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Archive for September, 2009|Monthly archive page

The Healing Power Of Beer

In parenting on September 30, 2009 at 10:29 pm
Image of a 22oz bomber beer bottle.

Image via Wikipedia

Here’s a great essay , in The Globe and Mail, about a woman connecting her Dad, 83 with Alzheimer’s in the nursing home, and her 19 year old son, thanks to a long-held promise. (That’s legal drinking age in Canada.)

All it took was one bottle of Labatt’s beer.

Housework Rules! Maid Stars In New Documentary

In women, work on September 30, 2009 at 1:05 pm
pail with shadows

Image by lonelanternsociety via Flickr

Finally — a film that acknowledges reality! Today’s Wall Street Journal features a story by architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable about a famous house known for its cutting edge design. Whatever. Who cleans, dusts, polishes and sweeps it? The housekeeper, Guadelupe Aecdo, is the star of a new film about the house, built by star architect Rem Koolhaas, introduced  — surrounded by her tools — to the strains of Stauss.

Props to the cleaner. Cool!

Guys, if you want to get lucky, pick up a damn broom. Here’s an international study that finds men in more egalitarian nations, i.e. guys who clean the bathroom or do dishes, have happier relationships. You bet they do, as I might be the only woman I know who actually enjoys doing housework. I started today scrubbing the tub then moved onto ironing (yes, even sheets and pillowcases), while my sweetie does all the laundry (I do loathe laundry.)

I like housework because: it’s physical; gets me away from the computer; produces instant results; I work at home so dirt, dust and clutter are in my face 24/7 if I don’t do something about them; it’s easy and won’t wreck my weekends if I knock off 30-45 minutes of it a day. I don’t have the lost daily time of a commute, and my sweetie does, so this seems fair enough to me. Without the additional needs of pets, kids or a large home, it’s a lot easier, I know than for others. I’m also blessed with a small space without additional road or air pollution, a very tidy partner and lots of outside storage lockers.

If you hate housework, as many people do, here’s a friendly and helpful list to help you get organized.

Recession Hits Religious Life

In business, culture, Money, US on September 30, 2009 at 11:11 am
Rose window

Image by battle-axe studio | sharp creative via Flickr

I’ve been attending an Episcopal church for 10 years and chose my church, St. Barnabas, because of the extraordinary woman, Susan Richmond, then the assistant minister when I was in crisis. She offered compassion, wisdom — and a strong, smart woman’s perspective. Had she not been there, would I have returned and stayed? We now have a woman rector, Norah Smith — but for the first time in many years we have no assistant minister and no plans to hire one.

Our wealthy suburban New York church, with about 300 members, can’t afford it. Recession is hitting religious life across the country, reports the Associated Press.

With our depressed or vanishing incomes, churches, synagogues and other religiously-affiliated institutions are suffering. People are putting less money in the collection plate or tithing or pledging less (committing a set amount of money each year.) In the Episcopal church, each parish elects a vestry from among its members, a sort of board of directors who work closely with the minister, focusing on, among many other issues, the budget. I had a long chat recently with a vestry member who told me money is now a  real challenge, that the wealthy stalwarts who wrote very large checks for years are no longer doing so. And no one else is stepping up.

Does it matter to lose an assistant minister? I think so. For years, it gave me, and fellow parishioners, the luxury of a second point of view, personality and set of skills. As anyone who has ever been part of a faith community for a while knows, religious leaders bring varied skills. One can be a terrific preacher but not a great listener. One might offer fantastic pastoral skills but not pay enough attention to the physical needs of the space; our church is 150 years old this month and almost every single piece of it, from glorious stained-glass windows to mosaic floors to crumbling plaster to the bell tower, needs ongoing repair and maintenance — all of which cost real money.

Our last assistant was a lively, funny 30-year-old, Joel, a passionate preacher (now back at graduate school) and I miss him. I still miss Ken, who was our assistant before him (now in Idaho with his own parish) and Susan. I loved Charlie, our minister who retired, but having an assistant offers a helpful balance.

