The Mannequin Challenge

I just read a story about a few police officers in New York who smashed a car window to save an old woman. She looked about 80 or 90, with a head full of grey hair and skin covered in liver spots. It was freezing outside, and she wasn’t wearing a jacket—just a beige and tan patterned sweater over a light pink blouse and an oxygen mask strapped to her face. Most significantly, she was completely unresponsive.

Because she was a mannequin.

Apparently the person who had buckled this mannequin into his car sells medical supplies, and Fran was meant to be used for CPR training. (Note: I named her Fran, not the guy. Though I really have no idea. He might call her Fran. She looks like a Fran.) Dave thinks the guy actually buckled her in so he could use the carpool lane. That’s probably true, because who would buckle a mannequin into the front seat of their car? Was he trying to keep it in good shape? Why not use the back seat then? Maybe just lay her gently in the trunk? Either he was using poor Fran to sneak into the carpool lane or he’s going through some kind of existential crisis and was looking for the support of a kind, grandmotherly figure.

I like to imagine that Frank—what I’ve now named the medical salesman—just wanted someone to chat with on his long drives to and from various hospitals and doctor’s offices. Fran was probably a great listener—never judging, giving him a lot of space to really get out his thoughts and feelings. Of which he apparently had a lot. When he found out the police officers had smashed his window to rescue Fran, he was super mad. Apparently he yelled at them a bunch and got a little aggressive.

The police chief, however, adamantly supported his officer. He said that any time they find a life-like mannequin in someone’s car during a bout of freezing temperatures, they’ll break the windows. So everyone be warned. If it’s cold, just bring your mannequins inside. You could set them up in front of the fire and listen to the crackling wood together. You could read a good book (you’d have to read out loud, obviously). You could watch a Turner Classic movie. Probably skip Psycho though, just so no one gets the wrong idea.

Science for the Win


Today we’re going to talk about science and how it’s real. That should be the end of the post, but apparently some people had an even worse education than I did, so we have to keep going.

Let’s make sure we’re all on the same page and start with the scientific method. To understand why we should trust scientists, we should understand how they come to their conclusions. The method is a series of steps used to prove or disprove a hypothesis, and it’s pretty tried and true. You probably use it when you’re trying to figure out who ate your last yogurt or why you can’t keep your houseplants alive.

First, you look around and think about what you already know. You make some observations about the world around you. Next, you figure out what you don’t know yet and come up with a few good questions to which you’d like answers. This is like the interrogation portion of a buddy-cop movie, but the suspect is keeping real quiet. Then, based on what you know already, you develop with a hypothesis. After that, you make some predictions. These are not Ms. Cleo style predictions; they’ve got to be legit. You think carefully about what you might see during your tests and how that information will help you determine the answers to your questions. Then you get to the testing. You do a whole bunch of studying and collect a lot of data. You might do this part—the predicting and data collecting—a bunch of times. Science can be a little complicated. Finally, you develop a theory. Hopefully. Maybe you never do and you just work and work and work for the scientists that come after you.

In the world of science, theory doesn’t mean conjecture the way it does in other circles. To scientists, a theory is a principle developed through extensive testing. It’s very nearly a fact, but scientists are super open to being proven wrong, so they leave room for change.

So, now that we’ve got those basics down, we can turn to one scientific finding that’s particularly relevant to our decision in the coming election—climate change.

Most of us agree our climate is changing. We know this both because it’s about to be 80 degrees in November here and because polar bears are now forced further and further south due to melting ice. Or like a million other things. Just ask the people who live in Kiribati, a small island being drowned by the Pacific Ocean. You’d be hard-pressed to find people who don’t think it’s getting warmer, but it’s not hard to find ones who say we have nothing to do with it. This is where science becomes super useful.

There are people who have made it their life’s work to study the shifts in carbon dioxide in our atmosphere and the consequences of those levels. That’s what they do every day. Well, not Sunday. We all know Sunday is for loungewear and pancakes. But on all those other days, when we’re running to the bank to deposit the paycheck we get for running meetings, they’re running calculations on the destruction of our planet.

