ourselves as highly evolved (or children of God, if that’s how you like to swing), but it’s such a thin sheen, this civility we pride ourselves for possessing over the rest of the mammals.

Remove one of those tenuous threads that connect us to that higher plateau and watch how quickly it all unravels.

We lost our electricity on Friday night, thanks to a jaw-droppingly violent storm known as a “Derecho.” It swept through the area with winds strong enough to snap healthy trees into shards of kindling and rip power lines completely free from their poles. And the rain! The idiom “sheets of rain” would not be hyperbolic in this case. Rain poured down as if dumped from a giant basin, with no delineation of size or shape…just a solid wall of water through which we found ourselves driving. VERY SLOWLY.

It was stunning and frightening and utterly humbling.

And then we reached our neighborhood and the unsurprising though frustrating reality of complete darkness.

This was our reality for almost four days.

Several years ago, New York was hit by a blackout so severe that former Energy Secretary Bill Richardson described us as ” a superpower with a third world electricity grid.” This statement is perfectly applicable to the state of the electricity grid as operated by the Potomac Electric Power Company, known as PEPCO. Although, it’s not really “operated” by PEPCO anymore, which is probably a major part of the problem. PEPCO sold their energy generating assets in 2000. They said that it would benefit customers by giving us lower rates. It was also supposed to open up free-market competition.

Yeah, not so much.

What actually happened has been a decade-plus devolution in service and reliability from PEPCO to the point that if you sneeze too hard near a substation, thousands go without power for days. Granted, Friday night’s storm was fierce. However, PEPCO’s response was the same as every one of their responses to massive days-long power failures (which seem to occur at least biannually anymore): no human customer service; spotty updates to their automated response system that always lack any concrete commitment to timelines; slow decisions to reach out to nearby power companies for help in restoration efforts; and, when finally they do commit to a deadline, it’s offensively distant.

Case in point: We lost power on Friday, June 29. Sunday, July 1, PEPCO finally committed to the “promise” that 90 percent of the people without power would have full restoration by 11 p.m. on Friday, July 6.

This is customer service? Did I mention that temperatures have been in the mid-90s to low 100s since the power went out? And there’s no sign of relief all week?

This is how civility’s sheen sloughs away: Under the oppressive pressing persistence of heat and humidity that leave patience in shreds and tempers inflamed. Major intersections become free-for-alls as people abandon lawfulness and common courtesy. You think this area’s traffic sucks and blows as it is on a normal day? Try making it down a major roadway when every stoplight is dead and there are no police officers available to direct traffic. Mad Max would be left in tears by sweaty, enraged D.C. area commuters unfettered by the superfluity of traffic rules and simple human decency.

Then there were the lines at the gas stations that still had power. I wasn’t alive during the 1973 oil crisis, but I’ve seen photos of lines of cars snaking down roads, around blocks, waiting to get to a pump. Believe it or not, this was the scene this past weekend at the few stations that still had power. You’d have thought that we’d gone weeks without access to gas, the way people were behaving. Horns blaring, tempers flaring…I honestly question and fear what would happen in an actual gas shortage. Good thing I like to walk as much as I do.

By Sunday evening, our third-world power grid problems sparked a first-world worry regarding…our wine fridge. We’d just gotten back from a very prosperous adventure (about which I had planned on telling you all prior to PEPCO SUCKS 2012!!!11!!) that left our wine fridge fully stocked with some amazing new discoveries.

Discoveries that were now beginning to warm up.

Have you ever heard the phrase “like looking for a needle in a haystack”? That, denizens, might have been easier than looking for a bag of ice in a blackout. I drove around for almost an hour in search of ice. The closest I came were random shards and cubes abandoned at the bottoms of empty ice bins and one incredibly questionable offer from a gas station attendant who looked almost exactly like Borat’s producer Azamat Bagatov, for me to “come back in few hours and I will have for you two bags of ice.”

Uh. No.

Thankfully, I found a 7-Eleven with a full ice case, the wine was promptly cooled down, and I even got to enjoy a glass of non-tepid tap water that evening.

