succumbing to peer pressure

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Books finished - Citizen Girl

Ok, this book somewhat redeemed itself. Partially because it dealt with some themes I've been struggling with - where and how do you draw the line between personal ideals and survival? And how do you know when to work from within a system with which you disagree because it provides the best way to enact change and when do you become a tool of that system? It doesn't deal with these things in a particularly new or brilliant way, but since these thoughts have been rattling around in my head a lot lately, it was sort of nice to hear them from a character's mouth. (I've been having numerous conversations along these lines with Dad lately; as a hippy who grew up to work for a major chemical company he knows of what he speaks.) But also because I'm a sucker for an apt description of what it feels like to be my age and idealistic and temporarily beaten by the system and momentarily believing all those people who tell you you can't make a difference and you're silly and foolish for trying (and for an interaction that easily could have happened between April and I):
"G?" Her voice thickens with tears. "Is it going to keep being this hard?"
"Oh, God, no, no," I rush to comfort her. "Well, maybe, yeah." I pull her into me. "And then it won't be," I say into her hair. "At least, that's what I've heard."
I lower the window. The warm salt air whips the hair off our faces, bringing with it the promise of summer and more flights landing, more compatriots returning, the city once again infused with amity and opportunity, because we're only twenty-four for fuck's sake.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Social Security

Ok, so here's the suggestion my Dad made over xmas break - apparently, right now, the amount of income on which you pay tax toward social security is capped. So, for example, if you make $80,000 a year, maybe social security tax is only taken out of the first $65,000 (I'm just making up numbers here). And historically, this cap has edged up every few years to keep pace with inflation and income and whatnot. But at some point in fairly recent history this practice stopped, and the amount at which you are taxed has remained stalled for years. Now, according to the Congressional Budget Office (or so my Dad claims), going back to raising this amount every few years or so would take care of our current social security problem. So. What do people think? Good, bad, ugly, wouldn't work, bunch of crap, what?

This article is why one of my retirement dreams (besides the one about being the crazy old lady who lives on the beach, surfs in the morning, and runs a used bookstore in the afternoons) is to teach a statistics course for journalists. Just as scientists and doctors need to understand enough statistics to comprehend journal articles, journalists need to grasp numeracy enough to avoid writing paragraphs like this:
Buried in the government's latest in-depth analysis of contraceptive use was the finding that the number of women who had sex in the previous three months but did not use birth control rose from 5.2 percent in 1995 to 7.4 percent in 2002. That means that as many as 11 percent of all women are at risk of unintended pregnancy at some point during their childbearing years (ages 15 to 44).

Where did that 11 percent come from? And, since no method of birth control (except abstinence) is completely foolproof, aren't all women at risk of unintended pregnancy at some point during their childbearing years? And the first two percentages, do they apply to the same age group as the 11 percent (ages 15-44)? Or some other group of women? Later in the article she reports that 95% of women use some method of contraception, then later again it's 98%; at one point condoms seem to be included in "some method of contraception" at another point condom usage seems to be based on a totally different question. It's just one big mess. Though, by far, my favorite part of the article, better than the jumbled statistics, is this quote,
"Pregnancy is not a disease. . . . The women making these choices are making a conscious choice. They are not stupid," said Leslee J. Unruh, president of the Abstinence Clearinghouse. "Women don't want to use birth control because of the side effects. And a lot of men refuse to use a condom."

Right. Because a man refusing to wear a condom is equivalent to a woman choosing not to use birth control due to side effects. (Unless he's allergic to latex)

And, speaking of condoms, for those who were wondering, the Durex Extra Sensitive Lubricated Latex is apparently able to take the most "punishment."

And lastly in the birth control theme, making emergency contraception readily available does not (shock!) significantly change a woman's sexual behavior.

Oh Texas. Here's the headline - "In Texas, man gets 4 mos. for killing wife, 15 yrs for wounding man." Why am I not surprised? This is, after all, the state in which it was legal, right into the 1970s, for a man to shoot his wife if he found her in bed with another man (rumor has it the law only changed because women started demanding the same legal right).

And the tsunami
Bob Harris is one of the better writers out there in the "blogosphere." Which is why, despite making me cry on a fairly regular basis, I read him almost everyday. You should too.
Less than 24 hours ago I was in the Melbourne airport, killing time in a gift shop, chatting with a clerk... and there was a sharp, rhythmic, human sound coming from behind me sounding very much like laughter. I didn't think much of it, but it got louder... and louder... so I turned around and glanced...

And it wasn't laughter.

It was a woman about my mother's age. Crying. The sort of full-body convulsive cry you make when there's more pain than you can even try to understand, and the sadness just seizes you entirely. She wasn't covering her face or trying to negotiate with the pain or doing any of the little social niceties we all do when we're sad but still conscious of other people and able to be touched lightly by the graces of friendship and comfort.