We may not be able to do these experiments ourselves, but we can all read. I read every single day. You’re doing it right now. And we can think critically about who we trust and who we don’t. I trust the intelligent professionals, experts in their field, who have determined that the choices we’re making are contributing drastically to the rise in our atmosphere’s carbon dioxide. Groups like the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, the Australian Academy of Science, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. If those names sound fancy and important, it’s because they are. These are organizations comprised of leading scientists from around the world, and all of them say humans are changing our atmosphere in a negative way.

Any reasonable person would look to these experts, read these albeit complicated scientific papers, and fall on the side of the facts. Any reasonable person. Not Trump. He thinks it’s all a conspiracy invented by the Chinese government to gain a greater hold on manufacturing. He sent that lovely tidbit out into the internet world in 2012 and it’s been following him around ever since. But he’s not the only one. We hear Republican candidates say over and over again that they aren’t scientists, hinting at the fact that they just can’t understand scientific facts and therefore cannot create policies based on them. Sometimes we hear them declare that climate change isn’t influenced by human activity. Sometimes they deny its very existence.

Here’s why this is a problem. When people hear over and over again that something isn’t their fault—something they really want not to be their fault, because they like eating hamburgers and driving big cars and buying a lot of plastic toys—they believe it. When they believe it, they don’t ask their politicians to change it. And if politicians aren’t forced to act in unpopular ways, they won’t. So climate and energy scientists have to spend a lot of time trying to prove to the public that climate change exists and that we’re the cause. It’s a waste. It’s a waste of their mental capabilities and its a waste of our resources. We have the answer. We know the truth. We need to spend that time, energy, and money on solving the problem that exists, not on convincing people that it’s real.

When Hillary Clinton accepted the presidential nomination, she declared, “I believe in science.” What she meant was she believes what nearly all scientists have determined and she will root her policies in that truth. It was a tiny little phrase that she shouldn’t have had to utter. It should be like someone saying, “I believe in tables.” Ridiculous. But if we’ve got to choose a starting point for this effort, I’m standing on the side of reality, and I’m standing with her.

Tiny Super Heroes


I spent all of last night handing out candy to adorable trick or treaters. There were a bunch of extra cute kids happily opening up their bags and baskets for a handful of sweets. Halloween has always held top-holiday status in my house. It’s an honor that was bestowed by my mother and carried on by my sister and I. Halloween should feel lucky. It had stiff competition, what with all those holidays dedicated to giving gifts and eating carbs. But Halloween is about candy, costumes, and community, so it rose up.

There’s very little that gives me as much joy as handing out candy to four year olds dressed as super heroes.

I want them all to grow up to be real-life super heroes. I want the tiny Iron Man to become an engineer. I want the little Elsa to grow up to be a climate change scientist. I want the miniature ninja turtle to be inspired to study biology in college. But it’s up to us to make that happen. We have to make sure those kinds of opportunities are available for all the kids in our communities, not just the ones in our homes.

Now that we’re all in a sugar-coma and stuck to the couch, we have plenty of time to investigate our local and state politicians. These are the people who help decide how our taxes are spent, who benefits from state and federal programs, and which laws actually get passed. The president is important, but it’s not all up to her.

So take some time today and check out who else is going to be on your ballot. Figure out which people will help all those tiny trick-or-treaters you met yesterday evening became scientists or writers or presidents, then vote for them.

Be Cool


Today’s reason to vote in November is simple: we are no longer teenagers and it is no longer cool to not care. This election is important and, when you’re a mature, reasonable, intelligent person, it’s cool to care about important things. Teenagers are great at pulling off a practiced “whatever” attitude. Adults with that demeanor are just called selfish jerks.

