Saturday, May 29, 2010

India's Double Standard

Instead of jumping right in to make my argument, allow me to relay a personal anecdote which I believe crystallizes the issue.

On Thursday evening, my sister, a connected member of Chicago's local media, called me as I made my way home from the gym, to relay the first reports of the bomb exploding beneath a packed passenger train in northeast India. The coach was headed for Mumbai, where my in-laws reside, and my thoughtful sister figured I might like to check up on them. As it was 5:00 AM local Mumbai time, I assured my sister that there was no danger of my family being on that train, but the moment I finished that thought, I had another, and it went something like this: "Crap, I am going to have to listen to a three hour diatribe against jihadists this evening."

Because rightly or wrongly, my initial assumption was that the act of terrorism was the work of Muslim extremists. My husband, an Indian national who has very strong feelings on the long running India/Pakistan conflict, and isn't shy about sharing them, was likely to be set off anew with this latest crime against humanity. Though he has friends of the Islamic faith, and our beloved brother-in-law, a devotee, is the embodiment of all that is pure and good, Eddie has a tendency to paint the world in broad strokes when incensed.

When he reached home later in the evening, my husband made the inevitable beeline to the computer to get the scoop from his favorite newspaper, The Hindustan Times. I puttered around the house in order to give him a few minutes of breathing room as I braced myself for the verbal onslaught. So imagine my surprise as he emerged from our office, relatively calmly, and headed for the porch to have a cigarette.

Naturally I asked Eddie what was up, and he relayed to me in a composed fashion more or less, that there was nothing to worry about. Because it hadn't been jihadists who blew up the train after all. No this time, it was the work of the Adivasi National Liberation Army, a fringe, right wing group of Hindus. He relayed this news in a nonchalant fashion, as if reporting that our naughty, but beloved cat had just broken a precious vase. Because you can't stay angry with your own pet right?

As I felt righteous indignation welling up inside me, I took a moment to gather my thoughts. I then posed one question to Eddie: so it's OK to ready your war cries against Pakistan when under the impression that they are responsible for the murder of innocent Indians. However, upon learning that the destruction is the work of the majority Hindu population, you feel comfortable shrugging your shoulders and adopting a "kids will be kids" attitude? That was wrong on so many levels I hardly knew where to start.

Eddie is a highly educated man who has lived in the U.S. for eight years. He comes from an upper middle class family that travels the world and could hardly be considered sheltered. My husband follows global headlines, has an inclusive group of friends, and is a fairly forward thinking guy. Yet in the blink of an eye, he downshifted to the tried and true double standard that runs rampant in the highly populous third world nation. Hindus call the shots and Muslims are second class citizens.

And herein might lie the reason, beside the overpopulated cities, unfortified infrastructure and first world economic aspirations, that India is such a frequent target of violence by Muslim extremist groups. The message since long before Gandhi's time, has been clear. Though there are more Muslims living inside India's borders than there are in the rest of the Arab world (between 165 and 220 million), Muslims who have lived and died fighting for the nation and its progress, they are, by and large, treated as outsiders by the dominant Hindu majority. This thinking is so ingrained, so institutionalized that a man like Eddie, who has been exposed to much, can't resist the stereotype.

But even more insufferable to my mind is the idea that, had Thursday's bombing been the work of anyone else, there would have been a loud baying for the heads of those responsible. Instead, upon discovering that the destruction came at the hands of the Maoist Adivasi National Liberation Army, Eddie launched into a lengthy justification of their behavior, on the grounds of their extreme poverty and frustration with the government. Say what? Pardon me, but we have tons of disenfranchised poor right here in the U.S. These folks do not go about wantonly destroying, and if they did, I hardly think Americans would excuse them on the grounds of their poverty.

But such is India. On the one hand, the nation is growing, economically and socially, at the fastest pace in the world (China gets demerits for atrocious human rights). Yet on the other hand, there is a damaging laissez faire tolerance to the work of backward thinking Hindu groups that sends absolutely the wrong message to minority enclaves. I told Eddie that it was now more than clear to me why Muslims chose to secede and found Pakistan in 1947.

My point is this. My husband is quite representative of the thoughts of Indian citizens, and if anything, he leans farther to the left than most due to his education, experience and residency within a major Western City. Though newspaper reports have described the Adivasi as a "little known militant group," Eddie tells me that, in fact, these people have been allowed to run lawless, murdering innocent citizens at will for quite some time. Why? Because it is considered politically unpopular to put down a movement, no matter how violent, of the "true" Indians, i.e. Hindus. Why is that thinking acceptable?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Illinois is the New California

Despite what appears to be the inevitable ascent of the Chicago Blackhawks to Stanley Cup Glory (!), those of us in the Prairie State don’t get a win that often. In sports, we are a long suffering people. The Bears have not won anything since 1985, the 1990s glory days of the Chicago Bulls are long gone, The White Sox brought it home in 2005 (but honestly, say what you want, the Sox have never been “Chicago’s Team”), and the Cubs? Well, let’s not go there.

