Hey, Kiddo!

Madame First Lady—Mrs. Biden—Jill—kiddo: a bit of advice on what may seem like a small but I think is a not unimportant matter. Any chance you might drop the “Dr.” before your name? “Dr. Jill Biden” sounds and feels fraudulent, not to say a touch comic. Your degree is, I believe, an Ed.D., a doctor of education, earned at the University of Delaware through a dissertation with the unpromising title “Student Retention at the Community College Level: Meeting Students’ Needs.” A wise man once said that no one should call himself “Dr.” unless he has delivered a child. Think about it, Dr. Jill, and forthwith drop the doc. (Joseph Epstein WSJ Op Ed Piece)

Some guy named Joseph Epstien published an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal yesterday essentially saying that Dr. Biden shouldn’t refer to herself as “doctor” because she isn’t a doctor. There is so much wrong with his point of view that the diatribe I would write (am writing?) here might earn me a PhD. But the essential fallacy of his argument hinges on the fact that a medical doctor has a different degree. She or he would have an MD, Medical Doctor, following her/his name. The PhD has always been called “doctor,” a term that has been historically reserved for teachers.

The second point in the diatribe I WOULD write is Epstein’s diminution of Dr. Biden’s status as an individual by calling her “kiddo” and mocking her dissertation topic. Good god. She’s an elderly woman with a long career as a community college teacher. Somehow that identity resonates with me.

The author of this opinion piece taught at Northwestern for many years with a BA. His nasty little point was that if a BA is good enough for NW, it’s good enough for community college, which, as we all know, is vastly inferior to NW. The reality is that anyone admitted to NW already knows how to go to college and probably always has had the support of her/his community. People going to community college — most of which have open enrollment — can be anyone from an extremely bright high school kid on an accelerated program to a 40 year old mom who had no chance at school until her kids grew up. I taught lots of young women whose culture was strongly biased against women getting an education; some of these girls had to move out of their parents’ homes in order to attend college! Many community college kids come from immigrant groups whose parents do not speak ANY of the “normal” language of the dominant culture(s). Helping those students remain in school long enough to have a shot at fulfilling their potential is a big job. By demeaning Dr. Biden and her dissertation, he insults every aspiring community college student.

Looks to me like Epstein’s just a bitter old guy. One of his big claims is that with a “only” a BA he taught at NW. I don’t know how old the guy is, but I’m guessing in his 80s. “I have only a B.A. in absentia from the University of Chicago—in absentia because I took my final examination on a pool table at Headquarters Company, Fort Hood, Texas, while serving in the peacetime Army in the late 1950s.” What he doesn’t seem to understand is that there were a few changes in academia between his time and this one. While they may not have been changes for the better, but they happened, good or bad.

In Epstein’s day, most people didn’t go to college. There were no community colleges. High school was a high-powered institution of learning that prepared people for work. That hasn’t been the case since the 1970s. Community colleges emerged in the 70s offering open enrollment, GEDs and various other gap-filling opportunities for students who had missed out on their chance to get on a college track. Courses and training that could have (IMO should have) stayed in high school — auto shop, business/office practices, etc.) moved to community college. Community college became a way for a student to get into a university without having had the grades in high school, the argument being that a lot of kids don’t know what they want until they’re in their early 20s — or later. This, however, is the ONE and ONLY point on which I agree with 45: I think high schools should go back to training kids for work. It’s absurd to go to college to learn office practices, to take out a ginormous student loan. I taught a lot of students at university who graduated to work in an office at Enterprise Car Rental. Nothing wrong with the job, but to be in debt to their eyeballs to have it? I have a problem with that.

The first time I realized the difference between university degrees back in Epstein’s day and the one in which I was teaching (early 2000s) was in the library at San Diego State. My students were working on a project, and I was wandering around. I happened on the shelves that held SDSU university dissertations through all time. Until the 90s there were only a handful every year. After that? They began doubling in number every few years. More students had access to higher education. More PhDs were offered across more disciplines. Back in Epstein’s day, PhDs were rare and BAs were valuable degrees. Here in 2020, as I’m sitting here writing this, the BA is a way to get at job in a car rental agency. I think it’s a pity that students can no longer get many jobs without a BA is, but I’m not in charge of the world. There are way too many problems and issues in academia for me to go into here and I don’t work there any more. I’m past that stage. (waaa-HOOO).

