Archive for the ‘Ideas’ Category

Failure: An Option

Monday, March 7th, 2011

With midterms (mostly) over, and finals looming over the horizon, I thought it would be an appropriate time to address a topic that , as a science major, is very familiar ro me: failure.

In Drama 103, with the always entertaining and immeasureably talented Dan Klein, we learned to embrace failure; failing on stage is the first step to good improvisation. fIntro to Improvisation has taught us to embrace failure. WIthout failure, there is no chance to be natural, to be human. And embracing failure, not ft fearing it, is the first step to succeding, not only in improv, but in life.

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, I’ve been writing this post without Spell Check, editing, or even backspacing. (more…)

Which Language to Take?

Friday, February 25th, 2011

Cool thing about Stanford is you can take tons of languages.  Question is: which one it?

A sketchy EE grad student friend of mine (who’s from Greece, by the way, which makes this whole thing pretty impartial) and I set out to rank languages.  We used the following formula:

Value=Number of Speakers*Per Capita GDP of Speakers*(1-Percent of Speakers Who Speak English)

This approach balances economic opportunity and English penetration.  It returns the GDP that you can access once you have learned the language.   For instance, Germany may be home to BMW, Bosch and Q-Cells.  But with 56% of the country that speaks English, you probably can get by without burning 15 units to become conversant.  And you’d certainly surprise some people in North Korea if you started speaking in Korean.  But with a per capita GDP of $1,900, do you really want to do business there?  Plus, you know, the whole personality cult thing.

Of course, this doesn’t take into account opportunities to explore Florentine culture, examine Lenin’s letters or to have that Parisian love affair you always dreamed of having (as the New York Times’ Frugal Traveler apparently did).  But a quick scan might give you some insight.

Good thing they made you sing Frere Jacques back in second grade...

By the way, if you want to check our math, check out this spreadsheet.

TUSB’s 2011 Spring Course Guide

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Given the hectic nature of winter quarter, you might be so overwhelmed with this quarter’s classes that you haven’t had a chance to figure out classes for next quarter.  Have no fear, TUSB is here!

The following lists include courses for even the most insatiable appetite, whether you’re looking for enriching courses in the sciences, arts, or humanities.  Hoping to check off that GER or pick up that eleventh or twelfth unit?  We can help you out, too.

Here’s to making this spring quarter the most academically exciting one yet!

Exploring the arts:

Meme overload? Now you can study up on the replication fad in pop culture.

The Stanford Institute for Creativity and the Arts has produces some really cool Creativity Course Guides.  Check out the full selection here.  My personal favorites are below.

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Un Op-Ed

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

The opinions, or lack thereof, expressed in this article are not the opinions expressed by The Unofficial Stanford Blog or its writers.

I’m one of the newest writers to walk out of the marble-pillared, gold plated Parthenon that is the TUSB headquarters.

The newest addition to the Arrillaga collection.

As the new guy, there are few luxuries afforded to me, the best of which is not having to publicly pledge my allegiance to Josh more than twice per meeting, and the least of which is an opinion. But that’s still provisionary. Because this is it: my foray into the Stanford blogosphere. I only get one chance to make a good first impression. If I screw it up with something as useless as an opinion, then I should just kiss the good life goodbye.

The word “opinion” comes from the Na’vi “opium,” which loosely translates to “something that should never ever be on your tongue.” Closely related to an opinion is knowledge, defined by Merriam-Webster and Urban Dictionary to be

  • The fact or condition of knowing something with familiarity gained through experience or association.
  • Getting head.

I fear for humanity. But I digress.

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Complaining: Helping Create a “Better Stanford” or Being Ungrateful?

Monday, February 14th, 2011

It’s no secret: I like to complain. See here. Or here. Or here or here. You get the idea.

Is there value in complaining? I certainly hope so–otherwise, I would be wasting a significant portion of my time. Many of my complaints (and others’) have sparked discussion and entered a more general discourse, which I believe contributes to addressing the problems we face and hopefully improving the status quo. This is the general idea behind the recent “Make Stanford Better” project headed by Robin Thomas ’12. An open Google Doc for people to “vent” their criticisms of Stanford, or, as Thomas states:

I kept marinating on my own beefs with Stanford, and wanted to see how other people were feeling. Maybe if everyone’s frustrations were written down in one place, it would be easier to get some things changed.