Monday morning brought with it another round of frustration: My office building had no power. No electricity at work, no electricity at home, I suddenly found myself in full nomadic form, netbook in tow, standing outside the local Barnes and Noble bookstore with two goals in mind: free wi-fi and a giant cup of coffee. Possibly two. At the same time.

Caffeine withdrawal is an ugly thing to witness, denizens.

Thankfully, the B&N staff understood the desperation that rolled off us all in waves (as well as a bit of funk, I’m sure; cold showers are great for cooling off but you cannot convince me that they are suitable for successful hygiene). The Starbucks cafe was ready with hot coffee and the promise of quiet tables and no pressure when we camped out well past the point when our cups were drained and nothing remained of our muffins beyond crumbs and blueberry-stained napkins. Actually, B&N was a lovely oasis of civility in an otherwise calamitous experience. The staff were kind, the store was quiet and cool, the wi-fi never faltered, and I ended up leaving with the complete works of H.P. Lovecraft for $20.

Win.

Now, I sit here in the cool comfort of our house, listening to the appeasing sounds of our mist-thin civility once more humming around me. I suppose I should be thankful to PEPCO for restoring our electricity well before their estimate. However, I can’t help but chafe at the thought that they set the bar so impossibly low that I can’t really find it in myself to thank them for anything. Yes, I appreciate the workers who are out there, busting their asses in this heat to fix what went wrong; but I can’t forgive the arrogance of the upper management who not only act as though they are above answering to their customers for remarkably poor service but actually have the audacity to want to discuss the possibility of imminent price increases.

Right. Perhaps I should approach such an increase with the same reliability and responsiveness that they approach these regular power failures…

Mind All Traffic Signals…

…even the ones you can’t see.

I want you to just look at this photo for a moment or two, denizens. Ponder it:

Do you notice anything off about the positioning of the crosswalk signs? Want a closer look?

Yeah. Pretty awesome, right? The one sign is positioned RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE OTHER ONE. Result? Total visual blockage.

The signs have been like this for probably three months now. The county had sent a crew out to regrade the sidewalk crossings, and they installed a couple of new crosswalk signs while they were at it. What I want to know is, how did they not realize while they were installing this sign that they were screwing up?

It took me all of five seconds to deduce the DERP of the sign placement. The work crew was there, futzing around with the sidewalk and the signs for more than a week. Did none of them at any point not look up and say, “Hey! Hey, guyz?!!?!11! I think we need to re-evaluate this game plan.”

Or did they all notice it and just not give a damn? Who’s to say. All I know is that I’m very glad that my parents taught me to always look both ways before crossing the street…

Farfle Falafel Fat Pillow

Well, that’s a bit of a ridiculous title, isn’t it? And yet it fits perfectly with the ridiculously lovely little dog to which it once belonged.

Meet Fahrvergnügen:

Yes, that’s correct, her real name was Fahrvergnügen. My cousin named her that. Truthfully, though, we don’t know what her real name might have been, since my cousin brought her home after finding her at the local dump. We also never really knew what kind of dog she was, with her Blue Tick Coonhound markings, her Beagle baying, and her stumpy Basset Hound legs (and trademark Basset Hound stubborn streak). She was skinny and mangy and riddled with fleas, a bit surly and confrontational with the other dogs. But she was also loyal to every member of our familial “pack.” So we accepted her, although we all mutually agreed that “Farf” was a far easier name to yell from the back porch than “Fahrvergnügen.”

So Farf it became. For a summer, I called her “Hava Hava,” because of the strange predilection she had developed for wandering around my grandparents’ living room, entreating people to play with her by making a guttural, growly noise that sounded like her saying “Hava Hava Hava” over and over. Then, when she started to get to be a little chubby in her later years, I crowned her with this post’s title: “Farfle Falafel Fat Pillow.” Alliterative and silly, but meant lovingly.

