Monday, December 6, 2010

Get Informed December 6: 10 News Stories you might have missed

If you get your news from Fox commentary, NYTimes opinion pages, satirical news comedy, or anywhere on, then you might be missing a lot of big important stories! Here's a few I've culled from the back pages of leading news organizations. An informed citizenry may be important for democracy, after all ;-)

  1. Pakistan police officers to be arrested over death of Benazir Bhutto, after destroying the crime scene less than two hours after her murder.
  2. European nations agree on offshore North Sea electric grid to deliver wind power across the continent.
  3. ACLU obtains documents showing the government routinely violates the law in spying on US citizens, although they did not find any evidence that the violation is intentional.
  4. New Meningitis vaccine may end African epidemics - see, not all the news is bad news!
  5. Rising CO2 levels cause ocean acidification, threaten marine life
  6. The Brazilian army is policing Rio de Janeiro slums in the country's first domestic peacekeeping mission.
  7. Lawsuit challenges history-sniffing, a practice where websites build a profile of visitors based on sites they had visited in the past (without permission, naturally).
  8. Renewed violence prompts concern in Central African Republic, threatening the withdrawal of UN peacekeepers from the region and CAR's upcoming election.
  9. State budget cuts put law enforcement on front line of mental care, as clinics that treat the mentally ill close nationwide.
  10. Italian actress-turned-minister is making progress in the fight against sexism in a country of extreme double standards. I wanted to end on a positive note!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Femonomics at the Movies: The Next Three Days

 The Next Three Days is an action-suspense movie that follows John Brennan (Russell Crowe) as he plans his wrongfully convicted wife Lara's (Elizabeth Banks) escape from prison. The film takes place in Pittsburgh, and has a long windup as we watch John plot the breakout while simultaneously raising a young son and teaching at a community college.

The Viewer's Angle
The film is very well written and tightly paced, competently following the heist / escape plotline that we've heard before. John's tricks and turns are clever, and it is fun to watch him execute his plan. However, the performances fall rather flat, and a cameo by Liam Neeson only served to remind me how much more engaging similar material is in his hands. A lack of convincing chemistry between the leads, along with limited backstory on their characters, made it difficult to care if they succeeded. If anything, having to wait through the buildup, the main reason I wanted the escape to work was so I could see the payoff of all the planning. Extraneous characters to the story, a brother and sister-in-law, way more detectives than called for, and the most beautiful playground mom ever seen, end up prematurely diffusing some of the tension, which I find critical in a low-explosion film. Overall, a bit of a disappointment, and I'm probably going to check out Unstoppable this weekend to get my action itch scratched.

Monday, November 29, 2010

An American doctor in Paris (or why I want an apology from Jezebel)

I will not be visiting Jezebel until they apologize for publishing "Edward Pasteck's" ridiculous, rape-apologizing, harassment-defending garbage.  For those of you who aren't familiar with this steaming pile of rapey mansplaining dung masquerading as interesting content on a feminist website, it went a little something like this [TRIGGER WARNING--scroll to "end trigger"]:
Having just returned from living in Paris, I feel more convinced than ever that America gets many things wrong about sex. Right there near the top of the list is our attachment to the idea of consent.

In Paris, it seems as if the straight male attitude toward consent is that it doesn't exist. At clubs, bars, bistros, in the street or on the Metro, Parisian men lobby very aggressively for sex. At the clubs in the 8ème, off the Champs-Élysées, and all along Rue de Rivoli, it is fairly common to watch men literally grab and touch the girls who weave through the crowd. Men often draw a finger down an unknown girl's cheek or under her chin like a doting Uncle; they can be seen pinching girls' noses, throwing arms around shoulders and even stealing kisses. It's not for nothing that the French slang word for "kiss" or "make out" is choper, which literally means "to catch."

...One lesson from Paris is that sex shouldn't be an activity to which we need to consent if a decision will suffice.

A specific example from my time in France helps illustrate my point. I once fell madly in love with a woman named Madeleine. I thought she liked me too because she kept agreeing to see me and she once elegantly blew me a kiss as she descended into a Metro station. We were never intimate because the moment never seemed right to try to kiss her. Lovesick and unsure of what to do, I complained about Madeleine to a female French friend who said to me, "Have you tried getting her drunk?" Obviously my friend's recommendation was based on the assumption that after getting drunk Madeleine would be easier to seduce. This idea of plying a woman with alcohol (something that is applauded by American men in private) often enrages American women because they view it as an assault on their right to consent. Is this really a good thing?
That's right, Jezebel, you and I are over.  I will get my celebrity gossip from People, and my feminism from sites that have never defended sexual violence.  I originally wanted to use this space to talk about how I had personally been affected by the fragility of consent in American society.  To talk about walking the gauntlet in NYC bars with bile in the back of my throat as men exercised their assumed right to touch me however they pleased.  To talk about how, as a survivor of sexual abuse, I am terrified that society thinks "Well, it's not like she fought him off" is an admission of agreement.  I wanted to tear his ridiculous argument to shreds.  Then I had a different idea. [END TRIGGER]

Why not try to apply Pasteck's logic to another situation in which consent is required to avoid legal action?  Medicine.  The below follows the exact same structure and argumentation of Pastek's piece, with almost all taken verbatim (including the parts that make no sense and say nothing), although edited for length.  With apologies to the French, who did nothing to deserve this, here goes:

Friday, November 26, 2010

Get Informed November 26: 10 news stories you might have missed

If you get your news from Fox commentary, NYTimes opinion pages, satirical news comedy, or anywhere on, then you might be missing a lot of big important stories! Here's a few I've culled from the back pages of leading news organizations. An informed citizenry may be important for democracy, after all ;-)

  1. US sets aside 'critical habitat' for polar bear in Alaska: 187,000 square miles of good news!
  2. Obama outlines plan to defeat LRA in Uganda. No boots on the ground, but the US will partner to put these scumbags who use child soldiers out of business.
  3. Despite China's open trade with Africa, tensions with African immigrants remain
  4. BP's oil spill bill could be much less than expected, as many of the fisherman's claims were submitted with insufficient documentation and will be rejected.
  5. Study finds no progress in safety in hospitals, with patient deaths from complications or infections steady between 2002 and 2007. The study was limited to 10 North Carolina hospitals.
  6. Russia's proposal to unite missile defense systems rebuffed by NATO
  7. Use of contractors added to Iraq War's chaos. Though they are much less effective than actual troops, look for the use of contractors to increase as US pulls out of Afghanistan. Wikileaks' documents detail a plethora of problems.
  8. DHS panel on at-risk chemical plants is stacked with industry lobbyists who push for weaker standards and more lax security requirements! But you will have to get naked or get groped to get on a plane, because that makes us safer...
  9. China is financing a $6 billion expansion of oil refinery in Cuba, expanding the country's influence in Latin America and increasing energy security.
  10. Food insecurity continues to plague North Korea.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Jezebel publishes piece advocating rape (Or, OMFG Jezebel WTF)

For anyone who has read this article (Huge, massive, billboard-sized trigger warning), let me just say that I am so very sorry.  I am sorry that you, who may or may not be a victim of sexual assault, but if you're not has probably been on the other end of sexual violence or attempted sexual violence at some point in your life, had to read some scumbag's self-justifying rape apologism, all the time wondering whether this made YOU less safe in a world with these men, and those who publish them; whether this meant YOU should feel empowered by your sexual assault, even though you feel like ice inside instead; whether this meant that the world is really as hostile as this website where you used to feel at home.