So what frustrations were shared? Over 100 of them. Allow me, as a self-determined complaint expert, to highlight what I see as the most insightful comments:

Stanford is a great brand name, but I honestly don’t feel like I have gained meaningful academic experiences. Think about it: How many classes at Stanford can you say that you have loved? I can only name two that I haven’t found until this quarter. Winter quarter of my junior year! For a school that emphasizes following your passion and giving back, we sure do get caught up in grades. We say that we are only in competition with ourselves, but that’s untrue — at least for me. I find myself comparing myself to others, because how else are you going to measure your success? Now I know that we don’t have to compare ourselves to others, but Stanford doesn’t facilitate personal academic advancement. It’s not about learning. It’s about getting good grades, which doesn’t fulfill me if I can’t take anything away from it.

Many people on the spreadsheet agree that grades and learning are mutually exclusive: you either get good grades and learn little, or attempt to learn and get poor grades. I agree with this sentiment and how unfortunate this is, but am personally torn by it. I want to learn and I want to not care about grades, but the importance of getting good grades still pervades my life and definition of success. The definition of success also comes up a few times, but I think one important point is missed: Stanford and all of us encourage and seek out an achievement-based definition of value; in other words, the only items that carry value are those that can be quantified in terms of achievement. Socializing is inferior to being in a group because being in a group is a quantifiable and recognizable achievement but just getting to know people is not.
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You’re Doing It Wrong: Dating and the Fairy Tale Phenomenon at Stanford

Friday, February 4th, 2011

Constant weddings on campus = no pressure, right?

At Stanford, as at many elite universities, there tends to be a predominant view that dating here is somehow flawed.  We’re working too hard, we claim, we don’t have time to develop meaningful relationships.  There’s no middle ground, others complain, where’s the route between frat party flings and near-obsessive-already-planning-the-wedding-in-Mem-Chu couplings?

And sure, there are more people who want to be in relationships than actually are.  Depending on your metrics, that might be sufficient data to prove the there’s-no-dating-at-Stanford hypothesis.

But I don’t think that dating at Stanford is fundamentally flawed.  I think that many of us are just going  about it the wrong way.

Like… only a little?

Artificial dating constructs don't work... but those purple boots sure do! I think I need a pair.

We Stanford students like for things to be effortless.  High school valedictorians, sports stars, musical prodigies – you name it, we’re used to things coming easily.  We focus on our academics and extracurricular activities and often assume that the rest will fall into place without any additional work on our part.

Cue LikeaLittle.com, the very definition of half-hearted, lazy pursuit of meaningful relationships.  Oh, sure, it’s much easier to confess that crush under the guise of anonymity of the Internet.  But that post took you, what, 30 seconds to write?  With relationships, as with any other meaningful pursuits, you receive according to the effort you put into something.  So if your admiration for someone is really only worth a 30-second post, go for it.  And watch absolutely nothing happen.  Don’t accuse flirting of failing you – pin the blame on the sad excuse for a flirt medium in which you engaged.

In real life, there are no fairy godmothers to make your wishes come true.  If you want something to work out, TALK to the object of your affections.  Yeah, it’s difficult and potentially awkward, but we’re all too busy to assess the intricacies of chance meetings.  If you’re actually interested in someone, you really “need to be bold, need to jump in the cold water” and put yourself out there.  If you don’t put forth at least that much effort and interest, why should they?  And for the hesitant out there: honestly, what’s the worst that could happen?  The math is in your favor.  If it doesn’t work out with crush #1 or #2, there are over 15,000 other Stanford students to choose from.  There are plenty of fish in the sea.

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The Cool Cafe Beyond The Gates of Hell

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

The Cool Cafe patio by the Cantor Arts Center, located off Palm Drive.

Getting a good meal on campus can require a bit of creativity, particularly on weekends. Midway through last year I was getting pretty tired of greasy dining hall food, long waits at the CoHo, bland Tex-Mex from Treehouse, and even the panini offerings at Coupa. Despite the welcome addition of Ike’s, I still longed for a nice spot without a big line where I could just sit down, soak in the ambiance, and enjoy some quality California organic fare.