My grandmother adored Farf, and the feeling was most assuredly mutual. Farf would sit quietly next to my grandmother on the couch, letting her stroke her long, silky ears. One of the last things my grandmother held onto from her North Carolina days was the memory of her “puppy.” That was how my parents ended up inheriting Farf; they were closest to where my grandmother was, so that she could still visit with her puppy until even that memory faded from grasp.

Farf returned to North Carolina when my parents relocated. She loved both my parents and trained them both well when it came to giving her treats. When my mother became bed-ridden, Farf stayed close, sleeping by her bedside, keeping watch. After my mother died, Farf became my father’s shadow. Even though she was getting up there in age and her joints protested the effort, she would follow him wherever he went in the house, upstairs, downstairs…didn’t matter. He was her duty and devotion.

The photo with this post? It’s a shot of her watching my father moving around the living room, waiting to see if she could stay where she was or if she’d need to get up to follow after him to another room.

By the end, Farf had gone completely deaf (but definitely never lost her ability to bark), nearly blind, and it had gotten to the point where my dad needed to help her get up and down even the few stairs on the back deck. Kidney failure, however, was something that none of us could help her overcome, and so my dad had to have Farf put to sleep last week.

We’ll never know how old she really was since she, like so many others from the cadre of amazing canines who have padded their way across our hearts, was a random rescue. Whatever her age, she was a part of our family for nearly 15 years. She made us her pack, she gave her devotion to us, and we did what we could to give her the best home and plenty of love.

I hope it was enough.

Good girl, Farf. Good girl.

Getting Sacked

While driving home from a weekend stay in the great hate state of North Carolina, we spent a large portion of the journey past Richmond being treated to a view of the back-end of a “dualy”—a dual-wheeled pickup truck—decked out in chrome, including giant chrome-plated side mirrors, running boards…and a chrome-plated scrotum dangling from its chrome-plated trailer hitch.

Yeah, you read that correctly. This dualy had balls.

I’m not going to post a photo. If you must see what I’m referring to, you can visit this site. And, oh look…they’re made in the USA. Could I be any prouder?

I’m actually quite mortified that I live in a country where hanging ersatz balls off the back of a gas-guzzling vehicular atrocity is acceptable behavior. I’m even more mortified by the fact that there are enough people in this country who, upon reading my previous statement, would immediately attack me, call me all variety of unfavorable names, and then invite me to STFU and GTFO!!!111!!111! And you wonder why I keep my comments section locked.

But I digress.

The thing that I can’t help but wonder is that hanging a pair of balls from your truck is supposed to be an indication of what exactly? I know that people say things like “Boy, that took balls” or “he’s got a pair of steel ones” or “That was ballsy” to indicate that someone has done something brave. Something strong. Something manly.

Here’s the thing, though. Aren’t balls kind of…just dangly and there? I mean, I understand the biological function of the scrotum…but beyond that, why do we automatically assume that, when someone has done something gutsy or brave or brazen that they’ve “got balls”?

I’d argue the exact opposite. Balls aren’t brave. They hide when they get too cold. They’re a work hazard if you’re an action hero (Arnie taught me that). They’re shrivelly and dangly and kind of seem like the antithesis of brave to me. You want strong and brave? Look to the part of the anatomy the size of a fist that’s able to stretch to accommodate something the size of a watermelon.

Yeah, try that, Mr. Chrome Sack.

This brings me to my next point of contention: I’d also argue that this fad would be the outcry of the nation if it was women dangling labia from their bumper hitches.

[Loba Tangent: I know that labia aren’t biologically equivalent to balls, but I question whether there are enough people left in this country who would even be able to identify an ovary, especially if it was dangling from the back of a car. Then again…]

This does not mean that I would like to see women getting in on this simple, sanguine mindset. I’d like to think that we’re a little classier (says the one from the same gender as those wacky Kardashian girls…and that Snookie person). I’m just pointing out yet another hypocrisy of our patriarchal country.

Hey, I know! Let’s get a giant pair made, to install at the base of the Washington Monument!

Hilarity would undoubtedly ensue, no?