We are the State that brought you the bootlegging empire of Al Capone, as well the long reign of Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley and “outfit” politics. We are the land of unionized crime, and the entity that has sent two of its last three Governors to Federal prison (once the legal formalities of Blago are complete). Last Fall, we also suffered an embarrassing first round exit from the IOC’s final decision making process to determine the host City of the 2016 Summer Olympics. Ah yes, we have much to be proud of. No wonder we are also known for our drunkeness.

If it appears that I am guilty of conflating Chicago with the State as a whole, that is by design. Downstaters can howl all they want about Illinois being more than just the Windy City, but facts are facts. Chicagoland (City and suburbs) represents more than 75% of Illinois’ population, and roughly the same percentage of its economy. Take Chi-town out of the equation, and we’re left with just another agriculturally centered Red-leaning state.

However, it is not our legacy of losing, corruption, crime and other forms ignominy that I wish to write about today. As a career advocate for human services in Illinois, I would like to call attention to the sorry, pathetic state of lawmaking, and the attempts by the legislature to pass a fiscal year 2011 budget that make the more publicized financial problems of California and New York appear tame.

The Illinois State Senate is preparing to vote on a package, likely by the end of the day, that does nothing at all to address a badly needed increase of revenues. A 1% income tax hike, responsibly proposed by Gov. Pat Quinn, has been shot down over and again, not because lawmakers feel the funds are not needed, but instead because it is considered politically disadvantageous to stand up and do the right thing. The solution, according to these officials, is to attempt to balance the budget, and catch up on backlogged bills, by placing the burden squarely on the shoulders of the social services community – providers who care for children, the aged, the mentally ill, the abused, the homeless and substance abuse addicts. Yes, kick the weak and overworked while they are down. Brilliant!

Under this budget providers will be forced to operate where contracts and funding levels can be changed or cut at any moment. Key points include:

• An Emergency Budget Act that makes funding even more uncertain by giving the Governor unprecedented power (until January 2011) to make additional cuts.

• No human service organization will know about contracts to take affect July 1 for several more weeks, thereby dumping the costs of a quick shut down on the community, clients and staff.

• The Governor will be able to cut budgets at any time.

• There is no solution to late payments; they are simply kicked further down the road.

• There is no comprehensive solution to inadequate human services funding, or the larger issue of the State's slow descent into insolvency.

If we slice through the political jargon here, what this basically means is that a budget will pass, but no one will know know anything about it until the Governor decides how the money will be allocated. Huh? Last time I checked, the State was not a monarchy. Unacceptable. Don’t we have a right to know where our tax money is going and how it is being use?. Isn’t the point of a budget process to sort all that out upfront? Nope, instead, weak and scared lawmakers are passing the buck right back to Quinn and telling agencies to lobby him for some of those lump sum dollars. What did we hire these people for?

Let’s not wait for the November elections to tell these turkeys how we feel. Call you legislator TODAY and demand better. If you don’t know who your district reps. are, you may access the following website to figure it out:

In our cynical age, activism is often derided as both nerdy and pointless. That’s what they want you to believe because if you stay quiet, the status quo can continue unmolested. Let’s demand better Illinois! Let’s show the rest of the nation that we may produce a lot of silly headlines, but we have some backbone too.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Memo to the Disco Babies

May 25, 2010

Dear Americans Born Between 1970 – 1980:

This letter is admittedly guilty of mass generalization. However, I have found in my experience that stereotypes are often rooted in truth. The small percentage of you who do not identify with this missive may simply stop reading with my kudos. You have managed to transcend the difficulty of finding a way to responsibly leave your mark between the upwardly mobile Baby Boomer, and the post-Internet DIY entrepreneurship of Generation Y.

To wit: I am sorry to break your hearts, my demographic contemporaries, but you are neither invincible, nor incredibly special as your parents raised you to believe. I am not however, putting the blame for our downward spiral on our folks. We have had 30 years to come to terms with the fact that we are part of a larger society, with responsibilities to our bodies, our minds and our communities. We have singularly failed to do so, despite the benefits of childhood economic stability, modern technology and Prozac.

Those of us born in the 1970s are overweight, underproductive and dying younger. Our life expectancy is shorter than that of our parents, and instead of finding new and creative ways to outstrip their lofty economic and social accomplishments, we are moving back in with our folks in record numbers. We use handheld devices, computers and DVR to dull the mental pain of our stubborn mediocrity, convincing ourselves in the process that we are truth seekers and learners. When that doesn’t work, we take “legal” prescription drugs to make us feel better. If I could do so, I’d send a posthumous memoranda to Heath Ledger, Corey Haim, Brittany Murphy and her newly deceased husband Simon Monjack to find out how well that is faring.

We are becoming our own “lost generation,” living in a virtual reality of disappointment, founded by a sense of entitlement we were never owed, and apparently, do not want to earn on our own merits. What will be our legacy?

As we are becoming parents ourselves, do we accept that we will pass these bad habits, our inert pessimism, our cynical haplessness onto our children? I am concerned about larger issues of national security, the economy and the environment that threaten our global harmony. However, it will require the leadership of the Studio 54 generation to think and plan our way out of these messes, and I am not sure we’re equipped.