The Cool Cafe at the Cantor Arts Center has filled the void. Accessible by a quick stroll through the world’s second largest collection of Rodin sculptures, including his monumental Gates of Hell, this delightful lunch locale is one of Stanford’s best places to eat on campus.

Here you will find tasty sandwiches, fresh salads, rich soups, a great selection of sodas and juices, and delicious deserts. My typical order is a grilled chicken sandwich with bacon, avocado, lettuce, and chipotle aioli on a baguette, a Martinelli’s sparkling apple juice (we all want to act like we’re six), and one of their chocolate brownies. All of the food is delivered to you outside or inside by waiters. The menu is displayed above in good ol’ handwritten chalk, so you make up your mind pretty quickly as you stand behind the counter.

Try the strawberry lemonade on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

The biggest cons from a student’s perspective are the prices, but you can easily get a solid meal there for under $12, especially if you bring your own drink in a water bottle. In addition, the cafe is just a great place to hang out and get some work done. The patio is gorgeous in sunny weather, which this winter has occurred with remarkable regularity, and there is just the right amount of background noise to make you feel like you’re somewhere lively but peaceful. Children often amuse themselves in the field that extends from the cafe steps, and old couples will crane over the tables discussing the ways in which they are trying to enjoy their remaining years. The whole experience is a wonderful reminder that there is a world outside Stanford, but without shoving it in your face or forcing you to go through the hassle of driving and parking. Stanford’s WiFi is also easily available, so you can work the way you would anywhere else on campus.

The cafe is open Wednesday–Sunday from 11:00 a.m.–3:30 p.m.. Its hours on Thursdays extend to 8:00 p.m., and it is not open on Mondays or Tuesdays. It can get crowded from 12 noon – 1:00 p.m., but otherwise you should have no trouble acquiring a table outside.

How Stanford is Redefining Cool

Friday, January 28th, 2011

The $2.8 billion tank top? High-grossing Avatar brought Stanford's "cool cachet" to the silver screen.

Stanford has pretty impressive street cred.

I started to catch on to this when I watched Avatar for the first time.  James Cameron’s carefully-crafted CGI masterpiece may be one of the most meticulously constructed cinematic works of our generation.  Which is why I was so surprised to encounter a truly glaring instance of product placement: Sigourney Weaver‘s avatar wears a bright red Stanford tank top.

It’s easy to write this off as clever marketing (though the University was in no way involved) or simply an homage to Weaver’s alma mater.  But it’s not actually that simple.  Stanford has unquestionable purchasing power: not just as a highly-valued institution, but as a cultural symbol of an almost paradoxical confluence of brainpower and, well, coolness.

In this instance, Stanford is identified with the environmentally-conscious “good scientist,” with a confident and powerful female protagonist who is literally trying to save her world.  To those familiar with the Farm today, these are certainly resonant themes on campus which validate our claim to  “coolness.”

But Avatar is only the tip of the iceberg….  (Get it?  James Cameron directed Titanic….)

The Ubiquitous Stanford T-Shirt:

Just like Weezer, we're doin' things our own way and never giving up.

Primed by the Avatar incident, suddenly I was seeing Stanford T-shirts everywhere.  This is almost no surprise, as few universities have a T-shirt design as consistent and uniquely identifiable as ours.  But the numbers are staggering: there are 828,000 Google hits for “Stanford T-shirt” and only 269,000 for Harvard and 694,000 for Princeton.  Google doesn’t lie.

The cultural icon: The Blues Brothers shows how the Stanford T-shirt's cool power spans generations.