Welcome Home, Discovery

Something extraordinary just happened, denizens. I’ve been driving people crazy all morning about it. The Space Shuttle Discovery has come to her new home.

She left Kennedy Space Center early this morning; I heard her departure during my commute into work. I had wanted to take the morning off, join the rest of my geek peepz down at the Udvar-Hazy to watch her arrival, but I’ve got too much going on at work right now for that to be feasible.

Welcome to the Digital Age.

I still got to watch her arrival, thanks to a streaming video provided by NASA. Here are some screen captures, in case you missed the video:

Even better? My cousin was able to snap this shot of Discovery on her fly-by up the Potomac River:

Want better still? I got to see her on her fly-by. Totally unexpected. I didn’t think that my office would be anywhere near her flight plan. As I was waiting for the coverage video to start back up, I heard a group of my coworkers running around the corner toward our conference room. I swiveled around in my chair…and there she was, gliding across the cloud-dappled sky on the back of her chaperone.

AMAZING.

I have no photo of this moment…she was there for but a moment before streaking off into the ether…but I can still see it, replaying in my mind.

Silly as it might sound, this has made my morning.

Such bittersweet emotions right now. She shouldn’t be moth-balled for museum fodder, but I’m so thankful that I live in an area lucky enough to have been selected to give one of these beautiful shuttles a new home. I can’t wait for Udvar-Hazy to reveal her glorious debut. I’ll miss the Enterprise, but now it’s time for others to enjoy her.

Welcome home, Discovery.

Commemorative poster designed for Smithsonion National Air & Space Museum

Who Are You?

I was fingerprinted this morning.

No, you’re not going to see me on the national news, being led away in handcuffs from the scene of some horrible pre-caffeinated rage crime. Believe it or not, I had to be printed for my job.

This statement is just going to fuel those pesky secret agent rumors. I know it.

Truth of the matter is, while what I do does require a bit of clearance from the agency to which I am detailed, I really don’t do anything that would demand this level of security clearance. However, the federal government, being the machine of brilliance and preparedness that it is (and not the least bit hyperbolic in its actions whatsoever), has decided that all people affiliated with any aspect of the federal government will inevitably have to go through this security process.

Which is how I ended up being fingerprinted while my two pieces of government-issued photo identification were scanned and I was photographed. And then everything was uploaded into a government database to be processed to confirm that I am who I say I am, and that I have not committed any sort of crime that would prevent me from receiving final clearance.

After the initial disappointment I felt when I realized that: A) I was actually going to be fingerprinted (there was some confusion about this fact from my sponsor); and B) the fingerprinting wasn’t going to be done by Sara Sidle, I settled into a state of conflicted resignation. The tech-geek side of me was fascinated by the tool they used to capture my fingerprints. Gone are the days of messy ink stains and paper ten-cards. It’s all digital, denizens. You know those machines we see those TV CSIs using? The ones that always make us roll our eyes and tsk in disbelief?

They’re real.

The security agent pulled out this device that was no bigger than a box of teabags and proceeded to print my fingers, just like you see them doing it on TV. Each finger, rolled across a plexiglass slide. Each print immediately captured in a digital image on his screen, saved to the appropriate designated box. Took fewer than 5 minutes.

While the tech-geek was mesmerized by all this, the conspiracy side of me was raging over the fact that the digital capturing of my fingerprints has somehow stolen that much more of my privacy. Kind of like how those isolated tribes felt that pieces of their souls were stolen away every time one of those pesky National Geographic excursions came through to photograph them.

If you hadn’t noticed this about me, I’m a bit of a private wolf. I like keeping as much personal information as I can…well, personal. I know it makes me seem paranoid (which I admittedly am), but I like the false belief that I have some shred of control over my identity. Up until this morning, one of the things over which I thought I would always have control was my fingerprints not being in any database.

Now, like those sad little tribes and their ever-shrinking souls, another little piece of my privacy has been hacked away. And they couldn’t even send Sara Sidle to do the hacking.

