Friday, January 22, 2016

7 Great Things You Can Do On a Saturday Morning in Sioux Center

Sioux Center life can be pretty dull on Saturday mornings. I would know. I spent almost 20 years of my life there, amounting to probably 900 Saturdays (assuming 45 Saturdays spent in town per 52 weeks over 20 years). Here is a list of things I’ve found are a great way to use my time on Saturday mornings:

1. Watching cartoons
When I was a kid, I would watch Bugs Bunny, Doug, Transformers, the list goes on. If those retro shows are not your thing, some modern classics I’ve found are Over the Garden Wall (a surreal cartoon with songs, mystery, and a strong vibe of Americana, available for streaming on Amazon Prime) and OnePunch Man (a parody of Japanese superhero comics, but I think your knowledge of American superhero comics will suffice).

2. Cleaning 
If watching cartoons is too relaxing for you (or you have a lot of stuff to get done), Saturday morning is a great time to do it. You can sleep in a little bit, but you still have most of the day ahead of you.

3. Cooking
Okay, I’ll admit that when I lived in Sioux Center I didn’t cook much on Saturday morning, but my mom did. If you’re having a big party on Sunday, a make-ahead meal really reduces your overall stress.

4. Fixing things
Saturday morning is a great time to fix little things that aren’t really urgent, but it sure would be nice if they worked right. Plus, Bomgaars is basically only open during regular hours, so this effectively gives you more time to run to the store for parts. You’re smart enough to read. I think you can do this.

5. Laundry
If you have a washer and dryer in your home, you can do laundry and some of the other things at the same time.

6. Listen to the radio 
I like to listen to NPR (KWIT FM 90.3 or KOJI FM 90.7 or online) on Saturday mornings. They’ve got a great news show, Weekend Edition at 7, Car talk at 9, Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me at 10, and This American Life at 11. After that is the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which is pleasant as well. Of course, you might have your own preference in radio.

7. Going to the bank
In Sioux Center, this can ONLY be done on weekdays during regular hours (or Wednesdays before 7pm) or on Saturday mornings. All the banks I know of are closed by noon or earlier on Saturdays.

Sioux Center is a small town, but these are some of the best things that you can do on a Saturday morning. They aren’t weather-dependent, and you can definitely do them tomorrow, January 23. 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Affirmative Inaction

Let’s talk about affirmative action.

This is a response to a post on Imgur that I saw earlier from the perspective of a white male who felt like affirmative action was doing him wrong. Even as intelligent as he was, he couldn’t get the scholarships that black men and all women would get to go through college. Additionally, there was a news story this week about a woman who didn’t get into college because she was white and not a minority in that situation. The college had to fill a racial quota, and seemingly everybody was triumphant that minorities got in and she didn’t, but the amount of triumphantness rubbed me the wrong way.

 “Affirmative action” needs to be replaced by affirmative ACTION.

I know I have received at least one internship and at least one scholarship because I am a woman. Now I’m in grad school going for a master’s degree. And I don’t think I would be where I am if it wasn’t for affirmative action, but I don’t really know who I am without it. Affirmative action is a rough solution to a complicated problem of privilege and equal opportunity.

I have seen a bit of both sides of the privileged/unprivileged world, and it really all stems down to where there are gaps in peoples' education. I’ve been privileged to have some things in my life that I don’t think other minorities (even white women in engineering are considered minorities) will necessarily have. My dad is a professor of engineering, so I always had someone in my life who can talk tech with me. I graduated in the top 5% of my class in high school, so I probably have at least some marbles in my head, and the school system these days is a little bit geared towards girls more than boys, so it’s been super effective for me. I have not had to pay a lot for my tuition because of the situation my parents have put me in, so I never had to worry about balancing work and school. Now that I’m in grad school, I have to pay my tuition and rent, but I still can’t imagine living on my salary and paying for insurance and big car repairs—thanks, Mom and Dad. I am lucky in so many ways to be in the place I’m in. I wouldn’t be here for the dedication and education I have that gave me the leg up it did.