Time to wake up. Drop the KFC Double Down and pick up your pride. It’s time to get to work.

Your Colleague,

Becky Boop

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A Hiatus From Hooch

My name is Becky Boop and I am a social binge drinker. I have been afflicted with this evil tendency since the age of 16, the first time I sampled red wine in mass quantities from the liquor cabinet of a high school pal's parents. That eve I made prank phone calls and fell down the (carpeted) stairs, and the following school day was painful on many levels. This should have been a standard coming of age lesson against the perils of chugging alcohol, especially when you have responsibilities to face the next morning.

Yet this very incident, plus or minus a few details like young age, repeated itself recently, and in fact, I am good for an episode of this nature every few months. Now I recognize the difference between binge social drinking and full blown alcoholism. Alcoholism is a terrible disease that destroys many lives, and has personally affected members of my own family. I can go weeks at a time without touching a drop. My problem is that once I get going, particularly in a lively (or uncomfortable - try that dichotomy on for size) group gathering, I don't know when to stop. There is a fine line between laughing at all the times I have puked out of cab windows, fallen down or turned in bravura karaoke performances, and backing up to examine if this is really the kind of gal I want to be. There is something decidedly less humorous about these hijinks as one approaches their mid-30s. I have made arguments in the past about the extended adolescence of today's adults, and in theory I look down upon this. So why in this case am I such a willing contributor?

The shame spiral, physical recovery time and inability to keep my busy life on track after a night of rock star partying is not worth the few hours of fun. On paper, in the sober light of day I am aware of this. I also know that drunkenness affects good judgment. The best way to keep myself out of this trap is to stay away from the sauce completely. I don't need a drink to have a good time, or do I? Let's examine the evidence:

1. Last weekend, as I accepted an award from the Illinois Woman's Press Association, and my nerves were frayed beyond belief at having to endure a public round of applause, I wished for nothing more than a shot of tequila so I could bear my own insecurity.

2. Recently, I was so excited at reuniting with my one of my best friends, traveling abroad from London, I felt the need to down a bottle of wine in 30 minutes so I could keep my tongue in check. I tend to dominate conversations when I am agitated, happily or not, and I am aware this is a turnoff.

3. When I am engaged in a household chore which I do not wish to do, like laundry or washing dishes, I tend to carry a glass of wine with me, and take a sip as a "treat" at given intervals.

Were I to examine this evidence from a purely unemotional, pedagogical perspective, it would seem I use alcohol as a coping mechanism. I do not like the implications of where that behavior leads, especially, as I said, coming from a family where alcoholism has been devastating. I don't like what I see when I look in the mirror the next morning. But I can turn this self-loathing into a positive. I can take ownership of myself and my social behavior, the way I have co-opted adversity, self-inflicted or otherwise, in the past.

My plan is simplicity itself. Just stop. Stop drinking. Get some distance between myself and the bottle until I can learn to have a healthier relationship with alcohol.

The first test comes tonight. I am having a housewarming party. I am about to leave for Trader Joe's, where I will stack up on frozen edibles and numerous bottles of wine. Only I won't touch them. I will greet a parade of guests, pour their libations, and try to find something un-awkward to do with my hands (in the past, clutching and sipping from a wine glass was the answer). I realize that for me, the battle to cure my social binge drinking is about something more than curbing an appetite. It's about learning to be more comfortable with myself.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Obama’s Pragmatic Problem

I want to state unequivocally from the outset that I am a huge supporter of President Obama and his work since taking the oath of office in January of 2009. The argument could reasonably be made that he inherited one of the finest messes that ever faced an incoming Executive, and for the most part, I believe he has acquitted himself with the thoughtful grace and deliberation that his predecessor, the “Bring ‘em on!” cowboy himself, George W. Bush, could never muster. There is much to be admired with Obama, and he has commanded my respect as a leader. I would not be the one to make the decisions he has thus far – stimulus, bailouts, health care, etc. – but I am glad someone did. I feel, for the first time since 2001, that we are in good hands, even if the national landscape remains an overgrown mess in need of some serious weeding.

Yet recently an inkling has begun to wash over me that Obama is losing a war right here at home that is as critical to his domestic agenda as any policy his think tank could develop – and that would be the public relations war. We read the same results in poll after poll. Folks like Obama personally, but judge him to be “professorial,” “intellectual” and “too deliberate.”

Such a paradox. On the one hand, we desire a level-headed leader who can soothe us in times of crisis. But on the other hand, the red blooded American public also wants passion and plenty of it – just don’t go overboard, a la Howard Dean. It’s a delicate balance for sure, but in my estimation, there are some recent issues where I would have preferred to see less analysis and more knee jerk emotion. I get the feeling at times that Obama’s “people” are so busy managing his image that they forget why we voted for him.

The White House response to the Gulf Oil spill comes to mind. While I understand that shouting down BP executives on a daily basis does nothing to resolve the crisis, I believe that Obama’s calm and cool demeanor represents a missed opportunity to harness the national anger to effect change – i.e. FINALLY doing something about our dependence on foreign oil. It was gratifying to read in this morning's New York Times that no less a personage than Tom Friedman is with me on this one.