What really got me was how very much like an assault it felt to read THAT piece on THAT blog.  To look at the headline "American guy in Paris freed from idea of consent" and think that Jezebel was going to tear him apart.  Then to click the link, and start reading a first person narrative of someone advocating unwanted touching and kissing of women in bars as "liberating" (for the m-fing women!) and getting a girl drunk as embracing life, and wondering when this clever satire was going to turn and reveal how wrong-headed this sleazeball logic was.  And then to get to the bottom and realize that none of it was a joke?  That one of my favorite websites had just actually given a platform to a rape apologist, without unpacking his argument, offering a counterpoint or at least warning its readership that the website had done a complete 180 on what kind of content to publish, and they should probably take their morning coffee and bagel elsewhere?

Read this comment thread for an incredibly sorry explanation for said behavior, and some very articulate explanations as to why said sorry explanation is complete and total b***sh**.  Read Sady's historical take on said b***sh** here.

Then please go check out one of the other excellent feminist websites that are out there.  Fighting the a**holes.  Instead of publishing them.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Very Best Podcasts on iTunes

This post seems to have gotten a lot of traffic from Google, so I'm going to keep updating it as I find more excellent podcasts. Leave your finds in the comments!

I am not the biggest fan of exercise, primarily because I find it boring (I climb stairs, go for walks, or use the elliptical or erg machines), and my boredom draws attention to the fact that exercise is less comfortable than sitting on the couch drinking wine and watching The Dog Whisperer. But I believe exercise is important, so I combat the boredom with podcasts. The following podcasts are so good, I go to the gym just to be able to completely focus on them.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Get Informed November 20: 10 news stories you might have missed

If you get your news from Fox commentary, NYTimes opinion pages, satirical news comedy, or anywhere on, then you might be missing a lot of big important stories! Here's a few I've culled from the back pages of leading news organizations. An informed citizenry may be important for democracy, after all ;-)

  1. Dialysis treatment centers mismanaged by giant corporations: ProPublica investigates a publicly-financed system that is extremely profitable for the providers, but which costs more per patient with shamefully bad health outcomes when compared to other developed countries.
  2. Vatican to issue guidelines on sex abuse, victims groups are unimpressed and some church leaders are still discounting the severity of the situation.
  3. Senate approves settlement for underpaid aid to black farmers and mismanaged Native American trusts. Unanimously!
  4. Ireland is said to discuss bailout of nearly $70 billion, in order to counteract dual problems of a crippled banking sector and the nation's tremendous government debt.
  5. A GAO report to Congress explains that raising the minimum retirement age would disproportionately impact the poor and minorities, who often cite health problems as the primary reason for leaving the workforce.
  6. BP may face new penalties over an Alaskan oil spill in 2006.
  7. Private-army phenomenon exacerbates African conflicts, UN says. Mercenaries, not a great thing? Who knew!
  8. Senate moves ahead on food safety bill that would give FDA new powers, shifting more liability to producers and giving the FDA recall power.
  9. Der Spiegel profiles Turkmenistan, and details superpowers efforts to court central Asian nations for access to energy resources and military base real estate.
  10. APEC countries agree to launch massive new free trade zone, linking the region more closely with the US, China, and Japan.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Recipe Fridays: Shepard's Pie three ways

I know it sounds a little dated, but I've just realized Shepard's Pie is an incredibly easy, filling, and impressive-looking main course that can be made vegetarian--the perfect winter meal in my house.

Shepard's pie (serves 4)
6 potatoes
2 cups either cooked lentils, ground beef, or ground beef-style soy
1 large carrot
1 large green pepper
1 onion
2 tomatoes
spices: salt, pepper, thyme, paprika, cinnamon, and nutmeg are good (as in all of them, or a meat seasoning mix)
Garlic, butter, and cheese (if desired) for mashed potatoes

Peel the potatoes and cut into pieces.  Boil until tender.  Meanwhile, chop all vegetables.  Saute onion in large skillet with olive oil until translucent.   If using ground beef, add at this point, and cook for 5 minutes, then add carrot and tomatoes.  If using soy or lentils, first add carrots and tomatoes.  Saute until carrots begin to tenderize.  Then add soy or lentils, and cook until heated through and carrots are tender.  Last, stir in spices and green peppers and remove from heat.

Mash potatoes with garlic, butter, and cheese to taste (also salt, of course).  Scrape meat/soy/lentil mixture into round casserole dish.  Spoon potatoes on top in pretty pattern, and then "rough up" top with a fork to encourage crisping.  Place in either a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes, or, if you're hungry, under the broiler for 10 (monitoring and turning as needed).  Remove when potatoes are browned in places.

Serve with a green salad with quick pickled onions: Heat 1/2 cup vinegar, 1 tsp salt, and 1 Tb sugar until boiling.  Add thinly sliced red onion (rounds) and return to boil.  Remove from heat and let sit for 30 minutes, until onions are soft and bright pink.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Google launches seriously cool

 Google has launched a new fashion website, that allows you to shop in dozens of celebrity, designer, blogger, and (soon) user-generated e-boutiques.  As the NYTimes says in a piece that sounds like an ad for the site: has so many capabilities and components that even Google engineers have a hard time qualifying it. It is a collection of hundreds of virtual boutiques merchandised — or, in the new parlance, “curated” — by designers, retailers, bloggers, celebrities and regular folks. You can shop in the style of, say, the actress Carey Mulligan or Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen — among the celebrities who signed up for the launch — or you can build your own boutique and amass followers who can comment on your taste.
...In every boutique on the site, there are dozens of additional choices inspired by a designer’s or celebrity’s style — generated by algorithms — with product photos that are much larger and sharper than on other shopping sites.
Yes, it's part of the unrealistic fashion industry that wants us to spend $495 on "investment" jeans.  Ultimately, it's a way to change the model for how people shop for fashion, in a time when high-end designers are finally feeling the pinch of recession (luxury goods held strong for a while in the real-estate bust).  But what I like about it is the potential for it to become a sort of fashion twitter.  Each boutique creator has followers and can follow other boutiques.  That means that if you have impeccable taste and have always wanted to open a store, now you can with zero start-up cost.  I can imagine users who scour the internet for beautiful, unique items at great prices amassing thousands of followers, a la twitter.  Moreover, that means if I find a few boutique proprietors who I like, someone else can do my online shopping for me!  [Note, I tried out the feature, and it seems that google might limit the items you can put in your boutique to what it has in its "catalogue." If this remains the case, the potential for bargain-scouring might not be as great as I hoped.]

Special google magic also means that fashion searches that usually yield frustrating results are now going to work well, at least according to the Times:
And that may be’s ultimate game-changer — how precisely it analyzes your preferences to give you what you requested. As many online shoppers know, search engines tend to give you stuff you don’t really want. A request for fern-colored shoes might yield fern shoes, plus fern-print blouses. But, as two experienced online shoppers found when they tested the site earlier this week at Google’s New York office, if you ask for cobalt blue shoes, you get them. And if you refine your preferences with a click or two, you get even more specific styles.
Time will tell whether the site lives up to its potential for fashion democracy.  In the meantime, I'll be doing some shopping in Carey Mulligan's boutique.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Law & Order & Prison Rape

For reasons that defy explanation, I have spent a significant amount of time in the past couple of weeks watching episode of Law & Order: SVU. For those of you who have not watched television in the past decade, the show follows a fictional team of detectives, medical, and legal staff responsible for investigating sexual crimes in New York City. It is highly formulaic but well acted, with a strong sense of morality coursing through each episode. Because this show is so sensitive to issues surrounding sexual assault and victims' rights, I was very surprised that in many of the episodes the detectives crack rape jokes!