The unifying theme I noticed was the context in which the shirts appeared: Stanford T-shirt wearers are cool.  In the case of Sigourney Weaver, it’s a badass scientist working with state-of-the-art technology to revolutionize the way we interact with the world.  In The Blues Brothers, Mr. Stanford Shirt and his fellow concert attendees are, by and large, a bunch of young, fun-loving twenty-somethings rocking out for charity.  (Dance Marathon, anyone?)  The presence of the Stanford T-shirt in Weezer’s “Troublemaker” music video is yet another perfect distillation of Stanford’s pop culture power.  In the video, Weezer and their fans seek to break numerous world records, pushing the boundaries of the possible and having a blast while doing it – a parallel to Stanford’s prominence as a research institution.  On a more obvious level, the lyrics of “Troublemaker” can be seen as an analogy to the Stanford entrepreneurial attitude.  As the bold West Coast foil to the traditionally-grounded Ivies, we are indeed “doin’ things [our] own way and never giving up.”  You’re right, Rivers Cuomo.  “There isn’t anybody else exactly quite like [Stanford].”

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(Re)discover Your Inner-Child

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

I once heard college described as Childhood 2.0.

I’m not sure how legitimate that claim is, but I guess I can see where they’re coming from: frolicking around campus, more or less doing what you want, jumping in fountains, and eating way too many sweets in the dining halls . . . it all certainly qualifies as living a childlike life. Ignore the mind-numbing workload, crazy schedules, and angsting over the future, and, yeah, we’re all virtual 4-year olds again.

Unfortunately, it’s way too easy at Stanford to be . . . let’s say, too much of an adult. To be so focused and serious that you forget how great it is to throw paint at each other, watch an animated movie, or just to be randomly absurd. I’ve seen it happen: people who become so deeply immersed in their academic careers that they forget what it means to be spontaneous and carefree. Not that we don’t want or need to study – we do. Don’t we know it. But I think there is just as much value in running and jumping in puddles as there is in scoring well on a chemistry midterm. There’s something, I don’t know, a little sad about studying for hours in the library when the sun is doing its best to outshine the world outside.

I personally make an effort to remember my inner-child as often as I can. That could mean anything from watching “Anastasia” on my laptop one night to simply drinking out of a juice box for fun. It doesn’t have to be a big, time-consuming effort on your part, just a small reminder of simpler and happier times. Trust me, having those little reminders will do wonders for your mental well-being.

So tonight, find and watch your favorite Disney movie. Bake a cake for no good reason. Pick flowers, if you can find some. Splatter-paint something! Just rediscover the ridiculous fun you used to have.

Student T-Shirt Sizes

Saturday, January 8th, 2011
oversized t-shirt

They weren't very sensitive to his size. Can we do better for students?

We know a lot about the Stanford student body: their average SAT scores, breakdown by race, gender balance, majors, attitudes towards alcohol. Although there’s a lot of useful information here, I think there’s something missing that every club, every recruiting company, and every organization that comes to campus would love to know: our t-shirt sizes.

It’s a serious problem. I know a lot of groups that refuse to deal with the problem and ensure that everyone is equally dissatisfied by only getting XL shirts. Although it does mean I have a lifetime supply of nightshirts, these aren’t things I would ever wear around. And groups that try inevitably run out of the sizes that people actually need. For example, handing out Red Zone shirts at football games has been a mess every time every year.

The solution seems pretty simple: add another question to the approaching stanford material that all incoming frosh need to fill out. After being asked about your tidiness, sleep hours, neuroticism, weight you can squat lift, handwriting legibility, and sense of vengeance, it doesn’t seem weird to put down a t-shirt size as well. This information can easily be published online for anyone to use to get the right t-shirt sizes.

By the way, we’re making t-shirts. So that we get an accurate sample, if you’re a Stanford student, please indicate your t-shirt size (adult sizes).

What size t-shirt do you wear?

View Results

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A Final Plea for Sudan

Saturday, January 8th, 2011

Tensions run high in the southern regions of Sudan

Sudan is less than 48 hours from a historic precipice.  Depending on whether the Southern Sudan referendum passes on January 9th, Sudan will either descend into renewed anarchy or emerge triumphant with the hope and promise of a more peaceful future.

As you may remember from my earlier article when George Clooney and John Prendergast visited Stanford, the current referendum in Sudan proposes the splitting of Sudan with the hopes of preventing future religiously and economically motivated violence.  With very high stakes in the form of oil-rich regions, this option is one of the few viable solutions for finally obtaining peace in the tumultuous Darfur region.  In a frantic, last-minute push, Prendergast and Clooney have returned to Sudan to implore the Sudanese government to seriously consider the referendum and begin taking the necessary steps to protect all Sudanese people.