I am no fan of the Tea Party and find myself at odds with them on nearly every policy issue, but I readily believe that one of the reasons they have succeeded in connecting with the American people so palpably and quickly, is that their strategists cannily understand and tap into the way that anger and desperation can foment revolt. It’s one of the principles this great nation was founded upon. Mr. Obama, the former Constitutional lawyer, should know this better than anyone, but is failing to use this phenomenon to advantage.

So after much consideration, I am left with this assessment:

1. Obama = fair and balanced, measured and temperate


He often appears unrelatable - so contrary to the image of Citizen Obama, the candidate. And at the risk of sounding the complete cynic, I wonder if making the most logical decisions necessarily means making the best ones. Does his team even care about the difference? Or are they just trying to manage the returns of the November mid-term elections? This short term strategy is disappointing, and not what Obama supporters were after.

Another example from late last week: the issue of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan’s sexuality. Instead of rushing to squash the rumor, ask yourself Mr. President, and the American public simultaneously, why the hell it should matter? Most people don’t have an answer to this question that doesn’t clumsily fall out of their mouths as they mutter about “family values.” Become the Obama you once were, the one who when asked if he inhaled while smoking marijuana as a college student, nonchalantly replied, “I thought that was the point.” The question was never posed again.

2. Tea Party = fringe, hooking to the right, highly emotional


They have captured the cultural zeitgeist in a way that the overly messaged Obama administration has not. This truth is reflected in Obama’s poll numbers as well as this week’s House and Senate primary elections. Rand Paul is in. Harry Reid, the unpopular Senate majority leader from Nevada is hanging on by a thread. Enough said.

I sincerely hope the Tea Party does not confuse their recent victories with a “mandate” as some of their members have suggested, but all the same, the American people and the White House would be making a mistake to dismiss them as a passing trend. They do have something to teach Obama that could make him a better, stronger more effective leader.

Anger and disaffection, when wielded incorrectly, can be destructive. However, when harnessed and channeled in the right direction, emotions can act as an impetus to bring about “change we can believe in.”

Mr. President, we are still “fired up and ready to go.” Are you?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Facebook is No Longer my Happy Place

I am often the last to jump on any new technology bandwagon. In fact I sat out most of the 90s – no pagers, AOL or the first onslaught of the DVD entertainment format for me. As I enjoyed a prolonged era of landlines, freedom from wireless communications and good old VHS tapes, I figured I had all I needed. If anyone wanted to talk me that badly, well they could just wait until I got home.

And yet look at the Crackberry addicted, constantly stimulated mess I have become. I watch almost all my TV via the wonders of commercial-free DVR. I blog, I Twitter (for work anyway), and I cannot seem to drag myself away from my PC for any longer than 30 straight minutes without fearing, deep in my bones, that I am missing important intelligence. Lindsay Lohan is unleashing her drunken fury on Cannes people!

One phenomenon I was eager to sign up for right away, in 2006, was my own Facebook profile. You may be thinking to yourself, “old news Boop, so what?” Well lambs, I will tell you. Facebook opened a whole new world for me – reconnecting with people I literally hadn’t thought of in years, folks I presumed had passed out of my life like the proverbial ship. Social networking in this fashion has been an invaluable gift.

So too has been the much discussed Facebook status. Twitter fans may hate me for saying this, but I look at “tweets” as little more than the red headed, second cousin of the groundbreaking status. In nearly as many characters as I want, I begin each day with a little dose of artistic expression (or complaint). I have come to rely on this as sort of a litmus test reflection of where I am in that moment of history. Periodically I revisit my old status updates and it’s like catching up with an old friend – only it’s me. For me, it is journaling in microcosm.

It may sound like a paradox, but I would argue that I am never more “myself,” with such a keen sense of abandon, a flagrant departure from worrying about how I’ll be received, than I am when I update my status each morning. Before I have given myself time to wipe the sleep from my eyes, I shoot from the hip and see what comes out. Need it even be said that oftentimes, my status update contains one or more of the following: not-safe-for-work language, hangover laments, or declarations of opinion about “alternative” issues (being purposely vague there)? I do have some Facebook friends that I often hope will avert their eyes – for example the parents of school mates – but in general I trust my Facebook community to know me and look the other way.

It is often said, by now a cliché, that “everyone is on Facebook.” This appears to be true, and the phenomenon has gone global. I have pals in England, Germany, Israel, and very recently, India.

It is inside the boundaries of this last ancient land that my current predicament lies. For you see, I received an email from my in-laws yesterday afternoon that instantly froze the blood in my veins. Mummy and Papa are about to go viral and start a Facebook account.


I have viewed the Book as the one place, outside the confines of this blog, where I do not have to censor myself. That is all about to come to a crashing halt. Because here is the conundrum of Facebook etiquette: one has the absolute freedom to decline or accept any friend request, but as we all know, the psychological costs of doing so can be too much to bear. This got me thinking: am I really as free on the Book as I think I am?

