Campus Crusade I

Things are a bit busy around here, as they always are this time of year. Until I have a chance to finish one of the half dozen or so posts I really, really, really want to be writing but can’t concentrate on, here’s a fun poster I came across when I was sorting through juvenilia for The Physics Male.

No, I didn’t create this. I’ve just had a copy since college (a rather long time ago). I’ve searched to find the creator, but without luck. If you know who made this, please let me know. I’d like to give credit and let them know that I’ve held onto it all these years.

The Physics Male: A High School Ethnography

This is my first piece of writing that garnered a real response. The first draft of this, written when I was a junior in high school, was passed around, ripped apart, crumpled up, thrown in the trash, retrieved, flattened out, and taped to the chalkboard. I’m posting it here because a number of high school friends have asked whether it still exists.

In order to understand this, you need to know three things: (1) the west wing of my high school housed the arts and sports, (2) my physics club ran the concessions for the high school as a fund raiser, and (3) you don’t mess with angry, articulate high school girls. A number of us contributed to this, although the final writing should be mostly my own.

And yes, the guys all read it. Thoroughly.

The Physics Male

The physics male is a strange and hitherto unexplored species. As so little in known about his habits, habitat, and distinguishing characteristics, this has been written to enlighten on the subject of this occasionally interesting creature.

Characteristics
Physics males are most easily distinguished by their condescending attitude toward members of the opposite sex. This is displayed by patronizing behavior exhibited to the same. They are chauvinistic and seem to feel that females are neither smart enough nor strong enough to be of any use. For this lack of understanding, these physics males must be pitied.

They are also characterized by their low mentalities. This is not to say that they are unintelligent–not most of them. But, while few physics males are actually tenth graders, the predominant attitude is one of sophomoric glee.

It is easy to recognize a physics male on the basis of vocabulary alone. It consists mostly of long technical words, which when looked up, do not mean anything similar to what their context suggested, and sexual innuendo with little or no redeeming social value.

Although physics males vary greatly in plumage, fashion tends toward “conservative nerd” (with one or two exceptions). This nerd look covers much territory: anything from suit and tie to the more traditional “plain bad taste”.

Habitat
Physics males are generally to be found in the east wing of the building. As a matter of fact, aside from one semi-notable exception, most refuse even to be “caught dead” in the west wing. These specimens tend to congregate in an area called “the shop” between periods. Many remain far into their next class. (How this is explained to their other pedagogues has yet to be discovered.)

There are two trains of thought concerning this all-important “shop”. The first theory is that this area is a ritualistic “testing ground” for the young physics male. In this area, they exercise their ever-maturing attitude problems in seclusion until they have become full-fledged.

Still, others hold to the belief that this “shop” is actually nest. Here the still immature physics males find a sort of haven from the “tough world out there”. Most experts agree that it is a nesting response that draws them to this area. This nesting response is believed to be triggered by the realization that if such behavior as mentioned in the section on characteristics persists, these males will have a tough time finding someone with whom to build nests of their own.

Care and Feeding
There are only tow main points to be remembered when caring for a physics male. The first is to be sure not to upset his delicate ego. These are quite fragile and bruise easily. Such a bruising can cause the over-excitable physics male to go into strange convulsions (more widely known as temper tantrums). The second is to not overtax the physics male mind. This requires great care, as is most simple to do and can result in a bruising of the aforesaid ego.

Feeding is one of the rare things at which a physics male is quite adept. Given a few quarters and a rather simple pop/candy machine, the average physics male can procure a “highly nutritious” meal. This will consist mainly of the fifth food group–junk, represented most often by Choco Mints, and either Mountain Dew or Dr. Pepper.

Play Habits
According to experts on the subject, much of the play in which physics males take part is actually behavior necessary to their well-being. This theory is validated by the regularity with which the physics males repeat so many seemingly purposeless activities. Included in these are three main “sports”.

The first of these appears to be the favorite. It involves making lewd remarks to or about any female within sight. The goal of this seems to be to surpass one’s fellows in reaching new heights of rudeness.

The second ply is not far behind the first in popularity. It is the ritualistic “money counting” which is discussed in more depth further on.

The third activity most closely resembles the play of normal human children. This is the constant tinkering with so-called “toys”. These are, in reality, sometimes complicated and occasionally expensive physics equipment. The theory concerning this particular aspect of physics male play is that this tinkering is an attempt to replace some vital but missing part of the physics male’s childhood.

Work Habits
I have searched diligently for any information on this topic. Aside from much talk on the part of the physics males, none has been found. As far as can be determined, physics males do not work in the presence of others. Although it may be that their religion imposes such strict secrecy, it is highly unlikely. Therefore, it seems safe to assume that physics males do not work.

Mating Habits
Here, too, there is little available data. Although the subject is one the physics males themselves discuss at great length (see below), there appears to be little or no practical application. As this situation is so comparable to that of physics male work habits, it is surely not necessary to point out the rather obvious conclusion.

(Physics males live in fervent hope of sharing a physics female–or, for that matter, a chemistry female, choir female, phy. ed. female, etc. However, they take either no, ineffective, or inappropriate action. To ease their frustration at this pursuit, they often resort to creating fantastic stories regarding their amorous adventures. These stories, of course, fool no one but other physics males.)

Common Fallacies
Physics males put a lot of stock in many untruths. Most of these concern females and/or sex. One of the most widespread is the belief that money equals power equals sex appeal. For example, they believe that the one most closely related to the money has the most power. This is shown by the attempts of those with no legitimate connection to the money-counting ritual to “suck up” to the head physics male. One notable example has been quite “successful” (by his own standards) with this method. He feels himself the second in command. One would merely have to look at this person to know that in this case, power is not equal to sex appeal.