A religious community is as much a community as a place to pray and learn about and practice the tenets of your faith. It’s a place you marry, baptize your children or plan their bas/bat mitzvahs, watch them marry, attend funerals. At its best, it offers a safe, sacred, timeless refuge from the world’s insanity, a place you shed your daily protective skin and open yourself to something much deeper.  It’s a sad fact that, even there, money changes everything.

Teens Meet Dalai Lama, Mia Farrow and Jane Goodall At "Rock Concert For Social Justice"

In culture, education on September 30, 2009 at 8:44 am
Tenzin Gyatso, the fourteenth and current Dala...

Image via Wikipedia

Talk about a field trip — yesterday in Vancouver 16,000 students gathered to hear social activists, from the Dalai Lama and Mia Farrow to Jane Goodall, at We Day, founded by Free The Children, a Canadian youth movement that has created 500 education and development projects worldwide and involved more than a million children and teens in projects focused on social justice in Canada and overseas in six countries, including Kenya, China and Ecuador.

The group was founded by Craig Kielburger, who, at 12, read a newspaper story about the murder of a child laborer in Pakistan. Enlisting 11 friends at his Toronto school to help, he began this charity, which now holds We Day in Toronto and Vancouver every year, a full day of inspiration. Toronto’s will be held October 5, webcast from 9:10 to 2:30 EST.

The Vancouver Sun reported:

“Michael Berglund, 16, who boarded a bus in Kamloops at 3:30 a.m. Tuesday after working until 11:30 p.m. the night before at a restaurant, was too excited to be tired.The Dalai Lama’s speech about compassion in particular inspired him, he said. “In social justice class we learn to express ourselves and work toward a socially just society and getting rid of our prejudices.”

There are more than enough opportunities to work toward social justice in Kamloops itself, the high school student said.“We have a lot of homeless people, and more can be done to help them,” Berglund added…Seymour elementary school teacher Jeannie Kerr said learning about global social justice was important for her 24 Grade 6 and 7 students.“I want them to explore for themselves the sources of the global inequities, who has them and why,” Kerr said.

Were you taught social justice in grade school? What do you think of the idea?

Teens Gone Mad — He Killed Her Rival, At His Girlfriend's Request

In Crime on September 30, 2009 at 7:21 am
girl fight

Image by mahalie via Flickr

There are true stories that chill your blood, that make you wonder how such things are possible and in your home city, a place not known for this sort of evil. David Bagshaw, sentenced to life in prison for killing Stefanie Rengel on the orders of his jealous girlfriend, redefines the sickest form of obedience. He was so young he could only be identified as D.B. until his sentencing.

He was sentenced for killing his girlfriend’s imagined teen rival – a girl he had never even met, the daughter of two policemen, whom he stabbed to death on a residential Toronto sidewalk on New Year’s Day. The case has horrified Toronto and me, who grew up and went to high school there. I once covered a trial there whose details remain with me still, more than 20 years later — of a teen boy who sat eating his dinner off a TV tray in the basement of his home while his friend beat a young man to death in front of him. Then they cut off his arms and legs and stuck him in a freezer, which, bloodstained, was wheeled into the courtroom. You can’t forget things like that, no matter how much you want to.

In both cases, all of these kids are white, from middle-class families. They did not grow up marinated in violence. bullets whizzing past their ears in a terrifying ghetto.

What made this young girl so sick? Why did this young man become so depraved? What’s going on here?

OMG! NBC News To Air A Week's News On Women

In business, Media, women on September 29, 2009 at 12:17 pm
Unidentified Woman

Image by George Eastman House via Flickr

Stop the presses! Women are newsworthy.

You’ll forgive me, won’t you, for my lack of rah-rah-ness upon reading today’s story about increased coverage of women planned for next month by NBC News. A whole week, all about us! It makes me want to lift my very old and very heavy non-flat-screen TV and heave it off the balcony. It makes me want to heave in a few other ways.

Women get so little media coverage that even an old study of how little we get wouldn’t read very differently today.

Here’s a better idea. Feature stories on or by women every single day in every single newspaper section and in every single newscast who are not: wealthy, white, powerful, celebrities, celebrities’ wives, girlfriends, mothers, daughters, mistresses, murdered ex’es, politicians, murder or violence victims.

