Wednesday, September 28, 2011

GRE? GRRrrrrrrr

My GRE experience is over and I am confident my scores will indicate that I am an individual who is of average intelligence, and has never heard of math. Barbie’s right, math IS tough.

The GRE (Graduate Record Examination) has recently undergone a complete revision and they were in need of guinea pigs to be among the first students to take the new test. Always on the lookout for a bargain, I took advantage of the half-price enrollment fee and paid $80 instead of the standard $160, in exchange for being one of the first to take the test and possibly waiting a little longer to get my results. I’m not planning to go to grad school anytime soon, so what the heck – I have the time and it made sense to pay $80 now and get it out of the way before I start looking into programs. It made good sense to take advantage of the lowered price of the test. In retrospect, maybe not the greatest idea.

The big problem with taking the test before having a clear picture of future goals in grad school: Motivation. Part of the rationalization process for taking the test now was to avoid having to take it while I’m stressed out and feeling the pressure of knowing the scores would be scrutinized. What I failed to consider was how much of a motivator stress can be. I signed up for the test three months in advance, bought a study guide, and proceeded to pace myself as I studied for the test. I read through the review guide, slowly making my way through the test-taking strategies and running through the extensive vocabulary words. Suddenly I found myself with one week before the test and I realized – I have completely ignored the math sections. I haven’t done any of the practice tests or worked through the sample questions. I work six days a week, so I knew that I had one lone Sunday that was unspoken-for before test day, so I continued to pace myself so I could devote myself to study on Sunday.

Sunday came, and so did a migraine. Ugh. My head hurt so badly. I took a few Ibuprofen and started to watch football. And then I watched more football, and then some more. Eventually it was 6pm and I hadn't done any studying. So I start to combine my football viewing with studying. Cam Newton had 432 passing yards. A football field is 120 yards. Therefore, Cam Newton passed 3.6 times the length of the total field. I can do this!

On Monday when I got home from work, I settled in to take a practice test and started with the math section. I then proceeded to freak out. The Princeton Review manual told me that I would be tested on math that I learned in junior high and high school, which was a comfort. It was less of a comfort to realize that it’s been 20+ years since I’ve learned some of this stuff. I’m so bad at math, I didn’t even sit down to figure out the amount of time it had been since I last reviewed these math problems. Algebra was learned in freshman and sophomore year of high school. High school was a long time ago. Therefore, the Algebra principles I once learned are < 1% of my brain. Panic ensues.

At this point, I started to get stressed out and I can confirm that yes, stress is excellent motivation to study. The casual approach to an important test may not be the best approach. I think I did alright on the Verbal Reasoning sections, and the Princeton Review helped me prepare for the two written essays. Most of the verbal section was like doing demented Mad Libs with words I am vaguely familiar with. The Quantitative Reasoning section allowed 35 minutes for 20 questions, and I ran out of time in all three sessions and started guessing on the remaining questions. I'm glad that the new GRE has the option to skip questions and come back to them because some of the math questions were extremely intimidating. I saved those for last. Then I guessed.

In the end, I'm glad to have the test behind me and I will find out my scores in November. Whatever my post-graduate plans are, I can be sure of one thing. They do not involve math. And if they involve a decent GRE math score, I will probably have to shell out another $160 to take that test again. Maybe I didn't save any money after all.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Drive by

I have been studying for the GRE and have neglected to write anything for the blog this week. So instead, here's a picture I took in Costa Rica last year while stuck in traffic:

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Undergarments overanalyzed

I don't get it. The question is not so much why would a pair of underwear say that, but more importantly: Who are they talking to? If you are unable to see the photo above, it is of a pair of Victoria's Secret boy short panties and the backside says, "Your boyfriend says Hi."

I'm not sold on the idea of grown women wearing underwear that talk, but usually they say things that make relative sense. For example:

"Total Fox", "Above Average", "This is perfection." These are self-referential and they describe the object inside of the underwear. It is the garment equivalent of the "My son is an honor roll student" bumper sticker. When you see that, you know that proud parents are inside the car. Same principle. But "your boyfriend says hi" is just confusing. Is he inside of there?

Under what circumstances will someone see you in your underwear whose boyfriend will also see you in said panties? Are you sleeping with bisexual men who are in a relationship with each other? I suppose you could moon people while wearing your VS boy shorts, or simply hurl them at someone to let them know that you're moving in on their man. All of these things are extremely ill-advised.

In this age of web 2.0, why anyone would use panties to communicate a message to a third party is beyond me. That doesn't seem very practical. The only thing you need on the back of your underwear is the days of the week. Sunday through Saturday, baby. Just make sure they are clean.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Metro advertising - overanalyzed

When I see the words, "...your life depends on it" next to a photo of a vigilante serial killer, I take that threat seriously. As in, if I do not get my ass to the Reston Town Center for the Light the Night Walk, I will be chopped up into tiny pieces and disposed of discreetly. This is the visceral reaction I have when I see this billboard.

To be fair, it does say "Michael C. Hall" under his photo, and not "Dexter Morgan." The actor is a Cancer survivor after undergoing treatment for Hodgkins lymphoma, making him a perfectly appropriate and passionate spokesperson for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. This information brings a new level of respect to the message, "Walk because someone's life does," when coming from the actor.

The problem is, if you conduct a man-on-the-street interview and ask people to identify the person in the picture, I'm guessing the majority will recognize him as either a serial killer or a mild-mannered funeral director. If you think that the general public is able to disassociate actors from their characters, talk to Entourage's Rex Lee. If he lives to be 100 years old, he will forever be greeted with shouts of "Lloyyyyyyyd!"

