Friday, August 21, 2009

More than 100 million women are missing...

…but it’s not news.

The statistics in this first article alone are mind boggling.

Five thousand honor killings a year? One percent of the world’s landowner’s are women?

Forgive me, but when people sit up on pedestals and preach to me about different cultures doing things differently, I usually think they’re full of it. It’s one thing to not eat pork. It’s quite another to beat your wife to “discipline” her. Throwing acid on girls going to school is another good one. You know, because we wouldn’t want their education to give them ideas about contributing to society. They need to stay home behind an abaya or burqa and not be exposed to the world. Other men might get the wrong idea.

Did they ever think that if a man gets the wrong sexual idea about seeing a woman’s face or arm or ::gasp:: leg in public, that there’s something wrong with the man? That maybe he only sees women as sexual beings and that’s all they’ll ever be to him? Oh wait…that was the idea all along…

Once again, the New York Times comes through with three amazing articles about women around the world.

I consider myself fairly well-informed on international women’s issues and I was staggered by this article (it’s long, but worth it):

Again, I’m not a big fan of Hillary, but she does stand up for the double-X chromosomes out there. What kills me the most about this interview, and is mentioned in the article I listed previously, is the fact that maternal health is ignored in so many of these places. It doesn’t make any kind of sense.

You would think that if you didn’t value women except for producing more sons to continue your horrible culture, you would make sure that having those sons didn’t kill them. Evidently that’s a silly thought, I mean, there are plenty of other wombs available right? Whether they’re willing or not doesn’t seem to matter either.

Also, way to avoid the explosive topic of Saudi Arabia, Hillary…they’re our “friends” who killed how many women and girls last year?

I am physically affected by this next story. That sounds overly dramatic, but it’s true. I don’t know anyone who can read about a government agency orchestrating an acid attack on school girls and not shiver a little. $1200 cash payment for each attacked girl. I suppose that’s fine. They’re girls. Not worth much anyway I suppose…who knows if they would even bring that much money in for their bride prices. I guess, economically speaking, these monsters were paid handsomely to ruin young girls’ lives. And it’s not an isolated incident either. Apparently, resorting to violent, cruel means to keep girls from getting an education is popular in the region.

Even sadder than the attack is a father’s unwillingness to help his daughter at no cost to himself and his selfishness to want to gain personally from his daughter’s suffering. I might have cried a little. Don’t judge me.

Now it’s time for an article that’s not like the others! Development is a powerful and, at times, dangerous force. Logically, having more money and education should increase your status in a society, but apparently this is a false notion. Life is hard for all of these women.

Do you ever wonder what kind of person commits infanticide? Or what kind of person lets their daughter die of neglect? Are they even people? It also begs the question: how can women do this to their daughters? If you spent your life suffering at the hands of men, and you have a daughter, how do you just ignore her and LET HER DIE?

I suppose the appropriate way to end this is to make some cute little comment about how this all going to show how afraid men are of empowering women, but I feel like that doesn’t even begin to describe what is happening in the world. The systematic hate of an entire gender is happening in front of us. I don’t really know what else I can say about it.

Office Etiquette -- How not to be one of "those people"

I sit in a corner cube at work. Aside from the wonderful space it affords me (decorating ideas anyone? I seriously have a lot of gray-fabric-wall here that needs help.), I can also hear pretty much everything that goes on in the bosses’ offices. Normally I just plug in my headphones, because no one likes a nosy Nancy, but sometimes I hear things on accident. It’s not a big deal, but sometimes people feel the need to talk loudly in Spanish. Thus begins the rant:

As someone who speaks Spanish and works at speaking, reading, and writing it properly…I get annoyed when people try to speak Spanish to hide things, which is the only reason you’d do it at work, and then end up doing it poorly! If you’re going to talk (loudly) about people, talk about projects, or just shoot the breeze, do it in a language you can speak rather than speaking an amalgamation of Spanish and English that makes no sense. Or, here’s a thought, you have an office, not a cube, CLOSE YOUR DOOR and talk in whatever language you’d like.
It’s rude. Plain rude. Sure, I can understand everything you’re saying and I know it’s not important, but other people don’t know that. It makes them uncomfortable. What happens when people are talking in a language you don’t speak around you? You get self conscious, right? Duh, you’re human! It’s like when you go to the nail salon and you sit down and immediately the manicurists start chattering in a language you don’t know. So you’re sitting there decoding body language and context clues and you convince yourself that they’re judging you for your cuticle beds, when they’re more likely having a conversation about their plans for that night. RUDE.
It’s unprofessional. This is a continuation of number two, but I like lists better when there are three items. It gives them more weight. Anyway, it’s unprofessional. You shouldn’t engage in secretive behavior at work. You’re perpetuating a clique culture which is never productive. Besides, how secretive is it when 15% of the floor can understand your secret, coded messages?