The whole point of education is to give people a leg up on the knowledge we’ve accumulated. However, affirmative action assumes that white boys have been given more opportunity to learn at home and that everybody else hasn’t… and then the solution they come up with is to throw money and jobs at minorities because they would naturally have a harder time getting the kinds of jobs that white boys were supposedly taught at home. This is really frustrating! Not only is a certain kind of sexism and racism the result of this, but it means that people are getting into college and the workforce that are not necessarily the best at their job. Worst of all, there are underprivileged white men that get snubbed the most because they didn’t necessarily learn the things at home that they were supposed to (like minorities, according to affirmative action), but they don’t get the same opportunities that minorities get because affirmative action exists.

Instead of throwing money at students later in life who might not know the most, it would be more fair if we funded programs in schools that educated children about things that are normally “only taught to girls” like cooking, cleaning, and child care and “only taught to boys,” like home repair, shop, and computers (more than how to type, please).

I would have appreciated classes like that in my high school. Even though I am a woman, I never really learned to cook until I was in college, and I still haven’t learned how to care for children. That sort of stuff just wasn’t part of my life. At the same time, I have vivid memories of going into my freshman engineering class when we were supposed to make little woodstoves and feeling very lost because I knew nothing about shop safety or how to use the tools at hand. All of my female classmates felt the same way (except Emily, I think), and we ended up just standing there, watching the boys work. Since then, I’ve learned about shops and tools because of the internship I got in part because I am female (thank you for your patient instruction, Aaron Lalley), but I would have loved to learn that stuff before.

If you really want equality between races and sexes, cut off the head of the snake instead of throwing money at the problem after it’s too late. That’s not action. That’s a kludge of a solution to a complex problem, telling somebody else to deal with it. It has helped me and others, but there is a better way. Life skills like cooking, cleaning, child-rearing, shop safety, home repair, and computers, can be taught in school and are just as necessary as science, math, language, arts, politics, and history. The only thing stopping them from being school subjects is politics.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Offensive Doubts

Today, I was talking with some people anonymously online. They joked about some people close to me, calling them retards because I mentioned they have mental illnesses. Anonymity probably let them feel so free to do that—a topic that’s been discussed well enough for now. I recognized their statement as a joke, but I was still upset. However, I understand that some people with mental illnesses welcome the jokes: they diffuse tension. In fact, in NAMI meetings that I’ve been to, we’ve talked about how you have to take mental illness with a sense of humor because that’s the only way you can survive.

So why was I offended? After some introspection, I realized that it’s because I’m afraid that I still think of people with mental illnesses as retards. I’m trying to fight that stigma within my own heart. When my loved ones with mental illness do something that doesn’t make sense, or often in my loved-ones’ case, fail to do something, I get angry and I want to tell them “WHY COULDN’T YOU JUST DO IT?” In that moment, I am the one that wants to use the word retarded in the derogatory sense. In that moment of weakness, I am tempted to let the stigma live. I know in my head that the mental illness is what makes my loved ones unable to do some things normal people can do, but my heart doesn’t fully understand how this can be. Not a proud moment for me.

This phenomenon is probably broader than my personal failings or loved ones with mental illness. I don’t have much scientific research to back this up and I’m not an expert in psychology, so take what I say with a grain of salt. I think people often feel offended for others because they are fighting doubts, stereotypes, or stigma within themselves, not because the party they feel the need to protect actually needs more protection. And in fact, being so easily offended probably does do some harm to protected groups—just as I said, humor does relieve tension. It helps us talk about difficult things without crying. We need to understand why these knee-jerk reactions happen.

One phenomenon that supports my theory of why we are offended so easily is the example of homophobia. In one study, researchers did word association tests with groups of people. Those that were homophobic also took longer to associate “straight” with “me.” Indicating that they have doubts about their straightness and so need to think about it more. I currently can’t access the link to that article, so I’d be curious to see what the margins of error are, but this study could mean that homophobes, people who, by definition, are easily offended about homosexuality, are one example that shows that being offended because of inner doubt is broader than my own experience. 

