Monthly Archives: May 2012

It’s (not) The Real Thing

Prohibiting the sale of items for “my own protection” is so routine as to rarely garner notice.  The only times a ban becomes news is when a news conference is called.  Diet pills and aids slip off store shelves and magazine adverts disappear without our notice.  Items previously available in aisles become sequestered behind a counter.  Bottles of saccharine were pulled off lunch counters decades ago.  The lead amounts in what we smoke and what we use to fill our tanks change.  Shoe stores no longer purchase x-ray machines for children’s feet and ob/gyn haven’t purchased machines to x-ray growing fetuses in quite some time.

Standards of practice evolve, as does our orientation to products.  Limiting what can be sold as a food item is not a bad idea for a culture with a toxic relationship with processed foods.  Forcing the processed food industry to take responsibility for the bad habits they’ve helped foster is not such a bad tactic.

Mayor Bloomberg is proposing a big gulp ban in NYC.  Sugared drinks would be limited according to size.  A sweetened coffee could not be larger than 16 ounces.  Movie theaters could not sell soda in extra large cups.  Newstands could sell large sweetened drinks, but food establishments could not.  The loopholes and complexities in such a plan are a bit challenging.  Enforcing this law in any meaningful way will be a bear.  And what does it actually accomplish?  People might now feel forced to buy the more expensive (per serving) sizes, perhaps in multiples.  There will be an increase in waste and expenditure.  Soon a big gulp black market will crop up.  People will buy bottles in bulk and decant into large containers for resale.  Forcing people to buy more of something is not a good prevention tactic.

What if we were to tax non-food items the way we do cigarettes and alcohol?  A “fortified” water, soda or sport drink for $10 is not as appealing as water.  The beverage market will take a direct hit and people will drink less sugar water.  Surely this has occurred to a few people in city hall.  So what’s the problem?  Why develop a complicated system, difficult to enforce and with limited efficacy?  Why turn down potential tax revenue?  Could there have been a compromise reached between the very vocal beverage industry and the mayor’s office?

If we are serious about keeping super-sized calorie laden and nutritionally free substances out of the mouths of Americans, then we should do so.  If we want to look as if we are doing something without actually making a difference I suppose the War on the Big Gulp is the way to go.


Posted by on May 31, 2012 in Cultural Critique


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Over Here

It’s Memorial Day and somewhere between the sales, barbecues, summer rentals and beach, we will honor those who died while in the military.  There will be beautiful and touching ceremonies and some lovely parades.  If you are lucky enough to come upon a person in uniform, you might even have the opportunity to give thanks.

And tomorrow will be Tuesday, and we will go on with our lives and joys of summer.  Wouldn’t it be great if we really did honor those who serve?  Thousands have died in Iraq and Afghanistan but hundreds of thousands have returned.  Due to advances in medicine and weaponry, some of these soldiers have survived devastating injuries.  Head injuries alone, account for survival of injuries previously unknown.  Advances in mobile medical treatment and robotics, mean soldiers with severe and multiple amputations are coming home.  For the soldiers’ families, and often for the soldiers themselves, it’s a blessing to be home.

For some, coming home is only a euphemism.  They may have joined the military, partly to have a place to live.  They may be coming back to families who have lost their home.  They may have injuries that prevent them from being in their home.  (Most homes are not wheelchair accessible.)  They may not be able to find any work, or work that is suited to their new self.

The number of Iraq and Afghanistan homeless veterans are rapidly rising.  (You can understand why the Veteran’s Administration doesn’t have actual data on this phenomenon.)  Like any homeless population there is not one path to the status.  Soldiers with head injuries (the invisible injury) can have a very challenging time resuming a normal life.  Some soldiers may have entered the military with a sensibility unsuited to the shock and awe they experienced over there.  Some soldiers return to civilian life feeling overwhelming unsettled by now being a civilian.

There are some injuries and experiences from which one never recovers.  But every person, most of all those who have put themselves in danger in the name of national security, deserves basic help.  A soldier deserves a home.  Whether we need to modify their current home, or create veteran housing (perhaps with all those empty military bases and prisons.)  A soldier deserves job training and placement (cue W.P.A.)  And perhaps less sexy and sound bite, a soldier deserves lifetime mental health care.

These are not difficult or even expensive undertakings.  These are not “sending a man to the moon” or even “war on drugs” expenditures.  These are basic human rights.  All the flag waving in the world doesn’t change the fact that for many returning soldiers, our country has let them down.


