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Archive for December, 2012|Monthly archive page

Rape in India up 25 percent. Why?

In behavior, cities, Crime, culture, life, news, parenting, politics, urban life, women on December 31, 2012 at 11:17 am
Rape

Rape (Photo credit: Valeri Pizhanski)

While the rest of the world recently watched the horrors of a mass shooting of schoolchildren in Newtown, Connecticut with disgust and dismay at Americans’ deep and profound attachment to private gun ownership, (consequences be damned), my own shock, disgust and sadness at that (latest) massacre here has been matched — possibly exceeded — by the reports of rape from India, where a 23-year-old woman was attacked and raped then thrown from a moving bus.

Her battered, torn body gave up the ghost in Singapore, where she was sent in a last-ditch desperate attempt to save her life. A 17-year-old girl, also raped — one of the barely one percent of women even reporting this assault to authorities — committed suicide.

This prompted one Indian politician to suggest girls stop wearing skirts to school.

No salwar kameez — the modest tunic/trousers combination — will protect any woman from  the brutality and terror of rape.

Here’s one analysis — albeit by John Lloyd,  a middle-age white male journalist writing for Reuters:

Indian observers have cast both tradition and modernity as background causes. The country’s most prominent sociologist, Dipankar Gupta, said the “unmet aspirations” among hundreds of millions of young men “who know just enough English to know that they don’t know English” were a major cause of Indian criminality. (It’s a telling comment: Fluency in English is among the most obvious class markers in India; most of the protesters’ signs were in English.) Cities are seen both as a place where success can be achieved and where traditional respect for fathers gives way to life in a space where male hedonism can be indulged. For the six drunkards on the New Delhi bus ride, a rape and a beating were folded into a fun night out.

Female empowerment has unsettled men everywhere. Women who think and speak for themselves rip apart settled hierarchies; educated women who take jobs other than mechanical, peasant labor or household tasks threaten the grip men have over income and its patterns of spending. The rootlesssness of the mainly dirt-poor migrants who flock to New Delhi and other cities for work tears them away from a life in which marriage is embedded in family and social structures.

And the nation’s leaders too often create moral vacuums. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh offered an anguished and brief reaction over Christmas, in which he sounded like a man who felt every one of his eight years in office and 80 years of life, and had nothing to offer but sympathy as with the father of three daughters. His honesty is unquestioned, but his governments have presided over large increases in corruption and in reported rape cases. Neither of these has been more than sporadically tackled. Now, in the December days on the streets of New Delhi, there may be something more than a flash flood of protesters – something that points to a tipping point.

From news.com.au:

Her killing has prompted government promises of better protection for women, and deep soul-searching in a nation where horrifying gang-rapes are commonplace and sexual harassment is routinely dismissed as “Eve-teasing”.

Several thousand people massed again yesterday in the centre of the Indian capital – some to express sympathy for the victim who had been out to watch a film with her boyfriend, others to voice anger at the government.

Stringent security measures that have seen government offices and other public areas sealed off in New Delhi to prevent protests have been seized on by critics as further evidence of an out-of-touch government bungling its response.

From Counterfire, a radical left website advocating for social change:

This horrific incident comes at a time of growing outrage in India about how women are treated and about the prevalence of rape and sexual assault. Demonstrators have repeatedly taken to the streets, to be met with tear gas, water cannon and attacks from riot police.

Police are guarding the presidential palace, parliament and war memorial in an attempt to deflect the rage which so many people feel not just towards the perpetrators of this and other rapes, but towards the government and police who are regarded as at best complacent – and at worst as colluding in growing numbers of attacks on women.

Sexual violence and official complicity

The government was silent for days after the attack. It has done little to challenge the climate where sexual attacks are widespread and offenders walk free. It is now proposing naming sex offenders, which may make some small difference but is hardly likely to alter the fundamentals of society where women are often not believed and where, if they are known to have been raped, they face social stigma and are unlikely to get married.

In a recent case, police jeered and laughed when a young 17-year-old woman in Punjab tried to report a gang rape. She was urged to drop the case and either marry one of the perpetrators or accept cash compensation. She committed suicide by taking poison.

Official figures show that 228,650 of the total 256,329 violent crimes recorded last year in India were against women.

Campaigners are demanding tougher sentences and better policing. Many will realise, however, that such demands will do little to stop rape and that there need to be fundamental changes in society if women are to be able to move freely around the streets and to have the right to live, work and study without the threat of sexual violence.

Broadside has readers in India.

I need to hear from you now.

What is going on?

Why are Indian women such objects of contempt, loathing and derision?

How is this considered acceptable by police, the judiciary, feminists, the press and the government?