My in-laws are well aware that I am not mainstream. They are aware of it as I say, but that doesn’t mean they want to actively think about it. From the safety of Mumbai, I can be comfortably viewed as a loving and supportive wife (which I am), without the other R-rated fun that makes me a unique brand of wingnut. That delicate balance is about to come crashing down. How do I get them to understand that befriending me through social networking will ultimately make all of us less happy?

So now instead of enjoying my footloose and fancy free Facebook joie de vivre, I am considering the possibility of edits. I cannot tell you people how many hours “scrubbing” my profile might take. It’s not like I am a porn star or gangster, but I am cringing already at the high volume of drunken photos, ex-boyfriend pictorials and inappropriate commentary they will encounter. And yes, to answer your pertinent and preemptory questions, I WILL hear about it. Yet I cannot decline to befriend them. They would be crushed and I truly do love my in-laws. So what to do?

With one email sentence, I feel like I fell from the sky, confronted with the possibility of acting as my own thought police. This is not an appetizing prospect. It’s enough to make me wish it were 1996 again. I am going to retreat into the fetal position clutching my Steel Magnolias video.

Saturday, May 15, 2010


Whenever I get too full of myself, sense my ego getting ahead of me, I have a go list of "gut checkers," which remind me that I am just a normal, ordinary, imperfect, ball of neuroses. While self-appreciation is a necessary part of a healthy life, it is important to stay grounded by your flaws and inabilities, to cherish them as you do your greatest assets. They are part of who you are too. For example, my tremendous discomfort of speaking in public, my tendency to turn red and stammer the word "um" a little too much for my liking, is what drove me to develop swiftness with the pen (or the laptop). So I accept my ineptitude and try to reflect upon it with equal consideration, especially when I experience a personal high, because it is what motivates me to work that much harder. I like to think of it as utilitarian self-doubt.

I had a good day today. I experienced a writing career high when I accepted an award from the Illinois Woman's Press Association - for a series I wrote last year on the booming economic/ecological phenomenon of urban agriculture. I put on a fancy dress and accepted the applause of a roomful of respected, accomplished female writers. It was awful, wonderful, humbling and empowering all at once. Sometimes I think I'd be more at peace, and less bewildered, if my feelings came in black and white.

I did take a moment to feel proud of my award, of course. In fact I feel so fulfilled today that I am equally up to the task of taking the piss out of myself. Because at the end of the day, I am still, and always will be, such a work in progress.

Six idiosyncratic Boop-isms:

1. I can't do a THING with my hands. It is awfully good I was born with a brain that functions adequately enough, because if I had to draw, assemble, sew or otherwise create or fix anything with my left and right, I would be screwed. Case in point: as bored teenagers, my younger sister Jen used to ask me draw animals (ex. elephant) just to enjoy the mirth of watching my earnest floundering.

2. The Lexulous application on FaceBook owns me. I have a Master's in English Literature, and am one of the biggest nerds I know, yet I suck in the extreme at this glorified Scrabble. Perhaps my pedestrian use of the word "suck" contributes to my problems. Regardless, I have a deplorable win ratio of 12.5% (two for 14).

3. I cannot roll my tongue. I am not double jointed. I am not a great whistler, nor can I do a backflip. Trust me, there was a time in my life (secretly not over yet) when I thought all of these things were awesomeness itself.

4. I can't take Vicodin. In fact, I am allergic to more man-made drugs than anyone I know. Do you know how much fun this has cost me over the years?

5. Motion sickness. Cruel irony: I am one of the most enthusiastic natural daredevils in existence. But around the age of 12, I inherited the family motion sickness gene to the tenth power. I have ralphed in public more times, and in more countries, than I can bear to remember.
6. Fears: bees, dogs, needles and human statues (that last one is another post for another time).

In short, I am weird. This used to bother me a lot until I realized that everyone else is too. They are just more or less adept at hiding it. Now I celebrate it. Because whenever I take a step forward, I take my oddities with me. We're partners.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

My Personal Credit Crisis

Long before the start of this protracted recession, and prior to the stock market thud of late 2008, I became acquainted with the collapse of an economy at the micro-level. In the late 1990s, as I wrapped up my high school career and entered college as a freshman, my family’s fiscal health imploded alongside the tenacity of my parent’s marriage. My father’s prolonged unemployment begat depression, which led to more fighting than usual, then separation.

As if the family unrest were not enough, my mother’s departure from the family home, where she had long been the sole breadwinner, led to foreclosure and problems with the IRS. Instead of working together as a team to figure a way out of the mess, my mother, who is no longer a part of my life, chose identity fraud as her personal salvation. Whilst I was away completing my degree, she took my very early stage credit rating to the cleaners – to the tune of over $17,000.

As a 22 year-old graduate in 2000, I had neither the means nor the mental capacity to deal with this level of duplicity and ruin. Ultimately, I chose to file for bankruptcy, oddly enough one of the smartest moves I ever made. It gave me a fresh start and the closure I needed to put the last five years of sleepless nights behind me. I am proud to say this bankruptcy finally rolled off my credit report this past March. For a long time, I felt the irony of being one of the most anal, responsible people in existence, but unable to rent an apartment without a co-signer.