To be fair, I don’t think I would care as much as I do if it was someone else who orchestrated these linguistic parties. But I don’t like this person much, and I don’t trust her – she’s all about Eve. So kids, don’t be exclusionary, linguistically or otherwise.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Dinner is dying and I don't like it one bit...

I feel like I should preface this by saying I’ve read way too many articles lately that start to talk about the Julie & Julia movie and just end up talking about Julia Child. And beef bourguignon. And butter. And spies. Really, I like anything that mixes cooking and espionage. It makes for good reading.

You know that feeling you get after you eat a REALLY good meal? You spend the fifteen minutes after the meal thinking about the flavor, texture, and aroma. You are content to bask in the feeling of fullness and even welcome to food coma that will set in shortly.

My next step is usually to figure out how I can recreate the meal. What spices and ingredients went into the sauce? What was the meat marinated in? Would I change anything? How can I make it better? How can I make it mine?

I find that I am too often alone in this next step. My friends don’t cook. I mean, some of them heat up, bake, or microwave, but none of them actually cook. Some of them try, but they don’t try on a regular basis. I get phone calls asking about everything from baking (which usually involves me telling them to read the box they’re most surely using more carefully) to what is missing in this salsa I just made (it was salt). I don’t know when cooking fell out of vogue with the 20-somethings. Sure, we didn’t really cook in college, but we were probably too drunk to operate the stove safely. But not that we’re starting our careers and have our own places, why does cooking still not happen?

I grew up cooking. Really. I lived next door to one grandma and not far from the other. Both of my parents are excellent cooks (like their mothers). I can remember watching dinner being made and wondering about things:

How do you know when the chicken is done?

How do you know how much salt to put on the raw meat?

How do you know when the bell pepper is bad?

How do you know if the steak is well, medium, or rare?

How do you fry things without burning your arm off?

How do you coat the pan with caramelized sugar without dripping the candy on your hand? (Oh, the successes, failures, and scars of flan…)

I mean, I really watched, and as I got older I started asking questions. All those years of watching, combined with food television and the power of the internet, developed my culinary skillZ. (Yes, I just invoked the “Z” because sometimes you need that bit of sarcasm in your morning.) But apparently I was alone in all of this developing. I mean, my friends WATCHED Nigella, Emeril, Rachael, etc. but they didn’t think to replicate what was happening in their own kitchens. As I think about it, I have ONE friend who cooks every day, which to be fair is more than me right now. And he COOKS. Yes, I said he, not she. I like it when my friends confound expectations. We compare culinary skillZ and I can’t wait to leave my sublease and have a kitchen of my own again so we can compare skillZ in my own home. I love these nights where we plan meals and make them happen. They’re fun. Cooking becomes the main event of the evening and while we’re waiting for something to finish we can have cocktails, play games, and just enjoy the company of our friends.

My dad and his friends have Iron Chef challenges (I’m not kidding, they pick the ingredient and everything. I gave him a roll up case for his knives last year because of these gatherings.) The wives encourage this behavior and sit like judges at the counters with martinis and watch the entertainment. I am jealous of this bit of my parents’ lives.

The idea of “grandma’s kitchen” is a popular one with its cozy warmth and delicious surprises simmering in pots and pans on an ancient stovetop. I have very old memories (yeah, all 23 years of me and my very old memories) of dinners in family kitchens. I can remember what was served, what I was wearing (proof that my love of clothes was nature, not nurture), who was there, but mostly you remember a feeling…of comfort? But not comfort the way a blanket is comfortable or the way you feel when you settle into the couch for a movie. It’s a different thing. It’s like comfort combined with safety? Security? Love? Sometimes there’s melancholy mixed in if the people starring in your memories aren’t with us anymore. Comfort with a cinnamon-sugar-nutmeg-pecan topping?

My worry is that such memories are behind me. The kitchen isn’t a place where things happen anymore. Usually my cooking involves cooking for myself and eating leftovers for the week because I cook in quantities for families, not for individuals. Let me tell you, eating alone is not happy. I look around the dining room or kitchen and find myself wishing for people to be there, to share dinner with. I miss the daily ritual. More than that, I worry that it’s dying out, that other friends don’t miss it, and that when we have families of our own, the idea of “dinnertime” won’t exist.