Another way to make your first date a living hell

In behavior, domestic life, life, love, Money, news on December 30, 2012 at 12:12 am
Credit Score Compare

Credit Score Compare (Photo credit: Casey Serin)

Yes, really.

Now it’s considered normal to ask if your dinner partner has a decent credit score:

It’s so widely used that it has also become a bigger factor in dating decisions, sometimes eclipsing more traditional priorities like a good job, shared interests and physical chemistry. That’s according to interviews with more than 50 daters across the country, all under the age of 40.

Credit scores are like the dating equivalent of a sexually transmitted disease test,” said Manisha Thakor, the founder and chief executive of MoneyZen Wealth Management, a financial advisory firm. “It’s a shorthand way to get a sense of someone’s financial past the same way an S.T.D. test gives some information about a person’s sexual past.”

It’s difficult to quantify how many daters factor credit scores into their romantic calculations, but financial planners, marriage counselors and dating site executives all said that they were hearing far more concerns about credit than in the past. “I’m getting twice as many questions about credit scores as I did prerecession,” Ms. Thakor said.

I like Manisha a lot, having interviewed her for my own work. But this is…weird.

No?

I loathe debt. Hate it. Hate it! I grew up in a freelance family, where debt is just dumb if you don’t have a steady, known income. I also grew up in Canada, where there is no tax deduction for mortgage interest, as there is in the U.S., where even interest on credit card debt (!) was, for a while, tax deductible as well.

So I get why you don’t want to marry a deadbeat and sacrifice your own excellent credit score – often called a FICO score in the U.S. — to someone else’s crummy fiscal habits. I have heard far too many horror stories of people — too often women — who had no idea what insanity their husband or boyfriend was perpetrating financially until it bit them on the ass.

What do you think of this new trend?

Would you bail on someone new if they refused to share their score, or had a lousy one?

Would you skip college for $40,000? How about $50,000?

In behavior, business, culture, education, life, Money, news, parenting, US, work on December 28, 2012 at 3:12 am
English: An image of natural gas drillers with...

English: An image of natural gas drillers with a drill near Kokomo Indiana, c. 1885 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Interesting piece in The New York Times about young men, especially, skipping college to head to the oil and gas boom in Montana:

Here in oil country, some teenagers are choosing the oil fields over universities, forgoing higher education for jobs with salaries that can start at $50,000 a year.

It is a lucrative but risky decision for any 18-year-old to make, one that could foreclose on his future if the frenzied pace of oil and gas drilling from here to North Dakota to Texas falters and work dries up. But with unemployment at more than 12 percent nationwide for young adults and college tuition soaring, students here on the snow-glazed plains of eastern Montana said they were ready to take their chances.

“I just figured, the oil field is here and I’d make the money while I could,” said Tegan Sivertson, 19, who monitors pipelines for a gas company, sometimes working 15-hour days. “I didn’t want to waste the money and go to school when I could make just as much.”

One of the greatest beliefs in the United States is that everyone must go to college. This, despite the fact many students drop out, are graduating saddled with enormous debt and many can’t find paid work.

So, why not take $40,000 and sock away as much of it as possible? It could fund college later (or not), or travel, or a home you choose to own (or rent out for income.)

I have a lot of difficulty with this persistent insistence that college is the only viable place for people who have graduated high school to grow up, learn about the world, acquire skills, mix with people their age of very different backgrounds and work to high standards independently.

Is it?

For some, it’s joining the military. Or going overseas on a student visa, to work as a nanny or au pair or volunteer. Or staying home and working a variety of less-prestigious jobs until you actually know what truly interests you, and what you are good at and who is hiring and what they pay, entry-level or beyond. Then, if you choose higher education, you know exactly what you’re getting into!

For all its benefits and pleasures, college very rarely teaches the skills you really need in the “real world”, whether running your own business, freelancing or working most effectively within a team or office. (Invoicing 101? Sucking Up 302? Backstabbing 205?)

I wrote a piece for The New York Times recently about a group of smart young people under 20 who are being paid $50,000 a year for two years to skip school. (It was the paper’s third most emailed story that day.)

Here’s a thoughtful blog post on this issue by a professor of political science at Georgetown, a respected American 223-year-old university:

A student at any college will often sense a conflict between prestige and truth, the prestige of the teacher, the school, or the culture. He will soon learn that everything contains some truth worth knowing about, and that the best way to deal with error is to see the truth in which it is embedded.

Or, again to change the metaphor, college life is a minefield, studded with all different kinds of devices, waiting to be crossed. Wise young people will read independently in reliable books, to locate and identify hidden explosives rather than step on them. But the venturesome student will in fact want to know what such mines really are, and how they came to be constructed and buried. They will follow the example of Aquinas, who insisted that the accurate understanding of error is quite a necessary and legitimate side of our learning and living. Thus, we want to know how they function, how the mines are hidden. Yes, we want to know how to avoid stepping on them and indeed how to eliminate them, the first step of which effort is to know what they are and why they were made.