This brings me to a current event: certain Christians, and definitely not all, and definitely not most of the ones who will probably be reading this, have a knee-jerk reaction when businesses change their holiday well-wishes from ‘Merry Christmas!’ to ‘Happy Holidays!’ as if by changing what they are saying, they are now excluding us. Being outraged over what we call the time around December 25 is not new. In fact, there is even a song by a popular ‘Christian’ band*. And what a song it is! “Christmas with a capital C” (Warning: if you don't like Eminem levels of rage you probably won't like this song) proclaims loud and clear that Go Fish is really mad when we say or write Happy Holidays. But is this really something we need to be upset about or just a point of nostalgia that a certain group of people now doesn’t get to hear from business that want to cater to the masses? Or is there more?

My thoughts are merely conjecture at this point, but what if some people are mad about saying “Happy Holidays” because they doubt how well they celebrate the holiday of Christmas? What if some people feel the constant need to be reminded so that they can feel good about themselves—that they alone know the true meaning of Christmas and everyone else is faking it? Saying Happy Holidays instead opens the arena to accepting that other people are allowed to celebrate the winter solstice as much as we Christians are, for their own reasons. What if Christians who are so offended by changing “Christmas” to “Holidays” feel that way because they doubt their own generosity and holiday spirit? Are we afraid that we are not as altruistic as others? A recent report says we have reason to be.

Children of many religions were tested against others on how generous they would be, and the researchers found that the more religious the children’s families were (by how often they did things specifically to observe their religion), the less generous the children were. This means that people who go to church a lot could be raising children that give very little. Why? Well, that’s not within the scope of the scientific study, but my guess is that the children who went to church and prayed often felt that they gave enough in church so they didn’t need to be generous outside of church. And this makes a little sense. I remember not wanting to go to church when I was a little kid because I hated getting dressed up and I hated the rigamarole of getting in the car and making sure we were to church on time to sit in the second row, only to sit through a long sermon and songs that I didn’t understand (but now enjoy).  For most of my childhood, church was not fun and just a chore. Sorry Mom and Dad. I know you don’t want to hear that, but if you think back to your childhood you probably felt the same way. At least as a child, I probably associated generosity with being a chore and doing chores as something to not make Mom and Dad mad at me. I don’t think this leads to a heart that wants to give or say Happy Holidays when you grew up saying Merry Christmas.

There was a time when I was very bothered about saying Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas also, and then a time when I was neutral, but today, I think I’ve changed my mind completely. The very act of saying Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas is generous because it shows that you are looking outward and accepting that you can’t change anyone by reminding them what your midwinter holiday is and not finding out what theirs is. Sure, say Merry Christmas if you want. I don’t think anyone will really mind. But there is good reason to say Happy Holidays as well.

Next time you feel a knee-jerk reaction coming on, stop and examine your feelings. Find out what’s at the heart of the issue. Is there something you doubt about yourself? Don’t get mad. Doubt is normal. Even the strongest believers have had doubts. Instead, find out why you doubt and if you can, find some peace either with not knowing what the dissonance is, or by rooting out its cause.

This post is mostly opinion and conjecture. I'm just trying to connect some of the dots I've seen. Feel free to tell me what you think.

*I put it in quotes because bands aren’t Christians, they are groups of individuals who may be Christian—‘Christian’ bands cater to a certain audience and nothing more

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Current Political Ideologies are Fundamentally Flawed

I heard on NPR a while back that the Republican Party was working to rebrand itself to appeal more to younger Americans. As a registered Republican, I’m interested and anxious to see what comes up as a result. So far, I haven’t been too pleased with the press Republicans have gotten this year. Rick Santorum told the Pope he should stick to religious matters when I believe all matters are religious. Most Republicans have responded with fear and displeasure when the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage even though it was inevitable. The Republican mantra has continued to be that we need to strengthen our borders to deal with illegal immigration, when I think we need to allow more prospective immigrants legal and expedient methods to become permanent residents. I’m sick of hearing stories about Republicans saying derogatory things about Latinos in the U.S. I don’t stand by that. I don’t think many people do.

Here’s the rub though, right now politics is largely grouped into two categories: Republican, which follows a Conservative ideology, and Democrat, which follows a Liberal ideology. The problem with that is that Conservatism fundamentally wants to keep everything the same and Liberalism wants to change everything, so to speak (I’d say it’s more like “Do what the Republicans aren’t doing” but that’s another issue). I don’t agree with either philosophy, and it would be stupid to agree with it. The world is a mixture of things that are working and aren’t working. We should keep the things that are working and get rid of the things that aren’t working, and no intelligent person would say otherwise.