As a kid, I couldn’t figure out what exactly made someone a nerd or a geek. I knew the label was attached to people who liked unpopular things a little too intensely and little too publicly. I knew it meant you weren’t invited to all the weekend parties. I knew I was one. You guys have all read about my status on the teen board of our local library. There’s no denying my lifetime membership to the nerd-tribe. As an adult, I realized the word is attached to people who dive into something deeply, who love something unabashedly. I also realized that most of those other kids also liked something strange in the same way but were too afraid to let everyone know. Or maybe they didn’t. Some people are just basic. But most of them probably cared about something and were just scared to show it—stifled by that span of our lives during which it was just not cool to care.

Well, those years are over for us. I get the mental fatigue that comes from all these political ads, the debates that seemed to never debate anything, and the articles that repeat the same critiques over and over again. It’s tiring. But we’ve got to hang in there. As teenagers, we faced tedium with a sigh and a turned head. As adults, we’re gonna have to face these moments with the excitement of fulfilling our grown-up responsibilities and making history. You know, just the slow grind toward equality and growth.

Alternate Reality


The season premiere of Walking Dead aired yesterday, so despite my valiant efforts to think about politics, I just couldn’t do it. Before the show aired, I had to focus all my mental energy on saving my zombie-fighting friends from the disastrous events of last season’s finale. After the show aired, I was too emotionally drained to think about who will become the leader of the free world.

All I can manage is this: I am so invested in this fictional world, set in a zombie apocalypse in the not too distant future. I’ve been following these characters for seven years and I care about what happens to them. The story means something to me. I’m sure there’s a television program or book series or video game you appreciate in the same way. You love it so much you think about it while you’re going about your regular-life business. You might feel like those characters are your friends or at least a strange neighbor you see every day from across the street. I bet the series has made you cry through a box of tissues or laugh until your stomach hurts. And it’s not real. At least, the characters aren’t real. The story isn’t real. All it does is pull something real out of you.

If we can be that dedicated to a make-believe universe, we should be that dedicated to our own—at least for the next sixteen days. Let’s try to care as much about our reality as we care about the fiction we enjoy. And if we care, we participate. So go vote.

Stick It To ‘Em


The next reason in my “go vote” countdown: You get a sticker. Think about the lengths you went to obtain a sticker when you were seven—filled out tedious multiplication tables, vacuumed the living room, traded your fruit roll-up at lunch. Voting is so much easier than all those things. Don’t disappoint your seven-year-old self. Go get your sticker.

Do Not Pass Go


As promised, I’m going to write about another reason we all need to vote in November. I spent a long time yesterday writing for the job that pays me the medium-bucks, so my creative juices are a little low, but a promise is a promise. That’s what I tell Dave after he says he’ll give me a foot rub and then takes a socks-off whiff of my toes. Gotta stick to your word.

Today’s reason is rooted in two particularly dangerous quotes we heard at the second and third presidential debates. In the second debate, Donald Trump explained in his always-eloquent style how he would assign his attorney general, not the attorney general, mind you, but his, to investigate Hillary Clinton’s lost emails. In it, he went through what he believed Hillary did with those emails, and Hillary, in response, said “It’s just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country.” To which Donald quipped, “Because you’d be in jail.”

Now, this post is not about the emails. Maybe we can dive into that another time, but not today. This post is about that last little phrase, the one threatening jail time to a political opponent, and what it means alongside this next exchange.

At the final debate, Chris Wallace asked Donald Trump whether he would accept the results of the election. Donald gave a long-winded answer that basically claimed the election and the media are corrupt and that he would decide at that particular moment whether he would concede. He would like to “keep [us] in suspense” as to whether or not he will peacefully remove himself from the race, as other losing candidates in our history have done, or whether he will decide to incite a mass riot and burn effigies in the street.

