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Archive for August, 2010|Monthly archive page

Don’t Girlify My Tools!

In business, design, Style, Technology, women, work on August 30, 2010 at 12:35 pm
Twist hammer
Image via Wikipedia

Fashion designer Cynthia Rowley has brought out a new line of tools — a hammer covered with a floral design, a sexy-looking screwdriver and a pair of pliers covered in pink and white.

Excuse me?

I’m deeply fond of my tools and my huge toolboxes: pliers, screwdrivers, saws, drills, levels. You name it, I’ve got it. I love designing and making stuff, even if it’s simple stuff — living in a one-bedroom apartment doesn’t allow for table saws or big workbenches.

The last thing I want is to walk into my local hardware store, run by the great-grandson of the man who founded it, and find tools covered in flowers and groovy patterns. Greg, thank God, probably wouldn’t let this stuff into his shop.

Why exactly does anyone think this is appealing?

I love the plainspoken utility of standard-issue tools. I love my screwdriver with all its little inter-changeable heads, adaptable to virtually any need. I enjoy using my drill and hammer and saw, and the pleasure of knowing I can use them competently.

Women who take pride in their ability to work with their hands aren’t the sort of women who need, or want, pretty little patterns on the things we use. The women who need that sort of reassurance — it’s OK, hon, you won’t break a nail! — just aren’t going to do their own home repairs.

We don’t need no girly tools!

Ma’am? Damn!

In behavior, culture, women on August 29, 2010 at 10:24 pm
2 old ladies on a bench
Image by lamazone via Flickr

If there’s a word that shrivels the heart, it’s this.

Writes Natalie Angier, one of my favorite thinkers, in The New York Times:

If ma’am is meant as a verbal genuflection to power, the message is lost on many real-life powerful women, like Senator Barbara Boxer, who told a brigadier general to refer to her as “senator” rather than “ma’am” at a hearing last year. “I worked so hard to get that title,” she said, “so I’d appreciate it, yes, thank you.”

I put together a completely unscientific poll of my own, courtesy of the online service, SurveyMonkey, and asked some three-dozen professional women how they felt about the word “ma’am.” The group included lawyers, writers, scientists, policymakers, business executives and artists, who ranged in age from 20 to 65. Of the 27 women who responded, only 2 said they liked being called ma’am, applauding the word as “polite” and “because it amuses me”; 10 were neutral; and the remaining 15 disliked it to varying pH levels of causticity. As Jill Soloway, a Los Angeles-based writer who worked on the HBO series “Six Feet Under,” explained: “It makes me think I’m fat and old, like an elderly aunt.”

There are other reasons to dislike the term ma’am — for its whiff of class distinctions, for being dismissive, stiff and drab. “If someone calls me ma’am, it’s superficially a sign of respect, but it’s also creating distance,” Dr. Kroll said. “It’s saying, I’m not going to have a serious conversation with you; I’m not going to engage with you.”

Katha Pollitt, the columnist and poet, said, “It’s part of those routine word packages that are forever flying by.”

It’s also deeply American, this automatic ma’aming thing. I grew up in Canada where people generally don’t use that word. I’m not sure what they say, but they don’t say ma’am.

I’m of an age that marks me as old to some and — because some people, even in bright light, still think I’m 10-15 years younger than I am — maybe not. I veer wildly between the charming “young lady” (not said sarcastically) and the dreaded ma’am.

You can call me almost anything.

But don’t call me me ma’am!

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The World’s Ten Best Airports

In business, cities, design, travel on August 27, 2010 at 12:53 pm
Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris
Charles de Gaulle airport. Image via Wikipedia

Pack, rush, stand, wait, take off shoes. Flying, so much fun.

Do you notice the airports you travel through? Here’s a recent list of the world’s top 10, which includes Paris Charles de Gaulle (which, built in 1974, looks like a cartoon idea of the future with all its tubes) and Rio’s domestic airport and Dulles, in D.C.

Here’s my top 10:

1) Santa Barbara, California. Tiny, red-tile-roofed. There are pool houses larger. Charming, cute, feels like vacation.

2) Mae Hong Son, Thailand. The only sound you hear is that of temple bells from the Buddhist temple across the street. The only airport I’ve ever flown into where you can walk right into town.

3) Vancouver. The architecture is spectacular — lots of glass, waterfalls, totem poles inside and out. One of the very few airports that actually makes specific reference to where you’ve just landed. The approach is also fantastic — the Rockies, the ocean, not to mention all the huge log booms on the water. I also love their use of YVR as its name — every Canadian airport code starts with Y. (YUL is Montreal, YYZ is Toronto. Go figure.)