I graduated from the University of Toronto, Canada’s top school, then as now. People I studied with now run think tanks and museums and private schools and have accomplished some great things. I liked having tough professors and smart people around me.

As an English major, my courses were very narrowly restricted, even as an undergrad, to 75 percent English literature. The only other things I studied were political science and philosophy (freshman year), French (three years) and Spanish (four years). I knew I wanted to become a foreign correspondent, so I needed to be able to work in other languages, write well and quickly and have the intellectual confidence to make my arguments persuasively.

Those are the skills I’ve used ever since. My ability to read Chaucer in Middle English or parse Volpone or Victorian poetry? Nope. Never.

If you’re in college, or heading there, why? What do you expect to get out of it?

If you’ve long since graduated, do you regret your choice of school or major?

What do you expect? Too much — or too little?

In behavior, children, culture, domestic life, education, family, life, parenting, US, women on December 26, 2012 at 12:46 am

For those who celebrated Christmas, it’s often a time of dashed — or dazed — expectations. Some people were lucky to receive any gift at all, while others sulked at getting the “wrong” ones. (Jose, as always knocked my socks off, with a historic photo of Betty Ford, taken by photographer David Hume Kennerly, as my biggie.)

That photo was taken on January 19, 1977, when I was in my third year of university, working already as a freelance photographer and journalist, selling to national publications. I was living alone, on very little money.

At 20, I knew to expect to do a lot of stuff for myself.

What we expect is a fundamental question.

It drives how we see the world and react to it, whether we hunch instinctively in a defensive posture or spring forward with a hopeful smile and the confidence it will all work out, somehow.

Burning Money is Financial Crime and Waste in ...

(Photo credit: epSos.de)

Jose was born to a Mom who never expected his arrival when she was 49, but deeply valued her surprise baby.

So what we each grew up expecting from the world — from work, lovers, friends, family — was in some ways very different. I’ve shown him he can ask for much more than he thinks he deserves, and he’s taught me how to be happy with much less than I think I need to be happy

I like this new blog, The Broke Girl’s To-Do List, for its tart, pull-your-socks-up-ness and its attempt to lower expectations, especially those of frustrated fesh grads in a horrible job market:

I know you didn’t go to college to wait tables, serve coffee, or assist customers in a clothing store (I didn’t either). The hardest part of being a Broke Girl is learning to be humble. You need to continue making money somehow to support yourself- or at least to maintain your savings. Unfortunately, that might mean taking a job you never thought you would need after college.

I know that it might feel like a step down, especially at first. However, these are hard times, and your finances can’t afford for you to hold out for too long.

I am not saying that you need to give up and “settle,” if that’s what taking this kind of job would mean to you. I am encouraging you to remember that 1) doing nothing while continuing to search for dream jobs will look a heck of a lot worse than making productive use of your time and 2) you need to be saving money. Can you tell I’m a big fan of saving money? Maybe it’s because of the whole my-father-is-a-finance-guy thing. But seriously, long gaps of emptiness on a resume look way worse than making an effort to contribute to society, even if it’s not the task you want to be doing.

We have got to stop taking ourselves too seriously, ladies. Tons of hard-working, intelligent men and women are out of work right now as well. Who are you (and frankly, who am I?) to think that you are above anything?

This recent New York Times story really showed how much our expectations, for good or ill, can shape our lives. It follows the lives of three Hispanic girls who all went off to college with high hopes, yet none has yet graduated and some carry shocking debt.

They struggled, but were unwilling or unable to ask for help:

Each showed the ability to do college work, even excel at it. But the need to earn money brought one set of strains, campus alienation brought others, and ties to boyfriends not in school added complications. With little guidance from family or school officials, college became a leap that they braved without a safety net.

The story of their lost footing is also the story of something larger — the growing role that education plays in preserving class divisions. Poor students have long trailed affluent peers in school performance, but from grade-school tests to college completion, the gaps are growing. With school success and earning prospects ever more entwined, the consequences carry far: education, a force meant to erode class barriers, appears to be fortifying them.

“Everyone wants to think of education as an equalizer — the place where upward mobility gets started,” said Greg J. Duncan, an economist at the University of California, Irvine. “But on virtually every measure we have, the gaps between high- and low-income kids are widening. It’s very disheartening.”

The American narrative can really be confusing as hell — Do it yourself! Don’t ask for help! All it takes is hard work! Only losers fail! — but those who do best in this country are often those who don’t hesitate to ask for help or more money or more time to finish a paper or negotiate a higher starting salary. So you’ve got to figure out for yourself how to navigate the corridors of power and influence, even if you’ve never seen them before.