The result is that there is no political party I agree with. I don’t want to keep everything and I don’t want to change everything. I would like to conserve the environment, but I feel that we should be more liberal with issues regarding immigration policy. That statement would land me as a Democrat, if you were making stereotypes, but I also believe in religious freedom—a hot button topic right now. Religious institutions should not lose their nonprofit status if they make decisions based on their religious doctrine. Churches and Christian schools should not have to go to the Supreme Court to ensure that they can hire only people that follow their religious beliefs. Religious organizations should not have to provide insurance for medical practices they believe are wrong (abortions, morning after pills). Would you force someone to pay for something they consider murder?! Individuals should be allowed to pray in public if they advise the audience ahead of time and allow time for those who object to step out. Finally, accreditation boards should not be allowed to discredit a religious organization for firing someone who does not follow the religious practices of the organization because private accreditation boards are quazi-governmental institutions. Believing that is a very Republican thing to say. So, I don’t fit in, and quite honestly, I think a lot of young people these days don’t either.

These days there is no real choice for someone who wants to protect freedom, immigrants, and the environment. We are left with a false-dichotomy that either you are Liberal or you are Conservative. The truth is far from that. Some things must go and some things must stay or go back to the old way. I would like to see a political leader rise that is consistent with his or her beliefs and does not follow a stupid ideology like Liberalism or Conservatism. Politicians, I want to hear your solutions for the problems. I don't want to hear you saying you'll keep everything the same or change everything.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015


I feel an obligation to keep up with my friends and relatives somehow so I'm going to do it in the form of this survey thing that was written circa 2009. I copied it from a Facebook friend's wall.

This survey gets a little personal; can you handle it?
Yeah cuz I’m a person. OR AM I?!?!?

-If you married the last person you texted, what would your last name be?
Drennon. This is not a hint.

-Were you happy when you woke up today?
hmmmmmmmmmm. I wasn’t unhappy. I was reluctant. Feelings are hard, k?

-When were you on the phone last? And with who?
Today with my parents.

-Who all do you have texts from in your inbox?
lol like everyone. This survey is from when dumbphones were cool.

-What's a fact about the last person who text messaged you?
He has cute hair. Fact. Undeniable. He will tell you otherwise though.

-Want someone back in your life?
Given that I live basically alone in a suburb …. Yeah.

-What are you excited for?
Going home tomorrow (technically today, but I count by sleeps).

-What's the last thing you put in your mouth?
An ice cream bar.

-Are you scared to fall in love?
Lol too late. It’s fun though.

-Is there something you want to tell someone?
I would like to tell Leah Bauer that she should contact her old friends from high school.

-Who was the last person you took a picture with?
The last selfie on my phone is from January with my boyfriend, so I don’t actually remember. Probably family photos in Michigan a month ago.

-Is it easy to make you cry?
It’s easy to be mean enough to make somebody cry. It’s also pretty easy to make a movie that makes people cry. The challenge is to make a good movie, with crying only as necessary.

-Have you ever worn the oppisite sex's clothing?
I wear men’s pants to work every day because they have great pockets and are very sturdy. The hips really don’t work though. I also wear unisex t-shirts every day, but that doesn’t count.

-Where is your next road trip?
Maybe Montana? I need to think about it. I’m hoping for something though.

-Do you have someone of the opposite sex you can tell everything to?
Yeah. My boyfriend, Kit. I can tell my dad a lot too.

-Whats your 3rd text say?
Lol as if my phone kept my 3rd text.

-Does your last kiss still like you?

-Have you ever stayed up all night on the phone?
No but I have stayed up all night.

-Has anyone said they love you in the last week?
Mom, Dad, Kit, Naomi said they love me and my 6th grade teacher made a special effort on fb to tell me how special I am, so I think that counts too.

-Have you ever laughed so hard you cried?

-Do you remember who you all liked in 7th grade?
I know I liked someone, but what year I liked who is vague now.

-What time did you wake up this morning?
7:00. Same time I wake up every day.

-What was the last thing you did before you went to bed last night?

-Is there anyone who doesn't like you?
Like, LIKE like? Or Like? Because I’m sure there are many in both categories.