4) Seattle. Think about it — when do you ever notice, in a good way, what’s at your feet? I’ve flown through this airport a few times and marveled at what lovely materials they chose for the flooring. Not to mention the inlaid bronze salmon inserted randomly. One of whom carries a briefcase.

5) Toronto Island Airport. You can wing into this one if you fly Porter Air from Newark. It’s set on a small island from which you take a ferry for about 1 minute, then a ten-minute taxi ride to downtown. The best way to see Toronto’s dramatic skyline.

6) Cuzco, Peru. OK. I admit it. I remember nothing of the airport but my immense, weeping gratitude that I saw it at all, after a hairy, scary descent on Faucett Air. (now defunct.) Think of a sewing machine needle threading up and down through cloth. That was us, trying to find a clear bit of air between many large mountains.

7) Shannon, Ireland. I love any airport that immediately gives me a strong sense of place. Landing in the west of Ireland, you look down over an impossibly beautiful patchwork of green, hundreds of small fields ringed by low stone walls.

8) Bastia, Corsica. Like Galway and Mae Hong Son, the landscape is at the edge of the airport. I remember seeing sheep within a few hundred yards of the runways.

9) Charles de Gaulle, Paris. Although many hate it, it is saturated with happy memories for me from my year living in Paris on a fellowship. From there, I flew out, or back, from Montserrat, England, Istanbul. I loved that CDG became “my” airport. Easy access to central Paris on the RER.

10) Westchester, New York. My home airport. It’s impossibly crowded but small and easy to get in and out of. I love that we walk across tarmac into the planes. You can sit in the restaurant and watch planes taking off and landing. I love being able to get to an airport in 20 minutes.

What are your favorites and why?

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What’s A Museum For?

In antiques, art, behavior, business, culture, education, entertainment, History, parenting on August 26, 2010 at 1:35 pm
NEW YORK - MARCH 13:  A woman looks over print...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Interesting piece in The Wall Street Journal:

Not so long ago, directors were proud to say museums were “cathedrals of culture,” collecting, displaying and preserving the best art. Today, that’s regarded by some as elitism, and it’s not enough. Reacting to demographic and social trends, they are bending the art-museum concept to reach new audiences and remain relevant. “We live in a more global, multicultural society that cares about diversity and inclusivity,” Ms. Feldman says. “We’re thinking about how we increase our service to the community.” …

There’s no shining line separating the generations, of course. Some directors have been preaching the “populist” gospel for years, often translating that into exhibitions about guitars, hip-hop or “Star Wars” paraphernalia and live music nights with cocktails, DJs and dancing.

Current thinking goes much deeper. Many young directors see museums as modern-day “town squares,” social places where members of the community may gather, drawn by art, perhaps, for conversation or music or whatever. They believe that future museum-goers won’t be satisfied by simply looking at art, but rather prefer to participate in it or interact with it. “The Artist Is Present” show by Marina Abramovic at the Museum of Modern Art—silent, one-on-one encounters between volunteers and the artist, which viewers hung around to watch—is a recent, popular example.

New technology and social media, from blogs to Facebook to YouTube, are helping to drive the trend. “We’re on the cusp of a huge change in the way technology will change the visitor experience and how people learn about art,” Ms. Feldman says. Adding to the pressure are changes in the art world, which is growing more global and more interdisciplinary, and in education, which skimps on the arts and is forcing museums to provide more context.

I recently visited the Metropolitan Museum, my goal to marvel at Big Bambu, a rambling, growing, insanely unlikely structure made of bamboo poles atop its stolid, sober, gray roof. It was a golden summer afternoon and the place was a mob scene: kids, tourists, hipsters, investment banker boys in their $3,000 suits. There was a giddiness to it all that was lovely, and unlikely, and engaging. This was art you could touch and stroke and walk on and peer through, the towers of Manhattan like some distant Oz captured between fronds and poles.

Then I wandered the museum, visiting my favorite object, a Hungarian shield from the 15th. century, covered with carnations. I admired Greek funerary statues and some cloisonnes and, when I got lost, was told to “turn left at the table” — a stunning pietra dure splendor in itself.

I don’t think museums are just for amusement or titillation. I think they are, and should remain, a place to slow down. To stand very still and contemplate — without the desperate need to interact or touch or listen to a noise — what extraordinary things man has created for milennia. In the Greek galleries, I saw, and coveted deeply, a pair of gold earrings, a pair of doves each ridden, with reins in their beaks, by a cherub. Want them!

