Friday, October 31, 2008

"Moving Up" Column: October 31, 2008

by Claude Papillon

This week, the Austin-based, privately-held firm Salligent announced the promotion of Mr. Leopold Rex to the newly-created post of Chief Morale Officer. Mr. Rex has been in Salligent's special projects division for over four years and is best-known for his work on the demolition of Rabbit Castle.

Salligent CEO Sally Porter gave Mr. Rex the nod after brief discussion with Mom Consulting, a "compassionate problem-solving agency" that has advised Salligent for decades. Ms. Porter stated, "I am thrilled with the opportunity to spend more time, working more closely with Leo, and I am confident that he will excel in his new role."

Sources close to the company reveal that despite an outward appearance of success and aplomb, recently Ms. Porter has been increasingly plagued by stress as the deadlines for several key ventures come closer. "[Chief Financial Officer] Robert Eggman has been telling her that she keeps moving the goal posts on herself, making it impossible for her to achieve success in her own eyes. I know he supports her near-obsession with maintaining a high activity level, not only for herself but all Salligent employees, but at one point, Eggman accused her to her face of 'underprivileging laziness,' which is true, but a risky move for such a conservative, diplomatic, and frankly small-and-not-particularly-adept-at-physical-defense person to make. It just shows how fraught the situation has become."

Noted industrial psychologist and magician Atto Vinbad of Vinbad & Mocktar congratulated Salligent, and Ms. Porter in particular, for the savvy decision.

"Sally Porter has long struggled with work-life balance issues, becoming intensely overachieving to the point of undermining her own success with poor health brought on by strain. She clearly has difficulty incorporating either of the two most prominent off-the-shelf philosophies into her own life, possibly because she's thought about them at all. The 'work hard, play hard' ideal requires a sort of all-out competitiveness that exhausts, and the 'sharpening the saw' ethic is troublesome for people who become mildly offended at the prospect of carrying that damn saw everywhere they go.

"Yet she also finds unstructured downtime boring and somewhat crazy-making. Leopold Rex presents a, shall we say, third way of negotiating this issue. I believe that if she can simply learn by his example, the 'Hop, Stop, Flop' technique can be very effective in maintaining a high level of performance without running herself ragged. The important thing is knowing when hopping, stopping, and flopping are the appropriate activities to undergo.

"We will all be hoping that Ms. Porter brings her well-developed planning and categorization skills to her observations and interactions with Mr. Rex. Although I have not had the chance myself to work with him, on stage or elsewhere, his feistiness, willingness to follow through, tendency to look adorable all the time, and incredibly soft fur are legend."

Details of Mr. Rex's compensation package are not precisely known, though rumors suggest that Ms. Porter sweetened the deal with additional golden raisins and fresh basil leaves. Mr. Rex could not be reached for comment, as he has spent the week chewing grass mats and taking long naps in the Sphinx and Dead Bunny positions he has perfected during his tenure at Salligent.

Parental Intervention

My mom and I have had a lot of conversations about "these kids today and their parents." This includes not only the parents around my age who, for example, ignore their children while the kids lick salt shakers in restaurants while looking over their shoulders with this desperate "please notice me!" look and then get angry at other customers when we tell the kid to cut it out, but also the weird relationships between my fellow college students and their parents.

In my marketing class last semester, my professor (who is a bit younger than my mom) made some comment about how she was convinced her own parents knew "absolutely nothing" when she was in college, and a bunch of students clamored about how they don't feel that way, how their parents are wise and give them a lot of useful advice, and how they talk to their parents on the phone all the time, etc. etc., which caused the approximately 6 people over the age of 30 in the room to look at each other like WTF is with these people?

Of course, this only bore out what our textbook said about Gen Y (born 1977-1994): "Unlike their parents or older siblings, Gen Y-ers tend to hold relatively traditional values and they believe in the value of fitting in over rebelling. Their acculturation agents stress teamwork - team teaching, team grading, collaborative sports, community service, service learning, and student juries... Five out of 10 echo boomers say they trust the government, and virtually all of them trust Mom and Dad."