While doing this, he continued to claim rampant voter fraud by misinterpreting a Pew Research study stating voter registrations are outdated and inaccurate. The study, done in 2012, brought to light that many states’ voting records contain millions of entries that are no longer valid, represent people who have died, or are for voters simultaneously registered in other states. These errors exist because of old systems, requirements to maintain entries until absolute proof of ineligibility is given, and voter registration error. However, the study never makes any claims about actual voter fraud. It doesn’t say that people are voting for those dead people or that people are driving between Washington and Oregon to vote twice in one day. The study says that we have some updating to do technologically. In fact, other studies have decidedly determined that the amount of voter fraud in this country is miniscule. A study by News21 analyzed voter fraud claims and found 10 cases since 2010. One was a 17-year-old voting in his dad’s name. One was a recent immigrant who received two voter cards and thought he had to go to both locations. Four were people who filled out ballots for themselves and their spouses. Donald isn’t the first person to make these claims, but he’s wrong. Voter fraud happens, but it happens on an incredibly small scale. It’s been proven over and over again that we can barely get people out to vote once, let alone ten times.

When Donald makes these claims, he’s doing two things. He’s telling people that we can’t trust our democracy and he’s claiming that he is above the law. He’s openly decided to take one of two vastly un-American actions at the end of this election: jail his opponent if he wins or revolt against the democratic process if he loses.

Does it get scarier than that?

We’re going to need someone in the White House at the end of this who can rise above whatever chaos may or may not occur at the finish line. I’m voting on November 8th because I’d like a president who values our country’s complicated, but relatively stable political process more than her own ego.


Totally Judging


I can’t take it anymore. I, being the responsible citizen I am, watched the final presidential debate. Or, rather, I hid under my Tardis blanket and hoped it would send me into another universe. It didn’t. I was still on my couch—being stared down by a predatory, entitled reality television cast member. And I love reality television. I feel personally invested in Khloe Kardashian’s happiness and I fantasize about running the Amazing Race. I tried to find comfort in the intelligent, experienced public servant on the other side of the screen, but it was to no avail. I felt my insides compacting with every interruption, insult, and lie.

Like most women I know, this isn’t the first time I’ve been confronted with an arrogant, condescending, and overreaching man. It happens over and over again in my life. I’m not the only one who’s felt the gut-wrenching sting of trauma-rooted anxiety when sexual assault so cavalierly became the center of this presidential conversation. I’m not the only one who knowingly winced at each one of the 55 times Hillary Clinton was interrupted during the first debate. I’m not the only one who feels the need to hide from the barrage of hate we’re experiencing. But we can’t. We have to stand up. And walk. To the polls.

From here on out, I’m going to post one reason each day that we all need to vote. That’s 20. I’m sure, if I think real hard with my little lady brain, I can come up with 20 reasons for us to get out to the polls on November 8th. This is the first.

There will be at least one appointment to the Supreme Court made by the next president—probably a few. Bill Clinton said there could be as many of four. Donald Trump said he’ll nominate five if he’s elected. This is massive.

Let’s do a little Schoolhouse Rock rundown on the Supreme Court. Justices have the job of the interpreting the Constitution, that nifty document that’s supposed to hold our country’s core. The Constitution was established back when men wore powdered wigs, so it needs a translator—or nine. Since it currently only has eight, they might be relying on Google Translator on evenings and weekends right now. Not a good look for the most powerful court in America and all the more reason to unfreeze that job listing.

Basically, SCOTUS is the highest federal court in the country, so what it says goes. A whole bunch of important rights have been granted to Americans through the court and others have been withheld, depending on its composition. It changes the country’s trajectory—for better or worse. It established an accused person’s right to an attorney, but it also allowed for the internment of Japanese Americans. It confirmed the legality of segregation and, nearly 60 years later, desegregated schools. It ruled against a woman’s right to vote and then upheld a woman’s right to (mostly) choose what’s right for her body. It denied citizenship to slaves and their descendants and, after 110 years, ruled that interracial marriage must be made legal. Just last year, the court determined that states must allow for same-sex marriage. These are big, and, make no mistake, there will be big things coming.

Justices stay on the court until they decide to peace out, so these next few appointments will impact decades of rulings. This is important stuff, guys. I’m going to vote for the candidate who supports the human rights of me, my friends, and many other lovely strangers. I’m just really into that kind of thing.