Jose and I mentor a few young Hispanic women, students of journalism, several of whom have turned to me for guidance and advice about how to negotiate the balance of love and career, as they face significant pressure from their parents to marry and have children, career — even college — be damned. I’m honored they trust me enough to ask my advice, and I encourage them to kick professional ass as hard as possible, knowing full well this sometimes places them in direct conflict with their culture’s expectations of obedient or admirable Latinas devoted more to family than anything else.

What do you expect from your world these days?

What does it expect of you?

Has that changed in recent years?

Why or how?

Related articles

Looking up old boyfriends

In aging, behavior, blogging, domestic life, family, life, love on December 24, 2012 at 12:09 am

The holidays are a time of reflection and connection. But it’s also a time, for some of us, of poignant romantic regrets — the email or text ignored, the phone call or letter you never returned, the first date disaster or months of loneliness.

It’s the time many people look into the new year, only a week hence, and think...hmmmm. Some will wonder, still, about the one who got away.

Thanks to social media, it’s far too easy now to find former beaux (and belles.)

But should you?

Choosing: painting by first husband, George Fr...

I recently thought I’d try again to reach out to Big Name Architect — and found him on LinkedIn — a guy I first met when I was 22 and he was 44. Unbenownst to us that day, (both of us then living with others), we both came away smitten. I wrote a story about him and wandered off into the rest of my life. But he had set up an office near my New York home and, once or twice a year when visiting from Canada, would take me out for dinner.

After my husband walked out in 1994, BNA and I, then both single, flung ourselves into a heady affair, the age difference a little daunting, but perhaps worth a shot.

It got messy very quickly as he proposed marriage within only a few months and I was in that particular form of madness of the about-to-be-divorced,

His proposal was flattering, of course, although I was actually still married, barely separated from my husband after seven years. Rebound city.

It got so intense and overwhelming that I turned to my Dad — the same age as BNA — for advice. He agreed that this was not, despite all the surface glamour, a good fit for me. I do poorly with bossy men. He was, (albeit talented and charismatic), quite bossy.

So BNA promptly found and married someone else. When he replied to my recent email, after years of silence when I wrote emails he wouldn’t reply to, he told me triumphantly (?) he’s still married. Our messy ending still rankles him.

Another sweetie re-found me, or vice versa, on Facebook. Then a gorgeous, muscle-bound would-be Olympic rower at UNC Chapel Hill, we met on a student exchange. He wooed me in ways no one ever had — a huge bouquet of red roses delivered to my door, even giving me a lovely antique gold ring with three tiny diamonds. Losing it felt like losing a piece of my heart. He is remarried, as am I. I always wished the best for him and am so glad he is well and happy.

The man I lived with in my 20s reached out to me about a decade ago, apologizing — AA-style — for his transgressions against me. There actually hadn’t been any. They had been mine. But there he was. We broke up when he wanted, more than anything, to get married, to buy a cashmere overcoat and Make Money. All of which, when I was only 25 and desperate for adventure, seemed really boring.

His later life, and divorce, proved far bumpier and challenging than I’d ever imagined. He’s now working as a PI, which is pretty cool. We caught up last year for a long lunch and it was comforting to touch base with someone I liked very much, and loved, but felt fortunate not to have married.

Then, finally, I re-found my first true love on Facebook, whom I met at University of Toronto, when he was editor of the weekly school newspaper and I the eager young journo five years his junior. I’d sought him in vain for years using social media which he wasn’t using.

We, too, had reconnected right after my divorce, as he was coming out of his own first marriage. Neither of us had kids, but both of us were then still too bitter and angry about our spouses’ betrayals to be much use for one another than a fellow bruised survivor to commiserate with. Not terribly sexy, that.

Nor were we any better suited as long term partners than we had been in our college years.

But he’s still a sweetheart, a talented, interesting and creative person, and I look forward to seeing him again soon in Canada, and introducing him to my second husband. His second wife is an academic superstar and he’s now a late-life Dad. Cool!

Here’s a Canadian blogger’s memories of two ex-boyfriends:

I think of him every once in a blue moon, usually when I’m looking at a calendar. JASON. July, August, September, October, November.

Have you re-connected, successfully or otherwise, with a former love?

How did that work out?

Christmas in Manhattan: Santa, Prada and pernil

In art, beauty, behavior, business, cities, culture, life, Style, travel, urban life, US on December 22, 2012 at 2:00 pm
The tree at Rockefeller Center

The tree at Rockefeller Center

The day began with gusty wind and torrents of rain — and a fresh hairdo thanks to Ilda, who arrived at her salon at 7:40 a.m. to help me prepare for my BBC television interview.