No way! Not possible! You'd think this would be egregious behavior for officers (even fictional) that are charged with investigating sexual crimes. But apparently it's acceptable (on TV) because the potential victims are the criminals that have been charged with the episode's crime and are entering prison.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Get Informed November 10: 10 news stories you might have missed

I'm thinking of making this into a regular feature. Let me know what you think; at least it keeps me reading the news! -Mongoose

If you get your news from Fox commentary, NYTimes opinion pages, satirical news comedy, or anywhere on, then you might be missing a lot of big important stories! Here's a few I've culled from the back pages of leading news organizations. An informed citizenry may be important for democracy, after all ;-)

  1. Obama backs India's quest for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. The president acknowledge that India was already a major global power, and criticized the country's relatively isolationist stance thus far.
  2. Oil and food industry groups are challenging the EPA on ethanol in gasoline. Raising the allowable amount from 10% to 15% may drive up food prices and cause damage to engines.
  3. New report claims 100 tigers are being poached annually, a significant loss in a global population of around 3,500. :-(
  4. Polio outbreak in the Congo Republic, the government plans on vaccinating the entire population orally.
  5. Secretary Clinton announces US-Australia talks on rare earth metals supply. China currently has a near monopoly on the market for these critical components to electronics and military systems.
  6. Executives of for-profit colleges are receiving huge bonuses. Compensation for the C-suite at these schools is in some cases more than 20 times what the highest paid traditional university president gets!
  7. Hardly any white Southern Democrats remain in office following last week's midterm elections. Only one white Democrat congressperson remains in deep South states of LA, MS, GA, AL, and SC.
  8. School nutrition bill could be revived in Congress. The bill passed the Senate earlier this year and may now pass Congress after two representatives have dropped opposition to using food stamp funding.
  9. The White House altered drilling ban report, overstating scientific and expert support.
  10. Sarkozy accused of using French intelligence to spy on journalists; the opposition party is demanding an investigation.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Male privilege alert: Men's inviolable right to violate women's bodies

Today Gawker has a post about the alleged sexual assault of a Google employee at a tech conference by a Twitter engineer.  Gawker's headline reads "Googler accuses Twitter engineer of sexual assault on her blog."  Right there, we're off to a bad start.  Because her blog post is not, really, at all about "accusing" someone of sexual assault, but rather stating the simple fact that she was assaulted (he put his hand down her pants after she turned down his advances), naming the person who did it, and saying rather eloquently that it's part of a broader problem of guys excusing their bad behavior based on the setting:
It’s not the first time something like this has happened to me, at all. It’s not the first time it’s happened to me at a tech conference. But it is the first time I’ve spoken out about it in this way, because I’m tired of the sense that some idiot can ruin my day and never have to answer for it. I’m tired of the fear. I’m tired of people who think I should wear something different. I’m tired of people who think I should avoid having a beer in case my vigilance lapses for a moment. I’m tired of people who say that guys can’t read me right and I have to read them, and avoid giving the wrong impression.
...It is not my job to avoid getting assaulted. It is everyone else’s job to avoid assaulting me. Dozens of guys succeeded at that job, across the week. In the pub, in the stairwell, on the MARTA, in my bedroom.
One guy failed, and it’s his fault.
The commenters make the bad start even worse, by (typically) questioning her behavior (which, in a move that makes me want to give her a medal, she bravely documented), attire, and decision to name her assaulter.  The author of the Gawker article feels compelled to pull out the "Innocent until proven guilty" refrain, and laments that the victim in the case couldn't vent her trauma without naming the perp.  But why should she?  "Innocent until proven guilty" doesn't really apply to the victim in the case since, to her, there's already pretty clear-cut evidence that the person at hand is guilty.  Remember, this happened to her.  It's the legal system that's meant to reserve judgment.  Moreover, if you think it was "tasteless" of her to name the guy, or some other BS the commenters are spewing, ask yourself whether you would not do the very same thing if a crime were committed against you: If your house was broken into by a neighbor, and you wanted to blog about it, wouldn't one of your purposes surely be to warn others that this neighbor isn't to be trusted?  This is not a case of kiss and tell--it's a case of a victim, simply and without malice, documenting her assault.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Get Informed November 7: 10 news stories you might have missed

If you get your news from Fox commentary, NYTimes opinion pages, satirical news comedy, or anywhere on, then you might be missing a lot of big important stories! Here's a few I've culled from the back pages of leading news organizations. An informed citizenry may be important for democracy, after all ;-)
  1. Mexico drugs cartel suspects arrested in Atlanta area: Agents arrest 45 members of La Familia Michoacana and seize $10 million worth of meth, cocaine, and pot.
  2. Hurricane Tomas sweeps through Haiti, with severe wind and rain battering earthquake refugees still living in insubstantial tents.
  3. Dead coral found near site of BP oil spill: Scientists begin to find more acute and long-term ecosystem effects from this summer's disaster.
  4. Wal-Mart hopes to move into Africa with takeover bid: The retailer is acquiring South African chain Massmart.
  5. The Supreme Court hears a case on the constitutionality of tax credits for private religious schools: Interestingly, the matter seems to turn on whether a tax credit is money that "belongs" to the government or not. Also, Elena Kagan weighs in!
  6. 600+ Women were raped along the Congo-Angola border: The UN is asking the two countries to investigate.
  7. Russia upholds freedom of assembly; Journalist brutally beaten in connection with his work: One step forward and two steps back?
  8. GOP seeks to cut pay for renewed jobless benefits: Republicans may refuse to pass extension of unemployment benefits unless the impact on the federal deficit can be lessened. Merry Christmas guys!
  9. Mood is grim as Myanmar heads to elections: Both choices are pro-military, pro-democracy party refuses to participate, outside media and observers are being barred, results are unlikely to be legitimate.
  10. US involvement in Yemen edging toward "clandestine war": President Obama is said to be considering CIA covert operations in the country supplemented by unmanned drone strikes.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Be a Feminist and Vote this Tuesday!!

It would be hard not to know, with the incessant pleas and accusations of campaigning politicians across all forms of media these past few days, but this Tuesday, November 2nd, is Election Day! This is our opportunity for civic engagement, to hold government accountable, and feel smugly superior for the low cost of standing in line and exercising the right to vote! There is usually even some free coffee, and very nice volunteers to usher you through the process pain-free.

File:Feminist Suffrage Parade in New York City, 1912.jpeg

First of all, you must be registered to vote. Usually this has to be done at least a month before Election Day, but this varies from state to state. In Georgia, I was registered when I got my driver's license, so that was super convenient.

To figure out who all of the eligible candidates are, I started by Googling "Georgia election commission." This type of search will generally lead to your state's Secretary of State office, which is responsible for overseeing elections. If your state is up-to-speed on internet technology, you should be able to learn where your polling place is, which districts you can vote for, what all of the open seats are, and even have links to the candidates' campaign websites.