Another point about the PhD is privilege. Those suckers are expensive. You read about, hear about, the work that goes into one and I’m not here to dispute that, but… At one point in my career I decided that a PhD would help me professionally and might be fun academically. I applied at the only university in driving distance offering them, University of California San Diego, and took the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) as required. I’d taken it years before to get my MA, but too may years to count for the PhD application. I showed up at 8 am, took my seat, got my materials, commenced the test and then the proctor said to all of us, “You don’t think an objective test on literature is kind of stupid?” Well, yeah, I did, but? What was his angle? Throughout the exam he made similar remarks. Maybe he was an adjunct prof somewhere and didn’t want more competition? No idea, but the problem was, I agreed with everything he said. Not long before I finished the math section (yeah, right?) I thought, “Do I really want to sit in a bunch of seminars and discuss deconstructiveism?” I didn’t. I got up, turned in my exam and walked out without finishing it. I still passed. UCSD admitted me but with no financial aid, I couldn’t possibly go.

Years later, one of my good bosses read a paper I’d written for a conference and said, “Why in the world don’t you have a doctorate?” I explained I just hadn’t had the money. I imagine if I’d had $100k lying around I would have pursued it. “Yeah,” said my boss. “We don’t think of that, you know? That a lot of talented people stop their education because it’s too expensive.” An aspect of ANY PhD is that somehow the person found the money to do it. Yeah, there is privilege based on skin color — but there is also privilege based on $$$. So what ARE my creds? MA, English, 1979, University of Denver, 35 years teaching college and university writing (University of Denver; South China Teachers University, Guangzhou; Southwestern College, Cuyamaca College, San Diego State), all levels, critical thinking, intro to Lit and business communication — lower and upper division.

And finally, kiddo, there’s that “kiddo.” I’m still trying to figure out an equivalently demeaning term to casually toss at a well-educated professional who happens to be a man. If there’s one thing a lot of old guys hate it’s a woman with skills, abilities and a degree they don’t have. I know this from my own life. For my own part? I voted for Dr. Biden when I cast my vote for her husband. I still get a little teary thinking there’s a community college teacher about to live in the White House.



Glory Days

“Come in here right now.”

“What did I do?”

“Showing your panties to all the boys in the neighborhood? Do you ever think?”

I guess what I was doing was tantamount to the can-can. The way I saw it, I came home from school, didn’t change my clothes, went out to the backyard to play with my friends. I was on one team with four others, and across the yard were five more. We were playing touch football, and I was doing a kick-off. We were small enough that a big backyard was good enough for a football field. 


“You don’t kick straight up in the air like that, not when you’re wearing a skirt! That’s WHY the boys want to play with you. They can see your panties!”

I felt stupid and humiliated. Part of me didn’t believes that was why “all the boys” wanted to play with me. I told her, too, but my mother just scoffed. I believed it was because I was a good athlete and could out-run, out-hit, out-kick all of them. In my possibly benighted perspective, the boys just wanted to win. That’s why I was picked first. But maybe my mother was right.

“Go change. Sooner or later you’re going to learn that boys don’t like girls who play football.”

I went to my room and changed into jeans, but when I went back out, everyone was gone. They all figured they’d be in trouble, too.


I don’t dispute that boys want to look at girls’ panties. I learned that to be true. But I still think it’s possible for fourth grade boys to want to play football even if one of the players is a girl. Of course, I don’t really know that for sure. I’ve never been a boy. But there is the thing about women — girls — and sports.

I was lucky that from sixth grade through junior high I had supportive coaches even though I didn’t have a supportive mom. My 8th grade track coach had sent home a permission slip for my mom to sign giving me permission to try out for — and go to — Olympic training camp. My dreams of running middle distances and sprints in the Olympics was shot down when my mother refused, saying that 1) if I ran too fast the boys couldn’t catch me, 2) running would make it impossible for me to have children someday, 3) men didn’t like women who were good at sports. 

The year before, I had run a 57 second quarter mile, on grass, barefoot. My coach and his assistant, both looked at their stopwatches in amazement, Coach Larson, said, “I want to talk to you.” I don’t remember the conversation, something about my time being very fast.

Back then, I ran everywhere. My hero at the time was Wilma Rudolf, Olympic Champion in the middle distances.

When I was in college, 1970/72 at a girl’s school, it wasn’t easy to play a sport. Girls’ sports teams were not well supported and getting a decent season line up wasn’t always easy. It was difficult enough to find two field hockey teams in the same conference, never mind enough for a track meet.