-Do you like to cuddle?
Who doesn’t? This is a dumb question.

-Have you ever liked someone older?
I feel like this survey was written for 12 year olds.

-Any apologies from anyone recently?
No. Nobody needs to apologize to me.

-Do you hate the last girl you had a conversation with?
Once again, survey for tweens.

-Can you make a dollar in change right now?
I don’t think so. Check my “keep everything small” hat. I DO have 5 pesos in there though.

-What are you good at in school?
Not being in school.

-What is the last non-alcoholic beverage you had?
Water. I’m an adult.

-When is the last time you cried?
Was it last night? I cry every so often.

-Ever been swimming in a lake or river?
Ever been an Iowan? Good memory though: when I was in high school I went swimming in Sandy Hollow with Marina Jelsma and I actually scared her into thinking there was something cold and mean in the center of the lake--just for a moment though.

-Last person you drove with in a car?
My sister and brother-in-law

-What did you last buy?
gas. I’m an adult.

-Do you like Chinese food?
Yes, but it is imperative that a certain quantity of vegetables is included. Non-rice vegetables. With fiber. I'm an adult.

-Plans for tomorrow?
Go HOME! Also work.

-Have you ever changed clothes in a vehicle?

-What are you wearing on your feet?

-Did you have a good day yesterday?
Sure. Every day is good, whether I enjoy it or not.

-What's the reason behind your display name?
I’ll just be smart and read that as “Twitter Handle” because I think this was meant as some getting to know you questions on MSN, back when that was cool. My name used to be Dusty Cymbre (pronounced Kim-bray). Dad made an executive decision to have me not bullied because of my name.

-What color shirt are you wearing?
Hi-Viz yellow-green. For safety. That’s actually what it’s for.

-Have you ever crawled through a window?
Yeah. One time, when I was at a farm safety camp as a little kid, they made us escape through a window that you lift up to open and they were rushing me and the room was full of fake soy smoke that smelled terrible and I hurt my back trying to lift that stiff window and I scraped my back going out. I have absolutely no good memories of farm safety camp. It was all scare tactics.

-Will this weekend be a good one?
See “was this a good day.” I expect to enjoy it though.

Who was the last person that hugged you?
My sister, Naomi.

-Has anyone whose name started with a M kissed you?
…. Mom?

-Is there one place you'd like to visit?
No. There are several places I’d like to visit.

-Is there someone that you believe you will always be attached to?
This question is so vague. I’d rather not be surgically attached to anyone though.

-What is something you disliked about your day?
It passed too quickly, yet too slowly. Also, I’ve been looking for an old friend but I can’t find her anywhere online.

-How much cash do you have on you?
$0.00 and 5 Mexican pesos in my “keep everything small” hat. This survey is really obsessed with money.

-What's your current desktop picture?
My boyfriend painted it.
I'm Going to Cherish Every Moment
Painting by Kit Drennon of Robin and Lucina from Fire Emblem: Awakening

-Besides this what are you doing?
Wondering why I am up at 1:30 AM on a work night.

-Do you miss the way things used to be?
Some things. I'm more hopeful for the way things will be.

-Most memorable thing that happened to you last summer?
I worked at a precast concrete plant with some really fun and interesting people. It wasn’t always the best time, but it was definitely worth it.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Higher wages could be bad for the climate

If' you've seen Jurassic World, you'll know a main theme of the movie (granted, it's an action flick) is that if you mess with a delicate system, there can be terrible consequences. In the movie, messing with the delicate system nature created unleashed something the biologists and investors were not prepared (read: unwilling) to deal with in a timely manner. Similarly, increasing the national minimum wage will have enormous consequences across the nation. Some of the consequences could be good, but some of them could be bad.

The issue is that dollars are our unit that we use to assign value to things, assuming society is mostly economically deterministic. We've decided that gas is worth about $3.90 per gallon around Clive, Iowa and one hour of work is worth at least $7.25. By that measure, if a procedure takes 1.9 gallons of gas for a machine to do in an hour it would be worth it to have the machine do it instead of a person. In a way, this makes sense. Our time is valuable to us and we'd rather not, for example, grind a sample of dirt by hand to prepare it for tests (something I do). However, the consequence is that we also end up making decisions like driving fast on the highway with worse gas mileage instead of driving slower and getting better gas mileage.