I feel like I was pretty close to my parents when I was 18-22, but I simply cannot imagine wanting to talk to them on the phone all the time while I am in college. One of the real advantages of the pre-cell phone era, after all, was that your parents would call your dorm room and you could be conveniently "at the library studying" and unable to chat. And then you finally did get caught in your room, you could say that your stupid roommate forgot to leave you a message. (I am speaking theoretically, not from experience, of course.) I am basically appalled by how cell phones serve to keep college students so tied to their parents and that the students don't seem to mind this at all.

I admit, I would have performed better the first 3 semesters of college if my parents had been in constant communication with me, monitoring my behavior and priorities and giving me no-doubt excellent and hard-won advice (for instance, my dad could have warned me away from the 8:00 a.m. calculus 2 class that I got a C in after I stopped going in part because I fell in love by telling me about his experience with an 8:00 differential equations class that he failed after getting wrapped up with my mom). Oh, and intervened with professors who had such obviously unreasonable and unfair expectations of my attending foreign language lab hours and the like, and fought for me to get better grades. Instead, I made my own mistakes, learned the same lessons from my own experience, and generally got to function as a semi-independent adult for the first time in a pretty safe environment.

A running "offer" from my mom is that if things get too stressful for me and I'm just too overwhelmed and I need some help, she'd be happy to call the graduate programs I am applying to and tell them all the reasons they should accept me. This never fails to inspire me, because no matter what is facing me at any time, nothing is as horrible as the prospect of my mother calling a graduate school on my behalf. (In fact, I've said that it's too bad I don't know who my main competitors for these slots are or I could have her call pretending to be their mom. Muahahaha.) And while I am familiar with parents doing this for undergraduate programs, and even employers, I would like to think nobody would really do this for grad school. But then Tam (who is blogging pretty regularly these days, so you should check it out) pointed to this blog post from a person in charge of graduate admissions at her department. What are these people thinking? I mean, seriously?

Of course, it was great that my mom called me on Wednesday afternoon to find out how my differential equations test went that morning. It went very well actually - I was happy that when I sat down with the exam, each of the questions was exactly a kind of question that I was expecting to get based on the techniques that we had learned, with no surprises.

Now that that's past, I can refocus my attention on my marketing paper and my applications, which, oddly enough, are suddenly much less interesting to me than they were when they represented a distraction from doing algebraically interminable reduction of order or variation of parameters problems. Of course, I think I have a low-level version of the illness that had Robert dead asleep for the better part of 2 and a half days earlier this week, and I was lying in bed this morning really hungry but not even able to muster up interest in the idea of eating (basically unattainable but almost always desired) Belgian waffles with maple syrup, so how am I supposed to take an interest in other people's thoughts about organic food? Ah well, it'll be okay. I mean, oh god, no, Mom, you do not have to contact the people at the marketing conference to tell them to accept my submission late - I will get it done before the deadline! I will make it as good as I can!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Zooms for Zzzzzs?

We're probably all familiar with two of the classic substitutes for sleep:

- Caffeine
- Calories

On Friday afternoon, when I had already availed myself earlier of both of these therapies in reasonably high quantity but was still so tired that I felt like I was going to cry or fall into a coma with my eyes open, I discovered another one coming back from the airport:

- Driving a circuitous route of curving back-country roads in a zippy car with the air-conditioner blasting and The White Stripes on the stereo

Obviously, the situations in which this treatment can be undertaken are rather limited, but it does seem quite effective. I do fear, however, that taking such a drive while drinking a large Starbucks frappachino could result in vibrating into another dimension, so it pays to take your own sensitivies into account when considering combining these staying-awake techniques.

Partly because the book I started reading was so good, and partly because I had given myself permission to do absolutely no work whatsoever last night, and partly because I discovered how good leftover Brick Oven canadian bacon and black olive pizza is (see technique #2 above), I stayed up until midnight without taking a nap, which had seemed utterly inconceivable at about 4:00.

I got a late start on my organic paper writing project today, but have been in a crazily productive mode with it. I won't go so far as to say the paper is writing itself, but given the terrific material supplied by my interview subjects, including most of the readers of this blog, the results section is coming together easily and quickly.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Can't Be Much Too It, Eh?

Update: I just noticed the typo in my title to this post. It was obviously influenced by Tam emailing me about Sarah Palin's overuse of the word "too."