I’m not advocating quotas or skewing coverage. We’re already being fed a skewed and distorted vision when women — 50 percent of the population — consistently receive a lot less than 50 percent of the media’s attention.

New Tampax Ad With Serena Williams Slams Every Woman's Annoyance

In business, women on September 29, 2009 at 11:52 am
Serena Williams after beating Dinara Safina on...

Image via Wikipedia

Every woman who’s ever had her period show up at exactly the wrong moment — at the beach, on your honeymoon, wearing those gorgeous brand new $40 panties, during a job interview, on a canoe trip (ugh!) — can laugh along with a great new ad for Tampax featuring Serena Williams battling a tiny woman, Mother Nature, in a suit bearing a “gift” in a red box. Yup, her period.

I love the funny, frank, playful way this ad addresses what every woman knows can be an uncomfortable or  embarrassing annoyance. Not your period, but not being ready for it. I love Mother Nature, in her suit, as “Aunt Flo”, that tired old name we gave our periods in…Grade Six? I love the confrontation between a powerful athlete and the inevitable, healthy fact of a monthly menstrual flow.

Women are cool, tough, powerful. And get their periods. Check out this funny new ad for Tampax.

Could 200 of Us Fill 100 Per Cent Of Your News Needs? Who'll Pay?

In business, Media on September 29, 2009 at 7:51 am
Paper money, extreme macro

Image by kevindooley via Flickr

Saturday’s Wall Street Journal carried another long piece — some might deride it as one more thumb-sucker — asking how journalism as it has traditionally been defined, i.e. original reporting and analysis, will be paid for in the future. But no one yet has been able to answer the question. Who, next, will step up and take the financial risk? Anyone?

San Francisco philanthropist name Warren Hellman is ponying up $5 million for a new journalism venture out there. It’s a start, but the truth is that $5 million won’t go very far.

There are now 200 of us at True/Slant, and it’s a hell of a team to play on. I routinely tell colleagues and those I want to work with freelance what excellent work I find here every day. But…

As I write this, BBC World News is on the TV and today’s NYT and WSJ lie on the floor, almost all read, and I’ve not yet gotten through the weekend FT. I’ll typically listen to another 2-4 hours of NPR programming over the weekend as well, and 2-3 hours of it on weekdays, plus an hour of BBC World News. During a normal month, I’ll read another 20-30 magazines and probably 4-6 books. Someone paid every single one of those reporters and writers to give me the oxygen in my lungs — original reporting I trust. That’s not even including the many other sources, from Le Monde to The Globe and Mail, The Guardian and others whose hard, paid-for work, I, and others, comment on here. I consume trusted, reliable, sourced media both for personal pleasure and professional necessity. So do many, if not most, of my T/S contributors.

At True/Slant, most of us who bring you original reporting, (which some do), are here because someone else, somewhere, is paying the full costs of what it takes for each of us to survive  — and continue to produce most, if not all, of our original work. For the journos among us, that’s usually some dead-tree publisher whose business model, somehow, still functions.

Only my ability to work in old media, right now, supports my ability to work in new media. Surely there is some irony in this?

“Entrepreneurial” sounds a little like what many out-of-staff-work veterans of print and broadcast journalism are now experiencing — penury — as we scrap for every inch of income-producing territory like polar bears on a shrinking ice floe.

This week I’m also applying (as are many tough competitors) for $30,000 in grants and fellowships. One of these fellowships is designed for people whose work is focused on print journalism. These days, that’s like asking a whaling ship captain to step up and commit to a few more circumnavigations.

An idea. If someone wanted to make True/Slant their only source of news, hiring every single one of us here, all 200 contributors, and pay us each a living wage — let’s call it a median of $60,000 (no benefits, no 401k, etc) per year, on a one-year renewable contract — that’s $12 million. For a 23-year-old fresh grad, (albeit burdened by student debt), maybe $25,000 would do it, while the veterans might command $100-120,000 — which is how traditional newsrooms, print and broadcast, now work.

Anyone interested?