Take Mexico, for example. There, people still do many things by hand and drive very little, or share cars and take buses when they do. A construction worker gets paid about 100 pesos (about $6.51 on June 19, 2015) for a day's work there.1 That's right, a construction worker in Mexico makes less per day than I make in a half an hour (without tax). I'm not making any arguments about their "quality of life" versus ours, as quality of life is not a very well-defined thing. However, it is clear to me that they are using a lot less gas per person than we are because gas costs about the same as here, but wages are much cheaper there.

If labor is even more expensive than it is right now, with respect to fossil fuels, it will make even more economic sense to have machines do more work and have people do less. I'm not arguing that having machines do the work might be more humane than having humans do it. Some work is really grueling and machines make it pleasant. My only point is that if wages get more expensive with respect to gas, gas will be used more, releasing more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and increasing our climate problems. Every little bit adds up, and over a nation and the course of years, this could make a serious difference for the climate. We'd have to think about everything carefully, as it's hard to assume these days that employers will pay workers a fair wage, but how we value things with our money shows how we value things overall. Raising the minimum wage means that gas is cheap to us.

1. Source: Bill Drennon, Mexican Permanent Resident, Personal interview January 2015.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

TOAST Journal Entry 1 - Knee-jerk reactions for or against Tech

This post was originally written for EGR 390, Technology and Society. It's rambly because I pumped it out in about an hour and had to fit it in 600 words, but I hope you can get the point.

“The great danger is always to single out some aspect or phenomenon of God’s good creation and identify it, rather than the alien intrusion of human apostasy, as the villain in the drama of human life.” – Wolters (Course Materials, 24)

What Wolters is talking about here is when people see something, such as wind, or a cell phone, and call it evil because of the evil they have seen it do. This reminds me of the main conflict in the first season of The Legend of Korra (Korra from now on). Korra is set in a world where some people can use their life-energy to move certain elements (water, earth, fire, air) according to their will, with an ability called bending. However, many people are not benders, so they are fundamentally weaker than the benders. Some atrocities occur when benders realize they can bully non-benders for wealth and possessions, and the non-benders begin to rise up, learn a martial art that blocks the life-energy of benders, and also develop technology that can knock people out. The people unite under a villain whose main goal is to eradicate bending. The main character, Korra, has the ability to bend all four elements, and through the course of that season, she goes to prove that bending can be used to triumph over evil benders and non-benders alike.

The whole time I was watching that season of Korra, I was frustrated because I knew that it is not bending which is the problem, but human evil. The art direction in Korra wisely styled the non-bender technology to be like technology that arose just before World War I. It was during that era and the era of World War II that our society began to realize that technology does not always save us, but sometimes it can be used for great evil. Similarly, in Korra, the people during the first season did not realize that their new technology and techniques would not always save them, but could also be used for great evil (in fact, when they used it against Korra and her friends, they were using it to keep good from triumphing).

But this isn’t just the stuff of TV shows and history. Today, we laud the internet too much, always trusting it, even though we have seen the devastation that hackers have wreaked on anyone who lets their financial information be stored online. At the same time, I’ve seen people who are not technologically savvy saying hateful things about people that use technology “too much” in their eyes. Yes, sometimes we get carried away with online communication, but I think it does more good than people give it credit for doing. Not only do we love or hate technology with irrational extremes, we also love or hate certain aspects of nature too strongly. For example, there are people that believe we should only use “All Natural” food products, where the definition of natural does not acknowledge that everything is a chemical, so not all chemicals are evil (even man-made chemicals). At the same time, when people hate a certain aspect of nature too much, like mosquitos, it can have severe environmental impacts because some mosquitos pollinate plants. I believe the cause of this one-sided hatred or love is when people see only one side of a certain technology, become emotionally attached to that first impression, and do not acknowledge the reasons they are so emotional about a topic. Often the emotional attachment or hatred of a technology springs from a legitimate source, but people don’t think about it clearly to understand where that hatred or love really apply, and where they misrepresent the technology (or natural phenomenon) they encounter.