There should be a sample ballot available online, which you can print out to mark down your choices. It can be hard to remember what you researched when there are a lot of candidates and issues, so I recommend working through this ballot or taking a cheat sheet in with you.

What You'll Need
  • Form of identification
  • Sample ballot or cheat sheet (optional)
  • Patience (occasionally the lines are long)
What You'll Get
  • A voice in the political process
  • Sense of satisfaction for doing the right thing
  • Complaining rights if the other guy wins
  • Coffee, and maybe even donuts (if you're lucky)
Remind your friends, family, and coworkers to get out to their polling places on Tuesday!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Recipe Fridays: Asian Turkey Meatballs

Thanks to the newest issue of Everyday Food magazine for this delicious recipe. I modified it slightly since I don't like things too spicy and had no rice on hand. These were a great meal to stretch over a few days, and, always a plus, it's easy to make.

coarse salt
1 cup long-grain white rice (i didn't have rice so i used whole wheat orzo)
1 carrot, shredded
3/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1 1/2 pounds ground dark meat turkey or ground pork (i used a combo!)
3 scallions, white and green parts separated and thinly sliced
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
4 tsp fish sauce
4 tsp hot-pepper sauce (i thought that was too much so i used 2 tsp)
4 tsp sugar
1 large garlic clove, minced
2 tsp veggie oil
lime wedges, for serving

1. preheat oven to 450. cook rice (or orzo!). remove from heat and top with carrot. let stand, covered, 5 minutes, then stir in carrot (and i put the scallion greens in at the same time, but you can also put them on right before serving).
2. meanwhile, combine breadcrumbs and 3 tbp water. let stand for 5 minutes. add meat, scallion whites, cilantro, fish sauce, hot pepper sauce, sugar, garlic, and 1 1/2 tsp salt. gently mix to combine and form into about 12 meatballs.
3. in large nonstick skillet heat 1 tsp oil over medium-high. in batches brown meatballs on all sides, about 10 minutes (add up to 1 tsp oil as needed). transfer to rimmed baking sheet and bake until cooked through, about 10 minutes. serve meatballs with rice and lime wedges.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Recipe Fridays: Baked Mac and Cheese

As temperatures drop and the seasons change, it's time for warm comfort foods. I recently tried my hand at Ina Garten's Mac & Cheese (she's always got great recipes). I made some modifications (took out the tomato and added in bacon and mozzarella cheese). Feel free to experiment!

1 tablespoon salt+enough to salt the water
veggie oil
1 pound elbow macaroni
1 quart milk (aka 4 cups)
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
0.6 pounds) Gruyere cheese, grated
0.4 pounds mozarella, grated
8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar, grated
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 cups fresh white bread crumbs (made from 5 slices white bread, crusts removed and grated)

1. Grate cheeses.
2. Grate bread.
3. Preheat oven to 375. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drizzle veggie oil into the boiling water (a couple tablespoons). Add the macaroni and cook according to package instructions, 6-8 minutes. Drain well.
4. While the noodles boil, begin to heat the milk in a small saucepan...but DO NOT allow it to boil. 5. (I waited for my noodles to drain so I could use the same big pot for this step) In a large pot melt 6 tablespoons of butter along with the flour. Cook over low heat fpr 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk (or spoon if you don't have a whisk).
6. Then whisk in the hot milk and cook for 1-2 more minutes, stirring/whisking until smooth and slightly thicker.
7. Turn off the heat under large pot.
8. Stir in 1 tablespoon of salt, the pepper, and the nutmeg.
9. Stir in the grated cheeses.
10. Add in the cooked macaroni and stir well.
11. Pour into a 9x13 (or 3-quart) baking dish.
12. Put the strips of bacon (uncooked!) on top--remember bacon shrinks as it cooks so feel free to use a lot!
13. In a small saucepan (or a microwave-safe bowl) melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Toss with the bread crumbs to coat evenly.
14. Sprinkle bread crumbs over the top of the macaroni caserole.
15. Bake for 30-35 minutes (cheese should be bubbly and bacon baked).

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Yet Another Study Raises Concerns for BPA

Just this past week a study was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives raising new concerns (and supporting past concerns) about the negative effects of BPA on human health.

One of the major research findings was that humans are exposed to higher levels of BPA than previously predicted.

In an effort to protect our health, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency determines reference doses for chemicals. A reference dose is the maximum daily exposure level, which is expected to not cause any significant risk for human health.

For BPA, the EPA determined a reference dose of 50 µg/kg/day. However, the study published by Taylor et al demonstrated that in order to achieve the levels of biologically active BPA that have been detected in human serum, the rhesus monkeys had to be given a dose that was 8 times the EPAs reference dose.

The results bolster scientists’ concerns that we truly do not know all of the sources of BPA exposure. Aside from plastic bottles and canned goods, there are new routes of exposure that continue to be identified such as thermal (carbonless) receipts.

The study also directly compared BPA studies using mice and rhesus monkeys, and demonstrated that, in fact, rodent studies are a valid model for human effects. To date, the biggest argument used to discredit the massive amount of data showing BPA can have negative effects on human health, had been that rodents were not a good model.

With all this new evidence, I wonder how long until a real regulation gets put into place to protect consumer health. I’m also excited to see what the counter argument will be. Stay tuned!

[Image credit: brian.gratwicke]

Friday, September 17, 2010

Recipe Fridays: Eggplant with ginger and tomatoes

One major cuisine I've failed to incorporate into my cooking repertoire is Indian food.  It just seems like there's such a high startup cost!  In order to make anything tasty, you need a billion spices, and it still turns out much worse than the carryout you could have gotten in 1/10th of the time. (To be honest, Chinese food probably seems the same way to many people, but since I grew up with it, I find it more manageable.  I think ethnic cuisines have a high fixed cost - low variable cost structure.  Someone should write a paper on this.)  However, there's one dish I make that's vaguely Indian inspired that also happens to be super easy, and turn out delicious every time.  So if you, like me, have an irrational phobia of Indian cooking, try whipping this recipe up for all (ok, most) of the satisfaction with none of the hassle.

Eggplant with ginger and tomatoes
  • 2 large eggplants
  • 2 large or 4 small tomatoes
  • 1/2 onion
  • 1 thumb-sized piece of ginger
  • Vegetable oil
  • Salt, pepper, and chile flakes to taste
Heat 4 tablespoons of oil in a large pot.  Chop the onion finely, and add to the oil.  Without skinning, cut the eggplant into 2-inch chunks.  When the onion is translucent, add the eggplant and saute until the eggplant is brown in places.  Chop the ginger very finely, and add to pot, sauteing for 2 minutes longer.  Turn heat down to medium-low, roughly chop the tomatoes, add to pan, and cover.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for at least 30 minutes, or until each piece of eggplant is soft.  You may wish to add more oil, or a couple tablespoons of water if mixture begins to stick.  The eggplant tastes best with lots of oil and when left to cook for 45 minutes to an hour, but that depends on your time and nutritional constraints!  Add salt, fresh pepper, and chile to taste.  Enjoy with rice, or, when cooked for a long time, spread on crusty bread.