Some might be fine with only $5,000- $10,000 a year, as they are already pulling in a good salary (with benefits) elsewhere, while others might need $80,000 or more to keep the bills paid as this became our only full-time work and we gave you — our readers — our undivided attention. Someone has to pay for the time (and travel and other expenses) it takes to produce original work. Right now, the current Internet model rewards those whose sites (the cutest? funniest? most insightful?) attract the most visitors.

All Ego, All The Time!

Blogging also offers old-school journos (like me, anyway) an additional hurdle to clamber over. It rewards behaviors so immodest as to be anathema. It demands several paradigm shifts in how we work, not technically, but in our values. For us, the damn story itself is it — not us and the fact we just produced it. Very few journalists I know chose this business because it’s all about them. We want to tell stories, not sell them. The shameless, relentless, self-aggrandizing financial necessity of  funneling every possible social media-using eyeball toward every syllable we produce can make me feel like a five-year-old in the playground shrieking “Mommymommymommymommy, watch me. Watch me!”

Who’s Paying?

Original reporting that appears on-line is most often heavily subsidized, if not completely paid for, by old-media organizations whose employees, staff or freelance, need or want Internet exposure. It’s rarely the other way around. ProPublica has its own staff and the Huffington Post is now paying freelancers to do investigative work, at rates competitive with national magazines, but 50 percent less than the majors.

Those who have been working as journalists doing original work (and the originality matters, not the medium in which that work appears) have spent years, maybe decades, perfecting their skills and sources and understanding of the world. Once we’ve lost our staff jobs and until we find another one, if we do, we monetize those skills when and where we can. In the past year, more than 35,000 journalists lost their jobs, 24,000 or so of them in print. I highly doubt there are 24,000+ on-line writing, reporting or editing jobs available, now or in the next 12-18 months, paying enough to sop us all up. Journalism schools report enormous interest in their offerings these days. Where exactly are all those eager, additional new grads going to work?

I can’t function, as a human being trying to make sense of my world, without original, sourced, factual work.

As more and more sources of original, reliable, factual news journalism slim down or disappear entirely, where and how will you learn about your world?

237 Reasons Women Have Sex. Love? Yeah, That Too

In women on September 28, 2009 at 8:49 am
woman in sexy fishnet stockings

Image via Wikipedia

Tanya Gold, in today’s Guardian, interviews the authors of a new book about why women have sex, based on 1,006 interviews with women around the world by Cindy Meston and David Buss, two psychologists.

For any woman who hasn’t been living in a cave for the past few decades, this won’t come as a huge shock. Women shag — and seek out and hang into shaggable men — for a lot of reasons, not all of them as cuddly or charming as some might hope.

Turns out — imagine! — that some women just like having lots and lots and lots of orgasms. Sex (with the right partner, of course) just feels so damn good.

“People just assumed the answer was obvious,” Meston says. “To feel good. Nobody has really talked about how women can use sex for all sorts of resources.” She rattles off a list and as she says it, I realize I knew it all along: “promotion, money, drugs, bartering, for revenge, to get back at a partner who has cheated on them. To make themselves feel good. To make their partners feel bad.” Women, she says, “can use sex at every stage of the relationship, from luring a man into the relationship, to try and keep a man so he is fulfilled and doesn’t stray. Duty. Using sex to get rid of him or to make him jealous.”

“We never ever expected it to be so diverse,” she says. “From the altruistic to the borderline evil.” Evil? “Wanting to give someone a sexually transmitted infection,” she explains.”

Hope this morning’s quickie was good for you, too!

Do You Really Hate Your Body? Six Reasons To Re-Consider

In women on September 28, 2009 at 7:43 am
American model and television host Michele Merkin.

Image via Wikipedia

Do you really — women-only question, for a moment — long to look like the model in this photograph?

Several bloggers here at Trueslant have recently focused on how much some girls and women loathe their bodies, starving them through bulimia and anorexia in an effort to mimic the sleek, long-limbed specimens shoved in our faces daily by the media. Yes, we all need to reach and maintain a healthy weight — not sliding into diabetes or obesity. But this absurdly narcissistic focus on the size, shape and allure of our noses, breasts, faces, hips, thighs, bottoms and even our genitals (yes, women are paying surgeons to alter the shape of those, too) has to stop. Why?

