Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Gender Gap in Environmental Practices

Women tend to be tidier than men, at least the women in my life--mother, girlfriend, wife--have all been able to see dirt before I do, feel disgust before I do, and act to clean up before I do.  Not to say I'm a slob, not anymore at least.  Growing up with all brothers started me off deficient in hygiene (among other deficiencies), which I've worked to mitigate with the more or less constant, um, encouragement of mother, girlfriend, wife. This gendered relation to hygiene is certainly far from universal.  Indeed, my daughters tend to take after dear old dad in this regard; as one daughter famously articulated the problem when she was three and facing the task of cleaning her room: "It's so uneasy for me."  Nevertheless, I don't believe I'm wrong to say that women are tidier than men--by nature, nurture, or both.

Normally I'm inclined to defend my relative slovenliness--cautiously, in very limited contexts.  For example, order for the sake of obsessive orderliness is certainly unhealthy to individual minds and interpersonal relationships.  Plus I think that science will prove, if it hasn't already, that exposure to pathogens is healthy for the immune system and thus longterm health.  Why else would kids eat a peck of dirt?  In short, I argue, cautiously and in limited contexts, cleanliness is not always next to godliness.

I am, thus, abashed to consider the issue of gendered relations to hygiene in the face of environmental issues that are essentially issues of housekeeping, such as recycling, pollution, conservation of resources, which is to say, those issues that individuals typically can control.  This occasion to think about gendered environmentalism came from my students.  I asked a class this summer to do little research projects focused on environmental behavior.  Among many interesting projects and results, several student projects found clear correlations to gender.

  • One student counted the number of people at a grocery store using canvas or other re-usable shopping bags.  She discovered to her surprise that the overwhelming majority of them were women.  She even interviewed a male friend who insisted that carrying recyclable bags cramped his style, which involved hitting on women in grocery stores.
  • Another student found that his fraternity not only recycled nothing, but a survey of his housemates revealed they had zero interest in changing their behavior.  Apparently, they had enough trouble getting all the trash into the dumpster every once in a while.
  • Another studied the amount of water usage.  He hypothesized that women used more than men--they're cleaner after all, longer showers, more washing dishes and floors, etc.  The subjects of his survey, evenly split between male and female, agreed with his hypothesis, as did the entire class when he asked them--mostly women--at the beginning of his oral presentation.  In fact he discovered that, despite the universal belief that women used more water, actual usage, as measured by water bills, showed that men used more water; indeed, the lowest man's bill was higher than any of the women's. (One women in the class suggested that this unexpected result might point to the fact that women more often sleep at their boyfriends' place than the reverse.)
Abashed, but also intrigued, I did a quick search for publications in the area of gender and environmental behavior and found exactly one.  A Canadian study of people actively committed to cleaning up the environment found that, even in this group, women were more apt to participate in environmental organizations and more apt to perform environmental acts in their personal life--recycle, compost waste, use alternative transportation.  While more research is clearly needed, I suspect it will overwhelmingly confirm the inevitable:  Women are better environmentalists than men--by nature, nurture, or both.

These days, the maternal superego originates with Mother Nature.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Outdoor Room

We love our outdoor room, to hang out, to eat, to use as the main entrance to the house.  Even now when it's getting California cool, the room beckons us into the air, encouraging us to be hale and hardy at home.  Plus Robin's touch looks great, no?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Soapbox brow

George's blog features an epigraph extolling the combination of high and low brow cultures to the exclusion of middle brow.  I tend to agree.  I'll happily leave the middle brow to, for example, the Average Man 's proud tv-holic obsession with quality programming. 

Yet it may be I enjoy higher highs and lower lows than George.  To his low brow tendency toward esoteric punk, for example, not at all in itself a bad tendency, I prefer something more on the lines of this bar band called Soapbox I rocked to recently on my trip to Florida, whose broad appeal may not sink quite so low as tractor pulls, but defintely pleases the same impulse.

First, you have to imagine the band much later in the Bud Light night than in the (deilightfully homemade) clip below, at the point when the lead dude with his raspy silk voice and beer belly screams Hank Williams Junior's questions to the crowd, which the crowd lustily answers:

Why do you drink? To get drunk.
Why do you roll smoke? To get high.
Why must you live out the songs that you wrote? To get laid.