I was very fortunate in growing up in a home where my father was a painter and artist in his own right, as well as an avid collector of all sorts of objects, from Japanese masks to Eskimo sculpture and prints to lithographs and engravings. I took for granted that my life, somehow, would always (as it has) include great visual beauty.

When I visit a museum or gallery, I feel deeply refreshed. Beauty feeds my soul. I need to remember, we all do, that every culture, in every century — whether working in clay or gold or gouache or plastic — has made objects worth contemplation.

How many young students now feel the joy of making lovely things with their own hands? How many will ever go on to appreciate that others, too, have created and continue to make, things well worth an hour or two or three of our time?

A recent study of museum-goers found that, on average, most people were spending barely a minute in front of any one piece.

Kids now spend seven hours a day engaged with technology, things that buzz and beep and tell them they are extremely cool and connected. It’s a closed, comforting repeating tape loop of narcissistic fantasy.

How, if at all, to bring them — to bring anyone — into a place of quiet beauty?

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Bullied, Literally, To Death

In behavior, business, culture, Media, men, US on August 24, 2010 at 1:09 pm
at least i'm not a bully
Image by *nimil* via Flickr

Here’s a story to chill your blood — a boss whose bullying drove an employee to suicide:

The suicide of the managing editor at an Ellies-winning literary magazine late last month has sparked an investigation into alleged bullying by its editor — and is putting the publication’s long-term future in serious doubt.

Kevin Morrissey, the 52-year-old managing editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review, took his own life on July 30. According to his family and several VQR staffers, in the weeks leading up to his death, Morrissey (pictured, right) had been subjected to bullying by his boss, 38-year-old editor-in-chief Ted Genoways (pictured, left).

“It was a toxic environment for Kevin,” VQR Web editor Waldo Jaquith told NBC News. “Ted’s treatment of Kevin during the last few weeks of his life was just egregious.”

And Genoways’ treatment of Kevin on the day of his death appeared to push Morrissey over the edge.

Shortly before 10 a.m. on July 30, Genoways sent an e-mail to Morrissey “accusing him of jeopardizing the life of a writer,” according to one account reported by The Hook, a local newsweekly. At 11:30 a.m., Morrissey called 911 to report a shooting near a coal tower in Charlottesville, Virginia. When police arrived, they found Morrissey dead, the victim of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

None of this surprises me at all. I’ve met some of the most toxic, brutal people in my life in journalism — all of them in positions of power:

The female trade magazine editor who routinely shouted abuse at everyone, even across a room filled with cubicles. Including curses.

The trade magazine publisher who spent his days, earning $150,000 in 1996, writing freelance articles for his magazines’ competitor. The one who stood in my office, shrieking at me like a five-year-old.

The newspaper photo editor, notorious in our city for his behavior, who shouted at me: “Your simple questions are the most complicated I’ve heard in 30 years.”

No point continuing.

If you have never been bullied at work, thank your god(s.) If you have, you know what an utter hell it is.

Not everyone who is bullied will choose to kill themself. But those who live are deeply scarred by it, their self-confidence shattered. It’s not something you quickly or easily shrug off. In a recession, who will quit even the most vicious of workplaces?

We all live in a bully culture. “You’re fired!”, sneered publicly, is the tagline of a popular television show. “Wipeout” shows people slipping, sliding and falling off an obstacle course.

It has to stop. It never will.

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Rough Day? Grab Your Bear

In behavior, travel on August 23, 2010 at 12:30 pm
Teddy bear - Rory
Image via Wikipedia

Had a rough day? Reach for Teddy! A survey of 6,000 Britons finds that many still do.

From The Telegraph:

The survey also found that 25 per cent of men said they even took their teddy away with them on business because it reminded them of home.

Travelodge said that in the past year staff have reunited more than 75,000 teddies and their owners.

Spokesman Shakila Ahmed said: “Interestingly the owners have not just been children, we have had a large number of frantic businessmen and women call us regarding their forgotten teddy bear.”

Corrine Sweet, a psychologist, said cuddling a teddy bear was an ‘important part of our national psyche’.

She said: “It evokes a sense of peace, security and comfort. It’s human nature to crave these feelings from childhood to adult life.

I get it.

Alone, ill, in Venice 30 years ago, my only comfort was a small, furry bear I’d packed in my duffel for my four-month solo journey. Neither of us spoke Italian, so I was lucky to have some company.

I still sometimes pack a bear, even when traveling with my sweetie. He’s cool with it.

