BBT Had the Best Nerds

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An ad for a web-branding company recommends, “Hire better nerds.” It’s a tongue-in-cheek sales pitch and a sign of the times. Since the advent of Silicon Valley dominance, never before has it been so hip to be square. You can find tech gurus in matching t-shirts at the Genius Bar in the Apple store. And Best Buy sends out its Geek Squad to troubleshoot on all things tech. Revenge of the Nerds indeed.

But my favorite nerds are the ones who have populated the beloved sitcom Big Bang Theory for the past 12 years. BBT recently aired its final episode, and I have to say it was one of the most satisfying final episodes of a series that I have ever seen. (Don’t worry. No spoilers in this post!)

For all these years, audiences have grown to love the socially awkward, atrociously dressed foursome of Cal Tech scientists, Leonard, Sheldon, Howard, and Raj – and Penny, the hot girl across the hall who helps them come out of their shells and teaches them a few street smarts. Later love interests Bernadette and Amy add female camaraderie to the tech bro culture of the guys.

The guys’ (and Amy’s) nerdiness is the major source of humor in the show. But being smart is also celebrated throughout the series, and the scientists’ real intellectual concerns are taken seriously. Recurring cameos by real life scientists such as Bill Nye, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and the great Stephen Hawking show that the series creators appreciate science and admire scientists, even the socially inept four who form the nucleus of the show. Mayim Bialik, who plays Sheldon’s wife Amy, is herself a well-regarded neuroscientist.

The character of Sheldon is arguably the most fascinating and beloved of the characters that populated The Big Bang Theory. His many personality quirks and slow development of more socially-accepted behaviors make his interactions with the other characters more interesting. We root for Sheldon because many of us also have idiosyncrasies and insecurities around social situations ourselves. Sheldon’s trajectory gives us hope that ultimately, we can be accepted and loved just the way we are.

Luckily for fans of Sheldon, his young self lives on in the aptly named series Young Sheldon. An interesting note is that Zoe Perry, who plays Sheldon’s mom on Young Sheldon, is the real life daughter of Laurie Metcalf, who plays his mom on BBT.

I will miss the lovable misfits of The Big Bang Theory. Their foibles gave me lots of laughs. And their love for one another gave me all the feels, as they say. Most importantly, the series confirmed that it’s cool to be smart and best to be yourself. And it all started with a big bang – BANG!

 

 

 

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Season’s Greetings

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The other day I spent over half an hour selecting birthday cards at my local store. I can get lost for hours in a Hallmark store or the greeting card section of a drug store. Often I find myself laughing hysterically at some of the clever quips on these cards as I search for the perfect one for a family member or friend.

Greeting cards sometimes get a bad rap. People disparage “Hallmark holidays” as artificial and insincere. And it’s true that shelling out $5.00 for your expression of love can be a little hard to take. But giving and receiving these prepackaged missives can still be fun and meaningful.

My mother always prided herself on selecting just the right message when she picked out cards for her 11 children and many more grandchildren. Despite the size of our family and the challenge keeping track of our addresses once we moved away, my mom never failed to send me a birthday card or wedding anniversary greeting. I knew she had spent some time reading each card before choosing the sentiment that best expressed how she felt. I find myself doing the same with my loved ones and friends.

I myself am partial to humorous cards.  While not every card is a comic masterpiece, there are some that just tickle my funny bone and make me cry laughing, which is embarrassing in the middle of my local Jewel-Osco store. And it’s surprisingly hard to come up with good lines for these greeting cards.

Years ago I was put on freelance status with Hallmark’s Shoebox line of greeting cards. In order to attain freelance status, I first had to submit ideas for birthday greetings. Once I passed that gauntlet, I was allowed to submit potential card ideas for $250 per clever quip. Despite my best efforts, none of my ideas was ever picked up by Hallmark.

Not everyone is an eloquent or clever writer. A well-written greeting card can express our love for another in a way we never could. A cute or lovely card propped on our desk or kitchen counter can cheer up our days. That’s why I have a fondness for greeting cards and respect for the people who design them. That’s why you’ll find me in the greeting card aisle searching for just the right one to put a smile on someone’s face.

No matter the season, you can find the greeting that’s perfect for you and the ones you love.

 

Stupid Things To Do In Summer

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Screen_Shot_2017_07_03_at_1.34.23_PM.0.pngWith Memorial Day around the corner, our fancy turns to all things summer. In the spirit of the upcoming season, I’m happy to provide a PSA on what NOT to do this summer. You’re welcome.

This summer, please don’t:

  1. Leave children or pets in hot cars.
  2. Take kids tubing on a lake without a spotter to watch them constantly.
  3. Go out into the woods without being covered in DEET.
  4. Go outside after dark without being covered in DEET.
  5. Leave anyone in a hot car.
  6. Go on a diet during barbecue/ice cream season.
  7. Drink and go boating.
  8. Drink and drive.
  9. Drink and slice watermelon.
  10. Leave mayonnaise-laden foods outside for long periods of time.
  11. Leave children unattended in any body of water.
  12. Play with fireworks.
  13. Go out in the sun without sunscreen.
  14. Fail to hydrate.
  15. Touch any three-leaf patterned plants.