But this anecdote is not the point of my post today. Though years of adulthood have helped me put this saga in the past where it belongs, it still very much affects the way I do business today – much to the chagrin of my husband. Call me old fashioned (like REALLY old fashioned), but I do not trust credit, electronic money or other slippery currencies. Once (or thrice) bitten, always and forever shy I suppose. Though I am far more solvent than I once was, I refuse to have my name on a piece of plastic, don’t buy things unless I have the cash in the bank to pay for them, and if I owe the smallest debt to an acquaintance, I pay it off before I have the opportunity to break out into a sweat. Am I scarred or just sensible? You decide.

Anyway, my husband Eddie bought a new sport coat yesterday. I am receiving an award from the Illinois Woman’s Press Association this Saturday, and as part of the deal, we get to attend a fancy luncheon at Chicago's Union League Club. The sport coat was necessary, so as he trotted off to Macy’s, I felt relatively calm. However, that evening, when he informed me he had charged the $200 bucks spent to his American Express (note: HIS, I have refused to have my name added to the account), I lost it for reasons even I cannot fully understand.

As I tried to work it out, I clumsily explained that once the credit floodgates are open, they are tempting and hard to close. Look no further than the national debt for proof. I somewhat hysterically relayed to Eddie that I know well where that road leads and I’d just rather not risk it. We had the cash, so why didn’t he use it? Answer? Credit card points.

Another schadenfreude designed by predatory card issuers. Yes, we will let you “earn” a free iPod while we hammer away at your debt ratio, making it impossible for you to ever be free of our clutches.

Readers, am I overreacting? Possibly. But the combination of having fiscally irresponsible mentors, and bearing witness to America’s move in the wrong direction, farther away from financial independence each day, only renders me more set in my ways.

I will be back to read your thoughts after I finish stuffing my last paycheck into the mattress.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

So This is What Fat Looks Like?

I will preface this post by admitting that this is a topic discussed so oft, there is practically nothing fresh to add. However, since our society continues to adopt an ever more sociopathic bent in its idea of female beauty, I feel the need to raise the issue again.

Last night, as I emerged from my post-Tae Bo bath, I received the following text mesage from a male friend who was watching the evening's broadcast of Dancing with the Stars with his three young daughters.

"Cheryl Burke is looking heavy."

I immediately replied that my friend is a sexist punk, but curiosity getting the better of me, as it always does, I promptly set my DVR recording in motion to have a look at this purportedly "heavy" woman......What I saw was, give or take, reflected in the image above.

I am almost too exhausted by this injustice to comment, but of course I will. I am 31 years old and far from famous. When I graduated with my BA in 2000, I weighed upwards of 190 pounds and wore a size 16. I couldn't walk a standard issue flight of stairs without breathing heavily. Obviously, that is unacceptable at the age of 22, and though it took me a few more years to claim ownership of the hard work required, I am proud to say I lost 60 pounds and have kept it off (give or take a few holiday fluctuations) for 6 full years.

I won't deny vanity played a role in my efforts, but in large part, I stay in shape for the right reasons - my health. I am perhaps phobically afraid of the aging process and the idea of becoming physically dependent one day, but that does not distort my own ideas of healthy womanhood. I might hate the cellulite that lives on my thighs, but I am learning to love Mother Nature's curves a little more all the time.

How in the hell can Cheryl Burke, Jessica Simpson, Jennifer Love Hewitt or Tyra Banks - all media targets in recent years, and all gorgeous women - be called "fat" by anyone?

The argument has been made that standards are different for those in the public eye because they "know what they're getting into" by choosing a career that in part, requires trading on one's appearance. Nonsense, and I would think a man with three daughters would know better. Why does it seem that with each passing news cycle, female beauty becomes an ever more abstract concept, to be discussed in academic theory, but never really achievable by anyone? I realize there was never a formal meeting held by the Earth's males, but it feels at times as if there's a global conspiracy to keep us ladies held in check by some basic level of worthlessness.

In 2007, when Britney Spears was in the throes of her career meltdown, and bombed performing her single "Gimme More," live on MTV, she was upset not at her deteriorating mental condition, or her crappy lip synching. No, she was in tears backstage after the show, wailing that she looked "like a fat pig," as if that were the worst of her problems in that hour. She was about to lose custody of her two sons, but egads! Priorities! Let's lose those 5 pounds first!

It's wrong. It's out of control. Men of the world, I ask ye: please start picking on your own gender. Lord knows there are plenty of uglies to choose from. Ah but yes, I forgot, as long as the man is rich/funny/talented, looks don't matter. Just ask Jesse James, Tiger Woods or Larry King. Ladies! Let's stop being complicit in our own destruction. Next time you feel a catty comment about another female's weight rising to the surface, eat some chocolate instead. It tastes a whole lot better than jealousy anyway.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Re-Reading Jane Eyre

Sometimes, despite the overuse of the term, a novel is deemed a classic with good reason. This work of art by Charlotte Bronte is a fixture of the English Literature canon because it is a fantastic read. Yes, I am a former member of the academic criticism world, a place where nothing is taken as fact, and everything is up for argument, but I don't trust anybody who doesn't believe with all their heart that Jane Eyre is literary magnificence.