Tam has a great post that may be of special interest to readers who are software engineers or have special, hard-won expertise in fields that many people think has nothing to it that any normal person doesn't already know.

I definitely agree with her that "the more you learn about a field, the more you see it expand before you into something deep and rich with detail." I mean, even with a little exposure to the field of supply chain management, I had to admit that it's a complex subject with many intricacies that is perhaps not even as overwhelmingly boring as I thought.

Lately, one thing I have noticed people dismissing (online) as empty, meaningless, "nothing to it" is feminist critique/theory, to the point that they do not seem to recognize that there are actual various highly developed viewpoints that do not make only obvious claims. Indeed, many of the claims are rather non-intuitive, as evidenced by the fact that those ignorant of the field make assumptions about it that are laughably untrue (for instance, positing that women in general being in favor of some policy makes it inherently impossible that it is an anti-feminist position, as though women cannot be major supporters of the patriarchy). It's like they reject out of hand the idea that there is anything to the field whatsoever. One might be deepy opposed to feminist theory, but I believe one has to admit the fact that such a theory actually exists, and is not just a few slogans thrown together.

Of course, a lot of people confuse quantitative or methodological rigor with "having something to it." I even see this within the market research field, where qualitative research (interviews, focus groups) can be seen as kind of fuzzy and meaningless, and people (managers, primarily) can have difficulty even accepting that there is such a thing as high vs. low quality research, I assume because they believe that it's all just crap anyway. Sociologists and anthropologists, the qualitative market researcher feels your pain.

I do have to point out the irony, however, of Tam's friend thinking software engineering is full of shit, since the guy is (as I understand it) into various new-agey things like tarot to the extent that he believes that they truly tap into some kind of objective reality. It's hard to take him seriously as a bullshit meter.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Another Semester

UPDATE: I am registered for the two classes and got one professor to agree to write me recommendation letters (2 to go).

The last couple of weeks have been so busy with grad school applications, organic food consumer interviews, and differential equations that I totally forgot about registering for classes for the spring semester until I checked my school email. Every semester, I have to get paperwork signed by the departments I want to take classes in and file it with the university so that I can enroll. I've usually been good at getting this done in advance so that I can sign up for courses at the earliest moment, and since I have graduate student status, I have first pick.

I hope to get my paperwork signed and filed tomorrow so that I will be able to sign up for classes in the next couple of days. I do not think it's likely that my classes will fill before I have the opportunity to enroll, but technically, it could happen.

I woke up at about 3:00 this morning with this semi-panicked feeling of "God, what if I have screwed up and am not able to enroll in the classes I want to take?" To calm myself down and prepare for this eventuality, I thought about all the advantages of not taking any classes in the spring. I was able to then go back to sleep and dream some more about cycloids. (I know. Seriously. This is the second time in a week.)

But I was so effective with these arguments that I woke up this morning thinking, "Screw it, I don't want to take these classes after all! Think of all the other more fun stuff I could be doing!" And that's not necessarily a good feeling to have. So to counteract my night-time self-persuasion somewhat, here are some reasons I should take the classes after all:

(1) 2nd semester probability & statistics. This is the continuation of the course I took, and killed, last semester. It's taught by the same professor, who while not exactly Dr. Charisma, is a straightforward, understandable teacher who gives a lot of examples and is a lot more effective than the book in making me figure this stuff out. (Hmm...we'll probably even be using the same book, which would be nice.) I don't expect the class to be very hard, given regular class attendance and my usual level of effort. Stat is hugely useful, and the more classes I take, the better off I'll be, either as grad school preparation or job knowledge.

(2) Econometrics. This is a rotating course in the "Topics in Economics" sequence. I cannot tell the level of math recommended/required as a prerequisite because the online system reports the prereqs for the "Topics in Economics" courses as a whole, and they do not usually have special math prereqs for classes like Economics of Sports or Urban Economics. It's not that I'm worried about being insufficiently mathed-up for the class (unlike, e.g., Rice's econometrics class, cross-listed with the stat department, which required a huge amount of math, was just murderously hard and that I did not take) but I am curious about what level it will be taught at.