That was pretty much it for me and running. 


The Good X, whom I married when I was 30, was a runner, and ran a lot of 10Ks. I’d learned that distances like that on roads were not interesting to me, nor was starting off with a crowd of people wearing numbers, even if there was a T-shirt at the end. I tried. It wasn’t until I was 35 — and had a dog — that I rediscovered the joy of running and found that running on trails was incredible fun.


Meanwhile, back when I was in junior high, other women were fighting the good fight. I didn’t even know about it until a couple of years ago when I learned of Bobbi Gibb. In 1966, when I was fourteen and had given up fighting with my mom, a 23 year old woman, Bobbi Gibb ran the Boston Marathon, unregistered.

“… Gibb famously hid in the bushes near the starting line in Hopkinton and jumped in the middle of the pack wearing her brother’s shorts and a blue-hooded sweatshirt to disguise herself…The men on the course vowed to protect her if race officials tried to intervene.”

She ran it even though she couldn’t register, and in doing so proved that women had the strength, endurance and will to train for and complete a long race. I have never run a marathon (my dog, Molly, and I walked one), but as a (former) runner I cannot imagine that Bobbi Gibb didn’t LOVE running. She had to have loved running. 

Researching her today I found that she is an artist and was commissioned to create a sculpture of herself at the starting line, in clay, that will be cast in bronze. Of the sculpture she said, “I know how it feels to run from the inside and I know what it is like to run a marathon…I work from the inside out getting the feel. It has to be alive.” (Source)

That’s pure love of running (and love of art).

When Bobbi Gibb ran, women’s track shoes did not exist. She wore a small pair of men’s. As I read that I thought about my own seventh grade track shoes which were, also, a small pair of men’s. I loved them. They were real racing shoes, with the three stripes of Adidas. Were they Adidas? I don’t know…

Bobbi Gibb 1966 Boston Marathon

In 1967, the year after Bobbi Gibb ran the Boston Marathon, Katherine Switzer became the first woman to register for and run in the race. As she was racing, the race manager repeatedly attacked her, trying to stop her, to grab her number and to get her out of the race.


Lynda Barry Cartoon

I was thinking about all of this in connection with the whole male privilege thing. Not the sports so much, but the list of how I had to be if I wanted a husband. There might be something TO that list since I never did find a permanent love relationship. In fact, whenever I tried, every single time, I felt someone had shaken salt on my tail. Is this because I grew up thinking that boys would only like me if I were, you know, someone else? I’ve felt trapped in every relationship I’ve been in. 

I’m willing to think that it’s just me. There is a lot of dark shit in my background that made forming intimate relationships — even close friendships — fairly difficult. But I also wonder how many women in my generation were brought up with the a litany like that my mom gave me? On the one hand, I was told I could do anything if I put in my best effort and really wanted to. On the other hand, I was told that if I did things I wanted to do, the boys wouldn’t like me. 


In 1972, Title IX was passed as an amendment to the Civil Rights law of 1965. It says — innocuously enough, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”— Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute (20 U.S. Code § 1681 – Sex)

Basically, it means that anything the boys get, the girls get too. Every dollar that goes into men’s sports must be matched by a dollar going into women’s sports for both secondary and post secondary education.


Sometimes in the early 2000s I saw how much Title IX had changed the world for female collegiate athletes when one of my students — girl soccer player — invited me to attend the Scholar Athletes Awards Banquet at San Diego State . We sat at a big round table — one of many in that banquet room. Seated with us were two petite young runners. I asked them about their sports and when they said, “Track,” I asked what they ran. They smiled at me, really happy to be asked. “Middle distances. I run 400 meters and the 400 meter relay. She runs the 200 meters and the 400 meter hurdles.” I was sitting with the future, and I loved it. At that banquet, the vast majority of scholar/athletes were women. These athletes had both excelled in their sports and maintained a very high grade point average. These women were smart, strong — and beautiful. 

Meditation on Justice

Justice is a made-up thing, one of the best things humans have attempted, IMO. It is designed to make up for the injustices of nature. Since justice is administered by humans, it’s not perfect, but its imperfections reflect the very imperfections in humanity justice exists to rectify. Laws were formed that all people could follow and a rule of law to establish justice in the case of a law being violated. The people administering justice are supposed to know the law well and have the ability to detach their own biases, beliefs, and experiences from the whole shebang.

