Monthly Archives: April 2010

Good for Title IX!

(I meant to post about this Tuesday, when it was officially announced, but it’s still news worth celebrating.)

Vice President Joe Biden announced the reversal of a Bush-era policy that provided a loophole in Title IX gender equity compliance:

Universities had historically been required to comply with the law by showing that women’s participation in sports was proportionate to their enrollment in the university, that the institution was expanding athletic opportunities, or that it was meeting the athletic interests and abilities of women on campus.

In 2005, the Office for Civil Rights amended the policy, declaring that universities could comply with the third requirement if they asked students to complete a survey of their interests. The change also allowed them to equate lack of response with a lack of interest in athletics.

The NCAA, sensibly, opposed this option and discouraged schools from using it. It’s easy to imagine how such surveys could be manipulated to achieve any desired result.

But such surveys are also meaningless in a culture that’s not already supportive of women’s athletics. Title IX gets a lot of ridicule, but when I think back to my high school years, it’s incredible to realize how much has changed.

In 1971, when I graduated from a suburban high school with about 1200 students, there were 22 boys’ teams in 9 sports (cross country, football, wrestling, basketball, golf, tennis, swimming, baseball, and track). For girls, there were 3 teams, one each in basketball, gymnastics, and tennis, plus the cheerleading squad, which in those days was still a relatively sedentary support-the-boys’-teams activity rather than the athletic sport in its own right more common today. Among the approximately 600 girls in that school, only 63 (of whom 20—32% were cheerleaders) participated in school sports. Most of us simply weren’t interested.

But there were also still a lot of amazingly silly ideas about women in sports, too. People still debated  whether women were physically capable of running marathons. Heck, while I was in high school, girls’ basketball rules still mandated 6-member teams; some players couldn’t cross the mid-court line and you weren’t allowed to dribble the ball more than three bounces before you had to pass it—too much running might have caused us poor girls to swoon, I guess.

Reminds me I want to reread Eileen McDonagh and Laura Pappano’s Playing with the Boys: Why Separate Is Not Equal in Sports. When I bought it, I expected an entertaining but far-fetched argument in favor of gender-integrated sports, but found myself absolutely riveted. I need to see if the book remains as persuasive the second time through.


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Filed under Miscellaneous ranting

Not so dumb jocks

Carl Zimmer’s got an interesting article over at Discover: Why Athletes Are Geniuses, about the ways in which highly skilled athletes’ brains differ from those of us ordinary folk.

Interesting stuff, though it’s one of those fields where the general conclusions seem obvious from anecdotal observations. All the years I’ve spent watching my daughters fence have made it utterly obvious that their brains have had to adapt to enable their progress. A beginning fencer is an ungainly mess, trying to pay attention to where her feet are and where they’re facing, to how she’s gripping her saber and which way her wrist is turned, to how her torso is placed, to whether her knees are bent enough, and to how to extend her arm in coordination with the movement of her feet—and oh, crap, the other fencer’s attacking right at me! What do I do now?!!

After ten years of fencing, my daughter doesn’t consciously consider all those details when she competes—her brain has consolidated the minutiae of her movements into large meta-motions, so to speak. She still works in drills and private lessons to keep her brain so well-trained, but she’s more likely to be conscious of something she does wrong than of what she does right.

What’s spooky to me is how much detail she can see when watching others fence. During those ten years she’s fenced, I’ve become a much better fencing spectator. But where I can finally see attacks and parries and beats, she sees that a fencer’s attack missed because the angle of her arm was a couple of degrees off or that a wrist was turned slightly the wrong direction. Because her brain knows what the whole should look like, her focus goes directly to the small details that are different from what they should be.

We spectators mostly have no clue how little we understand of what we see skilled athletes do.

(Oh, and if you want to see an example of that sort of cluelessness, check out this idiotic reaction to Zimmer’s Discover article.)


Filed under Fencing, Learning, Science & Technology

Enough already with the CEO candidates!

You know them—they’re the ones touting their vast business experience as qualifying them to run the country or the state or the county or the city or the school board. If only we elect them, they say, their ability to identify and eliminate waste and red tape, to professionalize procedures, to bring modern business practices to government will solve budget stalemates, reduce deficits, cut taxes, and let all of us live happily ever after.

As far as I’m concerned, any candidates who cite their business experience as a major qualification for holding public office automatically lose my vote.

Just once I’d like to see a gubernatorial candidate spend $50 million on campaign ads explaining that government is not like business, that government’s reason for being is not to maximize profits, and that voters elect officials to further numerous non-monetary values and goals. I’d like to see a candidate say that yes, it’s important to reduce and eliminate fraud and waste, but that, no, those efforts won’t be nearly enough, because there’s too much that we want government to do and too little we’re willing to pay for it.

Making government work is hard.

Here in California, we’ve a particularly annoying crop of CEO candidates this year. There’s the astounding fired former HP CEO Carly Fiorina, whose demon sheep ad is already legendary. And there’s the opaque Meg Whitman, who not only avoid press questions but now is even sending tape footage to California TV stations. Neither’s CEO skills seem to be helpful to their campaigns.

It’s all making me positively nostalgic for Jerry Brown. Say what you will about him (and there’s plenty to say), the man at least knows how government works.

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Filed under Miscellaneous ranting


This is Tony, my new lunch pal:

Tony is a Lab-Golden cross, 12 weeks old. He’s part of Puppies with Promise, the puppy-raising operation for Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael.

Jenniene, his human, is one of the local fencing moms I regularly have lunch with, and she and her daughter, Emily (now fencing at Ohio State), have been puppy-raisers for years. After Jenniene returned Dexter, Tony’s predecessor, to San Rafael for his guide dog training, she’d planned to take at least a few months off from puppy-raising. But when they asked if she would foster a puppy for a couple of weeks, she said yes, only to discover when she got to San Rafael, that the puppy in question had already been taken care of. But, they said, we really, really, really need someone to raise puppies from this litter we have . .  . and suddenly there she was, driving home with her 11th Guide Dog puppy to raise.

Could you say no to this?

I have to admit I’m happy she’s got him. I mean, I like Jenniene just fine, but it just wasn’t right going to lunch without a puppy along.

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Filed under Just Because