I've been slowly moving toward the conclusion that applied psychologists are at a disadvantage by not being up on econometric techniques, so I think the class will be useful from that perspective and just generally interesting. I sort of view this class in the opposite way I do an undergraduate marketing research class (that I might have to kill myself before being forced to take; can you just imagine me being in a group project with a bunch of kids after 10+ years of professional experience?!): even if the class is taught at a lower level than I could handle, since I have zero previous exposure to the material, I feel very open to taking from it what I can. And this may be my last chance to take an econometrics class ever...or the last chance before taking a required course at the PhD level, for which any additional preparation will be helpful.

I have also already lined up a personal tutor with 5 semesters of PhD-level econometrics under his belt, so the possibility of not doing very well in the class is pretty remote.

(3) Calc 3. I am not actually planning on taking this class, but I am getting permission to do so in the event one of the other two classes fills up. I could take it back-to-back with the stat class, so it would be convenient. As I've said before, I've already taken the class and I got an A, but it was a dozen years ago.

Both classes are mid to late afternoons on different days, so it will mean being on campus 4 days a week (not my favorite). But I suspect I will be up there anyway for my part-time job as a research assistant in the marketing department.

I have to keep reminding myself that even though right now, all that sounds good to me is a break from the crush of deadlines, by the time classes start in the fall, I will be done with my grad school applications and entering the dreaded Seemingly Infinite Wait to hear back from the programs. And even once I hear and make my decision, I will enter a period of Waiting to Move to North Carolina (knock wood). Having things to keep me busy will probably be a good idea. But man, right now, I just want to sleep for about two weeks, a deep dead sleep with no dreaming of cycloids or anything else whatsoever.

But I finally got my information organized to give the professors who will (I hope agree to) write my recommendations. If I did not even already know myself, and only had access to the information in the file - statement of purpose, c.v./resume, writing samples (I included my organic paper lit review, my Colorado State study plan, and an essay exam from my attitude change class), transcripts, GRE scores - I would be impressed/intimidated enough as to be really hoping this person is not applying to the same programs I am.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Change of Pace

While Texas is awash in great specialty salsas/picante sauces from the store, many places rely on the national brands, of which Pace is no doubt the king. (I grew up on Pace Medium and still eat it. And of course, Pace salsa is a Texas product.) Recently, we bought a new flavor: Pace Triple Pepper Salsa made with green chile, serrano, and guajillo peppers. It's pretty fantastic. I've been eating it quite a bit this week on egg tacos. (And no, I am not being paid to shill for Pace on this blog to my 6.3 readers. I just like the product.)

I would also like to take this opportunity to inform/remind you of the key to an excellent egg taco: slightly crunchy flour tortillas. This keeps the texture of the entire taco from being too soft. (I've known RB to do this, and Robert does it consistently; maybe it's a Texas thing?)

Put the tortillas on an ungreased skillet or griddle over medium-high heat. The tortilla will get crunchy after a couple of minutes - mine usually start puffing up when they are getting ready to flip, but I don't know that this is reliable. (If you need to thaw frozen tortillas, layer them with paper towel in the microwave and heat up for about 10 or 15 seconds per tortilla, maybe less if you have a bunch. It doesn't take long.)

Restaurants (except for Whataburger, of all places) tend to serve you soft flour tortillas for egg tacos and they're never as good as what we can make at home for a fraction of the cost and much more healthfully. I recommend using Morningstar Farms faux-sausage patties with scrambled egg, cheese, and salsa. Yum.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Not Very Vegetarian, Indeed

I was interviewing one of Robert's co-workers for the organic study just now.

Me: "How closely, if at all, do you adhere to a vegetarian or vegan diet?"

T: "I don't do it. I eat rabbit three times a week..."

We laugh.

Me: "I'm sorry, I'm going to have to terminate this interview right now. Wait, okay, I'll try to be professional."

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Spirituality and Faith

The common finding for those of us who took that strengths test is that we are low on spirituality and faith. Excellent. "Empirical Question" is a reality-based blog, after all.

Tam & I shared low modesty and humility, while rvman & Mom have strengths in this area (if they do say so themselves).

Tam & rvman are low on industry, diligence, and perseverence, while Mom & I are "high on it," according to him. (Wait, that sounds that like a "worker's high"?)