Second you have to realize that this band has a pretty boy fronting a couple of ridden-hard and put-away-wet female musicians fully looking the part of rockers who stay up late and party hardy, biker chicks who've chosen to ride their own electric guitars, and do it as well as the next good ol' boy.  They covered everyone from Jimi Hendrix and Nirvanna to The Beatles and The Stones to Van Morrison and Red Hot Chilli Peppers, as well as, of course, Lynard Skynard and Marshall Tucker. 

I felt I got a taste of Southern fun.  Along with everyone else (except my mother, who got a little too much fun), I had a blast.

I'll leave my argument for higher cultural highs for another post.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Park

To commemorate signing the lease for another two years at our place in Sycamore Canyon, I'm posting (with the enabling assistance of my first digital camera) a series of pictures, especially as an enticement for those friends and family who have not yet visited.  The first series is of the most distintive part of the spread, the party part:  The Park (as dubbed by the friends who moved us in, though we found out the previous residents also called it The Park), which is accross Coyote Creek from the rest of the property.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Agribusiness and the Obama health plan

Michael Pollan wrote in the NYT about the "elephant in the room" of the health care debate:  American obesity, which is the prime driver of higher health care costs.  He sees the uncontested provision in the Obama health care plan that insurance companies will no longer be able to exclude sick people from coverage as the beginning of the end of agribusiness as we know it.

AGRIBUSINESS dominates the agriculture committees of Congress, and has swatted away most efforts at reform. But what happens when the health insurance industry realizes that our system of farm subsidies makes junk food cheap, and fresh produce dear, and thus contributes to obesity and Type 2 diabetes? It will promptly get involved in the fight over the farm bill — which is to say, the industry will begin buying seats on those agriculture committees and demanding that the next bill be written with the interests of the public health more firmly in mind.

I like not only his unimpeachable insight into the food industry but also his political savvy.  He understands how corporate money runs this country--and how laws might be manipulated to get the money on the good side.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Clarity of Robert Reich

Most everyone I know has been disheartened--make that sickened--by the healthcare debate.  Robert Reich explains why in The Guns of August, and Why the Republican Right Was So Adept at Using Them on Health Care .

Big Table Designs

Check out the blog for my furniture: Big Table Designs.

Monday, June 1, 2009

UnAmerican Savings

I drove up to Buellton last week to buy a table saw, and took Robin's Pathfinder to haul it back. A few miles on the return trip, it broke down (or as Robin says, I broke it). It's a fried clutch. A cool $1,000 for a new one. I'd wince, except that repairing Robin's 1993 car reminds me how little, comparatively, I've spent on cars in my life. I added up the purchase prices since 1977: six cars, $21,000. My brother says in that period he's spent in the neighborhood of $200,000. That difference represents years of salary working just for a car. I'll take the years.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Iowa Passage

Amy forwarded to me a plea for info from local columnist Starshine Rochelle, who was writing a piece on California marriage laws being less friendly to gays than Iowa's, except she had never been to Iowa and needed inside info. So I wrote this paragraph up in a few minutes and, since George has set the preening precedent for posting pieces he has both written and liked, I decided to follow suit. Besides, I'm on a memoir blogging roll.

I lived in Ames, Iowa for seven years. Home to Iowa State, it was one of two oases (along with Iowa City, a truly great college town) in the vast landscape of corn, soybeans, and agri-business. Still, it was a great place to raise a family--houses twice the size for a quarter of the price, no underclass or upperclass to speak of (since anyone who struck it rich moved immediately), and great, cheap pork chops. In my case, I also had a lot of guy friends to play basketball and poker. Plus, one could live in the small city full of trees and not realize it was Iowa until a trip into the vast surrounding flatness. I spent seven years surprising myself every time I took a drive.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Pressing History

I went to for my regular dose of Red Sox news and found a piece of history, mine and my family's. Of course, finding it online also underscores the more general history, the digital age heralding the end of news on paper.