I’m sure there are other potential hazards looking to spoil our summer fun. Lawn mowing, for instance, can be extremely dangerous, especially if you do it in flip flops. Sports related injuries also increase in the summer as the warm weather encourages weekend warriors to get out and run, bike, swim, rollerblade and play frisbee.

With a little common sense, though, we can fully enjoy the glory of long, warm summer days, balmy evenings roasting marshmallows by the fire, and time spent outdoors with family and friends.

So break out your white shorts and start summering it up this Memorial Day! (Safely, please)

Water Torture

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I have a long-standing, deep-seated fear of water. My husband likes to joke that I’m afraid to take a bath. But my discomfort in the deep end of the pool, in lakes or oceans, has been with me since I was a child.

Like many kids, I spent most of my summer hours at the local public pool. Cavorting in the kiddie pool or splashing around in the three feet deep end once I was tall enough was fun. But I was terrified of making my way into the deep end. The feeling of not being able to touch bottom while my head was above water was unsettling.

My mom signed me up for swimming lessons for several summers, but I could never relax enough to do more than flail across the width of the pool in panic that I was going to run out of breath. In college, I took a swimming course and managed to pass. But the ease of gliding across the water never took hold.

Needless to say, natural bodies of water are even scarier. My idea of the ultimate horror movie is The Deep or The Abyss or any Jacques Cousteau special on PBS. It’s frightening enough just to worry about drowning; imagining what kinds of creatures are lurking below the surface of a lake or ocean is positively terrifying. Once while I was in a small motor boat with my family, the engine stalled not far from shore, and I had a near meltdown. Never mind that I could have walked to shore without getting my hair wet. On any boat trip, I am always the one with the bright orange life preserver around my neck while the rest of the passengers loll in their swimsuits, unafraid.

Lately my fear of water has expanded to include heavy rainfall. What I’m afraid of in particular is possible flooding and the thought of my car descending into what looks like a puddle, but is actually more of a lake. Recent trips in heavy rainstorms have been white knuckle driving affairs for me.

Deep water has even been a feature of my childhood nightmares. In one recurring dream, I am swimming underwater searching for something but never finding it. In another, I am poised on a balcony above a pool and forced to jump. That dream played into my other big fear: heights!

Water is supposed to be a source of peace, a reminder of the womb, and a symbol of life. I do enjoy the sounds of a gentle waterfall or gurgling fountain. The view of waves crashing onto a beach or the placidity of a lake are calming. Just don’t ask me to venture into any of those bodies of water. A landlubber is what I will always be.

Our Own Worst Enemies

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There has been a recent cry for Facebook to be broken up. The social media giant has too much power, argue critics. Robert Mueller’s report about Russian influence on the 2016 presidential election shows how massive amounts of disinformation were spread to the millions of people who use Facebook.

I’m all for regulating companies whose business practices are predatory and monopolistic, and I can certainly see how the success of such Silicon Valley behemoths as Facebook, Google, and Amazon can pose a threat to free commerce. But one of the reasons Facebook users were so easily swayed by bogus and slanted stories during the election is that they wanted to believe those stories. Many of us live in the echo chambers of our own belief systems. Whether it be from Facebook, TV news, or newspapers, we seek out information that conforms to our worldview and disregard or hold with intense skepticism those stories that contradict our beliefs.

In short, we are our own worst enemies when it comes to digesting information.

I certainly think our national security apparatus should deal more vigorously with avoiding a repeat of Russian or any foreign interference into our next presidential election. That won’t happen, of course, because Russian interference benefited Donald Trump, and he sees no reason it won’t help him again. I think we are past the point where anyone really believes Trump’s motivations are anything but self-serving.

What we can do as Americans is learn to take in information and opinions in a more critical and thoughtful way. Trump’s and Republicans’ complaints notwithstanding, there are still reputable news organizations and journalists working tirelessly to publish factual information about politics, the economy, foreign policy etc. When we hear or read things that sound hard to believe, we need to question those stories. “Pizzagate” comes to mind. There are also numerous nonpartisan fact-checking organizations that can confirm or refute what we are hearing from our leaders.

As a teacher, I used to work on critical thinking skills with my students. They learned about fallacies of logic, how statistics can be manipulated, and how language can affect the message. We need to do a better job in our children’s schooling to raise thoughtful individuals who are willing to question their own assumptions and test the arguments they encounter in the public sphere.

Facebook may indeed have too much power. Fox News might in fact be little more than a mouthpiece for conservative viewpoints. But it is up to us, the American people, to take the time and effort to discern what is true and what we should view with skepticism. Only with thoughtful and informed citizens will our democracy be sustained.

 

 

FOMO Foments Prejudice

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Social Media GraphicsMy kids use a lot of texting abbreviations that it has taken me a while to figure out. One of them is FOMO: fear of missing out. In the social life of young people, fear of missing out is what keeps them tied to their smartphones, scrolling through Instagram to see what their peers are doing at any given moment.