I am strong on humor and playfulness, which Mom has as a weakness. (Note to self: don't make jokes at Mom's expense. I knew this.)

rvman & I have a deficit in appreciating beauty and excellence, are low on gratitude, and have a thing for judgment and thinking.

Mom & rvman are both into caution, prudence, and discretion. (He noted to me just now: "caution, prudence, and discretion" is this thing's way of saying "anxiety disorder." I was not prudent and cautious enough to make note of my login information for that site to check where I fell on this quality.)

Tam & rvman are forgiving and merciful, and are strong on fairness, equality, and justice.

rvman was too "modest" to admit to his capacity to love and be loved, perhaps?

rvman is questioning what Tam was hiding by naming only 4 strengths & 4 weaknesses - "Is she hiding that #20 [a weakness] is honesty?" (Characteristically, he also points out that this skews the analysis.)

Framing Matters

I'm curious who started calling the plan a "bailout." Of course, "Emergency Economic Stabilization Plan of 2008" doesn't roll off the tongue very well, so some kind of alternative term was going to get applied.

But doesn't "bailout" give the impression that the plan is intended to save Wall Street Fat Cats and/or people who bought a house they can't afford rather than improve liquidity and restore confidence in the market so the entire economy doesn't go to shizzle?

I think this article in the Economist does a good job of explaining why "it may seem unfair, but a bailout is essential." (This is not to endorse any particular version of any plan on their part or mine, but to explain what's at stake.)

Overall, it's been an interesting time watching ordinary people not understanding economics, economists not understanding finance, and politicians understanding all too well that citizens are easily freaked out and looking for someone to blame.

I just looked at the wikipedia entry on the "bailout" and was amused (but not surprised) by these public opinion polling results:

--In a survey conducted September 19-22 by the Pew Research Center, by a margin of 57 percent to 30 percent, Americans supported the bailout when asked "As you may know, the government is potentially investing billions to try and keep financial institutions and markets secure. Do you think this is the right thing or the wrong thing for the government to be doing?"

--In a survey conducted September 19-22 by Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times, by a margin of 55 percent to 31 percent, Americans opposed the bailout when asked whether "the government should use taxpayers' dollars to rescue ailing private financial firms whose collapse could have adverse effects on the economy and market, or is it not the government's responsibility to bail out private companies with taxpayers' dollars?"

Yep, framing matters, big-time.

Nobody knows what percentage of the up-to-$700 billion that the government is going to invest in these questionable securities will be recouped, but it's probably not going to be 0%, so the blather in the news about how much the bailout is going to cost each taxpayer in the country is bullshit. That number is not knowable. If it were, this would be an entirely different situation; we wouldn't be in the crisis we're in.

I eagerly admit that I do not have the requisite command of the theory and facts to support or oppose the plan that is being enacted in all of its details. I mean, none of us reading this blog do. I don't have the background, experience, or data to make any kind of meaningful analysis of the plan or make predictions about its success. In these situations, all I can do is say, yes, the central idea does not seem crazy and hope that people like the secretary of the treasury, the chairman of the federal reserve, and the chairman of the securities & exchange commission sort of know what they're doing. However, I do feel pretty confident that the version that was finally passed by the legislature (a group of people not renowned for their finely honed understanding of finance and economics and who are answerable to people who know even less) sucks in a lot of important ways. That's how it works.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Signature Strengths

I took the VIA Signature Strengths assessment on positive psychologist Martin Seligman's website Authentic Happiness (named after his book).

My top 5 strengths according to this test:

(1) Judgment, critical thinking, and open mindedness
(2) Love of learning
(3) Capacity to love and be loved
(4) Industry, diligence, and perseverance
(5) Humor and playfulness

My bottom 5 strengths:

(20) Gratitude
(21) Kindness and generosity
(22) Appreciation of beauty and excellence
(23) Spirituality, sense of purpose, and faith
(24) Modesty and humility

Other instruments suggest that:

I am also "moderately pessimistic" about good events (believe good events have temporary causes), "moderately optimistic" about bad events (believe bad events have more permanent causes), and "moderately hopeless" overall.

I am "secure" in close relationships.

I am "slightly below average in life satisfaction."