Monday, September 13, 2010

How to pick up chicks: A reasonably informed response to pick-up artist guides

It is really hard to meet men I want to date. I hear that men also have trouble meeting women. (I smell an arbitrage opportunity here!) Hence, the abundance of guides on "picking up women" all over the internet. Some of these guides have really disrespectful attitude towards women, which makes me wonder about their true intent and efficacy. So, here are some of my tips for sparking a woman's interest - all should also work with men!

  1. Ask - and remember - her name. This is really simple, but is an easy way to show respect and interest. If names give you trouble, try repeating it right after she tells you (i.e., "It's nice to meet you, Rachel"), and repeat it a couple of times in your head.
  2. Actively listen to what she's saying and ask appropriate questions. People love talking about themselves, and feel extra special when someone is really engaging with what they're saying. Don't use her conversation as a way to change the subject to yourself. When I recently told a guy in a bar that I liked books, he used this as a way to start talking for 15 minutes about his own collection, which was not particularly endearing. A smoother dude would have asked me more about what I liked to read, or maybe the most recent book I had purchased.
  3. Make eye contact, but not too much. The main thing here is not to stare at the woman's rack while you're talking - it really bothers most of the women I know. However, don't lock eyes too intensely either. If she's backing away, fidgeting a lot, or keeps looking away, you are probably being a little too strong. Eye contact, look away, eye contact, glance away, etc.
  4. Don't swear profusely, say bigoted things, or indulge in excessive vulgarity. Dropping F-bombs is not going to impress anyone, and being sexist, racist, or homophobic will not score you any points. This is your first conversation with this person, so put your best foot forward.
  5. No negging. Negging is a common pickup artist tip where you catch a woman's interest by insulting her. Don't do this - it's stupid, rude, and makes you look like an inconsiderate jerk. Compliments are totally the way to go. You already know this to be true, so just trust your instincts. Anecdotes of successful negging are just that - rare stories. If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.
  6. Make her feel great. This is your antidote to negging - instead, give her a nice compliment, laugh at her jokes, take interest in her conversation, use her name, buy her a drink. This is a classic sales strategy and common sense: everybody loves a charmer.
  7. Accept no as an answer. Don't be too persistent, and allow her an easy escape from the conversation. If she's not interested in you, it behooves you to be as polite as possible and not make her uncomfortable. Not only is this the right thing to do (harassment is bad!), she might also have friends with her who might be more receptive to your advances. If this sounds like bad advice, read this harsh piece about too-persistent men. Don't be that guy!
  8. Follow up with a call. If the stars align and you get her number:
    1. Call when you promised or within three days.
    2. Call once, leave a voicemail. This is really important - calling half a dozen times is inappropriate. Just leave a voicemail with your name, a reference to where you met so she can remember the context, and your number.
    3. If she doesn't return your call, try again, but only once. (See #6 for rationale.)
  9. Ask her out on a date. In a world of online dating and a hookup culture, it seems that people are increasingly afraid of the face-to-face rejection inherent in dating. Rejection is a normal part of the dating process, and picking yourself up and moving on is a big part of improving your game.While and hookups can be great, a dinner date is a really good way to get to know someone through a relatively sober and private conversation. It sounds intimidating but there's nothing to be scared of - and it gets much easier with practice!
These might seem really simple, but I've seen so many men (and women!) blow their chances by messing up on common courtesy. Any more basic tips out there for meeting people?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Femonomics crowd-sourcing: Helping a friend in an abusive relationship

Scenario: You have a friend.  Maybe you've just met.  Maybe you've known her for a long time.  Either way, she trusts you, and you care about her.  One night--maybe it's the alcohol, maybe it's that she's tired of waiting for his calls--she opens up to you.  She tells you a story so heartbreaking, that your tears flow just as freely as hers.  Her boyfriend hits her.  He's put her in the hospital.  He's left her by the side of the road with no money for a bus home.  He dictates who she talks to and when.  She's been cut off from her friends.  It's making her sick.  Maybe you know the guy--maybe he even seems like a perfect gentleman--or maybe you don't, but you've never even seen a hint of what she's telling you before tonight.  Looking into her tear-stained face, you know why she's telling you.  She's worried if she doesn't get away now, he will kill her.  And you know it too.  So together, you make a plan.  You engineer her escape.  You tell her it's going to be hard, it's going to hurt, that she'll want to go back.  She says she knows all this.  She's ready.  You turn off her phone, together you pack a bag, maybe you take her to a friend's house, maybe she stays with you, maybe you find a hotel.  I'm helping her, you think.  I can save this girl.  She looks at you, grateful.  Together, you feel strong.

And then, suddenly, just like flipping a switch, she changes her mind.  Maybe it's the next day, maybe it's only an hour later.  Maybe she's talked to him, heard his apologies.  She wants to go back.  She needs him.  She tells you nothing she told you is true.  He doesn't hit her, she says.  They just fight sometimes.  He's flawed, but she loves him.  She wants her phone, she wants to go.  Don't block her way.  You look her in the eye.  Tell me he's never hit you, you say.  He's never hit me.  Tell me he's never left you by the side of the road.  Never.  Put you in the hospital?  Never.  Told you who you can talk to?  Never.  I just wanted attention, she says.  Thanks for your concern.  Now let me leave.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Life Skills: Packing Light and Smart

Another great post from guest VikingKitten - a veteran traveler with some tips on keeping your suitcases light!

We travel a lot, so we know what you’re thinking:  You don’t want to be THAT person—the notorious over-packer who takes 5 suitcases on a week-long trip, but you also don’t want to leave anything important behind.  Here’s our top 10 tips for packing light while still covering all the bases:

1.   Make the room to bring a camera:
You’ll regret it if you don’t.
2.       Check the weather before you leave:
This point cannot be emphasized enough, but always remember that weather can be unpredictable.  Make sure to take advantage of layers, and consider bringing a jacket, umbrella, and hat.
3.       Choose clothes in travel-friendly fabrics:
Knit, cotton, and denim travel better than linen or silk, particularly if ironing won’t be an option.  Opt for easy-case fabrics that will retain their shape without the fuss.
4.       Bring versatile shoes:
The average female traveler packs 5 pairs of shoes—what a waste!  Bring a couple pairs of versatile, comfortable shoes in neutral colors, and at least one pair that can handle water/rain.
5.       Make your own travel-size toiletries:
Don’t waste space packing your huge shampoo bottles, and avoid wasting money buying travel-sized bottles of all of your favorite toiletries.  Instead, fill up reusable travel-sized bottles, like these with your existing shampoo, lotion, conditioners, and other toiletries to save both space and money.
6.       Use plastic bags to avoid potential spills:
Speaking of toiletries, make sure to put any bottles containing liquids that may leak into plastic bags to avoid a disaster.
7.       Try space-saving bags:
Affordable bags such as these get great reviews from frequent travelers who want to save space.
8.       Stick with color schemes:
Color schemes make outfits easier to coordinate.  Neutral colors are better because they are easier to mix and match and can handle many climates.
For women in particular—it’s always wise to pack a dress in a neutral color, which can be dressed down during the day with sandals and dressed up at night with heels, jewelry, and a cardigan.
9.       Remember your chargers:
For your phone, camera, laptop, etc.
10.   Pack a scarf:
Scarves are an underrated travel accessory: versatile and worth the space.  They are good for cold weather (for warmth) or for warmer weather (to dress up an otherwise bland outfit). 