The BBC studio, a very small room with lots of lights and a camera mounted on a tripod in the corner, is part of their New York City office, which shares a wall (!) with Al Jazeera next door. Both of them, like some sort of journalistic Russian matryoshka doll, are inside the offices of the Associated Press, in a huge building at 450 West 33rd — the same building where I worked in 2005-2006 as a reporter for the New York Daily News.

During the live hour-long show, which was heard worldwide, I perched on a stool with an earpiece in my ear, producers’ tinny voices from London competing with the five other guests, from Arkansas to London to Connecticut. Afterward, I went to the lobby and sat in Starbucks and drank tea and read magazines for an hour just to calm down. It’s thrilling to be part of an international broadcast, but also a little terrifying.

If you are interested, here is a link to the audio of that show.

I went to the Post Office to buy five stamps. I stood in line for almost 25 minutes, in a line full of people bitterly grumbling at the only clerk.

I took the subway uptown and northeast and decided to wander the West 50s. (For non New Yorkers, the West side begins at Fifth Avenue.)

The narrow gloomy depths of St. Thomas Episcopal Church offered respite, its white stone altar a mass of carvings, saint upon saint. Enormous Christmas wreaths of pine hang on the bare stone walls. The church is still and calm, an oasis of stillness amid the crowds and noise and light and frenzied spending of money all around it.

Lunch is a lucky find, Tina’s, on 56th, which sells Cuban food. The place is packed with nearby office workers gossiping. For $14, I have pernil (roast pork), spicy black beans, potato salad and a passion fruit batido (milkshake)– across Fifth Avenue at the St. Regis Hotel, a single cocktail would cost more.

I walk to a gallery on 57th Street to see a show of works of women — all done by one of my favorite artists, Egon Schiele, closing December 28.

Do you know his work?

I love it: powerful, simple drawings of an almost impossible economy of line. Some of them are raw and graphic, of women with their knees drawn to their chest, legs splayed, naked. They were done 100 years ago, between 1911 and 1918. Schiele and his wife, then six months pregnant, died three days apart in the Spanish flu epidemic that killed an impossible 20 million people.

He was 28, and his final drawing was of his dying wife, Edith. I find everything about his life somewhat heartbreaking. Dead at 28?!

The small gallery, showing 51 works on paper, all pencil drawings or watercolor and gouache, was mobbed, with men and women in their 20s to 70s. Two of the images in this show are here, “Green Stockings” and “Friendship.”

Two small ancient white terriers, one named Muffin, kept bursting out of the gallery office, barking madly.

I loved the pencil drawing of his mother — “Meine Mutter” written on one side, drawn on deep tan paper — with her rimless glasses and dour expression, her hands half-hidden beneath her dress.

His women almost burst from the weathered pages, one woman’s right leg, literally, stepping off the edge of the paper as she lunges towards us. They often wear no make-up or jewelry or furs. Some were said to  be prostitutes, his association with them scandalous in bourgeois Vienna.

In our jaded, virtual era of all-pixels-all-the-time, I revel in the physicality of these works on paper, their edges thick and smudged, their cotton fibres crinkled and wrinkled. You can imagine his hands holding them a century ago, his young fingers so confident in their vision, so soon to be stilled.

Some of the works are for sale, for $45,000 to $1 million+; only one has sold, but the young woman at the front desk won’t tell me for how much. Oh, how I long to win the lottery! A Schiele has long been on my most-wanted list.

In the cold, gray dusk, I walked the 15 blocks south to Grand Central Station, down Fifth Avenue, crammed with contradictions. For the fanny-packed and white-sneaker-shod from the heartland, agape and moving waayyyyyyy too slowly for the impatient natives actually trying to get somewhere quickly, there’s Gap and Juicy Couture and Friday’s, all comforting reminders of home.

For the oligarchs, jetting in privately, there’s Harry Winston, a legendary jeweler, whose precious gemstones are the size of my thumbnail. This is not a place to browse. I wonder when, on this list of their outposts, the latter four were added. How times change!

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Throngs of tourists are lined up — to get into Hollister, a national clothing chain they can see at home in Iowa or Florida.

At Godiva chocolates, a woman is dipping strawberries.

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A huge, glittering snake made of lights encircles (en-squares?) the edges of the corner building holding the luxury jeweler Bulgari.

The diamond-studded watch-bracelets at Bulgari

The diamond-studded watch-bracelets at Bulgari

For a hit of hot carbs, carts sell pretzels and roast chestnuts.

Roast chestnuts are the best! Try them.

Roast chestnuts are the best! Try them.