That can’t be easy.

Justice is a very wonderful thing. There was never any need for humans to come up with it. Nature works in the opposite direction. It doesn’t give the weak and alien a chance at all. I guess when we decided to form the uber-organism of a society, we began to see survival as something beyond an individual thing. You’ll have to ask Lamont or Dude on that one. I don’t remember the moment myself 😉

I got justice this year. Medical science had found a way to rectify my weakness so I’m not going to be left behind when the tribe moves on, and I won’t be stealing food from the young.



Metal joints — justice


There is injustice here, too. By sheer luck (and possibly some merit) I was born into an upper-middle-class family with parents who both had college educations. I was also born with a pretty good mind and an extremely strong will which helped me compensate for some learning disabilities (and no one had learning disabilities in the 50s and 60s). My family also happened to have been from the Great American West where few people lived (or live now). I consider this good luck — the tensions of highly populated areas were not part of my childhood.

On the other side, why did my dad have to die at 45? Why was my mom a nutcase? Why was my brother self-destructive? Why am I left here with no family? What the fuck? Fate’s injustices were made up for by a large and loving extended family. This is an example of why justice is represented by a balance. The philosophy I grew up with is, “You gotta’ take the bitter with the sweet,” “Count yer’ blessings,” and “Keep on keeping on.”

I think every day we struggle for justice in one way or another. We want people to listen to us and hear what we’re really saying. We want to be respected for the person we are.

I’ve been — out of the corner of my eye — watching all the stuff involved in the appointment of Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. I will now weigh in.

First, when the Republicans (I believe illegally) obstructed the appointment of a Supreme Court Justice during Obama’s last year in office, they asked for what’s happening now. They’re getting a species of justice but it might be called revenge. Not having the votes to make any impact on anything Mr. Trump and his minions choose to do, they have resorted to dirty politics, and it’s just the kind of dirty politics that will deflect attention from things that (I, anyway) think are more important such as tariffs on Chinese goods. I think they’re playing into the Repub’s hands in their ire and search for justice. I think it’s awful.

Second, men vs. women. I grew up during the 50s –> now. I was inappropriately hit on by a wide variety of men from my college poetry professor to a kid in one of my classes. In between those two? I don’t want to detail this at all. As a friend and I were talking the other day, it was a different time. That kind of behavior — and the fact that it was more or less considered “OK” — is one of the reasons behind feminism. But back then I think we mostly went around with the idea that the only reason a man wanted to hang around a woman was on the off chance that he could “do her.” It wasn’t and isn’t true, but it was a common defensive posture.

On the other side…

There was a time in my life when my eyes were completely open to sexuality in the workplace. One was the office Christmas party at the large law firm where I worked. The woman who ran the one and only word processor (it was the late 70s), a formerly hot chick now in her late 40s, too much make-up, slinky clothes, cheap nylons, teased hair dyed strawberry blond, emphasis on the strawberry, showed up that day even more decorated with robin’s-egg-blue eyeshadow and jewelry than usual. That day I learned (in the lady’s break room) that she had been the “mistress” of one of the partners years before and had not let go. Her hope was to re-ignite the relationship — which I think she did that afternoon, if only temporarily.

The other was when I had my annual performance review and I was told (by the smarmy, nasty, ugly, polyester-pants-clad office manager) that the only reason I had the job I had was because one of the associates had recommended me. The law firm had the idea that in order to get him to go with them (he was a judge’s son) they had to hire me. They thought the judge’s son was boinking me. He wasn’t. We’d met when he attended the law school where I was working. He respected my work and thought I’d be a good paralegal. It really WAS that simple. But the culture was what it was. The undercurrent in that place was a lot like Madmen. 

Our rationale for all of this was “all men are pigs.” I would add (though we never did), “and some women, too.”

Sex is NOT rational which is why there are laws about it. It’s that justice thing again.

We don’t live exactly in that world anymore, but many of us HAVE lived in that world which makes justice difficult. The response of some is, “That’s how it was.” The response of others (younger women? angrier women?) “That’s not to be borne!” Both are right. That’s how it was and no, it’s not right. That it’s not right is WHY we’ve worked to change our world.

Which brings me to what’s going on now with the appointment of Judge Kavanaugh. This is politics. This is retribution. The guy deserves a fair hearing. I don’t like him. I don’t like anything about politics in this country right now. It’s all of a very corrupt and angry piece to me and justice doesn’t enter in.