Using The Carrot To Stick It To Us…

First, allow me to vent for a moment to the companies, corporations, organizations, etc. who hide behind the “green” concept to keep more money for themselves. I’m talking about the businesses that do things like no longer provide printed instructions with their merchandise under the guise that they are “protecting the trees.”

No, you’re not. You’re saving yourself the cost of providing us with what we now must provide ourselves. I don’t think you’re being environmentally friendly. I think you’re being capitalist dicks.

[Yes, Loba is in a less than chipper mood this afternoon.]

Tangentially, I have a gripe about the local government where I reside doing something quite similar. Beginning January 1, 2012, all stores (with the exception of pharmacies and fast food restaurants) now charge 5 cents for each bag that they provide their customers. The stores get to keep 1 cent while turning over the rest to the government. The government claims that they are doing this to help reduce litter in our landfills.

Allow Surly Loba to call shenanigans.

Mind you, I have no problem with the concept of BYOBag to stores. We’ve been taking our own bags to the supermarket for almost 3 years now. Back then? Stores actually rewarded us eco-friendly shoppers by giving us…a 5-cent-per-bag discount on our bill. Now? Nothing.

Unless you don’t remember to bring your own bags.

I get it. Governments all across the country are strapped for cash and are trying to figure out how to bridge the gap in frightening financial shortcomings without raising the ire of idiotic TEA baggers by raising taxes. So they’re coming up with inventive ways of side-stepping the scary “T” word by doing things like this. But not only can I see through your rather flimsy “we’re being green” smokescreen, I can also do enough math to put 2 and 2 together and see that what used to be a positive reinforcement toward eco-responsibility on the part of consumers has now been turned into a big fat negative.

Essentially, they’ve taken the carrot of rewarding our conscientiousness and stuck it right…well, you know.

I guess what irritates me the most is that I’m tired of all the pretending that these things are being done for anything other than purely financial reasons. It’s for the same reason that where I live insists that I have Sammy inspected every 2 years to confirm that his emissions aren’t polluting the air and killing all the wildlife in the state. Oh, and by the way, that’ll be $14 for the hassle.

Are we as a society really this dull-witted that we don’t balk at such blatant manipulation…but we’ll go bat-shit crazy if the mere suggestion of raising taxes is brought to the table? Call me crazy, but I would much rather you just raise my taxes than nickel and dime me (literally) in these frustratingly capricious ways.

Sugar and Spice and Everything…Catty?

Today’s EXTREMELY long-winded feminist rant will be brought to you by the letters C, S, and I. You have been warned.

Have you ever seen the first interaction between CSIs Catherine Willows and Sara Sidle? No? Let me share:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOLg3RWL9DU&w=480&h=390]

Not the most welcoming of people, that surly CSI Willows (just look at the video clip description: “Bitchy & Rude Catherine”). In Catherine’s defense, I should point out that Sara Sidle was originally brought onto the Las Vegas team to investigate one of their own for his role in the death of another investigator. She was an interloper, brought in to suss out the possible guilt of one of Catherine’s closest friends on the job. Not exactly the best setup for a warm and fuzzy friendship.

However, this animosity between our two heroines not only lingered, it evolved…or, rather, devolved into a series of biting comments, veiled insults, and out-and-out vitriol. True, some of it stemmed from personality differences. Catherine as originally created had a world-wise brusqueness to her, not necessarily spiteful or cruel, but direct and sharp. Sara, on the other hand, arrived with a quirky, nerdy sensibility and equal doses of naivete and a “black or white, no gray” outlook that often set her apart, not only from Catherine but from others on the team.

They weren’t the only ones on the team who had disparate personalities. Warrick Brown and Nick Stokes as first conceived shared very few commonalities. Our introduction to them also showed them vying against each other for a promotion. Yet right from the start they were still shown to share a comfortable camaraderie, a friendly competitiveness that served to bring them together rather than set them on opposite sides of an ever-widening chasm. Not at all like the steadily increasing animosity shared by our lovely ladies of the pink printing powder. (For the record, I love this scene for the fact that this is one of the rare moments from the show’s early days that showcases the previously mentioned contrasting characteristics of both women in a wonderful albeit short comedic moment.)