My battered little white bear has been all over the world with me, amusing chambermaids from Ireland to Quebec. I’ve had him since I was maybe three or four — that sort of loyalty is rare and sweet. He tucks easily into the smallest corner of my smallest suitcase and doesn’t even protest when I jam him into the outside pockets. Wherever I go, he’s happy to follow.

We should all be so blessed with soft, portable comfort.

Do you travel with anything inanimate but cuddly?

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Dead Bands — Music Gone But Not Forgotten

In business, music on August 21, 2010 at 7:30 pm
Only the Ones We Love
Image via Wikipedia

As I write this I’m listening to one of my favorite CDs ever, by a New York City duo that disbanded a decade ag0 — The Nudes. I love their voices, their quirky lyrics and the deep, delicious, unlikely instrument that defined them — a cello, played by Stephanie Winters, who then played with Walter Parks and now tours with Richie Havens.

I still have 100s of albums I acquired back when vinyl was the only choice, and haven’t heard them in years since the turntable and stereo system died. I miss my music!

Some of those bands or artists have long since disappeared. Whatever happened to The Dream Academy, and their great tune “Life In a Northern Town”? They toured only once, in 1991.

One of my absolute favorites is Tanita Tikaram, (who is, luckily, still playing and touring.)

Who’s your favorite dead-and-gone band? What song of theirs should I hunt down and why?

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You’re Overpaid! Mott’s Squeezes Hourly Workers Even Harder

In business, food, work on August 19, 2010 at 12:34 pm

You have to love a company that makes it abundantly clear to workers — you’re overpaid! At $19 an hour, those employed at an upstate New York plant making Mott’s apple juice have been told they earn too much.

This, in comparison to other area production workers near Rochester, many of them desperate for work after layoffs by Xerox or Kodak, former corporate behemoths.

The company is doing just fine.

It’s not in bankruptcy, or struggling, or cut to its knees by competition from China or India. No, they posted $555 million in income for 2009, compared to a $312 million loss the year before.

They just want more profit! Because…they can.

So, in a gesture almost touching in its quaint futility — sort of a whaling captains’ convention — the workers went out on strike in May. They’re still there, reports The New York Times’ terrific labor reporter Steven Greenhouse.

The company cut its annual picnic and holiday party — but also wanted a $1.50/hour wage cut, pension freeze and other concessions.

The plant, of course, is running with scab labor. In this economy, they can certainly count on finding willing bodies happy to make sure the plant’s workers have little leverage.

Read “The Big Squeeze”, Greenhouse’s depressing, powerful analysis of where the American worker has ended up: with little to no power, forced into wage and benefit concessions, scared and angry. Published in 2008, it is nothing but prophetic.

If it doesn’t wake you up, you’re not paying attention.

Few reporters even bother to cover “labor” anymore, instead preferring business profiles about CEOs or Wall Street analysts.

Workers? Not so much.

Now that corporate executives earn 300 times their lowest-paid workers, when — exactly — is enough profit enough?

From The Times’ story:

“Companies have asked for concessions throughout the history of the labor movement because they’ve faced hard times and needed help to survive,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which represents the Mott’s workers. “Dr Pepper Snapple is different. They don’t even show the respect to lie to us. They just came in and said, ‘We have no financial need for this, but we just want it anyway because we figure we can get away with it.’ ”

Negotiations have not been held since May, and Dr Pepper Snapple says it has no intention of resuming them. The company has continued to operate the plant using replacement workers and says that production of apple juice and apple sauce is growing each day. Union officials say production is one-third of what it was before the walkout.

The Mott’s workers voted 250 to 5 to strike, walking out on May 23. They were furious about the company’s demands to cut their wages by about $3,000 a year, freeze pensions, end pensions for new hires, reduce the company’s 401(k) retirement contributions and increase employees’ costs for health care benefits. Dr Pepper Snapple said it was merely seeking to bring its benefits more in line with those of its other plants.

I’m not swallowing Motts’ arguments.

Nor a drop of any of their products.

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Importing A Taste Of Home — Chiles, Chocolate, Cheerwine

In food, travel on August 18, 2010 at 2:25 pm
Turkish Delight I took this photo myself.
Turkish delight. Yum!!!Image via Wikipedia

No matter where I live — and it’s five countries so far — I miss Canadian candy: Big Turk, Crunchie, Aero, Oh Henry, Crispy Crunch, MacIntosh toffee, wine gums and liquorice allsorts. Yesterday I finished (sob!) the last of my wine gums, brought back from my recent trip to Vancouver.

They have nothing to do with wine and they are not gum. Think of something chewy, translucent jewel colors, in subtle flavors and different shapes.