But FOMO is also a dangerous human tendency. In times of economic insecurity, people worry that they won’t get their share of resources. Often they project their lack on others they perceive as taking what is rightfully theirs.

Donald Trump has exploited this insecurity by pitting Americans against Hispanic immigrants coming across the border “to get our jobs.” He has increasingly favored protectionist trade policies because he perceives other countries – particularly Mexico, Canada, and China – as having taken unfair advantage of America. And these policies have effects. Yesterday the Dow plummeted in the face of China’s retaliatory trade tariffs.

Throughout the history of the United States, particular racial, ethnic, or religious groups were used as scapegoats for citizens’ insecurities and fears about not having enough. Many of us have ancestors of Italian, Irish, German, or Polish descent who recounted stories of discrimination and hatred when they began arriving on the shores of America. Japanese and Chinese immigrants faced even worse persecution, as did blacks whose ancestors were slaves and those who immigrated more recently from the African continent and the Caribbean.

Sadly, the human condition has not changed much over the centuries. Nowadays, people of Middle Eastern descent, especially Muslims, are targets of hatred and fear for many Americans. Jews are still being targeted for hate crimes and stereotyped as money hungry connivers who are trying to take over all aspects of American commerce. Even “model minorities” from East Asia, such as Koreans, Chinese, and Indians, are being met more and more with resistance on the part of Americans who feel they are making too many inroads into our prosperous society.

A case in point is the story of a bus company in Champaign, Illinois, called Suburban Express. Suburban Express conveyed students to and from the University of Illinois campus for years. However, in recent years, the company came under fire for discriminatory advertising and business practices. For instance, the company sent out an email ad that promised, “Passengers like you. You won’t feel like you’re in China when you’re on our buses.” Furthermore, according to the Champaign News Gazette,

Suburban Express allegedly denied credit cards from ZIP codes with high Jewish populations, instructed employees to avoid handing out coupons to certain students who appeared not to speak English well and recorded a YouTube video in a UI dorm while complaining about the lack of English speakers and mocking Asian accents by saying “No Engrish.” (“Suburban Express Shuts Down,” News Gazette, May 7, 2019)

Suburban Express ceased operations after it was sued by the Illinois Attorney General, and a consent decree cost the company $100,000. The unrepentant owner declared he was shutting down because running the business wasn’t fun any more. I guess it’s no fun if you can’t publicly mock minorities.

As the mother of a Chinese American daughter, this attitude sickens me. Even before the blatantly racist actions of the bus company came to light, I would sometimes hear complaints from friends and acquaintances about the large numbers of Chinese nationals attending the University of Illinois. They seemed to feel that the Chinese students were making it harder for their own children to gain access to the state’s premier public university.

I don’t think it’s racist to argue about how many out of state students should be allowed to attend a university partly subsidized by the taxpayers of that state. In fact, about a decade ago, Illinois residents decried a dramatic increase in out of state acceptances, and the university backed down, keeping the numbers of Illinois residents attending U of I at a large majority.

However, I can’t help feeling that this animosity toward Asian-born students in particular is tinged with racism. I doubt there would be much hue and cry if German or Swedish nationals started descending on the Illinois university system in large numbers. Because Asians are so readily identifiable and less likely to speak mellifluous English, they are unfairly singled out for scorn and discrimination.

Our society is stronger when we welcome and accept people of all different persuasions. Instead of looking for scapegoats for our societal ills, we should be addressing issues such as underemployment and unequal education head on. Let’s not use our FOMO as an excuse to deny the humanity and dignity of others.

Mom-isms

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30741381_1587385254720889_7378585026608234496_nIn honor of Mother’s Day, I’d like to share some of the things my mom tried to teach me as I was growing up:

  1. Beds should be made daily and sheets changed weekly.
  2. Every kitchen counter needs a matching set of canisters.
  3. Men take showers, but ladies take baths.
  4. Leaving a dish or glass in the kitchen sink is a venial sin.
  5. No silliness at the dinner table.
  6. Moms have eyes in the back of their heads.
  7. Close the front door. You’re heating the outdoors.
  8. No reading at the dinner table.
  9. If you cross your eyes, they’ll stay that way.
  10. A dinner should consist of meat, vegetables, and a starch.
  11. Dessert is not optional.
  12. No singing at the dinner table.
  13. The teacher is always right.
  14. No roughhousing inside.
  15. Wash your elbows.
  16. Do it because I said so.
  17. Don’t cry, or I’ll give you something to cry about.

Although I haven’t always kept all of Mom’s “commandments” in my life, my mother’s voice still echoes in my head when I’m running around the house tidying up and making sure the dishes are done. I find myself using her expressions, such as “Stop your dilly-dallying!”

And my mom also taught me:

  1. Honesty is the best policy.
  2. Put others before yourself.
  3. Have a treat at night before bedtime.
  4. Have music in your life.
  5. Work hard.
  6. Be frugal.
  7. Family comes first.
  8. If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
  9. Nurture your faith.
  10. The joys of having children outweigh the pain.

So Happy Mother’s Day to my beloved mother – and to all mothers, both literal and in spirit. May our mothers’ lessons give us the strength and courage to be good women and to nurture the next generation.