And finally, some inspiration:

Any more tips readers? What are your tricks for keeping everything in the carry-on?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Femonomics reads the internet so you don't have to: Eminem's Love the Way You Lie

You may have heard that Eminem and Rihanna have come out with a new music video of "Love the Way You Lie." This has generated a lot of buzz, and in some cases controversy, for it's depiction of domestic violence. The video portrays a complex relationship where the abusers aren't completely unsympathetic and the victims are not faultless human beings - in other words it's a lot like real life! Some people are arguing that the video makes violence look sexy, which would be a not-so-great message. Others note that the message seems to be that violence is not a choice, but more like a natural disaster, over which no one (not even the abuser) has any control. This discussion is complicated by the fact that both singers have lived through abusive relationships, Rihanna having been violently assaulted by her then-boyfriend last year and Eminem having been both a perpetrator and receiver of abuse in past relationships. Also, the whole dialog is taking place on the internet, so decency and politeness is at a minimum.

Here's the video. It is not similarly offensive to Eminem's other work, but there is somewhat graphic violence and swearing.

I have to admit, I like the duet, the rhythm, and (so help me) the obvious rhymes. My primary takeaway is that this is not being portrayed as a desirable relationship, but rather as a cautionary tale. And not to equate Eminem with the great playwright in terms of art, but couldn't the same charge of romanticizing violence and death be leveled at Romeo & Juliet? I can see however, where people are misinterpreting this as glorifying (and sexifying) domestic violence. The actors playing the couple are Dominic Monaghan and Megan Fox, both of whom are really, extraordinarily gorgeous. These two would look smoking hot at a pie-eating contest - even though pie eating contests are completely gross! Monaghan gave an interview where he explained the intention in creating the video was to both give a believable portrayal of violent relationships, and to send a strong anti-violence message.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Recipe Fridays: How to cook (and eat) Zambian food

The staple Zambian food is N’shima, a cooked maize product similar to grits or polenta. It’s dense and highly caloric, thanks to the cooking process by which a small amount of maize meal is cooked into a porridge, then additional meal is beaten in until the N’shima is thick and sticky. There are two kinds of maize meal, or mealy-meal, from which N’shima is made: Refined meal, called “Breakfast”, and whole meal, called “Roller” (pronounced Rollah). N’shima is eaten with a variety of “relishes”, such as vegetables, small dried fish (kapenta), beans, and/or meat with gravy. The major Zambian vegetables are: Rape, a dark green, slightly bitter leaf similar to chard; Chinese cabbage, a slightly lighter colored and more crisp leaf; Chabwawa (pronounced almost like Chihuahua the dog), pumpkin leaves, which are thick and often sandy if not washed enough; Kalembla, pointy, sometimes star-shaped leaves which can be slimy if over-cooked; and Bondwe, basil-shaped leaves with a distinctive fragrance. These vegetables are usually cooked with tomato and onion, and sometimes in a groundnut (peanut) stew called V’sachy.

Zambians eat with their hands, but this is certainly not an excuse for poor hygiene or table manners. Washing hands before and after meals is mandatory, and you’ll find most Zambians somehow keep their hands clean throughout the entire affair. This is managed by the process of taking a golf ball-size lump of n’shima, rolling it into a ball, and flattening it with the thumb before picking up any food. The n’shima and the thumb together are used to pick up vegetables and sauce, leaving the rest of the hand clean. For tearing apart meat and fish you will have to use your hand—but only one. The other rests on the table clean. Westerners seen grabbing food directly off the plate by the handful are considered just as uncouth here as they would be back home, so be warned—eating with your hands isn’t as simple as it seems.

Below are some Zambian recipes, starting with those that are most transferable to Western grocery availability.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Unlocking the puzzle: HIV in East Africa

Let me ask you this: Do you believe patterns of sexual behavior are the primary determinant of rates of HIV infection in the world?  If a country has more HIV, does that mean more people are having more unprotected sex with more partners?

Personally, I don't believe the above statement, at least without major qualifications, but there are plenty of people (and plenty of people in the HIV/AIDS advocacy community) who do.  What I would say, is that countries with higher infection rates probably provide the virus with more opportunities for transmission--perhaps in the form of unprotected sex, but also in the form of overall poor health, additional untreated infections, possibly lower rates of circumcision, and other so-called "open windows" (to borrow a phrase from Elizabeth Pisani) into our normally protected bodies.

On the other hand, I am also troubled by how HIV rates could be so high in relatively well-off East African countries (such as Botswana) and so low in equally poor Latin American countries.  What's the missing variable?  One theory that I've heard advanced is that East African societies tend to favor concurrent sexual relationships, rather than serially monogamous ones, which is more conducive to HIV transmission.  The idea is that HIV is most infectious after you've been recently infected, so if you have sex with someone for several months, become infected, and then start a new relationship a few months later, you're less likely to transmit the disease than if you have an ongoing sexual relationship that involves multiple instances of unprotected sex with two people during the same time period.  But is it the case that East Africans have more concurrent sexual relationships than people in other countries?  Honestly, I don't know.  Feasibly, it seems like something you could find out by examining DHS surveys, but I don't know of anyone who's done this.  So in the absence of facts, let's at least talk about why that impression exists.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Recipe Fridays: Nutella Milkshake

So this recipe is not rocket science. It's not gourmet. It's not inventive. It is simply to die for. A few months ago some friends and I went to Brooklyn Bowl for some good old fashioned fun. Not only is it a fantastic-looking venue, but the food is scrumptious--thanks to Blue Ribbon who runs the food there. And, lo and behold, they have a Nutella milkshake on the menu. It was heaven! I attempted to recreate it the other weekend to much success.

Warning: Once you taste the first sip, you'll want to have bucket loads. All the time.

Vanilla ice cream
Milk of your choice

In a blender, mix ice cream and milk until you get the consistency of milkshake you would like. I find that three parts ice cream to one part milk (or thereabouts) is best. Then add in a couple of spoonfuls of Nutella (again, as much as you would like). Blend well. Serve and drink immediately!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Femonomics reads the internet: Thank you Obama, leave Shelley alone, pro-choice heartbreak

Obama spoke out in support of the "Ground Zero Mosque", which as Gawker points out (in a hilarious piece on potential "compromises") could more accurately be called the "The Downtown Manhattan Muslim Community Center," but that doesn't do as much to justify faux outrage and calls to "refudiate."  Seriously, thank goodness.  Now could someone from the right prove their party isn't going over the waterfall of irrelevance by doing the same?  Anyone?

Shelley O (The nickname is from TLo) took a trip to Spain, and now someone is comparing her to a modern day Marie Antoinette.  Snarky columnists will be snarky columnists, but the part that really irks me, is that her approval ratings fell after the whole thing.  Honestly, give me a break.  She took a trip with her daughter and a few friends.  Surely this is not unheard of from someone who earned over $300,000 a year as a vice president at University of Chicago Hospitals? 

I'm about as pro-choice as they come (when it comes to legal restrictions) and yet I found myself tearing up reading this description of abortion (last page) in a piece on selective reduction of twins linked to by Jezebel.  Jezebel's Anna North seems to ask whether we should judge one woman's choice in terms of how this informed our defense of her right to choose.  But to me, the two can be unrelated.  It's possible to feel sadness about abortion, and even to feel anger at the person doing it, without believing in legal restrictions on it.  Going in with this belief, I was still surprised at how much the piece affected me emotionally.  Go read it and let me know if your eyes stay dry.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Guest Post: The Teaching Methods of Higher Education - Sexist or Simply Part of the Profession?