Posted by on May 28, 2012 in Cultural Critique, Holiday


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Going To The Chapel

It’s wedding season!  If you’re lucky you will have received an invitation by now.  Yes, I said lucky.  How can attending a wedding not be enjoyable?  Even the worst weddings are fun, perhaps not in the moment, but certainly in the tales you’ll tell later.  That wedding that took place outside, with no awning, in the blazing sun, in August?  You know, the one where they served cream of mushroom soup?  It makes for a good story, no?  How about the rural taxidermy spectacular at which you played “count the back tats” with your date?  Good times.  Without them would you have ever truly appreciated the Windows on the World pageantry, or the backyard exchange of vows under a weeping willow?

Weddings are a good time not just because you might get to dance and mingle with people you know or like, but also because they are a peek into people’s character.  An invited peek at that!  Posh, homemade, sentimental, calculated, they are all “beautiful reflections of his/her love’s affection.”  A wedding tells us scads about the couple’s heart’s desires.  It used to be that weddings mostly told us about the desires of the bride’s mother.  But times have changed.  People remarry, marry later, marry within the same gender, marry outside of their faith, and marry with children.  More and more, couples are redefining the steadfast guidelines of weddings.

Does a father need to walk a 45-year-old daughter down the aisle to “give her away?”  What if there is no daughter?  What if she’s been given away before?  What if she has two daddies?  Or more.  Does a bride need to cover her face with a veil?  Is a veil even relevant?  Luckily, before we needed to reexamine the tastefulness of throwing rice (symbolizing fertility) to couples in their sixties, the avian lovers made us find something else to throw.  Tossing your wedding remains (i.e., garters, bouquets) to your less fortunate friends is (mercifully) rare these days.  We can assume this is the case because a) no one can remember what a sad little piece of lace wrapped elastic is doing on a woman’s leg and/or b) lining up single friends to receive your cast-offs is not nice.  (Wouldn’t it be much more in the spirit of love and community, to have both partners invite all their exes and hope for love connections amongst the guests?)

Weddings are archaic and traditions are always slow to change.  There was a brief mini-bubble in the late 1960s/early 1970s when younger people married on mountaintops with an officiant sporting some beads and a ponytail.  But by the mid-1970s the Tricia Nixon wedding was back in style.  The shift in wedding style we are seeing today seems far more lasting.  By virtue of who is marrying, weddings are becoming more personal in design.  There will always be couples that prefer to follow a playbook (cue Wagner, Corinthians reading, candle lighting, receiving line, and we’re out.)  We will give these couples the benefit of the doubt and not suggest they haven’t thought a whit about their wedding, marriage or each other, we will instead call them traditionalists.  But they now seem to be in the minority.  Older couples (in this context “older” means 30+) have hopefully formed many friendships and important relationships throughout their lives.  Their wedding might reflect those in some way.  When different faiths and backgrounds merge, the results can be a beautiful integration of customs.

No one is forced to editorialize wedding traditions more than a couple of the same gender.  Who walks down the aisle?  Who sits where?  Who dances with whom?  The beauty of this process is that it often results in a “why in the world would we do THAT?” conversation.  A conversation that every couple should be having about every assumption at every juncture.  This all bodes quite well for the future.  More thoughtfulness is always a good thing.  Going through life attuned and conscious has a wonderful effect on the world.

As I sip my champagne, careful not to spill on my silk, I will toast to this ritual that by its definition is steeped in hope.  I will feel grateful for the opportunity to learn more about what makes the couple happy and how they feel about each other.  And I will dance, if not to actual music, than in my mind.  I will celebrate presence, consciousness, and of course, love.


Posted by on May 25, 2012 in Marriage/Wedding


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No Talking Please

There’s something odd about using the words “library” and “exposé” in the same sentence.  Libraries are by definition, quiet and often unassuming places.  Yet, the New York Public Library has found themselves in a bit of a pickle.  It seems that librarians have been given hush money.  No, seriously.  Librarians willing to leave their employee (during budget cuts of the past few years) were given severance if they signed a “no disparagement” agreement.  Forgetting for a moment that we are talking about a prestigious (and massive) institution dedicated to free access to information, wouldn’t you love to make people sign a no disparagement agreement?

Ex-partners, former friends, colleagues, family members, that stranger in the hotel bar?  They could all be forced to say only lovely things about you forever more.  We would become so adept at the no disparagement clause that we wouldn’t even need paperwork anymore, just a knowing look.  Picture cutting off someone in line or stealing his/her parking spot.  You’d simply glance at them and communicate; “When you talk about this, and you will, be kind.”