It’s not just this loopy lupine who noticed this decidedly disappointing development default in the relationship shared by Catherine and Sara. In this PopGurls Interview, Jorja Fox had the following to say:

You’ve said that the CSI writers and producers are really kind. That if there’s someplace you don’t really want to go with the character, you can talk to them, and generally they’ll change the course or direction. When was a time that you brought up a path w/the producers that you didn’t feel comfortable with for Sara?

There have been a couple of times over the years. The first one that comes to mind—very early in the show, the writers had wanted to create a real solid tension between Catherine Willows and Sara Sidle. They started off right away that we would lock horns and that this would be a theme that would go throughout the show. Marg [Helgenberger, who plays Catherine] and I talked about it and we both felt that, since we were the only women on the show at that time, to have [us] fighting each other and jockeying for position was an area that we were hoping that [we didn’t have] to go. We wanted actually to work well together—we could still disagree on things from time to time. Certainly Sara and Catherine are very different people and they go about things differently but we didn’t want to set a tone that would last throughout the show. We went to the writers and they were kind enough to pull back on that which was great.

I felt more passionately about potential for camaraderie coming from these two women being so different instead of the opposite.

Two sharp women are better than one...

Kudos to Jorja and Marg for putting their feet down to character choices that would have done nothing but continue to substantiate a dismal stereotype of women in the workforce. Sadly, however, as with most stereotypes, this particular one grows from a kernel of truth.

Admittedly, I’m little more than an armchair sociologist, but I have noticed something about the way my generation was conditioned as young girls that is both distressing and highly counterproductive. First, a confession: During my formative years, I probably spent more time interacting with boys than I did with girls. But that’s because the boys were all into fun things like riding bikes or playing football, and they had cool toys like G.I. Joes and Transformers. The girls all wanted to play house and put diapers and frilly dresses on grotesque plastic effigies that to this day haunt my darkest nightmares. I really, really hate babydolls.

That being said, I learned from an early age that interacting with boys is a much different experience from interacting with girls. Boys are rough and brash and to the point. If they say something that another boy doesn’t like, there will be a confrontation. It might get physical. But they get it out of their systems and they move on. They’ve also got your back. If you’re their friend, you’re in their pack, you’re on their team. And boys are taught from a very early age about the dynamics of teamwork.

Teamwork was still a foreign term for a lot of the girls my age. Title IX had already made its initial impact for opening up to the fairer sex the world of high school and college sports, but I believe that the concept of girls viewing other girls as teammates was still a holistically foreign concept for my generation. Why?

Because our greatest influences in character development were our own mothers. And our mothers grew up in a time well before when girls would take to the courts and baseball diamonds the way the boys were always able to do. The only viable competition available for these preceding generations of young women was for the sole prize that they were ever allowed to strive for: the ideal husband. Even my own mother saw a future in which her biggest expectations for me concluded with marriage and motherhood.

Don’t worry. I shuddered a little bit, too, just then.

You don’t get a husband through teamwork. You get it by being the last woman standing…and you stay standing by whatever means are at your disposal.

Is it any surprise, then, that when our predecessors began finally transitioning in larger numbers from housewives to working girls, they carried these same “values” with them into the workforce? We didn’t have the sports-based team ethics that the boys had. Hell, we didn’t even get the Godfather‘s rules of “It’s not personal, it’s business”! Instead, we were taught that the best way to play the boardroom game was to steal our secretary’s ideas in order to retain our sole seniority status AND gain the attention of the alpha male protagonist.