Supporters of secession

If you’re writing the Sudan issue off as another distant tremor in war-torn Africa, please think again.  Consider for a moment the movie Hotel Rwanda.  Just a decade ago, during our lifetimes, genocide in Rwanda led to the death of 800,000 citizens.  Not combatants.  Not soldiers.  Men, women, and children who were raped, shot, and slaughtered by machete.  In Sudan, we have a new Hotel Rwanda waiting to happen.  The very thought that something like that could happen under our watch is truly bone-chilling.

Our generation can do better.  Our generation can stop genocide before it begins.

The clock is ticking, but the battle’s not over yet.  If you care about the people of Sudan, if you empathize with the thousands of displaced refugees and heartbroken widows this conflict has produced, please consider doing the following to make your voice heard:

  • Sign a petition at sudanactionnow.org:  ask Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough (Obama’s point person inside the White House on Sudan) to “make sure Sudan’s leaders fully comply with the benchmarks for progress in both Darfur and South Sudan before any incentives are granted by the U.S. Government.”
  • Write a personal letter to Obama himself:  ask him to remember the January deadline.
  • Join STAND, Amnesty International, or any of Stanford’s other anti-genocide groups on campus.

Crash Course: VEVO

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

An odd mix, but Vevo encompasses them all

What do Iron Maiden, Rick Astley, Eminem, Justin Bieber, Marilyn Manson, Sublime, Shania Twain, Limp Bizkit, and Abba have in common?

Vevo channels.

Are you surprised?   Perhaps on the basis of the wide variety of musical genres represented by these artists, yes.  However, with regard to current trends in music consumption, online and elsewhere, Vevo makes perfect sense – which is why it’s taking over how America receives its music.

Vevo to the rescue?

According to Credit Suisse analysts, YouTube only makes 0.4 cents per video view.  This garners a measly $240.9 a year for a venture whose bandwidth, licensing, and operation costs will run upwards of $700 million.  In other words, “Google will lose $470.6 million on YouTube, for which it paid $1.76 billion in 2006.”

Vevo's "world premiere" of the Telephone music video changed the way we perceive online music promotion.

Vevo may provide the solution to Google’s online video woes.  Launched on December 8, 2009, with the slogan “Music Evolution Revolution!,” Vevo overcame MySpace Music as #1 music site in the US within its first month.  The company represents a collaboration between Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group, and Abu Dhabi Media.  Vevo has domain over music videos from three of the “big four” major record labels: Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, and EMI.  (Warner partnered with MTV Networks.)

Today, approximately 23,000 videos are available on Vevo.  Vevo’s near dominance of the major music labels is allowing it to approach monopoly status.  According to Wired Magazine, “there could soon be no other game in town.”

How does this help Google?  Well, Google and VEVO share the advertising revenue, and the institution of Vevo ended Google’s licensing difficulties with Universal Music Group.  “The purpose behind Vevo is to sell advertising at higher rates than YouTube does now.”

Changing music as we know it

According to Wired, Vevo “could save the music business.”  Mashable’s top 5 predictions for the music industry in 2011 suggest the following:

Now, we’re not saying Vevo has single-handedly sparked the renaissance of the music video, but it has helped give the format a kick in the you-know-what.”

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Google: The Ultimate Teacher

Monday, December 20th, 2010

I had a job this summer at a non-profit, where I basically had to help the public with any request they could call or com in for help

Even Google messes up sometimes.

with.  And although a lot of the requests were the same, a LOT of the time I had no idea how to help these people, and neither did any one else in the office.    Our solution?  Google it.  I googled everything from directions to the closest shopping center to how to get a record of a divorce that occurred in the state of Oregon about 20 years ago.

SO what else can google do?

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Our Athletes Are Better Than Yours

Friday, December 17th, 2010

Our athletes have won more Director’s Cups than any other school in the nation.  There, I said it.  Article done, right?  But I feel like that’s a cop-out – everyone knows we have the number one athletics program in NCAA Division I.  What’s actually newsworthy, what actually matters, is that our athletes are quantitatively and qualitatively the best in the nation.  Here’s why.