But back to paying off employees to keep their mouths shut.  There are scenarios when in fact this practice makes all the sense in the world.  You wouldn’t want people leaving certain government offices and blabbing.  It wouldn’t be sporting to leave an industry dependent upon patents and then go squeal.  The same is probably true in industries of money, such as investment banking.  Mum needs to be the word for the sake of fair-ish competition.  But when institutions of intellectual pursuit or information communication have hush clauses, well that might just be a horse of a different color.

The N.Y. Public Library has no competitor of which I’m aware.  Nor does the New York Times (which also uses hush clauses, but not for journalists.)  It seems likely that the motivation to hush former employees is that you are leery of what they may say about the institution.  NYPL is embarking on a renovation that has rankled some (they are transforming the landmark 42nd street research library into a circulation library; a rather dramatic turn of events.)  Hushing former employees in the midst of what could be a contentious business decision speaks to a certain whiff of insecurity.  At the very least, it’s not a wise public relations move.

There are no institutions, really, just people who work in them and make decisions on their behalf.  There are boards, there are patrons, but there is no great wizard.  Regular old mortals make decisions that collectively add up to the policy and mission of an institution.  Outsiders often, understandably, assume that cultural, education or other institutions of thinkology, are populated by the greatest minds our nation has to offer.  Those smarties are there.  They are.  But many times they are not the ones making the majority of the operational and administrative decisions.  Administrators are doing that.  Some of these people are very talented, some are very credentialed, some are even both, and some are neither.

This is not to suggest that anyone at the NYPL is less than stellar.  Not at all.  It is only to remind us that our nation’s greatest academies are only as good as we are.  Innovation is key to the sustainability of some of these institutions.  Leaders must be visionaries and smart, ethical and strong managers must surround them.  A charismatic leader must have people in their inner circle who will tell him/her when he/she is not wearing any clothes.  Hushing librarians (librarians!!!!) in the midst of a contentious building project is the ultimate naked man in the room.

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Posted by on May 24, 2012 in Cultural Critique


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He Works Hard For The Money

It would appear that men are doing “women’s work.”  More men are cropping up in ‘pink collar’ jobs.  At first glance one could presume that traditionally ‘pink’ jobs (i.e., health care, home care, etc.) are a growing field and that is where the jobs are.  But a little more digging indicates that there is something larger afoot.

There was a time that the crassness of the business world or the filth of the industrial world was just too horrible for a women to endure.  If she were to work, it should be in jobs that weren’t too taxing to her delicate sensibilities (you know, like caring for people in the throws of debilitating disease.)  She should not have to dirty her hands in factories or investment banking, but instead stay unsullied wiping both ends of children.  Women had little choice but to flock to the pink ghetto, as that was often the only place hiring.  Monolithic institutions had distinct gender rules within.  In a high school, the principal would be a man, the nurse a woman, the lunch aide was female, the janitor male.  A few teachers would be male, after all someone needed to teach science and coach sport.  Hospitals were filled with men and women; in very specific roles: messy and personal was for women, highly technical or requiring heavy lifting went to men.

The bifurcation of our work world has had everything to do with sectors of work not being worthy of the special gifts and talents of men.  Is it that surprising that in the 21st century, men and women do not see their skills as tied to their gender?

For those bypassing higher education, the workplace landscape has changed.  Manufacturing jobs have slipped away and the service industry has grown.  This could explains the rise in male nursing and dental assistants.  But educated men are flocking to teaching.  They say they are more attracted to a satisfying profession (and clearly they define “satisfying” differently than their fathers and grandfathers did.)

How interesting these developments are.  Everything is cyclical, surely it is.  Every generation is convinced they are discovering the world anew or in touch with truths that eluded their parents.  No doubt there will be another swing in society soon.  However the reason that this particular development warrants notice is what it could mean for the work world.  For better or (and who are we kidding) WORSE, when men get involved voices are heard.  When a man does a job, it’s seen as being serious.  Consider funeral homes for a moment.  Is caring for and grooming of the dead somehow less delicate than caring for the small or infirmed?  Is arranging flowers and music, providing tissues and cooing over the bereaved a distinctly masculine trait?  Not in my experience.  Yet, the (traditionally male) profession is seen as not just respectable but admirable.

Male special skills and talents may not differ from those of women, but their power certainly does.  It’s absurd to pretend otherwise.  Having men in professions previously relegated to the pink ghetto will have a powerful ripple effect.

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Posted by on May 21, 2012 in Cultural Critique


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