I am currently reading the book for the third time in my existence. With each reading, at different stages of my life, I have found something completely new. As a 14 year-old girl, I deemed Jane's rags to riches romance with the arrogant Mr. Rochester to be an ideal romantic fantasy. As an unhappy teenager, I often dreamt of the Prince Charming who would love me for who I was, and whisk me off to a life of foxhunts in the English Countyside.

When I picked up the book for the second time as an undergraduate, I felt a painful kinship that I could not believe I had previously overlooked, with Bertha, the "mad woman in the attic," the forgotten and isolated first wife of Rochester. The presumed disposability of this woman, on the part of both the author and her character, angered me. As a rebellious young adult in the full throws of a 1990s post-gothic malaise, I identified with the helpless dependency of Bertha's predicament. I wished to rescue her, to empower her, even if I didn't yet grasp how to do that for myself.

As I round the corner toward 32, a little wiser, and at the top of my physical and psychological game (that's right people, this is as good as it gets), I have taken up my old favorite (or one of about 15 anyway), greedily consuming it with another pair of fresh eyes. I am now older than Jane is when she finally gets her "happy ending," and I now realize that happiness is a slippery term. The truth is that finding your destiny is oftentimes a simple combination of mistakes and calculated choices. Jane and Rochester's union is indeed a love match. And like all imperfect loves (for is there any other kind?), theirs is full of untruths, and disfigurements of the literal and metaphorical kind. They are equal partners in the sense that Rochester provides the money, and Jane, the sight and strength. Neither of them are much are on their own, but as a whole, it works. Jane Eyre is not a fairytale, as I believed when I was 14 years old. Somehow I like this even more.

I have a humanist approach to my take on the act of reading. The book acts upon you as much as you act upon it. A great text allows room for the the reader to step into the story, letting it become personal. Depending on the moment, and your environment, the narrative can make you laugh, cry or feel disgust. One of the reasons I will always love Jane Eyre so much is that book feels so essentially me. I wonder what I will look like when I take up the book again in my 40s.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

My Big, Fat Greek Default

Greece, that ancient land. What it giveth us culturally, it simultaneously taketh away.

They give us the philosophic wisdom of Socrates, but we must also accept Constantine Maroulis, former American Idol failure, and "star" of Broadway's Rock of Ages.

They provide us with ouzo, so that we can comfortably endure the amoral, classless legacy of the college fraternity system.

They give us a beautiful vacation spot beloved by tourists for centuries, and then they go bankrupt.

They giveth....Ok, I'll stop. You get the point.

By now most of us know about the great fiscal crisis currently abroil in Greece. Hitting a little too close to home, given America's own balloning deficit, and the '08 collapse of our banking system, it is impossible not to feel empathy for the Greek people. The picture above clearly demonstrates that they are mad as hell about their current fiscal situation. What to do?

However, my issue today is not with Greek folks, or even the nation itself. Instead, I want to talk about Germany and it's blame in creating the mess that caused the Dow to fall a collective 347.8 points over the course of the day.

Germany, you ask? What does the land of beer and sauerkraut have to do with Greece's current meltdown (full disclosure: Boop and Jen are half German by lineage)? Didn't they just approve a bailout package for the struggling nation two days ago?

Yes, they did dear readers, but sadly this vote, which makes Germany look much the proactive benefactor, comes far too late in the game. In fact, the European Union has been aware for quite a long time that Greece was on the brink. And as recently as mid-February, the Germans did not want to do much of anything to help their "spendthrift" economic partners.

So two months of hemming, hawing, "not my problem" isolationism later, here were are. Greece is the new United States, and global markets are in a free fall. Obviously, given that our nation is still muddling through a way to figure out what the hell happened to our own economy, we have no space to start pointing fingers.

But I am not Barack Obama and I have no need for diplomacy. Germany, j'accuse!

The justification for waiting it out was that “Every country has its own debts." Well yes, in theory that is true. However, when Europe decided to make it a coalition by creating the European Union, they implicitly resigned the right to keep their concerns within their own borders. If Germany is now second guessing the wisdom of the EU, formed during the heady, prosperous aughts, well they are not the only ones.

I realize that blaming Germany for this debacle does not determine its only cause, nor does it do anything to resolve the gigantic crater sitting in the middle of the Greek economy. But we must hope that Germany is paying attention now, and understands that it can no longer treat the Greeks like so many drunken cousins, whose life choices have no effect on its own fortunes.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


What do Arizona's new immigration law, the BP oil spill off the Gulf Coast, South Park, President Ahmadenijad of Iran's address to the UN, and the weekend bombing attempt in Times Square, all have in common? Well according to this blogger, these are all issues which expose the weaknesses of our national security. Until recently, I have not paid the attention to this overarching issue that it deserves. I have spent time chasing the "sexier" topics of elections, banking reform, the economy and the repeal of "Don't ask, Don't tell," but national security is not a conversation so easily digestible. It is slippery, hard to pin down, and for that reason I believe, fails at times to hold the notice of myself and other Americans.