Forced Expungement


I organize my emails in the most responsible way. If I don’t have the time or energy to deal with something at the moment, but I feel like I can’t delete it, I mark it unread. That means nearly anything of importance sits at the top of my inbox, waiting for me to respond. Because sometimes even email feels like a bit too much communication. That’s the beauty of technology—you can always get to it later. But later becomes even later and that becomes never. The ones in the never category grow until the number gives me anxiety and I feel forced to deal with them. And then those get resolved. I recognize it’s not a perfect solution, but it’s the one I’ve got.

I can’t be the only one in this world who chooses to avoid virtual interactions in this way, but I know I’m the only one in my house. Dave likes to keep no more than five emails in his inbox. He is obsessively organized about it all and swears by a well-developed folder system. He’s always telling me about how I should try it, how the system helps keep everything coordinated. I, obviously, scoff at him and declare it’s a waste of a time. I laugh in the face of his order. I tease him about his careful organization. I tell him I know what I’ve got and it’s not a big deal.

I was wrong. Last week, the computer-wizards (the tiny creatures who live inside my macbook) decided I had too many unread messages. They read them all. Without me. Those emails are now mixed up with all the actually-read nonsense and will never be found again. I’m embarrassed to say how many I had at the exact moment they disintegrated. I’ll just give you a hint: it was more than 222 and less than 224. Gone. Not really gone, but pretty much gone. Who has the time and energy to try and find them? Not someone who didn’t have the time or energy to respond like a normal human in the first place.

I guess if someone really needs me, they’ll try again. If not, it can’t have been that important. I might try this method with real-life interactions—just stand silently when someone talks to me and see if they walk away or keep talking. It will either force really efficient conversations or someone will try to squeeze me into a straightjacket.

Desolation of Smog


The World Health Organization just reported that 92% of people are breathing air that falls below the organization’s quality standards. This standard is basically whether or not the air has enough terrible stuff in it (like nitrates, sulfates, and black carbon) to kill you. A bit of that toxic material won’t set off their alarm bells, but once it gets to “will cause severe bodily injury” levels, they take note. If you agree with their non-death-inducing standards, that means nearly every human alive today is filling his or her lungs with harmful, dangerous air.

As a result, in 2012, six and a half million people died just by breathing. Breathing. I’m doing it right now. So are you, I’d bet. Don’t go holding your breath just to prove me wrong. But maybe do hold your breath to limit the amount of toxic air you’re gulping. I’m not a doctor, but it might work. Could we delay the air’s impact on our lungs by forcing our bodies to more efficiently use oxygen? Should we swim more regularly to up our breathing game? Should we breath into paper bags like we’re all suffering through a global panic attack? I feel like that last thing is going to happen either way, so let’s just embrace it as an attempted solution.

To be honest, I’m not sure working on our lung capacity will save us from this disaster. Scientists say we need to develop more efficient transportation systems, stop burning fuel and garbage in our homes, lay off the power plants filled with coal, and refrain from using so much energy to create a bunch of things we don’t need. That means those of us who are privileged enough to have options regarding those four causes should make better choices and those of us who are even more privileged—who have a few extra dollars to spend and give wisely—should do that. I know big problems are hard to solve, but we are literally poisoning one another and we can do better. I have a few ideas.

Buy less stuff. Give some money to scientists and inventors developing better energy sources for global communities. Ride a bike. Vote for representatives who believe in science. Plant a tree. Hug a tree. Support organizations whose purpose is to grow sustainable infrastructure around the world. Pay attention to the labels on your food. Watch a video of an orangutan in Borneo and remember why we make these choices. Eat a vegetable grown near you. Get on the bus (literally and figuratively). Read about how families in other places cook their food and heat their homes. Feel lucky. Take a walk with a friend and discuss how even though you think you’re supposed to like Leonardo DiCaprio because of his dedication to the environment, he’s getting pretty creepy.

Some of these are probably more effective than others, but I think we should all just jump in wherever feels right. I’m going to start with the videos of precocious infant primates.