Another great guest post from VikingKitten regarding teaching methods and potential gender bias in graduate schools. Enjoy!

At first glance, graduate education programs seem to be more female-friendly than in years past: female enrollment in graduate programs of traditionally male-dominated fields—such as medicine, law, and business—has significantly risen in recent years, with enrollment in law and medical schools about evenly distributed among genders. However, despite this rise in female enrollment, the teaching methods of these schools have generally remained the same. Does this put women at a disadvantage?

As a law student, I will focus on the teaching method with which I am most familiar—the “Socratic Method”—which, despite its unfortunate misnomer, actually describes the following type of scenario: A law professor will “cold-call” on a student, asking questions about the assigned cases or reading material. The professor will often give the student a tough time and ask many follow-up questions, forcing the student to come up with strong arguments on the spot and to support his/her opinions with clear and logical reasoning.
So, what’s wrong with this method? According to Harvard Professor Lani Guinier, one of the many staunch advocates for the removal of Socratic Method in law schools, the Socratic Method may put women at a disadvantage to men. The basic argument, stemming from Guinier’s 1994 study  and extending into more recent scholarship, is that women learn better in cooperative environments and are more likely to speak up and excel in smaller groups and in more interactive situations. Proponents for the removal of the Socratic teaching method also observe that women tend to take longer than men to formulate answers on the spot, that they tend to feel alienated in the law school setting, and that male students consistently outperform their similarly-situated female counterparts in law school.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Mad Hoc: Character studies

Just in time for the new episode of Mad Men, RMJ's and my chat on "The Good News."  These chats may be more infrequent/posted later due to internet connections in Zambia, but we'll try to keep bringing you Mad Men discussions!

Don and Anna
 RMJ: So, what did you think?
 Coca Colo: Well, TLo pointed out it was a slower episode, and I agree, but it was really sweet and interesting to see so much Don-Anna interaction
  RMJ: So I was with tlo - it was a little boring
  i watched it with a friend which i think means i missed some of the subtleties
Coca Colo: Yes, it was more about laying groundwork. I'm less into this other version of don, as far as I just find him less exciting, than the Madison Avenue one, but I think that's the point
 RMJ: Yeah, he's a lot less compelling but much happier
 Coca Colo: I think it’s because he's NOT that polished guy. He's the guy in the country bar and painting the wall.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Recipe Fridays: Chess Pie

When the fancy strikes me (which is not often), I just have to bake a pie. There's something old-fashioned and homey about pies that makes baking them even more enjoyable. Last night I went and bought the ingredients to a traditional Southern pie: Chess Pie. It reminds me of the filling of pecan pie--only without the pecans. It's super easy, super tasty, and super sweet so make it to share with your friends, family, and neighbors.

1/2 cup butter
2 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla
4 eggs
1 Tbsp cornmeal
1/4 cup evaporated milk
1 tsp distilled white vinegar
1 unbaked pie shell (unless you have more time, then definitely make your own pie crust!)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Mix the butter, sugar and vanilla together. Then mix in the eggs, then stir in the cornmeal, evaporated milk, and vinegar. Stir until smooth and pour mixture into unbaked pie shell. Bake the pie in the oven (make sure you put the pie on a cookie sheet in case it spills over the crust) for 10 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 300 degrees and bake for 40 minutes. Let cool and serve.

Recipe Fridays: The Best of Jamie Oliver (so far)

I have to admit, that my first introduction to the work of Jamie Oliver was here at Femonomics, when we reviewed his new show Food Revolution. Since then, I've been DVR'ing episodes of Jamie at Home, and have checked out his books from the library. I think I might be in love. Not only are his recipes exactly the kind of think I like to eat, they are "dead simple" and really impressive. A few of my favorites so far:

English Onion Soup - like the traditional French, but with as many kinds of onions you can get your hands on.

Proper Chicken Ceasar Salad - cooking the croutons underneath the chicken, and later bacon, makes them ridiculously delicious.

Zucchini Carbonara - this is a little trickier, and requires a lot of prep time (for me), but is super tasty and massively impressed a colleague I cooked it for.

A couple of notes, Jamie adds red pepper and pours olive oil on top of everything. There's no need to replicate that, it's just his tic. He also uses really expensive ingredients - organic, local, the highest quality. That's all well and good for a multi-millionaire, but I just do the best I can. In most cases, you can get by with whatever's in the grocery store.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Out of the pot, into the fire: How hierarchy defines our lives

I've just finished the first week of what will be a four-month stay in Zambia (and the reason femonomics posting won't be daily for a while).  The first time I was in Zambia, I was a cultural outsider.  I spent a lot of time just chatting with people, anyone who would, to try out my fumbling grasp of the local language (English is the language taught in schools, but other languages remain prevalent), and understand as much as I could about the place whose people made up data points in our research.  After three months spent working with Zambian women, living with Zambian housemates, cooking and eating Zambian food, and making Zambian friends, I felt integrated enough into the culture that when I returned this time, part of it was strangely like a homecoming--returning to an old familiar place and the memories it holds.

But as I felt less cultural separation between myself and the Zambians around me--of course we still came from different backgrounds, but I no longer felt like a complete outsider--I noticed a strange thing.... I was adapting more to the class hierarchies of Zambian society.  Instead of chatting with guards and bus drivers, I offered them curt greetings and hurried on my way, trying to avoid the inevitable discussion of my relationship status that I'd learned would follow.  I found myself referring to domestic workers in local terms, as a "garden boy" and "maid," despite finding these terms pejorative, and using "She doesn't even speak English!" to express that someone was uneducated to my housemate.  And honestly, I had no idea why.  The less I saw my middle class Zambian friends as separate from myself, the more I was adopting their way of organizing the world into "other" and "same."  As I saw things less in terms of me versus them, developed country versus undeveloped, white(ish) versus black, the more I saw them as educated versus not, laborer versus professional, economically comfortable versus poor.  I was absorbing a new set of hierarchies and division to replace the old, and it felt as natural as breathing.

There are many misconceptions about developing countries, especially African ones, that I hope to address in a future post.  But one of the most pernicious is that everyone is poor, destitute, and miserable.  Far from it.  Plenty of Zambians, especially urban ones, are middle class, comfortable, and caught in between the same appreciation of their good fortune and striving dissatisfaction that so many Americans face.  And very often these individuals seem to define themselves in contrast to those that are not, just as much as we define ourselves in contrast to our vision of them.  Why is that?  Is it human nature for us to make sense of our landscape through hierarchy?  Does our wealth mean nothing if we are not richer than?  Is our education useless if we're not smarter than?  Or is it the insidious effect of Colonialism, still boiling away, in which class and ethnic divisions were often encouraged in order to better control Colonial lands?  (For more on this, see Mahmood Mamdani's wonderful book Citizen and Subject, about how the British encouraged hierarchical and authoritarian local rule in South Africa in order to better oppress the Africans they sought to dominate.)

If we rid ourselves of one form of oppression, will another replace it?  Is hierarchy truly as natural to us as breathing?