[Loba Tangent: Seriously, what kind of fucked-up message was Working Girl trying to convey? That women can’t work with each other unless they’re on the same low-level rung of the corporate ladder with no aspirations for climbing higher? That women who do make it to higher positions shouldn’t be trusted because they’re not going to try to help other women make it as far as they have? Instead, they’re going to use whatever means are necessary to ensure that they hold their competition as far down as they possibly can? Yeah, Sigourney Weaver met a perfectly Hollywood ending…but the movie still propagated stereotypes about women in the workforce that made me cringe almost as much as Baby Boom. But that’s a completely different tangent…and this post is already too long…]

Am I guilty of offensive generalizations and of propagating the stereotypes that I claim to loathe through this post? Perhaps. I am proud to say that I’ve been lucky to have worked for some amazingly progressive female supervisors. They’ve encouraged me, they’ve depended upon me for the skills I can bring to their team, and they’ve never been duplicitous in their dealings with me. I wish I could say this was the way it was across the board, both for my own experiences and for the experiences of all women in the workforce. However, I can’t. I daresay neither can most women my age.

The sad truth is that too many generations of women have long been conditioned to view the same sex as competitors that must be eliminated, not as teammates. But is it still this way? Are today’s young girls still being taught to view others of the same sex as the enemy, competition to be vanquished whether it be for that amazing job promotion or for the old-school brass ring of marital bliss and motherhood? I should hope not. Then again, it’s my generation that is now in the parental driver seat…and this was how we were raised. Will they pass along harmful lessons to the next generation? Or, like Fox and Helgenberger, are they going to say enough to petty stereotypes that do nothing but divide and weaken us, not only as a gender but as a society?

“You Don’t Know What I’m Capable Of.”

I know a little bit about what she’s capable of. She’s been the head coach of the University of Tennessee’s Lady Vols since 1974. During this time, her coaching skills have brought UT 1,037 victories; her teams have only been defeated 196 times. She’s led the Lady Vols to the Final Four 18 times—more times than any other men’s or women’s college basketball coach—brought home championship wins from 8. She coached the U.S. women’s basketball team to a gold medal in the 1984 Olympics…one notch better than the silver medal she won as a member of the team during the 1976 Olympics. Many of her girls have gone on to walk in her footsteps as coaches in their own right. Some have carried her lessons inside them through their own trips to Olympic victories. Some continue to wield the skills she helped them hone, onto WNBA courts across the country. More importantly? Every one of the eligible athletes who played for her went on to graduate with a degree. She’s made certain of that.

And these are just the “big” stats. There’s lots more to her beyond what I carry around in my weird noggin.

You know me, denizens. I’m not much for sports or stats. But Pat Summitt has always amazed, inspired, and humbled me. She is a remarkable role model and, pardon my feminist streak for a moment, if she was a man in charge of a men’s college or NBA team, with the same set of stats that I just quoted, her name would be synonymous with the game itself, on the lips of every basketball fan from the Bay of Fundy to the Gulf of California.

Regardless of this lack of deserved ubiquity, the facts cannot be disputed. Summitt holds the record for the most wins of any college basketball coach, man or woman. She’s brought home more NCAA championships than any other women’s basketball coach. She was part of the inaugural inductees to the women’s basketball hall of fame, she’s in the basketball hall of fame, she’s received the ESPY award for coach of the year, she’s got roads, gyms, and courts named after her…

…and now she’s announced that she has the early stages of Alzheimer’s. She’s 59 years old.

My heart hasn’t stopped breaking ever since I first heard this news.

I know what this disease is capable of. I know how cruel, how unrelenting, how unmerciful it is. How it can rob the grace and intelligence of even the strongest wills. I’ve also already had my heart broken once before, with NC State’s Coach Jimmy V. I hate to link Valvano and Summitt, since I think that Summitt has many, many more years ahead of her…perhaps even enough time that doctors will finally find the key to stopping or slowing this disease. I only mention Valvano here because of one of his most memorable quotes: “Don’t give up…don’t ever give up!”

I hope Coach Summitt fights this with every ounce of the resolve that she carries in ample supply. I hope she never gives up. And I hope that every girl who has donned the orange of the Lady Vols, who has been pushed to their limits and beyond, who has been brought to tears and finally to triumph, and who has left the University of Tennessee that much more remarkable as an athlete and as a woman never forgets that it was Summitt’s fire that helped to forge them.