So I’ll fight the dying ritual of dinner in my own way. Dinner parties, cocktail parties, cooking parties. Even just having a friend over for dinner. Slowly, I’ll bring dinner back like Justin brought sexy back (you saw that coming and couldn’t do anything to stop it…poor reader). I’ll go finish planning my housewarming party menu now.

Hi-ho, hi-ho, it's off to work I go...

When you start a new job, there’s an adjustment period. Aside from getting used to your new responsibilities, figuring out where the damn water fountain is and getting your desk chair to remain in a comfortable position, you have to figure out the office culture. Is this an office where we decorate our desk space with personal style? Are peep toes acceptable, or is it strictly closed toe pumps? Aside from the superficial fitting in, you have to prove you fit in a substantive way.

At my old job, you proved yourself through results. They set an incredibly high bar (that you really were only kind of expected to reach) and you did whatever was necessary to either hit that bar or at least make a good effort to show everyone you’d done everything you could to hit that bar. This is a hugely popular non-profit known for huge increases in everything from year to year. Some people were naturals for the environment and they were golden. If you weren’t a “fit”, you could choose to live your life for the organization (it’s beginning to sound like I’m referring to the Mafia, I’m not, I promise) and try to make up for your shortcomings. What do I mean by that? You can get to work at 9 AM. You can leave at 8 PM. You can eat lunch at your desk every day. You can turn on your laptop once you get home and work until midnight or later. And then you can do it again the next day. You can become accustomed to this and forget that there is a whole world out there where people stop working at 6 PM and don’t have work-issued laptops so they aren’t online everywhere they go. You forget that it’s possible to take time off from work without checking your email. What’s worse is that you expect other people in your life to understand this crazy workstyle you’ve developed. And if they don’t, they often disappear from your life.

I used to think that this was just an organization using energetic, recent college grads to do their bidding in a frenetic way. I mean, the results are undeniable. But now I see that some organizations function like this at all levels, from the lowliest assistant right on up to the president. If that’s truly how you want to live your life, I clearly have no way to prevent you from doing that. Do I have a problem with it? Sure. Because I believe that Americans spend too much time at work. However, you as an adult can work wherever and however long you want.

Let’s be clear about something. Sometimes stuff goes down at work that needs to be handled TODAY. There’s nothing wrong with that. You stay late, you do what needs to be done, and that’s life. But when this is the status quo, it becomes unhealthy.

I had dinner with friends who still work for my old company last week. They all asked me what it was like to “be on the outside” and what it was like to leave. I told them about my new job, about my great new hours, about being rewarded for overtime, and about all the extra things I can do now that I have time to commit to them. I even made a joke that I was working too fast, in a nod to the breakneck pace of my old life, and told them that normal places don’t run around like everything is an emergency. And I told them that it was a nice change of pace.

There is a phrase in the book The Devil Wears Prada, a book whose protagonist I’ve identified with many times in the last year of my life, the “Paranoid Runway Turnaround” and it refers to the behavior of magazine staff who complain about their crazy editor, and then justify her behavior. I’ve always thought the justification comes from two places:

1. CYA – no one ever wants the bad things they said about their boss to get back to them, and

2. Self-justification – Trust me, I’ve lived this, I’m not hating. Mentally, you can only take so much before you begin questioning why you do what you do. The only way I found to deal with this was to assure myself that the nature of the work was such that it put everyone in high stress and sometimes that manifested itself through bad behavior on the part of organizational leadership.

Translation: I lied to myself so I wouldn’t have to face that work ruled my life in every way. Here is where the danger starts. I lied to myself so much that I began to believe other lies being thrown at me. I couldn’t see the truth anymore. I began to believe that I was worthless, that I was bad at my job, that the team would be better off without me. Looking back now, and having been told otherwise by 95% of that team, I can see that what began as self-preservation ended as self-destruction and devolved into deep depression.

--Back to the story: In front of my very eyes, every single person (with one notable exception) at that dinner table did their own version of the Paranoid Runway Turnaround, but this time I was on the outside.

“I just don’t know what I would do with all that extra time, I mean, isn’t there more you could be doing to stay later?”

“You’re working too fast? I wouldn’t like an environment that told me that, I would see myself turning into a slacker who didn’t have a good work ethic.”

“Well, you would like an environment like that. You always had strict work-life boundaries yourself.”

I swear you guys, I wasn’t pissed until the last one. Sure, the others are indirect digs at me and mine, but that last one just angered me. She was right; I wouldn’t let myself work more than 60 hours a week unless there was a project that demanded it of me. I don’t think that the amount of time you spend at work reflects the amount of work you get done and I knew that in my 50 hours, I got more done than others did in 80. So it was at this point in the meal that I realized my friendships with these girls will change in the coming months. They’re still under the influence of management that instills in them this “work at all times, no matter what” and I’ve left that sphere of influence.