Another common fallacy among physics males concerns the way they view themselves. Some feel that they are God, while others, more humble, feel instead that they are merely His gift to the Earth or more specifically, all the females on it.

Perhaps the most common fallacies held by these specimens are reflected in their attitudes toward women. Most feel that women were put on this early only to serve them, that they are inherently less smart, and that they truly wish to be pampered and insulted by turns. T
his is one of the few groups (as a group) that still clings to these beliefs. Whether this is because they feel to threatened to acknowledge the presence of an equal–potentially greater–life form, or because they are too busy tinkering to notice the same, or both is a subject which requires further study.

(Any conclusions to be drawn from this study are left to the individual reader.)

Innovation or Implementation

Chrystia Freeland recently published an article on the changing face of the super-rich that should be required reading for anyone interested in politics. It’s a sympathetic but not entirely uncritical portrait. I particularly like that it reflects its subjects’ global view of a changing world economy rather than being entirely U.S.-focused.

From a global perspective, the impact of these developments has been overwhelmingly positive, particularly in the poorer parts of the world. Take India and China, for example: between 1820 and 1950, nearly a century and a half, per capita income in those two countries was basically flat. Between 1950 and 1973, it increased by 68 percent. Then, between 1973 and 2002, it grew by 245 percent, and continues to grow strongly despite the global financial crisis.

However, the article also suffers at some points for sharing the perspective of those it covers. It has certain blind spots that it shares with the innovators profiled. This is particularly the case when the article discusses the intersection of taxes, charity, and innovation.

The super-wealthy have long recognized that philanthropy, in addition to its moral rewards, can also serve as a pathway to social acceptance and even immortality: Andrew “The Man Who Dies Rich Dies Disgraced” Carnegie transformed himself from robber baron to secular saint with his hospitals, concert halls, libraries, and university; Alfred Nobel ensured that he would be remembered for something other than the invention of dynamite. What is notable about today’s plutocrats is that they tend to bestow their fortunes in much the same way they made them: entrepreneurially. Rather than merely donate to worthy charities or endow existing institutions (though they of course do this as well), they are using their wealth to test new ways to solve big problems. The journalists Matthew Bishop and Michael Green have dubbed the approach “philanthrocapitalism” in their book of the same name. “There is a connection between their ways of thinking as businesspeople and their ways of giving,” Bishop told me. “They are used to operating on a grand scale, and so they operate on a grand scale in their philanthropy as well. And they are doing it at a much earlier age.”

What this misses is, well, what we actually need. By insisting that the big answer to the problems of education is to be found in experimentation by those privy to the (often untested, or unfounded) visionaries of programs like TED, these ridiculously rich philanthropists ignore the fact that we often already have a pretty good grasp on what works.

Bill Gates, likewise, devotes most of his energy and intellect today to his foundation’s work on causes ranging from supporting charter schools to combating disease in Africa. Facebook’s Zuckerberg has yet to reach his 30th birthday, but last fall he donated $100 million to improving the public schools of Newark, New Jersey.

If you want to improve education in the U.S., fund it properly. Fund the education and salaries of teachers. Fund the building and maintenance of schools. Fund supplies. Fund libraries. Fund good textbooks and other materials. Fund early education. Fund student nutrition and health. Fund community social services that keep parents rooted in one place longer.

In short, fund those things it takes to produce small classes of students undistracted by other problems, taught by experienced teachers who aren’t constantly overworked. Is it a sexy solution? Does it put somebody’s name in lights? No, but it works.

Putting your name on some education initiative somewhere is grand. Nifty, even. The problem is that it really isn’t all that innovative when it comes right down to it. There is plenty of history of experimentation in education. Much of it even produced promising results.

Then it fell by the wayside because the implementation cost money. All the promise in the world can’t produce results if no one is willing to pay the cost. No, if someone really wants to do something new and different in the field of education, they need to implement those solutions that have already been proven.

Does that mean that these super-rich need to pay more taxes if they want to make their marks? Probably.

While the U.S. educational system already pays a high amount per student relative to the educational spending of other Western industrialized countries, not everything that needs to be funded is counted in comparisons across countries, and not everything is directly comparable. Social services and safety nets make a difference in student preparedness, but they aren’t considered educational expenses unless directly provided by schools, as free and reduced-cost school lunches are in the U.S. Teacher salaries, like most salaries, don’t have to be as high in countries where health care is provided out of a general pool.

One way or another, however, whether we pay these costs affects our educational outcomes. It makes more of a difference than a pilot here or there will ever make. It makes more difference than any single person’s large check can ever make. And that’s true for many of the world’s problems.

These aren’t problems that have single, magical causes or cures. They aren’t problems we haven’t made huge strides in understanding. This is even something that Freeland approaches in the article.

There is also the simple fact that someone will have to pay for the improved public education and social safety net the American middle class will need in order to navigate the wrenching transformations of the global economy. (That’s not to mention the small matter of the budget deficit.) Inevitably, a lot of that money will have to come from the wealthy—after all, as the bank robbers say, that’s where the money is.

It’s close. It’s very close. But it still misses, or won’t quite come out to say, what these rich people are doing by focusing on personal innovation over implementation of the basic solutions is making a poor monetary decision. They’re being bad stewards of the money they insist they should keep. They insist on keeping it because, they say, they’ve shown how to make money work. But that’s not what business does. Business makes money move.

If you want to make money work, that’s a job for government. It’s a job that’s too big for any individual, no matter how innovative, no matter how rich.