This was a woman about my mother's age who had just arrived from one of the places you're reading about in the paper or seeing on TV. And she was still being broken by the tragedy, right before my eyes.

Two solidly-built men about my age, whom I took to be her sons, were walking with her. They were trying to be strong, but their own hands were shaking even as they reached around the woman's shoulders or took her by the hand. Her loss, whatever it was, was theirs, too. The larger man was crying almost as hard as she was, but silently, trying not to let his mother hear.

I watched the three of them walk away. Someday I may think of something I could have said or done right then. I didn't, and I haven't yet.

Ten feet away, another family was walking together slowly -- this time, in a little knot of five people exchanging flowers and kisses and hugs, all more tender and grateful and careful than the usual airport affections. Someone here -- maybe everyone here -- had survived.

And, because what blog entry would be complete without a little bush-bashing:
D.C. officials said yesterday that the Bush administration is refusing to reimburse the District for most of the costs associated with next week's inauguration, breaking with precedent and forcing the city to divert $11.9 million from homeland security projects.

Yep, that's our president. Always looking out for the safety of his fellow Americans.

And, in a style blatantly stolen from Nick Hornby, I offer this:
Books bought - Heal Thyself, Nicholas Culpeper and the Seventeenth-Century Struggle to Bring Medicine to the People, by Benjamin Woolley (gift); Step Across This Line, by Salman Rushdie; The Polysyllabic Spree, by Nick Hornby, Citizen Girl, by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, The Best American NonRequired Reading, Edited by Dave Eggers, Introduction by Viggo Mortensen
Books Read - Step Across This Line, The Polysyllabic Spree, some of The Best NonRequired Reading, some of Citizen Girl.
I bought Step Across This Line when I got tickets to see Rushdie speak on campus, so I could have one of his books for him to sign. I haven't read any of his other stuff, but started this collection of various essays, letters, lectures, and columns from 1992-2002 just before Christmas. And let me tell you - he is FUNNY! I mean, really funny! Anyway, there are way too many good things in this book to try to innumerate them all (I started to, but I'd end up transcribing most of the book into my blog) so just please, please do yourself a favor and go read this collection. You won't be sorry. If nothing else you can learn all about his friendship with Bono and how the lyrics to one of U2's songs were written by Rushdie. I have to say, this new bit of information only increased my crush on Bono. Anyway.
I already know that I adore Nick Hornby, but the subtitle to this collection of columns from The Believer, "A hilarious and true account of one man's struggle with the monthly tide of the books he's bought and the books he's been meaning to read," made me love him just a little more. Plus, it inspired me to blatantly copy him, so every once in a while you guys will get a little peak into the stack of books on my nightstand.
I've enjoyed The Best NonRequired Reading series for a couple of years now, and I have to say, although I haven't completed this one yet, I'm less impressed with this year's. Maybe it's because I stopped before the end of one horrible story about a little boy who's dad makes him eat anything that he kills (which starts out a little gruesome but ok, until he accidentally runs over his pet dog. I couldn't keep going after that).
I'll come back to NonRequired, but took up Citizen Girl to, as Kelly would say, cleanse my literary palate. I begrudgingly took up Nanny Diaries, since Mom loved it so much, and finished it off easily enough, mostly on the plane ride home. McLaughlin and Kraus write in an easy-reading-on-the-beach style which is neither terribly interesting nor terribly boring. I picked up Citizen Girl because the blurb on the back made it sound a bit like something I'm always afraid my life might turn out to be (20-something idealistic girl has soul beaten out of her in frustrating non-profit job, only to really sell soul by taking gross corporate job just to pay the rent). Anyway, now that I'm into it, I'm starting to feel guilty. Do people like my Mom like books like this in the same way that friend of Carrie's boyfriend thinks poverty is interesting and attractive? Am I hypocritically deriving entertainment from someone else's tale of poverty-stricken woe? Is it somehow more ok because the authors really did (presumably) work crappy jobs to make ends meet and thus have earned to reap the benefits of entertaining others with their tales?

Ok, one last story, because I have to tell someone, and why not tell all of you? So, I didn't hear from the boy for about a month. I figured I'd gotten the brush off, but decided that I'd give him one more chance and call him up after I got home from vacation. Because, really, what did I have to lose? So I left him a message on Sunday asking if he'd like to get a cup of coffee sometime and he calls back tonight and asks me out to dinner for Friday night. Sounds like a proper date - nice Indian food, tasty specialty cheese cake, live jazz. So. Who knows what that means? Who knows if he'll even call like he's supposed to on Friday to let me know he's back from work and ready for dinner? Who knows what I'm supposed to wear?