For me, this story of the end of days for pressmen recalls the beginning of days for my adult life. I worked at the Globe's pressroom from age 16 through college. My dad was there for 35 years. My three brothers all worked there, DJ for over 20 years. The guy in the video (very well done, no? great accents!) who says he's the last of ten or twelve is my cousin, Bill McHugh, also featured in the article.

As the article conveys, the ink was inescapable, suspended in the air, coating the presses, the walls, the floor, the plate glass windows looking out on Morrisey Boulevard so that they seemed from outside to be tinted against the sun, but it was ink, in our hair, under our fingernails, up noses and ears, in our very pores. Even the locker room, the tiles in the showers were covered in ink. Some guys, my brother Brian among them, never got used to it. For the rest of us, it sucked, but it was just part of the uniqueness of the place.

The noise, too, was inescapable. The presses were each three stories tall and 30 yards long. The pressroom at the Globe had ten presses when I was there, and I think they since added one or two. When they were cranking out thousands of papers an hour for a Sunday paper run of 750,000, the drone was so loud we would have to yell into each other's ear to be heard. I remember lying in bed at 7 am and the roar still droning in my ears. Some guys wore ear plugs, and the Globe began testing our ears in my last years there, but, in fact, I know of no one who developed hearing problems. These thunderous machines simply defined the place, the atmosphere, the industrial rumble of the proletarian world faintly audible as white noise in the business and editorial offices.

The work itself was miserable, tedious, and, at my low-man status, exceedingly easy. Up the union ladder, the work got progressively more interesting and challenging, paper handler, apprentice, journeyman. Learning to be a journeyman pressman took years. As lowly "plate boys," our main job was to pick up the inky paper off the pressroom floor and bale it for recycling. It required about ten or fifteen minutes of actual work an hour, at most, but we had to hang around to clean up if a press "broke down," which meant lots of paper on the floor.

The hours weren't attractive either, at least for most folks, though I didn't mind the 10:30 pm to 4:00 or 5:00 or whenever the run was done in the morning. It felt special to be working while everyone else slept. But most of the work was weekends, especially Saturday nights printing the big Sunday paper. That was certainly a drag, and I dreaded getting THE CALL (I was a "sub" and so on call) to work a Saturday night.

The people were equally singular. Or I should say the organizational culture was singular. We were all guys, of course, in itself a mark of a blue collar. We were also over two hundred, from 16 to 65, probably two thirds of us Boston Irish (I was watching an Irish movie with DJ once, and when the credits rolled he quipped that they read like a Globe payroll report), lots of Italians, one black guy, and, as the video captures, lots of family groups. I hung out with guys like me, with fathers or uncles in the place, working our way through college, though some were lured by the money and security and became "regulars," lifers. I never saw any of them outside of work, but I liked a lot of them, and we had some fun. I remember one time, the only time I ever left for a lunch break, about 2:00am, four of us piled into someone's car. We still wore our inky clothes, so we brought newspapers to protect the seats and rugs. We drove into the combat zone, where the cops chased the hookers from corner to corner. Whoever was driving stopped where a couple of ladies were waving at us. One of them reached into the passenger seat window and grabbed Jay Geninino's crotch. We all howled with laughter when driving away, as the hapless hooker discovered that her hand was covered in ink. (Jay is the guy in the video talking about being devastated if the Globe closes. That is, I think it's the same guy.)

Though I couldn't wait to get out, though my dad wanted nothing more for me than something better than the Globe, the job clearly worked in my favor. The best was the summer between sophomore and junior years. I lived with friends in Brighton and would take the T to work at 7:30 on Saturday morning, work until 6:00 or 7:00 Sunday morning, making more money in that long day than my friends working five and six days a week at Ho Jo's or wherever. I spent the rest of my days that summer playing ball, exploring the city, and reading. It was a blast. That was the Globe for us. It enabled our lives.

When we were young and driving into the city to visit relatives, we'd pass right by the Globe on the Southeast Expressway. My dad would always say, "Bless yourselves, we're passing the Globe." I thought he was serious, and avidly made the sign of the cross. As a teenager working at the Globe, I was certain my dad had always been making fun of the Globe (and us) in the working man's spirit of "take this job and shove it." Now I'm pretty sure it was both.

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