But Big Turk is it! (Dark chocolate covered Turkish delight, soft, pink, chewy.)

One American friend won a whole new level of respect for his sophisticated palate when he begged me to bring some Big Turks back to New York with me. Most Americans have never heard of it, nor of Turkish delight. I can’t even explain the delights of Crunchie because it’s sponge toffee….which is orange and crunches and melts in your mouth.

Just try one.

Once you’ve developed a taste for something that reminds you of home, and something that just tastes amazing, you need a pipeline. From today’s New York Times:

Although Internet buying makes sense — why haul a treat through Customs if a computer click brings the same result? — plenty of purists favor lugging over logic. For them, a treat bought at its source and carried home by their own (or a loved one’s) hands is somehow more genuine, more delicious, more earned, than one secured in an easy, remote transaction on the Web. This is particularly true now, with the height of summer travel upon us. Food souvenirs are food, but they’re also souvenirs, and as such are evocative of people and places.

“The whole experience of getting it in its context is something you cannot duplicate if you’re not there,” said Michael Stern, a founder of Roadfood.com, a Web site about local restaurants and foods across America, and the co-author of many books on those subjects. Such food mementos are “appealing for the same reasons that anyone travels anywhere,” he continued. “We could all sit in our den with the windows closed and watch TV and see every corner of the world, but having the experience of breathing the air somewhere other than our living room — the whole, complete sensual experience — isn’t something you can replicate.”

Anna Sturgeon, 27, a movie content reviewer from Cincinnati, agrees. She is a big fan of Cheerwine soda, a drink that sounds sweet enough to make your teeth ache.

For my sweetie, it’s pozole, used to make soup. We keep a big bag of it in the freezer since it’s what he ate growing up in Santa Fe.

What’s the food that makes you homesick? Do you cart it back from trips? Ask others to bring it for you?

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Running All The Way To The O.R.

In behavior, Health, sports on August 17, 2010 at 6:32 pm
Players in a glass-backed squash court
Image via Wikipedia

For some of us, movement is life. Running, biking, playing competitive sports, winning medals or trophies or beating our personal bests. When my dearly beloved red convertible was stolen, pillaged for parts and ditched on a nearby road, I went to the police lot to retrieve what was left of value — all my sports gear in the trunk: a winch handle for sail racing, softball gear and my squash raquets.

In a country plagued by obesity, it’s hard to remember that for every 350-pound person unable to maneuver easily, or those for whom exercise and sports are anathema, there’s someone eagerly lacing up their sneakers or sliding into their canoe or kayak.

Writes Gina Kolata in The New York Times:

Our behavior, said the expert, Dr. Jon L. Schriner, an osteopath at the Michigan Center for Athletic Medicine, is “compulsive”: we let our egos get in the way, persisting beyond all reason.

But another expert recommended by the college, David B. Coppel, a clinical and sports psychologist at the University of Washington, has another perspective. There are several reasons some people find it hard to switch sports, he told me. Often, their friends do that sport, too; it is how these people identify themselves, part of their social life. And then there is another, more elusive factor.

“There is something about the experience — be it figure skating or running or cycling — that really produces a pleasurable experience,” Dr. Coppel said. “That connection is probably not only at a psychological level but probably also something physiological that potentially makes it harder for these people to transition to other sports.”

Jennifer Davis, a physical chemist who is my cycling, running and weight-lifting partner, adds another reason. Often we stubborn athletes — and Jen, an ultra runner who competes in races longer than marathons, includes herself in that group — have found that we do well, get trophies, win at least our age group in races. That makes it hard to stop.

I think about this a lot. I normally bike, walk, do a jazz dance class, swim, skate, ski, play softball (second base) and almost anything that doesn’t involve heights. I had to give up squash after blowing out both my knees and now, with severe osteoarthritis in one hip, am losing almost all my other sports. In so doing, I’m losing myself.

What people who hate to exercise don’t get are all the many pleasures it provides, from my pals on my softball team to my fistful of fencing medals. Being athletic and strong, flexible and quick, skilled and competent is a core piece of my identity and has been for my entire life.

I don’t have kids or pets or hobbies or any deep political or religious affiliations, some of the things to which many people tie their identity and self-worth. I do live for the pleasure of knowing my body remains strong and flexible.

Today’s doctor, the fifth specialist I’ve seen since March, told me, reassuringly, that after my (eventual) hip replacement, I can play tennis. I appreciated his sentiment — that I’ll regain some of my sports — but we choose our activities for all sorts of reasons.

I hate tennis!

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