Monday, October 6, 2008

Hyper Incentives from a Visceral Brain

One issue for a psychologically-enriched economics is determining what would constitute an irrational choice. While we (people in general) have a sort of common-sensical notion that an irrational choice is one that does not make the person better off (or makes the person worse off), it's actually a pretty complicated question, especially given that our definition of "better off" could pertain to utility at many different points in time - the utility we perceive at the time of the experience, how we remember the experience later, how much we expect to enjoy it before hand, etc. (And of course, there is the separate problem that a decision, like eating an ice cream cone, could make the self that is eating it better off while making the self that later can't fit in his jeans worse off.)

This chapter by Kent Berridge, a biopsychologist at the U. of Michigan who studies the neuroscience of "liking" and "wanting" that drives choice behavior, defines irrational choice and looks at the situations in which it appears to occur. Notes and comments:

Berridge limits irrational choice to particular type of situation: "A truly irrational choice would be to choose what you expect not to like." He does not consider it irrational to choose something that turns out to yield low utility (e.g. seeing a movie that you ended up hating) because "rationality cannot be held responsible for the accuracy of my expectations, only for the consistency with which I act upon them." He also does not view as necessarily irrational choices that are influenced by, for example, the subliminal presentation of emotionally-charged stimuli (e.g. a happy or sad face) because it is possible that people's expectations have been changed without their knowledge. This is a narrower definition than some other researchers have used.

He draws a distinction between two types of liking or wanting:
(1) "Ordinary wanting" - a conscious desire that depends on the brain's cortical systems
(2) "Incentive salience" or "wanting" that causes a reward to become momentarily more intensely attractive and sought and that is mediated by the brain's dopamine systems

Because "of course we would never use a human infant in an affective neuroscience experiment," Berridge and his colleagues have done most of their experiments on rats. They use typical animal behavior associative learning techniques, like teaching a rat to press a lever in order to get a reward and presenting a reward with a cue (a la Pavlov's dog). They are able to measure how much a rat wants something by how much he will press the lever to get it (since pressing the lever is a kind of work that can result in getting the reward).

Berridge has been able to trigger irrational choice in rats when two factors are present:
(1) the rats have been injected with amphetamine (activating their dopamine systems)
(2) they are given a reward cue (e.g. light or sound that has previously been presented with sugar, conditioning the rat to associate the cue with sugar)

Under these conditions, the dopamine-activated rat wants sugar in an ordinary sense; then it is presented with the reward cue, which triggers an additional sense of exaggerated "wanting" in the rat (and it presses the bar at a much higher rate - 4 times as much as when the cue is not present); then it returns to its rational level of wanting (and the baseline level of pressing the bar). Later, the cue is presented again and the intense "wanting" returns. Interestingly, when the rats are under the influence of amphetamine, they do not demonstrate a higher level of positive facial expressions when given sugar, which researchers interpret as the rat not having an increased liking or enjoyment of sugar when dopamine-activated. They "want" the sugar more, but do not enjoy it more.

Lovin' that sugar

The researchers make the natural extension to drug-addicted humans, who even after achieving a long period of abstinence can be influenced by drug cues (things they associate with doing drugs) to relapse.

Berridge notes that "if irrational choice occurs at all in normal human life, the situations that will produce it will be relatively rare... It would require high exciteability in mesolimbic 'wanting' systems and the simultaneous encounter with reward cues." I don't know. I personally experienced this feeling of "wanting" or incentive salience, in which I felt the overwhelming compulsion to have something I knew I didn't really want that much, the most strongly when (a couple years ago) Robert brought home and opened up a box of Cracklin' Oat Bran cereal, henceforth referred to by us as Oat Crack. But maybe that doesn't count as "normal human life."

Reference: The psychology of economic decisions / edited by Isabelle Brocas and Juan D. Carrillo. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Eking It Out

I got a 91 on my first differential equations exam. The class average was around 75. I lost the most points on a problem that is, in retrospect, very easy but which took me by surprise; fortunately this is a type of problem that is unlikely to arise on future tests. I was solid, though occasionally sloppy in the stupid-math-error sense, on the stuff that is obviously the bedrock of the rest of the course.