Outside the enormous private University Club, people of power and privilege sitting in its tall windows, a black man sits in a wheelchair holding a plastic cup in which to collect donations. I give him a dollar and, to my surprise, he hands me something in return — a glossy postcard, a close-up of his artificial legs.

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“What happened to your legs?” I ask.

“Poor circulation,” he replies. (Diabetes, surely.)

Amid the temples of Mammon — Bulgari, Fendi, Ferragamo, Henri Bendel, Saks, the Gap, Barnes & Noble, Prada

This bejeweled coat is in the window at Prada

This bejeweled coat is in the window at Prada

– there are three churches, St. Thomas, Fifth Avenue Presbyterian and St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

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One might stop to pray.

One might pray to stop.

On Madison in the mid-40s, I pass Paul Stuart, with the necessities of male elegance, like these…

Velvet suspenders. Of course!

Velvet suspenders. Of course!

The two bastions of classic male style, Paul Stuart and Brooks Brothers, entered my consciousness when I was 22, on one of my first visits to New York — because the offices of magazine publisher Conde Nast (named for the man who founded it), sat right between them at 350 Madison Avenue. It’s now for rent.

Can you imagine my excitement when I stopped by Glamour and Mademoiselle, in the days when I carried a large artists’ portfolio with clips of my published articles, to meet the editors? As a young, insatiably ambitious journalist from Toronto, this was the epicenter of writing success, an address I’d memorized in my early teens.

Glamour liked one of my stories — typed on paper — tucked in the back and not even yet published by the Canadian magazine that had commissioned it. So it ran three months later in Glamour as a resale. Swoon!

Ahhhhh, memories.

Back to Grand Central Station to meet Jose at the entrance to the 5:38, the express train speeding us home, non-stop, in 38 minutes.

Grand Central Terminal, rush hour. Isn't it gorgeous?

Grand Central Terminal, rush hour. Isn’t it gorgeous?

Weary, happy, sated.

The “What to wear to bed?” dilemma

In beauty, behavior, design, domestic life, family, Fashion, life on December 21, 2012 at 2:06 am
Nighties

Nighties (Photo credit: Pete Lambert)

The easy answer, of course, is nothing.

After another fruitless quest in the sleepwear department, I came home with one simple black nightshirt. Black? Seems a bit sad, really.

Josie Natori, one of the country’s top sleepwear and lingerie designers, got into this business in the 1970s when she deemed sleepwear “lewd or frumpy.”

That just about sums it up — still.

Here’s what a woman gets to choose from, at least at Lord & Taylor, one of the U.S.’s better department stores:

Slut city! Gah. The whole red/black lace, spaghetti strap, this-will-slide-off-really-fast thing. This takes a level of self-confidence I never had, even many pounds and decades ago.

Daddy’s little girl. Yes, if you’re 16, or you have no desire to ever have sex with the person who sees you in it. Every nightie is floor-length, only in white, pale blue or pink. It has a little lace, or a lot of ruffles. It covers up all of you. It will keep you warm. It will not get you laid.

– Granny called and she wants her muumuu back. I miss my maternal grandmother fiercely; she died when I was 18. She was loaded and a grande dame and a lot of fun. She lived in capacious silky, colored caftans like these. (I admit, this is the style I prefer, both modest enough to wear for breakfast when visiting others and pretty enough to lounge in.) Easily enough slithered out of, too.

Just leave the Taittinger and roses by the door. These are the real deal, gorgeous gowns in silk prints by Josie Natori, (a canny former Wall Street exec who has made kajillions designing and selling really pretty underthings for women) and Donna Karan. I would have killed for the Karan silk caftan, but $300? I think not.

– Pretty young thing. I was sorely tempted by a lovely little slip by Kensie, a label aimed at 20-somethings, in an unusual cream color with a cable-knit print. It was both affordable, unusual and pretty. Maybe I’ll go back.

— Dorm special. Any combo of sweat pants and hoodie/henley. Cute at 20, giggling til 2:00 a.m. with the girls. Less so beyond.

It’s not much better for men.

I went out to buy some pajamas for my husband and found:

– Duuuuuuuuude! Floppy, baggy, saggy flannel bottoms with a plaid so huge you could read it from the moon.

-- Where are my damn slippers? The final line of  “My Fair Lady” rings true when you consider the Henry Higgins-ish elegance of silk or cotton pajamas, a la Brooks Brothers. Veddy old-school, veddy debonair. Zzzzzzzzzzzz.

– Hand me my axe. The nightshirt thing. Thick flannel, manly, brawny, whatever.

So our default mode, for both of us, ends up being a T-shirt and some sort of bottom. Pretty boring but comfortable, warm and affordable. I wish I had the guts to wear some slinky little negligee but it’s just not me and never has been.