After an uncomfortable silence, because I wouldn’t agree with, or really acknowledge, their statements, the conversation picked up and was steered right back to their work. This is their life now, but it’s not mine anymore. I don’t miss it, but I might miss them. The idea of losing them makes me sad, but not sad enough to doubt that I’ve made the absolute correct choice and will be happier for it.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Amendment to previous iPod rule

So today on the sojourn home, I boarded my metro car without an idea of what was to befall me in mere minutes!

First, a man sat next to me, which was annoying because it was 4 pm and the car was empty, but I digress...then it BEGAN!

Have you seen Step Up 2: The Streets? If you missed this cinematic masterpiece, please see the link below and take those two and a half minutes to educate yourself.

So that happened on the metro today. I mean. It was just one guy, but still. He was DANCING. Using the overhead bar for balance, spinning, kicking. He was polite enough not to invade the personal space of others. As the crowds grew and waned with each stop, so did his dance moves. I kept waiting for the rest of his crew to join in, hell, I wanted to join in on the fun. This may have been the greatest metro ride home ever. I got to watch this show from L'Enfant all the way to Crystal City. And I was sad to see him go!

All this to tell you, I have amended the rule. If I am on the metro, and can hear your iPod, it is NOT OKAY, unless you are giving me the performance of your life, then please allow your iPod to serve as your portable club.

I was also lucky enough to get a picture. Sadly, he spun away from the camera as I clicked, but here you go:

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The political equivalent of Chuck Norris...except less so

I am so happy for the families of Euna Lee and Laura Ling (for those that don’t know: that’s Lisa Ling’s sister! One time for being a child of Channel One news!). Americans are so lucky to have a free press. It’s something I value dearly. In that same vein, journalists who travel to places where the same freedoms don’t exist do so at high personal risk and I respect and value their efforts. Because of these brave souls, we have non-biased news coming from otherwise media-dark places.

Now that we have that out of the way, I can begin the critique of news coverage. (You knew the beginning of that post was too happy. You felt this coming.)

We all know the media loves Bill Clinton. They love Bill Clinton in an obsessive way. I am not here to disparage him or to belittle his accomplishments. If you overlook impeachment, which is hard for me to do, even in my little theoretical vacuum, he made good decisions during his presidency and served the country well. He certainly was not the worst president we’ve seen. But he’s not God. He doesn’t have special powers.

The media is portraying the North Korea development like this:


Scene: Bill Clinton’s plane lands in Pyongyang. Bill exits plane and proceeds to Kim Jong Il’s place.

Bill: Hey, Kim! Lovely to see you!

Kim: Hello, William. I hate America.

Bill: Well, Kim, I think that’s an unfair sentiment, but I’m not here as a representative of the US government. I’m actually here to talk to you about two journalists that you’re holding. It would be GREAT if we could get them back.

Kim: Well, Bill, normally I am an angry man who likes to make an example of people, but since I like you, I guess you can have them. Just make sure that everyone knows it was you who persuaded me.

End scene.


Maybe it’s my years as a Model United Nations kid (go ahead and laugh, I used to spend four days at a time pretending to be X country in X committee, it’s silly), maybe it’s my healthy interest in international goings on, or maybe it’s just the fact that I’m not so easily swayed by the media, BUT just to let everyone know…North Korea is one of the most strategic governments in existence. If anything, they were keeping these journalists as an extra trump card for the never-ending game they play with the US. It is more likely that Bill took this unofficial trip in an effort to talk about nuclear issues and before he landed North Korea had already decided to give up the reporters to avoid having to talk about nuclear weapons programs they may or may not be developing at alarming rates. As a bonus, they get to make statements about what great humanitarians they are and how they are an example to the rest of the world.

This is the same government that imprisoned these girls for illegally entering their country and a vague “grave crime” for TWELVE YEARS. And prison is a gulag in North Korea. Prisoners don’t have rights. Everywhere else in the world, an illegal border crossing would be a simple matter of deporting the offending journalists back to their countries. Except that North Korea wouldn’t want anything these journalists discovered getting out into the international media.

I could go on and on, but I’ll stop myself here and just say this:

Maybe I’m too cynical. Maybe he did convince them to let the girls go. But I just want to be able to expect more from the media and not be continuously disappointed by their coverage of just the party line. You would think that in a case like this, where investigative journalism was threatened, they would optimize the national attention by including more than four sentences about US-North Korean relations. If you thought that, you would be wrong.