My current grade (based on quizzes and the exam) is 93. I am glad this is an A, but it gives me less of a cushion moving into the second exam and final than I would prefer.

Friday, October 3, 2008

An Unacceptable Omission

Although I really do feel where this guy is coming from with his comment "Except for anything by Lewis Carroll or Tolkein, you get five made-up words per story," I protest the implication that A Clockwork Orange is lame - although perhaps that book gets a pass since the vocabulary is often bastardized Russian.

What story with made-up vocabulary would you make an exception for?

Tired of Pink

I'm not actually an enemy of pink. The fact that I wrapped my friend's baby shower gift in black rather than pink was at least as much about the convenience of black trash bags as it was about bucking the traditional association of girls with a particular color. I like flamingos and spoonbills. I own and sometimes wear a pink t-shirt. And come on, this guy is cool:

And a guy confident in pink is awesome But I have become utterly fed up with two recent "pink" trends:

(1) The Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure breast cancer fund-raising pink ribbon logo being everywhere. I would like to be able to open magazines and drug store flyers, eat frozen dinners, cereal, and yogurt, and look at other people's t-shirts (Rush week this year was bad) without being subjected to this stupid logo. OK, it's pink and breast cancer attacks girls (wait, I mean, women), I get it.

It's not that I am opposed to trying to raise funds to find a cure for cancer. Duh. I have given money to people doing the Run/Walk/Bike/Horseback ride/Cartwheel/Hop on one foot for the Cure. I'm even only slightly annoyed that this group is causing the perception that breast cancer is the number one killer of women in America, while it actually remains heart disease. (The heart disease people have their own campaign featuring the color red that isn't nearly as ubiquitous.)

But overexposure to the annoying logo, with all its girlish pinkness, is hardening my heart. I'm sure there is a ton of research on how women are more concerned with their health, are motivated to support woman-centric campaigns, are more influenced by social marketing, etc., etc., but it still irks me to some extent that I can't stand in front of the microwaving heating up my favorite Sesame Chicken frozen dinner without looking at an offer to buy one of three ugly pink lunchbags for $9.95, $5 of which goes to the Susan G. Komen people. (Hungry Man dinners do not sport a baby blue ribbon logo to remind the consumer to send money to find a cure for prostate cancer.)

I would probably be less annoyed if the money-raising pleas were accompanied at least some of the time with a reminder that I should be doing breast checks, having mammograms, etc. I am sort of irritated that the only action item is "Send us money." "Empowerment through money expenditure on girlish pink crap" is not such a great message.

(2) It is becoming increasingly difficult when I see a woman at school wearing pink sweatpants with the word PINK in huge letters across the ass not to walk up to her and say, "Did you realize that the creation of the 'Pink' line from Victoria's Secret was motivated by their desire to break into the middle-school aged girls market and they only used college-aged women to act as 'brand ambassadors' to serve as role models for the tweenies?* You are a frickin' tool. Also, do you want to play Barbies sometime?"

* Source: Solomon, M. R. (2006). Consumer Behavior, seventh edition.

The upsurgence of pink at VS has had the additional problem that their reliably my-sister-sized pajamas that do not look like they accidentally walked themselves over from Frederick's of Hollywood are always pink. How many pink pjs does one woman need?

Of course, I am kind of against VS these days in general. I think the switch happened sometime after 98% of their bras became about giving the wearer the impression of being at least one cup size larger and when I first saw their catalog featuring their ostensibly office clothing offerings. I mean, jesus christ, these clothes look like the fabric incarnation of a Cosmo article about "Ten Ways to Use Your Sexuality To Get Ahead at Work."

Oh. My. God. On a whim, I googled "Barbie" and "pink" and came up with this: the Barbie Collector Pink Ribbon Barbie Doll.

"Product Features
Barbie Doll contributes to fighting breast cancer
Pink Ribbon Barbie is both a tool to help those affected with breast cancer talk to girls, and a way to support the cause
She wears a pink gown with a signature pink ribbon pinned to her shoulder
$2.50 is donated to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation for each doll sold, with a guaranteed minimum donation of $25,000.00
Age Range 6 Years And Up"

I cannot bring myself to look up "Pink Panther" and "breast cancer." I just can't.