And if I can’t be comfortable in my own bed, the hell with it.

Here are 16 ggggggorgeous sets of PJs from (where else?) the October issue of Vanity Fair.

Fess up mes cher(e)s! What do you and/or your sweetie wear to bed?

Do you — or your bed-mate — love it?

Talking tomorrow on “BBC World Have Your Say” About Newtown

In behavior, blogging, books, cities, Crime, culture, journalism, Media, news, politics, television, US on December 20, 2012 at 8:36 pm
Official seal of Newtown, Connecticut

Official seal of Newtown, Connecticut (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you have any interest in this subject, I’m speaking at 15:00 GMT (10:00 a.m. ET) on BBC television tomorrow, Friday Dec. 21, about the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut and the reaction to them.

The call-in show is an hour, and will have five guests, three of them from the U.S., me and two men, one a colleague who has lived in Newtown for 19 years and a gun-owner from Arkansas.

In the past few days, I’ve done a BBC interview, written an op-ed for a Canadian newspaper and given an interview that ran in two German newspapers, Berliner Zeitung and Frankfurter Rundschau; here is the brief interview that ran in Frankfurter Rundschau.

The world is horrified by the massacre and many people — like many Americans — simply cannot understand why so many Americans insist on owning a gun.

As many of you know by now, the President has tasked Vice President Joe Biden with a committee who must come up with policy suggestions within one month — the same idea I floated in my New York Times op-ed two days earlier.

My book “Blown Away: American Women and Guns” discusses this issue; here’s a link to it.

Here’s the link to the show’s information.

A few thoughts on Newtown

In behavior, blogging, books, Crime, culture, journalism, Media, news, politics, women on December 18, 2012 at 3:46 pm
English: Photo of Harvard University professor...

English: Photo of Harvard University professor David Hemenway, PhD (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s been a busy few days!

I did an interview with BBC’s Newsday, one with a German freelancer, and wrote two op-eds on this story, both requested.

For anyone who wonders how I get to speak out publicly like this, it’s a matter of relationships. All four opportunities came to me through long-held relationships with editors or these institutions.

I also, which I really value, am essentially asked to explain this specific example of American exceptionalism to other nations who find Americans’ attachment to gun ownership truly bizarre. If you have never visited the National Rifle Association’s website, you must do so, no matter how repugnant you may find their views. Their appeal is emotional and clearly, to its members, very powerful.

If you have no idea what they are saying to their members — and do not understand how organized and well-funded they are —  it’s more difficult to fashion any useful counter-arguments or marshal useful and effective opposition.

This section of it, the ILA, is well worth following, as it is their legislative action component.

It was challenging indeed to produce two op-eds within hours, knowing the subject is wildly inflammatory.

I want to read and hear more women’s voices on this issue!

While Rep. Dianne Feinstein plans to re-introduce the ban on assault rifles -- that expired eight years ago — I see very few women speaking out right now.

Not just grieving — but arguing loudly and publicly in every possible venue for change, offering their own ideas as well.

Here are my two op-eds, one written for a Canadian audience, one for Americans.

This ran in the Ottawa, (Ontario) Citizen:

The guns used in this attack belonged to a woman, 52-year-old Nancy Lanza, a middle-aged small-town divorcee, probably the last person many would expect to own five guns, including a Sig Sauer 9-millimetre pistol, a Glock 10-millimetre pistol and a Bushmaster AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.

Why, asked one of my Facebook friends, an artist in California, did she even choose to collect guns? “Why not bicycles or butterflies?”

Because, for millions of American gun owners, owning a gun is as key to their identity and core beliefs as their support for, or opposition to, abortion. For some women, knowing how to shoot accurately and having a firearm in their home and/or vehicle, maybe even in their purse, also reflects the American ethos of individual rights and self-reliance.

And I added my voice to those of The New York Times’ on-line Room for Debate:

President Obama has vowed to take action, but to do so he needs to involve women. He should create, this week, a multidisciplinary committee — composed not of politicians whose alliances and funding have impeded federal gun legislation for decades — but of those most directly involved in gun use and violence.

Perhaps most important, the committee should include its fair share of women — both those who have been affected by gun violence and those who own firearms. Many women with useful insights into this issue are afraid to speak out publicly for fear of being vilified and shunned in ways that male gun-owners are not.

It might include: emergency room doctors and nurses; hospital administrators bearing the significant costs of treating gun shot wounds; law enforcement and criminologists; public health advocates like Harvard’s David Hemenway; moderate, concerned individual gun-owners; experts in diagnosing and treating mental illness; domestic violence experts; and primary care physicians and pediatricians wary of — even legally forbidden from — discussing how their patients may store their guns and ammunition.