For Andrew Luck, luck's got nothing to do with it.

Our athletes are held to a higher academic standard than those at other schools.

Coach Jim Harbaugh said it best: “We’re looking not for student athletes but scholar-athletes. No other school can carry this banner.”

Take Andrew Luck, for example.  Our star quarterback, who by all fair comparisons was robbed of the Heisman Trophy, was his high school valedictorian and is majoring in architectural design.  There’s no doubt, as Fox Sports put it, that Andrew “has the smarts to go with the impeccable athletic skills.”  Indeed, according to teammate Doug Baldwin, “The only thing Andrew can’t do very well is sing.”  Luck‘s likely to be the #1 NFL draft pick and, according to the Mercury News, “it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.”  Our beloved scholar-athlete seems like a pretty stark contrast to this year’s Heisman winner Cam Newton and the NCAA controversy surrounding his dubious recruitment.

Yeah, our athletes cure diseases. No big deal.

Our athletes are changing the world.

Chemical engineer Jake Vandermeer is a busy guy.  A United States Presidential Scholar and former principal cellist for the Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra, Jake walked on to our #1 men’s volleyball team last year.  Just this September, Jake joined the team at the White House celebration of the 2009-10 NCAA championship teams.  But what really makes Jake stand out is how he’s radically improving the lives of others.  This summer he helped develop a potential cure for Legg-Calve-Perthes disease – a crippling disease that affects about 1,200 children a year.  That’s really something to cheer about.

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Paved with Good Intentions

Friday, December 10th, 2010

You may have noticed some odd and pervasive behavior on the part of some of your Facebook friends this year.  January brought forth a sudden winter flurry of color statuses.  October launched a startlingly sexual series of “So-and-So likes it on the ________” statuses that made it look like many a good girl had gone bad.  Finally, this month the trend seems to be profile pictures consisting of favorite childhood cartoon characters.

The rationale for these trends is that they raise awareness for issues of health and social concern through Facebook’s powerful social media.  The first two ostensibly supported breast cancer awareness, while the latter supposedly promotes awareness for and support of child abuse survivors.  At first glance, these fads seem well-intentioned and, at worst, harmless.  However, it was upon waking up to the following status in my Facebook newsfeed that I took a closer look at these Facebook crazes:

[name omitted] does not understand how putting cartoon photos up has ANYTHING to do with violent abuse against children.  As a child abuse survivor, I don’t think that I ‘only see [happy] memories’ from these images; instead, they’re part and parcel of the pleasure and pain that was growing up with an abusive parent.”  Later on in the involved comment stream, another poignant phrase from this child abuse victim stuck out to me: “the point of the current meme is ostensibly ‘against’ child abuse, and as an abuse survivor, I find it isolating.”

Facebook users: you’re actually hurting the people you’re trying to support.

This isn’t to say that I have anything personally against the participants in these memes.  I’m sure that you all mean well.  But please reconsider your purported “activism” for the following reasons.

1.  Anonymity is confusing and counterproductive.

More often than not, Facebook “awareness” fads do little but to obfuscate the actual issues at hand.  I’m sure it’s very easy for the uninterested observer to dismiss these awareness efforts as merely another Facebook trend akin to the Doppelgänger phenomenon last year without recognizing their meaning.  Sure, the bra color thing tangentially related to breast cancer.  As an astute male friend of mine remarked, “at least with the bra color thing the average guy only took about 10^-13 seconds to get from bras to breasts.”  But remember, first guys had to sift through and interpret the dozens of random colors to even realize what the colors referred to.

Not-so-obvious awareness tactic

The purse thing directly counters common sense.  If anything, this particular fad intended to conceal the issues.  The Huffington Post cited the trend as a direct effort “to leave men in the dark,” and the Washington Post said “men are not supposed to know what it means.”  So we’re raising awareness by intentionally excluding half of the global population?  Great idea!  One commenter captured the awareness divide perfectly: “Yeah, that’s a great way to get men on board with breast cancer awareness month…alienate them.”  It additionally dilutes the importance of the awareness message: while breast cancer among men is significantly less frequent, men have much poorer survival rates and outcomes due to misdiagnosis.  All the more reason for men to be aware.

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