But in truth, most issues facing the U.S. today can be directly correlated to some national security concern. We can't just wait for catastrophes like 9/11, Shoe Bombers, or Christmas Day granny panty wearers from Yemen, to make us focus. The cluster of current events which I mention above are a live testament to this truth in the following ways:

1. Arizona went rogue and created its own immigration laws, in part, because there has been inadequate response to protecting our borders at the Federal level. I am in no way defending the plan the State came up with, but there is a real sense of frustration out there on both sides of the political aisle, and across the nation. Obama has quite the full plate right now, but we need to prioritize reform. Or one day, it won't be just jobseekers hopping the fence, but sinister people who have figured out that our porous boundaries are a great way to do us harm.

2. The BP oil spill, and the company's completely lackluster response to stopping and cleaning up the leak, does a lot more than harken us back to the Exxon Valdez disaster of the late 80s. It creates more chaos in an already vulnerable region - highlighting the downside to remaining an oil-dependent nation. The lost oil supplies damage our environment, and leave us more prone to remain under the thumb of "black gold" - rich Middle East nations.

3. Which brings me to South Park and the Times Square bombing plot. Recently, in honor of the show's 200th episode, creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker did an irreverent sendup of the Muslim religion by depicting the Prophet Mohammed - in disguise. Nothing is safe with these guys, and anyone with a sense of humor ought to know that. Jon Stewart and myself were more than a little miffed when Comedy Central chose to censor the episode without the creators' consent. And I maintain that free speech requires more bravery than the network showed. But then.....Faisal Shahzad drove a 1993 Nissan Pathfinder loaded with amateur explosives into Manhattan and parked it guess where? Very close to Comedy Central's New York headquarters.

4. And finally we have President Ahmadenijad of Iran, an asshat of epic proportions. I am glad that 95% of the world can come together to agree on that. But since UN headquarters are located in the U.S. (and again in Manhattan - poor folks), we have to deal with the indignity of letting this man deplane and tread on our land, so he can spout the garbage that spews from his hate filled mouth. Yesterday, reports had it that Iran's leader attempted to escalate the nation's "nuclear showdown" with the U.S., even with the looming threat of economic sanctions. As long as this man remains in power in Iran, no one is safe. Walkouts from his fiery rhetoric won't accomplish anything - not with a man who violently puts down civilian protests at home.

As stated at the opening of this post, I am no national security expert, and do not have any good ideas for a comprehensive plan to ensure the protection of our nation and its citizens. I just think it's pretty clear that we need one. Like 10 years ago. Up to now, we look like the proverbial boat that started springing leaks in the late 1990s, with nothing more durable to plug them up than a cork here and there. Corks pop, and the sounds I've been hearing when I turn on the television or surf the web are the noises of a thousand little bursts.


Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Inaugural Team June/Jesika Gets It Done

What a beautiful day. After last night's torrential downpour, the skies cleared up, right before 8:30 AM, the time designated by Team Leader Jen for the troops to gather. We met at the Southeast corner of Fullerton and Cannon on this most unusual April day to remember two brave women, Grandma June and my sister from another mister, Jesika Brooke Thompson. We talked, we ate, we enjoyed the sunshine, but most importantly, we came together to walk for a cure.

As the emcee correctly stated during the walk's opening ceremonies, half the cause of ovarian cancer's high mortality rate is its difficulty to detect. At this time, no reliable test exists of the kind that has been developed to suss out other female cancers (pap smear, mammogram). No one learned that lesson the hard way more than Jesika, who collapsed from a pulmonary embolism one day, just to find out that Stage 4 of the disease had already taken over her vital organs. 17 days later, on April 25, 2009, we said goodbye.

However today was not a day of sorrow, though I did breakdown toward the end of the opening procession. A group of survivors graced the stage and my heart burned, for several moments, with the intense desire to pull a rabbit from a hat and see Jesika standing up there alongside the other women. Danielle and Gary, the completing sides to our high school foursome, joined me for an indulgent moment of sorrow, and a hug before I tried to pull myself together.

The warm sunshine beamed down on our faces as we walked the three mile course from Fullerton and the lake shore, to Diversey, up West for a bit, and then back to the starting line. Max entertained the walkers with a lovely Black Eyed Peas/Beyonce medley. KK and I were joined at the hip as always. And the fifteen members of our team, many of whom were strangers before today, chatted with the ease of old friends.

We raised $1000 for the 13th Annual NOCC Illinois Chapter Walk for Ovarian Cancer, and I think we all enjoyed it so much, we plan to make this effort an annual event. I hope next year Kevin is able to join us. I want to personally thank all of the friends, family and loved ones who either walked with us today, or donated generously. Some people did both and for that, Jen and I are especially grateful.

I want to end with a note of overwhelming gratitude to my sister, co-blogger and Team June/Jesika's able Captainess, Jen of All Trades. I very much wanted to participate in this event and know I would have done it solo. But I am still too raw, I think, to have coordinated a group effort, which made that much more impact. It is something special to have a sister who reads your mind, and then is strong enough to accomplish for you what you aren't able to do alone. I am glad we were able to honor Grandma and Jesika's lives this way. Jen's hard work and leadership made that tribute possible.

See you next year.