Until all sides are negotiating at the table together — gun owners and victims of gun crimes, public health workers and private gun shop owners, men and women — a viable solution will continue to evade this society.

What do you think of this idea of a Presidential committee?

I think we desperately need new and fresh ideas, no matter how odd or challenging they appear to put into action.

Why the next shooting massacre is (sadly) inevitable

In behavior, children, cities, Crime, culture, journalism, Media, news, parenting, politics, urban life, US on December 15, 2012 at 1:57 pm
Cover of "Blown Away: American Women and ...

Cover of Blown Away: American Women and Guns

Here are some facts about gun use in the United States.

I hope they are helpful as you try to make sense of the latest massacre, in Newtown, Connecticut, where a gunman yesterday killed 2o children and eight adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

I spent two years — 2002 to 2004 — studying how Americans think and feel and behave, how they lobby and legislate — about gun use in this country.

The result is my 2004  book, “Blown Away: American Women and Guns” (Pocket Books). I’m now considered an expert on the subject.

The book was acquired by every Ivy League school and their law schools, by the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center and I was invited to address senior Canadian government officials in Ottawa. It includes women who enjoy gun use and those whose lives have been traumatized by it, whether they were shot, or lost loved ones to suicide and homicide.

Fifty percent of American gun deaths are suicide.

Neither an academic nor gun-owner, I took a three-day course in handgun use and shot a wide variety of guns, from a .22 rifle to a .357 magnum, in the course of my research. I spoke to 104 men, women and teens about their use of — and hatred of — guns. I interviewed politicians and lobbyists and hunters and Olympic shooters and cops.

Here are some of the reasons that “gun control” is an issue that often seems unmanageable:

– The health care system in the United States, which unlike many other nations, has no single-payer structure, makes it difficult, if not impossible, to spot, track and dis-arm someone who is mentally ill and/or sociopathic with access to a firearm before they commit mass murder. Unlike STDs, for example, there is no requirement to publicly report their existence as a matter of public health.

– Americans believe, more than anything, in their individual rights and their right to privacy. Asking a patient about their ownership or use of firearms can be seen as deeply invasive.

– Americans’ dominant ethos is self-reliance and freedom from government restriction. Any effort to limit access to guns and ammunition runs counter to this deeply held belief.

– American physicians and health-care professionals have no way to report their fears, (should they even be aware of such a threat, which is highly unlikely), to law enforcement. They fear being sued. They are reluctant to ask their patients if there is a firearm in the home and, if so, where and how it is stored and and if it (they) is kept loaded.

– It has been said that 25 percent of Americans will suffer from mental illness during their lifetime. On any given day, then, there is a percentage of the population for whom ready access to a weapon and ammunition is deeply unwise. Co-relate this statistic with the number of Americans whose home contains a gun.

Forty-seven percent of Americans own a gun. This is the highest rate of gun ownership since 1993. (source: Gallup poll.) There is no way to know when or how these two factors intersect.

– Politicians who call for, let alone fight hard for, “gun control” may well risk their re-election. Not so for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose term soon expires, and who is leading this charge. But New York City has had the nation’s toughest gun laws for more than a century, since the enactment of the Sullivan Law and popular sentiment here is behind him.

The same cannot be said for many other regions, such as those that allow concealed carry — like Missouri, Texas, Florida, North Carolina and Utah. (CC, for those outside the U.S., means the legal right to carry a loaded gun on your person or in your vehicle.)

– Legislators must work “across the aisle”, with men and women of opposing political views who represent areas with widely divergent views on gun ownership. These views can vary widely even within a state; downstate New York is much less sympathetic to the issue than upstate, where hunting is popular.

– Opposition to the powerful and well-funded National Rifle Association remains weak and splintered. In 2003, the NRA had a budget of $20 million — 10 times larger than that of the Brady Campaign.

– Law-abiding gun-owners feel beleaguered by cries for “gun control.” They have chosen to own and use firearms responsibly and feel that any restriction on their legitimate, legal use of them is unfair. Politicians are very aware of this.

– In many areas of the United States, hunting is a lucrative and popular sport.

– The federal government profits from gun sales, by collecting an excise tax. In 1998, that came to $126,620,000 from long guns and ammunition and an additional $35,528,000 from the sale of handguns.

– Even those politicians deeply and personally sympathetic to the terrible violence inflicted by killers such as these face their own limitations when enacting legislation. Carolyn McCarthy, a former ER nurse whose husband was shot and killed and whose son was shot on a Long Island, NY commuter train, is now a Congresswoman, in office 14 years. When I spoke to her for my book, she told me that her challenge is working effectively with other legislators, whose own constituents may have views diametrically opposed to those of her own.

The challenge of regulating gun use in the United States is daunting.

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