Hating the parcel of flesh that is now carrying you through this lifetime — to the movies, to work, to win (or lose) a soccer game, to make love, to produce, nurse and hug your kids, to enjoy a sunset — is madness.

There are six reasons I love my body, with all its spider veins, moles, wrinkles and double digit size. (And, no, that’s no a size 00) You should love yours too.

Maybe one of these will resonate for you:

1) Between 2005 and 2007, we lost 12 friends, colleagues and relatives forever. I felt like a figure in some 15th. century woodcut cringing in a corner as Death swung his scythe hard and fast and furiously all around us. Trish died at 49 of ovarian cancer, “Killing Fields”photographer Dith Pran at 65 of pancreatic cancer, Sandy at 63 of lung cancer, my aunt Barbara, at 82, of cancer, my Daily News boss, Bill Boyle, at 59, dead of melanoma, New York Times editor David Rosenbaum at 63, murdered the day after he retired. What wouldn’t every single one of them have given for another day, week, month in their bodies, in this world?

2) If your life/body has never been threatened, you may not realize its value to you or others. My mom, at 75 still kicking my butt, has survived three kinds of cancer: thyroid, when she was 30; breast cancer, and a brain tumor at 68. A very thin scar circles her throat, as much a part of her as her bright blue eyes and ready laugh, the scar from her first cancer surgery. I grew up knowing cancer, and its shadow. Before her six-hour neurosurgery in 2002, I reassured her she’d be fine — but she doesn’t remember, so badly affected was her cognition at that point. Two days later, with 20+ staples in her scalp, we fell happily back into intellectual argumentation. (There’s a piece about this on my website.) I’m deeply grateful she’s survived what her physician airily called “her malignancies”, and equally grateful having learned, early, how fragile our bodies can be.

3) Millions of people around the globe want nothing more, this second, than reliable access to sufficient, clean, safe food. They are dying of starvation. For a little perspective, consider this map of the world showing countries well-fed as thin and those whose inhabitants are dying of starvation swollen by these deaths. Obsessing over calories when we are drowning in their easy, cheap availability seems a little neurotic to me.

4) My body still allows me to enjoy the life I most value. I’ve had two knee surgeries and a shoulder surgery since the year 2000 and tons of re-hab. After the age of 35, it helped me climb the rigging 100 feet above the deck of an Australian Tall Ship, to compete nationally as a saber fencer, helps me hit to the outfield most Saturdays. I can’t play squash three times a week anymore (my knee cartilage now shot), but I can, and do, walk, ski, skate, run, play softball, dance, travel. Spoiled, demanding, impatient, I used to rage at its deficiencies. Now I thank every ligament, tendon, muscle and bone for its continued service.

5) Love your body, then form a fan club for it. If your partner, whatever their gender and putative desirability, demands you be rail-thin and wrinkle-free to win or keep their love and undivided attention, why are you putting up with this? (Parents, if you’re doing this, shut up!)  Yes, we all need to maintain a healthy weight, and it’s nice to take care of your appearance. But spending time with someone, let alone internalizing their hatred of your body as it is, who consistently picks at the psychic scab of your self-loathing and shame, is not a wise choice.

I’m lucky to have found a sweetie, (10 years so far), who loves my curves. The size of my brain and heart matter more to him than the size of my butt. (Tell ‘em I love your butt, too, he insists.)

6) If your body is strong and healthy, that is enough. On March 16, 2007 I was admitted to my local hospital with a temperature of almost 104 degrees. In the ER, the doctor read my chest X-ray and closed the curtain around my gurney. That’s never a good sign. “I think you might have lung cancer,” he said. “The spot on your lung is very big.” There are no words for that moment. I did not have lung cancer, only pneumonia. Self-employed, scared to disappoint clients and lose income, I had driven my body like some Dickensian factory owner, working it non-stop through worsening illess. In the hospital shower, drenched with fever sweat, so weak I could barely stand, I apologized aloud to my body. Never again would I — will I — treat it with such dishonor.

The next time you choose to hate your body’s imperfections and weaknesses, please stop.

It’s all you’ve got in this lifetime. Cherish it.

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