The advertisement is really quite brilliant. Between Michael C. Hall's personal life and his on-screen persona, the message can be deconstructed as:

WALK as if your life depends on it. Because if you don't, Dexter will find you and kill you.
WALK because someone's life does. No really though, Michael C. Hall is a Cancer survivor and this is a very serious disease. It's the right thing to do.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Ten years later

Tonight I was fortunate to attend an event at the Newseum in honor of the ten year anniversary of 9/11. Charles Gibson was the moderator of a panel of guests, including Ari Fleischer, who was George W. Bush's press secretary at the time; Victoria Clarke, who then served as the Pentagon spokesperson; and Jim Miklaszewski, chief Pentagon correspondent for NBC News and the first person on the scene to report that the Pentagon had been attacked.

The panelists each gave us their recollection of where they were when they first heard the news of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center, and how the events unfolded thereafter. Charles Gibson also told of his experience as anchor of Good Morning America that morning. Each of them were in the unique position of being called upon to explain to others what had happened, while they themselves were finding out with the rest of the country. And not always receiving accurate information. I think Ms. Clarke summed it up the best at the end of the evening by repeating a quote by Daniel Patrick Moynihan after the Kennedy Assassination. "We will laugh again, but we will never be young again." She thought to herself as she drove past tanks on on the Key Bridge on her way home that evening, "I will never be young again."

After ten years, I still have not come to terms with the events that transpired that day. It feels foolish for me to say that, I was living in Iowa and I did not know anyone who was directly affected by the attack at that time. I was so far removed from the events, but ten years later I am still taken aback by memories of that day. I do not live in fear, and it is hard to put into words. But Ms. Clarke's reference sums it up well. Something was taken from all of us that day. We are forever connected to the memories of that horrific day. Even those of us who did not suffer a direct loss of a loved one, we are not the same people we were on September 10, 2001.

A few weeks ago, a coworker walked into the office in the morning, visibly shaken. She had taken the commuter train into Washington, D.C., as she does every day. She was hesitant to admit what was bothering her, but she whispered very softly what had happened on the train that morning. She spoke quietly for fear of being overheard, and she told me the reason she was so shaken. She said she was on the train sitting next to a Muslim man with a full beard and he was holding prayer beads. She noticed this right away and sat down next to the quiet man and reprimanded herself for the immediate mental connection she made to Muslim terrorists on 9/11. Then, the man gripped his beads and began to pray quietly. She noticed the large duffel bag at his feet. She sat next to him and became more uncomfortable as he rocked in his seat, put his face in his hands, looked up to the sky, and prayed much more actively. At this point she felt very afraid. As she told the story, she was puzzled by emotions - is she a bigot? Is she intolerant? She knew it was the holy month of Ramadan at that time, but it was also days after an unexpected earthquake and days before a hurricane was expected to hit the area. The whole world already seemed to be going crazy and all she could think of was that she was on public transportation in the nation's capital and the man next to her was making his peace with Allah before bombing the train.

She got up and moved to a different train car and struggled with overpowering emotions. She felt bad to have judged someone who she understands was probably just praying during Ramadan. At the same time, if her fears were truly instinctive and he had something suspicious in his bag, she could have neglected to save lives because she erred on the side of political correctness. She asked again if I thought she was a bigot after having told me this. Yet she still had strong feelings from what she witnessed, it felt like a rational fear.

I know her fairly well, and I do not think she is a bigot. I told her so, and I don't think her reaction is her fault. She didn't react that way because of some internal hatred toward Muslims, she reacted that way because her immediate mental connection to Muslims was to stories about terrorist activity. We do not see a lot of representation of moderate Muslims in our culture. Muslim representations are now what Soviets were during the Cold War. I told her that if she would have alerted a conductor and had the entire train offloaded and delayed everyone's commute while the man's parcels were searched, simply because he was praying in public, then she could be headed down the road of intolerance. She didn't do anything about it, but she was afraid and struggled with the "what if" feeling of the possibility that her fears were not unfounded and the danger was real. She struggled with her emotions for the entire day, but I think that her concerns would have been a common reaction among many non-Muslim Americans in the post-9/11 world.

On Tuesday, Muslim author Irshad Manji was interviewed on MSNBC's Morning Joe. Thoughts of my coworker's experience filled my head as she spoke of "the most dangerous four letter f-word in the English language: Fear." She continues,

I see among broad-hearted Americans (non-Muslim), FEAR about asking questions of Muslims and Islam because they are afraid of being judged as bigots for doing so. And I see among liberal Muslims like myself, fear of going on the record about our views b/c we fear either of being called traitors by Islam supremacists, or “terrorists-in-waiting” by Islam bashers. So you can see that there are layers of fright all over the place and frankly, I think the next ten years need to be about reconciliation but not just between Muslims and non-Muslims, also between honesty and conversation. If we can’t have honest conversations in which you guys are allowed as non-Muslims to raise uncomfortable questions, then we’re never going to get to the root of what it takes to reconcile.

While I never expect to fully be able to contemplate the events of 9/11 or the effect they have had on the world, I owe a debt of gratitude to people like Irshad Manji, and the panelists who spoke tonight of their experiences. It is true that we will never be young again, but we still have plenty of room to grow as a country. In the days after 9/11, Americans were united in ways I have not seen before or since. Charles Gibson mentioned that his daughter was a few blocks from the World Trade Center and she witnessed countless acts of kindness and humanity as people helped one another through the fog of debris. Ten years later, it is incumbent upon us to help one another through the residual fog of fear.