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A feminist capitalist's manifesto

In a recent piece titled "Feminism and anti-Capitalism, a love story" on Feministe and Girldrive, Nona argues that because structural sexism is built into a capitalistic economy, fiscal conservatism and feminism are inherently incompatible, and in fact in conflict with one another.  In fact, she seems to single out fiscally conservative beliefs above even socially conservative ones for exclusion from the feminist paradigm.  While it is "[effed] up to leave conservative women out of the conversation, especially if they felt torn between their family’s traditions and their own reality," fiscal conservatism is a different issue because "capitalism needs to be humanized" and "business [needs] to be regulated."

And yet, here I am.  I am a feminist and I am a capitalist.  I am a feminist because I believe in expanding the choice set for women everywhere.  I am a feminist because I work to challenge systematic oppressions.  I am a feminist because my life's work is women, and I have never felt satisfied doing anything else.  And yet, I am a capitalist.  I am a capitalist because I believe in making the pie bigger, and then trying to divide it as equitably as possible.  I am a capitalist because I am an economist, and I believe that markets tend to offer more efficient solutions to problems (and in fact, often more equitable) than governments, although I also believe that sometimes they don't.  I am a capitalist for reasons that have nothing to do with ideology, because my ideology is that none of us have any moral claim to the endowments of our birth, and thus a good life is one that serves others.  I am a capitalist because I think it works. 

I am not a capitalist because I think the interests of business should come before the interests of women.  Far from it. I have seen big government oppress women, and business and free markets help them.  I believe systematic oppression is every bit as entrenched in government forces as it is in market ones, and that both can be tools to either rectify or reinforce the hierarchies of the past.  I believe there is a role for government in correcting inequalities, but I also believe that government helped to put them there in the first place, both in the US and the world over.  In places where governments continue to oppress, I have seen the remarkable effect of freedom, both market and personal, in improving the quality of life for people in need.  I believe that women's right to vote in this country, a fundamental accomplishment of feminism, is also integrally tied to immigrant and otherwise under-privileged women's participation in the labor force, even under sub-human conditions--sheer, brutal, ugly capitalism. 

Saturday, August 7, 2010

How to respond when senior coworkers are sexist jerks

This week the feminist blogosphere has been buzzing about a Slate advice columnist's response to the following letter from a woman working in a law firm for the summer:
I am a female law student who is employed for the summer (and potentially for the school year) at a small firm that I'm really enjoying. The law office shares a floor of an office building with a bigger law firm, and my cubicle is "on the border." All of the attorneys at both firms are male, but at the other firm, the men are far from politically correct. I have two issues: First, one of the attorneys, "Jerry," often makes comments to me about my appearance. These range from annoying but harmless ("Nice tan") to creepy ("I like that skirt," in a lecherous tone). I have tried to ignore him or subtly indicate his comments aren't welcome, but neither approach has worked. I'm tempted to speak to one of my firm's partners, but I fear it would make me look like a little girl running to a man to fight my battles. I'm also considering documenting all his comments until I have enough for a sexual harassment suit so I can make his firm pay for the legal education I used to nail it. Second, I overhear a lot of conversations I find highly offensive. The men are fond of using homosexuality-based insults, calling one another or opponents "fag" and "homo." The work environment is becoming so unpleasant that I wonder how long I can stand it. What should I do?
The response is basically to (a) confront Jerry directly, (b) chill out about the homophobic bigots next door, and (c) not to be so eager to sue, it won't win her a lot of points. Jezebel has a good summary of responses to this column, including why this advice is not really so great, especially since it lacks the broader context of entrenched sexism in some law firms.

But what DO you do when coworkers, especially those above you on the office hierarchy, say bigoted or offensive things? It's a tough dilemma for many in the workplace, as calling out unacceptable behavior can decrease your own political / social capital. I find this particularly challenging, since I want to live my values and advance progressive causes, but find myself uncomfortable saying anything that makes waves. One Jezebel commenter had some advice that I particularly liked:
Here's what I did in a similar situation: I went to the partner that I felt would be the most receptive. I started the discussion with how much I liked my job and the firm, and how I hoped to work there for many years to come. I talked about being a team player and wanting the best for the firm (bosses eat that shit up). Then, I mentioned overhearing some of the male attorneys saying inappropriate things in front of the clerks and secretaries, and how bad it would be for all of us if these women sued the firm. Because I was looking out for the firm. -SheelaNaGig
So, being strategic with how you deliver the message can help. I haven't read the whole thing, but this free manual from The Southern Poverty Law center on responding to everyday bigotry has a lot of good ideas. It even gives sample conversations, which I think is really helpful (nothing like a script to make you feel more confident!) Do you have any strategies for confronting workplace sexism / racism / homophobia?

Guest Post: Purchasing Power in Numbers

Here's another great post from guest contributor VikingKitten, letting you know where to find the best deals online!

It’s smart to save money, especially in this economic climate, and “group-buying” seems to be the newest way to do so. Amazon’s June 30th announcement that they will acquire, along with the recent news of the purchase of FreshGuide by Sugar, Inc (an online publisher focused on women’s media), indicates that the group-buying phenomenon has become more popular than ever.

Group-buying websites typically work like this: online shoppers indicate their desire to purchase a particular featured “deal of the day.”  If enough people agree to buy the deal, they get it at a significant discount. 

Here’s a quick comparison of our favorite group-buying sites:
Site Name
# of Cities
Main Type of Merchandise
How It Works
Rewards for Referrals
Other  Notes

Restaurants, retail, entertainment
Minimum number of buyers needed to get the deal
Includes a handy “how close are we?” bar to show how many more buyers are needed to get the deal

Restaurants, retail, entertainment
The more buyers who join in the deal, the lower the price goes
$10 credit for each person who clicks on your referral link and buys a deal
Shows the starting price of the deal, the current price, and the amount of savings from retail price

Restaurants, events, entertainment
Minimum number of buyers needed to get the deal
$10 credit for each person who clicks on your referral link and buys a deal
Currently trying to expand into several cities
Gilt City

Fashion, events, restaurants, entertainment
Deal can be purchased until it sells out.
$25 when a referral makes a first purchase
Deals often sell out—so act fast!  However, you can be added to the “wait list” for a sold out deal, so all hope is not lost

93+ (incl. non-U.S.)
Restaurants, retail, entertainment
Minimum number of buyers needed to get the deal
$10 credit for each person who clicks on your referral link and buys a deal
Includes discussion boards with helpful staff members answering customer questions; Hilarious “Groupon says” section of each deal

Restaurants, retail, entertainment
1 deal/day. No minimum number of buyers required
If 3 people buy the deal using your referral link, you get it free.  $5 to a referral for signing up, and $5 to you when your referral makes a first purchase
Features a section of “365 things to do” in your city of choice.

Outdoor gear and clothing
1 deal at a time until the item is sold out; then another deal immediately begins
Has a neat feature where you can see the current number of people viewing the page; For apparel, the number of items remaining is broken down by color/size

Restaurants, events, entertainment
3 deals/day.  The more buyers who join in the deal, the lower the price goes
$5 to a referral for signing up, and $5 to you when your referral makes a first purchase
Can log on automatically though Facebook

1 item/day until it sells out or the day ends.  Does not reveal the number remaining or the retail price of the item.
The management claims that there will be no change to Woot’s ways in light of Amazon’s acquisition—it will be interesting to see if this is true is another helpful site, which essentially aggregates group deals from various group-buying sites, organized by city. Readers, are there other sites where you go to shop for bargains?